Notes on Twin Peaks: The Return, Part 5

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  • Night-time, Las Vegas. A light picks out the RR initials on another sign for the Rancho Rosa housing development. Rancho Rosa is also the name of the production company responsible for producing the new Twin Peaks (‘A Rancho Rosa Partnership Production’) and was even used as a shooting title for the series. In the literal light of this focus on the R.R. initials, perhaps it’s no coincidence that this episode sees the return of the R.R. Diner. There the R.R. stood for railroad, which we also catch a glimpse of during this episode.
  • This emphasis on the R.R. initials reminds me of the mystery of the recurring L.L. initials in Superman media (Lana Lang, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, etc). Rumour has it that Superman co-creator Joe Shuster had a girlfriend with those initials. That, or it was just a simple accident of alliteration that later Superman writers continued to build upon. In Adventures of Superman #646 (2005), writer Greg Rucka revealed that the Kryptonian equivalent of L.L. resembles the infinity symbol, suggesting the initials are an infinitely recurring pattern. That’s not an explanation, but perhaps we should take it as a warning not to expect one!
  • Of course, Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen doesn’t have the L.L. initials – but his full name (James Bartholomew Olsen) does contain two Ls. So perhaps the R.R. doesn’t only refer to initials…? It’s worth remembering that the last time Twin Peaks obsessed over letters in this way was when typed letters were being inserted into the nailbeds of Leland/BOB’s victims. ‘BOB’ is short for ‘Robert’, a name containing two Rs. Leland told Cooper that he remembered from his childhood a ‘Robertson’ who resembled the BOB in the wanted poster, and Cooper concluded that this was the name the letters were meant to spell.
  • Another name containing two Rs is Richard. In part 1 the Giant (Carl Struycken) said this name to Cooper, and in part 5 we’re introduced to Richard Horne (Eamon Farren). It’s now widely suspected that Richard is the son of Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) and the ‘bad’ Cooper, the Cooper who is aligned with BOB. If that’s true then Richard is, in a sense, the son of Bob – Robert’s son. Robertson!

 

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  • The two hitmen hired to take out ‘Dougie’ in part 3 contact Lorraine (Tammie Baird), who is sitting in an office somewhere freaking out over the fact that they have so far failed in their mission. I’m assuming that Lorraine is an employee of Mr. C and that Mr. C wants the other Cooper dead. But we all know the danger of making assumptions, especially when it comes to Twin Peaks!
  • Twin Peaks has always had a soft spot for antiquated technology so naturally Lorraine uses a Blackberry to relay a message to a room that’s later revealed to be in Buenos Aires, Argentina. There we see a small black box with two blinking red lights. Piecing together the deleted scenes from FWWM, we know that FBI Special Agent Phillip Jeffries disappeared from a hotel in Buenos Aires in 1987. He reappeared in the FBI’s Philadelphia office in 1989, appearing confused at the passage of time. After a confusing rant about ‘Judy’ (will we ever learn who she is/was?) and the spirit world, Jeffries disappeared from the office and apparently travelled back in time to Buenos Aires, causing the bellhop who had just witnessed his disappearance and subsequent reappearance to shit his pants. Any mention of Buenos Aires in The Return thus suggests a connection to Agent Jeffries. But what does the black box signify? It’s even more mysterious than the glass box in New York, since The Secret History of Twin Peaks at least gave a clue as to what to expect there. Maybe the box is Agent Jeffries! Seriously, it wouldn’t be the weirdest thing to happen to that character, let alone the show.
  • Constance Talbot (Jane Adams) treats us to some gallows humour as she explains what she discovered during the autopsy on the headless John Doe found in Ruth Davenport’s bed. Her most intriguing discovery is a ring, found inside the late John Doe’s stomach: ‘To Dougie with love – Janey-E’.

 

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  • So: how did Dougie Jones’s wedding ring end up inside the stomach of the late John Doe, who is (barring any unforeseen twists) confirmed in this episode to be Major Briggs? I don’t have any major theories at the moment, if you’ll pardon the pun. I’d like to have a little more information before I go donning my tinfoil hat. Still, it’s worth pointing out that rings/circles have long held a special significance in Twin Peaks lore and that the internet is awash with articles on the topic.
  • For now, here are a few things to think about. Dougie was wearing the owl cave ring from FWWM when we first saw him. How did he come by it? In FWWM, the Arm (Michael J. Anderson) tried to get Laura to take the ring. She later got it from Mike (Al Strobel). We saw Mike take the owl cave ring back from Dougie, who Mike didn’t seem to recognise. Did Dougie take it from the Arm? Did the Arm not bother telling Mike? In FWWM the owl cave ring appeared to offer some form of spiritual, if not physical protection from BOB. What sort of game might the Lodge spirits be playing…?
  • Back in season two the Giant took Agent Cooper’s own ring from him and returned it to him after he determined the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer. Did something like this happen to Dougie? Does the fact that his wedding ring’s inside the Major signal that something went wrong? Alternatively, is it a sign that something went right? Was there an exchange of rings?
  • Finally, what were the circumstances of Major Briggs’s death, assuming the corpse really is the Major’s? It seems an ignoble fate for a beloved character, and not a terribly respectful way of paying tribute to the actor, the late Don S. Davis. This leads me to wonder whether the Major’s violent, gory end will turn out to have been an act of heroic sacrifice, as many now read Laura Palmer’s physically gruesome if spiritually divine fate at the end of FWWM. As we saw in part 3, the Major’s fate, like Laura’s, transcends death. Like Laura, the Major is dead… And yet he lives.
  • C can pinpoint with uncanny accuracy the precise moment when the guard will come to serve him his meal. That’s another small detail we’d associate with Coop – his precision. Also, quite possibly, his appetite.

 

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  • C walks over to the mirror in his cell and stares into the abyss. The abyss stares back at him, as the image of the late Frank Silva as BOB is superimposed over Mr. C’s face in a subtle and intensely disturbing effect. ‘You’re still with me,’ says Mr. C. ‘That’s good.’
  • What can now be said with certainty is that Mr. C isn’t simply BOB wearing Agent Cooper’s face. This means that Mr. C may be a lot closer to the Agent Cooper we know and love than we would perhaps wish to acknowledge. Also, it suggests that Leland Palmer’s actions in the original series – the crimes of rape, murder and incest that he committed – cannot be entirely explained away as demonic possession, that they cannot be entirely blamed on BOB.
  • ‘Mike is “The Man”!’ Little did those kids in FWWM know how true those words would one day be. Mike Nelson (Gary Hershberger) brings job applicant Steven Burnett (Caleb Landry Jones) into his office, just to tell the young whippersnapper to get his act together. After he leaves, Mike sighs and says ‘What an asshole!’ This is funny, because Mike’s defining trait way back in the series’ pilot episode was that he, himself, was an asshole. He did grow up a lot over the course of the series, but it seems he has still retained a certain asshole-ish-ness within his own personality.

 

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  • Frank Truman (Robert Forster) is talking to Harry on the phone. It’s confirmed that Harry is sick and is having some tests done – presumably a nod to actor Michael Ontkean’s own ill health which, as far as we know, prevented him from participating in the new series.
  • Coop sheds a tear whilst watching Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon), Dougie’s son, fidgeting in his car seat. This moment is accompanied by a rare new piece of music by Angelo Badalamenti. This moment is, as Janey-E (Naomi Watts) remarks, as ‘weird as shit’. It feels significant, poignant – but why? Why has this affected Coop more than anything else he has encountered since leaving the Red Room?
  • Cooper is fascinated by the statue that stands outside Dougie’s place of work. The statue appears to depict a cowboy, possibly a lawman, aiming his pistol. The original Twin Peaks quoted almost every conceivable genre in US popular culture, including the western, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see its iconography quoted here.
  • A bunch of people seem to think the statue depicts, or is meant to invoke, David Bowie and/or his character, Agent Jeffries. There’s certainly something Bowiesque about the stance of this, at first glance, slender figure. That resemblance is, however, purely down to the camera angle. That’s not to say that Lynch didn’t mean to invoke Bowie, or that you shouldn’t read Bowie into it. I simply mean that one shouldn’t assume a straight line can be drawn between Bowie and the statue. Any resemblance to persons living or dead may be entirely coincidental.

 

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  • Another theory regarding the statue is that it might remind Cooper of Jimmy Stewart’s pose on the film poster for The FBI Story (dir. Mervyn LeRoy, 1959). According to Scott Frost’s The Autobiography of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (1991), the young Dale Cooper kept a copy of the poster above his bed. Again, it’s one of those synchronicities, those meaningful coincidences that the original Twin Peaks taught viewers to appreciate.
  • Since we don’t really know who the statue is supposed to depict, we’re only able to focus on what it appears to depict, and the memories, ideas and feelings it evokes in us (and, we imagine, Agent Cooper). So what we have here is the heroic image of a lawman standing his ground in the face of invisible foes. In short: a reflection of Cooper’s former self. It’s another piece of the puzzle, one that makes this Cooper painfully aware that ‘something is missing’.
  • ‘What I want and what I need are two different things, Audrey.’ Where Mr. C is defined entirely in terms of his ‘wants’ (‘I don’t need I want’), the big old baby Coop wearing Dougie’s suit is defined in terms of his ‘needs’. He really is just like a baby: in the way he sucks on that coffee cup, repeats what others say (‘damn good joe!’), acts out needing to go potty, and in how he doesn’t appear to comprehend his co-worker’s sexual advances. This Cooper is a babe in the woods. What will he be when he finally returns to them?

 

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  • Coop gets to have Frank’s coffee. We’re told that Frank (Bob Stephenson) never drinks his coffee. Maybe Frank doesn’t even like coffee, and only drinks it for appearances’ sake? But, thanks to Cooper, Frank winds up drinking a green tea latte – and it’s clear from the expression on his face that he is delighted with it. Many years ago, Agent Cooper gave his friend Harry this sterling piece of advice: ‘everyday, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen.’ It’s clear from the expression on his face that this is Frank’s present, and it’s great to see that Cooper is still able to spread that kind of joy in the world. Where Mr. C leaves death, destruction and chaos in his wake, Baby Coop – or ‘Mr. Jackpots’ – brings good fortune to everyone he meets.
  • Dougie has been working for a company called Lucky 7 Insurance. Twin Peaks Sheriff Station was visited in part 1 by a man from an insurance company. Coincidence?
  • A mysterious green light flickers across the face of Anthony Sinclair (Tom Sizemore), after which Coop pipes up to say ‘he’s lying’. What was this green light? Does it represent something similar to the miniature Red Rooms that appeared over the slot machines in the casino? Does it signify something supernatural?
  • Green is a colour charged with significance in Twin Peaks. It’s the colour associated with the woods surrounding Twin Peaks, as well as the colour of the gem embedded in the owl cave ring. It’s also the colour of the formica table belonging to the Arm/The Man From Another Place (‘Green is its colour’). It’s the colour of money (and there’s a lot of money in Twin Peaks, not to mention a lot of money surrounding Mr. Jackpots). And let’s not forget Frank’s green tea latte! In terms of colour symbolism, green represents ‘life, renewal, nature, and energy, is associated with meanings of growth, harmony, freshness, safety, fertility, and environment. Green is also traditionally associated with money, finances, banking, ambition, greed, [and] jealousy’ – so it’s not all positive. All of these different meanings chime with the continuing (mis)adventures of Mr. Jackpots – even jealousy, if one of Dougie’s colleagues should ever catch wind of the fact that Rhonda (Elena Satine) has a thing for Dougie.
  • It could be that the flickering green light is simply a creative visual depiction of Coop’s famously uncanny powers of intuition. Those powers date back to a dream Cooper had sometime circa 1986, following which he ‘subconsciously gained knowledge of a deductive technique involving mind-body coordination operating hand-in-hand with the deepest level of intuition’. Visually locating Coop’s powers of intuition outside of him could also be a creative way of depicting his current state of self-alienation. But there still remains that possibility that his powers have a supernatural origin and explanation. As ever in Twin Peaks, it’s impossible to say where supernatural influence ends and human agency begins.

 

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  • Dougie’s boss, Bushnell Mullins (Don Murray), is dwarfed by a poster from his former boxing career as Bushnell “Battling” Bud Mullins. It might not turn out to mean much, but it reminded me of the framed portraits of Kafka and Howard Hughes in earlier episodes. Is “Battling” Bud the man to get our fallen hero back into training? Is he the man to lead Cooper into a Rocky-style training montage transformation, returning our hero to some semblance of his former self?
  • “Battling” Bud may have already initiated that transformation, return, or whatever term might later prove appropriate, albeit unintentionally. Three things he says grab Baby Cooper’s attention: ‘agent’, ‘game’, ‘case files’. The significance of ‘agent’ and ‘case files’ requires no explanation. ‘Game’, however, is a less obvious term. It’s a word that’s been used before in this series, by Mr. C (‘The game begins’). And there have seen a lot of games played across Twin Peaks as a whole, most notably in casinos like the Silver Mustang and One-Eyed Jack’s. Playing cards were an important part of the iconography of One Eyed Jack’s, and they also featured in Windom Earle’s plotting around the Miss Twin Peaks contest. Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh) also initiated a life-and-death battle of wits via a chess game with Agent Cooper that claimed the lives of several pawns. Earle was, according to Lynch, Mark Frost’s invention, intended to be the Moriarty to Agent Cooper’s Sherlock Holmes (just as Sheriff Truman saw himself as Cooper’s ‘Dr. Watson’). Thinking of the Holmes connection calls to mind a particularly famous quote, synonymous with Holmes: ‘the game’s afoot!’ The game is indeed afoot. But what’s the nature of this game…?

