Friday, October 22, 2010

On The Wings Of Love & Variations On Relations (Twin Peaks S2, eps. 18 & 19)

Sorry for my total lack of presence here, folks. The work week, yadda yadda...

By way of apology, please accept these poppin' fresh excerpts from today's Lost & Found column:


After several episodes of relative tedium Twin Peaks suddenly rallied this week, turning out two enjoyably idiosyncratic installments that advance the show's mythology, play on the quirks of the characters in a more organic, more satisfying manner than has been typical of late, and deliver both genuine laughs and genuine intrigue. These episodes reminded me of how much fun this show can be when it's pitched at just the right ultrasonic oddball frequency. There's still little of the creeping dread and Zen weirdness that Lynch's directorial hand lent to the proceedings but this still feels more like Twin Peaks than the other post-Leland installments. On The Wings Of Love sees a return to Cooper in conspicuous FBI gear, tape recorded missives to Diane (a ritual that ceased some time ago, and one that Cooper's character practically requires - his natural self-reflection and cockeyed observations finding a perfect outlet/signifier in his tapes), Gordon Cole's return to town, and a reflowering of Cooper's bizarro confidence and zen detective determination.


Earle’s description of the White Lodge paints it as something out of a fairy tale, right down to the de rigueur opening words “Once upon a time.” Earle’s words also paint the White Lodge as something lost and gone from us, and the Black Lodge as something very much present and vital: there was a place of great goodness, there is another place. Whether or not this choice of words was intentional on the part of the writers, whether or not the White Lodge exists in the present, or in the past alone, the effect of Earle’s speech is to create the image of the White Lodge as a kind of lost Camelot – a place of harmony and joy and fraternity, a place not unlike Cooper’s idealized view of the town of Twin Peaks – a “brief, shining moment” that is now legend. In contrast, the Black Lodge exists (in Earle’s speech at any rate) in the here and now. And through this speech we learn that it is a “real” place, a physical location that can be found. Earle’s goals – previously assumed to revolve around vengeance against Cooper – are revealed as far more ambitious in scope. Earle wants to locate the Black Lodge and somehow harness its power. I’m a sucker for stories where mad men seek out items/places of ancient power/evil, and so Peaks’ sudden turn toward Indiana Jones territory presses all the right buttons for me as a viewer.


On another note: I’ll come right out and say it: I love Ian Buchanan. Why isn’t this guy a supporting actor in a ton of comedies? He’s got killer delivery and sly timing and despite emerging during the worst section of this show he’s remained consistently entertaining to me. Yes, Dick Tremayne’s wine tasting adds nothing whatsoever to the show in terms of importance or dramatic heft, but unlike, say, Lana Milford, Tremayne is actually funny. I see that Buchanan was a cast member on “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and I’m not surprised, just disappointed that we haven’t seen him pop up more frequently as a funnyman.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Wounds and Scars (Twin Peaks, S2 ep. 17)

The Lost & Found column for Wounds and Scars will be up on by day's end. In the meantime, please to enjoy these delicious, minty excerpts:


We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re close. Following this installment there are only five episodes of Twin Peaks left to go, including the two-hour finale, “Beyond Life and Death”. I’m excited to get there, excited to see David Lynch finally return to the show and restore its previous glory, and I’m looking forward to finally talking in more detail about the strange mythology of this show.

But in order to get there it’s necessary to push our way through an episode like Wounds and Scars. Wounds and Scars isn’t a bad episode of Twin Peaks. There’s nothing that inspires the urge to stab one’s eardrums, as with the Evelyn Marsh storyline, but there’s nothing particularly interesting about the episode as a whole. It feels, for lack of a better word, mundane.

And that’s the overall-criticism I’d level at this stretch of the show in general. It’s mundane. The spark of madness that Lynch and Frost injected into Twin Peaks has dwindled away. The charged atmosphere built up over a season-and-change has dissipated in the wake of Leland Palmer’s death, leaving behind a show that moves with a languid, sleepy-lidded gait and no discernable purpose.

Plenty of stuff happens on Twin Peaks during this stretch of television, but little of it feels as though it matters. Even Cooper’s storyline has dragged, presenting us with a lawman drained of much of his former electric eccentricity and a nemesis who seems content to dash around in goofy disguises and play his flutes in between chess moves.

Where are the wonder and the terror?

The answer to that question lies with Lynch. Without his unifying, disorienting vision – without his singular ability to evoke existential dread and profound bemusement – the show has slowly been foundering. Nowhere in this stretch of post-Leland episodes do we find a single image as awful and powerful as the image of a demonic-looking Laura Palmer. Nowhere in this stretch do we find evidence of the spiritual evil that so effectively infected the show and its viewers.


