The Waiting Room: Reflecting on the First 8 Parts of Twin Peaks: The Return
“It all cannot be said aloud now.”
Two weeks. An hour. Twenty-five years. For those of us still under the spell of Part 8’s kaleidoscope of nightmares, this brief hiatus from Twin Peaks feels like a formless void of agony. After letting scenery pass by our windows for six hours, David Lynch and Mark Frost pushed their train to high speed, then pulled a railroad switch that sent us hurtling into a dark tunnel. Frequent travelers on the Lynch Express knew what kind of ticket we were punching when we boarded at Showtime Station. Time doesn’t work the same way on this train than it does anywhere else.
In our era of binging, live tweets, and hashtaggery, Twin Peaks resists easy consumption. It was designed to be digested slowly, one hour per week, to live with us for a while on its own terms. The days between installments are essential for sifting, exploring, finding connections that are waiting to be discovered. You don’t need to rewatch each episode obsessively for its mysteries to reveal themselves to you—they’ll shift in and out of focus with a week’s casual thought. Had it dropped all at once, like its prestigious Netflix cousins, its thrill would have been lost in the race to watch it all before Twitter spoiled it. As it is, we get to form a community of detectives sharing and delighting in each hour’s secrets, our wildly varying interpretations of events clashing and informing one another, taking on lives of their own.
If there’s one key component that’s most immediately recognizable in a Lynch-directed piece, it’s waiting. His mastery over his audience has always come from his ability to delay the answer to whatever question he’s convinced us to ask. Often the tension comes entirely from that delay, because he knows that unanswered questions fill us with longing, even (or perhaps especially) if they’re questions we ask every day. He knows that if we really stare into the spaces of our lives, we’ll realize we don’t give enough thought to the possibilities within them. The magic of Lynch lives in the space between “How ya doin’?” and “Just fine, thanks.”
From the time Jack Nance gazed with existential awe into space we couldn’t see in Eraserhead, to Laura Dern’s three-hour odyssey through Inland Empire, David Lynch has spent his career meditating on the terrors and pleasures of delay. Even in the original two seasons of Twin Peaks, you can tell without reading the credits which episodes had him at the helm—deliveries are slower, shots stretch, and scenes meander away from definable plot points into diversions that illuminate but don’t distract. There are several reasons why this revival may well be his masterpiece, but key among them is the simple fact that he has eighteen hours of screentime, spread out over an entire summer, to make us wait.
Backwards speech and slowed sound were important stylistic flourishes in the original series, but now they’re woven into the story’s fabric. A “yrev” sets events in motion, “Moonlight Sonata” slowed to a drone creeps into our bones, and the question “Is it future, or is it past?” punctuates with a significance that’s blurred but blaring. Lynch will make us watch someone sweep a floor for two minutes and leave us to wonder how many cosmic clues might have been hidden in plain sight while we did. It borders on the absurd, and it’s understandably trying on many viewers, but it’s not without meaning.
We’re just under halfway through this return to Twin Peaks, and its themes are coming into focus. It wasn’t just nostalgia that lured Lynch back to his most iconic creation after a quarter-century, but the chance to play with time. Like many elements of Lynch’s multiverse, time is a force of compassion cloaked in destruction. Twin Peaks reminds us that time will rob us of our health, our loved ones, and ourselves, but it rewards us for accepting its truths. Time reverberates, echoes, slips us kindnesses through loopholes of memory. Voices of the dead murmur in space, pages of writing wait to be rediscovered, photos trigger emotion. An atomic blast can rip a hole in reality so wretched that it becomes a source for all wickedness, backwards and forwards through history. But the same phenomenon allows an unconditional love, a love we’ve somehow always known, to be awaiting us in the afterlife.
The first line of dialogue in Part 1 was an instruction to “listen to the sounds”. This is crucial, not merely as a clue for the Reddit sleuths scouring the show for codes, but as existential advice for watching the show, and maybe for observing the universe. Those pauses in Lynch’s scenes, the sequences of nothing in particular, are full of sound. Lynch himself is credited as sole sound designer for the series, a role rare for a writer/director to take on alone. It speaks to the importance of ambience that’s been key to his secrets for forty years. When no one’s talking, when nothing seems to be happening, there are questions too important for words humming in the quiet. Unspeakable dread, inconceivable relief, unfathomable wonder are orchestrated in the sounds of wires and wind. We won’t notice them if we move too fast, talk too much, or try to do too many things at once.
What we need is touch. It may be as metaphorical as psychic awareness or as real as holding hands, but Twin Peaks is showing us over and over again the power of human contact. It’s there in the way Part 3’s juddering editing tricks steady when the eyeless woman takes Cooper’s hand in the Purple Room, and it’s there when Gordon Cole awkwardly leans into Diane’s distraught embrace in Part 7. We see it in the way Frank Truman endures his wife’s grief, and we feel it in Carl Rodd’s willingness to step forward and hold a weeping mother while everyone else looks on with a detached, useless pity. There’s a power our universe grants those who are willing to slow down and be aware of others.
In opposition to this power stands our soulless systems. Twin Peaks is more and more about the failure (at best) and evil (at worst) of America’s institutions. The show is a patchwork of people struggling against the kind of faceless oppressors that we’re told exist for the greater good. Janey-E rages at her bank and her husband’s debts, Diane drinks to confront her disillusionment with the F.B.I., and Beverley fights with her sick husband because she has to leave him alone in order to pay for his care. The paradox of our country’s moral superiority in the face of its abandoned citizens is on full display here, the achingly real core of this show about owls and coffee and cherry pie.
There’s a girl who embodies all of these themes, and her faded memory is drawing us deeper into the mysteries of Twin Peaks. In the first “Log Lady Intro” that Lynch wrote for the original series in syndication, Margaret Lanterman described her as “the one leading to the many”. We see her frozen in time at the beginning of each episode. Her picture inspired tears from sweet Deputy Bobby Briggs. Dale was instructed to find her before being banished from the Black Lodge. Long lost pages from her diary are guiding Hawk’s investigation. We don’t yet know what it all means, but Showtime’s schedule hints that we will soon understand a little more. There’s no telling what we’re in for when the show returns next week, but we know the title of Part 10: “Laura Is the One”.
There are ten hours to go, and I won’t pretend to know what we’re in for. All I know is that we need to keep listening, watching, and waiting. The wait for David Lynch is never empty, and it’s never silent—it’s thick with mystery, alive with questions, and humming with electricity, be it two weeks, an hour, or twenty-five years.