Lynch and Frost have a number of ways of making their villains seem sinister or threatening. The way Lynch implements certain drones and tones in the score, for instance. In the writing, one such device has been to give these antagonists the upper hand in some way that baffles or bewilders the so-called ‘white hats’. The latter half of season two evidences this through Windom Earle’s mind games; torn up letters and elaborate chess deals. For Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) in The Return it often seems to come down to technology and how he can manipulate a situation to his advantage through its usage.
We rejoin him sat at a table in Yankton Federal Prison under supervision. Warden Murphy (James Morrison) enters the room and plugs in a telephone for him to use. We’re reminded of the parting words given to Murphy by Deputy Director Gordon Cole (Lynch); that he wants to hear all about Mr. C’s ‘private’ phone call.
Cole is not above flouting certain codes of conduct when they suit him; one wonders whether his Agent Cooper would have approved…?
“One phone call,” Warden Murphy tells Mr. C, who looks up at him with those black pools. The camera angle ought to suggest that Murphy is the dominant one in the scene. He stands over Mr. C, who has to look up. But one look at those eyes and the audience knows a different truth. It’s in his body language, too. More terrific, minimalist work from MacLachlan. The sense is conveyed that Mr. C is only there because he wants to be. Want vs need, again.
The warden and the guard leave Mr. C to his privacy, though the prisoner is already looking directly into their security cameras, challenging their Trojan benevolence. Warden Murphy joins a Prison Tech (Hank Harris) and Inspector Randy Hollister (Karl Makinen) in a control room observing Mr. C. The arrangement and colour palette are very similar to that seen earlier in Part 5 when we were first introduced to the Mitchum Brothers in the control room of the Silver Mustang Casino, and one might even go so far as to see the two scenes as bookends. Add to this Dr. Jacoby’s broadcast as Dr. Amp, and Part 5 feels dominated by our different interactions with screens, our voyeurism and the ways in which we choose to communicate. You might even fold in the tiny screen of Lorraine’s Blackberry.
Hollister confirms that they are “Recording everything” – a very mild and admittedly tenuous callback to the memorable line from Mulholland Drive, “It is all recorded”, spoken by the sinister compare of Club Silencio just before the whole film starts unraveling. Just because you’re keeping tabs on something, doesn’t mean you ought to have the hubris to believe you’re in control of it.
Mr. C speaks directly to the security camera; “Now that everyone’s here, I will make my phone call.” He coldly mocks their invasion of his privacy.
“Who should I call?” he asks, rhetorically, “Should I call Mr. Strawberry?”
Mr. Strawberry and the history surrounding him are one of the more curious under-developed aspects of The Return, left that way deliberately; a delicious little tease. Indeed who Mr. Strawberry is (or more accurately was) is immaterial. The point of the namedrop is its marked effect on Warden Murphy, who goes pale at the reference. This is Mr. C establishing a shared connection; a bond; a secret. This is Mr. C saying, “I have the upper hand, I have leverage over you.” Warden Murphy is, in some way, dirty. That compromise is wrapped up in this unspoken backstory of the mysterious Mr. Strawberry.
“No, I don’t think I’ll call Mr. Strawberry. I don’t think he’s taking calls,” Mr. C goes on to say, hammering home the insinuation. One feels we are supposed to believe that Mr. Strawberry has been killed, and that Warden Murphy is responsible.
Mr. C knowing this and using it to his advantage suggests the vast and intricate detailing of his contingency plan for escaping the Black Lodge and even deliberately following Ray Monroe into jail. We come to feel as though Mr. C has done his research into every eventuality, giving him the same sense of power we once felt in Windom Earle. Again, Lynch and Frost establishing power through knowledge.
“I know who to call,” Mr. C says as Warden Murphy puts his hand to his own mouth in nervous shock. Mr. C picks up the receiver of the phone on the desk and punches in a few numbers (the numbers seem to begin ‘1-2-3’, but his movements quickly become too fast to follow), a pause, then many, many more numbers. Certainly not a regular phone number. Just as Warden Murphy and Inspector Hollister look to one another in confusion, the alarm system goes berserk. Sirens wail. Lights flash. Chaos reigns.
Quite how Mr. C has organised for this to happen at the push of (several) buttons is unclear, but what is clear from his expression is that this result is very much deliberate. He may not have made a traditional phone call, but he’s conveyed a message loud and clear. Through his technical adeptness, he is exerting his dominance over his captors, inverting the balance of power. If he has control over the secure facility that they are holding him in then who, in reality, is the prisoner? With this act of defiance, Mr. C shows that it is he who is in control of the situation. Underscoring this is an act of inaction. He doesn’t use the chaos as an opportunity to escape. No, he has other plans to achieve what he wants. This is a demonstration
But there is, perhaps, a secondary motive for this act. He does convey a message through the phone. During the disarray, Mr. C says into the receiver, “The cow jumped over the moon”, quoting a famous nursery rhyme. It isn’t the last time that children’s tales and nursery rhymes will be invoked in The Return (we’ll get to “the little girl that lives down the lane” a while later). This appears to be a coded message, but who receives it and to what end remains unknown.
Putting down the receiver abruptly shuts off the dissonance. Mr. C looks into the security camera, blankly, his twin objectives achieved.
“What did this guy just do?” Warden Murphy asks, now appearing vulnerable, childlike, his power taken away.
Next time: Buenos Aires, Argentina