The agents and Diane (Laura Dern) arrive at Yankton Federal Prison. “Ten minutes,” Diane demands, “And I speak to him alone.” She is nervous. Tense.
“Exactly the way it’s gonna be, Diane,” Gordon Cole (David Lynch) confirms, “You control the curtain and the microphone.”
Tammy (Chrysta Bell) chimes in that they are very appreciative. Diane stops, irked by the earnestness and asks Tammy her name. When she gives it, Tammy is treated to her own Diane Special, “Fuck you, Tammy”. She’s really one of the team now.
Back in the dark room where Gordon and Albert (Miguel Ferrer) viewed Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan), Diane takes a seat by herself. She composes herself and activates the blind, revealing Mr. C. She stands to get a better look at him.
“I knew it was going to be you,” Mr. C intones in the strangely subdued monotone he adopts for these interviews, “It’s good to see you again, Diane.”
“Oh yeah?” she replies, “When was that, Cooper? When did we see each other last?”
“Are you upset with me, Diane?” he asks a little gravely. It is inferred that the two of them have confrontational history; that Mr. C and Diane may have seen each other after this doppelganger emerged from the Black Lodge, and that meeting may have been unpleasant, maybe even sexually abusive. In response to his question, Diane aggressively replies, “What do you think?”
“I think you’re upset with me,” Mr. C responds.
Diane steals herself, remembering the reason she is there. She is trying not to let the sight of Mr. C affect her. She uses her resolve to get the interview back on point. She clearly doesn’t want to be there any longer than she needs to be. She repeats the question, as a test, “When was the last time we saw each other, Cooper?”
“At your house,” he replies.
This line of dialogue seems, in part, a playful nod to a memorable – nay, iconic – moment from Lynch’s 1997’s film Lost Highway. In that film the protagonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) meets a strange man at a party; a character listed in the credits as the Mystery Man (Robert Blake), who, it turns out, is actually part of Fred’s own psychosis incarnate. During their meeting, the Mystery Man grins that they have met before. When Fred asks where, the Mystery Man says, in a sinister tone, “At your house,” pausing a beat and continuing, “Don’t you remember?” The scene continues with the Mystery Man advising he is also at Fred’s house that very minute, and has Fred call his own home phone to prove it. Kyle MacLachlan’s steady reading of the line here is a dead ringer for Robert Blake’s, seemingly deliberately. Throughout The Return there is the feeling that Lynch is self-referencing, as though this 18-hour piece also acts as a summation or celebration of his entire career.
Diane does recall and agrees that this was the last time that they met. The insinuation that something terrible happened continues as she asks, “Do you remember that night?”
“I’ll always remember that night,” is his cold reply.
“Same for me,” Diane responds, “I’ll never forget it.” Lynch moves to a close-up of Diane now, who is clearly finding this experience an ordeal. She asks who Mr. C is, acknowledging that he is not the same man she previously knew. Maybe he is the man from their last, unpleasant encounter, but he is not the man who used to send her Dictaphone messages from working cases on the road with the FBI.
“I don’t know what you mean, Diane,” Mr. C replies.
She demands that he look at her. He does, his eyes black pools. There is nothing there. Her breathing grows heavy as they look at one another. The experience is becoming traumatic. Following our brash introduction to Diane, this is the first time we’ve seen her ruffled, vulnerable. Mr. C’s poker face ever so slightly drops during this sequence as though guardedly acknowledging the unspoken truth between them; that he is a different person to the Cooper of old. There may well be a very good reason for this, as we will come to see in later installments. Diane grows upset and presses the button on the control panel to close the blind. She exhales with relief when he disappears from view and quickly gathers her things and leaves the room. Diane, Albert, Tammy and Gordon form a silent parade out of the prison. Gordon thanks the Warden (James Morrison) as they leave and asks that the hold Mr. C until they receive further word from the FBI.
In the prison parking lot, Gordon goes over to Diane to check on her and feel out what she gathered from her meeting with the prisoner. Diane leads him away to one side.
“Listen to me,” she says, “That is not the Dale Cooper that I knew.”
“Please tell me exactly what you mean,” says Gordon.
“It isn’t time passing, or how he’s changed, or the way he looks. It’s something here,” she says, indicating her heart, “Something that definitely isn’t here.”
Gordon tells her that that’s good enough for him and they embrace. However, as they do so, Gordon becomes troubled by something. He elects not to hold Diane close, as though feeling through his hands something is off or wrong about what is happening. He is reading that Diane is putting on an act or, he’s sensing that this is not the real Diane!
Events later in the season will reveal that Diane has been in steady contact with Mr. C, throwing everything we have seen in this sequence into a whole new light. Though her anxious reaction to Mr. C can be read as quite genuine, the nature of their discussion becomes, in retrospect, something of a performance. Hence Mr. C’s brief but deliberate signal to her. Gordon, as has been noted already, is a strong receiver of psychic energy, and he picks up on this when the two of them embrace. Either that, or he picks up on something else inherently wrong with Diane to be revealed later. A low hum on the score underlines the discord.
“That last night you mentioned in there. Something I need to know about?”
“You and I will have a talk sometime,” Diane replies, “You and I will have a talk, okay?” Again, important information is teased for a later reveal. Diane downs more vodka.
Back in his cell, Mr. C tells his guard that he wants to speak with Warden Murphy as he has a message for him in his office. The guard laughs off the request.
“Just tell him we need to speak about a strawberry,” Mr. C adds…
Next time: No show