Kafkaesque (adjective) – characteristic or reminiscent of the oppressive or nightmarish qualities of Franz Kafka’s fictional world. e.g. “a Kafkaesque bureaucratic office”
FBI Headquarters, Philadelphia, PA
FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole (David Lynch) sits in on a meeting with Agent Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer). Albert is presenting information on an ongoing case. Among the other agents present at the conference table is their young protege Agent Tamara ‘Tammy’ Preston (Chrysta Bell).
Chrysta Bell’s involvement in The Return has been, for some, a bone of contention. Bell is an acquaintance of Lynch’s through his interest and involvement in the music industry. She had never acted before The Return; a singer/songwriter by trade. Some have bemoaned her evident inexperience, but personally, this was never a problem. If Tammy is to be observed as a junior agent this sensibility is, if anything, fitting. Though I really feel that she made a very specific persona out of the part.
Perhaps the contention also comes from her appearance. Sporting a variety of tight fitting skirts for her evidently hourglass figure, she has the appearance of the FBI’s own Jessica Rabbit. Her beauty is commented on a few times over the course of The Return, though Cole is clearly more enamoured with her talent and potential as an investigator. Is this combination of traits such a hard sell? Can a perceptive and capable woman not also be beautiful…? And isn’t the latter subjective anyway?
Her casting is hardly a first for Lynch, whose approach to filling roles in his work has always had an element of trust and instinct to it. He works similarly to Agent Cooper, actually, using his intuition in order to get as close as he can to what feels right. Many have spoken of Lynch’s unconventional audition process, in which hopeful candidates aren’t always expected to read lines, but rather just converse with the famous auteur, so he can get a feel for their personality. Naomi Watts tells of this experience when cast for Mulholland Drive (interviews which can be found on the special features of the DVD/bluray). In addition, he has cast non-actors and specifically musicians in speaking roles time and time again. Sting in Dune. David Bowie as Phillip Jeffries for Fire Walk With Me. Henry Rollins in Lost Highway. Billy Ray Cyrus in Mulholland Drive. These are just examples. Bell’s appearance in The Return is not that unusual and is entirely justified.
Albert explains, “He’s been officially accused now of brutally murdering his wife. He claims he;s innocence and knows who did it but can’t say because it would breach national security. However, he got word to Chris here that these items, which he placed in his garden in Georgetown, are the clues to the identity of the killer.”
The clues in the case are laid out before them. They are:
- A photograph of a glamour model posing provocatively
- A pair of pliers
- Another photo of two sunbathers
- A photo of a small boy at the beach wearing a sailor outfit
- A machine gun equipped with a silencer
- A jar of nuts or beans
“The congressman’s dilemma,” Cole muses and orders the agents to get to work on it. What are we to make of this intriguing selection of items? I’d imagine… nothing. Just another example of Mark Frost and David Lynch’s mischievous sense of humour, delighting in the absurd. It’ll not be referred to again, but its a kooky bit of flavouring nonetheless. It also recalls – as a kind of cryptic in-joke maybe – the mysterious clues parceled out with initial pressings / screenings of Mulholland Drive.
As his agents get to work on the task in hand, Cole asks Tammy to stay behind and brief him on New York.
Tammy brings up images on a television of the mutilated bodies of Sam and Tracey. She says NYPD are clueless and nobody knows who owns the building or any of the employed guards. Hundreds of digital files were confiscated; the recordings of the glass box. She shows Cole a freeze-frame. It shows a ghostly image that could be seen as ‘the Experiment’ or, conceivably, as Cooper. Either way, there’s no telling for sure.
“What the hell?” Cole asks, loudly (his deafness hasn’t improved in the intervening years).
Tammy states that this image only appears on one of the cameras and disappears as quickly as it arrived. We know from witnessing the scenes in Parts 1 and 2 that both ‘the Experiment’ and Cooper appeared in the box, and both for longer than a couple of seconds. Both were notable events, but neither appear to have been recorded properly? The footage has either been tampered with or affected by the events they were documenting, or there is a discrepancy between the time passing in the room and the time being recorded. Or the freeze-frame that Tammy is presenting is of another time that we’ve not previously witnessed. All theories are possible but this last seems the most likely.
Still, with so many data files to comb through, is it possible they haven’t looked at the most recent, showing the crime being investigated…?
Albert asks about forensics and Tammy advises nothing has been found.
Cole received a call and they move quickly to his office. The secretary advises him that it has to do with Agent Cooper, hence Cole’s urgency to respond.
Behind Cole’s desk is a large framed black and white photograph of a nuclear detonation. It’s an unusual pick, but then Cole is an unusual man. Nevertheless, the apparent importance of this decorative selection will become clear later on in The Return, and we will probe its relevance then.
On the opposite wall, behind Tammy, is a print of Franz Kafka…
Just as the art depicting a nuclear test in progress isn’t immaterial, neither, one assumes, is the presence of Franz Kafka. It’s telling of Cole’s personality as a senior agent within the FBI that he acknowledges and appreciates the work of Kafka who – as intimated by that definition of ‘Kafkaesque‘ at the top there – is famed for his depictions of fastidious and maddening bureaucracies.
As a supervisory agent in a vast government establishment, Cole’s print of Kafka perhaps serves as a reminder to him of the truisms in the writer’s work; how most institutions – intentionally or not – can trip over themselves through the blind following of processes.
Cole’s Blue Rose Task Force works outside of conventional processes. Colouring outside of the lines is almost a prerequisite of the team, and Cole encourages intuitive thinking in his agents. Where the rules and regulations of the FBI can be rigid, Cole and his team show flex. Displaying Kafka in this way also presents his own wry humour and awareness of working within the bounds of a contradiction. Production design as shortcut into character insight.
Cole takes the call on his red phone. Given the symbol of nuclear threat hanging on the wall, the placement of a red telephone here doesn’t feel incidental, either.
We are not privy to the other side of the conversation, but Cole organises to go out ‘there’ the next morning for a 9 am interview. Hanging up the phone he advises Albert that they are headed out to the Black Hills of South Dakota, and that Tammy will join them.
“The absurd mystery of the strange forces of existence,” Albert sighs once Cole has left the room. He addresses Tammy sardonically, “How about a truckload of Valium?” She raises an eyebrow.
As with the end of Part 2, Part 3 ends with a band performing at The Roadhouse. No accompanying drama unfolds; The Cactus Blossoms play their song “Mississippi” and the credits roll. The song has a dusty, desert country vibe to it and works well in relief following Part 3’s bias toward action in Las Vegas. The title of the song and its lyrics feel incidental. As is often the case with Lynch, the prevailing concern is its mood.
Part 3 is dedicated to Don S. Davis and Miguel Ferrer.
Next time: Mr Jackpots