Depending on the version you’re watching, this is either the point at which Part 1 seamlessly transitions into Part 2, or its the final scene that leads to the disquieting credits in what amounts to something of an anticlimax for the first installment of The Return. Parts 1 and 2 aired together on Showtime as a two-hour special; they were screened that way at Cannes – and received a long standing ovation – but they are sometimes divided and shown as separate entities. The DVD/bluray boxset allows the viewer the choice. If you’ve elected to watch them individually, this is where we end for now…
Having left Bill Hastings stewing in a holding cell, we return to his residence at 439 East Elm Street. Detectives Macklay (Brent Briscoe) and Harrison arrive with a number of uniformed officers and plain clothes men. They converge on the home like the faithful walking into a church. Harrison serves Phyllis Hastings (Cornelia Guest) a search warrant. Phyllis’ indignation over how her husband’s incarceration is upsetting her dinner plans continues to provide a welcome undercurrent of absurd humour (and, for that matter, provides us an idea of her soon-to-be-evident ambivalence toward him).
Indeed, Lynch takes a moment to push in on Phyllis as the various officers disperse about their duties searching the house. This little motion – combined with the surreptitious glance Phyllis gives – very lightly infers her duplicity and potential culpability in the Davenport case.
Out by the garage, Macklay and Harrison inspect Bill’s Volvo. Harrison pops the trunk so that they can take a look. Macklay attempts to illuminate the scene with a flashlight, but his torch is on the blink and keeps winking out.
To the uninitiated, this detail may seem trivial, but its a vital piece of suggestive work from Lynch. Faltering electronic devices and in particular lights are of significant importance in Twin Peaks, going back so far as the pilot episode. When Special Agent Dale Cooper first arrives in the town of Twin Peaks to investigate the murder of Laura Palmer, one of his very first calls is to the morgue. The coroner is moved to apologise to Cooper about a defective fluorescent light as the young agent examines the body. And – in terms of the timeline – we can continue jumping back to source further instances of lights going haywire.
In the series’ prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Agents Chester Desmond and Sam Stanley encounter faltering lights at Hap’s Diner in Dear Meadow while investigating the murder of Teresa Banks. Both Banks and Palmer were of course victims of the same killer, possessed by the evil spirit of BOB. These flickering lights – indicating a disturbance or surge – imply that the very atmosphere surrounding BOB’s victims has been affected. Lynch uses this crackling energy to evoke an elemental discord or danger. Its a little like when Mr Halloran describes ‘the shining’ as like burned toast in the book/film of the same name. It’s a kind of paranormal residue that indicates to the viewer the presence of BOB’s handiwork.
Leaping even further back in the timeline and witness the intense crackling of energy found at the birth/arrival/inception of dimensional way-station ‘the Convenience Store’ as depicting during the phenomenal midsection of Part 8 (writing about that one is going to be intimidating).
Lynch’s fascination with this aesthetic goes back further still in his own filmography, and can be seen in his cult debut feature Eraserhead. Here, again, faltering lights are used to suggest or enhance a sense of strife or discord within a scene. Indeed, once you start noticing this trend, it seems to appear everywhere, from his experimental early shorts to 2006’s labyrinthine digital rabbit-hole INLAND EMPIRE. It’s a fetishistic signature as prevalent as Tarantino’s preoccupation with feet.
So, this small detail in an otherwise innocuous sequence suddenly takes on a loaded meaning. At this early stage in the investigation, this is the first pointed clue that the murder of Ruth Davenport (and the mystery John Doe) are in some way directly linked to Mr. C/BOB.
For our first hour back in the universe of Twin Peaks, this is perhaps something of a relief. Part 1 defies many expectations in that it rarely takes place within the town that provided setting for virtually all of the first two seasons (are we forgetting about James Hurley’s adventures on the road in season 2? Why not!). Instead, Part 1 has brazenly thrown open the show’s scope. We’ve seen horror in New York and the beginnings of a new mystery here in Buckhorn, South Dakota. Soon we’ll be flung as far afield as Las Vegas and then even overseas (briefly) to Buenos Aires. And, of course, Part 1 opened in the truly unknown physical space of the White Lodge; a scene divorced from conventional time and space completely.
We’ve also spent relatively little time in the company of Twin Peaks regulars, instead finding ourselves with new characters with whom we share no nostalgia. The Return will get to old favourites, and it’ll warm to nostalgia in a rather effective way, but this entire first hour can be seen as a kind of ‘cold open’ (a term used in television particularly for a pre-credits scene, establishing a narrative thread or theme for the episode ahead). And things will get progressively stranger, especially over the course of Parts 2 and 3…
This sense of disassociation and strange disconnect extends to the sonic palette of the show. Seasons one and two were beloved for a number of reasons, not least of which was Angelo Badalamenti’s iconic score. The Return, by contrast, is often defined by its spacious silences. This is a deliberate aesthetic imposed upon the piece by Lynch. Times have changed and so have his preferred methods of communication with us. The new quietude of Twin Peaks makes it feel sinister in ways it never used to. It’s a whole new mode.
So, yes, Macklay’s defective flashlight does provide a strange sense of relief and coherence. Some of the old rules do still apply…
In the back of Hastings’ Volvo is some fishing gear and a cooler. Det. Harrison lifts the cooler out, revealing a piece of flattened human tissue underneath, which further incriminates Hastings. The discovery immediately calls to mind the discovery of a severed ear in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Again he’s giving us a morbid little piece that will eventually unlock strange and disturbing mysteries. Macklay reacts to the discovery, saying simply, “Woof.”
If you’re watching Part 1 as a separate entity from Part 2, here Lynch cuts to black and returns to Carel Struycken in his monochrome room as the Fireman (though credited here elusively as ‘????????’), gazing over mournfully in the direction of the gramophone from which the scritching noises continue to play. The credits climb the screen accompanied only by a persistent and unnerving tone from Lynch’s own sound design. An eerie outro to an unsettling first hour.
Part 1 is dedicated to the memory of Catherine Coulson.
Next time: The first dirty bearded man