5:7 – Case files

One thing I hear commonly among my peers (Millennials and a smattering of Gen-Zers) is the term ‘Impostor Syndrome’; a condition of not feeling equipped or deserving of some aspect of one’s life. It can cover the general feeling of ‘faking’ being an adult, or it can be used for more urgent and serious feelings of inadequacy; where it is not justified; where the mind is in a sense eating itself, not allowing for contentment or happiness.

It’s something I’ve felt to degrees, certainly. In my work life and in my vocational life (this blog and my long-running film reviews over at thelosthighwayhotel.com). From my slightly warped, funhouse-mirror perspective, everyone else is capable and deserving, while I’m not. I’m a child playing at adulthood, mimicking the more genuine actions of others.

So I fully admit that I may be imprinting on The Return, but there’s a part of me that can’t help but wonder if this shared sense of being a fraud, of merely miming the right responses, is being addressed by Mark Frost and David Lynch in the happenings of Douglas Jones.

In the next sequence of Part 5, Dougie goes to work. One of the many facets of day-to-day life he will have to navigate (or, more accurately) be guided through. It’s not so extreme to say that the only differences between myself and Dougie, sometimes, is my greater ability to articulate myself. The Return nails, in a sense, what Imposter syndrome feels like, even if it doesn’t literally portray it.

Janey-E (Naomi Watts) stops the car outside of Dougie’s (Kyle MacLachlan) work; an insurance company at business plaza. When he doesn’t get out of the car under his own steam she surmises that he must be having “on of your episodes”. A later comment suggests that – at some time in the recent past – Dougie was involved in a car accident that had side-effects. But this moment feels like Janey-E brushing off the seriousness of Dougie’s condition because she doesn’t want to acknowledge it.

She has to shove Dougie out of the car, her patience nearing its end. Dougie shuffles across the plaza, where he is drawn toward a statue of a policeman pointing a gun. This is the next trigger for Dougie, who is unquestionably drawn to the sculpture for the distant memories it coaxes of his life as Cooper; an agent of law.

Dougie raises his own arm, mimicking the gesture of the statue. It’s a pose he’s had to assume in his former life. He stumbles onward in the direction the statue points, which is fortunately toward Lucky 7 Insurance; his workplace (another instance of fortune smiling on his sleepy progress). On arrival outside, however, he is somewhat at a loss, shuffling in place like a stuttering NPC (non-playable character) in a video game until a co-worker recognises him. Phil Bisby (Josh Fadem) arrives carrying eight coffees and Dougie’s eye is immediately drawn to the beverages.

“Off in dreamland again, Dougie?” Phil says casually. Given the developments later in the season, it is tempting to leap upon this as another potential clue to the mysteries surrounding the finale, in which reality is brought into question. It’s especially easy considering this is a road Lynch has travelled multiple times before. Mulholland Drive features a similar moment in which Naomi Watt’s character talks about living in “some kind of dream place”. It later turns out that the world she has been inhabiting is a dream.

More obviously, however, this is used here simply as Phil recognising – jokingly – that Dougie is somewhat far away. Phil assumes Dougie is lost in his thoughts and not wrestling with the kind of handicap that is really presently going on. Phillip Gerard (Al Strobel) will also implore Dougie to “wake up”. Cooper is the sleeper who must awake; Dougie is his vessel.

Phil leads Dougie into the elevator. Badalamenti employs a familiar-seeming little shuffle on the soundtrack, signposting the playfulness of the sequence to the viewer. Phil and Dougie take the elevator up.

“Coffee,” Dougie says, eyeing the tower of drinks, and Phil placates him by giving him one of the coffees that was intended for a co-worker named Frank. Dougie gets to work on the coffee immediately, reveling in the flavour. Here the show recognises and enjoys one of its biggest cultural signifiers. Dougie even parrots, “Damn good joe” – as close as anything Cooper himself might’ve said back in the show’s former days. In the Lucky 7 Insurance foyer it is all that Phil can do to stop Dougie stealing the drinks of people waiting for appointments.

The officers themselves are vast. It’s a spacious place, one that seems open to client visits as opposed to a financial services filing cabinet where customer contact is reduced to a telephone service desk. Lucky 7 opts for a more personal touch. We immediately get the impression that this is a prestigious local firm, not a faceless corporate entity. An idealised version of American business.

