Atomic Bob, Drink Full and Descend: Twin Peaks episode 8
The other day, I resolved to only post Twin Peaks reviews if I really, truly had something to say about the episode. I don’t like the idea of recapping or reviewing becoming an obligation, and while I will always have thoughts about any given hour of Twin Peaks, I figured I’d wait a couple weeks between posts, to let the well (ahem) refill. Then episode 8 happened.
What fools these mortals be!
It’s going to be very easy to devolve into superlatives here. They’re popping out of my brain at an unstoppable rate. “Best hour in the history of television!” “Most challenging thing to ever grace the small screen!” “Brings cinematic art at its highest to the cable storytelling format!” “We should resume child sacrifices in honor of David Lynch, who is clearly a god!!!” But I’m going to do my best to restrain myself, because there’s enough of this talk already happening in all directions.
For what it’s worth, I do think this is not only a groundbreaking hour of TV, but also one of the most beautiful, disturbing, and haunting things David Lynch has filmed in his varied career. I simply cannot stop thinking about it. However, it’s hard for me to be objective, because this episode is essentially a cavalcade of my lifelong interests and obsessions: the 50s, the atom bomb, aliens, creation myths, the Platters, Nine Inch Nails, Eraserhead, curvy women from the Golden Age . . . I am hardwired to love this episode of Twin Peaks. (It’s almost frustrating, as parts of the hour play like a story I’ve been writing for many years and now I’ll have to hear “you stole that from David Lynch!” But I’ll try to take this as encouragement and not a deterrent).
Yet it’s also worth acknowledging that this is an incredibly difficult episode, and not everyone (not even all Twin Peaks fans) will enjoy it. Anything this experimental and oblique can prove alienating or just flat out annoying, and I think it’s unfair to dismiss those who found themselves lost, overwhelmed, or even bored. This show is called Twin Peaks but so far it’s not like the Twin Peaks we remember, and it’s a legitimate observation to say that, at times, this might as well not even be Twin Peaks at all. Even for those accustomed to the very different tone of the new series, not everybody wants to tune in to see the Twin Peaks equivalent of Lucifer Rising, and that’s totally fair. I just can’t carry the attitude of “Didn’t like it? Well you’re in David Lynch Genius Territory now so it’s time to put on your big boy pants, crybaby,” as much as I personally found the episode to be profound. No need to be a Lynch Bro, which is quickly becoming the TP fandom equivalent of Deputy Chad.
For me, this episode is so full of joy and terror and was such an unbelievable experience that it seems pointless to tear someone else down for not liking it. My experience doesn’t have to be anybody else’s experience. “You got your good things, and I got mine,” as the Lady in the Radiator once sang. I’d rather just focus on what I took from this incredibly strange, loaded hour of television. So let’s do that.
As abstract and open to interpretation as this episode could be at times, its basic plot is pretty much out of a 50s sci-fi movie, and I think the main points are fairly clear. My own breakdown is as follows:
The detonation of the first atomic bomb opened a rift in the spacetime continuum, allowing malevolent forces into our world at a level that has never happened before. Even more than the physical explosion, this represents a spiritual pollution, humanity’s darkest potential now realized. The seeds for Bob and other things of his ilk are thusly planted by Mother, who is the glass box monster. She vomits forth darkness, and the Woodsmen are subsequently unleashed, conducting strange rituals in a deserted convenience store. Meanwhile, the Giant is a godlike/alien being tasked with watching us from his world, a lighthouse keeper waiting for this exact development when humanity upsets the balance. In response, he conjures a part of his essence and sends it to Earth to one day become Laura, a light to combat the darkness. Back in the desert, one of Mother’s corrupt seeds spawns a grotesque amphibian-reptilian-insect mutation, and the Woodsmen begin wreaking havoc to help that seed grow.
The whole thing plays like some bizarre blendered combination of The Tree of Life, The Little Prince, and It Came From Outer Space, or maybe The X Files by way of 2001, filtered through the mythology of Twin Peaks. And a hefty dose of mythology this was. What we’re seeing here is essentially a creation story, but in this case it’s the creation of the crack both in our reality and in the soul of modern humanity. The unnamed Boy and Girl, 50s teenage archetypes of innocence, are almost the Adam and Eve in this scenario, and when she slips into a trance and allows the disgusting frogbug creature into her, we’re witnessing a fall from grace, a corruption of innocence.
