Friday, November 12, 2010

Beyond Life and Death (Twin Peaks Finale, S2, ep. 22)

Hey! Look at that! I've got a blog!

You'd think I'd forgotten completely, based on my inexcusable lack of posting. All I can say at the moment is that there's a good reason for the silence on my end, that it's nothing bad - quite the opposite in fact - nor is it related to my writing, but that it's something currently taking up a fair amount of headspace. When I'm able to talk more about it I will.

In the meantime, and beginning next week, I promise to start showing up here more than once a week. Please to accept these patented excerpts for Twin Peaks' final episode. It's been a fun ride, and I'm very grateful that you've taken it with me. The full column will post on Chud this afternoon. Next week brings "Fire Walk With Me," the Twin Peaks prequel film. After that it's on to the next show, and I hope you'll tune in and cast your votes.

And now, excerpts!


I’ve talked for a while about Cooper’s resemblance to a knight, and the show’s willingness to paint him in that light. That aspect of the show comes straight to the fore in Beyond Life and Death; Cooper, Truman and Andy explicitly reference the King Arthur legend in talking about the location known as Glastonbury Grove. Note that there are twelve sycamore trees surrounding the grove, and that in some versions of the Arthur legend there are 12 seats at the Round Table occupied by Arthur’s knights, and one seat left open for the knight destined to find the Holy Grail. This seat was referred to as the Siege Perilous, and Bullfinch’s “Age of Fable: Vol. III” tells us that on the Siege Perilous, “No man could sit but he should lose himself.”. Might the Siege Perilous of Twin Peaks be the pool at the center of the Sycamore Grove? A gateway to a realm where “No man could sit but he should lose himself?” Isn’t that, more or less, what we see happen here by the episode’s ending – Cooper losing his true self? The show’s plot also nods toward Arthurian legend by having Windom Earle kidnap a “Queen” and bring her to Glastonbury grove, which mirrors a story told by Caradoc of Llancarfan inVita Gildae ('Life of St Gildas'), and by Chr├ętien de Troyes in Le Chevalier de la Charette, in which the evil King Melwas (or “Meleagant”) of “The Summer Country” kidnaps Guinevere from Arthur and brings her to Glastonbury.


Mark Frost’s shooting script for the final Lodge sequence differs fairly significantly from what Lynch ended up filming. You can read the script yourself here, but some of the differences are (I think) worth pointing out. Frost’s script has Sheriff Truman glimpsing an Arthurian sword and shield in Glastonbury Grove. Lynch’s episode contains no such image, denying us any further concrete connections between the show and the Arthur legend. Frost’s script describes the Black Lodge as a kind of personal Underworld. Cooper interacts with what might or might not be the spirit of his dead father, working behind the desk of a rundown, Otherworldly motel. He becomes himself as a ten year old boy, then reverts back to adulthood in a blink (and this is one aspect that remains consistent between Frost and Lynch’s ideas – the notion of time as fluid and ultimately, maybe, meaningless).

Lynch’s episode contains none of this. His Black Lodge sequence strips away nearly all of Frost’s ideas and remakes it as a nonsensical nightmare. It veers away from borrowed symbolism to invent its own symbolism from whole cloth. Logic and narrative collapse in on themselves as Cooper makes his way through identical rooms and navigates endless red drapes, participating in a series of conversations that are like encounters in a sinister Wonderland. The Little Man might as well have asked Cooper why a raven is like a writing desk. By refusing us literal meaning the show somehow manages to create a sense of deeper meaning that we're able to touch the edges of, but not perceive clearly. And yet, the real triumph of this sequence lies in its curiously powerful “antilogic”; none of this makes sense, and yet it somehow does make sense to us on an intuitive, primal level.


By 'ending' where it does, Beyond Life and Death makes Twin Peaks into a kind of twisted palindrome with bookending scenes evoking the senselessness of Evil. Like the Little Man's dialogue above, the show's narrative now reads the same backwards as it does forward: Evil lodged firm in the midst of what should be -would be, in a Just world - a place of trust, safety and shelter. Both the pilot and the final episode in part concern the taking of a young woman from this life, either by murder or by metaphysics. Both of these women are Queens – one of Homecoming, one of Miss Twin Peaks. If you’re willing to give yourself over, to invest in the reality of a finale this unreal, then the show achieves a kind of unsettling poetry in it's final moments. We're left totally unmoored.


  1. Morse, are you alive?

  2. I'd like to know as well! I hope that you are (and that your blog isn't done).

    And Merry Belated Christmas!

  3. All Tweet and no Blog? Not even exclusive excerpts here from Carnivale? Was it the tallying of votes on two sites that ended it?