SPOILER WARNING! If you have not seen Twin Peaks season three episode 8, "Gotta Light?" and do not want it spoiled, go read something else. I'm going to spoil it for you, insofar as this episode can be summarized or spoiled.
I resolved quite some time ago that I was going to write a massive analysis of Twin Peaks from start to finish, and I may even turn it into a free eBook if I ever have the time to edit it together, but suffice to say that I decided when Twin Peaks came back for season three that I was going to remain quiet until the whole affair had reached its close. Friends, I'm breaking my promise.
Any fan or passing observer of the David Lynch universe knows that it is rife with WTF moments. For some, it is a feather in Lynch's hat and the main reason to view his work, and for others, the weirdness that spews from the screen is more than enough for one lifetime. Lynch won me as a fan way back when I was a freshman in high school. A friend let me borrow the Lost Highway soundtrack, which I adored, and when I saw the lone VHS copy of the movie in the old Family Video on the main drag, I knew what I was watching after Mad TV wrapped. I had no idea what I had seen when it was over, but I knew that it wouldn't be my last journey into the weird world of David Lynch. I'll skip the rest of the personal backstory and get right to the meat, since I'm short on time, and I don't want to lose the feeling of the first impression.
The first three minutes or so of the episode pick up where we left off with episode seven, which features Evil Coop getting out of jail with Ray coming to pick him up. Evil Coop directs Ray to follow a truck on the highway, makes note of the license plate, and then tosses his cell phone out the window. They turn down a dark road, and things take a turn for the dark side.
Ray manages to outfox Evil Cooper. Cooper intends to murder Ray, but before he can, Ray shoots him. It harkens me back a bit to Bobby Briggs shooting the man in the woods outside Twin Peaks all those years ago, but something decidedly different happens tonight. Eerily, we see blackish figures begin to shamble out of the woods. They move almost like the undead in a zombie flick, and when they get close, we see that they resemble the homeless, charred man from the police station and the guy from behind Winkie's in Mulholland Drive.
Lynch brings back in strobing light, one of his favorite effects, and we see them moving around Evil Coop as ghostly apparitions, and they encircle him, dancing strangely, as though in a Walpurgisnacht trance. Several of them paw at Evil Coop, smearing blood all over his face and shirt. You get the impression that they are tearing at him, but I'm not really sure that's exactly what happened. Ray looks on in horror, and eventually flees in the tan Buick. (I think it's a Buick.) I watched this part twice, and on the first look, I swear one of the faces down by Cooper's body looked like BOB's face, but I didn't catch it on the second viewing.
Ray is seen in the car, talking on the phone to Philip Jefferies, who I'm assuming won't be appearing in-person, since David Bowie is sadly no longer here to give us the rendition. He makes the comment that this "may be the key" to what it's all about, so I suppose we may revisit that in another episode. But first:
"The" Nine Inch Nails at the roadhouse! I hope some of you old TP fans noticed the nod to Jimmy Scott, who sang "Under the Sycamore Trees" in the Black Lodge for the original series. The MC looked very much like him, and I thought that was a nice little throwback. I wondered at the time if his presence didn't signal a sort of return to the Black Lodge, in some sense. Then I remembered that I'm still hot for Trent Reznor and didn't care.
I think I smiled stupidly through the entire Nine Inch Nails performance, and yes, Trent & Co. perform "She's Gone Away," off of the new EP Not the Actual Events from start to finish. It fit rather well and harkened back to the song that played when we were first introduced to Evil Cooper. I thought the lighting was on point, and, well, I just really enjoyed it. Because I went to Goth Prom. Fuck, I miss the nineties.
Evil Cooper sits up. And that's when shit gets weird. And we all know what happens when David Lynch gets weird.
We are transported to White Sands, New Mexico to see the detonation of the first atomic bomb in July 1945. Everything is black and white, and the camera zooms slowly towards the mushroom cloud, which is expanding in slow motion. We are taken inside the cloud, and the trip begins. I have never been to Disney World, but what happens next is what I kind of imagine Splash Mountain probably looks like if you're on acid and Robotussin. The camera pans through fiery explosions, what seem like stars blinking across the screen, orbs (lots of orbs in this episode), and finally a strange, white, alien-like creature not unlike the one that mutilated the ill-fated young lovers in episode one, and it is seen throwing up some manner of cosmic vomit, and inside one of the orbs in the vomit contains an image of BOB.
At the end of this strange trip, we find ourselves back at the purple ocean, at the foot of a mountain, and we are taken inside to see the Giant, or ??????, as he's referred to now, and a lady dressed like Bette Davis or Marlene Dietrich, vampy and ready for a night of cabaret. They appear in black and white, which gives the atmosphere a wonderful feeling of being a silent film.
The Giant goes into another room, built like a theater, where he watches the scenes that the viewers have just seen. He floats up towards the ceiling, and the lady comes walking in behind him. She watches him and seems to be at once scared, relieved, happy - an interesting mix of emotions that I'll come back to below. An orb floats from the Giant's head, and the lady peers into it and sees Laura Palmer's face. She seems incredibly satisfied by this, kisses it, and lets it float to the ceiling, where it goes into this elongated trumpet device and spits out into the film, landing somewhere in North America.
I'll take time here to interject with the run-down and tell you that I have no explanation for this episode generally but for this sequence in particular. I have the sensation that we will understand it at least a little bit better later, but I have felt that way about Lynch before and come back empty-handed. What I can tell you, having read some of the commentary about this episode already, is that it is polarizing. People seem either to regard it as absolute tripe and a betrayal of people that paid hard-earned dollars to see an acid trip on TV, or they regard it as perhaps the most artistic, incredible 41 minutes of TV that perhaps has ever existed. Guess which camp I fall into.
I will not even attempt to rationally evaluate what I saw at this point because I think I need at least two more viewings to have a full cognitive handle on what I saw. Secondly, I have this belief that Lynch is often more interested in eliciting emotional reactions from his audience than anything else, and this certainly succeeded, at least with this viewer. I am not sure that we should necessarily approach this episode as something to be dissected but rather as a commentary that we can know from our feelings about it. With Lynch, there is more truth in emotion than there is in fact, and that seems to be something that most people, including me, struggle with when they view his work.
Starting with NIN's performance, I had a general sense of gladness going into the sequence. That is not because the song is calming or happy or anything of that sort; rather, it is strictly me feeling happy at some callback to my teenage years, and also to Lost Highway in a sense, since that was my first Lynch experience, and I was just starting to get into NIN at that point. Due to a long series of personal events, I have had the sense of looping back around to my earlier years quite a bit lately, and this is not an unwelcome thing.
I think the bomb sequence succeeded for me because my reactions were wholly feeling-based. I was very much awed by the visual onslaught Lynch created for us, and I was truly left with the feeling of being on a primordial, drug-induced trip that showed me the ultimate expression of evil and annihilation in the world. Whether or not you want to relate this symbology to BOB being "the evil that men do" personified is another matter. The point I'm trying to get across here is that I was left with that sense of rage, despair, awe, and hopelessness as the camera weaved through the fire, clouds, webs, and stars.
The scene staring at the gas station, with all of the woodsmen (the vagrant, homeless-looking demon guys) coming and going in disjointed motion, in combination with smoke and the usual explosive lights, was unsettling. It was like waiting for another murder at the Bates Motel that we never actually witnessed - or not at that juncture, leastways. They move a lot like the blind woman seen previously, giving that sense of being somehow out of sequence with time as we know it.
The part with the giant, where the orange energy and the orb flow from his head, brought me to tears, and I still have no idea why. There was something deeply sad about it and yet oddly uplifting. I think I felt as though perhaps he had died, and that was a loss somehow, even though it is unclear what the Giant's function truly is, beyond giving cryptic messages to Coop.
I always watch Twin Peaks alone because, frankly, I haven't anyone else to watch it with me, and this generally never bothers me, but it did tonight. I wasn't bothered in the sense that I was frightened, but I was bothered because I found this episode to be deeply profound and wonderfully artistic in a way that nothing else I have ever witnessed on TV has been. I feel as though I have had the privilege of seeing and experiencing something fantastic, even in its potential awfulness, and not having someone to share that experience with saddened me a little bit. I find great truth and beauty in Lynch's work, and I enjoy and appreciate art of all kinds, although it is rare that it moves me to that extent. I like to be able to share that experience when it does.