Lynch isn’t new to creation stories. Eraserhead opens with what is arguably a soul being incarnated and born into the physical world, and Inland Empire begins with the light from a projector cutting through a dark void and then spawning the multiverse of someone’s consciousness. Lynch is very attuned to cosmic ideas of birth, death, and the beyond. But this sequence in Twin Peaks is unlike anything he’s created before, a combination of his predilection for abstract imagery/sounds mixed with what feels like an extremely nightmarish historical film.
Regarding the mythology, this hour deeply expands what we know about the universe of Twin Peaks. I should clarify that I’m not saying this is the creation of the Lodges, or of their gateways (Glastonbury Grove and Owl Cave have an ancient aura), or of the light and darkness which the Lodges represent; those aspects seem to be based in primal forces that have always meddled in the world and in human hearts. But what I do think is happening here is that these forces have been unleashed in a way that wasn’t possible in the past.
It’s not entirely clear if this is the moment when Bob is born, or if he already existed in some fashion before. (Just as it’s not clear if the bomb itself opened this door by splitting the atom, or if what the bomb means opened the door, or both). But either way, tying Bob to the detonation of the first atomic bomb makes total thematic sense. One aspect of Bob that has always been present is that he represents the darkness that mankind refuses to believe itself capable . . . that repressed animalism, the beast that only gets stronger the more its existence is denied. (Or, as Albert so succinctly put it, “the evil that men do”). What better representation of that than the human race creating the ability to wipe itself out? Bob’s obsession with flames works perfectly here, as nuclear fire is that intensity on the grandest scale imaginable.
Then we have the Woodsmen. I hadn’t put together that the coal-streaked specters haunting Buckhorn were connected to the Woodsmen first introduced in Fire Walk With Me, but apparently they are one and the same. And there’s a lot more of them than we first thought. I’m not sure why these Woodsmen have a scorched appearance versus what we saw in the movie, though I’m assuming it has to do with the recurring notion of fire and burning.
As mentioned before, we see them congregating in the convenience store, which is possibly the same place that Mike described on the series, and that we saw in FWWM. (It’s true that Jeffries implies the store was in Seattle, but given the insanity currently emanating from this show, this is the least of our problems). This sequence, edited in a violently choppy style meant to evoke time and space breaking down, could easily be titled David Lynch Doesn’t Give A Fuck About Your Migraine, but it’s not the last we see of these figures.
Apparently the Woodsmen protect and assist both Bob and Bob’s host in some fashion, given that they appear to resurrect Mr. C after he’s shot. And back in the 50s, the Woodsmen start descending out of thin air the moment the frogbug egg hatches. A particularly terrifying Abraham Lincoln-looking Woodsman sees fit to visit a radio station, as if he’s a moth attracted to the electricity, which fits with what’s been previously revealed about the Lodge beings. He proceeds to kill the employees and recite a terrifying poem over the air: “This is the water, and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within.” Filmed like an alien invasion B-movie, this entire scene is chilling and unforgettable. There’s a tactility that accompanies the Woodsman’s presence, all greasy and thick and charred, and it adds to the discomfort, as does the image of the frogbug crawling into the young girl’s mouth.
But despite all the darkness, this episode has quite a bit of light as well. The sequence of the Giant as he creates Laura — seemingly dreaming her into being, golden radiance cascading out of his head as he floats mid-air — is some of Lynch’s most gorgeous work. In fact, Peter Deming’s black and white photography is particularly stunning in this scene, and he deserves some serious recognition. This wonderful moment is a perfect contrast to the horror of the detonation sequence, and acts as a reminder of the sublime mystical beauty which is equally as important to Twin Peaks.
So, where are we during this scene? This is probably where the first moment of the season took place, with the Giant’s message to Agent Cooper. Beyond that, it’s hard to discern. Like many others, my instinct is to say we’re seeing the White Lodge, but I have some hesitance there. The whole concept of the Lodges might be a bit of a hangup at this point, and I think it’s helpful to think outside of that particular box. I don’t mean to imply that this isn’t the White Lodge, just that we don’t have to think of it exclusively in those terms. Certainly, this looks to be the Giant’s homeworld, another planet or plane of existence, however one chooses to define it. It also bears a striking resemblance to the place Cooper visited in episode 3, where he encountered the woman with no eyes. (And the distortion of time which occurred there anticipates the convenience store scene).
