Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Twin Peaks and the Metaphysics of Evil

Well, after 27 years of waiting and a good 18 months of hype it's finally here. Showtime aired the two-hour Twin Peaks reboot premiere and posted the first four episodes (the premiere was broken in two) online. I binged the first three as soon as they went up and the last episode the following morning.

My first impression? Ye gods, it's weird.

I mean, even on the David Lynch sliding scale, it's weird. How weird? Well, it makes the weird bits of Mulholland Dr and Inland Empire play like Days of Our Lives. Some door in Lynch's unconscious seems to have gone well off its hinges. 

It's also maddeningly inconsistent, veering from long, flabby scenes where nothing seems to happen to random bursts of truly disturbing horror and violence. There are a number of high profile cameos that range from the numinous (the more-radiant-than-ever Madeline Zima) to the far less-so (Michael Sera comes across as the pretentious kid in your ninth grade drama club) and an extremely confusing subplot with a Dale Cooper-alike in Las Vegas, not to mention the actual Dale Cooper and his demonic doppelganger.

But you know me, this shit's right up alley. I was at turns bored, riveted, horrified and embarrassed but I'm counting the hours to the next episode (which will go live on June 4th).

But the rest of the country? Maybe not so much.

Since we live in a culture that measures the quality of art in dollars and demos the big story on Twin Peaks was the tepid ratings it got. From Vulture:
The owls are not what they seem, and neither was viewer interest in a Twin Peaks revival — at least if Nielsen ratings are your metric for success. Per the ratings giant, Sunday’s quarter-century-in-the-making Twin Peaks: The Return attracted just 506,000 same-day viewers to Showtime via the network’s main linear channel.
But same-day is an archaic metric, isnt it? I'm sure the overwhelming majority of the audience will be consuming Twin Peaks online. We cut the cord a while back and haven't missed it. No one was actually watching the cable feed anyways. Vulture again:
First, it’s worth remembering the 506,000 viewer number reported by Nielsen Tuesday represents only a fraction of the audience that will ultimately consume Peaks across various Showtime linear and digital platforms. When measured over the course of weeks, rather than a single night, it’s quite common for premium cable series to end up with three, four, or even five times as many unique viewers as the same-day Nielsen ratings suggest. The actual audience for Sunday’s Twin Peaks resurrection will likely end up in the 2–3 million viewer range — no doubt less than what Showtime execs hoped for when they green-lit the project, but not quite as minuscule as these early numbers suggest.
But do note that the Twin Peaks premiere was watched by a mind-staggering 34 million Americans. But the blush came off that rose fairly quickly, especially during the second season when the series was relegated to the death slot. Even so, it has to be said that David Lynch has never been box office. Instead his audience is "more selective," as Ian Faith might have it. From Forbes.
Although David Lynch has always been something of a critical darling and a cult hero, the quality of his work hasn't necessarily translated into box office dollars. Yes, Mulholland Drive got rave reviews and was even voted best film of its decade by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (full disclosure: I'm a member and did not vote for it, feeling that as a rejiggered TV pilot it wasn't as deep as people were giving it credit for). But in terms of box office, it only generated $20 million international. His follow-up,Inland Empire, was way down from even that, at merely $4 million international, less than $1 million of which was domestic.
Just how selective it can be is evidenced by this frankly arrogant passage in the Variety review, written by Sonia Saraiya:
The bankable popularity of “Twin Peaks” also makes for an inexplicably stupid scene at the Bang Bang where the indie-electronic band Chromatics performs to a room of middle-aged townies taking tequila shots. Nothing says rural, small-town, faded glory like an impossibly cool synthpop band.  
What time period is Saraiya living in? First of all The Chromatics are an 80s revival band so it goes without saying that they would appeal to the "middle-aged townies" who grew up on synthpop. Second, Twin Peaks is set in the Pacific Northwest, which last time I checked was pretty hep to pop culture. Third, Lynch has been using synthpop in his projects since Blue Velvet. 

The Forbes review seems to get it:
 (The)Chromatics, as well as whatever industrial band it is that plays underneath footage of a car journey at night, fit effortlessly into the Lynchian soundscape.
But overall I think the more savvy viewers will adjust themselves to the jumbled narrative Lynch is putting on the table. As agog as I felt during long stretches of my binge I came out of it with a strong sense of theme. 

