The concept of a complete human head transplant has been an infrequent but potent element of horror and science fiction, but its a fixation that has also proven durable in the medical world. Though never successfully achieved (at the time or writing), its a controversial subject fraught with ethical implications. Those in favour, like Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero, are labelled ‘Dr Frankenstein’, while boasts that such a goal is and will be achievable are either laughed at or viewed quite negatively.
Still, the desire to best nature at its own game remains a persistent human pursuit, and one that – it appears – even ruthless Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) and his minions even have a passing desire for. Our next sequence culminates with the discovery of a body…
(would it even be Twin Peaks if each season didn’t start with another body?) and a head, but the two have not – nor ever have been – connected. Two victims for the price of one. Mysteries abound.
After the abrupt horror show that ended the prior scene in New York, we cut to a new location as Twin Peaks: The Return continues to broaden the show’s horizons. We’re in Buckhorn, South Dakota.
A plump and comical character named Marjorie Green (Melissa Bailey) walks toward us down a long hallway in a block of flats, carrying her dog, Armstrong. The symmetrical framing strongly recalls Kubrick’s interior shots from The Shining. Lynch is a documented fan of Kubrick’s, and its an admiration that went both ways. Kubrick famously screened Eraserhead for the cast and crew of The Shining in an effort to set a tone for the shoot.
As with the famous corridors of The Overlook Hotel, we’ll soon find something macabre lurking behind one of the doors. Armstrong smells it first, then Marjorie gets a whiff. She knocks at the door and calls Ruth’s name, but doesn’t get a response. She rushes to her own apartment (door 218) and dithers with the phone. She calls the emergency services, telling them, “I haven’t seen her in three days, and there’s that terrible smell.” Marjorie is so fraught with worry that she forgets her own address when asked.
Lynch cuts here, back to the corridor and employs a subtly atmospheric music cue as he focuses in on the locked door to Ruth’s apartment, indicating that something is definitely amiss. It’s another of his effective mood-setters.
And perhaps we’re reminded of the drawer pull in which Josie Packard was supernaturally entombed in the latter half of season two; arguably still the high-water mark of WTF moments in a show with quite a few of those…
We cut to a little later and the police arrive, pulling up outside the building. Marjorie comes down to meet officers Olsen (Christopher Murray) and Douglas (James Giordano), Scatterbrained as she is, she appears surprised when they mention the smell, as though she’d forgotten about it.
Marjorie leads them to Ruth’s door but it is locked. When they ask for the site manager, Marjorie tells them that Barney is in the hospital, “not the regular hospital” – arguably the first instance in which The Return starts an ongoing conversation about blindness and blitheness toward mental health issues in American society. Marjorie says it as though its taboo, lowering her voice slightly. Stigmas and ignorance of this kind will recur throughout the season as we’ll see in later scenes.
The farce – and this sequence is most certainly farcical – continues as the three of them go back outside to find an associate of Barney’s brother named Hank Fillmore (Max Perlich).
Buffy The Vampire Slayer fans might find Perlich strangely familiar; he plays the character Whistler in a series of flashbacks during the season two finale of that show . A squirrelly bald man in overalls, he mistakes the officers for someone named Harvey. It seems as though this apartment complex attracts kooks.
It’s not a wholly unreasonable observation that Mark Frost and David Lynch do enjoy poking fun at the perceived dumbness of lower class America. This could be viewed as snobbish elitism, but somehow the pair manage to largely avoid any real sense of mean-spiritedness through how guilelessly funny they make their oddballs. One can readily imagine the two of them hammering out the script, making one another laugh – much like the Coen Brothers, for instance. Getting hold of Barney’s brother Chip becomes a whole other litany of dead-ends for the weary officers, only for Marjorie to reveal that she has they key (!).
Hank’s insecurity about whether he can leave or not is a wonderful little aside.
The key secured, the officers enter Ruth’s apartment. All seems in order, until they check out the bedroom. There they make a gruesome discovery; Ruth Davenport’s severed head, resting on her pillow. She appears to have been shot through the eye.
Another brief aside with Hank takes place in which he calls the aforementioned Harvey on an over-sized mobile phone. He, Hank and Chip seem to be embroiled in some criminal activity or other, though this will never be pursued any further. The point of this little moment seems merely to allow for time to pass in Ruth’s apartment, as when we return some more new faces will be joining the scene; it’s evidently a little later in the day.
Bucktown PD’s resident coroner Constance Talbot (Jane Adams) is already blue gloved and taking notes as Detective Dave Macklay (Brent Briscoe) arrives on the scene. Briscoe sadly joined the list of actors to die shortly after the completion of the series. Macklay is a no-nonsense plain clothes man, bearing the same portly stature that seems common to detectives across the various departments of The Return. He and Talbot clearly have a rapport; something efficiently suggested by a mere comment about his forensic gloves. Another smart little touch.
They pull back the heavy duvet to reveal Ruth’s head in bed with the headless corpse of a man in his late 40s. The body, we will later learn, of Major Garland Briggs (Don S Davis), incongruously unaffected by the aging process (we’ll talk about that further down the road). An inch or so separates his neck from her body. Officer Olson sums up the discovery neatly with an, “Uh oh”.
This is the reveal I was talking about at the start; another new mystery for a show swimming with mysteries. Lynch fades to black to allow us to consider the grim discovery.
Later we will learn that Mr. C is behind this, having either staged it himself or having instructed others to do so (possibly Chantal and Hutch). That Ruth’s head and Briggs’ body are staged in this way suggests to me, however, that Mr. C is more likely to be behind it than his lackeys. There’s a perverse pleasure in goading the police this way. It deliberately draws the FBI into the story – fulfilling a narrative function for Lynch and Frost – but also adding greater layers to the psychology of Mr. C. There’s a dastardly confidence at play here. A sick kind of showmanship, as though he takes pleasure in preoccupying the law with puzzles that most wouldn’t be able to believe the solutions to. It’s actually very ‘BOB’ – remember the letters under the fingernails, spelling a name? The world is his playground, and he gets to flaunt it here. Posing these bodies draws his actions – and existence – closer to discovery.
It isn’t reckless, it’s performance. He wants his creation discovered; his ‘successful’ head transplant is ready for the world to see..
Next time: My log has a message for you