We’re back in New York and the studio apartment containing the glass box. The quiet hum of machines rests in the background. Sam Colby (Benjamin Rosenfield) attends to his work. We can safely assume that this is the next night.
On hearing the buzzer go, he steps out into the lobby to investigate and finds Tracy (Madelina Zima) standing there, again with two coffees. The guard is nowhere to be seen. Sam checks the adjacent bathroom, but it is empty. Tracy smiles, sensing an opportunity.
“Does this by any chance mean that I can come in there with you?” she asks, reminding him cheerfully that she’s brought coffee.
“Well,” Sam says, “Since there’s no-one here to stop you, I guess you could come in for a little while, but I don’t know how you’re going to get out if the guard comes back…”
Enjoying the risk and evidently as attracted to Tracy as she is to him, Sam lets her into the room with the glass box, closing and securing the door behind them. Tracy asks Sam what the glass box is for.
“I really don’t know,” he tells her, “Its just a job I got to help with school.” When she asks whose place it is, he replies, “I heard a billionaire. Some anonymous billionaire.”
“Mysterious,” she replies.
The conundrum of who set up the glass box lasted for many weeks until later scenes made it clear that Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) is behind the operation in New York. Even though events in parts 2 and 3 heavily inferred this to be the case, it wasn’t until much later that his authorship was as-good-as-confirmed. It makes sense.
Is Mr. C a billionaire? It’s possible.. . The mention of an anonymous billionaire has us questioning the identity of this unknown person. When we think of money in connection with Twin Peaks, there are three families who we know had some clout; the Packards, the Martells and the Hornes. The rivalry between the Packards and Martells did a fine job of nearly wiping one another out in season two. The Horne family seems a more likely source. At this early stage in the season it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume the mystery billionaire might turn out to be Audrey Horne, who as a young woman showed great enterprising spirit. This suspicion ultimately turns out to be quite wide of the mark, but Lynch lets it hang in the air for much of the season as Audrey is kept out of sight until much later on.
The glass box, we will discover, is part of Mr. C’s plan to avoid returning to the Black Lodge. He is aware that a time is approaching at which Dale Cooper will be able to escape, and he will be compelled to take his place. The glass box, with its aperture out into the night – and opposing box on the outside of the building – is used to draw inter-dimensional energies into a focal space. As we will see, when Dale Cooper is ejected from the Black Lodge, he is redirected to the New York site, which then sends him on to a third place which I like to call The Purple Realm. This, in turn, leads him to Dougie (but much more on that later).
What Sam and Tracy are looking at, therefore, is a tightly sprung trap.
It seems likely, however, that Mr. C’s interest in using the glass box as a tool extends beyond trapping Dale Cooper. As we will see imminently, something else is going to manifest here…
Back to the action, for a moment…
“I’m supposed to watch the box to see if anything appears inside,” Sam tells Tracy. Tracy asks if things have appeared, but Sam tells her nothing has since he’s been doing this job.
“The guy I replaced saw something once,” he tells her conspiratorially. It sounds like an urban legend. Sam goes on to tell her that he’s not supposed to talk about his job or the glass box. The conspiratorial element only adds to the air of mystery.
Sam invites Tracy to sit down and they move to the sofa. Watching the glass box is only so stimulating, however, and soon the pair start to kiss, that mutual attraction growing a little too irresistible. Things only grow more heated as Tracy starts to undress. Sam enthusiastically follows suit and the pair start to have sex. Being consumed in one another means that nobody is keeping an eye on the glass box. The cameras stare, but they cannot communicate as danger appears.
Lynch cuts between their love making and the complex array of electrics beneath the box. The cables and machines are entwined, as are Sam and Tracy. There is a sense of mirroring and mingling.
The interior of the glass box darkens as an entity – credited as ‘the Experiment’ (Erica Eynon) – manifests inside. A nominally feminine humanoid that seems monstrous or possibly demonic, Lynch makes ‘her’ hard to discern. On first appearance the figure in the box appears to be holding something small, like a candle. Sam notices and cries for Tracy to stop. She looks over her shoulder and sees the manifestation.
The creature in the box draws a few connotations. It is grey, with spindly limbs, immediately calling to mind the so-called ‘greys’ from a lot of science fiction and extra-terrestrial abduction and conspiracy tales. During the mid-part of Twin Peaks season two, the show took some questionable turns, including a stint in which it appeared as though Major Briggs (Don S Davis) had been abducted by aliens. Further, significant portions of Mark Frost’s bridging book ‘The Secret History of Twin Peaks’ are preoccupied with tales of government agents in pursuit of evidence of UFOs. Later in the season, FBI Chief Gordon Cole (David Lynch) tells of how the Blue Rose Task Force grew out of such endeavours.
