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THE RETURN Making Sense of It

WorldFarAway

RR Diner
Apr 12, 2022
29
81
This is a thread for looking at both the donut and the hole, the forest and the trees. For some, season 3 is just a Lynchian sketch show, a vessel for random ideas the creators have had over the years. For others, every frame is part of a puzzle to be solved. Is it about the bunny?

I suppose we could just call this a theories and speculation thread, but I’m specifically thinking about how particular scenes and stories fit into the overall creative vision. Why is Dougie’s ring in Major Briggs’s body? Why does Diane see herself outside the motel? What is the significance of the glass box? These questions might have been discussed to death on a plot level but it might be fun to talk about how they contribute to the atmosphere and themes of the series.
 

WorldFarAway

RR Diner
Apr 12, 2022
29
81
This thread is largely an excuse to share my thoughts on William Hastings as a reflection of Leland Palmer which I’ve just posted elsewhere. I have always been critical of analysis which veers too far towards conspiracy theory, and I think of all my views on the show this is the one that leans closest in that direction. I’d therefore be very grateful for honest thoughts on whether I’ve gone too far out on a limb here.

After Parts 1 and 2 of The Return aired there was a lot of talk about Principal Hastings as a new Leland Palmer figure, perhaps possessed by an inhabiting spirit rather like BOB. It is possible to just see this as the result of people trying desperately to understand season 3 through the framework of the old show rather than as its own beast, but I think there is something to the comparison. Once again we appeared to have a seemingly ordinary and respectable man claiming ignorance of his terrible actions, potentially subject to forces beyond his control. Yet this thread is largely forgotten about for 6 episodes, only to be reintroduced in a very different fashion in Part 9. I remember a certain amount of frustration is this low-key hour following the abstract spectacle of Part 8, and the Hastings story was certainly a part of that. Matthew Lillard's monologue was largely praised, but some were concerned with how an evocative and classically Lynchian situation seemed to have been eclipsed by a Frostian info-dump involving conspiracies and alternate dimensions.

I think there may be a kind of subtext throughout this plot which has largely gone undiscussed however. It is true that Part 2 channels the depiction of Leland in episode 14 and Fire Walk With Me. Hastings's insistence that he was in Ruth's apartment but only in a dream is incredibly eerie, and is suggestive of the kind of ambiguity that Lynch excels at. Is this man genuinely possessed by something he can't control, or is his "dream" some kind of dissociative state? It's the same kind of tension you get in Maddie's death scene, where Leland and BOB seem to be acting as partners in the brutal act, suggesting a complicity or even suppressed responsibility which Lynch continued to explore in the prequel. Before Fire Walk With Me came episode 16 however, and I think we see crucial parallels of that instalment in Part 9. Consider how much broader Ray Wise's performance becomes under Tim Hunter's direction, how the case for straightforward demonic possession becomes almost inarguable. The delineation between Leland and BOB is clear, as the former cries for his daughter and the latter howls like an animal and proclaims his innocent host "a good vessel". Matthew Lillard's emotional monologue can be seen as an echo of Leland's dying speech, and the incidents he relays are similar in how they largely jettison dreamy resonance for a kind of overt supernatural intrigue. Season 3 almost seems to be parodying how episode 16 handled Lynch's ideas, as something murky and ambiguous is replaced by lore involving an alternate reality, a floating major, and hordes of mysterious men.

For all my criticisms of episode 16, it is worth noting that there are a couple of moments which gesture toward the more complicated territory which Lynch would return to in Fire Walk With Me - most obviously there's the line about evil that men do, but there's also Leland's story about how he had a dream of BOB as a boy and allowed the spirit inside of him. I think the episode's execution make it hard to really believe the implications of these moments, but they are there nonetheless. Similarly, there's something haunting about Hastings's recollection of the men asking "What's your wife's name?" Even ignoring the similarity to the Mystery Man's "And what the fuck is your name?" in Lost Highway, it's interesting how the line seems to point to a more banal reality than the rest of his story. As Leland might simply be finding excuses for the rape of his daughter, is it possible that Hastings has created this "tall tale" as a way of avoiding the guilt of infidelity, a guilt which may have also manifested itself through murder? In both cases there are troubling implications, but only if you choose to look at them. And as with Leland, Hasting is unceremoniously dispatched from the story as soon as possible - "He's dead!" The nature of the conclusion is so abrupt that it almost feels as though the narrative is collapsing under the weight of the character's long-winded excuses, or out of fear that some kind of repressed truth is about to be revealed.

I'm not saying that Lynch necessarily deliberately attempted to comment on how Leland's guilt was handled in the original show, but I think he drew from how that story transpired. What may have largely been a result of the writers' desire to make Leland's actions as palatable as possible before swiftly moving on became a story about how people lie to themselves, and everyone around them make excuses because the reality is too uncomfortable and painful to bear. The portrayal of Hastings conveys this idea in an absurdist, whiplash-inducing way, both emphasising the way Leland was treated and perhaps preparing us for the reality of who Cooper has become. BOB killed Laura, Ruth was decapitated by a portal, Diane and Audrey were raped by "Mr C" - perhaps these are all the same kinds of fantasy.
 

AXX°N N.

Great Northern Hotel
Apr 14, 2022
55
125
BOB killed Laura, Ruth was decapitated by a portal, Diane and Audrey were raped by "Mr C" - perhaps these are all the same kinds of fantasy.
This is a wonderfully evocative closer, and I don't think your thesis is off-base whatsoever.
It is possible to just see this as the result of people trying desperately to understand season 3 through the framework of the old show rather than as its own beast, but I think there is something to the comparison.
Season 3 is radically different and obstinately so aesthetically, but I'm not convinced it's very much different at all from the old show in a plot-sense. In fact, from my POV the mythos, themes and philosophy of the show seem inextricably wed to what's been set up already. When Lynch & Frost discussed in interviews how it was they were able to return for a new installment, they described it as "finding a way back in," and I think that language alludes to the idea that the TP world is a set of ingredients and, one could even say, rules.

For instance, to apply some of what your post is getting at to Frost's contributions, much of what TSHOTP and TFD change is consistent in purpose and theme. The endlessly convoluted soap-opera fashion Annie, Norma & Vivian's backstory is altered introduces an unreliable narrator quality to how characters historically presented information in the show itself, changing the context to be a layered and complicated lie. Josie's backstory, in being fleshed-out at length, broadens what was already a known lie, but also makes some truth-presenting reveals themselves lies. Ben's heel-turn to goodness turns out to be a lying prelude to an actual heel-turn, the motivations for why Audrey chains herself to the bank-vault also changed into a lie. As for the books themselves, the previous installments are implied to have been redacted and altered physically, making them in-universe artifacts of truth-tampering. Many frame the spinoff books as inessential or the Frost books specifically as mere re-write happy irrelevancies of indirect themes, and that's anyone's valid prerogative, but taken altogether the overwhelming thematic focus of the TP franchise is lies & fantasy & nostalgia, and to an extremely fundamental extent.

Here's potentially inflammatory food for thought: I've read many take issue with the Naido/Diane reveal in the context of political correctness; that transforming a faceless Japanese actor into a previously established white character is some kind of distasteful erasure or prevention of a significant character being non-white. I'd argue that this is a conclusion only possible with poor faith, and that there are alternatives that make far more thematic sense if we give L/F benefit of the doubt. After all, this scene is a case of your thesis topic; Cooper sees faceless skin and seemingly unearths (manifests? projects? grafts?) a face onto it that neatly (suspiciously and absurdly so) starts to tie everything together, right after an evil is supposedly felled in the most Campbellian manner. Without this reveal, we'd have been left with a Japanese body disfigured in an absurd, grotesque, debased fashion, electrocuted and flung from some of the most abstract liminal spaces of the series, a series whose newest iconic image is the testing of the atomic bomb the government Cooper works for would later drop on Japan. Our heroes, despite atrocities the series itself alludes to, are all government agents who embody wholesomeness. One of the only significant characters of color is a prostitute (a long-standing trope many a lamenting essay have protested), the other a (somewhat subverted) trope of the Native American spirit guide. In fact, now that I think about it, the Minority Spirit Guide trope is as deeply embedded in TR as in western media historically: every helper character involved in Cooper making it to his suburban fantasy home as Dougie is a physical or racial minority: the Fireman & the One-Armed Man, Naido & Jade. And going from cultural offenses to sex (glossing over mere blood and guts violence entirely, which is self-evident): our beloved character Audrey is revealed to have been raped by a version of our beloved hero Cooper, but this extreme affront of expectation and investment isn't resolved within the plot and, of all things, instead left dangling. Diane, another raped female, is later the participant in a dark, dismal sex scene the narrative logic presents as necessary and good.

By the end of the season there are mounting contradictions, a pile of females wronged both physically and through metaphysics, and a quite strict focus on an extremely homogeneous 50s cultural and ethnic makeup despite taking place in modern day. I find it strangely perfect that when Cooper finally emerges after many years having gone by in the real world, his first interaction is with an absurdly coded character: a prostitute who exudes a kind of 50s nicety and helpfulness. When presented as unknowing, L/F are out of touch in some extremely egregious way. But the consistency to it is so specific I find it far more likely that they're intentional aspects of a frame of mind that TP is trying to embody and juxtapose. TV stock characters and genres are themselves lies and fantasies the culture breathes onto TV screens, the same way the series now implies someone does so for the TP universe.
 
