Twin Peaks S03E09: “This is the chair” (10/7/17)

The third season of Twin Peaks doubles back down on its momentum after the sublime excursion of “Gotta light?,” for a convergence episode that sees a variety of disparate narrative strands starting to come together. In particular, Evil Cooper’s narrative and Gordon Cole’s narrative continue to converge, with Cole rerouting the FBI plane on its way back from Sioux City to New York in order to investigate the body of Major Briggs (or what appears to be the body of Major Briggs) in Buckhorn, South Dakota. With Albert and Diane coming along for the ride, he discovers that William Hastings was running a blog on the paranormal entitled “The Search for the Zone,” and that his last post before murdering Ruth Davenport was a description of having finally reached this “Zone” where he communed with Major Briggs, who appeared to be suspended in an odd state between life and death. Like Dr. Jacoby’s podcast, this blog seems like a way of indirectly addressing the vast online corpus that has arisen around Twin Peaks since the first season kickstarted the nascent Internet, and a results in an incredible scene in which Hastings tries to make sense of what happened in the build up to the murder.

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Throughout this entire scene, Hastings is crying, and his crying intensifies as the interrogation proceeds, taking Matthew Lillard’s face to places it’s often hinted at but never quite gone before. One of the lingering questions around the early episodes of The Return was how regularly we might expect Lynch to return to the scenes, characters and situations he was establishing, so it feels timely that we are now returning to Hastings, and this foundational moment from the first episode, as the series reaches its halfway point. At the same time, “This is the chair” also marks the return of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character, Chantal Hutchens, who greets Evil Cooper after he has returned from prison – and apparently returned from the dead – in a backwoods meeting place, where she’s accompanied by a new sidekick, Gary Hutchens, played by Tim Roth. Up until this point, Evil Cooper’s criminal network has been eerily decentred – culminating with the cryptic threats to Warden Dwight Murphy that were responsible for getting him out of jail in the first place – and yet here it starts to feel as if we might be glimpsing some fleeting epicentre to his operations, with both Chantal and Gary deferentially referring to him as “Boss Man.”

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In the process, “This is the chair” showcases just how dexterously Lynch and Frost will be able to converge everything if they so choose. Granted, that might produce a few talky, expository segments, but they’re almost a relief after the virtual absence of dialogue in “Gotta light?” In particular, Lynch himself is talkier than ever in his role as Special Agent Gordon Cole, who in this episode really graduates to a full-blown protagonist, and in many ways helps soften some of the script’s more overtly expository tendencies. In part, that’s because Cole’s manner is quite expository itself, albeit in an offbeat kind of way, containing and denaturing the episode’s drive towards narrative exposition even as he is also its main mouthpiece and agent. While I found Lynch a bit much in the later episodes of the original series, and far too much in Fire Walk With Me, there’s something really winning about him here, with his performance of Cole encapsulating the improbable panache with which he has somehow managed to commandeer The Return despite all the factors that might mitigate against it. In his own way, Cole, like the original residents of Twin Peaks, is a testament to resilience in older age, and in the face of a new world. It makes sense, then, that “This is the chair” is also the episode in which Cole first hears the name of Dougie Jones, since no other character so embodies the second childhood with which these familiar faces now seem to be greeting and contemplating the tableaux that they once commanded.

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It’s quite a natural shift, then, when the action moves from these opening scenes in Buckhorn back to Las Vegas, where we find Dougie being questioned by the police after his latent FBI skill set made its way to the surface in the assault outside Lucky 7 Insurance. For the first time, we start to learn about Dougie’s backstory, and specifically why so many of the characters around him seem to be so nonplussed by his blankness, which has apparently been attributed to the “lingering effects” of a car accident that happened some time ago. Of course, this doesn’t fully explain how Dougie’s mannerisms could be so normalised – that would ruin the joke, and the absurdity – but it does imbue his character with a bit more mystique, especially when we also discover that there are no records for him before 1997. All of a sudden, Dougie becomes an object of forensic speculation in quite a new way, with the policemen conferring in their office to wonder whether he might be in witness protection, to contemplate ways to make him talk and, finally, to devise the plan of offering him a cup of coffee in order to take a covert DNA swab. Even or especially as the car accident goes some way towards explaining Dougie’s strangeness, the police seem more perplexed than every by that quantum of oddness that they still can’t attribute to it, in what often plays like a comic or farcical counterpart to Diane’s traumatic inability to discern Cooper in the man she meets in the Sioux City prison.