Phil ushers Dougie into the morning meeting where he is accosted by a shady work colleague named Anthony Sinclair (Tom Sizemore). The two appear to have formerly been in cahoots. The way Anthony speaks enthusiastically while Dougie appears mildly overwhelmed feels like an expression of the discomfort felt by an introvert when imposed upon in this manner by an extrovert. An exceedingly mild sense of suffocation (okay, now I’m definitely projecting…)

Anthony has covered for Dougie, and given we know that Dougie formerly indulged in gambling and prostitutes, we can assume similar behaviour of Anthony. Once again, the changes in Dougie’s physical appearance are noted jovially, but the changes in his mental state are swiftly ignored.

At the table, Darren (Wes Brown) and Rhonda (Elena Satine) share an exchange which suggests Darren is trying to step out on his wife with her. Rhonda is disinterested. An economical slice of office life; Lucky 7 Insurance exists with or without Dougie. Another Lucky 7 employee, Frank (Bob Stephenson) takes exception to Dougie drinking his coffee, but Phil placates him with a green tea. The way this little moment is played is not without note if we continue to think about Impostor Syndrome and how we all think everyone else is handling life better than we are. Dougie is the man-child in the sequence. The fulcrum of this idea. However, if you look at Frank, he too behaves like a disappointed child. The irony of our self-obsession is that we can sometimes miss that those around us are exhibiting similar behaviour. We are, in fact, not alone. Frank really enjoys his green tea.

Dougie takes a seat (again with the help of Phil, who has fallen very quickly into the routine of helping Dougie; a man he surely didn’t need to assist in this way before) and the boss, Bushnell Mullins (Don Muarry) chairs the meeting. Throughout his life, one of David Lynch’s major supporters and mentors was a man named Bushnell Keeler. Keeler granted Lynch his first creative studio space way-back-when. The namecheck here feels clearly intended as a nod to one of the most influential figures in his life as an artist. Bushnell notes the change in Dougie’s demeanor but turns to Anthony to kick start the meeting.

They talk shop – it appears Lucky 7 deal primarily in home and contents insurance. Out of nowhere, Dougie claims that Anthony is lying about a claim. Unlike his actions at the casino, this one doesn’t come with any visualised guidance from the Black Lodge. It is, it seems, totally unfounded, and only our foreknowledge of Dale Cooper’s occasional clairvoyance and uncanny intuition lends Dougie’s statement any kind of weight. As Dougie can’t justify his outburst, Bushnell tells him to meet him in his office after the meeting. Anthony, meanwhile, sees Dougie with a newfound contempt.

We cut to that meeting and Dougie is left alone with Bushnell in his large office (ushered in by Phil and another employee). Behind Bushnell’s desk, on the wall, is a tall and imposing framed poster for a boxing match in which the Lucky 7 boss himself was one of the fighters. “Battling Bud” he was once nicknamed. Dougie is transfixed by the poster.

We learn that Anthony Sinclair is Bushnell’s top man, but Dougie gets derailed by the word “agent“, somewhat unsurprisingly. Still, it appears the memory triggers are coming to him thick and fast at present, yet they don’t appear to be adding up to a wholesale revelation or awakening. Bushnell tells him that his confrontation with Anthony isn’t a game, but Dougie merely parrots the word “game”, adding to the sense of a child in a grown-up environment. Admonishing him for his seemingly baseless outburst and for his recent absence from work, Bushnell hands Dougie a weighty pile of “homework”; a stack of case files for him to go over. Calling it homework again emphasises that Dougie is the child in the situation, though again no effort is made to explore or remedy that situation. Mental health being, again, a taboo topic in polite society.

Case files,” Dougie parrots, receiving another echo of his former life as an agent of the FBI. ‘Case files‘ is also the name given to Part 5 overall. Bushnell threatens Dougie’s future with the firm should be not complete his homework, but Dougie remains stuck on the aforementioned phrase, singing around his caged mind in a feedback loop.

In an aside that almost makes the point too strongly, the sequence ends with a cut to later again in the day. Dougie stands in a hallway, bent forward, his hands in his crotch (the case files dumped on the floor). He needs the bathroom again. As with earlier (in Part 4), this isn’t something he can accomplish on his own. He is like an infant in this regard. It is only thanks to the arrival of Rhonda – seen earlier – that he is guided to the appropriate room.

An odd moment occurs here. Rhonda flirts with Dougie, in spite of his evident diminishments: “You know, I was thinking, maybe I’ll let you kiss me now, handsome.” It seems a particularly odd time to find him sexy. While it clues us in a little further to the type of man Dougie may have formerly been (chasing after co-workers while married), it reflects quite strangely on Rhonda’s desires. Still, at Lucky 7 Insurance it takes all sorts. She lets him use the Ladies bathroom (a further emasculation of his manhood?) while she keeps watch, smiling to herself.

Next time:  Vacancy

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