 

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  • At the Silver Mustang Casino we’re introduced to the Brothers Mitchum: Rodney (Robert Knepper), who calls to mind Blue Velvet’s Frank Booth in his anger and violence, and Bradley (Jim Belushi), whose brooding menace and quiet threat reminds me of Luigi Castigliani, Angelo Badalamenti’s character in Mulholland Drive. Are they Vegas’s answer to Ben and Jerry Horne?
  • Who are Mandie (Andrea Leal), Candie (Amy Shiels) and Sandie (Giselle DaMier)? Do they work at the casino? I’ve seen some comparisons drawn between them and the equally unusually-attired girls who work at One-Eyed Jack’s. There may be something in that. It may also be significant that there’s three of them. Three, after all, is the magic number when it comes to playing the slot machines. In that case, do these three girls supposed to signify a jackpot? Are they the Mitchum brothers’ concubines? Are they even real, ‘or is this just some strange and twisted dream?’ No one seems to notice them, nor does the shockingly brutal violence on display in this scene seem to bother them. Is it just that they’re used to it? Or are they literally inhuman – spooky beings from another dimension, like the blackened figure seen sitting a few cells down from Bill Hastings in parts 1 and 2?
  • Some guys go to steal Dougie’s car, only to get blown up by the car bomb left behind by the hitmen. Two or three of them may have been killed in the blast. Will Dougie be presumed dead as a result of this?
  • Jade mails Dale’s Great Northern Hotel room key, which one suspects will cause quite a stir when it finally arrives in Twin Peaks. Will Audrey be the one to discover it? And will she alert the authorities…?
  • Becky Burnett (Amanda Seyfried) arrives at the RR Diner with a delivery of bread from the local bakery where she works (‘Sweet Loaf’). She’s married to Steve, who we saw earlier at Mike’s car dealership. It seems she’s married young, just like her mom, Shelly (Mädchen Amick) – and just like Norma (Peggy Lipton). ‘We both know that tune, don’t we?’ Shelly and Norma’s accusatory gaze unsettles Steve, as well it should.

 

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  • The parking lot scene calls to mind Bobby and Shelly’s departure from the diner in the pilot. Steve is no Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), however. What he is, is fascinating to watch. It’s a very physical performance from Caleb Landry Jones, who really does look every inch the drug addict in this episode. It’s genuinely shocking to think they could be married.
  • Instead of a slug from a hip flask in honour of happy hour in France, Becky does some hard drugs with her husband before they take off from the parking lot. What comes next, with the Paris Sisters’ ‘I Love How You Love Me’ playing on the soundtrack, has been for many viewers the stand-out moment in this episode. The camera is trained on Becky’s face throughout. This magic moment is hers, and hers alone.

 

 

  • A lot of comparisons have been drawn between Becky and Laura. Becky certainly reminded me of Laura during certain moments in this episode. I found Becky’s grin, during the ‘I Love How You Love Me’ sequence, more than a little unsettling. It reminded me of the rictus grin on Laura’s face in one of FWWM’s deleted scenes. I’ve since found out that some other viewers made the same connection. Becky’s relationship with Steve also reminds me of Laura’s relationship with Bobby. It seems that she does genuinely love him. She also comes across as being amused by and bored of him. There’s a real mix of emotions on display during their short scene together, and I think they’re very close to the range of emotions that Laura felt for Bobby.

 

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  • Having been struck off from the medical profession (a detail revealed in Mark Frost’s Secret History of Twin Peaks), the former Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) has become the local radio ‘shock jock’/YouTube personality ‘Dr. Amp’. And the old hippy is taking no prisoners: ‘The fucks are at it again! The same vast global corporate conspiracy!’
  • Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly) is so much more recognisable now we can see him in close-up. I’m loving his transformation into an old pot-smoking hippy. How well does he know Jacoby? They know each other at least in passing, as Jacoby treated Jerry’s nephew and his brother, Ben (Richard Beymer). And Jacoby would surely have at least a personal, if not professional interest in Jerry’s cannabis business…
  • This episode also provides us with our first glimpse of Nadine Hurley (Wendy Robie) in 25 years. Nadine has an office now, filled with drapes and a book of samples. The last time we saw Nadine she was confused and frightened, having just got over the amnesia that followed her attempted suicide at the end of season one. It’s heart-warming to see that, after all she has been through, she seems to have come out of it okay and done something with her life. It’s great to see her looking happy.

 

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  • Nadine was, for many years, one of Jacoby’s patients. We’ll have to wait and see whether or not Nadine and Jerry were highlighted here for a reason. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the three of them were working together?
  • And now we reach the moment of truth, regarding the good doctor’s golden shovels. It turns out Jacoby is flogging his ‘gold shit-digging shovels’ for $29.99. Wait, was that it? Was it all just a huckster’s money-making scheme? Have we been literally watching paint dry just for this?! Have we just been trolled? Okay, maybe I’m grasping here out of desperation, but I can’t quite shake the feeling that there’s more to this than meets the eye. Jacoby’s line, ‘shovel your way out of the shit, into the truth’, strikes a strangely topical note in our current cultural climate – which, okay, might be accidental. But Twin Peaks has always been about making the mundane sacred, typically through food (cherry pie, coffee, creamed corn) and whatever small, beautiful things or moments life throws our way: those daily presents we give ourselves, the spectacle of ducks on the lake, and everything to do with fishing, from the leap of a trout in the moonlight to the gift of a green butt skunk. So perhaps there’s more to Jacoby’s world of cosmic flashlights and shit-digging shovels than we, or even Jacoby, realise. Certainly, that shot of Jacoby posing with a shovel as he turns on an electrical supply is mighty strange. The sound of crackling electricity is something that has come to be closely associated with Twin Peaks’ spirit world. Sure, Jacoby might just have made them to make a fast buck, but these tools might yet serve an as yet unforeseen purpose.
  • We next meet Colonel Davis, played by Ernie Hudson – Ghostbusters’ Winston Zeddemore! It seems appropriate to have a Ghostbuster involved in all this. The spirit world of Ghostbusters is, like Twin Peaks’, entrenched in the banal materialism of the mundane everyday world. When you get right down to it, a marshmallow man heralding the apocalypse is no more ridiculous than creamed corn signifying ‘pain and sorrow’. In Ghostbusters and Twin Peaks the spirit world is real, physical, material, tangible and steeped in electricity.
  • This scene basically confirms that the John Doe in Buckhorn is Major Briggs. It has his fingerprints, and we’re told that it’s the sixteenth time they’ve been found. (I’m assuming they don’t mean that this is the sixteenth corpse with his fingerprints, but hey, with all these doppelgangers running around who knows?)
  • We next cut to the roadhouse, where every episode has so far ended. That it doesn’t end here is a refreshing double bluff, suggesting that we shouldn’t expect the rest of the series to follow what has been the pattern so far.
  • The band performing in the roadhouse is Trouble, one of whose members is Riley Lynch, son of David. The track is ‘Snake Eyes’. It is dark and sexy and dangerous, especially when you factor in Alex Zhang Hungtai’s sax appeal.

 

 

  • This brings us to Richard Horne. A lot of people have been comparing Richard to Frank Booth from Blue Velvet. It’s a fair comparison, but as this is Twin Peaks I think it needs to be stressed that the character he most resembles is BOB. BOB is the only character in Twin Peaks to date who has been depicted speaking that way (in print at least, in Jennifer Lynch’s The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer) and moving that way. This is why I’m inclined to believe the theory I noted earlier, that Richard is, most likely, the son of Audrey and Mr. C.

 

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  • Since Mr. C left Twin Peaks shortly after breaking free of the Black Lodge and razing Major Briggs’s station to the ground (I’m assuming that was his work, though the Major might have done it himself, for reasons), that does suggest the possibility that Audrey may have been raped. She must have spent a good deal of time in hospital recovering from the bank explosion she was caught up in. If Mr. C remained in Twin Peaks for only a matter of days, and not weeks, then I struggle to see how Richard could’ve been conceived consensually. This, I’m afraid to say, is definitely a direction the show could, conceivably, go. And I really hope that it isn’t the case, because I really do think it would be crossing a line.
  • We see Deputy Chad Broxford (John Pirruccello) accept a bribe from Richard. Chad really is an asshole. I’m going to hazard a guess and say that he transferred from the nearby town of Deer Meadow at some point. All of Deer Meadow’s cops are like Chad.
  • Eagle-eyed viewers may have noticed that Richard passed Chad the bribe in a packet of Morley cigarettes. Morley is a fictional brand of cigarette that’s been featured in countless US films and television programmes over the past half-century. Its first appearance may have been in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). It appeared in several episodes of The Twilight Zone, between 1961-1964, and it was the brand favoured by The X-Files’ Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis). So wait, does that mean The X-Files takes place in the same universe as Twin Peaks? Venture down that rabbit hole and you’ll discover many more doppelgangers, as The X-Files starred many former Twin Peaks’ alumni – David Duchovny, Don Davis, Richard Beymer, Michael Horse and more.
  • It’s nice that we finally get to share a quiet moment with Agent Tamara Preston (Chrysta Bell). Cole says she’s ‘got the stuff’, but until now the stuff has consisted solely of looking spooky and swinging her hips in a way that cannot be comfortable but which appears to please the old men ogling her behind in part 4.

 

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  • In this scene we get to see Agent Preston in Agent Scully mode. She’s looking at a picture of the young Agent Cooper, and she appears to be having a hard time reconciling it with the mugshot of Mr. C (which eerily echoes the wanted poster of BOB drawn by Deputy Andy Brennan 25 years earlier). Following that, she makes a big discovery: the fingerprint on Mr. C’s left ring finger is a mirror image reflection of Agent Cooper’s.
  • Meanwhile, Mr. C is about to have that private phone call Gordon Cole’s been wanting to hear all about. Looking directly into the CCTV camera, C asks: ‘Should I call Mr. Strawberry?’ Warden Murphy (James Morrison) looks terrified in response to this. It could conceivably be that he’s unsettled by the weirdness of Mr. C’s statement, but I’m not so sure. It really seemed to strike a chord with him, as if he knew who this ‘Mr. Strawberry’ was and that he was bad news. ‘No,’ concludes Mr. C. ‘I don’t think he’s taking calls.’
  • The phone number Mr. C enters is incredibly long and seems to be responsible for triggering the security system’s temporary insanity. I can’t help wondering if the numbers he entered are in any way related to the numbers that have been flagged throughout the show so far. I know that the numbers are understood to be geographical co-ordinates – but perhaps, taken together, they double as an unearthly phone number. This is just wild speculation on my part, based on the fact that there has been an interesting and consistent focus on strings of numbers.

 

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  • C’s message (to who/what?) is a line taken from the nursery rhyme ‘Hi Diddle Diddle’: ‘The cow jumped over the moon’. That immediately calls to mind the line that follows it – ‘the little dog laughed to see such fun’. In the previous scene with Mr. C there was a flashback to the final episode of season two, showing BOB and Mr. C laughing like hyenas. Big dog, little dog. BOB was closely associated with the owls during the original series, but beyond that there’s also been a more nebulous association with dogs and predatory animals. Worth noting here is a deleted scene from FWWM, in which another Lodge spirit, ‘The Electrician’ (Calvin Lockhart), intones ‘animal life’. Wood, electricity and animal life are the mediums through which the Lodge spirits travel and reside.
  • Except for the line about the dog I think it would be a mistake to look for a direct one-to-one correspondence between the episode and every line of the rhyme. But Becky totally is the dish that ran away with the spoon. Sorry Steve, but you’re a spoon.
  • We see the black box again, and it’s here that we learn that the box is located somewhere in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Agent Jeffries’ former stomping-ground. Was Mr. C calling the black box? Was that line from the nursery rhyme what caused it to implode, if that’s the correct verb for what the black box does next? (I’m not sure there is a verb that adequately describes it.)
  • Instead of returning to the roadhouse we end on Baby Coop looking forlorn as he pats the shoes of the statue, his melancholy underlined by the haunting melody of Johnny Jewel’s ‘Windswept’.

 

 

 

 

Notes on Twin Peaks: The Return, Part 4

Twin Peaks Part 3 (screen grab) CR: Showtime

  • The beginning of this episode introduces ‘Mr. Jackpots’, the name that launched a thousand works of fan-art, from gifs to t-shirts. (On that note, it really is incredible just how much the show’s fans have produced in such a short amount of time. If you aren’t keeping up with it all on twitter then you’re really missing out.)
  • The picture on the wall in the casino manager’s office reminded me of the picture of Kafka in Cole’s. Which is to say, it seems significant. It seems like we’re supposed to notice it. The picture, it turns out, is of Howard Hughes, one of history’s most famous reclusive millionaires. We know, as well, that a reclusive millionaire was responsible for the mysterious glass box business in New York. Is there a connection…?
  • Am I alone in thinking there’s something vaguely ominous about the red front door that sets Dougie’s house apart from all the rest? Cooper seems startled when he sees it – but then again, everything appears to strike him as strange and new. In the Insidious films a red door – located in ‘the Further’, the series’ own otherworld – leads the would-be heroes into the lairs of the films’ central antagonists. I know it’s most likely a coincidence, but that’s what I was reminded of here, and it gave me a little shiver. Was the Red Room able to materialise in Dougie’s bedroom because, as elsewhere, it coincided with a specific set of co-ordinates…? In that case, does the red door signify a connection to the Red Room (a connection Dougie doesn’t know about, but whoever is responsible for the property’s construction might)? Once again, I suspect I may be reading too much into things.

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  • As Cooper and the limo driver stand outside Dougie’s house, an owl flies overhead and the driver makes a remark about finding owls spooky. Owls were very spooky in the original Twin Peaks as they had ties to the spirit world. As the Giant told Cooper, in the season two premiere, ‘the owls are not what they seem’. Owl iconography was woven throughout the original series – for example, the Briggs family had a table-lamp shaped like an owl. In a similar vein, an owl cookie jar appears on a kitchen counter in Dougie’s house.
  • Janey-E’s discovery of the money recalls a similar moment in Lynch’s Mulholland Drive – and in both these scenes it’s Naomi Watts playing the character who discovers the money. It really does feel like all of Lynch’s work is getting incorporated into the new Twin Peaks, and I’m curious to see how far he and Frost take this.
  • Paul is in the North Pole.’ I love this line – it is pure Twin Peaks, both in the writing and the delivery.

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  • The return of Denise Bryson (David Duchovny) is a special moment. The character was one of the highlights of season two, but not a character that Lynch ever worked with, either behind or in front of the camera. But this scene was always going to be problematic. While it is still the case that shows cast cis male actors in trans roles, this is something that is increasingly, and rightly, frowned upon. One trans viewer, Samantha Allen, has written affectionately and critically about what made Denise ‘such a radical trans character on TV’ 25 years ago, and about the character’s return. I’d love to read more trans responses to Denise – if you know of any, please let me know in a comment below!
  • Cole reminds me, in this scene with Denise, of my grandmother after I initially came out: instantly accepting, in a very sweet way that came as a lovely surprise, though still capable of uttering the occasional ‘clanger’ due to deeply ingrained cultural assumptions. I think the worst (and by worst I just mean awkward) thing that my family ever said to me, immediately after I came out, was that they didn’t want to know about my sex life. Well, that isn’t a subject a person is likely to want to discuss with their family anyway. Though the topic here is gender and not sexual orientation (two very different things), when Gordon screws up his face at Denise’s mention of hormones I was reminded of that. That reactionary fear, amongst the straight and the cis, of receiving ‘TMI’ (too much information). But, when you truly know and love people, the occasional moment of silliness amounts to little or nothing in the face of the love that underlines everything else they say and do. And in one short scene we do get the sense of a history between these two characters, and of a deep wellspring of affection – which is impressive, given that this is the first time the two characters have appeared together on screen.
  • Also, Gordon’s line about telling ‘those clown comics’ in the Bureau ‘to fix their hearts or die’ is remarkably powerful. Cole doesn’t tolerate intolerance and neither should we. Thus, in its own weird, awkward, slightly cringey and yet still lovely way, and with righteous anger, Twin Peaks does more to confront transphobia than most other TV shows (heck, than most other media). And it has a trans woman working as Deputy Chief of Staff of the Federal Bureau of Investigation – a ‘wonderful dream’ in the ‘terrible nightmare’ that is Trump’s Amerika.