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Throughout this sequence, Dougie himself is more muted and introspective than ever before, as if processing something internally, or on the verge of apprehending something that has remained inchoate up until this point. Accordingly, he tends to be framed by mid to long shots, or through the police office window, saying almost nothing, until Lynch finally opts for a long, slow pan into his still and silent face, following by a point of view shot of the other objects in the waiting room – an American flag, a power point, and the red shoes of a secretary making their way across the floor. During this close-up I was struck, as never before, by the sheer materiality of Kyle MacLachlan’s performance of Dougie, which somehow manages to render his expressions, appearance and mannerisms more naked than they would be either in the role of Dale Cooper or in his everyday, offscreen life. Less a performance than a potentiality, Dougie seems to provide a space in which MacLachlan doesn’t quite appear as himself, but doesn’t quite inhabit an actorly role either, instead subsisting in an embryonic state that allows the camera to scrutinise his features for everything they have accrued and accumulated in the twenty-five years since he last truly played Dale Cooper.

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Put simply, Dougie feels like a way of questioning how much of Dale Cooper might still reside in Kyle MacLachlan after all this time, as well as the extent to which MacLachlan’s presence might, in itself, be enough to bring Cooper back. In some ways, that’s an even more fascinating question than how much of Cooper might still reside in his own body, or in Dougie’s body, since we live in a time in which it often seems as if mere physical recapitulation – of groups, technical devices, stylistic effects – is enough to recreate even the most hallowed and apparently inimitable of texts from bygone eras. For that reason, Lynch appears to have been quite sparing in his inclusion of actors from the original series – many of whom have only been glimpsed in passing, not even afforded any real dialogue and somewhat detached from the original sets and spaces we saw them against – as if cautious of investing too much, or assuming too much, about what can be achieved from the mere recapitulation of actors, spaces and style alone. Given how synonymous MacLachlan has become from Cooper, that makes it even more urgent that Lynch should take a circuitous and careful route in assuming any straightforward or ongoing equivalence between the two, which is perhaps why Dougie sometimes seems like a melancholy vision of MacLachlan marooned from his most iconic performance, rather than a character or presence in himself.

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In that sense, The Return isn’t simply about the return of Twin Peaks, or Dale Cooper, but about allegorising and contemplating the very possibility of return in the first place, along with “returning” as a state of mind that animates so much of our present cultural moment. Nowhere is that clearer than in the soundscape of this third season, which has refused to consistently or conclusively return us to the original textures of the series, and has instead presented us with a more emergent returning, akin to the subsumption of being into becoming that galvanises so much digital philosophy and phenomenology. For that reason, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, it’s still quite hard to know what form the soundtrack might eventually take, as well as how many soundtracks there might be, partly because this third season collapses diegetic and non-diegetic cues even more radically than the original. At the same time, The Return forms part of a wider moment in contemporary electronica in which artists have looked to soundtracks of the 1970s and 1980s, especially those by Angelo Badalamenti, John Carpenter and Vangelis, as a way of articulating our collective longing to return to a more traditionally cinematic association of sound and image, even as the very digital matrix from which they attempt to enact that return signals its utter impossibility.

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While Badalamenti’s soundscape for the third season may have been quite fragmented so far, its very fragmentation makes it a part of this moment, and indicates that Badalamenti has, in turn, been influenced by the latest wave of artists to draw upon his legacy. As a result, what he has provided for The Return is not – yet – a soundtrack, but instead a kind of self-remediation in which he has tentatively, and gradually, experimented with what might be at stake in returning to his iconic motifs and refrains after all these years. Even in the final episodes, my bet is that we will never quite return to the full-blown musical milieux of the first two seasons, and that even the most iconic motifs – “Theme from Twin Peaks,” “Laura Palmer’s Theme,” “Audrey’s Dance” – will still feel somewhat open and incomplete, or at least inadequate to the demands being made of them by the present. Presumably, that’s why Lynch and Frost have gone to so much effort to introduce other music throughout The Return – to allow Badalamenti’s score to stage a returning, rather than effect a return – and why even the few familiar refrains we have heard thus far have seemed to brim with an eerie and evocative potential beyond anything in the original series.

