Were there more than 20 lines of dialogue spoken in tonight’s “Twin Peaks”? All signs point to no. In perhaps what was the most existential and absurd installment yet of the surreal drama’s return, David Lynch’s attention shifted from a bloody confrontation in the woods to a journey through time and space that barely touched on the modern day. Instead, “Part 8” tripped back to the past for a largely silent (dialogue-less) series of events (it feels a bit much to refer to them as “a story” at this stage) that of course did not skim on harsh violence and strange mannerisms.
Everyone is going to come to Part 8 with their own interpretations and theories; it’s an installment which seems to welcome that. And pieces of it are more successful than others.
The most clearly plot-driven element of the episode happens right away, as Evil Cooper and Ray make their getaway. Ray is seemingly grateful for Evil Cooper’s help, but not so grateful that, given the chance, he won’t put three bullets in his body.
After collapsing, though, Cooper is surrounded by a series of wandering ghosts — my initial notes referred to them as “ghouls,” but the episode credits seem to refer to them as Woodsmen — and whatever strange ritual they perform seems to bring Cooper back to life a little bit later. (That is, of course, only after “The” Nine Inch Nails played the roadhouse. For 16 Sundays this summer, the dream of the ’90s is alive on Showtime.)
The effects used to create this initial sequence are almost disturbingly retro, stuff Lynch easily could have executed on a ’90s TV budget and disappointing in comparison to some of the more captivating effects in earlier episodes this year. But maybe Lynch was saving some cash for later moments in the episode.
Driving away, by the way, Ray calls Phillip, another reference to former agent Phillip Jeffries — so now it’s confirmed the two are working together. The question now becomes how much more of Phillip we can expect, given that original actor David Bowie is of course sadly no longer with us. Can we expect a recasting? Or maybe another CGI brain tree? And what are Phillip and Ray hoping to learn about Evil Cooper’s situation?
We get to spend over four minutes pondering this question, because that’s how long the Nine Inch Nails concert sequence lasts. But the point is, Evil Cooper sitting up in the woods marks the last normal portion of Part 8. And yeah, that’s saying something even for “Twin Peaks.”
A trip back to the Trinity nuclear test (as indicated by the title card: July 16, 1945, White Sands, New Mexico; 5:29 AM MWT) becomes an excuse for Lynch to pull out some of his most experimental tricks, to a degree which seems deliberately aimed to alienate the casual viewer. The minutes-long Trinity sequence is certainly beautiful, but it’s the sort of beautiful nonsense best enjoyed on a loop in an art gallery while sipping cheap red wine, not 20 minutes into an hour long episode of (supposedly) scripted television.
However, the convenience store sequence which follows it at least features humans — or human-shaped people anyway, specifically folks who resemble the ghost-like figures who rushed to Evil Cooper’s side earlier in the episode (offering up something resembling a narrative spine for the episode, given how prominently they feature later).
What followed that was probably the most captivating portion of the episode; one of the most out-there sequences, but filled with both visual spectacle and intriguing symbolism. New character Senorita Dido (as named by the closing credits, and played by actress Joy Nash, who previously appeared as a guest star on shows like “Casual” and “The Mindy Project”) and “???????” AKA The Giant (Carel Struycken) are in a space separate from our reality, a lonely purple lighthouse on a tiny island in a vast sea. And together they see a gold bubble containing an image of BOB spew forth into the world, but they also launch another gold bubble containing an image of a young Laura Palmer towards our tiny planet.
Given the connection to the Trinity nuclear test, this is a theory to be considered: Is all the evil which “Twin Peaks” never hesitates in depicting born of the nuclear age? At the very least, is Bob the end result of mankind splitting the atom for ultimate destruction? It’s not a completely unique idea — other creators have explored this notion. But even if we’re right, no one has done it like Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost have done it.
Meanwhile, we flash forward to 1956, where there are no explosions, but plenty of Woodsmen making trouble for a small New Mexico community, terrorizing drivers and murdering the employees of a local radio station so that they can broadcast their message. Google “This is the water and this is the well” and all you’re likely to get at this point are messages from people who have also googled the Woodsman’s chilling refrain — it’s a weirdo “Twin Peaks” catchphrase on par with “the owls are not what they seem.”
Though who knows? Part 9 of “Twin Peaks” could open with a five-minute monologue from Agent Gordon Cole on exactly what happened in 1956, and what exactly the Woodsmen were attempting; trying to predict what this show will do next is a sucker’s bet. All we can say with confidence is that with Part 8, Lynch and Frost have introduced a terrifying new source of danger to the series, and nothing good is going to happen to that nice young lady (credited as “Girl,” and played by newcomer Tikaeni Faircrest) who sleeps with her mouth open.
It’s hard to grade an episode of television that is so singularly, clearly, the vision of a creator operating at the peak of his abilities — while also deliberately choosing to screw with us. Without a doubt, we’ll look back on Part 8 as the first truly polarizing episode of the series, one that challenges viewers to appreciate its beauty, even if we don’t understand it. Wherever you land on it, there’s one thing that can’t be argued: You’ve never seen this before on television.