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  • Over at Twin Peaks Sheriff Station we meet the new sheriff, Frank Truman (Robert Forster), Harry’s brother. Frank was introduced in Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks (2016) and is standing in for the sick Harry just as the actor is standing in for the sick Michael Ontkean. Robert Forster, incidentally, almost played the role of Sheriff Harry Truman back in the day. I would be very surprised if his character doesn’t get to appear opposite Agent Cooper at some point.
  • It’s strange to discover that the Sheriff Station has this massive back room at the end of that hallway. Here the sheriff gets news that a kid died at their school desk following a drug overdose. It seems there’s still a lively drug trade in Twin Peaks’ high school(s) after all these years. Is it significant that they’re Chinese designer drugs…? If they aren’t coming through Canada, via the Renault cousin working at the roadhouse, then how are they getting into town? And if they are coming through Canada – is Bobby, who now works for the police department, letting them slip through? (That would be a real shame, since he does appear to have cleaned up his act.) Who are the drug runners, this time round? And are the Bookhouse Boys still about, and running their own investigation…?

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  • Michael Cera makes what I hope won’t be his only appearance as Wally Brando. Here I have to be honest and say I’m not familiar with Marlon Brando’s work outside of Superman (1978). Shocking, I know. But you don’t have to be intimately acquainted with Brando’s oeuvre to find this scene utterly hilarious (though I’m sure there’ll be more than one or two viewers left scratching their heads). I can’t help wondering if there’s a little Dick in him – Dick Tremayne that is, who may or may not be the young man’s biological father. This does feel like what might happen if you were to cross Lucy Moran’s eccentricity with Richard Tremayne’s pomposity and sartorial flair.
  • Bobby Briggs, working for Twin Peaks’ police department! The local drug dealer who killed a cop has become a man. But will that past come back to haunt him?
  • Bobby’s line here, about his urge to urinate, calls to mind Coop’s from season one. That, in my book, is all the proof one needs that Bobby is now an honest, straight-talking guy (and probably now a Bookhouse Boy).

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  • When Bobby catches sight of Laura’s portrait, and ‘Laura’s Theme’ kicks in, we see the return of that boy who broke down in Dr. Jacoby’s office all those years ago. Boy, can actor Dana Ashbrook cry!
  • Just in case you weren’t sure you were still watching the same show, Bobby’s shock on seeing Laura’s portrait briefly reunites us with the Twin Peaks that was, among other things, a teary-eyed, warmly lit melodrama. Just as Coop is feeling his way back towards who he was, so the series is slowly feeling its way back to Twin Peaks as it was.
  • One lovely detail in this scene that I noticed: as Bobby starts crying, Andy’s hand seeks out Lucy’s. Is Lucy comforting Andy so he doesn’t cry, as he was prone to do, back in the day? (And does Andy still cry? Or is Bobby the department’s new designated crier?)
  • Bobby reveals that his father, Major Briggs, died in a fire at his station just a few days after Agent Cooper (the ‘bad’ Cooper that is) paid him a visit. This tells us what happened following The Secret History of Twin Peaks’ thrilling cliff-hanger. Fire, as any fan will know, is one of Twin Peaks’ most potent and ominous symbols; I couldn’t suppress a shiver when Bobby mentioned it here. It’s very easy to believe that the bad Cooper would set fire to the station, originally set up to investigate the town’s otherworldly secrets, in order to destroy whatever the Major knew. But was the Major’s body ever recovered…? In a grand pulp fiction tradition, when someone dies in a fire and there’s no body to bury, that’s usually a sign that a character can and probably will be brought back ‘from the dead’ at some point. Meaning that body found in Ruth Davenport’s bed might still be the Major. That the corpse’s fingerprints have a military classification reinforces the suspicion that the corpse belongs to the Major. There’s something darkly amusing about this; after all, ‘that information is classified’ was something of a catchphrase for the Major.
  • At this stage, I have to ask: why is Al Strobel credited as playing Philip Gerard? Philip Gerard was a travelling shoe salesman and the human host for a supernatural entity called Mike. Unlike BOB/Leland, Mike/Philip look identical. But surely it is Mike that Strobel is playing in the Red Room…? I’m tempted to say here, at least at this stage, that it might be a mistake to read too much into this, as I can imagine Lynch taking a cavalier ‘same difference’ approach to Mike/Philip. Alternatively, it may be the case that Mike/Philip won’t be seen to operate in quite the same way as BOB. And as other commentators are beginning to point out online, the emphasis on characters losing their shoes as they pass in and out of the otherworld might eventually connect back to Philip Gerard’s career as a shoe salesman.

Part 4

  • There’s a thrilling moment in Dougie’s bathroom as Cooper peers into the bathroom mirror and touches his reflection. It’s a nod to the original series’ final scene, where the bad Coop smashed his head into the bathroom mirror and saw BOB’s reflection. This is underlined by the fact that Dougie’s pyjamas are eerily similar to the pyjamas Coop was wearing at the Great Northern 25 years earlier. For those with a penchant for psychoanalytic theory, it might be worth considering this scene in light of Jacques Lacan’s ‘mirror theory’. So far Coop has been responding to how others perceive him. Now he can finally see himself, and that person looks familiar.
  • You know that something special is going to happen when Coop sits down to pancakes with maple syrup. It’s almost the same thing he had for breakfast one morning at the Great Northern Hotel oh-so-many years ago, just minus the bacon. And then, as the scene draws towards its climax it dawns on you: coffee! Coffee! The whole scene has been building to this moment. Coffee. What effect will it have? An alarming effect, as it turns out. Coop doesn’t so much spit it out as spin his head round and throw it out. He then grins and says ‘HI!’, as if seeing Naomi Watts’s Janey-E for the first time. Though Coop still has a long way to go, one suspects that the coffee has done more than anything else so far in kick-starting his road to recovery. When the cup was placed before him there was a look of instant recognition – a real ‘lightbulb’ moment. ‘A path is formed by laying one stone at a time’, as the Giant once said, and between this and the mirror scene it looks as if two large stones have been placed. How many more does this path require? And will viewers be able to stay patient in the meantime?
  • In Part 3 Miguel Ferrer was still recognisable as Albert, but he came across as a slower, older Albert whose rough edges had perhaps been smoothed over in the past 25 years. And then along comes this car scene and, after Cole’s line about Cossacks, the sudden exclamation of ‘CARSICK!’ Yep, he’s still the irascible Albert we all know and love!

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  • C’s ‘reunion’ with Gordon and Albert is a deeply unsettling scene. We see flashes of the Agent Cooper we recognise, in the smile and the thumbs-up he gives to Gordon. But it all feels wrong, wrong, wrong. This isn’t ‘our’ Coop. This feels more like a guy playing the role of ‘FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper’, in a weirdly wooden performance. In fact, it’s not just that he’s playing the role of Agent Cooper badly; it’s that he’s not convincing when it comes to playing the role of a human being, either. As others have noted (and as Cole appears to tacitly acknowledge, when he says that there was something wrong in this Cooper’s greeting), Mr. C initially says ‘very’ backwards: ‘it’s yrev very good to see you again, old friend’. When recording scenes set in the Red Room, the actors (with the exception of MacLachlan as Agent Cooper) speak backwards, and this is then played forward in post-production. Mr. C, perhaps as a consequence of his car accident, seems a little bit dislocated from our reality and is thus betraying his Red Room origins through his backwards speech. He is, after all, a darkly distorted mirror reflection of the Coop we know.
  • Albert and Cole’s exchange at the end of the episode is electrifying. Once again, we hear talk of Phillip Jeffries, David Bowie’s character from FWWM. What exactly is the nature of Jeffries’ business with Mr. C? Who was the FBI’s man in Colombia, and why was he killed?
  • Another reference is made to ‘blue rose’ (‘It dudn’t get any bluer’). Since its introduction in FWWM a ‘blue rose’ case has been understood to mean a case of otherworldly import – or at the very least, that which cannot be readily explained or rationally understood.
  • Regarding the mystery woman Albert and Cole intend to bring into this, my money’s on Laura Dern as Diane.
  • Playing out this episode are Au Revoir Simone with ‘Lark’. The title fits in with Twin Peaks’ bird theme, as the series in its entirety is replete with references to, not just owls, but nightingales, robins, mynah birds, etc. The lyrics chime with the original series: with Major Briggs’s fear ‘that love is not enough’ and with the doomed romance of Laura Palmer and James Hurley.

 

Notes on Twin Peaks: The Return, Part 3

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  • ‘WOW, BOB, WOW.’ This entire sequence, set in what I shall forever think of as the Purple Place (at least until it’s given a more or less official name), is way more dreamlike than anything that’s happened in the Red Room so far.
  • For me this sequence called to mind 90s FMV videogames – something about the combination of physical sets with basic CGI. It also reminded me of computer glitching – the kind of glitching that makes you wonder if there’s something wrong with how the episode is streaming. That, in turn, evoked the herky-jerky movements of actors in early silent cinema, an impression reinforced by the minimalist dialogue and flickering light.
  • For some reason this sequence also reminded me of Knightmare, a UK TV kids’ show from the 80s/early 90s. Like the kids on that show I wanted to shout instructions to Agent Cooper – ‘Open the window! Turn left! There’s a lady sitting on a sofa. She’s staring at the fireplace. Walk forward! Stop!’ It’s maybe because of the strong impulse I feel to describe, in order to try and rationalise, what I’m seeing. Like the average viewer of Knightmare, we’re following the hero (and there is a strong, mythic hero quality about Agent Cooper, and an air of the mythic quest about his current predicament) into an alien environment that, like the effectively blind child knight contestants on Knightmare, he isn’t equipped to understand. Indeed, we see far more of the room than he physically can,  from different angles. There are multiple perspectives and close-ups on objects it shouldn’t be physically possible for Cooper to see. And yet, I wonder if we should assume that he can see the time on one apparition’s watch, impossible as it is in that moment, since its appearance seems to be intended as a clue. In that case, perhaps Cooper can see everything there is to see here, just as one can in a dream.

 

 

  • Major Briggs (the late, great Don Davis) makes an unexpected appearance when his face floats across the void of (inner? outer?) space before uttering ‘Blue Rose’, one of the most significant and inscrutable signifiers in Twin Peaks That it’s just his head adds fuel to the fire of speculation that it was *his* headless body that got placed in Ruth Davenport’s bed.
  • Phoebe Augustine returns, not as Ronette Pulaski, but as a character referred to in the credits as ‘American Girl’. Not an ‘American Woman’, then, as per the song that played in Part 1? Is she still a girl, to Agent Cooper…? One suspects that the mother she warns Agent Cooper ‘is coming’ isn’t Janette Pulaski but something else – possibly whatever was banging on the door in the scene prior to this with ‘Naido’ (the name given in the credits to the mysterious woman whose eyes are stitched shut). The ‘Diane’ podcast team offer a great reading of the feminine energy that defines this Purple Place, with reference to the Kabbalah.
  • This scene makes explicit a point that was more or less implicit in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and which has been the subject of much speculation over the years: that the spirits can travel via electricity. This concept resonates nicely with 19th century spiritualism, which also made a connection between electricity and the ‘spirit world’. Writer Mark Frost must have at least a passing interest in spiritualism, as it coincides with his interest in late 19th century American theosophy.
  • Agent Cooper’s other doppelganger, Dougie Jones, is wearing the owl cave ring from FWWM. Why? It’s unclear to me what its function is, in this context. In any event, it’s interesting to see that it has the same numbing effect on his arm as it was said to have on Theresa Banks in FWWM.
  • The big bang, heralding Cooper’s re-entry into the corporeal world and frightening Jade (Nafessa Williams), immediately reminded me of the sonic BOOM of the ‘Boom Tubes’ in Jack Kirby’s ‘Fourth World’ saga, published by DC Comics.
  • The casino sequence is hilarious. Great comedy acting from Kyle MacLachlan – which, again, I found evocative of early cinema, perhaps because the comedy here is so physical. Coop’s deadpan expression at times reminded me of Stan Laurel – though the real Stan Laurel in Twin Peaks has got to be Harry Goaz as Deputy Andy Brennan.
  • I thought the cashier at the casino was also wearing the owl cave ring. The ring she was wearing seemed very prominent, but ‘now that some time has passed’, I don’t think that it is the owl cave ring. I wonder if Lynch was deliberately trolling viewers in that moment – getting mugs like me to pause the video and jam our noses to the screen to see whether or not it is the ring. Or maybe I’m just reading too much into things. But hey, that’s what Twin Peaks does to a person!
  • The scene at Twin Peaks Sheriff Station with Hawk, Andy and Lucy is pure comedy gold and I almost laughed myself sick the first time I watched it – from the ‘Donut Disturb’ sign to Lucy’s revelation regarding the ‘small box of chocolate bunnies’ from the Laura Palmer case. Also, it’s great to see Hawk in charge. As Hawk, actor Michael Horse has a lot more to do and work with this time round.
  • Gordon Cole (David Lynch) and Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) are back, and it’s hilarious to see Lynch – a master surrealist with zero interest in rational explanations – shout ‘what the hell?!’ in response to the series’ otherworldly goings-on. The framed portrait of Kafka in his office is cute, and the blown-up atomic bomb photograph behind his desk seems ominous to say the least – as does the bright red telephone, which made me think of the hotline in the 60s Batman TV show.
  • Mr. C is now in police custody, following his car accident earlier in the episode. Immediately following his accident he vomited up a lot of garmonbozia – creamed corn, signifying ‘pain and sorrow’. It is both spectacular to watch and extremely gross. I’m curious to know whether the bad smell that caused one officer to vomit resembled the smell of scorched engine oil, which in the original series flagged the presence of otherworldly forces. Or does garmonbozia (especially when vomited up) possess its own distinct aroma? (Thinking back to the original series, I wonder if the bad hospital food in the season two premiere was what started Lynch on the train of thought that led to creamed corn and garmonbozia.)
  • This week’s song to play us out is the Cactus Blossoms’ ‘Mississippi’. ‘My angel sings down to me / She’s somewhere on the shore waiting for me / With her wet hair and sandy gown / Singing songs waves of sound’. As noted by Allanah Faherty: doesn’t their angel sound exactly like Laura Palmer…?

