30 Nov 2017

no.3// The Gentrification of Twin Peaks

This is one of my ten short essays about Twin Peaks Season 3. Click this link to read my introduction to the series.

The seventh episode of Twin Peaks 3 ends with a long, static shot of the Double R Diner. The place is buzzing, full of customers. We watch Shelly and Heidi serve them, as they have presumably been doing, day in day out, for the 25 years since we saw them last. We don’t know who these people are. We can’t catch their conversations. All we can do is sit in the corner and watch.

This significant scene—and, to a lesser extent, analogous shots in Big Ed’s garage and the Roadhouse after hours—encapsulates one of the key effects of the rupture in time on which the show is constructed: the gentrification of Twin Peaks. As I wrote in the previous post, Twin Peaks (and Twin Peaks, the franchise) has been set adrift within a wider world, its inside and its outside both subsumed within the amorphous sprawl of Lynch’s USA. But the world has also entered Twin Peaks. Just look at the crowd of faceless hipsters congregating at the Roadhouse for its nightly Angelo Badalamenti tribute hour. Who are these people? We are teased with names, faces, snatches of dialogue, fragments of lives filled with drama and intrigue, but we are never allowed to know these people.

(“Has anyone seen Billy?” No. And we never will.)

By ‘gentrification’, I am referring here to the creeping sense that the viewer no longer has any ownership over the town and its inhabitants (nor, indeed, over the series as a whole). The original pilot gave us a strong sense of the town’s geography, its demographics, its local economy, its municipal politics; all of this is missing from the new season. In anticipation of its first episode, we’re filled with speculation as to the whereabouts of all our favourite characters. We’re eager to reinvest in the lives of these old friends. We’re tormented by what we don’t know: Shelly and Bobby’s history, Harry Truman’s situation, Donna’s absence, Annie’s absence, and most of all, Audrey’s whereabouts. Very soon though, we come to realize that all we can hope for is a glimpse, a rumour, to give us some impression of the shape of those missing 25 years that we’ll never get back.

Moreover, the original cast has receded to the margins of Twin Peaks’ civic life, and they’ve taken the audience with them. As it turns out, we have grown old with these characters (or have they grown old with us), and we find ourselves together on one side of what feels like a stark generational divide. We are given very little access to the lives of the younger generation that has taken the original cast’s place. From the gossip we occasionally overhear among the younger characters, we can try to piece together a conventionally dramatic narrative, unfurling just out of sight. We might even imagine a parallel/hypothetical Twin Peaks 3—a new series with as much drama and intrigue as the original—centred on this new and inaccessible generation, running its course somewhere nearby. Billy, Chuck, Tina: this tantalising but ultimately elusive configuration of names might remind Julee Cruise fans of the chilling ‘Kool Kat Walk’ from The Voice of Love:
Julee called Betsy
Betsy called Susan
Susan had Kool Kat in her house
Young adulthood and contemporary Western narrativity are indelibly interlinked; we might even argue that they are constructed in relation to one another. As a result, the unique maturity of the Twin Peaks 3 cast can be understood as integral to the show’s organic subversion of conventional narrativity. By remaining with these older characters, we rediscover the town via the routines of later life, deeply entrenched through repetition, with motivation and desire replaced by the comforts of familiarity.

Some of these characters now exist solely on the margins of the community: Jerry Horne and Dr Jacoby are good examples. They bring a comedic banality to our perspective on the Twin Peaks survivors, which softens what we might otherwise have read as the enduring trauma of this last generation to remember Laura’s death. Indeed, the relative absence of any such discernible trauma or memorialisation only further distances the viewer from the contemporary life of the town (we loved it best as a crime scene and its inhabitants as suspects), and makes the season’s finale all the more bitter to the taste.

Who's Laura Palmer?

The audience’s sense of alienation is compounded by the lack of a protagonist to lead us through the town. In the original series, we had Cooper, Sheriff Truman, Donna, James and Audrey (and, in the film, Laura), all of whom were engaged in mystery solving. In the company of these characters, the viewer was invited to discover the town and its inhabitants from an inquisitive, sceptical perspective that overwrote any pre-existing routines. The whole town was a suspect to be interrogated. Cooper and Truman could go anywhere and talk to anyone. In Twin Peaks 3, we simply don't have that option. We have no one to ask questions for us, and even if there were, we wouldn’t really know what to ask.

And what of the new younger characters? In comparison to the archetypal protagonists of the ‘timeless’ original—the bikers and prom queens and football-playing bullies—we are given a far more unnerving, far less picturesque ensemble. Their lives are intense, unhappy, seemingly without illusion. The distance between Richard Horne and Bobby Briggs is a good illustration of the distance between the new and the old Twin Peaks. The lives of these young people clearly demonstrate that Twin Peaks is no longer a ‘double town’: day and night, White Lodge and Black Lodge, good Laura and bad Laura. Their violence and despair is sunlit, plain for all to see. It isn’t hidden beneath a mask or veneer, and yet it is still tolerated or ignored because there is no other option. There is no one left to save them, because all saviours are doomed in Twin Peaks.

Here, we can see Lynch following broader tendencies in the cinematic representation of violence, moving from the lurid cartoonish spectacle of the ’90s to the ‘shockingly’ matter-of-fact and banal violence of the 2010s. But it isn’t just the violence; everything about the town is more muted now, more mundane, less extraordinary. Several of the characters have noticeably matured, shedding the comic broadness of their earlier character types to settle into an everyday existence, the most notable examples being Bobby Briggs, Ben Horne and Nadine Hurley. The spell over the forests around Twin Peaks has also been lifted. No longer a nocturnal setting in which shadowy figures crouch and where every log cabin is stained with blood, the forest is now a rather neutral realm: the backdrop to Dr Jacoby and Jerry Horne’s bathetic antics, as well as the place where Bobby used to play as a child.

Let us return to our booth in the corner of the Double R Diner, looking out at the cheerful strangers. The locations in Twin Peaks used to be compared to Edward Hopper paintings. This Hopperesque ‘aura’ is now all gone. The famous diner in Nighthawks vibrates with intrigue and narrative potential, just as the Double R used to ring with the otherwordly vibrations of ‘Audrey’s Dance’. Don’t these people know where they are? Don’t they know about that jukebox? About that cherry pie?

As we later learn, this is only one of several Double R Diners now. Norma has established a successful franchise, even though the other branches are cutting costs and compromising quality, especially when it comes to the pie. While this minor storyline is clearly loaded with meta-significance on the part of the show’s creators, its meaning remaining ambiguous. It is true that we don’t feel at home here anymore, we’ve lost our sense of ownership, but what was that aura that has since disappeared? Was it not the glamour bestowed by the body of a beautiful dead girl?

This shot of the diner, and the other long, Haneke-esque shots that pepper Twin Peaks 3, circumscribe the original season as ‘exceptional time’, standing outside of everyday life in the wake of the interruption that a murder produces. There is no glamorous murder in this new Twin Peaks, nothing to produce that electric state of exception by which a small town’s population is made to cohere into dramatis personae. There is only the sad dignity and routine violence of everyday life.