One of my favourite words which I rarely find the opportunity to use is ‘psychomanteum’. It is an enclosed area, dimly lit, containing a mirror which reflects only darkness. The psychomanteum is an arrangement used by mediums and practitioners of parapsychology to communicate with spirits. It is thought that the dead – or perhaps other entities – will manifest in the dark mirror, or be otherwise drawn to the spot.
Why bring up this piece of arcane trivia?
Because it’s time for our first visit to the Palmer house.
It’s night, and a long time since we’ve last been here; the site of so much pain and trauma. Stillness. Quiet. Inside, Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie), mother of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), sits alone in the living room watching a nature documentary on a very large TV screen, which reflects in the mirrors behind her head. She is smoking and the table in front of her is strewn with medication and alcohol. There is a full ashtray both on the table and on the sofa beside her. The soundtrack features eerie, slowed-down noises.
It’s a very sad re-introduction to Sarah. The pills, bottles and cigarette butts tell us that she has struggled with the events of the first two seasons, probably for all of the intervening years. She has attempted to obliterate her hurt by burying it in addiction and escape. Later in the season we will come to realise that there is something else she may have been trying to escape or obliterate for much of her life…
The TV show she’s watching features big cats feeding on a kill. Sarah’s interest in this base predatory nature appears immaterial at this stage, but later events shade the choice of program. We come to learn that Sarah Palmer is and has been host to Judy. In Part 8 we see the beginnings of this situation, and in Part 14 we discover that it is very much still the case.
The glass box scenes, however, raise questions concerning this. If indeed ‘the Experiment’ and Judy are one and the same, then it stands to reason that there are times that Sarah Palmer is not possessed/under Judy’s control.
‘The Experiment’/Judy can move quickly. This we know. And is exceedingly powerful. Is it possible, therefore, that it has already made it back to Twin Peaks and is inhabiting Sarah in this scene? If so, that may explain the interest in the predatory animals and the general sense of disquiet on the soundtrack in this very uneasy-feeling scene.
The dominant positioning of the mirrors brings the topic of the psychomanteum to mind. Granted, Sarah Palmer’s living room does not fit the definition of a psychomanteum (even though it is dimly lit), but mirrors are of great relevance and import in a lot of supernatural lore, often used as gateways. And in Twin Peaks. A mirror proves integral to the final scene of Part 16, when Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) experiences an urgent transition between places. And remember BOB’s recurring relationship with mirrors. It is through them that we see whom he hides within, and when he takes up residence in Cooper’s doppelganger, it is a mirror he destroys first, as if to hide himself from discovery.
The mirrors in Sarah Palmer’s home should not simply be discredited from having import. They serve an economic function, enabling Lynch to cover both sides of the room in one-shot, grabbing the scene as a ‘oner’, but the dark violence reflected within them feels like a precursor or foreshadowing. Perhaps its just the benefit of knowing where The Return will go, provoking undue connections, but still I wonder…
Regardless, its clear Sarah spends a lot of her time in this room. After Sam in the first glass box scene, she is the second of the season’s isolated individuals, hemmed in to a life spent staring at a glass screen. The feeling that The Return is commenting on the negative fall-out of our addiction to screens is perpetuated here.
Next time: Shadow