In keeping with the atomic age science-fiction storyline, the Giant comes across as a non-human entity tasked with keeping an eye on humanity from afar and intervening if necessary. Aliens having their attention drawn to Earth by our development of nuclear weapons is not an uncommon trope in 50s sci-fi, and it’s been reemployed here, albeit in a more fantastical way. We’re also acquainted with another being of the same type as the Giant, a woman known as Senorita Dido. There is an undeniable god/goddess feel to these characters, which only fuels the spiritual charge to the scene.
Lynch loves to depict the mysterious inner workings of the universe by personifying those forces as divine beings, whether it’s the man pulling the lever in Eraserhead, the blue-haired woman from Mulholland Drive, or the deities shown at the end of his never-made Ronnie Rocket. The Giant and Senorita Dido fit right into that pantheon of figures. Ronnie Rocket ends with its titular character transforming into a golden egg representing one of many universes, an idea recycled here when the Senorita holds the glowing orb which will become Laura. (The number of connections between Ronnie Rocket and the new Twin Peaks grows steadily with each episode).
If the Giant and Senorita Dido represent one end of a spectrum, it would stand to reason that Mother represents the other end, as she’s spewing malevolence during the detonation sequence. What exactly is she? She first appeared during the glass box scene in the premiere, and hadn’t been seen again until now. In the credits, she’s not actually identified as Mother, but as Experiment. However, in all likelihood this is the figure that Ronette Pulaski referred to as Mother, and this episode appears to solidify that, as she is literally the mother of Bob. Why is she called the Experiment, though? It could have to do with the Manhattan Project, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we learn later that Mother was an experiment of the Giant’s doing, something that got out of control and perhaps created darkness in the first place. That might be totally off-base — theorizing is of little interest to me with Twin Peaks until the whole thing has played out, apart from discussing some possible connections here and there — but it feels appropriately mythical given the heavy turn towards myth in this episode. In any case, the Giant’s actions indicate that he’s here to counterbalance Mother/the Experiment.
A fair question raised by this episode is, mythology aside, what the hell does any of this really have to do with Twin Peaks? We’re now 8 hours into an 18 hour event, and Twin Peaks itself has played such a small role in the unfolding of this story. However, episode 8 laid the foundation for the scale of this new iteration, revealing just how sweeping and expansive the world of this tale really is. I strongly suspect that the forces running amok in this hour will make their way to the town of Twin Peaks, and that these many disparate threads — Las Vegas, Buckhorn, NYC, New Mexico — are all destined to converge in that spooky little corner of Washington state, and are intimately tied to everything that’s already happened in the original series. After all, this episode puts a mythological spin on the Laura Palmer character, indicating her as a force of love sent into the world to balance against destruction and darkness. Right there we can see that Laura is being reintroduced in a grand way, and undoubtedly this season will drift back to her. This story began with Laura, and will probably end with her.
Twin Peaks is slowly revealing itself, and it’s pretty much impossible to make a real judgment until we’ve seen the whole business. We’re only halfway to the finish, and if this episode is any indication, we should expect any and everything.
More Thoughts That Happened:
- I still cannot get over how this hour seems accidentally tailored to my personal preferences. Case in point: Nine Inch Nails was my introduction to modern rock as a teenager, and will always have a special place in my heart because of that. It was literally one of my dreams to see NIN used in a revival of Twin Peaks. (Just imagine how teenage me freaked out when I learned Trent Reznor was contributing to Lost Highway). Though the NIN sequence initially seemed somewhat out of place, it ended up feeling appropriate in the context of the episode, given this hour’s darkness and its unconventional approach. P.S. — Oh, sorry, I meant “The” Nine Inch Nails. I imagine that this one crucial difference is why they’re playing at the Roadhouse and not some arena in Seattle. Either that or Jean-Michel Renault is really good at booking. Well, haha, let’s not go there.
- While David Lynch is getting all the credit for this extraordinary outing, I think it needs to be said that the episode is as much the work of Mark Frost as it is Lynch. He is all over this one, from the obsession with the atomic age and aliens to the pulpy B-movie aesthetics. Lynch and Frost are both turned up to 11 here, and this is them at the height of their abilities.
