Twin Peaks moves away from the disturbing darkness of last week’s installment for a lighter hour that puts one Dale Cooper on the run.
Since Twin Peaks has seen Agent Dale Cooper return from a quarter century in the Black Lodge, he’s been having a hard time getting back to his old self. It’s now episode 7 and Kyle MacLachlan has yet to play Dale as the man he was prior to entering the Black Lodge and being replaced by an evil doppelganger… and gambling debt-ridden insurance underwriter/physical construct created by Dark Dale, Dougie Jones. For the real Agent Dale Cooper, Dougie is something of a prison, a persona he’s trapped in so long as he remains only hazily aware who he is and what it is he’s doing. It’s not too far removed from the experience of the audience at this point either. Dougie is both a constant source of comic relief and a narrative obstacle seemed designed specifically to strain the audience’s patience as much as possible.
Last week, (vaguely panicked) theories began to emerge that The Return part of Twin Peaks: The Return meant watching 18 hours of Lynch slowly teasing the return of Agent Cooper to his former glory. Given how Lynch clearly isn’t interested in servicing some sense of Twin Peaks fandom or nostalgia with this new series, it’s not entirely unreasonable to think this theory might actually carry some weight. Then again, it’s worth arguing that Lynch and Mark Frost playing the sadly comic tale of Agent Cooper as Dougie Jones for far longer than most people are willing to put up with is Lynch devilishly playing to his viewers’ sense of nostalgia, and giving them precisely what they asked for, even if they didn’t know five hours (so far) of Kyle MacLachlan delivering a brilliantly expressionless performance was part of the bargain.
As with Dougie’s caffeinated adventures last week, there are more hints that the real Dale Cooper is slowly working his way back to the surface. While he remained only partially lucid as a trio of police detectives questioned him and Naomi Watts’ fierce Janey-E about Dougie’s missing (and now exploded) car, Cooper unleashed the cobra when Ike “The Spike” Stadtler tried to kill him, thanks to the hit out on Dougie Jones. The scene is a much more forceful reminder of the man everyone is getting so impatient about returning, and acts as a counterpoint to the slow, methodical, and somewhat confounding scene wherein Cooper scrawls a series of ladder and staircases on some insurance case files and uncovers something his boss Bushnell Mullins finds very interesting.
Instinct has taken over Cooper’s slow return, and he has begun acting in reflexive fashion, doing what comes naturally to him: sniffing out bad guys and protecting others. Given all the surreal weirdness of Twin Peaks it’s sometimes easy to overlook the series’ deep-seated sense of morality and an understanding of the lines that separate good and evil. Cooper is the series’ hero archetype, and given what’s been seen of the world – in Twin Peaks and beyond – there’s reason to believe its in worse shape for having not only lost a figure like Dale Cooper, but seen him replaced by his polar opposite, a man whose instinct is to do harm and wreak havoc, all in his name.
The idea of acting on or listening to one’s instinct plays a crucial role elsewhere in the episode, too. After Albert’s unsuccessful attempt to get Diane to come along him last week, Gordon Cole makes a personal trip to see her, appealing to her better nature and desire to seek some answer to Cooper’s disappearance, an event that clearly left her emotionally scarred. There’s something delightfully off-putting that the first time the audience gets to see Diane and Cooper interact on screen, there is a pane of glass between them and she’s talking to an evil doppelganger from another dimension. The episode’s interest in instinct, however, sees Diane reject Dark Dale on the basis that something’s missing from him. “It isn’t time passing or how he’s changed or the way he looks…. It’s something that definitely isn’t here,” she says, pointing to her heart.
Acknowledgement of these characters’ instincts and their reflexive feelings makes ‘Part 7’ another fascinating entry of Twin Peaks: The Return. Along with a necessary dissemination of information – Hawk and Sheriff Truman examine the pages from Laura’s diary that were uncovered last week, while the investigation into what may or may not be the discovery of Major Brigg’s decapitated body adds an engaging wrinkle into the show’s skewed notion of people returning – things get moving again, as Dark Dale blackmails his way out of a South Dakota federal prison.
The end result is another example of just how well executed Twin Peaks has been since its return. Lynch is firing on all cylinders week-in and week-out, and this installment offers another fine example of how the director can execute his vision by not giving the audience what they think they want, and instead handing them what it is they never knew they wanted.
Twin Peaks continues next Sunday with ‘Part 8’ @9pm on Showtime.
Photos: Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME