Thursday, July 13, 2017

Twin Peaks Season 3, Episode 8: "Got a light?"


(WARNING story discussed in close detail--though how comprehensible the details may be is a matter of debate, with both discussion and debate possibly an exercise in futility)

The episode's putative title--"Got a light?" sounds odd on first reading (online you see it under the episode's thumbnail pic) gains significance later on. 

It starts off plottily enough: Evil Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) and somewhat less evil Ray (George Griffith) have blackmailed their way out of prison, shaken away any electronic tracers*, turned off into a small side road (what is it about Lynch that he can fill interminable shots of cars nosing down dirt roads with such dread?). They confront each other, demanding money demanding information, with C pointing the 'friend' he pulled from the glove compartment (a special request provided by the prison warden) at Ray.

Only C's gun somehow fails to fire. Only Ray in a clever twist produces his own gun shooting C twice in the gut. Only when C goes down the lights start flickering and shadowy figures emerge from the woods, dancing around C's body, massaging (or pulling apart) his belly, smearing his own gore on his face, squeezing out an egg sac larva whatever that is with the spirit of BOB visibly floating inside (Ray: "I saw something in Cooper. It might be the key to what this is all about.").

Like them or not, the band Nine Inch Nails serves a purpose at this point of the episode with their song. Lynch bathes them in the glow from a TV screen tuned to an empty channel; the band looks suitably ghastly, not unlike the shadows dancing around C. Their lyrics comment on immediate events ("You dig in places till your fingers bleed") on initiating events ("She's gone she's gone she's gone away")--a preamble and transition if you like to the passage to come.

I mentioned the importance of light to this episode: Mr. C and Ray drive into a dark place; the flickering (rarely a good omen in a Lynch film, even when it's just a failing flashlight pointed into a car trunk) creates enough confusion for phantoms to walk out of the woods; the industrial rock band members (Lynch seems fond of the genre) are barely visible under dim concert spots. Cut back to Mr. C, who sits up with a gasp. Cut to black-- 

--and a slowly gliding camera looking down the vast tabletop of a desert landscape titles telling us when and where we are: July 16 1945; White Sands, New Mexico; 5.29 AM. A voice drones out a countdown: "Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven." And so on.

And there was light. 

To the sound of Krzysztof Penderecki's strings trilling like a human scream you see the double-pulse of a shockwave (burst of X-rays heating air creating an expanding shell of compressed gas) overtaking the fireball, momentarily smothering and dimming the blaze to quickly build up again. You see details of the tabletop (more appropriately called Jornada del Muerto or Journey of the Dead) revealed: the low lying clouds, the mountains ringing the table's edge, the erosion carvings like appendectomy scars and--if you look carefully--the series of smoke trails to the right, traces of the sounding rockets fired beforehand to help observe the shockwave's passage. 

The fireball itself looks like a puny bulb standing an inch above the table, radiating a thousand watts; the explosion's true power can be seen in the ring of gamma rays X rays electromagnetic waves racing out at the speed of light (186,000 miles a second) the shockwave crawling slower (a mere 0.21 miles per second) but more solidly textured--a broad unfurling high-pile carpet--and no less destructive ("I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down!"). The fireball of superheated gas rises in a spinning toroid forming the characteristic mushroom cap, sucking up smoke debris and earth with it in powerful afterwinds that form the mushroom's pulsing rotating stem.

The flash and Penderecki's strings might be enough to send anyone else running from the blast but Lynch's camera goes the opposite direction like a mother with arms thrown wide to welcome her blossoming monster child. By the time camera and cloud meet the mushroom has reared up almost to full height (some 7 miles).

The camera plunges in; we see X-ray images of swirling smoke, swarming lights--fireflies? Maybe Lynch's attempt to depict electrons torn from their proper places, seeking equilibrium? They also suggest the turbulent field of stars through which Agent Cooper fell when he left the Black Lodge in Episode 2--the visual link (electrons equal stars) suggesting Lynch's own Unified Field Theory

More fireflies (Neutrons? Alpha particles? Short-lived fission products?) then X-ray images of fireflies (much of the energy produced in fission takes the form of X-rays). More flashes. A spiraling descent down the inside of the mushroom stem, with electrical flashes here there (yes there's lightning inside an atomic explosion) debris (boulders like pebbles, scale all meaningless now) flying everywhere a rock festival's worth of alien colors: deep purple, king crimson, tangerine dream, moody blue. 

It's a remarkable sequence. Most filmmakers depicting nuclear detonations resort to archival footage--which have a power all their own, the rough and visibly aged film suggesting documentary realism--but this is from a height and angle we've never seen before yet (to these inexpert eyes)  conforming to what films and facts we  have of the actual test. How did Lynch do it? Presumably by creating a digitally animated sequence that incorporates all known films of the blast, realized in three dimensions (the low-lying clouds the pebbly sheet of creeping dust the fragile rocket trails giving the shot a palpable texture). As for the rest of the sequence--damned if I know, though Belson and Brakhage might have had an idea. 