Lynch sets up a number of different arcs in different settings. The story ranges from Twin Peaks to Manhattan to South Dakota to Las Vegas. Plus, what looks like outer space but may be some other dimension entirely. And oh yeah, the Black Lodge.

In Twin Peaks a phone call from the Log Lady to Deputy Sheriff Hawk reopens the Laura Palmer case. It's here where we get the strongest hit of that old time Peaks religion and a serving of familiar faces (maybe a little too generous a serving in some instances). We also get some rather stunning photography that would fit proudly on anyone's demo reel. Plus, an owl.

The story in Manhattan centers on a young man whose job it is to sit in a secure room and stare at a glass box on behalf of some shadowy billionaire. He's being courted by a gorgeous young woman (Zima, turning on her native charm like a flamethrower) who is inexplicably curious about his job.

Unlike some other reviewers I won't spoil this arc. But I will say you could cut out those sequences and have yourself a very fine Stevens-Stefano Outer Limits tribute on Lynch's part. I'm thinking "The Galaxy Being", "OBIT" and "Don't Open 'Til Doomsday" were spinning in very heavy rotation somewhere in Lynch's head, unconsciously or otherwise.

The South Dakota storyline updates us on the Dale Cooper doppelganger introduced in the final moments of the original series. There's another murder mystery on the menu and a very Twin Peaks undercurrent of small town sexual intrigue when a high school principal is accused of murdering his mistress. 

The Cooperganger comes across like Frank Booth on Xanax but no less lethal. To show us just how lethal he's featured in a murder scene that is frankly pretty hard to watch.

We encounter the original Cooper, still trapped in the Black Lodge. Which seems only to have gotten more insane in the intervening 27 years. Michael Anderson has been replaced by the One-Armed Man so you don't really miss a beat (Anderson disqualified himself after hurling some pretty wild insinuations against Lynch on his Facebook).

And plus there's a talking brain-tree thing which refers to itself as "the evolution of the arm" (Michael Anderson's character referred to himself as the Arm). Which is probably the least bizarre thing in the Cooper arc.

I mean, strap yourself in because the Cooper-Black Lodge arc goes absolutely bugshit, even more so than anything Lynch has ever filmed. If you thought the lodge stuff was crackers, you literally have seen nothing yet.

Although all these arcs might seem unrelated-- and most probably completely bewildering to anyone not acclimated to Lynch's surrealist vision-- I am sensing a very strong thruline here.

I may be projecting all over it but it feels to me that Lynch is presenting a new metaphysics for evil. 

There's been a debate as old as humanity about the origin of evil, whether it's an innate reality or an invader from without. With the Bob arc from the first series and now with the juxtaposition of the Black Lodge and the Glass Box Lynch appears to arguing that evil is in fact a foreign presence, a metaphysical force that intrudes into our reality to look for hosts. 

As if to concretize this we see that the evil Cooper is not of our Earth and once the real Cooper escapes from his imprisonment (a spoiler, but come on) he is weakened and himself imprisoned.

I would argue then that Twin Peaks is a narrative about the flowering of evil. 

It presents evil as an outside force that invades and sets up shop into our environment then goes about finding suitable hosts to express itself through. It destroys lives, ruins families and communities for no apparent reason then moves on. 

This theme was explored in the thorny and divisive Fire Walk With Me, with Laura Palmer's descent prefigured by her dream of the Black Lodge and with her father's possession by the evil spirit Bob (what a great name for a demon).

Of course, Lynch may well move onto other themes before the series is finished so this is a provisional analysis. But Lynch seems to be fairly consistent in his fixations if you get past the whimsy. 

A lot of people accused Mulholland Dr and Inland Empire of incoherence but they both make perfect sense when you figure out their secrets. They're also essentially the same film told from two different perspectives.

Anyhow, I'm very interested in hearing your thoughts on the series so far and any speculations you might have where all this is headed. I just hope the media doesn't just see it all as a numbers game.


  1. Great review, best I've read, but I should have kjown that. One of the messages of the first four episodes seems to be "wait for it"; the antithesis of this is Mr. Jackpots.