As if to make sure that we’re paying attention, the show’s writers have Cooper’s doppelganger/evil twin/shadow self, aka Windom Earle, comment on the rejuvenating qualities of “country life,” and so highlighting and triple-underlining for us the notion of Earle as a dark reflection of Cooper. In addition to this we also see that Earle is wearing a ring, just as Cooper does. Recall that Cooper’s ring has a kind of mystic/symbolic importance on this show (Bob and Mike’s relationship was a “perfect circle,” the group of people assembled upon the revelation of Bob’s identity forms a circle, Cooper’s ring – a circle – is taken by the Giant and returned on the eve of Cooper cracking the case, etc. etc.). Does Earle’s ring have a similar, negative mystic/symbolic importance? Signs point to “sure, why the hell not.”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Harris Gets Moral

The Onion's AV Club has a quite-good interview with Sam Harris up this week regarding his new book, and his belief that science can help us to find a "universal morality." If you're interested in religion and/or morality on an intellectual/emotional/spiritual level it's worth a few minutes of your time.

I am sure that Harris is a good, decent man, but I don't much agree with his attitudes and beliefs toward religion as a whole. Too often he comes across as a really smart, really articulate zealot - an Evangelist who has replaced his cross with an equation. To wit:

The AV Club: ":Let's say science can and will make factual claims about morality. How then do you implement these moral truths to effect change in the world? Wouldn't these truth claims lead to a kind of moral colonialism where the so-called developed world that has arrived at these conclusions goes around the rest of the world to police or enforce these moral truths in other societies that haven't discovered them yet?"

Harris: "Clearly, if we could do that, we should do that."

This is nonsense, and it's kinda spooky to boot. Harris goes on at greater length on this topic, but the essential point is right there in that one sentence. I suppose we can take reassurance from this, at least: As long as your moral truths align with Harris' you won't need to worry about an invasive occupying force that proselytizes to you and attempts to convert you (sort of like a Crusade, one might say).

Never you mind that Harris' morality involves the sanctioning of the same sort of colonialism that he finds so dangerous when couched in religious terms. And nevermind that you may be wondering to yourself about things like "moral grey areas" and "situational morality" and "white lies" and the fact that different cultures have differing moralities. Native Americans thought that "owning" land was absurd. White settlers thought that they were absurd for having such a hippie-dippie philosophy, and murdered a ton of them. Who was "right"? For Harris it's as simple as food:

Harris: "Multiple right answers to moral questions doesn't at all mean that there's not a clear difference between right and wrong answers. The analogy I give for this is food. I would never argue that there is one right food to eat, but there are clearly many things that are not food that will kill us. The distinction between food and not food is still quite clear and scientifically salient."


Except, things aren't quite so clear-cut outside of these rigidly-and-falsely-defined categories. Doritos are food, but eating Doritos is bad for me (and bad for anyone in my immediate breathing vicinity). So, are Doritos "food" or "not food"? If they are food, but they're "bad" food will I be allowed to eat them because I choose, using my free will, to eat them? Or will Harris come in and act all colonial with me? What if a certain food is a delicacy, but might also kill you? Like, say, Blowfish? Should the fact that blowfish is deadly when not properly prepared mean that no one should be permitted to prepare blowfish? Rationally, we know that it makes more sense to eat nothing but the healthiest of foods all day, every day. How many of us choose to do that, all the while knowing that we're being "irrational" in the process? We're not (totally) stupid. We know Doritos aren't good. But we also know that they taste good. And while that's irrational, its also pretty indisputable. What happens when a certain kind of morality "tastes" good to a group of people, but Harris and Co. decide that its "bad"? Who is the ultimate arbiter in that conflict? Reason? Whose reason? What happens to the losers when they refuse to get with the program?

I could play this game all day. Attempting to place food into two categories as some kind of illustration on ascertainable moral truth is to insist that there are only two types of women in the world: Gingers and Mary Anns (For the youngsters: This is a reference to Gilligan's Island).

And if this is true of food, then how much more true is it of moral decisionmaking? Harris is correct when he says that "Science is done in the context of a larger reality in which we know that there are questions we could not possibly answer, but we know they have answers." He is also correct to insist that the lack of an answer is no excuse for not seeking one.

Where he is arguably incorrect is in assuming that stating this sort of stuff absolves him from explaining why science is allowed to take this stance ("We can't explain it! But we know that there's an answer! And that answer is...maybe...string theory?") while religion is to be mocked and/or dismissed for the same sentiment ("We can't explain it! But we know that there's an answer! And that answer is...we think...God?").

/End Rant.