 

Notes on Twin Peaks: The Return, Parts 1 and 2

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I thought I’d share some of my initial thoughts/observations on Twin Peaks: The Return, Parts 1 and 2 (and by ‘initial’, I mean I’ve watched it twice and am planning to watch it again tonight).

 

  • Those new opening credits! I felt my jaw slacken and drop the first time I watched them. We seem to be moving from the present into the past, before moving into the red room. The signature theme is intact and still feels perfectly on point. Loved seeing the red drapes billowing like flames, and that weird optical illusion effect with the chevron floor.
  • What is Dr. Jacoby getting up to with those shovels?
  • Is it just me, or could anyone else hear the sound of the backwards-Indian war-whooping from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me? I heard it playing throughout the scene where Sam Colby (Ben Rosenfield) and Tracey (Madeline Zima) make out. In FWWM the sound is associated with the spirits travelling ‘along the wires’ so to speak, and down telephone poles. Wood and electricity are the mediums through which they travel. Its presence in this scene (assuming it’s not all in my head) really ratchets up the tension.
  • Matthew Lillard – the voice of Shaggy in all Scooby-Doo related material after Casey Kasem – gives a powerful performance as a high school principal who appears to have murdered the school’s librarian, with whom he was having an affair. There are ‘irrefutable similarities’ between his situation and Leland Palmer’s. Both men committed crimes that they seem strangely detached from. There were moments here when I thought that Lillard might explode, like Leland did after being thrown into a cell.
  • What the hell was that thing in the other cell – the soot-black individual whose disembodied head floated up after his body vanished? It reminded me of George Cruikshank’s illustration of the condemned Fagin in his cell from the original serialised publication of Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist (something I pointed out on Twitter, where it got a very positive response). Is this a new member of Twin Peaks’ ‘rogues gallery’ of spirits? Will it appear again? Did Mark Frost have a hand in its conception? Or is it purely a Lynch invention – i.e. the sort of thing we shouldn’t necessarily expect to see referenced ever again?
  • It is painfully apparent that Catherine Coulson was dying when they made this. Seeing her here will break your heart. It would not surprise me if this was all they were able to record with her. If that’s the case, then we should count ourselves lucky to have been able to see her again (‘For the last time / For the last time…’).
  • We see the beginnings here of what is turning out to be a fairly massive Philip Jeffries-shaped hole in the story’s proceedings. Philip Jeffries – for the benefit of those who, like me, get his name jumbled up with Mike’s human host, Philip Gerard (Al Strobel) – was David Bowie’s character in FWWM. Bowie was set to be involved in the production before his death in January 2016. Some are speculating that he may have had a chance to shoot something for the series; I’m trying desperately hard not to get my hopes up.
  • What was that thing on the playing card? A friend suggests it resembles a heavily filled-in and distorted version of the owl cave ring symbol. I can kind of see it, though for me there’s something bug-like about it. It makes me think of the creepy-crawly sounds playing on the gramophone at the beginning of the episode.
  • If that wasn’t Jeffries on the other end of the line, then who (or what) was it…? Someone (or something) looking to be reunited with BOB.
  • That deeply disturbing scene in which we see Sarah watching a wildlife documentary made me think of the spirit in The Missing Pieces that said ‘Animal life’. Wood, electricity and animal life… All these things connect…
  • I’ve been listening to the Chromatics’ ‘Shadow’ over and over again. To quote Audrey Horne: ‘isn’t it too dreamy?’ It’s perfectly in keeping with the dreamlike atmosphere generated by Julee Cruise’s performances in the original series. I hope they perform at the roadhouse again!
  • ‘James has always been cool.’ I don’t think I’ve felt more affection for James than in this moment. I was taken aback by how much it affected me (and I don’t mean because my name is also James and it sounds like someone is calling me cool).
  • The on screen credits at the end of the episode (I’m calling them episodes) include a tribute to Catherine Coulson and Frank Silva, the set dresser who was cast by David Lynch in a moment of divine inspiration as BOB. Silva – who died in 1995 – makes a brief on-screen appearance in this episode in a flashback to the season two finale. Is this the latest tribute that there has ever been to a deceased member of a show’s cast/production crew…?

 

A Tale of Three Diners, Part One: Twin Peaks’ RR Diner

‘Previously during the investigation’:

Location, Location, Location: Twin Peaks v. Alan Wake v. Deadly Premonition

First Warning: This is a rough and incomplete draft of a longer work. I began it ahead of the new series of Twin Peaks, and it’s unclear as yet how big an impact the revival will have on what I’ve written. In the meantime, I may skip forward to writing the follow-up chapters (like I said, this is going to be a long work) for Alan Wake and Deadly Premonition.

Second Warning: The things that I tell you will contain spoilers.

 

Welcome to Twin Peaks’ RR Diner!

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‘I’d forgotten there were still places like this – towns where everybody knew everybody.’

Alan Wake.

When it came to casting the iconic RR Diner for Twin Peaks’ pilot episode, director David Lynch and his crew chose the real-life Mar-T Café – formerly Thompson’s Café, which first opened at 137 North Bend Way, North Bend, Washington, in 1941. No Twin Peaks fan pilgrimage would be complete without visiting the ‘real’ RR (now known as Twede’s Café) for a slice of cherry pie. For many fans, including myself, it was seeing photos of the RR’s restoration last year that gave us our first real sense that the series was returning to our screens, long before Entertainment Weekly set the internet on fire with its exclusive preview of the revival.

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The original location filming for the pilot gave the RR a certain air of authenticity that was lacking in its depiction in the actual series. That’s because, following the pilot, the RR’s interior scenes were shot on a soundstage in Los Angeles. One diner is an actual diner, in real-life, while the other is an indoor studio set. Now, before I unpack some of the differences between these two versions of the RR, I want to make it clear upfront that I’m not looking to argue that one version is better than another, that one is ‘real’ or wholly ‘authentic’ while the other is ‘fake’. I prefer to view them as two different ‘actors’ playing the same role, each bringing something different to the part, in much the same way Lara Flynn Boyle and Moira Kelly both do a brilliant job of playing Donna Hayward, offering two different takes on the same character that in a way complement one another. Yes, the studio set diner may feel a bit less ‘real’ in some ways than the version shot inside an actual diner, but it is the version of the diner that viewers of the series will be most familiar with. The studio set diner is as solid and real and iconic as the Red Room, and like the Red Room it’s home to many of the series’ most memorable scenes. Not for one moment during those scenes does the studio set diner feel anything less than authentic.

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Now, at time of writing – less than a month before it debuts – it appears that for the series’ revival Lynch has returned to shooting inside the actual diner, which had previously only been used in the pilot and the motion picture prequel-sequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992). As far as I can tell from the above photo, released by Entertainment Weekly, the revival’s RR most closely resembles the FWWM version (though some unofficial photos suggest that it also includes elements of the version featured in the series – the checkered floor, for example – making it more of a hybrid). Looking at the photo above fills me with warm, fuzzy feelings, primarily because it features two actresses I adore, Mädchen Amick and Peggy Lipton, reprising their roles after a 25 year absence. Everything about the diner here looks bright and sunny and fresh and clean. No cobwebs here! I have no idea what’s happening in the scene, and I know I’m projecting onto it, but I do think there’s a real warmth to how it’s lit, in Amick’s smile and Lipton’s knowing glance. They look like two close friends in agreement over something.

This warm, familiar vibe intrigues me, since I always felt that the pilot/FWWM version of the diner, filmed on location, lacked the warm, cosy atmosphere created on the studio set. For one thing, we only ever see a small handful of characters in the diner in both the pilot and FWWM. That alone makes it feel a lot less cosy and familiar. Indeed, it doesn’t matter how many times I see the pilot, the RR always looks strange and new and unfamiliar, precisely because this version of it only appears once in the actual course of the series. In FWWM the diner looks and feels even more strange, thanks in part to the presence of Laura Palmer, the girl who was dead to begin with, and to the diner’s having had a dramatic makeover – not to mention Peggy Lipton’s new hairstyle. It seems the women in Twin Peaks have an uncanny knack for growing and restyling their hair overnight. Either that, or Twin Peaks encompasses a number of closely related parallel worlds – a theory that, after Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks, seems a distinct possibility.

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The on-location RR is the ‘Sunday best’ version, the one reserved for special occasions (i.e. the pilot, FWWM and the revival). The studio set RR is the ‘everyday’ or ‘weekday’ version, the one we stick with through all the highs and lows of the main series, where the regular business of the series – the development of the main plot, and of various sub-plots – is conducted. Visually, the studio set RR looks and feels less real when compared to its on-location counterpart. Note how the camera shies away from focusing on the (fake) outside world. The camera does not, indeed cannot, follow characters as they enter/exit the studio diner from/into the outside world. And with the exception (so far) of the pilot and FWWM, there are no scenes set, and shot, outside the RR. The studio RR thus emphasises the diner’s interior space – a space that is further away from the outside world than its on-location counterpart, a space that exists within its own little bubble. In this way it could be said that the RR’s staff and patrons – to quote David Bowie’s Philip Jeffries in FWWM – ‘live inside a dream’.

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As with some of Twin Peaks’ other locations, such as the Great Northern Hotel and the local Sheriff Station, there is in the RR a sense that the great outdoors has been brought indoors. There is also a sense of worlds outside our perceivable external reality being close at hand. Note how the wood inside the studio set RR is a much darker shade of brown compared to the on-location RR. When Truman talks to Cooper about the dark presence in the woods, it feels like we’re brushing up close against that mystery, precisely because the characters are surrounded by, and are literally brushing up against, dark wood. On the studio set the camera maintains a tight focus on the characters and their typically private conversations, creating a far more intimate atmosphere than can be seen in either the pilot and FWWM. The décor on the studio set also strikes me as more kitsch, with its chintzy wallpaper and checkered floor. All of these different elements combine to make the studio set RR more adaptable to the needs of the series than its real-world counterpart. By that I mean the studio set RR lends itself to all of the series’ different modes – mystery, comedy, romance and more. Indeed, I find it difficult to imagine many of the series’ RR scenes working as well, if at all, had they been filmed on location.

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The pilot/FWWM RR is largely devoid of the human warmth that could be found in the scenes shot within its studio counterpart. In the scenes filmed inside the former Mar-T Café – just one scene in the pilot, and a short sequence in FWWM – the RR appears to be a lot less busy in terms of trade. In FWWM the diner is dead, in terms of business, and there’s a deleted scene showing Norma crying in an empty booth that could be one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen on film. It certainly doesn’t feel like a scene that could’ve happened on the studio set RR, where we never do see Norma truly alone. This entire sequence has a fly-on-the-wall realism about it that feels out of keeping with the rest of the film (which is presumably why most of it was cut), as well as being at odds with what we’ve seen of the RR prior to this. There’s nothing in the series itself that quite compares with the devastating emotional reality of this scene.

Speaking of quiet, that flags another key difference between the two diners: the use of music. As Kathryn Kalinak (1995) has argued, in Twin Peaks the line between music that is diegetic (that is, music that has an on-screen source) and non-diegetic (added in later – i.e. a soundtrack, sound effects, etc) is blurred. One of the most memorable examples of this is Audrey’s dance, where the music subtly shifts from being diegetic to non-diegetic, creating a ‘dreamy’ feeling that is perfectly in tune with the character’s mood. It calls to mind ‘The Dance of the Dream Man’ from Agent Cooper’s dream. Audrey is close to re-enacting it, and this uncanny parallel creates a sense of the ‘real’ world of Twin Peaks brushing up close against that ‘other’ world, the supernatural world that, in Twin Peaks, can be entered through dreams or through other magical means. Whilst the pilot makes powerful use of the jukebox, the reason it’s powerful is because no music precedes it. The rest of what we hear in the diner in the pilot are just the ordinary (diegetic) sounds of a diner. The music coming from the jukebox remains diegetic, as it’s distinctly muffled when we cut to Shelly and Bobby outside the diner. Again, this makes the pilot’s RR feel just a little bit more connected to the ‘real’ world than the series’ version. That said, there is some talk of dreams just before Bobby exits the diner, before the music kicks in as the door closes behind him. There is a distinctly dreamy feeling about all this, as the music plays over a close-up of Norma. But then the camera quickly cuts to the reality outside, ensuring that this particular dream stays held within the diner. FWWM, meanwhile, eschews music. All of its sounds are diegetic – but since the diner is dead, its quietness and its stillness exacerbates the sadness in Norma, forcing her to confront her own loneliness. There’s no dancing for Norma. Oh Norma : ( Thankfully, that moment of existential despair remains an exception to the rules that normally govern the RR’s appearances.

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Though no major events occur in the RR, at least in terms of plot, a lot happens here over the course of the series. This is because the RR functions as a local community hub, a place that most of the series’ townsfolk will pass through at some point during the series. It’s a place where characters brush up close against the mysteries of the town, in the whispered conversations about the death of Laura Palmer and ‘the mystery of the woods surrounding Twin Peaks’. It’s a place where high school teens, local law enforcement and even the occasional criminal make plans over coffee or a soda. And it’s a place where, above all else, ‘the mysteries of love come clear’. It’s in the RR that Coop falls for Annie Blackburn, where they laugh together like a couple of goofballs over a ridiculous joke. It’s where his boss, the hard-of-hearing Gordon Cole, falls for Shelly Johnson – whose voice, to his amazement, rings crystal clear. It’s where Bobby Briggs realises the depth of his love, not just for Shelly, but for his father, in one of the series’ most surprising, compelling and emotional scenes. It’s where Norma and Ed share fleeting moments of emotional intimacy, away from the jealous stares of their spouses. And it’s where the bonds of sisterhood are forged between Norma and Shelly, and later Annie. It’s a place for small, beautiful moments, for quiet epiphanies, minor revelations and miracles. And to quote the Log Lady, ‘what’s wrong with miracles?

