Now for one of the most notorious scenes of The Return.
We cut to the Roadhouse (indicating that this isn’t where Part 7 will end, for anyone keeping note of the clock). The place is closed but inside Jean-Michel Renault (Walter Olkewicz) stands behind the bar busy with some endeavour. Booker T and the M.G.’s “Green Onions” plays prominently on the soundtrack. The place is otherwise deserted but detritus from the night before is strewn everywhere. We watch, for minutes, as an employee (William Clouter) sweeps everything up. There isn’t a cut during this whole period. We just spend time with this scene.
We watch this happen for 2 minutes and 15 seconds. That doesn’t sound like all that long when it’s written down like that, but in the world of television it’s an eternity and this is certainly the kind of indulgence that Mark Frost and David Lynch could not have gotten away with back when they were airing on CBS. Even at 2 minutes and 15 seconds, the shot doesn’t end; rather, something else starts happening. The phone rings and the scene is gradually taken over by Jean-Michel answering the call. At last we cut.
This sequence might seem like indulgence for it’s own sake; Frost and Lynch flaunting the creative freedom bestowed upon them by Showtime. A comic “that’ll show ’em” for having been allowed to do as they like without reprisal. A boast of their own achievement.
Yet that isn’t what’s happening here. Not really. There are moments throughout The Return in which Lynch injects deliberate stillness, the mundane, or inaction. Editing an unruly 18-hour presentation in this way must have been quite an undertaking, but Lynch has gone on record on a few occasions insisting that The Return be viewed as one piece; a whole. As such, it has it’s own flow and rhythms – not those that pertain to the parentheses of individual ‘episodes’.
The prospect of watching it all in one sitting is daunting, but on that scale, a scene like this is not so outrageous.
I am reminded of Jacques Rivette’s 1971 experiment Out 1; a film with a running time of over 12 hours. In Out 1 – which was completely improvised – numerous scenes stretch on well beyond the norm, and a large number exist purely for their own sake. With a plot that moves in and out of focus as it’s inhabitants collectively dream it into existence, the film becomes less about what’s ‘necessary’ and more about that feels tonally correct. The same, I feel, is true of The Return. Why have 2 minute and 15 seconds of sweeping now? Because it feels like the right time for that kind of pause. For taking stock. Just like the prior scene in which we met Tom Paige; nothing comes of it. But it’s a natural breather in the flow of things now that we’re forging ahead into the extended second act of the overall season structure.
Jean-Michel’s conversation on the phone is also narratively inconsequential, but it is not without substance.
A dead ringer for his deceased brothers Jacques (both played by Olkewicz), the phone call details some familiar side business for the Renault family. Jean-Michel is evidently pimping out high school girls, recalling Jacques’ involvement with Laura Palmer, Ronette Pulaski and One Eyed Jack’s, not to mention the long-since-past connections to the magazine Flesh World. One can only wonder what the age of the internet has done for a family like the Renaults.
The existence of Jean-Michel – previously undisclosed – also folds into the theme of doubles and doppelgangers that is persistent throughout The Return. Here is another uncanny facsimile. He may not be as fantastic in nature as Dale Cooper’s doubles – Mr. C and Douglas Jones – but he acts as a minor echoing of that fixation. A minor accompaniment to the main story’s ambient hum, if you will.
We are only afforded Jean-Michel’s side of the conversation, but Olkewicz makes it comical if not exactly progressive (which is very much in-keeping with the family mentality and the mentality commonly found in small towns). The talk is about two straight-A students.
“From what I hear though,” he lewdly snarls, “They were straight-A whores.” As with the feeling conjured by the scenes between Becky and her husband Steven in Part 5, one senses a cyclical nature to life in Twin Peaks; that the same problems come and go. Is it future? Is it past? What is the difference in this bewitched little town…?
Next time: Freedom