December 20, 2017

Stars Fell on Alabama: David Lynch, Doug Jones, and the Twin Peaks Connection

By Stuart Mitchner

When Doug Jones beat Roy Moore in Alabama’s special election last week, viewers who had lived and died, thrilled and chilled, yawned and dreamed through all 18 episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return felt a transcendental connection to the happy outcome. If we were smiling it was not only because a principled man defeated a scoundrel, it was knowing that a miracle was in the stars even before the allegations against Moore saturated the news. Given the power of the narratives and counter narratives circulating on television and the internet, we knew the impossible was possible. Never mind the odds, the germ of a win was there as soon as the creators of Dougie Jones released the mystic agent of coincidence, the wild card, the dark horse, into the national consciousness: that a Democratic candidate sharing the same name as Mark Frost and David Lynch’s enchanted Las Vegas insurance agent (as in the sword in the stone, the sleeping prince, and Cinderella before and after midnight) had a shot at the Senate seat vacated when Jeff Sessions became attorney general.

The ebb and flow of election returns between eight and midnight acquired another dimension as a result, the reds and blues of the districts in play like numbers on an astral roulette wheel that took on psychedelic magnitude as each turn of the wheel landed on blue, blue, blue until the moment a boyishly smiling Doug Jones came forward to claim victory after a campaign that had begun in May 2017, the same month that the election-night-suspenseful marathon of Twin Peaks: The Return began its journey toward the moment FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle Maclachlan) came back to life after 25-plus years in purgatory.

The Third Doug Jones

Meanwhile the election night searchlight spreading across the nation revealed yet another Doug Jones, the Indiana-born actor who plays the amphibious creature in Guillermo del Toro’s new film The Shape of Water. How this Doug Jones felt about the victory of his namesake can only be guessed at, but being a fan of the original Twin Peaks he liked to imagine that, according to Rosemary Rossi on www.thewrap, he might have played a part in the naming of the Dougie Jones character, such anyway was his “personal fantasy,” and since his friends and family had always called him Dougie, all he could think was “that it was a happy coincidence.”

So here they are: a triumphant politician, an actor known as “the man of many faces,” and a magical being, all with a name in common, and something more since it can be said that anyone who runs for elected office is a shape-shifter with views as fluid as the colors of a chameleon, no matter how committed they may be to the right path.

Just as Dougie Jones is an entity manufactured by the enigmatic forces of the Black Lodge, Doug Jones the actor inhabits the form of a government asset potentially of use in the Space Race with the Russians. According to Anthony Lane’s December 11th New Yorker review, The Shape of Water is a “genre-fluid fantasy” exploring “the mutual enchantment of a woman and a mysterious aquatic being.” As the ads make clear, the film is a love story in the Beauty and Beast tradition featuring a mute cleaning woman named Eliza (Sally Hawkins), whose love for the creature releases her from the bondage of a drab existence into a Hollywood fantasy in which, as Lane puts it, she’s “suddenly spirited from her kitchen table onto a monochrome dance floor,” where, “draped in a feathery gown, she sways back and forth, to the strains of an orchestra, in the arms of the Creature.”

Thanks to David Lynch’s direction and Naomi Watts’s cute, feisty, remarkably capable Janey-E Jones, there’s also a love story of sorts percolating in Twin Peaks: The Return, in spite of the fact that Dale Cooper, the handsome FBI agent entombed in Dougie Jones, has no connection to anything resembling conventional human emotions. While on the surface he appears to be an older but still quite fit incarnation of the cherry-pie-eating, coffee-swilling Cooper beloved of Twin Peaks fans, all his intelligence and energy has been put on hold; he’s in a vegetative state, moving without grace or force or volition, except when his old FBI instincts come sensationally into play in time to thwart a killer commissioned by his evil doppelganger. Like Eliza and the Creature, he is virtually mute except for the few words he robotically repeats upon hearing them, like a humanoid from another planet picking up scraps of English as he goes along. After patiently but anxiously enduring 16 hours, week after week, waiting, hoping, praying for the real Dale Cooper to emerge, you begin to grudgingly admit that Lynch’s Dougie has the makings of a fascinating creation, combining the willful passivity of a Buster Keaton with the can’t-lose-for-winning charisma of a Chaplinesque stranger in a strange land.

Lynch’s Big Gamble

If the real Doug Jones’s 2017 run was a gamble, so’s the one David Lynch took when he staked his Showtime series on the premise that it could survive with its most important character in limbo for all but the last two episodes. Lynch makes the viewer’s ordeal tolerable (think of it as a metaphysical strip tease) by now and then offering hints that the real Dale Cooper is still on the premises and will come to life again as long as you keep the faith.

