Gotta light? Gotta light? Gotta light?….What’s that? Oh! Hello, dearest Filthy Dreams readers! And welcome back to our ongoing obsession with Twin Peaks: The Return. As you know, I was off in disco-land for the past couple weeks and so wasn’t able to properly catch the big fish as Lynch would say about the lunacy of Part 8. So in order to give that complete mindfuck its due before we return to the semblance of a storyline in Part 9, we’re going to do a Lost In The Bang Bang Bar double this week. 5-4-3-2-1…
“When the twilight is gone and no songbirds are singing
When the twilight is gone you come into my heart
And here in my heart you will stay while I pray
At the end of the day in a dream that’s divine
My prayer is a rapture in blue
With the world far away and your lips close to mine”
–The Platters, “My Prayer”
“Let’s get off this highway, Ray,” orders Mr. C in the first scene of a completely and utterly insane 8th episode of Twin Peaks: The Return. While this directive seems like a nonchalant tossed-off line to move along the trajectory of Mr. C and his sleazy counterpart Ray after breaking out of prison in Part 7, but nope. Here, Lynch was, instead, referring to his wild turn off of the winding highway of the first portion of Twin Peaks: The Return to arrive at a full-on art film visual assault.But before we get to the not-quite idyllic flashbacks to the 1940s and 1950s, first, Lynch and Frost take us to the woods with Ray and Mr. C as they try to kill each other over some “numbers” or coordinates Mr. C needs. Ray, faking out Mr. C, with a dud gun, shoots him.
Things don’t go quite as expected, though, as some homeless people…I mean, woodsmen, stagger out of the trees and…do a séance or something over Mr. C. With lots of deep groaning and patting the dirt, they cover his face with blood and at one point, in the darkness, we see the disembodied head of BOB. “I think he’s dead, but he’s found some kind of help so I’m not 100%,” says Ray on the phone after understandably scrambling out of there. Whew…what the hell was that!
And then, we find ourselves at the Roadhouse. A bit early, don’t cha think? This was the first clue that Part 8 wouldn’t necessarily go as expected. Introduced by an M.C., played by J.R. Starr who bears more than a passing resemblance to Little Jimmy Scott (who we last saw in the Black Lodge in the original finale of Twin Peaks), we get to watch an extended performance by “The Nine Inch Nails.” That’s right–Lynch made NiN cool again in one television episode. Growling “She’s Gone Away” into a microphone with a pinecone attached to it, Trent Reznor and the rest of Nine Inch Nails seem to be the first band at the Bang Bang Bar that seemed to come directly from the Black Lodge. This wasn’t the wistful singing of Chromatics, Au Revoir Simone or Sharon Van Etten. Something’s wrong, as One-Armed Mike constantly says.
Then, we travel to White Sands, New Mexico on July 16, 1945 at 5:29 A.M. And here things get a little, well, explosive. Part of the Manhattan Project, Lynch not only shows us a test of the atom bomb, he takes us inside the bomb in a squeal of strings courtesy of “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima.” Now, even though the bomb seemingly comes out of nowhere, there were hints of this nuclear obsession before, namely in Lynch’s own character Gordon Cole’s F.B.I. office, which has a photo of the bomb affixed to the wall.
Inside the bomb, it’s all sepia tones, Eraserhead-esque static, bursts of color, rumbling tunnels of fire–it’s one of the most beautiful and intensely terrifying moments that I’ve ever seen. Its abstracted imagery threatens to envelop you even if you’re just sitting on your computer.
Lynch has, in this moment, achieved the sublime, as described by Arthur Schopenhauer. In The World As Will and Representation, Schopenhauer poses the sublime as dependent on threat, using the wild chaos of nature as an example of moments of the sublime. As he writes, “Nature in turbulent and tempestuous motion; semi-darkness through threatening black thunder-clouds; immense, bare, overhanging cliffs shutting out the view by their interlacing, rushing, foaming masses of waters; complete desert, the wail of the wind sweeping through the ravines. Our dependence, our struggle with hostile nature, our will that is broken in this, now appear clearly before our eyes. Yet as long as personal affliction does not gain the upper hand, but we remain in aesthetic contemplation, the pure subject of knowing gazes through this struggle of nature, through this picture of the broken will and comprehends calmly, unshaken and unconcerned, the Ideas in those very objects that are threatening and terrible to the will. In this contrast is to be found the feeling of the sublime” (204).
