Arbitrary Law & Dispute Between Brothers (Twin Peaks S2 eps 9 & 10)
“Mankind is poised midway between the gods and the beasts” – Plotinus
Albert: “Cooper? An observation: I don’t where this is headed, but the only one of us with the coordinates for this destination in his hardware is you. Go on whatever Vision Quest you require. Stand on the rim of the volcano. Stand alone and do your dance. Just find this beast before he takes another bite.”
It’s apparently a commonly held view that Twin Peaks drops off precipitously in quality following the first episode in this week’s column, Arbitrary Law. I don’t agree with that view. If anything, Dispute Between Brothers picks up the shattered pieces left behind by Arbitrary Law and gamely pushes forward in a manner that’s overall entertaining and intriguing. Sure, the central mystery of the show has now been solved, but the metaphysical shenanigans are just getting started, and I’m as intrigued as ever. I’m also intrigued by the grounded and organic ways in which many of the storylines are continuing. Maybe the quirk will become somewhat overbearing as we move further on, and maybe I’m being overly forgiving because the near-total absence of Donna and the total absence of James makes me very, very happy, but for now I’m impressed by the ways in which the show has found new life following the powerful punch of the three episodes that precede it.
Thoughts on Arbitrary Law:
Things I don’t care enough about to comment on at length in this episode include:
• Andy and Lucy’s continuing baby-identification issues and the repeated references to “sperms,” although Lucy’s barely-veiled eagerness to see her two paramours duke it out is weirdly funny.
• Catherine’s bizarre continued residence in a full-body man suit, and her machinations re: Ghostwood.
Something I do care about, but could not work into a paragraph organically before publication time:
This episode was directed by Tim Hunter, a journeyman director with an impressive list of credits to his name including Rivers Edge, Carnivale, Deadwood, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, Mad Men and Dexter. He’s got a nice sense of what makes this show work – evident from the slow-motion shot of Cooper, Truman, Hawk and Albert that opens the episode – and the episode as a whole is shot through with a thick, enveloping atmosphere that really helps to sell some of the script’s arguably-goofier moments. I’m impressed.
The discovery of white fox fur clutched in Maddie’s dead hand makes it clear that Leland/Bob has been plotting to set Ben Horne up for these murders since we saw him pocket the white fox fur in Horne’s office (EPISODE?). At the time it seemed like the eccentric gesture of an addled-and-grieving father. Now, it seems more like the calculated beginnings of a murderous plot.
Hawk: “You’re on the path – you don’t need to know where it leads; just follow.”
Cooper, overwhelmed by Albert’s show of faith in him, admits that he doesn’t know where to begin and Hawk reassures him with the words above. It’s a very Buddhist sentiment, and this episode as a whole is suffused with a spirituality that’s profoundly Eastern in some respects, and profoundly universal in other respects.
James and Donna have another of their wordy duets but for some reason their exchange over James’ proposed engagement ring doesn’t bother me. I’m not sure if it’s Hunter’s direction, which seems to restrain their more flowery, obnoxiously-soapy impulses (remember when Twin Peaks seemed to be parodying soaps? Where’d that go?), but both actors are far more tolerable here then they’ve been in a while.
Andy: “Je une ami solitaire.”
For no reason whatsoever, Andy decides to repeat Harold’s suicide note to himself over and over again. And it just so happens that Donna and James are in the diner, allowing Donna to overhear him. Donna immediately connects the words to Mrs. Tremond and her eerie tux-wearing grandson, but Andy informs her that he learned the words from Harold. Amazingly, rather than play Scooby Doo herself, Donna goes directly to the police and brings Cooper to the Tremond house, convinced that the two events must be connected in some way. In one of the show’s more effectively low-key moments of creepiness, the Mrs. Tremond that Donna met is nowhere to be found. An entirely different woman lives in the house that Donna previously visited, and this woman – also claiming to be “Mrs. Tremond,” claims that her mother passed away three years ago.
