Deciphering Episode Eight of Twin Peaks

More speculation to pass the wait.

by Benjamín Harguindey

“What the hell?” – Gordon Cole.

I already did a wild mass guessing piece on Twin Peaks: The Return, inspired by the series’ impromptu hiatus as well as the disconcerting note on which it ended. Most of it concerned Dale Cooper’s (Kyle MacLachlan) impending fate and whatever his doppelgänger was working towards to, as well as discussing the conspicuous absense of certain characters like Phillip Jeffries, Harry S. Truman and Audrey Horne.

And then of course is ‘Chapter Eight’, which foregoes all of the show’s narrative momentum in favor of forty-odd minutes of surrealistic phantasmagoria staged in two flashbacks, both in New Mexico: the first, set in July 1945, depicts the detonation of the atom bomb, the spawn of ghostly woodsmen and the evil entity known as ‘BOB’ (Frank Silva), and what appears to be divine retaliation donning the visage of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee); the second, set in August 1956, sees the sudden spread of these murderous woodsmen as well as parasitic amphibian hybrids as they take over a peaceful town overnight.

All of this is foreshadowed to a degree in episode three, where we glimpse into Gordon Cole’s office and see a picture of an atomic mushroom cloud, itself faced by a picture of Franz Kafka. Sure enough, in episode eight the atom bomb makes a literal appearence and is followed by a Kafkaesque tale of senseless, surrealistic oppression (complete with a gross, bug-like abomination standing in for Gregor Samsa).

These two halves actually share a sturdy analogical connection between them.  On a plastic level they share material (New Mexico, the woodsmen) as well as structural content (black and white photography), though dynamically the first half is more loose and spare, depicting a succession of timeless events in contrast with the second half’s brief vignettes that cut back and forth simultaneously.

Then there is the nominal action/reaction lecture to be made on a more psychological level: the second half occurs in consequence of the first half; that is, these invading woodsmen and vermin appear because of what happened earlier. There is an obvious interpretation to be made of that half-locust, half-toad creature being a by-product of a decade of radiation, but how do these woodsmen factor in?

Taking into account the lore from the show as well as the movie, these are the evil spirits that feed on precious garmonbozia (“pain and sorrow”), and the scene by the convenience store implies they’re feasting anew after the creation of the atom bomb. Even the use of time-lapse in the scene may be indicative of the eleven years passing between the two time frames, fast-forwarding across a decade’s worth of “pain and sorrow” and grimly concluding on the appearence of BOB, erstwhile christened “the evil that men do”.

On a psychological level, there’s plenty of room for analyzing the episode as a metaphor for the inception of evil as well as its infectious spread, unchallenged by man but still of concern to mysterious higher powers. In a way the show has always been about this imbalance, and the problem of tracing evil back to a source. Rather appropriately, Lynch and Frost insert their origin story for evil right after their villain demonstrates not even death can put a definite stop to him.

One of the most puzzling aspects of the episode, however, is how it re-imagines Laura Palmer as a spiritual counterweight to her tormentor BOB. Laura was never fleshed out much in the show beyond the reconstruction of a troubled teenager’s double life (subsequently dramatized, for better or worse, in the movie that chronicled the week before her death). By the end of Fire Walk With Me, past and future met in the Red Room as Laura came face to face with her posthumous guardian angel Dale Cooper, ending her story on a note of peace and acceptance. Now her story is rewritten again, not necessarily contradicting the canon but suggesting that Laura’s fate – and who knows, maybe everybody else’s – was pre-destined.

Maybe all of this sounds like too much reaching and not enough grasping. Maybe I’m like those poor saps intently staring at the proverbial mystery box, waiting for things to happen. But other than having the benefits of correlating with series mythology, the eighth episode in the Twin Peaks revival holds up on its own. Kind of how the revival performs regarding the original show.

 


BenjaBenjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).

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