 

The Characters

The two characters most closely associated with the RR Diner over the course of Twin Peaks are its owner, Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton), and waitress Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick). That’s because there isn’t a scene set in the RR that doesn’t feature or focus on either one or both of these characters. Norma and Shelly are the RR, so much so that it’s easy to forget that there’s anyone else working here. And of the various waitresses who do, there can be no doubt that Shelly is Norma’s favourite. Both women bond over the fact that they each have ‘two men apiece and [they] don’t know what to do with any of the four of them’, and over the course of the series we see them as confidantes, best friends and sisters. Given the approximately twenty-year age-gap between them, it’s also easy to read Norma as a maternal presence in Shelly’s life (something that differentiates Shelly from the other teen characters in Twin Peaks is that both of her parents are conspicuously absent from the show and never discussed). You just know that when Norma retires that Shelly will almost certainly be the one to take over as manager of the RR.

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There are two other waitresses in the RR with speaking roles. The first of these is Heidi (Andrea Hays), a minor but memorable character. We only get to see Heidi in the pilot, the final episode of season two and in FWWM (all directed by Lynch). In her first two appearances she’s late to work because she either ‘couldn’t get her car started’ or was ‘too busy jump-startin’ the old man!’ The repetition of these lines creates a circular sense of time in Twin Peaks. Everything that happens here will happen again. Heidi’s appearance in the 2017 revival has been confirmed (see the picture of her with Marv Rosand and Amanda Seyfried further below), and I would be surprised if her return appearance does not involve further repetition of those famous utterances.

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After Shelly Johnson the most significant of the RR’s waitresses is Norma’s sister, Annie Blackburn (Heather Graham). Annie arrives in Twin Peaks late on in season two having just left a convent, where she went to stay after a failed suicide attempt. Norma is helping Annie out by giving her a job at the RR, to help her re-acclimatise to the outside world. Though Annie turns out to be a major character as the series’ final episodes unfold, in the RR she feels a little bit like a third wheel. That’s because the RR has been, for the most part, The Norma and Shelly Show. It’s not that Annie isn’t welcome here, far from it. Norma and Shelly treat Annie as their equal. And Annie blends in perfectly with her surroundings at the RR – I’m tempted to say, a little too perfectly. I don’t mean that to sound hostile. I like Annie. I consider her an immensely likeable character. But there’s something odd about Annie, something that has made many viewers take exception to her. Why is that? I think the Vlog Lady nails the reasons why in this video essay about Annie. Annie, she argues, seems strangely unrooted in this town where she is supposed to have grown up. None of the town’s other residents seem to recognise or remember her. It is tempting to attribute this weird and inexplicable disconnect between Annie and the town as a failing on the writers’ part, and given how turbulent the series’ production had been for most of season two this wouldn’t come as a surprise.

But this nagging sense that there’s something  odd about Annie has become even more pronounced following the publication of Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks, in 2016. That’s because the book flatly contradicts all the facts established within the show regarding Norma’s family history. Norma apparently now has a different mother and, even more strikingly, no sister. Whilst the show’s original ending hints at a possible rationale for covering up Annie’s existence, there is so much that is different about Twin Peaks in this book that the possibility that Twin Peaks’ narrative extends across multiple parallel worlds seems a more likely explanation. In any event, Annie’s erasure draws attention to how superfluous she is to Norma’s existence. By that I mean, except for one or two minor scenes in which their relationship is acknowledged, we don’t really get to see Norma and Annie relate to each other as sisters. Right from the outset, their personalities and their respective histories seem to exist independently of each other. It was as if the writers had forgotten that the two were meant to be sisters immediately after introducing them as such. As the Vlog Lady argues, it seems odd how Sheriff Truman (Michael Ontkean) refers to Annie by her full name, given that he seems to have known Norma for years. Also, that Norma is too wrapped up in her relationship trouble in the series’ final episode to notice her sister’s kidnapping by a known serial killer.

Had the series continued into a third series, straight after season two, one wonders how Annie and Norma’s relationship, such as it is, would have been developed. As things currently stand, all one can say is that their relationship is virtually non-existent and that Annie remains an enigma. Perhaps that’s what makes the series’ final line (‘how’s Annie?’) so haunting. It’s a question that has been haunting fans for more than twenty-five years. It’s a question that haunts Frost’s book, given her conspicuous absence. And it’s a question that haunts the upcoming revival, as actress Heather Graham isn’t listed to appear. How was Annie, after she left the hospital following the events of season two…? Who exactly was this Annie Blackburn character anyway? Where did she come from, exactly? Where did she go? Interestingly, Annie’s brief on-screen appearance in FWWM was itself an act of erasure. She appears, like a ghost, in Laura Palmer’s bed, where Laura seems unfazed by her sudden, inexplicable appearance. Laura is, however, terrified by her sudden disappearance, recalling Donna’s startled response to the equally inexplicable vanishing of the creamed corn on Mrs Tremond’s plate in episode nine.

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On that note, I like how the Vlog Lady aligns Annie with the residents of Twin Peaks’ otherworld. It suggests there’s something more to Norma’s observation that Annie seemed to come ‘from another place and time’ than we might at first realise. Perhaps Annie is, as the Vlog Lady suggests, like Philip Gerard (Al Strobel), the human vessel for a supernatural being. Or perhaps she’s a more independent spirit, like Mrs Tremond/Chalfont (Frances Bay), one that chameleonically disguises itself in the fabric of history as well as through wearing a RR waitress’s uniform. Then again, Annie strikes me as being a very real, very human person, with very real, very human problems (as evidenced by the scars on her wrists). I’d rather not read Annie as an ultimately unknown and unknowable femme fatale who is, perhaps knowingly, leading Cooper to his fate. I don’t think that resonates at all with her depiction on the show, or in FWWM. I think it more likely that she isn’t cognizant of any connection she might have to the otherworld – unless, of course, it’s a part of her past that she’s reluctant to disclose to anyone (just as an increasingly suicidal Laura Palmer kept her experience of Twin Peaks’ otherworld a secret from everyone close to her).

If I were to try and read Annie in more abstracted terms, I would suggest that the reason why Annie wins the Miss Twin Peaks contest is precisely because she is Twin Peaks, ‘the whole damn town’, a living, breathing embodiment of its love, its beauty, its goofy charm and tragic history. Maybe the reason no one seems to remember or recognise Annie is because she has always been there, around them. I’m reminded here of an old expression about how, when you have lived in a place for many years, you don’t tend to pay much attention to what’s on your own doorstep. Instead, you take it for granted. It’s just there. I think that neatly characterises Annie’s relationship to the town and its residents: she’s there, she’s around them, but to them she’s never more than just a part of the scenery. But Dale sees her. And Dale loves Annie in ways that remind us of when he first fell in love with the town – in particular, when he takes her out on the lake for a date (‘Ducks! On the lake!’). Following Annie’s arrival it feels as if an important part of Twin Peaks’ magic – Cooper’s wonderment at the beauty of his surroundings – has been renewed. It is happening again. What once was lost has now been found. Annie is the spirit of Twin Peaks, estranged from itself, returning home. Remember that time is circular in Twin Peaks, and mythic: every arrival is a return, and every return an arrival (or revival).

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Annie and Dale’s blossoming romance is coupled with an ominous sense of foreboding, as the villainous Windom Earle watches the pair on their first date through his binoculars. At the centre of Earle’s plans regarding the Miss Twin Peaks contest is the assumption that only one of three women are likely to win (Shelly, Donna and Audrey – he obviously went crazy after seeing that Rolling Stone photoshoot). For whatever reason, Earle doesn’t seem to consider any of the town’s other women as serious contenders for the prize (which, given the strong possibility of bias amongst the judges, seems oddly naïve). In any case, the best laid plans of Windom Earle are disrupted by Annie’s arrival. Earle seems to sense this. He can see that the pair are in love. Perhaps Earle can sense a fearful symmetry between Annie and Caroline (Brenda E. Mathers), Dale’s former lover and Earle’s former wife (murdered by Earle). Perhaps Earle senses that Annie should be his ‘queen’ – that having anyone else in that role would feel anti-climactic, to say the least. Annie must become Miss Twin Peaks. She must, and she will. But Earle, the schemer, doesn’t have to do anything to make that happen. He just needs to take a page from Coop’s book and go with the flow. There are greater forces at work here, and while Earle might like to think he’s in control of the game board, he is in fact just another chess piece in the game of interdimensional chess being played by the supernatural forces that haunt this town – and a disposable piece at that.

The sense of foreboding created in these episodes, combined with our knowledge of the outcome of the Miss Twin Peaks contest, makes it possible to view Annie as a lamb being led to slaughter. Not only is there a horrible sense of inevitability surrounding the contest, there’s also this horrible sense that Annie was made precisely for this purpose, that she was created to be the sacrificial lamb. And yet Annie survives her Red Room experience. She isn’t ‘fridged’, a term first used in comic book circles to describe how female characters are often treated ‘as merely a device to move a male character’s story arc forward, rather than as a fully developed character in [their] own right’. It’s certainly true that Annie is an underdeveloped character, and it’s easy to imagine that a ‘fridging’ could’ve been her fate. But the objectification of women is not something that Twin Peaks simply or mindlessly perpetuates; it’s one of the series’ central themes, a theme that it insistently draws attention to and encourages us to interrogate.

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Norma, the first ever winner of Miss Twin Peaks, encourages Shelly and Annie to take part, not knowing about Windom Earle’s plans to make the winner his ‘queen’, a chess piece in his battle of wits with Dale Cooper. Earle initially targets Shelly (as well as Audrey and Donna), leaving her with a fragment of a poem by the great Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Shelley for Shelly! Shelly also inspires Dale Cooper’s boss, Gordon Cole (David Lynch), to take up poetry. ‘I PLAN ON WRITING AN EPIC POEM ABOUT THIS GORGEOUS PIE’ shouts Cole, but it’s Shelly who truly inspires him: ‘THAT’S THE KIND OF GIRL TO MAKE YOU WISH YOU SPOKE A LITTLE FRENCH’, ‘WHAT A BEAUTY, REMINDS ME OF THAT STATUE, THE BABE WITHOUT THE ARMS’. ‘The babe without the arms’ is the Venus de Milo, or Aphrodite of Milos. Venus and Aphrodite are, respectively, the Roman and Greek names for the goddess of love and beauty. The statue in question is featured prominently in Twin Peaks’ Red Room – an objectification of ‘love and beauty’ that, in the Red Room’s dreamscape, seems suggestive of the town’s (and the series’) problematic treatment of its women, most obviously Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), but no less Shelly Johnson. Fortunately, the women of Twin Peaks know a thing or two about resisting. Even after her death, Laura resists containment within the many objects that represent facets of her. ‘Sometimes her arms bend back’, but they cannot be broken off like the statue’s. Still, the ritual nature of Laura’s death and that of her cousin Maddy, and the way in which it is echoed in the Miss Twin Peaks contest, as the women perform a dance routine wearing transparent plastic raincoats – ‘wrapped in plastic’, in other words, like Laura and Maddy’s corpses – threatens to reveal some unpleasant home truths about the town.

You could argue that Norma is complicit in this local exercise in objectifying women, given that she sits on the Miss Twin Peaks judges’ panel alongside Mayor Milford (John Boylan) and Dick Tremayne (Ian Buchanan). Now, that’s a horrible thought to have. I love Norma, and it’s a reading I’m reluctant to press too heavily upon. After all, it’s not as if the custom is to kill the winner of Miss Twin Peaks, however neatly that idea might resonate with certain folk traditions that have been misinterpreted, misrepresented, or just plain invented for use in countless horror films, novels, etc. Twin Peaks is not The Wicker Man. Norma describes the contest to Shelly and Annie as ‘a day of healing and coming together’. Normally it would only be the latter, but following the death of Laura Palmer (who, no doubt, would have won the contest had she lived) Norma expects the event to perform this double duty in order to meet the psychic needs of the community. And as the owner of the RR Diner Norma is used to catering to those needs: see the special breakfast that she fixes for Sheriff Truman, after the death of Josie (Joan Chen). Deputy ‘Hawk’ (Michael Horse) makes a point of telling Truman that the dish was specially prepared by Norma, as if that knowledge will give the dish additional healing properties.

Norma cares about the town and its people (for additional evidence, ‘look into the meals on wheels’). She certainly doesn’t seek to promote Miss Twin Peaks because she wants to encourage the sexual objectification of women. Unlike her fellow judges – two foolish men, both compromised by the duplicitous Lana Milford (Robyn Lively) – Norma is the most likely of the three to make a fair and balanced judgment of each woman’s respective merits. For Norma the event is about bringing the community together in a celebration of the wonderful women of Twin Peaks, to help make everyone feel good about themselves. But… perhaps making everyone feel good about themselves is a part of the problem? Encouraging people to forget rather than confront what has happened isn’t conducive to healing in the long run. You could argue that Norma has become a part of Twin Peaks’ patriarchal system in becoming one of the town’s elders, and that she is, regardless of her best intentions, complicit, to however small a degree, in perpetuating a local institution that is problematic, irrespective of whatever good might come of it. It’s still, after all, an event that encourages the exploitation of women for the male gaze. You could counter this by pointing out that all the men involved in the contest are weak, ridiculous and/or easily manipulated (the Mayor, Dick Tremayne, Mr Pinkle), and that the women involved are far from passive. The fact that the contest’s host is the sweet, kindly Doc Hayward (Warren Frost), one of the series’ most lovable characters, may also go a long way towards dampening suspicions of what might seem to many to be an incredibly dated, sexist custom. But we also shouldn’t forget that patriarchy is upheld and reinforced by weak, ridiculous men, by so-called ‘good’ men, and by all kinds of people going about their everyday lives. ‘In a town like Twin Peaks no one is innocent’.

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While we’re on the subject of male chauvinists, let’s talk about Norma’s husband, Hank Jennings (Chris Mulkey). He’s bad news from the moment he arrives – a regular snake in the grass. Hank attracts shaky subplots and hokey characters, making the sacred space of the RR feel increasingly less sacred as season two progresses. Around Hank the chintz grows chintzier. When news arrives that the famous food critic M.T. Wentz is coming to town, Hank grabs some cash from out the till to decorate the RR. But his efforts only succeed in making the RR look like a sad little Italian restaurant for passing couples who haven’t made a booking elsewhere and whose relationships are on the rocks. Those of us who love the RR see through this cheap disguise, to Hank’s naked attempt to ingratiate himself with his estranged wife. It’s all the more painful to watch because of Norma’s willingness to go along with it. If Norma is the RR, then this is what the RR looks like when you make Norma feel insecure, when you make her doubt herself, when you toy with her dreams of romance. When Norma strips the tables bare of the new tablecloths she is, at the same time, laying bare her emotions in a (possibly final) conversation with her mother, Vivian (Jane Greer). The relationship between Norma and the RR is thus symbiotic, as the act of restoring the diner to its former self brings Norma renewed self-confidence. With Hank and Vivian gone, the diner returns to being the sacred space it was before the season two slump – just in time to welcome Annie, whose smile brings an additional ray of sunshine to a diner that was beginning to look gloomy and drab.