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After all, while Badalamenti’s motifs may be endlessly iterable, they had also started to lose some of their impact by the end of the second season – if only because so much of the second season couldn’t live up to them – with the result that their sparing and provisional presence here imbues them with a new kind of revelatory potential. I must have heard “Laura Palmer’s Theme” a thousand times, and yet it has never felt quite so open or unsettling as in the fourth episode here – when it marks Bobby’s first encounter with Laura’s photograph in twenty-five years – while the snare drums of “Freshly Squeezed” that start to kick in over the course of this ninth episode feel even more anarchic and expansive now that they have been temporarily dissociated from the underlying guitar tremolos. To quote the first album by Oneohtrix Point Never – the forerunner of this recent moment in electronica, and an artist who always feel present in spirit in The Return – Badalamenti’s score marks a kind of Returnal, galvanised by a compulsion to return that can only sustain itself because return itself remains an impossible horizon. For that reason, there is something about Dougie – and MacLachlan’s – demeanor that feels inextricable from the music of The Return, with all the most plaintive fragments settling deep into the contours and pockets of his face. To take a term from Gilles Deleuze, I am almost tempted to say that Dougie is what allows MacLachlan to facefy this fleeting score, which also forces us to scrutinise its textures to discern just how much it has accrued and accumulated in the last twenty-five years, along with how much of the original series still inheres in its refrains, motifs and melodies.

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It feels apt, then, that “This is the chair” both appears to mark the The Return’s movement away from Dougie, and includes the first major new piece of music by Angelo Badalamenti, simply entitled “The chair,” providing this ninth episode with its title in the process, in a kind of introduction (or reintroduction) to Badalamenti’s presence as much as the objects and events taking place within the narrative. Of course, the title does also come down to the chair itself – or chairs themselves – as we shift from Dougie’s chair in Las Vegas – which he never leaves in this episode – to an equally significant chair in Betty Briggs’ home, back in Twin Peaks. In many ways, the Las Vegas chair seems to typify Dougie’s growing remoteness and abstraction in this episode, to the point where it almost morphs into the furniture of the Black Lodge, especially once the camera abstracts and dissociates the waiting room into flag, power point and shoes. The American flag, in particular, feels like the perfect abstraction of all the patterns and places within the Black Lodge, as if Lynch and Frost were embedding the broader historical narrative of “Gotta light?” back into the series as a whole. From there, we move to a wonderful interlude in which Lucy and Andy Brennan skirmish about which chair to buy from an online retailer – one of the many free-floating segments that do so much to maintain the hypnagogic atmosphere of this season as a whole, as well as bridge the apparently incommensurate locations and narrative strands – before moving onto the narrative crux of the this ninth episode.

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This takes the form of a scene in which Hawk, Truman and Bobby Briggs visit Bobby’s mother, Betty, to see whether she can shed any light on why Major Briggs continues to be a point of reference in their investigation into Cooper’s last day in Twin Peaks. In an extraordinary exchange, Betty recounts a prophecy that the Major made to her the day before he disappeared, which also happened to be the last day that he saw (Evil) Cooper. According to this prophecy, the three policemen – including Bobby – would come to her house and ask about the Major, at which point Betty would have to provide them with a cylindrical metal object concealed in one of the chairs in her living room. As Betty opens a tiny, concealed, spring-locked portal on the top of the chair, it feels as if we are finally starting to glimpse the nested, cloistered, reticulated atmosphere of the first season, along with all the pleasure in covert passageways, vestibules and sightlines – Russian Doll spaces – that it entailed. The transition is even more startling in that, up until this point, Betty’s house has (like most other spaces in The Return) felt far more porous than in the opening season, suffused with cold winter light and backed by bright, wide windows that seem designed to demystify the exceptionality and insularity of its original televisual incarnation.

