As the credits rolled on this episode, I had a strange thought: I imagined what it would be like to try and explain what was happening on this show to someone who had just casually sat down to watch it, having never seen Twin Peaks before. “Oh, you see, that cherry pie is really important because he enjoyed it on the old show, and he’d say it’s ‘damn good,’ just like that. Oh, and he’s not actually Dougie Jones — he’s Dale Cooper and his mind has been addled after spending 25 years in a place called Black Lodge and he came to us from nonexistence through an electrical outlet.” Trying to explain the surreal, hair-raising emotional connections of Twin Peaks: The Return feels impossible. Especially after an episode like this one. But like the connections in Bradley Mitchum’s dreams, they might not entirely make sense, but they are felt. They are powerful. And they are true.
Things get particularly intense in this week’s episode. It begins with the bloody reveal that Miriam survived her encounter with Evil Richard Horne and crawled to safety — and good golly, whenever I see kids playing on this show I’m now conditioned to think they’re going to get run over — and it soon spirals into a series of violent encounters and supernatural standoffs, with a heavy focus on guns and the inherent danger they bring.
The cycles of abuse continue as Becky has found out that Steven is stepping out on her with another lady (played by Twin Peaks vet Alicia Witt, reclaiming her role as piano recitalist Gersten Hayward). Becky screams an angry streak, pulls her gun, steals Shelly’s car, and nearly kills her with it in a terrifying scene (am I crazy, or was Mädchen Amick doing Zoe Bell-like car stunts?!), all before firing off some rounds into Gersten’s door. This is some high-energy stuff, but what really impresses are the quiet scenes that follow in the Double R Diner, where Shelly and Becky’s dad — who turns out to be none other than Bobby Briggs — sit down for a difficult parental conversation. Everything about the way Dana Ashbrook plays it rings true to me: the mix of concern and love, the measured attempts not to push too hard, and the constant walking on eggshells, all in hopes that their Becky will find her way “home” to them.
But home is a long way off. Becky is still dodging, still making excuses for Steven, and still hiding his abuse. Until she suddenly remembers that she almost killed her mom in a fit of anger. They embrace, but as much as we think Shelly is all put together, a sudden visit from Red (Balthazar Getty) brings out her schoolgirl side. We also know the cycles of abuse don’t really fade away, because bad news is going to follow Red wherever he goes. Once again, Bobby sits and watches it all unfold, the silent pain on his face saying it all: He’s still clearly in love with Shelly, he knows Steven is abusing Becky, and he understands the painful truth that he cannot save anyone from themselves.
But with a sudden gunshot ringing through the Double R Diner, the scene take a left turn into one of the weirdest and most literally gut-churning sequences of The Return so far. Turns out the shooter was a kid playing with a gun in the back of a minivan. Bobby swoops in to handle the parents, a silent and guilty father and a screaming mother who cannot believe what’s happened. The car behind them honks, and chaos ensues. Bobby stares at the young child who fired the round, but the kid postures tough right back at him, mimicking his father. The message is clear: I knew exactly what I was doing with that gun. Shaken by this moment, Bobby still has to go take care of the road rage behind them, which puts him face to face with a woman screaming bloody murder and the “sick girl” next to her, a barfing, drooling kid who’s bordering on zombie. Bobby can only stare in horror at the both of them, a pair of fitting images for a show in which no child seems to be doing all that well. The message is clear: The kids aren’t all right.
Meanwhile, the sight of Gordon Cole and Albert walking toward a dilapidated house holding revolvers like a couple of cowboys pretty much made my week. They’re the last bastions of law and decency in this crazy, mixed-up world. But as a shadowy, disheveled man lurks around them, Gordon ends up having a standoff with a vision in the sky, a dark swirl that’s pulling everything into it. Albert sees Cole fading into this nethersphere and, ever the loyal friend, pulls him out. But no one is safe, not yet. The shadowy figure, phasing in and out of sight, makes his way into the car, and poor William Hastings gets the top half of his skull crushed. Which of course becomes a prompt for Lynch, who has the best comic timing on the show, to promptly declare, after a beat, “He’s dead.”
The sequence serves to remind us how The Return is circling the drain, bringing us closer to the center point, a seeming confluence of all things. But the pieces of this show don’t merely stack or build together like Lego bricks; they blend as if we’re mixing a potion, each element its own shade of the swirl. The coordinates on the librarian’s body will likely bring us to the same place as Hawk’s map, a map which he says is always crying, for it is a living thing. (What might seem to some to be a hokey treatment of Native American custom is far more likely a part of Lynch’s own spirituality.) And, as always with Twin Peaks, we find ourselves returning to the fire symbol and the continued notion of “fire walk with me” — only the intention behind the fire symbology is now made more explicit. Hawk tells us plainly it is like electricity (which is a huge motif in The Return), the good and evil nature of which depends on those who wield it. He also warns Sheriff Truman of the black corn, death, and black fire that are coming for them. Even the Log Lady shows up again to warn, “There’s fire where you’re going.” Dark tidings all, but the only one that really made my hair stand up is when Sheriff Truman asks about the black bug symbol on the map. Hawk looks him right in the eye, and with every ounce of seriousness in world, tells him, “You don’t ever want to know about that.” Consider my dreams sufficiently haunted.
The truth is that I’ve always loved the spiritual bent at the heart of Twin Peaks. It’s a world in which FBI agents and deputies pay as much attention to mystic forces and the tenets of Buddhism as they do to psychological profiles and perps’ fingerprints. To Lynch, it’s all part of the same thing. It’s this same profound sense of spiritualism that rests at the heart of the machinations that save Dougie Jones from certain doom. Sure, he still has to be led around by coffee and the guidance of the Red Room, but the power of dreams will emanate through him. The very kind of dream that makes the Mitchum brothers go from “can’t wait to kill this guy!” to inviting him out for a lovely dinner. We go along on that terrifying journey, certain that Dougie’s fate is part of a ticking clock, only to be thrown into surreality as we hear the dreamy, poppy Shawn Colvin cover of “Viva Las Vegas,” only to be thrown again when Dougie Jones safely brings Rodney Mitchum the cherry pie of his dreams. Sure, it makes no literal sense and it’s pure deus ex machina, yet it makes every bit of sense to us as viewers. Just as Jim Belushi suddenly makes sense to me working under Lynch. Just as Candie’s hilarious, vacant staring makes sense to me in this weird, wayward universe.
The thing about Lynch’s universe is that it is not merely silly and safe. We watch the first half of the episode and know too well that danger and violence are very real — that they come for us in every moment and in every way. But in our fight against them, yes, we have wholesomeness, we have decency, we have spirituality, and we have dreams. And so, I’m really left to wonder one simple thing:
Whether, maybe, cherry pie will save us all.