Later in The Return we also learn more about the elusive Judy, previously mentioned obliquely by Phillip Jeffries (David Bowie) in Fire Walk With Me. Judy – a creature of great malevolence which appears to be manifesting in this scene – will then take up host
(or resume taking up host) in Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie).
This being – Judy – is ancient and has appeared as myth in many cultures (including the Native Americans of the Pacific North West; Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) is aware of ‘her’). Let’s say ‘the Experiment’ is Judy. Given the physical appearance of ‘Judy’ in this scene, one might be led to think that claimed sightings of UFOs and extra-terrestrials in the Twin Peaks universe are simply those who have witnessed this being and gotten confused.
Though one might readily argue that such claimants are not wrong…
Another connection one might make when seeing Judy for the first time is to prior works of Lynch’s. With the bulbous head and sallow eyes – and the overall darkness and obscurity of the image – elements of Eraserhead spring to mind, most notably baby ‘Spike’. A look through some of Lynch’s paintings (he’s quite prolific) reveals further echoes of the being seen here.
Tracy screams as the being inside the box pounds on the glass. A sinister sting on the score raises the tension of an already sinister and scary moment. Lynch then drives us over the edge with one of the most horrifying scenes in not only Twin Peaks, but his entire output (no mean feat).
The entity shatters the glass and careers through the air toward the prone and terrified couple. With gruesome intensity, it slashes at them and the studio becomes a blood-drenched crime scene as Lynch’s soundscape whirls into a cacophony. The violence only continues to escalate until we cut shockingly away to black and the scene ends, leaving us to gasp abruptly.
Two more things to think about in connection with this scene and what we’ve just witnessed.
Firstly, lets talk about censorship. When Twin Peaks first aired, the landscape of television was very different. Granted, the show pushed a lot of these boundaries, but Mark Frost and David Lynch were still bound – to a degree – in what they could include. The initial two seasons have no swearing, no explicit nudity… though the violence of BOB/Leland still manages to be quite shocking. Some of the main criticisms of Fire Walk With Me have been regarding its dour tone and graphic content. Working on a cinematic canvas, the rigidity of 90’s TV fell away
Fans of the lighter, tongue-in-cheek approach from the TV show – the parodying of daytime soaps – may have been left wanting, but what Fire Walk With Me reveals is what’s lurking beneath. Unvarnished, naked. (its no coincidence, I’m sure, that Fire Walk With Me opens with the destruction of a television).
Flash forward 20+ years and HBO and ‘prestige TV’ happened. Cable networks took bigger risks (many inspired by Twin Peaks). Shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Oz and Deadwood tested the limits of the medium. In terms of graphic content, TV has become as daring as cinema. Twin Peaks: The Return aired on Showtime, a cable channel looking to get into this more provocative mandate for scheduling. The limits that applied in 1990 were not demanded of Frost and Lynch.
This goes a long way to explaining why Twin Peaks: The Return feels more indebted to Fire Walk With Me than it does the first two seasons of the show. It continues – and expands upon – that sense of the unvarnished and naked.
And while we’re talking about nudity, lets address another point: sex.
Are there any auteurs working at the moment at David Lynch’s level with such an evident fear or distrust of sex? It’s appearance in his output is frequently tied to darkness or trauma. From Laura Palmer’s rape by her father to the sadistic games of Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. One might also look upon much of Lost Highway as a psychogenic fugue born out of impotence and sexual frustration. An upcoming sequence in part 2 ties murderous violence to a bedroom scene, while there’s plenty more to unpack in the grimly intense love scene between Cooper and Diane (Laura Dern) in part 18…
Again and again, sexual encounters in Twin Peaks are fraught with danger, are ‘off’ in some way, or are followed by horror. When I grew up Twin Peaks was talked about as a ‘sexy’ show. There is sexiness here, but it is often wrapped up in something far more complex and sinister. This seems to come quite personally from Lynch himself. As though he is using the art form to reconcile fears or concerns within him, or to simply explore these dynamics of human nature, warts and all.
Of course, to paint all of his work this way is to bias one’s self. There are positive sexual encounters to be found, not least in those rapturous encounters between Sailor and Lula in Wild At Heart – where sex is the outlaw couple’s most vivid expression of love. But more commonly we’re faced with disquieting tragedy or suffering, and poor Sam and Tracy are the latest ‘victims’ of physical intimacy in Lynch’s work spiralling into horror.
Next time: Buckhorn, South Dakota