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Over the course of the series we get to see Norma, Shelly, Annie and Hank in a variety of different settings; but, along with Heidi, there are two minor characters who we never get to see outside the diner. The first is ‘Toad’ (Kevin Young), a stereotypical trucker who provides a bit of (mostly) silent comic-relief. Toad is always to be found in the RR eating, eating, eating, though on one occasion he could be seen frowning over a chess game with local champ Pete Martell (Jack Nance). Mark Frost’s Secret History dishes out a bit more detail on Toad, revealing that he was on the Twin Peaks’ high school football team along with Hank, Truman and a few other familiar names. Another character worth mentioning here is the cook, played by Marv Rosand. Rosand’s sole appearance to date was in the one deleted scene from FWWM that I mentioned in the previous section, and which was featured in The Missing Pieces (2014), so you could argue that he’s something of a new character, since it’s only within the last three years that audiences have had the chance to see his brief but touching performance. Rosand passed away in 2015, not long after filming material for the 2017 revival. Here’s a photo of him with Andrea Hays (Heidi) and new series’ cast member Amanda Seyfried – yet another photo that fills me with warm, fuzzy feelings.

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Beyond the core group of characters directly connected to the diner, the RR represents Twin Peaks in microcosm. So many characters pass through its doors that it would be easier to say who doesn’t. For example, you wouldn’t expect to see members of Twin Peaks’ rival dynasties, the Packards and the Hornes, frequenting the RR. They are Twin Peaks’ elite, not to be seen in an establishment catering to a primarily working-class clientele, albeit one with many notable (upper-)middle-class exceptions. (The RR is a bit like a pub in a British soap opera in that regard, in that it’s frequented by basically the entire town, as the needs of the plot dictate.) The Hornes’ and the Packards’ sole representatives at the RR are, not coincidentally, their two most wayward members: the rebellious Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) and Pete Martell, who married ‘the [sawmill] boss’s sister,’ Catherine Packard (Piper Laurie), following ‘a summer’s indiscretion’. Pete, the common man who went to live on Mount Olympus, fits in perfectly with the woodsmen, truckers and fishermen who frequent the RR. The same cannot be said of Audrey Horne. She belongs to an altogether different group that frequents the RR: teenagers.

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The presence of teenagers in the RR calls to mind other famous diners from American pop culture, such as Pop Tate’s Chock’lit Shoppe from the long-running Archie comics franchise. Pop’s Shoppe is situated in the fictional town of Riverdale, which as it happens is now the subject of a Twin Peaks-inspired TV show guest-starring Twin Peaks’ and the RR’s own Mädchen Amick. As well as being a local teen hang-out, the RR is also a magnet for law officials. By that I mean not just local law enforcement officers, like Sheriff Truman and his deputies Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz) and Tommy ‘Hawk’ Hill, but also members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, such as Special Agents Dale Cooper, Roger Hardy (Clarence Williams III), Denise Bryson (David Duchovny) and Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole (not forgetting season two villain Windom Earle, Cooper’s former partner-turned-nemesis, who shows up at the diner in different disguises). Beyond these two groups a range of supporting characters drop in – the Haywards, Nadine Hurley (Wendy Robie), Lucy Moran (Kimmy Robertson), Dick Tremayne and more. The RR serves ‘the whole damn town’, and in doing so, the whole damn series.

That concludes this stage of my analysis of Twin Peaks’ RR Diner. Stay tuned for updates to this post, as I examine the mysteries and (more importantly) the food that comes into play during our visits to the RR.

 

Bibliography

Kalinak, Kathryn. ‘“Disturbing the Guests with This Racket”: Music and Twin Peaks’. Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks. Ed. David Lavery. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1995.

Location, Location, Location: Twin Peaks v. Alan Wake v. Deadly Premonition

The things that I tell you will contain spoilers.

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‘When two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry, we must always pay strict attention!’ So said FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper in Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990-1991), the ground-breaking television series that created an idiosyncratic blend of genres (police procedural, supernatural horror, romance, soap opera, slapstick, science fiction and more). Twenty years after the series’ initial broadcast two games were released on the Xbox 360 that – to quote Agent Cooper again – bore ‘irrefutable similarities’ to Twin Peaks. But the two games could not have been more different. Alan Wake, produced by Remedy, was intended as the first instalment of an ongoing transmedia franchise, made possible by the financial backing of US publisher Microsoft. But despite a warm critical reception and steady sales (over three million copies sold at time of writing), after the release of two additional ‘episodes’ of DLC and a short sequel, the franchise (if that isn’t too big a term for what it currently is) remains stuck in development limbo. (Alan Wake fans might take heart in Twin Peaks’ unexpected return, over twenty-five years after the original series ended – or pull their hair out at the thought of having to wait so long.) Access Games’ Deadly Premonition, by contrast, was a troubled production that could have collapsed at any moment but for the determination of its auteur, Hidetaka ‘Swery’ Suehiro. Deadly Premonition may have looked and played like a low-budget B-movie title, but as its story progressed it blossomed into something that felt truly epic in scope. Nevertheless, critical reaction to Deadly Premonition was mixed, to say the least. Some deplored the game; others described it as being ‘so bad it’s good’; and some players, like myself, were quick to love it unconditionally and proclaim it a work of art.

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Speaking personally I have to say that, as much as I enjoy and admire Alan Wake, I find it easier to love Deadly Premonition. Alan Wake does, I think, contain hidden depths, but it does a very good job of calling attention away from them, the game being a fast-moving big-budget thrill-ride. Deadly Premonition, by contrast, is so strange, so singularly bizarre that it demands a greater level of engagement on the player’s part. The linear narrative of Alan Wake compels players to keep moving forward, from point A to B. There are opportunities ‘to stand and stare,’ to stop what you’re doing and wallow in the game’s richly oppressive atmosphere, but it’s not something that the game encourages. Deadly Premonition, on the other hand, is a sprawling open-world title that demands and rewards exploration, telling players that ‘haste won’t lead you to what you seek’. As a result, Deadly Premonition feels ‘Lynchian’ in a way that Alan Wake never does. It is slow-moving, ‘wonderful and strange’, tragic and farcical, camp yet sincere. Remember, Peakies, the divided reaction to Sarah Palmer’s howl of despair, how viewers complained of not knowing whether to laugh or to cry? Remember James Hurley’s toe-curlingly awful yet strangely mesmerising torch song, ‘You and I’? Deadly Premonition is the videogame equivalent of those scenes.

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While it seems obvious to want to compare these two games, given that they both quote Twin Peaks extensively, I have some reservations about doing so. Alan Wake and Deadly Premonition are, to use an old expression, ‘as different as chalk and cheese’. They might both replicate certain characters and locations from Twin Peaks almost to a tee but beyond that superficial resemblance they are worlds apart. And comparing them does, I know, beg the question of ‘which is better’. From a technical standpoint Alan Wake is undoubtedly superior to Deadly Premonition, and for many people graphics and gameplay are what ultimately determine a game’s quality. But from a narrative standpoint, and as an overall aesthetic experience, I know that Deadly Premonition had by far and away the greatest impact on me, and on many others. What I’m trying to get at here is that comparing both games in terms of ‘quality’ is tricky and subjective, as how you define ‘quality’ depends on what you choose to prioritise (graphics, gameplay, narrative, aesthetics, etc) – on what you value the most.

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Whilst aiming to be more objective in my appreciation of these three texts, over a series of posts I’ll be comparing how each one treats a given type of location, to show what makes each text interesting and effective in its own right. This is relatively easy to do, for the most part, as both Alan Wake and Deadly Premonition contain their own versions of some of Twin Peaks’ most iconic locations. But in subsequent essays the locations will be seen to become increasingly unstable. For example, while Alan Wake has its own trailer park to mirror Twin Peaks’ ‘Fat Trout Trailer Park’, Deadly Premonition does not. It does, however, boast several sites that, shall we say, give off a distinct ‘Fat Trout’ aroma. Likewise, while Deadly Premonition boasts a saw mill to rival Twin Peaks’, Alan Wake features, not one, but several industrial sites, each with their own authentic-sounding history. And then there are the woods. All three texts share a fascination with the woods surrounding their respective towns, though they each differ sharply in their respective visual and thematic approaches to them. Finally, all three texts contain a shadow realm, a nightmarish dreamscape where the differences and similarities between the three texts are most starkly apparent.

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Finally, a confession: I have spent several years obsessing over these two games and I have been desperately wanting to write and publish something about them and their connection to Twin Peaks. I wrote extensively about each text in an unfinished doctoral thesis – too much, in fact. The original scope of my thesis was ridiculously broad: American Gothic in the context of globalization. In retrospect, I wish I had made the topic of the chapter in question – ‘Pacific Northwest Gothic’ – the subject of the thesis. Regarding the globalization angle, one of the things that intrigued me about these games was the fact that they had both been produced outside the United States. Alan Wake had been produced by a development team based in Finland, albeit one that had become increasingly international since its founding. Deadly Premonition, by contrast, had been produced by an almost entirely Japanese production crew (excluding the American voice cast). Both games might be said to offer an ‘outsider’ perspective of America – but then, a person could argue, so does Twin Peaks. It’s also worth noting that the idea of a remote town that is out of step with the rest of the country is not a trope that Twin Peaks invented, and that there are plenty of examples of this trope that are not located in America. Also, while the texts in question can be seen to luxuriate in their respective small town settings their concerns are, to quote Twin Peaks’ Agent Rosenfield, ‘global’. Though both games reference Twin Peaks without, it might seem at first glance, much subtlety, there are in fact many subtle connections to be pondered – the resemblance between the Cauldron Lake water in Alan Wake and the mysterious black oil in Twin Peaks, for example, or the fresh take on Twin Peaks’ ‘garmonbozia’ served up in Deadly Premonition. All three texts create their own ‘mythology’ concerned with the transcendent – the human soul, the imagination, the cycle of violence, etc – and it is hinted, in each, that the implications of their respective narratives extend far beyond the confines of the towns where their action is set.

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A Brief History of Evil Killer Monster Clowns, Part Three: If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next

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When little Georgie Denbrough saw Pennywise the Clown staring back at him from inside a stormdrain, he was unafraid: ‘for what child did not love a clown?’ (King 1986: 998.) It’s an odd reaction to a sight that calls to mind Lon Chaney’s line about ‘the clown at midnight’, about the creepiness of clowns when viewed outside their natural habitats (at this time, the circus, television, and children’s parties). So why isn’t George afraid of It? Especially when you consider that, shortly before this encounter, George had something that, in retrospect, reads very much like a premonition, as much as it does the description of a familiar childhood fear. George had sensed that there was a monster lurking in the dark of the family basement, waiting to gobble him up. Pennywise may not have been physically present during that earlier scene, but Its presence was felt. And now here It is, floating up from a dark place, ready to claim George as Its next meal.

To give George his due, he does remember his father’s advice about not talking to strangers. But the clown bewitches him; that is Its power. It bewitches young people by tapping into, not just their fears, but their desires. You can see it in how It evokes the circus, via the smell of ‘cotton candy and frying doughboys and the faint but thunderous odor of wild-animal shit… And yet under it all was the smell of flood and decomposing leaves and dark stormdrain shadows. That smell was wet and rotten. The cellar-smell.’ (King 26)

King expands on this when It bewitches the young Stan Uris:

‘It conjured up trace memories which were as delightful as they were ephemeral: popcorn, cotton candy, doughboys frying in hot grease, the chain-driven clatter of rides… The calliope music… drifted and echoed down…There was nothing cheery about it now. It had changed… become a dirge… in his mind’s eye Stan saw a county fair at the end of autumn, wind and rain blowing up a deserted midway, pennons flapping, tents bulging, falling over, wheeling away like canvas bats. He saw empty rides standing against the sky like scaffolds; the wind drummed and hooted in the weird angles of their struts. He suddenly understood that death was in this place with him, that death was coming for him out of the dark and he would not run… Now it was not popcorn and cotton candy he smelled but wet decay, the stench of dead pork which has exploded in a fury of maggots in a place hidden away from the sun.’ (King 423-5)

Pennywise, that candy-colored clown, understands and embraces the circus’s role at that time as an opiate for the masses of kiddies who still admired it, albeit increasingly as a televised spectacle. In this way It lulls Its victims into a stupor. Like rabbits caught in Its ‘deadlights’, the kids in King’s novel sense that there is something terribly wrong here, something foul and rotten beneath Its surface glamour.

One moment you’re lost in a carnival of delights, with poignant childhood aromas, the flashing neon of puberty, all that sentimental candyfloss… The next, it leads you somewhere you don’t want to go… somewhere dark and cold, filled with the damp ambiguous shapes of things you’d hoped were forgotten.

There’s something rotten in the family cellar, the town of Derry, the state of Maine, the grand old US of A.

‘I’m not a stranger to you, and you’re not a stranger to me,’ says the clown (King 25). It is not a stranger to George because It is an amalgamation of clowns that American children first encountered in the pop culture of the mid 20th century. ‘It was a clown, like in the circus or on TV… a cross between Bozo and Clarabell’ (ibid.).

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Bozo the Clown first appeared in Capitol Records’ Bozo at the Circus in 1946. Bozo at the Circus was the first product of its kind: a record-album that recited a story that children could follow by reading the book that came with it. The success of the Bozo series of read-along records led to Bozo being adopted as the company’s mascot, ‘Bozo the Capitol Clown’. He then made the transition from record-albums to television three years later in Bozo’s Circus, on the LA-based station KTTV. So far the part had only been played by Pinto Colvig, a remarkably talented individual with a background in vaudeville and the circus, before he became a cartoonist and successful voice actor (and a famous one; he was Disney’s original Goofy). Before long, different actors would come to play the role of Bozo on local TV stations across America.

Bozo was a franchise, not a single individual but a costume, wig and make-up that could be worn by anyone (or, in the case of IT, by anything). And over time Bozo became a suspicious character. There’s an urban myth – one that actually predates Bozo, but which was subsequently attached to him – that during an episode of Bozo’s Circus he referred to some kids as ‘little bastards’ (Brunvand 2001: 45-6). Bozo was also – along with a clown called, I kid you not, ‘Rusty Nails’ – the inspiration for The SimpsonsKrusty the Clown, a chain-smoking alcoholic womanizer. The idea that a clown could be a sleazy, disreputable character beneath the greasepaint was nothing new. But, as we get into the 80s, one can see in American pop culture a growing suspicion that clowns could be worse than sleazy, that they could in fact be monsters.