    Did anyone else sense Phyllis Hastings looked a lot like Hillary Clinton? With a cheating husband named Bill no less...

  2. Chris,

    You of all people should know how weird a "brain-tree" can be. :P

  3. I endorse these words:

    -"is this the future or the past? Am I a teenager wanting to be older or a adult wanting to be a teenager again? nostalgia is a dirty rotten trick of linear progression of time." Lynch knows it.

    -Jung wrote: "Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is." "Cooper did not carry his shadow. He was practically without personality. His shadow has manifested itself in Evil Cooper". Wally Brando is a joke but he is trying to integrate his shadow (in a very shallow way, I know).

    -"That ocean (Mauve zone?)reminds me of Charles Fort's "Super-Sargasso Sea", an alternate dimension into which lost things (such as your single socks in the laundry) go. Forteana sounds like exactly the kind of thing David Lynch would be into". And Mark Frost.

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    1. After having finally found the time to check out the first four eps., I have to admit I was completely unprepared for what I saw, blog post & comments & all. I do need to re-watch as well, so much layered info going on.
      Dark, funny & surreal all at the same time, which was what drew me into the original series in the first place.

      Was a bit bummed to find out the original Log Lady had passed away though:

      Interesting to note how the idea for the Log Lady's role predates the series as well.


      "Coulson and Lynch had come up with the idea for the character in 1977 when she worked as an assistant director on Lynch’s debut feature film, Eraserhead. Lynch had originally earmarked the character for a bizarre-sounding show called I’ll Test My Log With Every Branch of My Knowledge, in which the log would go through various everyday human activities like dentist appointments, but later interpolated it into Twin Peaks in 1990."

      I always thought of the Log Lady in the original series as a sort of shamanic figure, existing in a perfectly lucid liminal state, seeing everything for what it truly was, owls & all.

      As far as the "numbers" go, I can't imagine why the media would bother to rate a show's success the old-fashioned way, given how many people watch shows on-demand, record with DVRs, watch on their computers/tablets, etc. Plus one would think the Netflix model put so much of that old ratings game to rest as well. Not that it matters much, the media are often the last to spot trends, esp. of late.

      Regarding a new metaphysics for evil: brilliant! Lynch presenting evil as an outside invading force in an almost gnostic or Burroughsian manner (language as a control virus as analogy). Glad Lynch isn't afraid to accelerate the non-linear storytelling as well. Its a real tip of the hat to the fans, I think. Asking the audience to make meaning for themselves is a truly radical act in an era where so many expect (& demand) opinions be spoon-fed to them.

  5. I haven't seen parts three and four yet (will hopefully being doing that tonight), but I must say parts one and two were everything I had been hoping for. It feels like a natural continuation of FWWM, further broadening the "Twin Peaks" universe, but still maintaining the essence of the series.

    I had been expecting the keyboard snipers to be out in force and the few reviews I read were hardly surprising in that vein. It would certainly seem views are mixed, with many a critic taking issue with the revival being more FWWM than the pilot. But anyone whose followed Lynch's career since "Twin Peaks" knows that FWWM essentially set the template for the rest of his career, with each film he made afterwards (with the exception of "The Straight Story") moving further and further away from a linear narrative. I for one am happy he's sticking with his guns and again using symbolism to tell much of the story.

    A few thoughts:

    * I'm even more bummed David Bowie wasn't able to return. The references to Phillip Jeffries (Bowie's character) in part two make me think Lynch and Frost had some interesting ideas for the character.

    * the only thing I wasn't crazy about was the "evolution of the Arm." I'm guessing this came about after contract talks with Michael Anderson broke down. It would have been great to see him back in the Black Lodge, but that obviously wasn't going to happen after the comments he made on Lynch

    * I think your notion of the show thus far being a rumination on the nature of evil is quite spot on. I've read theories online that Twin Peaks itself is the White Lodge. Certainly it is lovely when Cooper arrives --the landscape is clean and gorgeous, the food delicious, virtually all the women beautiful, the townspeople friendly and like an extended family, etc. But already evil has crept into this idealistic setting via Leland Palmer/BOB. Leland was apparently possessed by BOB as a young boy, when BOB and MIKE (the one armed man) were living above a convenience store (the same convenience store Phillip Jeffries witnessed a curious meeting at in FWWM?) I've often wondered if Leland was who brought the corruption of the Black Lodge to Twin Peaks as a child and it progressively overturned the virtue of the place. By the time of Laura Palmer's death it already had quite an underbelly, least of all the teenagers running drugs in from Canada.