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WorldFarAway

RR Diner
Apr 12, 2022
29
81
This is a wonderfully evocative closer, and I don't think your thesis is off-base whatsoever.
Glad it made some kind of sense. If I ever get round to writing a full essay on season 3, my clickbait headline will be ‘How Dale Cooper became Leland Palmer’.

Your thoughts on how Lynch and Frost portray minority groups is fascinating, and your description of “mounting contradictions, a pile of females wronged both physically and through metaphysics” rings particularly true. I’ve always disliked how so many people seem to dismiss Naido as a problematic element and move on when there is clearly something more interesting going on there. I don’t think I’d ever thought about Dougie’s assorted helpers in the terms you suggest, but will definitely be keeping your interpretation in mind on my next rewatch.
 
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AXX°N N.

Great Northern Hotel
Apr 14, 2022
55
125
I don’t think I’d ever thought about Dougie’s assorted helpers in the terms you suggest, but will definitely be keeping your interpretation in mind on my next rewatch.
It's not an iron-clad thesis, as there are exceptions in Bill Shaker, the casino staff and the limo driver, although they're pretty passive figures as the One-Armed Man leads Cooper. It's also worth noting that the most recognizable Spirit Guide-esque character is the Log Lady, and that in S3 she's mostly spirit-guiding Hawk, who himself has played a more secular version of that role, whereas she's full-blown mystic. There's contrast and subversion there if what you're keeping an eye out for is ethnic tropes. What I am certain about is these ingredients are played many different ways, straight or juxtaposed, and though some might find instances regrettable they're right in recognizing them because their existence seems a key part of the blueprint.
 
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Vedic

Sparkwood & 21
Apr 19, 2022
13
27
Thanks for this - I've suddenly realised that while I've thought about many characters with far less screen time, beyond the events which occur with regards to Bill Hastings, I've had virtually no thoughts about him. Indeed, even now it's mainly a blankness and even amnesia, much like the character himself.
 

LateReg

RR Diner
Apr 12, 2022
25
68
Glad it made some kind of sense. If I ever get round to writing a full essay on season 3, my clickbait headline will be ‘How Dale Cooper became Leland Palmer’.

Your thoughts on how Lynch and Frost portray minority groups is fascinating, and your description of “mounting contradictions, a pile of females wronged both physically and through metaphysics” rings particularly true. I’ve always disliked how so many people seem to dismiss Naido as a problematic element and move on when there is clearly something more interesting going on there. I don’t think I’d ever thought about Dougie’s assorted helpers in the terms you suggest, but will definitely be keeping your interpretation in mind on my next rewatch.
Thank you so much for this thread and the lengthy posts you've both made! Both offer new ideas, or at least fleshed out versions of things that we barely discuss.

I have nothing of substance to add, other than that I agree, and especially like the conclusion of WorldFarAway. And the perhaps obvious, overly general thought that, in regards to Axxon's post, I think that political-correctness as a means of analysis is often the least thoughtful and stifling approach you can take, and I think it is an especially insulting, shortsighted approach to analyzing Twin Peaks. Thank you for the extra-thoughtful posts.
 

WorldFarAway

RR Diner
Apr 12, 2022
29
81
Another question to keep the thread going: why does the show reveal that Janey-E and Diane are half sisters? It’s mentioned in Part 14, but never becomes directly relevant to the narrative after that point. Some might even say it’s forgotten about.

My feeling is that it’s a way of emphasising Cooper’s connection to Dougie, and ultimately to Mr C. All the wacky antics in Vegas might seem to take place in a world of their own, but Diane’s relationship with Janey E allows us to imagine a more mundane reality in which Cooper is introduced to his secretary’s sibling, potentially settling down with her and becoming a very different kind of agent. The fact that the sisters are estranged also invites us to consider how Mr C’s actions play into all this. Janey-E’s marriage to the man who assaulted Diane could be the reason they are no longer on speaking terms.

The ring inside of Major Briggs’s body can therefore be seen as a kind of metaphor. We have this bizarre and grotesque image of a man’s mysteriously decapitated corpse, but hidden within it is a ring inscribed with a message of love from a wife to her husband. As with Hastings’s story, there is an emotional reality beneath the layers of supernatural mythos, and in this case it ties Dougie, Cooper and Mr C back together.
 
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Metalane

RR Diner
Jul 16, 2022
39
40
As with Hastings’s story, there is an emotional reality beneath the layers of supernatural mythos, and in this case it ties Dougie, Cooper and Mr C back together
Yes, the dynamics between mystery, emotional realism and continuity, and pragmatics are key in Lynch's body of work. It is partially what makes the experience so abstract and subjective, while being able to maintain the broad audience the show attracts.

It's why one could watch the William Hastings scene in Part 9 and laugh out loud, but another may feel empathetic and cry with him.
 
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