So who did Donna speak with?
And as if that’s not quite enough delicious weirdness, the show offers us an immediate follow-up dose with the appearance of an envelope that Harold intended for Donna – an envelope containing missing pages of Laura’s secret diary.
Donna: “Last night I had the strangest dream. I was in a red room with a small man dressed in red, and an old man sitting in a chair….. ”
Let’s try and wrap our minds around this one for a second: At some point before Laura’s death, she experienced a lucid dream in which she met an aged Agent Cooper. From the footage we see in this episode we can assume that this meeting was the same one that Cooper himself experienced – AFTER Laura’s death – in the Season 1 episode Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer. Through dreams, and through the space we know only as “the Red Room,” Cooper and Laura have communicated. This fact suggests that the Red Room exists outside of our conceptions of Time and Space. Those of you who followed along with my Lost ramblings might recall me writing at obnoxious length about ideas of Minkowsky space, of Time as a concept separate from our human notions of “past,” “present” and “future.” Twin Peaks isn’t in any way concerned with such scientifically-based notions, but it is VERY interested in the Shamanic and in the spiritual, and the notion of a place that exists outside of Time and Space fits in nicely.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13
There’s a lot to process in the brief scene between Donna and Cooper. Not only do we learn about Laura’s conscious presence in the dreamlike Red Room, but we also learn that Mike is the only man Bob fears, and perhaps most importantly, we learn that Laura’s death was in fact a form of suicide – a desperate attempt to escape Bob’s primal, battering force forever. From Laura’s words it seems as though whatever process allowing Bob to take over Leland’s life was being repeated through Laura – a clear and obvious metaphor for the ways in which the cycle of abuse repeats itself down generational lines. Rather than give in to the darkness planted in her soul by her father/Bob, Laura chose to end her life – giving her death, in this moment, a kind of tragic nobility and dignity. By choosing death for herself she chose to prevent Bob from gaining another vessel with which to perpetuate the Evil he represents. The cycle of abuse stops with Laura Palmer’s heart. That’s moving to me – it’s an affirmation of Good over Evil in the “realistic” sense (I use “realistic” here verrrrrrrry loosely), by which I mean that for “Good” to find victory over “Evil” in this, our real world, requires sacrifice. It requires the giving up of ego, of liberty, of life itself. By dying, Laura spares future generations the cruel injustice of molestation, of corruption, spares her friends the damnation she was unwillingly introduced to. The unbroken chain snaps, and some semblance of victory is achieved at the greatest personal cost.
Mike: “So much responsibility.”
The sense of revelation continues to crash down on us as Cooper revisits Mike – severely dehydrated and apparently close to death for reasons that are unclear to me – and receives more information on the metaphysical happenings in this town. When Mike and Bob “were killing together…there was this perfect relationship. Appetites. Satisfaction. A golden circle.” I’ve been talking about the importance of Appetites to this show’s themes since the beginning of this column, without any knowledge that it would be explicitly addressed this way. It’s nice to have that thematic through line confirmed like this. As for the “golden circle,” we discover that Cooper’s ring symbolizes this in some way, that the Giant – whom Cooper gave the ring to in the Season 2 premiere – can help Cooper find Bob, and that the Giant is known to “us,” meaning, one assumes, to Bob and Mike and perhaps to other “spirits” including the Little Man. Confirming the primacy of feeling and intuition over logic and deduction, Mike informs Cooper that he “has all the clues he needs,” and that the answers are not to be found in/with the head, but in/with the heart.