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In that sense, then, the chair – and the object within the chair – plays as a testament to something enduring about the Briggs household in particular, which always seemed to stand apart from the rest of the original series. Neither as realistic as the Hayward household, nor as demonic as the Palmer household, the Briggs family were an odd outlier who split the difference between 50s science fiction and 50s suburban melodrama. While Bobby felt like the original rebellious teenager (contemporary reviews often compared him to James Dean), Major Briggs felt like the original Cold War patriarch (he had overseen Project Blue Book), as both Dana Ashbrook and Don S. Davis conjured up a histrionic masculinity that made it feel as if we were witnessing these 50s archetypes for the very first time. Twenty-five years later, the Major is still missing, and Bobby is a police officer, but the Briggs household – and Betty’s presence within the household – still feels like a fulcrum for their original relationship, a pressure point that contours their absence and abstraction from their original selves more evocatively than any gesture of direct continuity could ever hope to render them. All of a sudden, Betty Briggs, who was a marginal character at best, becomes a point of unexpected continuity with the present, even or especially because her presence was largely discontinuous with the major narrative thrusts of the original season.

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It feels right, then, that the subsequent perusal of this metallic object strongly recalls the mystery boxes that preoccupied Catherine Martell, Pete Martell and Andrew Packard in the last part of the second season. If the Briggs household was removed from the rest of the series, then this Martell-Packard subplot had become completely dissociated from it by these final few episodes, revelling in a kind of splendid isolation that allowed it to attain increasingly melodramatic heights without really influencing or disturbing the rest of the narrative. In effect, this subplot was as hermetically sealed as the mystery box itself, only breaking open – traumatically – into the rest of the narrative with the detonation of the bomb at the bank, something that still hasn’t really been addressed by The Return, which has remained more circumspect about the fate of Audrey Horne than any other character. Not surprisingly, then, the Martell-Packard subplot is the only part of the original series whose cast members haven’t returned for the third season, which is perhaps why seeing it acknowledged here is so astonishing. Only a renewal of Evelyn Marsh, and her plot against James Harley, would be more startling, as Lynch and Frost remind us that, in the process of returning, even the most disavowed and discarded experiences are likely to recur in unexpected and unfamiliar ways.

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More specifically, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that their circuitous caution doesn’t simply involve approaching Twin Peaks by way of other spaces – New York, Sioux City, Buckhorn, Las Vegas – but by way of those spaces within Twin Peaks itself that threatened to rupture the texture of the town from the very first episodes. As the action starts to grow more centrifugal, and converge on Twin Peaks, Lynch and Frost seem to have compensated with a centripetal impulse to all the textures and tableaux that were already marginal to the town as we originally knew it – everything about the town that already deterretorialised itself. As might be expected, that imbues “This is the chair” with a propulsive dynamism, with even the slowest and stillest segments stemming from a lack of net movement more than a lack of gross movement – the strange, tensile state that comes from being suspended halfway between these centrifugal and centripetal imperatives, and halfway between the beginning and the end of the season. If anything, that unusual pacing is more conspicuous now that the series is starting to gather forward momentum and converge its disparate narrative threads, reminding us just how much the story of Laura Palmer has cooled and decelerated over the last twenty-five years (no small impediment to Hawk and Truman’s investigation), but also emphasising the new porosity of Lynch’s digital camera, and its inability to extricate itself from the hum and murmur of life around it, with the lengthiness of many of the scenes seeming designed to draw out the full ambience of background noise as much as to elaborate upon what is taking place in the ostensible foreground or focus.

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In other words, as the series gathers narrative momentum, Lynch and Frost seem more cautious than ever to articulate everything that mitigates that momentum, in order to prevent even the most plot-driven moments assuming too facile a continuity with the original series. Again, nowhere is that clearer than in the treatment of Major Briggs, who as the most expository character in the first two seasons poses a particular challenge to The Return, not least because Don S. Davis has passed away in the interim, lending his pronouncements a more intractable weight than those of the other characters now appearing as their contemporary selves. As a result, this shifting space between narrative continuity and discontinuity has tended to constellate around Briggs’ ghostly presence – at the threshold of the Black Lodge, in the morgue in Buckhorn, as part of Hastings’ vision – which is more tangible and haunting than his more “corporeal” presence ever was. If Briggs was the most expository character, then Bobby was his intended audience, with the Major’s longest monologues reserved for his words of wisdom to his son. At the time, these could barely be considered conversations, and yet in “This is the chair” it turns out that there may have been more dialogue than we originally saw, or that the dialogue may have required twenty-five years to percolate, since Major Briggs apparently knew far more about the true nature and sensibility of his son than anyone would have given him credit for at the time.

