*turns on the TV* Oh! Sunset Boulevard–my favorite! You know, dearest Filthy Dreams readers and Twin Peaks fanatics, every time I watch Norma Desmond make her cracked actress descent down that staircase, I just feel like taking a fork and jamming it in a wall socket. BZZZZZZ! SIZZLE! Don’t you? No? Well, as you probably noticed, this week will have a doubleheader of Lost In The Bang Bang Bar since I was too busy shattering disco dreams by deinstalling Night Fever to return to the roadhouse. We’ll start first by confronting death in Twin Peaks: The Return Part 15:
“When you’re sad and when you’re lonely and you haven’t got a friend, just remember that death is not the end,” croons Bob Dylan in his strangely cheerful dirge “Death Is Not The End.” Not only is death, according to Dylan, not as final as it seems, he presents death as something to look forward to: “And all that you’ve held sacred falls down and does not mend, just remember that death is not the end.”
Throughout the Twin Peaks universe, from the original series to Fire Walk With Me and finally, The Return, death is, of course, a prominent feature. That first shot of Laura Palmer, dead and wrapped in plastic, is an iconic blue-tinted moment in television history. As we know, though, Laura didn’t just disappear into nothingness after her murder–she lives on, namely in the Black Lodge.
Other characters throughout the series frequently die and reappear in other forms, places and even, dimensions. Not only do characters flit in and out of the different Lodges, there are also those characters played by actors that have died and yet still maintain a presence on the show like Don S. Davies’s Major Garland Briggs seen floating by Cooper in Part 3, David Bowie’s Phillip Jeffries and even, FBI Agent Albert who appears in The Return while the actor Miguel Ferrar died shortly after filming.
“You know about death, that it’s just change, not an end,” says Margaret Lanterman in her final scene in The Return Part 15. With a last glimpse of the Log Lady, death, and its transformational changes, weighs heavily in Part 15. Naturally, death as a form of rebirth is nothing new, a tenant of most religions. Yet, Lynch’s own musing on death takes a decidedly “Lynchian” turn. Rather than an afterlife or reincarnation, Lynch has frequently compared death to sleeping or dreaming. “Death in my mind isn’t a finality. There’s a continuum: it’s like at night, you go to sleep and in the daytime you wake up, or whenever you wake up, and it’s a new day,” he previously explained.
In another interview with Kristine McKenna from 1992, prompted by a question referring to his representation of death in his films, he clarified this “big dream” notion of death: “It’s like going to sleep after a day of activity. A lot of things happen in sleep and you wake up and have another day of activity–that’s how I see it. I don’t know exactly where you go, but I’ve heard stories about what happens and there’s no denying that dying is the number one fear.” Like Lynch’s theory of unending activities, an eternal return of sleep and wakefulness, Part 15 presents a number of references to this vision of mortality.
Of course, this uplifting death fixation doesn’t appear immediately. In fact, the first scene in Part 15 feels like perhaps one of the last happy moments in The Return. The episode begins with a shot of Nadine, golden shovel in hand, marching purposefully to Big Ed’s Gas Farm. There, she confronts her husband, telling him, “I’ve been a selfish bitch all these years and you’ve been a saint.” She gives him his freedom so he can run to Norma at the Double R Diner who he has loved for years. “I want you to be free. I’m fine now. You asked about the shovel, well, I’m shoveling myself out of the shit!” Nadine boasts.
Ed is a bit stunned, a normal reaction to most of Nadine’s scenes in both series. But, Nadine assures him that, “True love is giving the other what makes them happy.” After shaking off his shock, Ed runs to the Double R Diner, backed by Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” Bursting through the door, he tells Norma that Nadine finally gave him his freedom. Well, Walter, that cock-blocker, walks in and diverts Norma’s attention. But, Norma asks to be bought out of her position in the Double R Diner franchise, only keeping the Twin Peaks location. Realizing her request was both a rejection of the franchise and him, Walter stutters, “For the record, I’d just like to say you’re making a huge mistake and I believe you’re going to regret it.”