For Schopenhauer, the more violent and menacing the natural causes, the more sublime. If a natural element threatens to subsume and overwhelm you, welcome to the ultimate sublime. “This is the full impression of the sublime. Here it is caused by the sight of a power beyond all comparison superior to the individual, and threatening him with annihilation,” describes Schopenhauer.
Good ole Artie couldn’t have imagined that in 1949, the United States would create something so destructive, powerful and nihilistic that it would blow all of his sublime nature references out of the water. Lynch’s alarmingly compelling representation of the inside of the atom bomb is precisely what Schopenhauer theorizes.
And it gets better or weirder because the atom bomb, apparently, births several different entities–the woodsmen who scatter around a gas station and convenience store and the Experiment, which is the creepy grown-up baby from Eraserhead figure that massacres those two young people in the room in New York earlier this season. The Experiment, or Mother, as people on the Interwebz are calling “her” (?) vomits up a mass of eggs, goop, garmonbozie and surprise! BOB!
Now, Lynch is showing us the birth of evil–and it’s man-made. Chilling, isn’t it? Remember this moment when Trump decides to finally nuke North Korea. Speaking of, in a world gone mad, Lynch and Frost’s maddening imagery feels just right.
But, of course, with the bad comes the good, and we arrive back at that black-and-white nostalgic “other place” with the giant and his new friend Seniorita Dido. With vintage music played over a gramophone, reminiscent of Lynch’s ambient album The Air Is On Fire, the Giant witnesses the bomb, as well as the Experiment and her hurling. He levitates and his head disappears in a cloud of gold. After, a gold sphere emerges with the face of Laura Palmer reflected in it. What does it all mean? Is Laura the representation of inherent good? Does good do that much coke?
And welcome to 1956 in New Mexico as a horrifying part-locust, part-frog emerges from an egg! A boy and a girl (literally listed as “The Boy (1956)” and “The Girl (1956)” in the credits) walk home from presumably some innocent sock hop. They flirt and act all teenage awkward. It’s all so sweetly innocent, but knowing Lynch, this wouldn’t last long. True to form, The Woodsman, resembling Abraham Lincoln, flies down from the sky with an apparent nicotine craving. “Gotta light?” he asks some terrified overweight husband and wife, as the sound slows down and the wife bellows like an elephant.
With the boy and girl now returned home, the Woodsman still continues his reign of terror as he crushes the heads of several people including a DJ who plays The Platters’ saccharine tune “My Prayer.” And all I could think is this would be my ideal song to be murdered to too. Talk about transcendence!
Of course, this shattering of the nostalgic midcentury American dream happens often in Lynch’s oeuvre–the epitome being the disembodied ear found in the high green grass in the beginning of Blue Velvet. Throughout his career, Lynch has investigated the, as The Guardian’s Gaby Wood and Hazel Sheffield write, “the strangely polarized era that was the 1950s. He loved the jitterbug, the big cars, the picket fences and the sound of planes flying overhead – a child’s view of an idyllic time. But the 50s were also about appearances: this very idyll masked warring agendas – things people refused to know and other, often incorrect, things they insisted on knowing.”
“All the problems were there,” Lynch told The Guardian, “but it was somehow glossed over. And then the gloss broke, or rotted, and it all came oozing out.”
And, well, there was a sure lot of broken eggs and creepy oozing in the final scenes of Part 8. Perhaps the most memorable and lurid scene came courtesy of that plague of the locust-frog. After killing the radio DJ, the Woodsman grabs the mic and repeats, “This is the water and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes and the dark within.” Come again?
Listening to this screed, all the figures shown previously from a waitress at Pop’s diner to a car mechanic and “The Girl” fall asleep. The previously mentioned…bug…flies into The Girl’s window, crawls onto her bed and yum! right into her mouth. Opening her mouth horror film-wide, she swallows the locust/frog right down. MMMMMMMMHMMMM! Down the hatch!
It’s all very Kafka, which consequently is the other image hanging on the wall of Gordon Cole’s F.B.I. office with the atom bomb. “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect,” begins Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Here The Girl does the opposite, forced into some, likely, uneasy dreams and swallowing a monstrous insect.
In Lynch on Lynch, Lynch describes his vision of 1950s middle America in reference to his childhood, as well as his perverted American ideal aesthetic: “My boyhood was ‘See Spot Run.’ Elegant old homes, tree-lined streets, the milkman, building backyard forts, droning airplanes, blue skies, picket fences, green grass, cherry trees. It was a dream world–Middle America as it’s supposed to be. But on the cherry tree, there’s this pitch oozing out–some black, some yellow, and millions of red ants crawling all over. I discovered that if one looks a little closer at this beautiful world, there’s always red ants underneath.”