- Speaking of Frost, his The Secret History of Twin Peaks puts Douglas Milford at the Trinity test site. That book also brings in the real-life rocket scientist/occultist Jack Parsons and his obsession with Aleister Crowley’s magickal system of Thelema. Some are theorizing that Mother is in fact the Thelemic goddess Babalon, Mother of Abominations, who Parsons famously tried to summon in a long-form ritual to bring about the apocalypse. This would mean the detonation of the bomb is the culmination of Parsons’ work. While this is totally possible and very well might come into play, I think it’s a bit of a stretch until we know more, as it’s mega unclear how much Frost’s novel ties directly into the new series. I don’t mean to state there’s no connection at all, I just mean that a close application of Thelemic mysticism to understand the episode might be an overreach. And with this theory frontloading the detonation with so much occult meaning, it subtracts a little bit of what the development of the atom bomb simply means unto itself. I think it’s important to be able to see these events through a lens that doesn’t involve someone specifically trying to incarnate a deity from an obscure religion, no matter if you subscribe to this theory. (Again, I do suspect there is a correlation between these ideas. But I believe the important thing is the bomb and its implications for humanity. The viewer doesn’t need to study the intricacies of the Babalon Working in order to actually grasp what’s happening).
- As a Thelemic sympathizer, I feel obligated to mention that the above is nothing like what Parsons was actually trying to do. The “apocalypse” to him simply meant overthrowing Christianity’s domination over human morals and spirituality, not literally ending the world or unleashing horrors upon people. He was attempting to bring about Babalon to plant the seeds for human advancement, not destruction. Parsons himself was anti-war and uncomfortable that his scientific work was used for military technology. Interestingly enough, Frost’s book actually depicts a fairly sympathetic version of Parsons — intelligent and even somewhat affable, but in over his head — so if the bomb is an end-result of the occult meddling of this particular fictional Jack Parsons, it’s probably not what the character intended. Also please note that Frost’s book has Parsons’ Babalon ritual coinciding with the Roswell UFO crash in 1947, not the White Sands atomic test in ’45.
- And finally, not to get too self-involved, but I’m probably hesitant with this theory because IT IS LITERALLY A STORYLINE FROM MY GODDAMN BOOK. So please Lynch/Frost, let me have my artistic dignity.
- Lynch memorably scores the explosion scene with “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima,” a piece by Penderecki. Lynch had previously used Penderecki’s music in Wild at Heart and Inland Empire.
- I’m personally enjoying the idea that the Giant/Senorita Dido are extraterrestrial or interdimensional in some sense, though I’m sure some folks would prefer to see them in strictly supernatural terms. But I love how Twin Peaks points out that these are all different ways of talking about what is ultimately the same thing.
- The convenience store being in the New Mexico desert (possibly as part of an atomic test site) doesn’t fully jibe with what Jeffries stated about his investigation in Seattle, but as the rules of time and space don’t seem to apply, I’m not worried about it. Also, let’s not forget that the original convenience store reference was just describing the Lydecker veterinary clinic, so there’s not really a rulebook here anyway. (I’m secretly hoping that we finally meet Dr. Lydecker and he turns out to be the most important character on Twin Peaks).
- Given Ray’s phone call, all signs continue to point to Phillip Jeffries being behind this very sinister worldwide conspiracy. What exactly happened to him in Buenos Aires? And who really pulled the trigger on JFK?
- The Woodsmen appeared to remove an embryonic Bob from Mr. C as he was dying, which at first seemed to imply that Bob has left him. But the fact that he’s improbably alive again now muddies that thought, indicating he may have been saved by the crack Woodsmen medical team. Evidence so far suggests that the Black Lodge is helping Cooper/Dougie because it wants Bob back. If Bob is returned without Mr. C, this would mean the real Cooper no longer has anyone watching out for him.
- There’s currently a lot of debate about whether the Boy and Girl are younger versions of characters we already know. I have zero input on that one. I do suspect that frogbug is Bob, but again, not committed to that idea. We’ll either find out or we won’t.
- I’ve always loved that one of the main singers of the Platters is named David Lynch. Ten points for more synchronicity.
- The Woodsman’s recitation recalls both the white horse of Sarah Palmer’s visions, and the Little Man’s line of dialogue “From pure air, we have descended.” The Woodsmen literally materialize out of nothing when they’re shown arriving in the 50s.
- Oh and just FYI I am going to marry Senorita Dido, who is my dream woman times a million.