Twin Peaks

What the Hell Is Happening on 'Twin Peaks'?

"Part 8" jumps through time, features Nine Inch Nails, and destroys our ideas of a typical television episode.
June 26, 2017, 3:13pm
Carel Struycken and Joy Nash. (Photo:Suzanne Tenner/Showtime)

For the first six minutes of "Part 8," we think we know where we stand. Ah yes, we say, this is an episode of television! People will have conversations, perhaps in English! There will be surprising plot twists about whose gun is loaded and whose isn't, plot twists that are surprising within the context of what we understand as "plot!" And of course, it's still David Lynch, so we'll have mysterious codes and lingering shots of dark roads illuminated only by headlights. Ha ha. Classic David.

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And then the hobo ghosts come out, and we fly screaming into the heart of a mushroom cloud.

This episode of Twin Peaks takes all our storytelling conventions and crumples them up into a messy little ball that is also somehow a beautiful origami sculpture—and then shines a spotlight on that ball to cast vast, strange, and figural shadows. If you started drinking a beer during the credits, by the time you were done, you'd be wondering if it was drugged.

Those six minutes of relative normalcy are crucial to the experience, I think; without them, we'd be in an art film. (Well, a Nine Inch Nails video, and then an art film.) But the opening scene, which ends with Doppelcoop being double-crossed and then shot to temporary death by his former partner Ray, is traditional enough that it reinforces our standard ideas about what TV is like and how to watch it—thus leaving you even more disoriented when the show abruptly abandons those ideas. It's like you're climbing a flight of stairs, and you get into the stair-climbing rhythm, and then the top stair disappears. And then the whole thing turns into an alligator.

Kyle MacLachlan. Photo by Suzanne Tenner/Showtime

I wish I could just tell you what that was all about, but I'm also glad I can't. As I noted in my very first recap, original Twin Peaks was groundbreaking for the way it sucked audiences in with the trappings of popular TV genres—mystery, soap opera—and then bombarded them with the symbolic, the mystical, and the inexplicable. New Twin Peaks is dealing with a different culture, one whose conventions have gotten quite a lot more unconventional over the last 25 years—thanks, in no small part, to original Twin Peaks. Its weirdness is fractal. I like it that way. (If you're still onboard after this week, you like it that way, too.)

I can offer, at least, some impressions, though none really rise to the level of a theory or even an educated guess. The majority of Part 8, post-NIN, takes place in three locations: New Mexico in 1945, a fortress on top of a mountainous island outside of space and time, and New Mexico in 1956. In 1945, the Manhattan Project tests the first nuclear detonation. In the fortress, the Giant and a woman credited as "Senorita Dido" cohabitate with several human-size bell-shaped things, like the one Cooper encountered on his way out of the Black Lodge. In 1956, teenagers living near the nuclear test site have a polite and awkward courtship.

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In 1945, inside the mushroom cloud (maybe?), a woman-shaped entity credited as the "Experiment" exhales a cyclone of eggs, or potatoes, or tumors, one of which bears the face of BOB, the Twin Peaks evil-spirit villain. In the fortress, the Giant examines these potato-eggs on a screen, and then spews out his own beam of particles, some of which coalesce into a golden orb holding Laura Palmer's likeness. In 1956, one of the potato-eggs hatches in the desert and births a sort of frog-legged fly.

In 1945 (maybe?), a gas station and convenience store near the test site (maybe?) is overrun by itinerant woodsmen, and also (maybe?) catches fire. In the fortress, Senorita Dido releases the Laura orb into a large golden mechanism, which seems to spit it into the screen, now showing an image of the globe. In 1956, the itinerant woodsmen mob a frightened couple in a car, intoning "got a light?"

Trent Reznor. Photo by Suzanne Tenner/Showtime

The 1956 section is very Norman Rockwell, until it's not. (Abnorman Rockwell?) A diner waitress wipes down a counter, a mechanic works on a car, the young woman from the nuclear test site couple listens dreamily to the radio in her bedroom. One of the woodsman, eyes staring white out of a face dark with soot or dirt or who knows maybe blood, staggers toward the radio station. He crushes the heads of everyone inside and broadcasts his own message: "This is the water, and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes and dark within." The waitress, mechanic, and teenager abruptly fall asleep. The frog-fly crawls sickeningly into the young girl's mouth and down her throat. The woodsman staggers off into the desert again. A horse neighs.

What does it mean? I just said I don't know, y'all! But I think we're watching something being born, activated, and fought: Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. Something—BOB? The Black Lodge? Evil itself?—comes to life inside that nuclear explosion, and maybe that was the explosion's ultimate goal (an Experiment is not an Accident, after all—unless the mother figure who lays all those eggs is a personification of the nuclear test itself?). Something is put into motion in that same desert 11 years later, though we're far from knowing why or what exactly the consequences will be. And the Giant sees this evil born, and seems to be trying—I think voluntarily—to generate an antidote. Of course, if Laura Palmer is the best he can come up with, we saw how that one turned out. But maybe she's not the antidote herself, but a catalyst.

That's not much, but it's what I've got right now: no answers, few guesses, more questions. Twin Peaks turned the firehose of weirdness on us this week. Drink full and descend.

Notes for Peaks freaks of old:

— I got nothing for you here. We're off the map.

Follow Jess Zimmerman on Twitter.