Twin Peaks Recap: The Vortex

Twin Peaks

Part 14
Season 1 Episode 14
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Showtime

I’ve been arguing through the weeks that Twin Peaks: The Return is not a show where all the pieces come together like a puzzle. Instead, we get elements, shades, and ingredients poured together into a cauldron, then stirred together to create a deep, swirling variance of ever-changing hues. So perhaps it is no accident this week that we see several allusions to the aptly named “vortex” that appears in the sky; a deep harbinger that is of great structural significance to the show. For the action of stirring, like the vortex of the sky, creates a spiral that begins to move faster and faster with time. With this week’s episode, we not only get one of the most symbolically dense hours yet, we feel something that we have really yet to experience with the show: a sense of momentum.

What begins with a hilarious conversation between Gordon Cole and Lucy starts spilling out into a sudden wealth of connective information. Cole now knows about the likelihood of two Coopers, along with the missing pages of Laura Palmer’s diary. Meanwhile, Albert tells Tammy about their first case of The Two Lois Duffys. Like our Evil Coop, there is the evil one who says “I’m like the Blue Rose,” and she is shot and then disappears. Albert asks, “What’s the significance of the blue rose?” (I love that he uses the term significance; it’s very English major of him.) Tammy answers, “Not something found in nature … conjured … a tulpa.” It’s an answer that makes sense for Lynch’s spirituality, for a tulpa can be defined as “a concept in mysticism of a being or object which is created through spiritual or mental powers.” And if this foundation of information wasn’t enough, we then find out that Naomi Watts’s character is none other than Diane’s (hated and estranged) half-sister.

Of course, the most transfixing part of this scene has nothing to do with the above information, but instead what I thought would just be a funny throwaway line where Gordon Cole mentions having “another Monica Bellucci dream.” The meaningful detail is not about the coffee, nor the pleasant friends, nor even that Coop was there but Cole could not see him. It is in the terrifying words of Bellucci herself, who says the ancient phrase, “We are like the dreamer, who dreams, and then lives inside the dream.” It’s a common conversation within art, narrative, and consequence, but it is the haunting final utterance of “but who is the dreamer?” that seems to rock Cole to his deepest core.

From there, Cole’s mind goes back and he remembers the “powerful uneasy feeling” of his younger self in Philadelphia, when David Bowie’s Phillip Jeffries showed up in the scene from Fire Walk With Me, which recounts his first experience with what we believe was a tulpa. Oof, I could talk about so much varying symbolism here — there are probably a half-dozen huge details within this episode I won’t get to — but at the center of all this is the notion of the simultaneous attraction to and fear of the deeper realm beyond. What is beyond the vortex that Cole saw in the sky? Are we just the dreams of giants, the fireman, and arms? The fodder and playthings of horrific atomic devils? Even on the meta-level, it makes sense to be hearing this from a real-life actress within a TV show. But these questions are not the theological concerns of stoned kids in a dorm room. These are the terrifying thoughts of a man who has come face-to-face with the darkest of what the realms beyond have to offer us.

Somehow, things are even more exciting back in Twin Peaks. Our law-enforcement foursome of Frank Truman, Bobby, Hawk, and Andy starts its day by arresting Chad, and then bring us right into the foreshadowed “Jack Rabbit’s Palace” event that I thought would come much later in the show. (Cool-locations note: The following events occur near the stretch of road where Andy had an uncomfortable, foreboding feeling a few episodes ago.) In the woods, we see the palace is nothing more than an ancient, mystic tree that coils about the ground. This place seems to hold a lot of fond memories for Bobby, but the sense of danger looms, especially when Bobby remarks that he never supposed to come there without his dad. When they press on to the coordinates, we see what is perhaps our most clear visual representation of “fire” yet with the electrical fog that Hawk described earlier. And who should appear in this fire? The skin-blinded woman who escaped from nonexistence after meeting Cooper back in episode three. I’ll admit, there’s something equally terrifying and yet oddly human about seeing her walk about in the normal world of Twin Peaks, especially in seeing how earnest kindness with which Lucy treats her.

But these scenes are all just a precursor to Andy’s vortex travels. The very idea of Andy going to the Giant’s world would seem funny to us, but it plays deadly serious here. We finally have a name for the Giant, too: He’s “the Fireman,” an apt title for the being who overlooks our existence and seems to dispense the tools humanity will need to survive our greatest challenges. (He’s helped Coop, he gave us Laura, and he seems to have given British Jimmy, a character we meet in this episode, a super-powerful hand.) It’s all very ancient-Greek gift-of-the-gods stuff. The Fireman also gives Andy more visions through an urn: We see the scary killer force that sliced up the sexy couple in New York, we see the links to the “gotta light” atomic men. We see Laura Palmer surrounded by angels. We see Bad Coop. Good Coop. Andy walking with Lucy as she beholds something mesmerizing, and then, finally, a cryptic “6” on a telephone pole. As the audience, we understand the connections between most of these ideas, yet Andy comes out of this dream and seems to know exactly what to do. He knows that the blind woman must be kept safe.

We then get little bits and pieces that all lead to more questions: Who is this drunk guy with a beat-up face? Why is he cooing back and forth with the blind lady? Why is blood pooling at his feet? In the scene that follows, we learn that James Hurley is working at Great Northern Hotel Security, and then we’re introduced to British Jimmy and his magic power glove. He’s come to Twin Peaks because the Fireman told him “he will find his destiny” there. But the real thing that lingered with me was James going to check on the furnaces, those engines of hell, and staring at a locked door. Of course we wonder, what is beyond it?

The episode’s pièce de résistance comes with Sarah Palmer in the Elk’s Point #9 Bar. She just wants a drink, but she is confronted by someone I will only dignify as the “Truck You” asshole. He sidles up, he won’t take no for an answer, and after unleashing the most horrid threats that only the weakest of men have to offer … well, Sarah Palmer pulls her face off. Literally. And gives the man a glimpse of the horrors within. We see shadows, fingers, teeth, and the sound of sparks we previously mistook for someone else. It’s all Sarah, it’s all imagery from the atom bomb and the Gotta Light boys. We are left to wonder, does this mean Sarah was the young girl who got bugged in episode eight? It doesn’t actually matter. What is true is that this horrible, ugly, death-creating “fire” is simply in her now. It’s the mark of a life that has destroyed everything she once held dear. It eats her apart at every second, beneath the shell of the face that she must show the world. And so she unleashes it right back at this malevolent boy and tears his goddam throat out. She screams, understanding her impossible act, and then plays it cool. But somehow the bartender seems to know (and fear) what really happened.

From here, we return to the old familiar dregs of the Bang Bang Bar. We encounter two more women talking about the last person to see Billy, who had a so-and-so with someone’s mom named Tina. They describe a different man who came in and couldn’t stop bleeding. Is this our drunk? Will we ever know? Again, I ask, does it matter? Before the women can even keep talking about it, they are interrupted by the band Lissie taking the stage, who proceed to take us out of the episode with a triumphant ring of rock, telling us, “I haven’t lost my home, even though so far from my home.” It all left me with a lingering question, but also finally an answer.

Why does David Lynch keep ending episodes like this?

Any other TV show would have ended the episode with the Sarah Palmer fireworks. But Lynch keeps bringing us back to the damn bar, with random characters telling us stories about people we don’t even know. I’m suddenly reminded of the episode’s description and the question, “But who is the dreamer?” For it seems these “random” characters are people with whole lives going on just out of frame of our own story. They have whole arcs and dramas, often involving jail, abuse, secret love, and all the kinds of things that define every town across this nation. They meet at these watering holes and they tell their stories to each other, hoping to get lost in the haze, music, alcohol, and (maybe, hopefully) love. So, yes, the Bang Bang Bar is the nexus of solace, which also makes it the nexus of people taking advantage of others. But it is in this space — and the music, specifically — where so many go to find themselves lost in something dreamlike. The musicians become our Greek chorus; they take us into a kaleidoscope of emotion and into something that transcends the limitations of our own time and space. It’s a dreamy soundscape and it is directly tied to the cinematic landscape of David Lynch. Tonight, it so distinctly reminded me of a certain timeless artist who happened to appear in this same episode. So I’ll end the same way the credits ended:

“In Memory of David Bowie.”

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Twin Peaks Recap: The Vortex