    Perhaps the degradation that the Black Lodge brought to Twin Peaks has been let loose on the world as a whole since Cooper's double got out. Certainly this would constitute quite an invasion by sinister forces.

    And that's all I got for now. Even more excited to watch parts three and four now. Thanks for the great rundown.


  6. "I may be projecting all over it but it feels to me that Lynch is presenting a new metaphysics for evil."
    Brilliant, just brilliant! Future mystics and occultists will be pouring all over Lynch's work one day and that comment is so prescient.

  7. Hi Chris - I know we touched on this subject briefly when it was announced that the show would be returning awhile back. But, I have to say that I agree with what you said. My first impression after watching it (keep in mind, I was a big fan of the show back in the day) was: This is off the rails. Even for Lynch.

    Particularly, the focus on Cooper in the Black Lodge and then his projection outside. It was disturbing to say the least. I understand the Black Lodge/White Lodge were always supposed to be the reflection of the other (one is opened by love; the other by fear), but I'm not sure where they are taking us with it now. If the doppelgangers plan is to fake out the keepers of the Black Lodge by supplanting a false Cooper in place of itself, I don't really know how this will affect the real Cooper currently astral travelling in "non-exist-stance."

    'Disturbing' is Lynch way for saying,"look Ma, no hands" as we cite examples from all his work, but even now I feel like he and Mark Frost are up to some new interpretations of good and evil that on the surface look familiar to us, but in the end? We will have to see.

    More disturbing pieces: The scene where the watcher of the glass cube in the secured building was basically seeing nothing when he was by himself, but when the curious girl with the damn fine coffee managed to work her way in and they started lustfully having sex, this seemed to invoke the necessary energy required to slip an entity through. What I noticed from this entity was it appeared to be female when looking at this through a second viewing of the show. What do you think? Was it the Laura Palmer Doppelganger trying to access the outside of the lodge, as well?

    I think this two hour opener was necessary to define the framework a bit, but on a meta level it seems like Lynch and Frost are using the television screen as a portal in which they hope to entice the viewer into...which lodge? The one that is opened by our love of the show or the one that is opened by confusion and fear of it?

    We will have to see...

    Thanks for this great post. I was actually hoping you would have the opportunity to watch the show and make some observations. I highly value your views and insights on any cultural or esoteric subjects, of course, sir.

  8. Awesome review. I think you are right on. TI loved the first four episodes, especially the ghost box. I am not sure that those kids would have gotten it on right then, I think they would have just made out but hey, it's Showtime! I think he is definitely getting into the nature of evil. The scene with Gordon interviewing Bob/Cooper was amazingly creepy, I loved it. The Casino scene threw me a little? And what is Dougie? A horcrux (like Harry Potter) or a tulpa made by Bob? I am looking forward to watching more and hearing what you have to say about it... Also, in the new Secret History of Twin Peaks book there is a 3d image of an owl and when you put on the supplied 3d glasses it reveals a GREY ALIEN! I love David Lynch!

  9. Great think piece, Chris. Was looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the new season. Regardless of what the critics are saying it seems like most fans are loving it and I am no exception. There may be some people out there who are disappointed that it feels so different from the network TV show but if Lynch and Frost tried to recreate the lightning in the bottle that was the original first season it feels like the result would feel dated and lackluster, so it is nice to see Lynch just completely off the leash here and forging a new path in a new direction that incorporates events that are happening away from the central cast and familiar locations. Plus, anyone complaining about the Chromatics being included in the show needs to go home because their music compliments the show perfectly.

    It was a bit strange not to hear the Badalamenti score over everything during the show's premiere, but in retrospect the old score would probably not fit the new style and pacing of the show and you get used to its absence after a few episodes. The show also seemed to be missing a bit of its humor in the premiere (even if the original premiere was also more on the serious side) but the humor becomes more consistent in the later episodes (Hello, Gordon Cole and Mr. Jackpots). While the premiere was a bit jarring at times and uneven, as you have articulated, it feels like the show is building towards a very satisfying mystery that will address a lot of the things that fans of the original series have been speculating about for years. Highly looking forward to the rest of the season - and also looking forward to your accompanying analysis on the Secret Sun.