And with the appearance of “Senor Droolcup,” the senile old man who first appeared when Cooper was shot, just prior to the Giant, and who appeared again in the Roadhouse, immediately following the Giant’s second appearance, we get the sense that the two are connected – that perhaps the old man is the Giant’s “vessel” in the same way that Gerard is Mike’s vessel, and that Leland is Bob’s vessel. What does this say, potentially, about “Good” as a force in this town? Evil is embodied by a virile, powerful, intelligent member of the community in good standing, while Good is embodied in the form of a skeletal, barely-cognizant old man who has trouble with basic communication. If we’re feeling cynical we can say that this is a fairly apt commentary on the state of morality in the world, but if we’re feeling less cynical we can instead recall the words of the mage Mirth, from Matt Wagner’s wonderful graphic novel Mage: The Hero Discovered. In reference to the quest to locate the elusive embodiment of good identified as the Fisher King, the story’s Merlin-figure says: “Think how much harder it usually is to notice someone’s good points, rather than their faults. So it is with the Fisher King. As an embodiment of goodness, he is difficult to recognize. He changes his shape at will and so keeps us searching as we should. One must strive for the light; the dark ways come far too easy.”
Why is my quoting of this especially pertinent to Twin Peaks? Well, that’d be the King Arthur connection that both stories share – a connection that I believe will become more apparent as we delve further into the show.
Donna continues to inexplicably switch from sweet High School girl to strange, cig-smoking Ice Queen as she drops by the Palmer house to give Leland a tape of the song that she, James and Maddie recorded together. Leland recognizes the glasses, and the recognition does something to him – brings a coldness and a calculation to his countenance that’s at odds with his outsized, chipper cheer. Recall that Laura warned Maddie not to “touch her stuff.” Are her personal effects somehow “charged” with negative, Bob-related energy? I ask, because at this point in the show’s narrative I’m as clueless as the rest of you who’ve never seen this portion of the show before.
Leland: “You stay right there.”
While Donna’s at the Palmers’, Maddie’s mother calls, worried about her daughter, who never arrived via bus and never will. This, plus the fact of Laura’s glasses, plus Donna’s revelation that Laura had a secret diary – one Bob/Leland did not know about – seems to push Bob back into the killing space; seems to arouse the Appetites that roil and burn within the vessel that is Leland Palmer. We watch as Bob replaces Leland entirely, shudders and lets loose a sudden yell, as if containing hunger that cannot be suppressed, all apparently unseen by Donna. Leland turns from the record player with a look of scarcely-veiled malevolence and begins another dance – a dance that holds itself out as innocent, but which is the opposite of innocence. It’s not at all difficult to imagine this scene having played out before with his own daughter – a father coaxing the unsuspecting young girl to come into his arms – and the ease of that imagining is sickening to me. The way in which Leland suddenly gathers Donna to himself is greedy and unmistakably sexual, and the act is a brief violation of surface normalcy that leaves Donna noticeably and more than understandably shaken. Luckily for her continued existence among the living, Sherriff Truman picks that moment to arrive, taking Leland away to “help” with the murder of Maddie, and leaving Donna to deal with the growing suspicion that Mr. Palmer is more than he appears to be. I’m on the record as being overall-ambivalent toward Donna as a character, but its impossible not to feel for her as we watch her walking alone along the road after this encounter, tears shimmering in her eyes.
James: “It doesn’t matter, don’t you see? Nothing we do matters. Nothing’s ever going to change. It doesn’t matter if we’re happy and the rest of the world goes to hell.”
I don’t buy for one second that James would walk away this quickly from Donna after just proposing to her, but I do believe his existential despair here. In the face of an eternal evil, what does matter? How does the human spirit cope with the realization that death and degradation are inevitable and all-consuming? Philosophers and Theologians have wrestled questions like these for millennia and have come to a variety of conclusions, none of which serve as much more than cold comfort in the moment.
In the end, there are two responses to the encroachment of corruption – fight or flight; love or leave. Some fight, some fly. James flies – out of Twin Peaks and, if what I’ve heard is true, into an excruciatingly boring subplot that will stretch over the next several episodes.
But with these two pieces of driftwood out of the way we can return to the supercharged atmosphere of the main storyline. The town itself seems to sense that something is building, that something is about to break, as ominous clouds roll overhead and lightning scorches the sky.