I figure at this point Lynch guessed someone would crack open a textbook or check a few websites on nuclear explosions to try make sense of the images and--narratively speaking--swerves off the road yet again. 

You know the rest--or would if you've been reading all the heroic attempts at recapping the episode: We see a convenience store exhaling smoke and ghostly burnt figures (From the nuclear blast? Coated in burnt engine oil?) wandering in and out; the smoke and the wandering figures stutter back and forth, an effect Lynch used in Episode 3 (The Purple Room) and which I suspect is meant to recall both the stuttering in online streaming (when WiFi service experiences hiccups) and the slippery nature of time in a Lynchian world. Personally I thought it recalled Roxlee's classic short The Great Smoke, where the graphic line is so crude yet furiously drawn, so--well--graphic (penises and viscera and yes atomic explosions (Did Lynch crib from Lee?)) that the pencil resembles a knife in the hands of a serial killer, stabbing at the paper again and again and again. 

The Experiment in the big glass box back in Episode 1 (a.k.a. 'mother' knocking at the Purple Room door in Episode 3) is seen floating through space, vomiting a stream of what looks like garmonbozia or spiritual creamed corn (one kernel of which looks like it contains the spirit of BOB). The kernel falls through space, experiencing the heat of re-entry--

We revisit the Purple Room or at least some citadel that exists in the same world (House Atreides' Castle Caladan?) the interior decorated in a style one might call part Turkish harem part 1920 grandmother and filled with nonstop music (The White Lodge?); a large bell-like structure rings (finally we learn one purpose of the bell last seen in Episode 3--as an emergency alert). The ?????????? formerly known as the Giant (Carel Struycken) walks in and in perhaps the oddest moment in the oddest episode in all of television peers straight into the camera at us. 

What could that look mean? "Who are you?" or "What are you looking at?" or "Are you paying attention?" or maybe "Something has gone wrong in this world and you I suspect have something to do with it." Perhaps the last perhaps a combination of all four?

?????????? shuts the alarm. He walks into a giant movie theater** (actually the Tower Theater in Los Angeles--which doubled as Club Silencio in Lynch's Mulholland Drive***) where he witnesses a replay (Live broadcast?) of the Trinity test, exudes his own egg sac larva whatever, this time with what looks like the spirit of Laura Palmer inside. His partner Senorita Dido (Joy Nash) gives the orb a kiss sends it floating into a slowly spinning golden spiral tube that flings it hurtling down to Earth--

--where it lands in the New Mexico desert hatching into what I call a 'frogroach,' half roach (Lynch the sound designer singling out the softly fluttering wings as the one element guaranteed to freak out katsaridaphobes) half frog (Lynch the sculptor emphasizing the flabby slimy suggestively human legs).  

Whose egg is this, the Experiment's or ??????????'s? Narrative logic (yes there is such a thing in this series) favors the former, as a Woodsman walks into a radio station does horrible things to the staff there and in the process sends the surrounding town into a deep sleep; the aforementioned frogroach (I should patent the term) crawls into the mouth of a girl rendered unconscious by the aforementioned Woodsman, repeating a hypnotic poem ("This is the water and this is the well; drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes and dark within") over and over into the broadcast microphone.

Lynch seems comfortable roaming the realms of both nuclear physics and (with help from Mark Frost) theosophy, one of which pushes the edge of what is commonly considered real (pour enough energy into a spot and you can apparently rip apart the fabric of space), one of which pushes the edge of one's credulity (Aliens magically intervening in human history?). Does the director believe in one either both? Are these facets of a complexly intermingling faith or just grist for the dark mill we happen to call his mind? What does the Woodsman's insistent request refer to--a matchflame or the same nuclear-powered holocaust that hurled him into this world? One thing for sure--I'll be tuning in for the next few weekends, to catch the rest of the episodes.

*(May be my ignorance speaking but Mr. C's gadgets are fascinatingly far-fetched--how does detecting tracers on a cellphone then tossing the phone out a car window work? How does anything Mr. C does--including using a phone call to hack into a prison's security system--work?

For that matter why did Mr. C's gun fail to fire? He checked; it was loaded. Does Ray have a few tricks up his own sleeve? Apropos of nothing, how did that mine in Episode 5 work? It's not connected to anything yet detonates when the car is started. What about that beeper that turns into a small stone? It's like these people are working with the latest tech powered with a little supernatural)

** (The White Lodge, which Windom Earle once described as "a place of great goodness" and the entrance key to which Major Garland Briggs once said is love, has a film palace. Figures.)

*** (Is Lynch starting his own Expanded Cinematic Universe?)

First published in Businessworld, 7.6.17

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