  10. Great post Chris! Lynch explored the "birth of evil" theme explicitly in Inland Empire, I'm thinking of the scene where Laura Dern's neighbor tells her the folk tale of
    "a little boy went out to play, when he opened his door he saw the world. As he passed through the doorway, a ghost-a reflection- evil was born. Evil was born and followed the boy..."
    Sex/ sexual magick themes remind me of "the little boy out to play"..

  11. Strangely, I didn't see it as introducing a new metaphysics of evil in any way but I certainly get what you mean. To me It still seems like good and evil are locked in some kind of mutual relationship that transcends easy binaries, but is nonetheless bound by them in some way. What I saw was a deeper exploration of how the metaphysical entities that inhabit trans-dimensional states intersect with our own, and may even be learning new tricks from the physical dimension (the evolution of the arm and its apparent metamorphosis into a neural type structure perhaps points at this). I also saw hints of the 'missing physics' that yourself and Gordon have spoken of in what appear to be geospatial and electromagnetic technologies interfacing with space-time in ways beyond our present understanding (the deep space construct that felt like a cosmic Alcatraz), and that certain human elements are grasping towards (the Glass Box, possibly an outgrowth of the sort of investigations pursued by Major Briggs and Project Bluebook). All of which - exotic energy physics, ultra-low frequency wavelengths and non-linearity - permeates and influences or informs human behaviour in typically 'magical ways' across the spectrum of consciousness. Plus there's the strong implication - it feels stronger than simple metaphor - that colour itself is a medium through which the trans mundane aspects and entities extend themselves across dimensions and into our own - with red (liminality, lust, anger, sensuality), blue (dispassion, intellect), green (nurture, safety, innocence as well as its potential for corruption) and purple (some sort of implied transcendence or higher paradigm where the relationship between opposites is quite different). But I've gone down the rabbit hole enough for now. Maybe it feels 'new' because its been so long since we've seen such a balls-out depiction of metaphysical high strangeness in the medium. Whatever the case, for me so far Lynch is firing on all cylinders and confidently working across multiple layers of meaning in a way that is equally terrifying and elating to behold.

  12. Lynch exploring the metaphysics of evil is a best case scenario. It's precisely what I'd hope from his return to this material.

  13. Good and evil doppelgangers in both 'Alien: Covenant' and 'Twin Peaks', two shows released around the same time as each other?
    Might need to talk to Jeff Kripal
    about this?-)

  14. I swear, I think I'm the only person (well, my brother, too) who really enjoyed that Michael Cera part. I died laughing, I've KNOWN people like that. Some beatnik wannabe who tries to speak romantically about the road? The "my Dharma is the road" especially got me.

    Anyways, great review! I wasn't worried at all about the new Twin Peaks, Mark Frost has been expanding the mythology quite a bit (his new book is pretty great), and Lynch isn't the kinda person who does stuff just for a paycheck. I was reading about how Frost is really interested in Theosophy, which kinda intersects Lynch's interest in Eastern philosophy, so many things started clicking for me.

  15. Showtime had the biggest weekend in its history in terms of new subscribers for online services (Prime, Hulu et al) so I feel like even as a numbers game, it's going well. I loved the first four episodes and am deeply looking forward to the rest of this series.

  16. Great stuff, Chris. I'll have to wait till it's on in the UK though.

  17. The Deputy Andy / Lucy Moran thing seems deliberate choice to show characters trapped in amber, static and unchanging, but in practical terms is hard to watch. I dig the new show overall.