All the while, Ed sits at the counter with a cup of coffee. Eyes closed, he listens to the conversation and as Walter stomps by, he starts to almost imperceptibly grin. Then, Norma’s hand slides from off-screen onto his shoulder. It’s Lynch at his most saccharine and romantic–something that has been rarely shown in The Return. As they kiss, Shelly watches while tearing up–I bet she’s going to run home and tell her psycho drug dealer boyfriend Red about this.
Enjoy that moment of bliss and the long tracking shot of a blue sky because things get real dark real quick. The colorful scene quickly jumps to electrical scratching sounds and rattling, shaking shots of power lines on a highway. You know what this means–Bad Coop is back! I missed him so much! Sing “Tupelo”! Anyway, he arrives at the convenience store teaming with Woodsmen as seen in Part 8 to the jarring strings of “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.”
Led by a series of Woodsmen, Bad Coop appears and disappears, to crackles of electricity, through a series of interiors, trees, stairs and courtyards. Where the hell is this? While unable to be pinned down in any location, Bad Coop’s weaving trajectory does bring viewers to some places we’ve seen before, namely the flower wallpaper-covered room as seen in Laura’s photograph in her room in Fire Walk With Me and the stairwell populated by Woodsmen glimpsed by Gordon Cole through the portal in Part 11.
We also get reacquainted with some baffling characters from Fire Walk With Me, in particular the Jumping Man, an always confusing masked figure who comes bursting and flickering into view. His image also looks as if it’s spliced with Sarah Palmer’s face.
Why are we here? To find Phillip Jeffries, of course! Eventually, Bad Coop enters a room with a Lynchian red lamp and some festive strobe light effects. Gazing across the room, there’s a radiator, a perhaps sly reference to Eraserhead’s Lady In The Radiator. Suddenly, the room opens up as if a door and…BOWIE LIVES!
Ok…in reality, it’s as if Lynch asks viewers and Bad Coop to enter one of his drawings with Phillip Jeffries now as a…tea pot? Coffee percolator? Iron lung? Plume of smoke? “Oh, it’s you,” this new mechanical version of Jeffries says in his trademark drawl, “Thank god.” This new Jeffries emits mechanical clanks off and on. In addition to satisfying Lynch’s other obsession–industrial aesthetics, Jeffries’s new look seems to harken to a transformation not unlike the one referred to by Lynch’s notion of death. Whether due to Jeffries’s mortality or Bowie’s own, Jeffries’s current form seems to, as the Log Lady said, depict a “change, not an end.”
Bad Coop recalls the moment in 1989 when Jeffries stumbles into the Philadelphia FBI headquarters rambling about someone named Judy from Fire Walk With Me. A black and white flashback of this scene provides little information as Bowie slurs, “Well now, I’m not gonna talk about Judy. In fact, we are not gonna talk about Judy at all!” Bad Coop, not known for being a big talker or needy, gets a bit desperate: “Why didn’t you want to talk about Judy? Who is Judy? Does Judy want something from me?” “Why don’t you ask Judy yourself,” says Jeffries, “Let me write it down for ya.” The smoke, then, emits a series of numbers, coordinates that are the same as the ones written on the arm of Ruth Davenport’s body in Part 11.
A phone rings and in a flash of light and static sputtering, Bad Coop appears in a phone booth to have sweet reunion with his son Richard Horne. DAD! Bad Coop kicks the shit out of Richard and says, “Don’t ever threaten me again. Get in the truck. We’ll talk on the way.” Ok, Dad, I can’t wait to catch-up! As they pull away, the convenience store starts smoking and eventually, disappears. Wait! I just wanted to pick up some milk!
Similar to Jeffries’ new form, the notion of death as a continuum continues in the subsequent scene with that shithead Steven and Gersten Hayward who tweak out in the lush forest. Referring to an unnamed act he asserts he “did do,” presumably something akin to the murder of his wife Becky, Steven sweats, shakes and listens to Gersten’s assurances, “Steven, you didn’t do anything. You were fucking stoned. What the fuck did she give you?”
