The works of David Lynch have developed a reputation for being difficult to understand, and this penchant for impenetrability is alive and well in the new episodes of Twin Peaks, which have featured, among other things: A talking electric tree, a humanoid abomination breaking out of a glass box, and now Dale Cooper emerging from an electrical socket in a trail of black smoke.
In an era of television where narrative is king, it’s easy to paint the new Twin Peaks episodes revealed so far as a bunch of random sequences, tied together by a thin plot. In particular, the scenes in the unearthly dimension called the Black Lodge, which are typically the most iconic parts of the series, can also be the most frustrating. The opening of Part 3, a roughly 20-minute sequence light on dialogue but full of imagery, is a perfect example of Lynch’s style, and what can make his works so difficult to digest. However, while not everything Lynch creates makes narrative sense, it’s all weighted with symbolic value.
To begin to understand Lynch, it is helpful to know that before he got into filmmaking, he was an aspiring painter. The term “motion picture” seems archaic today, but it’s an apt way to describe Lynch’s works, where every frame feels like its own work of art. Lynch’s works place a greater importance on images and sound design than plot; scenes that may seem nonsensical are meant to provoke an emotional reaction, rather than necessarily advance a story.
Another recurring theme in Lynch’s work is the idea of multiple worlds existing alongside each other: A “real,” typically happy world where events are literal, and another, more metaphorical world. In Blue Velvet, the sweet and innocent suburbs lie atop a dangerous, sexually charged criminal underworld. In Twin Peaks, the peaceful, pastoral town rests near the Black Lodge, a world populated by strange, often malevolent beings.
Cooper’s odyssey at the beginning of Part 3 takes place almost entirely in the Black Lodge — assuming the Black Lodge is another dimension, rather than simply a location within that dimension — where Cooper has been trapped for 25 years, since his villainous doppelgänger took possession of his body in the real world.
The episode begins with Cooper hurling through space amid a roar of sound, eventually landing on the deck of an imposing, purple structure, looking out over a vast purple sea.
It’s a great shift from the common point of entry to the Black Lodge, the Red Room. Where the Red Room is claustrophobic and brightly lit, the purple sea is vast and dark. The use of color is important. Throughout most of Twin Peaks, Lynch employs a mellow color palette of browns and dull reds. In his book, David Lynch: The Man From Another Place, David Lim even mentions rumors that Lynch banned blue props from the set to maintain this earthly scheme. When other colors appear, they mark a transition to a different world. The bright reds of the Black Lodge and One Eyed Jack’s casino mark them as dangerous, and the deep purple of the sea gives the place a heavy gravity.
The blind guide
Inside the Lodge, Cooper walks into a room lit dimly by a fireplace, where an eyeless woman sits on a couch. As he approaches, the frames of the film begin to sputter, sometimes rewinding slightly. He asks the woman where they are, and she speaks in raspy grunts.
The glitchy frames feel significant. Traditionally, films play at 24 frames per second. While some recent filmmakers have begun to use 48 fps or 60 fps, what typically doesn’t change is consistency. Whatever frame rate a film uses, it will maintain it, so that the movie runs fluidly, immersing the audience in its reality. By messing with the frame rate, Lynch is drawing the viewer’s attention to the fact that they are viewing frames of film. This is a place of unreality.
Lynch has employed similar cinematic devices in the past. The inhabitants of the Black Lodge all speak in a bizarre, backward-sounding way. This is achieved by having the actors speak their lines backwards, then playing the audio in reverse.
Cooper is drawn to a mysterious device on the wall, but as he approaches, an invisible force repels him, and the blind woman tries to lead him away, pleading frantically as a loud pounding is heard on a nearby door. She leads him up a ladder, and they emerge on top of a small metal structure gliding through space.
As Cooper watches, puzzled, she pulls a lever, dimming the light surrounding them and shocking herself before she falls off, disappearing into the void. It’s a moment that calls back to the beginning of Lynch’s Eraserhead, where a strange man pulls levers, with grotesque results.
The eyeless woman seems like Lynch’s take on a very old archetype: The blind seer, a figure which can be found even in ancient stories like the Odyssey, where Odysseus travels to the underworld to seek the guidance of the blind oracle Tiresias.
In a bizarre — but significant — moment, a massive phantom face appears and says “Blue Rose,” before disappearing.
Back in the lounge, Cooper finds a new woman, who resembles Ronette Pulaski, a character from the original series who was a friend of Laura Palmer’s. She checks her watch, which reads 2:53, and Cooper looks to the same device on the wall that pulled his focus earlier.
Although Ronette may seem like a random, obscure figure to guide Cooper, it makes sense in a way. The dark realms of Lynch’s works often reflect human emotions; Cooper tends to see Laura Palmer in the Red Room, likely because she is the figure driving his quest. Ronette, as another damaged girl from Twin Peaks, likely lurks in Cooper’s subconscious.
Here, the show cuts to Evil Cooper, driving down a highway in the real world, disoriented as an electricity hum seems to resonate between the worlds. Ronette tells Cooper in the Lodge “When you get there, you will already be there.” Cooper turns into smoke, sucked into the device, while Evil Cooper crashes his car, vomiting as visions of red curtains surround him.
The show takes a wild turn here, introducing a new man — named Dougie — who also looks like Cooper (with a few extra pounds) who vomits and vanishes. Dougie appears in the Red room, where the One Armed Man tells him that he was manufactured to serve a purpose, and then Dougie turns into a small gold ball — but not before speaking on behalf of the world when he says “That’s weird …” In the house from which Dougie vanished, Cooper appears from the outlet in a trail of black smoke.
Cooper’s journey back to the real world is a strange one, and even by the end of Part 4, the exact nature of what transpired remains unclear. He travels from the bright Red Room through the dark, purple space in order to appear in reality, where he takes the place of a previously unknown doppelgänger. The hum of electricity heard between worlds also seems to play a role here.
Previously in the season, the electric tree — called an evolution of “the Arm,” or the Man from Another Place — tells Cooper to find his doppelgänger. In order for the real Cooper to return, the other Cooper must take his place. Given the One Armed Man’s confusion at seeing Dougie, and his comment to Cooper in Part Four — “You were tricked. Now one of you must die.” — it seems that Dougie was created to switch places with Cooper. Since Evil Cooper is aware that the Black Lodge wanted to reclaim him, it could be that he created Dougie to take his place.
As for the phantom face’s mention of “blue rose?” Devoted Twin Peaks fans will note that this is not the first occurrence in the series. In the feature film Fire Walk with Me, Cooper, while investigating the disappearance of a fellow agent, remarks “Not only has Special Agent Chester Desmond disappeared without a trace, but this is one of Cole’s blue rose cases.” Another mention occurs in Part Four. After FBI Director Gordon Cole (Lynch) and Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) interrogate Evil Cooper, who was arrested when police found drugs and weaponry in his car, the two men remark on his strange behavior. In regards to the circumstances, Albert mutters “blue rose.”
The significance of this phrase will likely become clearer in future episodes, but for now, it seems likely that “blue rose” refers to FBI cases involving the supernatural; X-Files, in others words. Although Cooper has yet to return to peak form, spending the rest of episodes 3 and 4 wandering a casino in a daze, he is at least back in the real world, and his doppelgänger is, for now, safely behind bars.
Here’s what you missed in Twin Peaks: The Return, Parts 1 & 2.
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