  18. "In the symbolism of the Hindu tradition the 'Great Wall' is the circular mountain Lokaloka, which divides the 'cosmos' (loka) from the 'outer darkness' (aloka)
    ... In the Islamic tradition these 'fissures' are those by which, at the end of the cycle, the devastating hordes of Gog and Magog will force their way in (in the Hindu tradition they are the demons Koka and Vikoka, whose names are obviously similar), for they are unremitting in their efforts to invade this world; these 'entities' represent the inferior influences in question. They are considered as maintaining an underground existence, and are described both as giants and as dwarfs; they may thus be identified, ... and at least in certain connections, with the 'guardians of the hidden treasure' and with the smiths of the 'subterranean fire', who have, it may be recalled, an exceedingly malefic aspect; in all such symbolisms the same kind of 'infra-corporeal' subtle influences are really always involved. If the truth be told, *the attempts of these 'entities' to insinuate themselves into the corporeal and human world* are no new thing, for they go back at least to somewhere near the beginning of the Kali-Yuga, a period far more remote than that of'classical' antiquity, by which the horizon of profane historians is bounded."
    - René Guénon, The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, Chapter: "The Fissures in the Great Wall"

  19. One of my favorite scenes. Wonder how many takes they did. Cera seemed he might crack-up the whole way thru. Absolutely loved his jack with "Wally" emblazoned on it, and Brando affectation. So silly...different kind of fan service than the Black Lodge stuff, but completely welcomed.

  20. Looks to me as though Lynch finds ignorance or willful blindness as evil too. His unkind representation of some stereotypes are sad and even sadly funny, but representative of people I've run across in a lifetime. Those scenes are uncomfortably weird as the story lines so far. But I laughed out loud at the log lady's pronouncement. Once one grasps the extreme, the ride is infectious.

  21. Excellent article, Mr. Knowles! Your analysis is thought provoking as always.

    Just a random thought in return - imagine what magic might have happened if the Davids had had a chance to reunite?

    Mr. Bowie reprising his role as Phillip Jeffries - with possibly a Lynchian reworking of the iconic office scene with Gordon, Albert, and Cooper; only this time Jeffries coming to the aid of Cooper.

    None the less, I'm immensely grateful to these gentlemen for leaving these symbolic toolkits, their parting gifts to us - "Take this, Brother. May it serve you well...

    As a poor substitute for their actual collaboration, on your next rewatch of the first 4 episodes, try queuing up the videos for "Hearts Filthy Lesson", "Blackstar", and "Lazarus" then sandwiching them in between episodes. The results will be enlightening.

    OodExcellent article, Mr. Knowles! Your analysis is thought provoking as always.

    Just a random thought in return - imagine what magic might have happened if the Davids had had a chance to reunite?

    Mr. Bowie reprising his role as Phillip Jeffries - with possibly a Lynchian reworking of the iconic office scene with Gordon, Albert, and Cooper; only this time Jeffries coming to the aid of Cooper.

    None the less, I'm immensely grateful to these gentlemen for leaving these symbolic toolkits, their parting gifts to us - "Take this, Brother. May it serve you well...

    As a poor substitute for their actual collaboration, on your next rewatch of the first 4 episodes, try queuing up the videos for "Hearts Filthy Lesson", "Blackstar", and "Lazarus" then sandwiching them in between episodes. The results will be enlightening.


  22. The metaphysics of evil is inspired. It makes sense as well in spite of the doppelgänger switcheroo. As if he wants to deliberately throw a wrench in his own works.

    I found Cera's bit too cute at first, but ultimately really dug it. It reminded me of scripts of the past, when there'd often seem to be yet one more tag at the end of a line that should've concluded a scene (it brought to mind specifically the pastor at Laura's funeral). What I found way too stilted and cute, seemingly for the sake of itself, were Lucy & Andy in general, and Bobby Briggs, as good as the performance was, seemed gratuitous. But I'm reconsidering these in light of Nony 3:02's amber suggestion. That comment immediately resonated with me.

    One other thing about where this is headed has me considering the collaborative effort between Lynch and Frost much more, and how one cannot necessarily rule out a lack of singular vision. At any rate, with all of Frost's contributions outside of the show, it will be more clear what was his, and/or how much of it makes it into this season. BTW: That gestalt in the glass box looked like an alien grey to me.

  23. In continuing the the Pacific Northwest weirdness thread of late, I wonder if you have been following the saga at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington?

  24. I found the CBS "60 Minutes" interview with Robert Bigelow very apropos to what is discussed here - "Twin Peaks," an evil presence, ET, atomic tears, the "glass box." Holy shit, it's all coming together in a matter of weeks. As if 2017 couldn't get any weirder.

    1. Never know who you're going to come across in these corners of the Internet!