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Moving on from Bozo, Clarabell, from The Howdy Doody Show (NBC, 1947-1960), was the silent clown companion of Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob Smith. George Denbrough is said to be uncertain of Clarabell’s gender. Exactly why is hard to fathom; three different men played the part and, despite being virtually unrecognisable under the make-up, they hardly seem androgynous (also, Clarabell’s signature song used male pronouns, so there was no attempt to portray the character as anything other than male). I read the clown’s perceived gender ambiguity as a weak attempt by King to foreshadow the book’s final ‘revelation’ that It is female. (‘Shock-shock horror-horror, shock-shock horror!’) It is, in the book’s grotesque finale, female, pregnant, and in the process of laying innumerable eggs. (Was King unaware of male seahorses’ ability to get pregnant? Was it really necessary to ascribe a human gender to an alien It?) It is a monster of mass-production, endlessly replicating Itself.

Sticking with the subject of mass production and consumption, one of the things I find most fascinating, odd and, frankly, disturbing about The Howdy Doody Show was how its presenters went about advertising their sponsors’ products within the show, whether it be Kellogg’s Rice Krispies or Hostess Twinkies. I don’t know how the show compares to children’s programming in the USA today, but in the UK at least that sort of product placement seems inconceivable. It’s a remarkably unsubtle marketing strategy that The Simpsons used to satirise via Krusty the Clown. It’s funny, just not ha-ha funny. In fact, there’s something downright sinister about a creepy-looking puppet urging children to chant a ‘Kellogg’s Rice Krispies’ mantra, as a silent clown mugs over a bowl of said cereal. Indeed the language of American advertising, with its toothpaste smiles and its stilted, unnatural dialogue, has become rich fodder for ‘American’ horror – not just horror fiction produced in America, by Americans, but also horror fiction set in the US but produced overseas. For example, in Alan Wake (Xbox 360, 2010), produced by the Finnish development team Remedy, the possessed townsfolk of Bright Falls, Washington, talk like commercials and infomercials with audio distortion. We’ll see some British and Japanese examples of this advertising-turned-monstrous trope shortly, but the point to take away here is how frequently it’s framed as an American phenomenon. It tells us something about how the rest of the world sees America, and it relates to America’s dominance on the world stage since the mid 20th century, and the increasing global ubiquity of American businesses and brands, such as the fast food restaurant chain McDonalds.

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‘If George had been inhabiting a later year, he would have surely thought of Ronald McDonald before Bozo and Clarabell’ (King 1986: 25). Ronald McDonald, McDonalds’ resident clown mascot, first appeared in 1963. The version that exists today came later, in 1966/7. According to McDonalds’ own brand mythology, Ronald lives in McDonaldland, a fantasyland that became the subject of a lawsuit, for having plagiarised the ‘total concept and feel’ of Sid and Marty Krofft’s psychedelic children’s serial H.R. Pufnstuf (NBC, 1969). In 50s/60s America, burgers, and fast food in general, had become yet another opiate for the masses. According to a survey conducted in 1996, 96% of school-aged kids in America recognised Ronald, who came second only to Santa Claus. Like Pennywise, Ronald is a Pied Piper figure, luring children down a yellow-brick road to childhood obesity, type-two diabetes, heart disease, and other health-related issues.

Pennywise is not just a monster disguised as a circus performer or children’s entertainer then, but a monster masquerading as an ‘innocent’ commercial icon, a would-be lovable mascot. In Meet Mr. Product (2003), Warren Dotz and Masud Husain describe in some detail how advertising mascots became ‘their companies’ unassailable version of themselves concealing the inner workings of the capitalist system’ (2003: 20). Such icons serve to mask and draw attention away from the activities of the corporate entities they represent, corporations that have often been characterised by their critics in terms of monstrosity and predatory behaviours. But this being America, in a bizarre twist of Alice-in-Wonderland logic, corporations have been granted the same rights as people, thanks to the concept of ‘corporate personhood’. But while in American legalese corporations are figured as people, in fiction they’re more often and more consistently rendered as monsters.

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This leads us to the advertising mascot-turned-monster trope, a trope I’ve not seen described in much detail anywhere, though pop culture offers no shortage of examples. Possibly the most famous and iconic is the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters (dir. Ivan Reitman, 1984). Ghostbuster Ray’s reaction to Stay Puft is a testament to the sticking power of these mascots, to the affection with which they’re held and the sense of betrayal that can arise when they ‘turn’ on you, as a result of their being directed by an alien power. Before Ghostbusters, the UK’s Judge Dredd spoofed Ronald McDonald and the Jolly Green Giant in two issues of 2000A.D.’s ‘Cursed Earth’ saga, in 1978. Like Ghostbusters, Judge Dredd was aiming for humour rather than horror, though the cover for 2000 A.D. Prog 72 (see above) certainly does make for a disturbing visual. By the 90s McDonalds had become synonymous with the concept of ‘McDonaldization’, a term coined by sociologist George Ritzer in 1993 that has, along with a number of other awkward neologisms (‘Disneyfication’, ‘Cocacolonization’, ‘Walmarting’), become synonymous with the idea of globalization as ‘Americanization’, or cultural homogenization, a form of cultural imperialism. Much of the thinking around these terms can be fairly criticised for oversimplifying the more complex realities of cultural exchange, for favouring a model of one-way top-down influence. Nevertheless, this thinking around ‘Americanization’ remains powerful, because it taps into powerful fears – fears of invasion, of colonization – both abroad and at home (for example, via the cultural appropriation and subsequent ‘Disneyfication’ of Native American cultures; see, as well, the Native American mascot controversy).

Riffing on Ghostbusters and Godzilla, The Simpsons’ ‘Treehouse of Horror VI’ (Fox, 29 Oct. 1995) featured a segment entitled ‘Attack of the 50ft Eyesores’, in which various corporate mascots, led by Lard Lad, a riff on the Big Boy Restaurants mascot, come to life and lay waste to the town of Springfield. Forrest Kaysen, the principal antagonist in the Twin Peaks-inspired Japanese videogame Deadly Premonition (Xbox 360, PS3, 2010), also resembles Big Boy (particularly in the dolls of Kaysen that appear throughout the game), as well as the actor John Goodman and, in his appetite for (women’s) pain and suffering, Twin Peaks’ BOB. During the game’s grand finale Kaysen undergoes a series of bizarre transformations, his final form that of a Bunyanesque titan whose head peels back to reveal some kind of alien, one might even say Lovecraftean beastie. This is destroyed during the game’s climax, but the icon endures via a doll carried in the jaws of Kaysen’s equally mysterious dog companion Willie. As the game ends there is a lingering sense of a ‘bigger picture’ that has managed to elude the game’s protagonist, Agent York, and the player. There’s a lot more to be said about Kaysen, but that’s an essay for another day. The important thing here is that idea of the monster mascot as a representative of shadowy forces that evade our notice and/or understanding.

So we have Stay Puft, the 50ft Eyesores, the Jolly Green Giant, and Forrest Kaysen, in his final form – giants, one and all. And I described Kaysen a moment ago as being Bunyanesque. Paul Bunyan, for those unfamiliar with the character, is the classic example of an advertising mascot taking on a life of its own. Originally appearing in the oral tradition of lumbercamp workers, Bunyan only became famous following the 1916 publication of a promotional pamphlet for the Red River Lumber Company, written by William B. Laughead. This publication fed back into the oral tradition, so by the time professional folklorists appeared on the scene it had become impossible to separate the two.

Some folklorists dismissed Paul outright, branding him an example of ‘fakelore’. The fact that he existed in an oral tradition prior to becoming a corporate mascot was lost, and he came to be seen as a wholly invented character. A line in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (2004) supports this myth. The truth is, there’s no neat distinction to be drawn between ‘folklore’ (a category invented in the 18th century) and ‘fakelore’. It’s more complicated than that. While Bunyan’s origins remain shrouded in mystery, various back-stories have been invented, some of which sound quite credible from a historical perspective. Various states have sought to adopt him, to claim him as their native son or as his final resting place. As the 20th century progressed Bunyan became a monument to the American frontier and lumber industry, with Bunyan statues – some of them unique, some of them mass-produced ‘Muffler Men’ – springing up across the country, as tourist attractions and roadside oddities.

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In more recent years Bunyan has been depicted as a monster: for example, in Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan (dir. Gary Jones, 2013), and in the opening credits of the ‘Weirdmageddon’ episodes of Gravity Falls (Disney Channel/Disney XD, 2012-2016). But for the most striking and memorable depiction of Bunyan as a monster one has to turn to King’s IT, where Pennywise disguises Itself as the local Bunyan statue. Because It is a creature made of history, mythology, folklore and popular culture. It is the imaginative space where all these things converge. It mesmerises children by appearing, not just in the frightening-yet-compelling form of classic movie monsters, but in the form of trusted American cultural icons, such as Bunyan and Bozo. That finally brings us back to clowns, and to the point that I want to make: that Evil Killer Monster Clowns, like Pennywise, often function as an iteration of this other trope that dominates the American pop culture landscape, the advertising mascot-turned-monster, the Jekyll-and-Hyde Mister/Monster Product.

It seems fair to say that corporations are regarded with more suspicion today than they were in the 50s and 60s, a period often referred to as ‘the age of mass consumption’ – not that mass consumption was confined to those decades. In the UK that suspicion can be seen in the increasingly stringent laws introduced in order to try and control how corporations advertise their products to children. For example, the free gifts I can remember finding in cereal boxes as a child in the 90s and early 2000s now appear to be a thing of the past, at least in the UK (though I was surprised to discover a small beanbag in a cereal box recently. Perhaps this was allowed because it made a point of promoting exercise?). Looking back at American pop culture of the 50s and 60s – remembering, as King’s characters do, that this doesn’t actually reflect the lived reality, at least not in any straightforward way – it appears shockingly naive, shockingly misinformed, to someone looking back on it from a late 20th, early 21st century vantage point. It was a time when parents were willing to let these ‘monsters’ into their homes, let them take advantage of their kids. A time when parents didn’t think twice about shoving their kids towards the nearest clown.

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Stephen King’s IT and its 1990 film adaptation imply that the character of Pennywise predates the 20th century commercial characters I’ve been discussing here, suggesting that the clown’s appearance has changed over the centuries (King 714-7). And as I was writing this article, Entertainment Weekly revealed the new look for Pennywise in director Andy Muschietti’s upcoming adaptation. It’s an interesting look, a mash-up of different historical eras: Elizabethan, Victorian, and 20th century. To refer back to that TV interview I discussed in my first post, there’s a hint of Jung about all this, of King’s framing Pennywise as an iteration of the Jungian trickster archetype. But I find King’s gestures in this direction too broad to be convincing, and in the TV adaptation the clown’s appearance in a 17th century illustration is a glaring anachronism to anyone familiar with the history of clowns. It only serves to underline the fact that Pennywise is at Its most convincing, and most compelling, when portrayed as a 20th century monster.

Clowns and tricksters are not interchangeable; the Evil Killer Monster Clown trope isn’t ‘timeless’. It is a creature made of history and culture, both in the broadest possible sense of those terms, and in very particular ways. In this post I hope to have been successful in examining one of the most inhuman aspects of the Evil Killer Monster Clown and its historic background. Join me next time, for the final part of this series, when I’ll be examining another aspect of the Evil Killer Monster Clown: its status as a ‘human monster’.

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Bibliography

Brunvand, Jan Harold. Encyclopedia of Urban Legends. New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2001.

Dotz, Warren and Masud Husain. Meet Mr. Product: The Art of the Advertising Character. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2003.

King, Stephen. IT. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1986.

A Brief History of Evil Killer Monster Clowns, Part Two: Clowning After Midnight, Clowning in the Moonlight

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The ubiquity of ‘killer clowns’ in the 1980s can be linked to the ubiquity of ‘white-face’ and ‘auguste’ clowns in American pop culture during the 50s and 60s. While clown imagery was already ubiquitous in American pop culture, it was in the 50s and 60s, ‘the age of mass consumption’, that clowns came to be found on cereal boxes, in fast-food restaurants, and on television, even as traditional circuses were dying out. It’s surely no coincidence that the people who came to promote the idea of clowns as sinister in the 80s (Stephen King, the Chiodo Brothers, Victor Salva) were baby-boomers, people born into a world where the ubiquity of clowns in children’s advertising had been normalised.

But by the 1990s the idea that children instinctively disliked clowns, coupled with the idea that clowns were in some way inherently sinister, had entered into family and childrens’ entertainment programmes such as The Simpsons, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Extreme Ghostbusters, and more. It’s an idea that many of us now take for granted, the scary clown having made its way into Western pop culture’s pantheon of monsters. On that note, in Stephen King’s IT we see Pennywise impersonate Dracula, the Teenage Werewolf, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Rodan, a creepy hobo, and more. King took the clown and transformed it into the mother of all monsters. The scary clown became a textbook horror trope, one that is still considered more frightening than the average vampire or werewolf, two classic monsters that, from the 80s onward, were commonly depicted as sexy misunderstood loners. Today, however, scary clowns are, as Graham Linehan so rightly points out, ‘the fart jokes of horror movies. Too easy.’

In Danse Macabre (1980), King’s non-fiction overview of the horror genre, the author described ‘the creator of horror’ as ‘a Republican in a three-piece suit’ wearing a ‘fright wig’ and ‘plastic fangs’, before stating that beneath the conservative mask lurks ‘a real monster’, ‘not an agent of the norm but a friend – a capering, gleeful, red-eyed agent of chaos’ (King 2011: 423). King was finishing up Danse Macabre at the same time he was beginning to formulate the story for IT, and if you read them close together it’s striking how much overlap there is, in terms of references and ideas – so much so you could read IT as Danse Macabre: The Novel. In Danse Macabre King made the creators of horror sound like clowns looking to provoke a reaction, with or without the intention of supporting the established social order. It’s a description that lends itself to evil killer monster clowns. They move in mysterious ways, wearing masks upon masks, forever unknown and unknowable, human and inhuman, grotesque and carnivalesque.

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This was always the case. Clowns were never the pure, sweet and innocent icons of childhood nostalgia that they have, at various times, been portrayed as. They did not suddenly, for the first time, become suspect through the work of King and his fellow baby-boomers. Clowns have always been strange, unsettling figures, and if you hop into your DeLorean and go back in time at least as far as the early twentieth-century, you’ll find plenty of works featuring Clowns That Kill. The chief difference is that these clowns weren’t played as evil, inhuman figures.  Take Lon Chaney. Chaney played a ‘killer clown’ in He Who Gets Slapped (dir. Victor Sjöström, 1924), adapted from a Russian play by Leonid Andreyev, and again, in Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928), based on a Broadway production inspired by Fausto Martini’s Ridi, Pagliaccio (1919), a story inspired by the Italian opera Pagliacci (1892). Chaney’s clowns were tragic figures that audiences were expected to sympathise with. What do they hide behind their painted smile? Chaney’s clowns were bound up in this grand old tradition of ‘sad clowns’, the kind we associate with the ‘tears of a clown’ cliché.

