Amid the various digressions and riddles presented in each new episode of Twin Peaks, you’d be excused for openly wondering on occasion just what exactly this show is about — not just narratively, but thematically. While there are many angles you could take — the town of Twin Peaks itself, beset by substance abuse, could be read as a requiem for small town America — one of the most prominent strains in the show, both in the original run and the new, is the presentation of evil.
Evil in Twin Peaks is often depicted in otherworldly figures, such as the woodsmen or the Black Lodge, the nightmarish home of menacing spirits like BOB and the Man from Another Place. But evil also tends to manifest in mundane ways. Even BOB, the body-snatching archvillain of the original show, most often took the form of an ordinary, if creepy, man in a trucker jacket. In The Return, Cooper’s doppelgänger, the primary antagonist, is similarly ordinary: He’s just Cooper with a leather jacket and a flowing mane, the kind of person who wouldn’t look out of place browsing the metal section at a record store.
Villainy in Twin Peaks is distressingly ordinary, and Part 10 exemplifies this, opening on two acts of disturbingly realistic violence and abuse. The episode begins with Richard Horne (Eamon Farren), having run over a child in a previous episode, arriving at the home of the witness who saw him driving, Miriam Sullivan.
Richard wears a mask of friendliness at first, but his reflection looms in Miriam’s glass door, and he drops his charade when she reveals that she sent written testimony to the sheriff. He bursts through her door in a fury.
A number of critics over the years have accused Lynch’s works of misogyny: In his review of Blue Velvet, Roger Ebert decried the depravity shown toward Isabella Rossellini’s character, even describing Lynch as “sadistic.” It’s a strain of thought that’s still present in criticism of the new run of Twin Peaks. The accusations maintain that Lynch’s camera revels in the destruction of the female body.
Yet when Richard tramples into Miriam’s home, the camera does not follow. Instead it remains still, watching the motorhome tremble as we hear the violence within. The show refrains from showing us the attack, keeping the audience at a distance, a voyeur disturbed by the implied violence.
A similar moment follows, when the show shifts to Carl Rodd’s (Harry Dean Stanton) trailer park. Carl sits outside, strumming a guitar and singing. It’s a gentle moment, shattered by a mug flying through the window of a nearby trailer.
The camera pans up to the broken window, as we hear yelling from within, and the camera lingers a while. Rodd does not intervene; he simply shakes his head and mutters that the situation is a “fucking nightmare.”
The show then cuts to the inside of the trailer, where Becky (Amanda Seyfried), last seen in a blissful, drug-induced haze with her husband Steven (Caleb Landry Jones), is now cowering on a couch as Steven screams at her, snot and spittle dripping from his face. While their relationship hardly seemed a storybook romance in the first place — he was unemployed, she was borrowing money from her mom to maintain their lifestyle — in this moment it is truly grotesque.
In both these scenes, Lynch keeps the audience outside at first. Like Carl, we hear the disturbance, and are forced to wonder — though it doesn’t take much imagination — what is happening within. While some might call it voyeuristic, the scenes render us all neighbors who hear a couple fighting next door, disturbed by the implication of domestic violence but unwilling or unable to act on that disgust.
Twin Peaks has always found evil in the shadowed corners of mundane life, and the show’s villains, as mentioned, often aren’t villains, but mere men who do their evil just out of sight. Leland Palmer (Ray Wise), the seemingly ideal American father, molested his daughter for years under the influence of BOB, eventually killing her and setting the show’s original mystery in motion. Richard Horne beats Miriam unconscious and leaves her to die, turning on her gas oven and lighting a candle. He later forces his way into his grandmother’s house, throwing her to the ground and demanding money. Steven Burnett raises a fist as he berates his wife.
Like the drugs that flow through Twin Peaks’ dive bars and back alleys, violence is lurking behind closed doors, carried out by mortal men.