Now that it’s likely most of the most-interested have ingested the first 4 episodes of David Lynch’s reboot of Twin Peaks on Showtime, I wanted to share some observations.
As an elder, nearly 64, I watched the original series religiously and remember vividly when the show was about to air its final episode. As the last shot of that episode has been widely screened in the trailers for Showtime’s new entries, I think it’s safe to discuss it without harshing anybody’s buzz.
Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), our Zen-like hero, had been chasing down the Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) murder leads that have grown increasingly occult and conspiratorily sinister in the first two seasons. In particular, the creepy spirit of Bob (Frank Silva), a long-haired snaggletoothed hillbilly ghost that would now be straight out of a Rob Zombie movie, seemed to be at the center of everything.
O.K., that last shot. Staring in a mirror, Cooper suddenly smashes his forehead into that mirror to smile at his reflection, now the spirit of Bob. I watched with two friends 25 years ago (still tight with both of them), and we let out a collective cry. It was too horrible to believe! Evil had triumphed.
A two-hour Twin Peaks feature (NOT Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me) for Europe was released on VHS and I’d heard it had footage that hadn’t been part of the series’ finale. It turned out to be true, but weirdly pinned everything on the One Armed Man (Al Strobel), a peripheral character that seemed to know things but was not really plausible as a killer. In short, completely unlikely and unsatisfying. Consider it an alternate universe—and perhaps best not to consider it at all.
Lynch’s prequel Fire Walk with Me introduced incest as part of the back story, with Bob still very much up to his demonic possession shenanigans.
So, this is the story we’re dropped into, and to Lynch’s credit (and again revealing nothing to those a little behind in the new series), he takes that mirror-crashing last shot very seriously as a departure point. (The original cast I’ve named has returned, though Frank Silva passed in 1995, so his appearances are via stock footage.)
This is Lynch deep in his artistic maturity, and all of his classic tropes are evident: Images and sequences of magnificent originality; fascination with decay, both biological and industrial. Lynch, in later films like Lost Highway and Fire Walk with Me also indulged an unapologetic hetero-horndog streak. Sometimes this male gaze has been grounded in character point-of-view. In the new series, Lynch’s is the only real point of view, so attention to females in lingerie or completely nude seems gratuitous, and in moments mixed with extreme violence, irresponsible. Defenders may see this as ironic.
There is also the later development of absurdist gaps between people speaking, long shots held where nothing happens, and some acting that borders on a weird directorial collision of Guy Maddin and Ed Wood Jr. It is easy to imagine Lynch cracking up like an old weed head over some of the more maddening aspects.
I have seen nearly everything by Lynch, but at the same time, he is not even one of my top ten favorite directors. Even so, I have watched so many different versions of a re-cobbled Dune I should probably get some sort of prize. Lynch at his best is absolutely brilliant. But some of his choices are irritating, and the question then becomes—should we regard the irritation as opportunity? By this, I mean one can point to directors like Ozu, Antonioni, Michael Snow, Tarkovsky, and Warhol who have all used boredom/irritation with purpose. Intentional or not, examined boredom cuts through conventional grasping at entertainment. It presents what we pay to avoid. Von Trier used it as a form of assault in Dogville. Kubrick did it with a press conference on the moon in 2001, shooting it all in a full shot where a dull brown color pallete dominated. His joke: little self-important homo sapiens were about to get their asses kicked. Kubrick did this more than once in 2001—the dull dialog on the space station, the clueless conversations between astronauts observed by HAL 9000—a technique so standard that Spielberg paid homage to it in an early press conference scene from his Kubrick-generated vehicle A.I. Lynch? In such illustrious auteur company (Spielberg aside), it is hard not to come up short. Perhaps it’s time to check his philosophical underpinnings for some sort of clue.
Transcendental Meditation may be a good place to start. Yes, Lynch is devoted to the same T.M. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi popularized by the Beatles and Donovan at the end of the 60s—his Foundation supports its availability to inner city kids and PTSD vets. I practiced it for 3 and a half years in the early ’70s, studied with the Maharishi and eventually became a teacher of it. I was all of 19. At that time, David Lynch would not have been lauded as a poster child for TM. In fact, much of my feeling as an outsider in that coterie had to do with having similar preoccupations as Lynch—decay, violence, morbid sex and monsters—the predictable gestalt of a lapsed-Catholic Scorpio. The prevailing mood of Maharishi’s organization at that time is similar to the blissed-out man-bun yoga instructor of today that you want to smack in the face. To add insult to injury, nobody in the group was allowed to look like a hippie. I wore a cheap polyester suit and constantly tried to grow my hair just a little over the ears without being censured.
TM is simple, a natural tranquilizer. It shared the same results as a variety of meditation practices, though it was less strenuous—you didn’t have to sit up straight and you barely had to concentrate. The philosophical thrust: Life is bliss, repeat bliss bliss bliss in meditation and pretty soon you will be blissed-out all the time. This didn’t work for me, and judging by the content of Lynch’s films and the new Twin Peaks, one is hard pressed to see how it is working for him any better than a Xanax habit.
Instead, Lynch’s world view is close to that of David Cronenberg, whom we can safely say does not recognize Nature as a benevolent, pantheist force. In fact, theism does not preoccupy Cronenberg at all—there appears to be no divine plan, no plan whatsoever other than a biological imperative for unstable mutation. I am reminded of something I heard from 12-step recovery: “You don’t always get what you want. You don’t even always get what you need. You get what you get.” Lynch’s blank wall-gazing is an aspect Cronenberg doesn’t share. It is also far more Buddhist than Hindu. TM is done with eyes closed and can’t be referred to outside of meditation—you don’t go around repeating your mantra all day long. Zen is done open-eyed, and one can stop and do it at any point of the day or night by simple awareness of the breath. Thus, the buzz word “mindfulness.” (I adopted a Tibetan variation of this meditation form after TM and found it much more useful.) “You get what you get” has a Zen ring to it, and that is the closest thing to Agent Cooper’s view we can find, played by the same actor who was the Dune Messiah, after all. If he walks the path of realization, it is with the gait of both samurai and monk. And more importantly, he begins the new show as an apparently fallen adept. The morality he practiced is reborn as much out of existential necessity as the benevolence of non-self. That seems to be the Hero’s Journey we return to with this new series. Faced with the Abyss, he’d previously rejected nihilism. But the rescuer must now rescue himself. In Lynch’s world, this koan may not have a satisfying answer, and it glues us to the television.
Hope and fear may both need to be abandoned.