But Chaney, let’s not forget, was ‘the man of a thousand faces’, many of which were distinctly monstrous, creepy and unnerving. It’s difficult to view his clowns separately from the other monsters he played, and as we’ll shortly see, more recent works exploit the unsettling appearance of his clowns whilst ignoring the original films and stories they were embedded in. But Chaney would himself play a significant part in bridging the gap between this older, European clown tradition and future American horror stories via his now mythical utterance that ‘no one likes a clown at midnight’. I say mythical, because I have yet to identify a source for the quote. It seems that no one who quotes it ever bothers to cite one. The closest I came to identifying a source for the quote was an allusion to a newspaper interview, contained within some random internet article I’ve long since lost track of. Of course, one could argue that by this point it no longer matters what Chaney actually said. All that really matters now is what people think he said. I have, on at least one occasion, seen Chaney quoted as saying ‘nobody likes a clown in the moonlight’, so if a source ever does come to light it’ll be interesting to see how closely Chaney’s actual remark resembles the versions that have since entered into circulation.

(Saying that, the version in this trailer, which ties it to finding a clown on your doorstep, does sound awfully familiar.)

Jumping forward in time, The Clown at Midnight (dir. Jean Pellerin, 1998) was the title of a formulaic ‘slasher’ starring Christopher Plummer as a killer clown whose make-up resembles a combination of Chaney’s clowns, from Laugh, Clown, Laugh and He Who Gets Slapped. ‘The Clown at Midnight’ was also the title of an illustrated prose story written by Grant Morrison, published in Batman #663 in 2007, starring the Joker, Batman’s traditional arch-nemesis. Way back in Batman #4, published in 1940, the Joker was labelled a ‘killer-clown’ and quoted the 1928 song ‘Laugh, Clown, Laugh’, originally written for the Chaney film of the same name (Kane 1992: 177). The point that I’m trying to make here is that no neat dividing line can be drawn between the evil and/or monstrous clowns that became ubiquitous in pop culture from the 1980s onward, and earlier clown traditions.

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As noted by Grant Morrison, the earliest superhero comics shared a special relationship with the circus. Heroes, like Superman and Batman, were based on circus strongmen, whose ‘[u]nderpants on tights were signifiers of extra-masculine strength and endurance’ (Morrison 2011: 14). Circuses were a staple setting, and clowns a familiar sight. They could be friends, antagonists, or a distracting part of the scenery. The preface to an early Wonder Woman adventure set in a circus makes passing reference to ‘the weird comical hysteria of white faced clowns,’ before promising readers a ‘weird mystery’ (Marston 2010: 112). Though clowns play no role, indeed, barely appear in the story, it’s difficult to ignore the repetition of ‘weird’ here, suggesting as it does that clowns might have a bearing on the plot, and at the very least, that clowns are mysterious. Sometimes clowns are ‘good’, sometimes they’re ‘evil’, and sometimes, sometimes they’re just ‘weirrrrd’.

With all of the above in mind, perhaps a better question for people to be asking is not why clowns are considered scary, but why anyone ever thought to view them as purely ‘innocent’ to begin with? Parents tell their children not to talk to or ‘take stuff from strangers’ (King 1986: 25), only to then try and convince them that a certain group of monstrous-looking individuals should be considered an exception to the rule. Well, they still did when I was a little kid in the early 90s. These days, parents are hiring clowns to stalk their kids. Jesus! What is it with parents and clowns?

Join me, next time, as I begin to unpack this sinister pact. TTFN!

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Bibliography

Kane, Bob. Batman: The Dark Knight Archives. Vol. 1. New York, NY: DC Comics, 1992.

King, Stephen. IT. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1986.

–. Danse Macabre. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2011.

Marston, William Moulton. The Wonder Woman Chronicles. Vol. 1. New York, NY: DC Comics, 2010.

Morrison, Grant. Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero. London: Jonathan Cape, 2011.

A Brief History of Evil Killer Monster Clowns, Part One: Chasing Phantom Clowns

Some make us laugh, some make us cry. Some clowns, honey, gonna make you die.

The ‘killer’, ‘evil’ or ‘monster clown’, whatever you choose to label it, became a ubiquitous figure in late twentieth-century pop culture. But when did the trope first appear? What does it signify? Join me as I unpack one of the most enduring monsters of modern times.

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I take Stephen King’s IT as my point of departure. Though IT is not the first story to feature an evil clown, it is the most famous and influential, being a major bestseller by one of the world’s most popular novelists. Publishers Weekly listed IT as the number one bestselling novel in 1986. It won a British Fantasy Society Award the following year, racking up additional nominations for the World Fantasy and Locus Awards.  Twenty-five years later, Cemetery Dance Publications released a lavishly illustrated edition of IT that sold out within thirty hours of its going on sale. A two-part TV movie adaptation, Stephen King’s IT (ABC, dir. Tommy Lee Wallace, 1990), is remembered by many thanks to Tim Curry’s mesmerising portrayal of Pennywise the Clown, the book’s central antagonist.  It has been translated into many different languages, its global circulation enabling a number of more or less direct adaptations. These include the Hindi language Indian TV drama Woh (Zee TV, 1998) and ‘The Day of the Clown’ (2008), a two-part storyline in the UK children’s TV science-fiction serial The Sarah Jane Adventures (CBBC, 2007-2011). At time of writing there is a big-screen film adaptation of IT in development, set for a possible 2017 release. So there’s no doubting the continuing popular success of IT. King only had to mention the novel in passing, during a 2012 TV interview, to spark an immediate round of applause.

So while IT was not the first work to depict a clown as evil, monstrous, murderous, etcetera, it remains a touchstone for any discussion of the evil/killer/scary/monster clown concept. For example, King’s IT is routinely cited in connection with ‘coulrophobia’, the fear of clowns, in newspaper, magazine and internet articles. King’s novel is also accused, quite regularly, of triggering an outbreak of mass hysteria, beginning in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1981, when stories first began to circulate of children being kidnapped by a clown or group of clowns. These stories were taken seriously and investigated by the police, though no evidence was ever found to support the claims, which were made by children. Since then there have been additional waves of ‘phantom clown’ sightings, in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1985, and in 1991, not just in America, in states like New Jersey and Chicago, but abroad, in Glasgow, Scotland (Brunvand 2001: 313-315).

Now, it doesn’t take a genius to see that the dates (excluding the wave of ‘91) do not correlate. King began writing the novel in ‘81, before completing it in ‘85 (King 1986: 1116). He could have been aware of the ‘phantom clown’ epidemic and consciously drawn on it when writing the novel. I mean, it’s a novel about an evil phantom clown that only children can see. Just what are the chances of that correspondence between life and art being a coincidence?

In a TV interview King claims to have been approached by many people over the years who told him that IT ‘really touched on something’ – namely, the fact that they were ‘terrified of clowns’ when they were kids. King goes on to observe that ‘anybody who’s ever seen kids around clowns know that they’re not that funny, I don’t know where we got the idea that they were.’ King also claims to have seen their potential as monsters first-hand, when attending the circus as a child: ‘their faces were dead-white. Their mouths were red, as though they were full of blood. They’re all screaming. Their eyes are huge.  What’s not to like?’ Or rather, what’s not to fear? As King points out, clowns are overtly monstrous. It really shouldn’t be that difficult to see how a person could be afraid of them. And yet there was a time when many people – I’m thinking of my grandmother’s generation, and to a slightly lesser extent my parents’ – viewed this aversion as something strange and unaccountable.

In the same interview King touches on the subject of Jungian archetypes, stating that the ‘clown figure is the same in a lot of different cultures, and a lot of different societies’ and that ‘children have the same reaction to them everywhere’. I suspect that King is attempting to link the figure of the clown to the trickster archetype discussed by Jung, mainly because I’ve seen so many cultural commentators and armchair critics make that observation already. But here’s the thing: while a trickster can be a clown, not all tricksters are clowns.

Archetypal theory, though intriguing, is problematic for a number of reasons. As Douglas Holt and Douglas Cameron explain, archetypes are frequently used ‘to explain the universal foundations of culture,’ to pinpoint perceived ‘commonalities in characters and stories that permeate all societies across space and time.’ But in doing so they ‘reduce cultural expressions to generic decontextualized concepts, stripped bare of all the crucial cultural content that makes such expressions innovative,’ thereby collapsing ‘a complex reality into something simple and easy to grasp and, thus, to manage’ (Holt and Cameron 2010: 171). In the context of cultural criticism, archetypal theory can lead to gross oversimplifications and discourage critical thinking by encouraging an extremely shallow, facile understanding of the texts and topics being discussed. So let me repeat here that it is wrong to treat ‘clown’ and ‘trickster’ as interchangeable terms. In discussing the evil/killer/monster clown concept I intend to steer clear of archetypal theory altogether, in order to view this trope as an historical and cultural phenomenon. I’m not saying that Jung and the trickster archetype are irrelevant (far from it), but I do feel that more than enough people have made that connection already, and that it’s time for a different approach.

The sorts of clowns I’ll be looking at are based on models that originated in Europe, not America. But as monsters, they are a peculiarly (though not exclusively) American phenomenon. Beyond Stephen King’s IT, the 1980s saw clowns become the principal antagonists in schlock-horror productions like Killer Klowns From Outer Space (dir. Stephen Chiodo, 1988) and Clownhouse (dir. Victor Salva, 1989). To jump forward in time, to 2008, in ‘The Day of the Clown’ actor Bradley Walsh played an alien monster with multiple personas (sound familiar?): the Pied Piper of Hamelin, the sinister circus ringmaster Elijah Spellman, and Odd Bob the Clown. Walsh gave the Piper and Ringmaster strong Germanic accents, but as Odd Bob he adopted a Southern drawl, tapping into the longstanding historical association of America’s Deep South with villainy and minstrelsy. Again, the clown may be European in origin, but it has since become American. The most famous American clown of all – and arguably the deadliest – is Ronald McDonald, the mascot of fast-food restaurant chain McDonalds. Ronald has, along with the infamous ‘golden arches’, become synonymous with ‘McDonaldization’, a term coined by sociologist George Ritzer equating the ‘globalization’ of big business with cultural ‘Americanization’. I’ll be addressing the connection between Pennywise and Ronald in due course, but there’s some unpacking to do before then.

So, come back next time – bring a friend! – when I’ll be focusing on the historical roots of the evil/killer/monster clown concept in the early to mid-twentieth-century, with close reference to Lon Chaney and Batman’s Joker.

Clown-Waving-Hand-And-Says-Goodbye-Animated-Gif

 

Bibliography

Brunvand, Jan Harold. Encyclopedia of Urban Legends. New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2001.

Holt, Douglas and Douglas Cameron. Cultural Strategy: Using Innovative Ideologies to Build Breakthrough Brands. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

King, Stephen. IT. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1986.

Episode #8.269. The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. CBS, 6 Aug. 2012.

The Riddler Wore Tights

‘I was simply meant to be in theater.’

The Riddler, Batman: The Riddle Factory (Matt Wagner, 1995)

So a few weeks ago my Nan called me over to put on one of her films, the 1947 Technicolor musical Mother Wore Tights. I put on the DVD, made us both a cup of tea, and sat down to watch the first twenty minutes or so of it with her. My curiosity was straightaway piqued by the character of vaudeville performer Frank Burt (played by Dan Dailey). I’ll save discussion of ‘Burlington Bertie’ for another day, but for now, let’s take a look at the outfit worn by Dailey during another musical number:

MotherWoreTights

It’s something, isn’t it? Now fast forward nineteen years to ‘Smack in the Middle,’ the second episode of the ABC network’s Batman television series (1966-1968), starring Frank Gorshin as the Riddler. Ahead of the episode’s climactic battle Gorshin swaps his iconic Riddler outfit for one that looks remarkably similar to Dailey’s:

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Okay, so it’s not an exact match. The pink gloves, bowler hat and rubber mask are notable additions. But setting those aside, the green tartan suit, pink waistcoat and oversized pink bowtie strike me as too closely resembling Dailey’s outfit for this to be a mere coincidence. When coupled with Gorshin’s bizarre stand-up comedy routine during this scene it suggests a deliberate attempt to connect the Riddler to the world of vaudeville.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, what, exactly, is vaudeville? To answer this question I have copied and pasted the following definition from Wikipedia:

 

Vaudeville (/ˈvɔːdᵊvɪl/; French: [vodvil]) is a theatrical genre of variety entertainment. It was especially popular in the United States and Canada from the early 1880s until the early 1930s. A typical vaudeville performance is made up of a series of separate, unrelated acts grouped together on a common bill. Types of acts have included popular and classical musicians, singers, dancers, comedians, trained animals, magicians, female and male impersonators, acrobats, illustrated songs, jugglers, one-act plays or scenes from plays, athletes, lecturing celebrities, minstrels, and movies. A vaudeville performer is often referred to as a “vaudevillian.”

Vaudeville developed from many sources, including the concert saloon, minstrelsy, freak shows, dime museums, and literary American burlesque. Called “the heart of American show business,” vaudeville was one of the most popular types of entertainment in North America for several decades.

 

Had Gorshin been born a few decades earlier, exhibited the same talents for mimicry and pursued a career in showbiz then he almost certainly would have been performing in vaudeville. Like other forms of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century popular entertainment that were either extinct or in decline by the middle of the twentieth-century (the circus springs to mind), vaudeville continued to exert a powerful influence upon American popular culture going forward. This influence could be seen in the newer mediums of film and television that artists like Gorshin were turning to.

Gorshin would receive an Emmy award nomination in 1966 for his performance as the Riddler in ‘Hi Diddle Riddle,’ the series’ first episode. The award in question was for ‘Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Comedy’. Outstanding, because the performance itself was in no way comedic. Gorshin based his portrayal of the Riddler on Richard Widmark’s unnerving performance as gangster Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death, a 1947 film noir. Compare the scene below with any one of Gorshin’s Riddler episodes and you can see just how closely he followed Widmark’s performance using his skills as an impressionist:

 

 

The Riddler, ladles and jellyspoons. He’s funny – just not ha-ha funny.

 

 

TO BE CONTINUED, SOME OTHER BAT-TIME, SAME BAT-CHANNEL! THE WORST IS YET TO COME…