The episode ended with a frog-roach thing coming out of the desert and a bunch of woodsmen appearing to terrorize a small town in New Mexico. The head woodsman, who was credited as "woodsman" and apparently plays Abraham Lincoln on the side - no, for real, he does - walked around asking people, "Gotta light?" for his cigarette. The couple in the car escaped, but the DJ and secretary at the local radio station weren't quite so lucky. Reznor's lyric, "You dig in places till your fingers bleed" suddenly makes more sense.
The woodsman commandeers the airwaves and begins repeating, over and over again, "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 whole town falls into a sleepy trance, and the frog-roach thing that crawls out of the desert crawls into the mouth of the young previously seen kissing her boyfriend.
I don't know what purpose the little lyric serves, although I suspect that the white eye reference refers to the woodsmen not having much visible aside from the whites of their eyes. I will say his voice creeped me out quite a bit, and I find the woodsmen to be one of the scariest elements in the Twin Peaks universe. Who are they? Demons? "Dead" doppelgängers? I can see why perhaps Lynch calls them "woodsmen," if he is harkening back to the old English superstition about the woodhouse.
The credits roll to the sounds of a horse running and the angelic vision of the girl that now plays host to a frog-roach creature. Birth of BOB? Birth of Laura? I thought maybe this girl could be Sarah Palmer, since the age would be about right, but who knows. I think some elements of the episode will be explained, but I have no doubt that we'll be left wondering about others. Lynch is notorious for playing it cagey with the meanings of his work.
A lot of people seem to find this really irritating about David Lynch, but it's actually one of the things I like best about him. He respects his audience enough to give them two journeys: the artistic, emotional journey and the search for meaning. I have gone so far, searching for meaning in Twin Peaks, that I ended up on a major soul quest and came out on the other side with my perspective and beliefs utterly altered and for the better.
I actually sent David Lynch a thank you letter for being the instigator of said quest, not because I care about flattering someone that no doubt gets plenty of it or because I'm actually a psycho fangirl but because I genuinely felt gratitude and wanted to express it. I think there is a dire need for gratitude in this world, and I think it is a worthwhile endeavor to express it when you feel it. I also think people enjoy getting snail mail, and I try to send out cards and letters once in a while.
In any case, I know there are already people out on the internet saying that tonight's Twin Peaks was a total wash - a betrayal of the fans, an exercise in self-indulgence of the worst sort, a cockamamie mishmash of visual images that don't mean anything, and a useless meandering through a world without meaning. There is the other half that says it was like tripping the light fantastic, and I am in the latter group, quite clearly.
If you don't understand or like David Lynch, that's fine. I get it. That said, I feel the same way about loving David Lynch as I do about loving indie bands, which is to say that I generally have more respect for people that listen to artistic music because I can usually infer that I have more in common with them and that they are probably more intelligent than average. I make no commentary on my own IQ by the way, but I definitely prefer to hang around people that are smarter than me because I like the challenge. My honest opinion is that if you didn't like this episode, you probably aren't that creative or intelligent, and we probably wouldn't be friends. And that's fine. There are plenty of seasons of Big Bang Theory for you to watch.
Edit #1, 6/26/17: I just went back and re-watched for the first time. I think I was wrong about the credit sound being the hoofbeats of a horse. I turned up the volume, and I think it's just radio static. I have terrible hearing, frankly, and this may not be correct.
The orange light and the orb pouring forth from the Giant's head made me teary again. The look on the face of the cabaret lady is arresting, and I love it. I am coming under the impression that this iteration of the Giant is perhaps symbolic of God - does "??????" stand for "YAHWEH"? - sending forth a Jesus-like figure into the world to redeem man for the original sin of creating his own annihilation? I like this theory and suspect I will explore it further in my own mind in the days to come. Lynch is superlatively good at working religious themes into his work without too many people noticing, or at least that is my opinion.
I have also confirmed in my mind that the "starry" portion of the atomic bomb sequence is more buggy than anything else. It looks like a swarm of flying insects - bees, perhaps - in a container. I think it more likely that they are flies, as flies are a fairly well known symbol of evil. There is another, shorter clip featuring what appears like small white things with black eyes moving around, and I wonder if they aren't supposed to be maggots.
I like all of these assessments thus far, but I try not to get too attached to my own theories with anything David Lynch does. I could be completely and utterly off-base and attaching meaning where none exists.
And Trent Reznor is still hot.