Monday, September 11, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return / A Cataclysm of Enlightenment

"Explanations place all apparent possibilities into the context of the necessary; stories set all necessities into the context of the possible." -James P. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games[1]

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Today's date is September 11, 2017. Thursday. Twin Peaks: The Return ended exactly one week ago, on Sunday the 5th.

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With luck, the end of Twin Peaks: The Return will also be the end of Twin Peaks as a whole phenomenon. It's been pushed to its reasonable limit, and at that limit, it's found a kind of wholeness.

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Another reason the series should reach its end: the whole world of Twin Peaks was annihilated in the closing moments of episode 18. That final scene showed the collapse of that universe.

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Not everybody who watched the finale saw this. Indeed, the general drift of public opinion seemed to be frustrated confusion (as though nobody had noticed Lynch's whole, relentlessly consistent directing career telegraphing this kind of ending). Most people didn't know what they saw in those final moments... it registered as an unsettling non-sequiter, a rebuff to the closure that Lynch teased them with in episode 17.

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The end of the episode is about those fans, hoping for some kind of closure. It's also about the FBI (at least, the fantasy FBI that Lynch has constructed for the world of Twin Peaks). It's also about characters, and audiences, and creators, and all their relationships to the art that defines them.

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And of course, like everything Lynch has created, it's about the strangeness and singularity of the art.

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This is not a particularly profound conclusion, despite this broken, aphoristic formatting, which is saturated with pretense and self-consciousness. (I'm only using it because these thoughts needed to be broken up, or they would have come rushing out as an exhausting torrent of interpretation and explanation [2]).

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If you want to "understand" Twin Peaks... if you were frustrated by the lack of closure, by the fact that the ending didn't add up to anything meaningful or resolute... I have a solution. It may work for you... it may not... but at least I can offer it. It's an interpretation that convinced me, even in my resistance to it. It's the one that risen above all the other speculation.

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I kind of hate that I've discovered a privileged reading. I kind of liked it better when I was wandering between interpretations. But it's only natural that, as a Fan, I find a form of closure here, because that allows me to be more at home with the series.

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Judy has been translated by some fans as "explanation." This has been hotly disputed, and I'm almost ashamed to be referencing it, but it leads smoothly into this reading of the series' conclusion: that Judy is an embodiment of transcendence, or gnosis, in a terrible, destructive form.

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By "transcendence," I mean the understanding of Twin Peaks from outside the fictional world of the show. This is what Judy represents. This is the "extreme negative force" that these characters are all chasing, even as they should be running away from it.

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A lot of these ideas are assembled from comments in this Reddit thread, by the way. Despite my desperate desire to explain every detail of this interpretation, I am going to restrain myself. To read more of the textual connections, glance through that thread a bit. Also, I think this blogger got about halfway to where I ended up, so read that post for some more connections within the text.

Also, this post on syncing up episodes 17 and 18: this theory is brilliant, and may ultimately overrule any alternative, but it also dovetails with my own interpretation: the connection between Judy and the Demiurge, and the pathway into the real world, are particularly relevant.

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If this is what Judy is, and they finally find Judy in the semi-fictional Limbo ("pocket universe") of Richard and Linda and Carrie Page, then the final scene is the discovery of Judy herself, and Cooper and Laura/Carrie's realization that they are fictional characters.

In fact, the sound of Sarah Palmer's voice calling Laura's name... to me, it looked like that was coming from a room in the house. It looked like someone in that room was watching a TV, and maybe that was the dialog they were hearing.

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When this happens, Sarah screams, Cooper loses his orientation in time, and the power goes out.

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The fire of narrative, fed by credulity and poetic faith [3], is embodied as electricity. In those final moments, the electricity flows out of this universe forever. This is the destruction of the show's secondary reality, the collapse that closes out the whole series. When the characters realize they are parts of a fiction, that fiction can no longer be maintained.

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So many of us amateur critics are willing to hand-wave Cooper's disorienting final question: "What year is this?" That line actually has great significance for this finale. To Cooper, it's a confrontation with a reality outside his own timeline, which is running discontinuously through it, on a million televisions.

Suddenly Cooper, the character, understands that he simply vanished for 25 years, and now he exists again, with a different name. He is the accursed fancy of a higher consciousness: a Creator with the power to construct a universe out of nothing.

For the audience, this is connected to the question of why: why should this creation, left fallow for 25 years, suddenly be resurrected in our age of cell phones and Skype? And why, 25 years after the story closed itself off to us, are we still so desperate for closure and "explanation"?

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David Lynch has been hounded by demands for explanation his entire life. He knows that everybody wants it. He also knows that in the end, we don't want it... it dispels the glamour of narrative, chops down that fertile tree that grows from our subconscious.

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And the reason Twin Peaks: The Return spoke to me was that Lynch had something to tell me... a warning, a threat, and a little koan. Because I didn't want explanation, I thought. I've always reveled in the open signifiers of Weird Cinema, and I've always appreciated the fluid meanings of poetry and surrealism.

Right?

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But I also search for meanings. I search desperately for them. Where I see order, I can't help but divine for purpose. Twin Peaks was no special case in that regard... I digested for a day, and then I fell into the major outlet thinkpieces (numbingly repetitive, frankly) and then I dove deeper, surfing Tweets and comment boards and the subreddit.

I was hunting for something I didn't want to find.

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And now that I've found it, I'm lost outside the work. I'm the consummate chin-stroker, hovering above the abyss, who's lost the grand mystique of unspeakable ideas. I've stumbled from Fandom into Criticism.

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This was the trap Judy laid for me, and I fell into it.

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And perhaps, when I hit Publish, I'll lure a few more hapless souls into this explanatory abyss.

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But even from here, I can still see the whole series, laid out before me, and part of me knows I don't really understand it. Though my sight is dimmer, I can still see sparkles: unresolved events, unanswered questions, and broad themes that I've only glimpsed.

And that part of me will always find a home in Twin Peaks, beyond the shadow of Judy.

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[1] Carse has some fascinating ideas about Explanation, Narrative, and the Unspeakable. His theory is beyond the reach of simple paraphrase, but I should note: he associates explanation with what he calls "finite games," which are time-bound, goal-oriented, and seek as few players as possible (ultimately leading to a single "winner"). Explanation closes off possibility, and it's relentlessly rearward-facing, always hung up on the past. To Carse, explanation is self-limitation, and as a world is explained, it is also restricted.

Judy is the Finite Game descending upon the open signification of Twin Peaks. She is the knowledge that undermines wonder, and the darkness of pure transparency. To Lynch, she is terrifying.

[2] Okay, here's a quick tour of some other evidence:
  • The question "What just happened?" was asked repeatedly in the last couple episodes, and the repetition was pretty conspicuous. These characters are itching for an explanation.
  • The refusal to speak, the allusion to Judy as the unspeakable: "We don't talk about that" is echoed by Agent Jeffries, and also in Hawk's explanation of the spiritual map.
  • There are several pretty strong implications that the final scenes of The Return, after Coop and Diane's night in the hotel, take place in the "real" world (or something close to it, at least)
  • Electricity is a crucial image through the whole season, the 2017 "mutation" of Fire from the original series. There are lots of metaphorical possibilities here (the Lynchian Open Signifier), but there's no denying that electricity is necessary for running a television -- the lifeblood of the fictional artifact, and the lubricant that allows it to escape its container and get released into the world.
  • By this reading, the end of Season 3 echoes the discovery of Laura's killer in Season 2. By some accounts, this is what killed the show's momentum and mystery. Another explanation, another death of the show... then forced, now intentional.

[3] A concept related to "suspension of disbelief", associated with Norman Holland.



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