It’s pretty amazing to think that Twin Peaks was so unlikely in its original run and that it’s still so unlikely in 2017. I mean this feels, more than 25 years later, that this still shouldn’t be on television. I don’t mean that in a bad way. This is one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time, but that has to say something about Lynch, the state of TV, and really just how ahead of its time the original was.
Very slight SPOILERS here.
I don’t/didn’t watch Twin Peaks for story. I like and get many individual narrative elements. I make some connections as I go, but I’m not creating any fan theories and I leave pretty confused. Lynch gives me enough things that I can put together in my head to make me understand that it’s not random and that there is someone behind it all (he’s the real dreamer here, right?), but while watching I just want emotion and experience and chills, and an unraveling story feels totally secondary or tertiary.
In the last episode, when Cooper and Laura Palmer are driving I was struck by how much the sequence felt like a Lynch film. There are the obvious things: the characters themselves, and of course the POV shot of a road at night illuminated only by headlights. But it was also the pacing. That’s one of my favorite parts of this series. Sometimes that pacing is those really long beats between lines. They can be painfully long (and sometimes really funny), but I think it’s also about going into coverage at times that feel counter to narrative development. Like in this car. We basically have five shots – 2-shot of Cooper and Laura; the road; shot-reverse on them; and then a low angle from the back seat on Cooper. We really only go to that last shot once, I think, but Lynch keeps cutting into the other coverage and it feels like something is going to happen within those frames, or because of the cut (like, because we cut to Cooper we miss what happens behind Laura). But that doesn’t really happen. It’s just a lot of looks, America passing by, and – the point – a slow sense that we’re building towards something important. You could build build towards that sense in so many other ways that don’t feel as deliberate or like we should be in the midst of a dialogue sequence but just aren’t.
I love seeing all of the other Lynch trademarks come into play throughout the series: digital slo-mo; handmade special effects that recall his short films; unnerving sound design; backwards walking and talking played in reverse; starting a scene on a character frozen and looking and then silently, slowly revealing what they’re looking at…and many more.
The series also feels like such a recall to all past films, but for me, more than any, it’s The Lost Highway and that film’s slow, creeping dread. One of the reasons is because Lynch is the absolute master at capturing the fear and/or helplessness as people recall something – a dream or a memory. He’s one of the only directors I can think of that so often (with exceptions obviously, including the great Monica Bellucci cameo scene) doesn’t cut to that dream or memory, but derives real, true terror from just staying in pretty tight on the person doing the recalling. I remember that from The Lost Highway and it happens so much here. I get such a visceral feeling in these moments.
The so-called “quirkiness” is really disarming. To be fair, I actually found it annoying for the first 4-5 episodes, but patience really pays off with this show. But in the end it’s such a strategy: it makes everything that isn’t just light and fluffy so much more disturbing. I mean we go from Jim Belushi absolutely mugging for the camera, to an episode that feels like Eraserhead meets The Twilight Zone taking place in New Mexico, to the scariest shot in the film – Laura’s overhead extreme handheld shaky scream in the lodge. And sometimes we make changes like this from episode to episode, or within one episode. That contrast, especially for me in the last two episodes, leads to some real stress. I like Lynch also because when he gets relentless, he’s just entirely relentless.
Like Buñuel or other directors who work on a symbolic level, there are some clear themes – electricity, for example. But I don’t know what to make of them all. Then there are just repeat motifs. Like the child in the car slowly vomiting (one of the best scenes in the film and a great example of weird horror in a Lynch film – and I’m talking more about the screaming woman in the driver’s seat) and the prisoner slowly bleeding. But I don’t know what to make of them, either. It reminds me a bit of the twins in Jarmusch’s recent Paterson. The fact that those connections exist across episodes is enough for me.
Other random things that I thought as I watched: I like how Lynch seems just really into the procedural. What happened to Audrey (I’m sure a whole lot of people have a whole lot of answers for this)? The box towards the beginning is kind of like the eyeball slit in half in Un Chien Andalou. Both in some way seem to warn that you’re about to watch something different, both introduce violence in a way that feels really sudden and personal, and both use that violence as semi-narrative, at best. Laura’s scream is terrifying. Ben Rosenfield gives such a great, Lynchian performance.
This is one of my favorite shots from the show. I really love the highlight on the door in the center of the frame, the hazy quality of the light on the dirty window, and how much emphasis is given to what’s behind Laura: