Never doubt David Lynch.
It’s a lesson I feel like I have to learn time and time again, but mostly because we’re forced to. After last week’s purposely frustrating and withholding dip, I wondered aloud if we were in store for more aimless episodes that would push us back at arm’s length. But this week, Lynch edged us right back into the fold, not with the grand abstract firework, but with an episode that showcases his best-yet control of the weird new shade of “Lynchian tone” that defines Twin Peaks: The Return. As the Mitchum Brothers tell us coming out of their ridiculous conga line, “A wrong has been made right and the sun is shining bright.”
Speaking of which, what a lovely, surreal opener — one made even more surreal by the beat-skipping acid percussion and electronica soundscape. It seems $30 million brings out the charitable sense of gift-giving from the Mitchum Brothers, as they hand just about everyone involved in the payout an array of gifts that more befit the Showcase Showdown. It also makes Tom Sizemore’s “oh, shit” reaction entirely apt, as Anthony Sinclair cowers beneath his desk and realizes that he’s going to have to murder Dougie himself. The threat of poisoning ensues (along with a surprise appearance by John Savage!), but luckily, it’s Cherry Pie to the rescue yet again, and so our Dougie Jones keeps getting to “Chauncey Gardener” his way into more and more success. But I really want to commend Tom Sizemore’s performance throughout the episode. Between him and Matthew Lillard, we really seem to be getting a slew of these pained yet goofy yet earnest displays of moral groveling that only broken, middle-aged men can muster. When he says, “I only want to die or change,” I have no doubt that he means it.
Things are equally exciting in “Western Montana” of all places. Evil Coop has tracked Ray to a generic bad boys hideout, where many of these particular baddies seem dressed as the living versions of the “shadow men” haunting our story. There we meet Ray’s real boss, and hulk of men, Renzo (Derek Mears!!!). Coop walks in ready to deal with whatever’s waiting for him, which turns out to be … arm wrestling? Yup, seems Coop’s gotta challenge Renzo to an arm-wrestling match if he wants to be the boss and it’s all so very Over the Top. Evil Coop coldly chides it off, “What is this kindergarten?” But that’s the point. It is. These are lost boys playing lost-boy games and just trying to show how tough they are. Crime? Respect? Masculinity? It’s all just a game of arm wrestling to them.
Evil Coop could care less: “I don’t wanna be your boss.” He just wants Ray. And so he ends up playing their little game with his stone, alien eyes. He doesn’t beat Renzo right off the bat. He takes his time, he proves total control. And once he’s broken Renzo’s arm, he goes one further and breaks his face open. From there, Coop gets to his man Ray and more details of the Black Lodge saga begin to play out: the ring, the coordinates, the vision of the black-and-white flooring. All the pieces are now in place for Evil Coop. But all the while, Richard Horne watches with scorn, seeing the man that likely bore his existence.
The two sequences are mesmerizing, while the whole episode is filled with the most classically funny Lynchian touches yet. There’s Sonny Jim playing to the odd musical chorus on his new playset, Tim Roth and Jennifer discussing polyamory, and the three goofball detectives ignoring the screaming in the interrogation room, all while they laugh and literally throw their Dougie Jones–Agent Cooper connection into the trash. With Lynch’s humor, it’s always about the juxtaposition of the grave and sincere scenes that clash against it.
It juxtaposes with the home of Sarah Palmer, awash in smoked cigarettes and Bloody Mary mix; the home of someone waiting to die as she’s haunted by the past, watching the same boxing clip on a loop because it doesn’t even matter. It also juxtaposes with with the sudden, surprising, and touching realization that the long buildup of Nadine fandom and Doc Jacoby’s fervor may have just been the grounding of a potential love connection for two lonely souls. (By the way, if you’ve never seen the amazing qualities of young Russ Tamblyn, check out this acrobatic clip that made the rounds this week.) And it’s certainly in the juxtaposition to this week’s scene with Audrey Horne and Charlie, which should perhaps teach us to trust David Lynch most of all. For it seems last week’s oblique discussion was just part of a larger, more terrifying situation. One mere mention from Charlie of “the story of the little girl who lived down the lane” and the sudden scared, pained look on Audrey’s face makes us realize, oh, gosh, Audrey is an infantilized state and not well at all. Nor is this situation. Something is deeply wrong here.
Still, there are few true stylistic hallmarks to this show outside of ending an episode in the Bang Bang Bar, but one is the way the cinematography will just casually slide over to a classic character reveal as if it were nothing at all. I can only think of a few who had any grand fanfare to their introduction — we just pan over and there they are, right as they are, right in their place — and I can think of no character for whom the style is more suited than Big Ed Hurley. There he is in the booth, right across for Norma. It seems that even now, all these years later, their game of love goes on. With one glance, we know that he’s still in love and she’s still in between. But the scene takes a funny turn when her new beau shows up and it becomes a whole conversation about the business of Norma’s new five-diner franchise. See, he thinks she’s spending too much per pie in her flagship and so he wants to “ensure consistency and profitability.” Pretty quickly, you realize the entire thing doubles as Lynch’s criticism of studio notes and probably capitalism at large.
In the end, it sure is a sign of my love for this crazy show that the only name I’m more excited to hear announced at the Bang Bang than Nine Inch Nails is this one: “Proud to welcome, James Hurley.” And there he is onstage, his first appearance since the pilot. He smiles kindly and begins to sing “Just You,” a typical David Lynch ’50s-style dream-rock joint, complete with ethereal mic effect. He falsetto-croons his heart out, while in the crowd below, a woman cries as she watches him. Yes, the credits will tell us her name is Renee and a search will remind us she saw him in the bar in episode two. But does it matter? Do they have a history? Or is she just enraptured by the song? To answer, I’m reminded of the classic Abbas Kiarostami film Certified Copy and asking myself, does it even matter? This is at the heart of Lynch’s best work. Like the stage of Silencio in Mulholland Drive, it doesn’t matter if they’re even singing. I don’t need to understand why she cries for James Hurley. The emotion itself is so powerfully, undeniably real. And so it is for us.
But our emotions for the Hurley Boys do not end there. We then cut back to Big Ed, the man who raised James when no one else would, sitting alone in his antique gas station. He, like it, is a relic of a bygone time. There is no “Just You and I” for him. No Norma at his side. And here is where Lynch’s sense of empathy exists most of all. For as Ed eats his sad soup to go and the camera carefully, brilliantly, and subtly zooms in on the look upon his face, my heart lunges for him. For the man who is tired, lonesome, and forgotten.
But not by us.