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For not only did Briggs foresee what no audience member could – that Bobby would one day arrive at his own home clad in a policeman’s suit – but that Bobby would understand what was required to open the metal object, since it was a device they had discussed when he was a child. Moreover, when Hawk and Truman finally open the object, and find the original transmissions about Cooper from outer space paired with a cryptic new map, Bobby is once again able to decipher it, since it refers to a place that he and the Major frequented in the woods when he was growing up. In quite a beautiful sequel, then, it turns out that these exchanges between Briggs and Bobby – exchanges that seemed so discontinuous, apocryphal and absurd in the original series – actually ensured some kind of continuity with the present after all. Similarly, it’s clear that the Major was in some sense both hearing and talking to Bobby, despite the impression of two utterly incommensurate trains of thought. In its own way, this twenty-five year conversation is the first really emphatic communion between past and present that we’ve seen in the series so far, and yet the most oblique as well, to the point where it seems to stand in for Lynch and Frost’s statement of intent at this juncture halfway through the series. Even or especially as the narrative is crystallising, they seem more determined than ever not to opt for cheap continuities, but to instead seek out and nourish discontinuities – between scenes, shots places – in the faith that this will eventually allow for a richer relationship between past and present than would be afforded by the more straightforward equivalences that they have been at such pains to avoid.

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Appropriately, then, “This is the chair” contains three evocative moments of discontinuity that hint at the future directions of the rest of the series. In the first, we see a frenzied young man, who appears to be Johnny Horne, running through an unfamiliar house and crashing into a wall, only to be helped to his feet by a pair of hands that just might belong to Audrey Horne. In the second, we return to Jerry Horne, who is still in the woods, and still hallucinating, but is now gazing down at his foot, which speaks back to him – “I am not your foot” – causing him to writhe away from it in horror. In the third, we return to an iteration of the scene between Ben Horne and Beverly Paige that we saw towards the end of the sixth episode, as they continue to make their way around the Great Northern in search of the elusive sound, which has only grown louder in the interim. As it turns out, Bobby’s strategy for opening the metal object was to smash it to the ground, and then hold it to his ear, waiting for the ringing to stop and thereby signal that it was safe to smash it to the ground once again to trigger the unlocking device. Something of that vibration between present and past percolates out across this scene in the Great Northern as well, as the history of the series continues to come into focus, not as a matter of direct continuity, but as a resonance that can’t or won’t be tied down to any single space or spectacle, even or especially as its hum becomes more urgent and impossible to ignore.

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While all of these incidents are elliptically evocative on their own terms, they all, crucially, involve the Horne family in some way, who were the closest we got to anything resembling a bona fide Twin Peaks dynasty. If any family were likely to have endured into the future, it would be the Hornes and, sure, enough, Ben and Jerry were the first characters we revisited after Dr. Jacoby in the opening episode (and the first characters we saw in a familiar Twin Peaks space), while Richard Horne is the only next-generation character with a direct connection to the original population of the series. At the same time, though, it’s clear that the recent scenes with Ben and the scenes with Jerry gave been operating according to different timelines – it was daytime when Jerry originally called Ben from the woods – casting the scene with (perhaps) Audrey into a strange temporal freefall that could be occurring before or after any of the scenes we have witnessed so far. In fact, my hunch is that this is all happening at much the same time, but that there’s just enough of a slippage to make even the structure once afforded by the Hornes, and the hearth once afforded by the Great Northern, feel as if it has been displaced from the centre of Twin Peaks to the very margin of the town’s consciousness. If this episode makes anything clear, though, it’s that those margins are the best place to start staging a returning and the manner in which Lynch and Frost handle the Hornes will be one of the most fascinating features of the coming weeks.

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About Billy Stevenson (205 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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