It’s morning at the Jones household in Las Vegas. The timelines across the events that take place in Nevada, Washington and South Dakota do not sync up – or even make chronological sense some of the time – but for Dougie Jones (Kyle MacLachlan), this is day 2 of his experiences. We join him sat on the marital bed in his pyjamas. Janey-E (Naomi Watts) has evidently laid out a suit for him. The line green jacket is a far cry from Cooper’s trademark attire. Dougie looks at it, puzzled.
In the Black Lodge, Phillip Gerard (Al Strobel) wanders an empty chamber, searching with his hand for an opening or point from which to make contact; an ethereal somewhere suspended above him. He finds it and appears within a chair in the corner of the room before Dougie.
“You see me don’t you,” he says in backward Black Lodge speak. It is not posed as a question but as a statement of fact.
Dougie does see him. From the angle Dougie appears like a giant, in fact it pointedly recalls the framing of the Giant/Fireman (Carel Struycken) when he first visited Cooper in the first episode of season two.
“You were tricked,” Gerard says, pulling the Douglas Jones seed from his pocket for Dougie to see. “Now one of you must die.”
This confirms the suspected set-up for the season ahead; two Coopers cannot be permitted to exist at the same time in our reality and so either Dougie or Mr. C must be eliminated. From this standpoint in the narrative, it is difficult to see how Dougie would stand a chance against the villainous Mr. C, who already has people circling in to dispatch him. Gerard said that Cooper was tricked, but this appears to be negating his own blame. Surely he too was tricked…?
There’s some false logic there… Dougie and Mr. C plainly can exist in the same reality – they do so throughout The Return for a number of days – but it is as though they are destined to clash.
It recalls some similar thematic elements in the dark and doomed HBO fantasy series Carnivale , in which two avatars on Earth are perpetually compelled to do battle for supremacy (if you’re a fan of Twin Peaks and haven’t seen that show, I whole-heartedly recommend giving it a try. It is indebted to Frost & Lynch’s creation, very clearly, but it more than comfortably holds its own). Still, The Return requires narrative thrust, and this sense of impending confrontation works well in that regard.
The Black Lodge fades out of sight and Dougie shuffles in place as though mildly troubled by the visitation. In actual fact he needs the toilet. Janey-E arrives in time to notice his apparent discomfort and chastises him for his childish behaviour, nicknaming him “Mr Dream Weaver” and directing him to the bathroom so he can “go potty” (an act which Dougie seems to find incredibly distressing).
“Mr Dream Weaver” seems like a throwaway turn of phrase here, but later on in the season the question of dreams hangs heavy over the narrative following Gordon Cole’s Monica Bellucci dream in Part 14. The question is raised (as has been before, incidentally, “We live inside a dream,” Phillip Jeffries said in Fire Walk With Me) as to whether all of this – all of the show – is happening inside a dream. In Part 17 a key climactic scene takes place with Cooper’s face superimposed over the image and at the end, the superimposed face repeats the line spoken by Jeffries. Janey-E-‘s line may appear throwaway… or it may not. There is a recurring insinuation that all of this may be in Cooper’s mind.
Having gone to the bathroom, Dougie is drawn toward the mirror. He approaches it, raising a hand to touch his reflection. He understands, on some level, that there is a double out there for him to eventually square up to. In addition, this scene recalls the finale of season two in which his doppelganger Mr. C, newly released from the Black Lodge, stares at his own reflection in the en suite at the Great Northern Hotel.
There is a wealth of feeling in this moment of Dougie looking into the mirror. One senses Cooper trapped inside the shell of Dougie, of his confusion and years-long experiences outside of normal reality. The vacancy of his character while inhabiting Dougie isn’t fully addressed or explained. It appears to be a “trick” as Gerard said. But perhaps these days as Dougie also play as a kind of shellshock following such an exteme experience as existing in – and violently exiting – the Black Lodge for such an extended period of “time”. It could be viewed as a sort of waking coma while Cooper processed his transition back into our plain of existence. This would also go some way to explaining his occasional flickers of memory triggered by totems that we know are familiar to Cooper. Somehow, all of this struggle is encapsulated in the way he looks into the mirror. It’s a wonderful piece of acting from MacLachlan.
MacLachlan’s performances in The Return weren’t recognised by the Emmys, which was a shock to some, not a surprise to others. Strange and experimental television doesn’t always get the praise it deserves from these ceremonies, but they’re just trinkets after all.
Still, its worth taking time to pause and marvel at what the actor achieves across The Return.
He plays Special Agent Dale Cooper, he plays the venomous Mr. C, he plays the ‘genuine’ Douglas Jones (albeit briefly), and he plays the vacant Dougie Jones as inhabited by the comatose Cooper. You might even add to that Mr. C impersonating Cooper.
Each of these variants is distinguishable from one another. The body language differs. The cadences of speech. Speed of movement. Often, when portraying Dougie, MacLachlan manages to convey significant changes or moments of realisation with the smallest of gestures. Both Dougie and Mr. C are stiff characters, but in very different ways. Mr. C uses a minority of movement because he is pure function. Dougie, however, is almost a person in ‘standby’ mode, as though perpetually waiting to hear – as Alexa would put it – the ‘wake’ word. We imprint on him the innocence of a child, as do other characters in the show. But all of this is communicated to us by MacLachlan, under the direction of David Lynch.
Lynch’s direction is exampled in the extensive special features on the DVD/blu-ray release of The Return. He has a light touch, communicating with his actors through tiny gestures of his own, sometimes even sounds. Various actors have also advised of this style. He asks his actors to intuit, as he does his audiences.
We cut to shortly later that morning.
Janey-E has had to dress Dougie, noticing the weight he has lost. She leaves him to do his tie, again seemingly blind to how little he is able to do for himself. Dougie catches sight of his son, Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon, looking at him from the hallway. Dougie smiles –
on a similar wavelength? – to the child and produces for him one of Cooper’s trademark thumbs-ups; another fleeting sign of his former self sneaking through? It seems so, as nobody that we’ve seen so far has shown Dougie this gesture. It’s something he just… knows. Sonny Jim returns his dad’s greeting before heading downstairs at his mother’s call.
One of the bittersweet touches throughout The Return is how Sonny Jim’s relationship to his father seems no-doubt better than the one he would’ve had with the former, absentee gambler who used to occupy the Jones house. Anyway, it’s nearly time for breakfast…
Next time: Take five