David Lynch’s The Tree of Life. That’s what I scribbled in my notes as episode eight of Twin Peaks: The Return slipped its skin over my television like a diseased membrane. The swirls of space, the metrics of creation, the inelegant way of mashing it all together. It was as brash – and, from the chatter online, as polarizing – as Malick’s creationist opus, where volcanoes, dinosaurs and 1950s Texas share a filmstrip. Here, a similar origin story is rendered in the gritty, manic way Lynch decodes. Nothing makes sense unless you give into its mania. To watch “Lynch on heroin,” as a Showtime exec described The Return, you have to jab the needle in deep and welcome the high.
And what a high it was. Just when last week felt like the show was settling into something like familiarity, episode eight comes along to pull the proverbial rug. Who might have anticipated an episode that opens with the “death” of Evil Cooper, features a Nine Inch Nails mini-concert, goes back in time to the 1945 Trinity test, and ends with a hybrid frog-bug crawling into a little girl’s mouth? God bless David Lynch.
There are endless ways to interpret the grimy collage that is episode eight. I’ll set aside the death and resurrection of Evil Cooper for now, since that’s, ironically, the least interesting thing that happens. The really gripping stuff starts around the 15-minute mark, when a title card reading “July 15, 1945. White Sands, New Mexico. 5:29 AM (MWT).” hits the screen. It’s the moment of submission, when the episode lapses from the slick-wet dream of Nine Inch Nails and the relative comfort of new Twin Peaks and into a total fucking riot of weird on an unprecedented scale.
From where I sit, it’s the first-ever detonation of an atomic bomb that blasts a door through our world and the land of the Black Lodge. (And makes Gordon Cole’s office art take on a new importance.) That act of pure evil is a garmonboziafest, which riles the convenience store spirits, who are thrust from the Black Lodge into our mortal coil. This all happens in the midst of flashing lights, and to the tune of ear-splitting violin drills and the mechanical intonation that Lynch is prone to lean on in moments of chaos, an unsettling effect that reverberates through the rest of the episode.
In the middle of this strobe show, we get a peek at an alien-like creature (that looks a little like the box monster of episode one) who vomits a portal string containing beads of evil, including the face of BOB. We then transition to a purple ocean that pans up to a structure that I can only assume is the White Lodge (or at the very least some relation to the mauve room from episode three), with an interior that looks like Tim Burton’s living room. There, a woman in a sequined dress and heavy eyeliner sits listening to a phonograph, when a large black bell starts to buzz. The Giant appears, looking concerned. It’s a warning. He leaves the room, walks up some stairs, and stands before a screen that plays out the events of the atomic blast and the transfer of BOB and BOB-lites to Earth. He starts to float and the woman from the other room enters. The Giant’s head erupts with a glittery substance that gathers into an orb with Laura Palmer’s face in the middle. The woman kisses the orb and sends it to Earth. It would appear, then, that Laura was created by the Giant, gatekeeper of the Lodges, to protect the world from BOB – is she the key to ending his present-day reign? (Also, this whole sequence felt very Wizard of Oz, with the black and white, the Glinda-like bubbles, the magical realism and tenderness.)
The next bit is a little harder to interpret, given what we know. We flash-forward to 1956, in New Mexico again, where an egg hatches in the desert and a strange amphibian-bug crawls out. I’ve seen some theorizing that the creature is BOB, but my guess is that it’s Laura – given that by episode’s end it crawls into the mouth of a willing host who I believe to be a young Sarah Palmer. We see this girl shortly after the egg hatches, walking through the dark with her beau, dressed in her ‘50s best: poodle skirt, headband. At the same time, the shadowy demons from before descend from the sky, and start terrorizing the locals, Hills Have Eyes-style. One in particular, a charred man, keeps repeating the phrase, “Got a light?” which immediately reminded me of Leland Palmer’s recollection of the BOB who tormented him in his youth, asking, “Do you want to play with fire?” Maybe a coincidence, but charred-face guy definitely has a BOB vibe, which he displays when he enters the halls of a local radio station, crushes some skulls, then recites a creepy ass speech about water and wells over the streams – which puts the townspeople to sleep. As he moans on, the bug creature slips through the girl’s lips, planting itself. Did Laura’s arrival summon the soot demons? Is the radio monologue BOB’s eerie way of welcoming her?
That’s how I’m choosing to interpret it. I’ve seen some well-thought-out reasoning that the egg was BOB and the soot demons were helping him find a human host. That could also be spot-on. Either way, I’m still pretty convinced that young girl was Sarah, and her infestation is linked with her second sight and connection to the Lodge. She’s always been one of my favorite elements of Twin Peaks, and if it turns out she was a “chosen one” all along, I’ll be infinitely jazzed.
There’s a lot to chew on that I haven’t even touched yet. Like how one of these soot demons was in Matthew Lillard’s jail cell earlier this season, and how they showed up when Evil Coop was shot to rub blood all over his face and pound him into the dirt. I have no idea what it means that he woke up from that, or who’s the real Coop now, or how this bodes for Dougie, or honestly what the fuck Coop’s role is in any of this. But I can’t wait to find out. Can you believe we’re not even halfway through yet?
It’s still hard for me to believe this is real. The second that time card flashed on screen, I felt an unparalleled buzz of excitement, an indescribable feeling of mystery and anticipation. I know we’re in the era of peak TV, but I’ll admit that I remain sort of firmly unmoved by much of it. Shows these days talk and talk at me, and the binge model only leads to regurgitation: eat, eat, eat, vomit, forget. But Twin Peaks: The Return is this model in reverse, like a vomit that coagulates and stains. It’s unpleasant, it’s grotesque, it’s stubborn, but offers a feeling of accomplishment when it’s finally wiped clean. The sense of sitting with it, and getting to know it, and it getting to know you. Someone asked me the other day if I like the new Twin Peaks and it was surprisingly hard to answer. “I don’t like it so much as I need it,” was my perhaps overblown response. But after an episode like this, which blew my mind open and flipped all the pages, I’ll stick to that assessment. What a sick treat it is.