One way he effects this is by making Dougie surreally lucky. The first touch of the “magic hand of chance” comes when he finds himself in the Silver Mustang casino watching a man at a slot machine shouting “Hello-oh-oh!” while pulling the lever and scoring a jackpot. So Dougie, with a nudge from Lynch, puts his coin in the slot, pulls the lever and shouts “Hello-oh-oh!” and lo and behold a flood of coins comes gushing forth, so he does it again and again and again, distantly enjoying the ritual of shout and pull that brings him $425,000, which does not sit well with the casino’s owners, the Mitchum brothers Bradley (Jim Belushi) and Rodney (Robert Knepper). In Lynch’s dark fairy tale (recall the Wizard of Oz quotes in Wild at Heart), the Mitchums will become the leaders of Dougie’s entourage even after the spell is broken in time for them to follow Dale Cooper to the denouement in Twin Peaks.

Another of Lynch’s strategies is to pave the way with flashes of the old Coop, as when Dougie exhibits Pavlovian behaviors every time he gets near a cup of coffee or a slice of cherry pie. There’s an elevator scene where he can’t resist a cup of take-out joe from a tray bound for the Lucky 7 offices. Still without displaying the damn-fine euphoria of his buried self, Dougie brings the paper cup to his lips with both hands as if it were a goblet brimming with nectar. In what may be the most beautiful scene in a series otherwise replete with unspeakable horrors, a cherry pie becomes Dougie’s Midas touch, his Open Sesame, his magic wand, his Excalibur. Not only does the cherry pie (and a check for 30 million dollars) save his life, it brings the Mitchum brothers fully into his idiot savant ken, and from that point on they can’t do enough for Dougie, Janey-E, and Sunny Jim (imagine a healthy Tiny Tim). It’s a Disney turn with a spaced-out Snow White and a two-man Las Vegas version of the Seven Dwarfs, always with their retinue of smiling showgirls in skimpy outfits serving up endless goodies, and they’re all present in the hospital room when the real Dale Cooper finally wakes up from an electrocution-driven coma — a wonderful moment, movingly delivered by the music of Angelo Badalamenti, whose Twin Peaks theme is kept in reserve for just such occasions.

“What Year Is This?”

Now that the game has been played, the dice rolled, the wheel spun through 18 revolutions, it’s time to wonder if the long-delayed ends of Lynch’s gamble justify the means. From the summit of Cooper’s return (a clear echo of the series title), after he’s released at last from the tulpa of Dougie Jones and has bid a tender farewell to his forlorn and understandably confused Janey-E and Sunny Jim, things go down instead of up. While Cooper appears clearly capable of returning to Twin Peaks for a showdown with the Bad Cooper, he’s been out of action for decades and is a bystander to the weird and often hideous happenings in Buckhorn, South Dakota; the haunted Trinity testing grounds of Los Alamos New Mexico, where the girl who will become Laura Palmer’s bedeviled mother unknowingly swallows something foul that crawled forth from the pit of the blast; and New York City, where an innocent young couple making love are torn to pieces by a tornado of evil. During the spectacular scene that brings a demonic apocalypse down on the Twin Peaks police department, all Cooper can do is stand by like a director coaching an actor as a Cockney lad with a super potent green glove accomplishes the task of destroying evil.

In the last episode, Cooper is on a mission to nowhere. As he and Laura Palmer stand staring at the house of horrors she once lived in, he has no answers, only questions, the last being “What year is this?”

Somehow it makes sense in the final month of a Trump-plagued year that this reckless, wildly wide-ranging television event, with its cosmic fantasias, its brutality, its unsolved mysteries, and brilliant special effects ends with its hero, the all-American FBI agent, a Sherlock Holmes-caliber sleuth who knows the Tibetan Book of the Dead by heart, asking a woman who is about to scream what year it is.

What makes Twin Peaks: The Return worth watching, especially once you know how it’s going to end, is David Lynch’s genius for holding the line between the forces of darkness and light while seasoning his magic realism with the saving grace of humor, notably in the creation of Dougie Jones who lives in a Las Vegas suburb in a house with a red door with a wife who wears red shoes and a son who is awakened one night by orgasmic sounds of his sprightly mom making love to his passive, seemingly insensate but in the end happily grinning father — a smile broad enough to shed its light on a very dark series.