5 Dec 2017

no.6// Manufacturing Narrativity in Twin Peaks 3

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

Early on in the original season of Twin Peaks, Agent Cooper learns the identity of Laura’s killer in a dream. On awakening, he immediately phones Sheriff Truman to inform him of this knowledge, but tells him that the disclosure of the killer ‘can wait until morning’. Unfortunately for Cooper (but luckily for the audience), by the next morning he has forgotten the killer’s identity completely. Thus, three episodes into the show, the alien logic of the Black Lodge comes perilously close to undermining the show’s constitutive mystery—betraying Laura’s secret without this revelation having been earned by either Cooper or the audience—and thus scuppering its narrative trajectory. In the event though, narrativity is saved by Cooper’s forgetfulness, and the mystery is only intensified.

Let’s compare this moment to the relationship developed between Cooper and the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks 3, which I can only describe as an inversion or parody of that iconic dream sequence. Rather than an unpredictable fount of gnomic clues, threatening the integrity of what should be a conventional murder mystery narrative, the Black Lodge (and Mike, its custodian) appears to be one of the last sources of narrative momentum in the Twin Peaks universe: a final bulwark against total stasis.

Twin Peaks 3 is a post-narrative text, but the nature of this post-narrativity is clearest when we consider the extent to which narrative is forced into the world from some external location. Thus, Dougie/Cooper must be forcibly pushed through his environment via the laborious intervention of Mike, who functions like the inducting guide in the tutorial level of a video game (Navi the fairy in Ocarina of Time, for example). The more we watch Cooper blithely dodge death, simply by following the magic dots left for him by Mike, the more we get the sense that he is effectively impervious to narrative. For the audience, the resulting experience is one of directionality without causality; like Cooper, the viewer is left in a dissociative state, with the Black Lodge papering over the gaps where genre conventions and narrative expectations should be. (The dissociation of cause and effect was already one of the key motifs identified by Michel Chion in his monograph on the director, back in 1995.)

This dynamic isn’t exclusive to the Las Vegas ‘storyline’; quite the contrary, we can see it at work in almost all the threads that constitute Twin Peaks 3’s loose weave. I’ve already written about the arbitrariness with which the Log Lady’s log sets the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department to work: ‘Something is missing and you have to find it’. Hawk and co. would be at a complete loss without the Log Lady’s interventions (and later, the precise instructions of Major Briggs from beyond the grave). They don’t know what they’re looking for or why, but it doesn’t really matter; all they have to do is do what they’re told.

The body of Major Briggs could similarly be read as a kind of unnecessary, awkward insertion of the past into the present. It forces some kind of reaction, but is unable to initiate a proper murder mystery. It closes off questions of human agency—of hidden motivations, collusion and subterfuge—and replaces them with a magic vortex that fires out plot elements at random (just like the alien objects that we wait to materialise in the glass box in New York).

Watching a box, waiting for something to happen

As for the evil Cooper—probably our best bet for a character with agency, motivation and an actual plot trajectory—it's worth reflecting upon what his motivation is actually supposed to be. By evading his destiny and sending Dougie Jones to the Black Lodge in his place, he performs one of perhaps only three sovereign acts in the whole series (the others being Nadine Hurley’s ‘setting Ed free’, and Cooper’s final act of hubris). From there, the evil Cooper is established as a Terminator-style unstoppable killing machine and we can recognise his drive to murder his good (and apparently invincible) doppelgänger as a legitimate goal. Yet this goal is constantly obscured by another set of motivations that never really crystallise: coordinates, Philip Jeffries, Judy… Does he even know what he’s hunting for? ‘Something is missing and you have to find it.’

The final example of this manufactured narrativity is also the most ridiculous. I am, of course, referring to the character of Freddie, a walking parody of pre-destination and dei ex machina, whose storyline could have been pinched from M. Night Shyamalan’s famously derided (but actually compellingly subversive) The Lady in the Water. The ineluctability with which this plucky cockney is led—via the spirits of the White Lodge—to his final showdown with über-demon BOB only shows how little Lynch and Frost are invested in this once-fearsome Big Bad. BOB, the incarnation of human evil, is dispatched in a matter of minutes by a magic gardening glove. Freddie himself is both fungible and disposable; he is merely the unwitting tool of the godlike Fireman in the White Lodge. Thus, it doesn’t take much digging to uncover the agential forces at work in this series: the evil Cooper’s sovereign act of treachery automatically sets in motion the external mechanisms of the Black Lodge (protecting Cooper), the Log Lady’s log (rescuing Naido/Diane), and the White Lodge (destroying BOB), whose efficacy is never really in question.

The fact that this ‘final battle’ between the Cooper doppelgängers turns out to be such an anti-climax—and that it occurs halfway through the penultimate episode, a curious echo of the original mystery’s ‘premature’ conclusion perhaps—merely confirms that, along with all the other storylines in the show, it was ultimately a red herring. Indeed, in Twin Peaks 3, narrativity itself is a red herring (or perhaps I should say: it’s a tulpa). To find the real meat, we have to look elsewhere.