In aggravatingly vague terms, Steven threatens to kill himself and wonders if she will come up with him. “It’s gonna end it and when I see you come up, I may not even see you there.” Steven, then, like a methhead philosopher, begins to muse on death and the afterlife: “Where will I be? Will I be with the rhinoceros? The lightening in the bottle? Or will I be completely like…like turquoise?” As addled and insane as their entire dialogue is (“I’m a high school graduate” “Oh fuck!”), their discussion of death’s non-finality right in line with the continual theme of the episode. Eventually, though, he does end it, shooting himself as Gersten runs from Mark Frost’s Cyril who stumbles on them walking his dog.
Sticking with suicidal impulses and nondescript duties, later in the episode after a quick jaunt to the Roadhouse, we return to Dougie at home with Janey-E, eating a piece of chocolate cake. Janey-E walks to the kitchen as Dougie blankly chows down, focusing on bell-shaped salt and pepper shakers. Moving the shakers, which add to the ever lengthening list of bell-like objects in the series, he, then, keeps punching at the remote control. Eventually, he lands on the power button, turning on the television to Sunset Boulevard.
Of course, Sunset Boulevard has been a major influence on Lynch’s Hollywood surrealist filmmaking. The face-melting denouement of Inland Empire is just a ramped up version of Norma Desmond’s final descent into Hollywood glory. “The old team together again. Nothing can stop us,” boasts Norma Desmond. She continues, “It’s practically set…” which could be Lynch’s way of referencing the ever-nearing conclusion of The Return.
“Get Gordon Cole,” says Cecil DeMille. With the reference to Gordon Cole, Cooper come to the fore in Dougie. With wide eyes, he begins to crawl toward the wall’s electrical socket. And with a series of static scratches and hisses, he jabs his fork in the wall, hopefully to return, like Norma Desmond, for his comeback. Just remember that death is not the end…
However, the most tear-jerking death scene, and promise of death’s continuum, in Part 15 is undeniably Margaret Lanterman’s, the beloved Log Lady and longtime collaborator of Lynch’s gets a wonderful sendoff from her friend. Actress Catherine E. Coulson filmed her scenes before the full shoot of The Return because she was, in fact, dying of cancer, a conflation of reality and fiction that is both perfect for Twin Peaks and makes her final scene even more devastating. Calling Hawk, Lanterman explains: “Hawk. I’m dying….It’s time. There’s some fear, some fear in letting go,” reminding him to watch out for “that one under the moon on Blue Pine Mountain.”
“Hawk, my log is turning gold. The wind is moaning. I’m dying. Good night, Hawk,” she says. “Good night Margaret. Goodbye, Margaret,” he says. Later, Hawk brings the Sheriff’s staff–Sheriff Truman, Bobby, Andy and Lucy–into the conference room to let them know she died. With a spotlight on Lucy, Lucy says tearfully, “The Log Lady’s dead?” And the light goes out in Lanterman’s cabin.
After playing another game of “should she stay or should she go” on the threshold with Audrey, we round out the episode with Charlene Yi, playing Ruby. Sitting in a booth alone, she refuses to be intimidated by two bikers who lift her up and place her, dazed, on the floor. To the ominous strains of The Veils’ “Axolotl,” Ruby crawls between the legs of other Roadhouse patrons and eventually, as the strobe lights kick on, begins to abjectly scream, doing a pitch perfect Laura Palmer in the Black Lodge impression if I’ve ever seen one. Has she experienced that waking after death that Lynch speaks about? Has Ruby been to the Lodge too? Is she having flashbacks to the seizure-inducing Twin Peaks original series finale?
In an interview with Time Out London, after speaking about death again, Dominic Wells asks Lynch: “So what’s it like? Not a room with red curtains and people talking backwards, then?” “That would be kinda beautiful to me,” responds Lynch.