Cooper: “In the pursuit of Laura’s killer I have employed Bureau guidelines, deductive technique, Tibetan method, instinct, and luck. But now I find myself in need of something new which, for lack of a better word, we shall call…Magic.”
Cooper and Albert have brought Ben Horne to the Roadhouse – site of Cooper’s vision – and Truman soon joins them, Leland in tow. Also present: Big Ed, sans Nadine (thank God), Bobby and the still-apparently-comatose Leo, and Deputy Hawk. Cooper asks those assembled to clear a space in the center of the room, and that sense of mounting tension and approaching revelation grows even stronger as the lightning continues to bring partial illumination to all. What we’re presented with here is, more or less, a classic mystery ending in the vein of Agatha Christie – the suspects gathered in a room as the detective outlines his suspicions and comes to a conclusion regarding the identity of the killer. But because this is Twin Peaks and not Murder on the Orient Express, Cooper achieves the necessary revelation not through deduction, but through “magic.” It’s a testament to both McLachlan’s performance and to Hunter’s direction that this speech comes off as rather electrifying (no pun intended), as opposed to goofy.
But this “magic circle” isn’t complete – Cooper intuitively knows that someone is missing. As if on cue, Major Briggs arrives with “Senor Droolcup,” explaining that he was on his way home when the old man flagged him down and asked to be driven to the Roadhouse. It’s no coincidence that Briggs is the one chosen to ferry the old man – he’s already linked via his classified Intelligence work with some of the strangeness in Twin Peaks, and he’s shown himself to be (as far as we know) a noble, kindly man interested in spiritual improvement and progression, despite his militaristic veneer. In fact, that uniform arguably functions similarly to the “vessel” of the old man – hiding great goodness beneath an unlikely façade. We watch as the old man offers Cooper a stick of gum and hear Leland tell “Senor Droolcup” that it was his favorite gum as a child – to which the old man replies: “That gum you like is going to come back in style.” You’ll remember that this was the same phrase uttered by the Little Man in Cooper’s Zen dream. This detail contributes to the idea of circles being of profound importance in Twin Peaks’ obfuscated blue collar mythology. Here, we have circles within circles within circles – the “magic circle” that Cooper creates with his invited “guests,” the circularity of the gum line, the circularity of Bob and Mike’s “perfect” relationship, and the literal circle that manifests when the Giant reappears (only to Cooper, or so it seems) and returns Cooper’s ring.
As before, the Giant brings with him a vision – this time of the Red Room, the Little Man, and the moment in which Laura leaned in and whispered into Cooper’s ear (first seen in Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer). Only, this time, we hear what Laura said.
Laura: “My father killed me.”
In reading the AV Club’s recap of this episode I was struck by just how different my reaction to this episode is from the reaction of Keith Phipps. Where he found things less-than-satisfying, I find all of this enormously satisfying. I don’t agree with Phipps’ assertion that the episode seems rushed and jumbled. If anything, I think the opposite is true. There’s an admirably inevitable feeling to everything that happens in Arbitrary Law, a feeling of tumblers clicking into place one by one by one. And with the revelation of the killer’s identity there’s no shortage of continuing mystery here, even as Cooper arrives at the answer he’s been seeking. We still have no idea of what’s really happening here in the background of the show – all that’s been (sorta) cleared up other than the killer’s ID is some assorted window dressing that revolves around the show’s metaphysical players. Do we really understand why Cooper’s ring is important? No. Do we understand the nature of, the function of, the purpose of, the Red Room and the Little Man? No. Do we understand the Giant? No. Do we understand Mike and Bob, their partnership and subsequent severing and their methods and their goals? No. As far as I can tell, all we (sort of) “understand” following this scene is the meaning of the Little Man’s chewing gum comment, and the possible (but by no means confirmed) benevolence of the Giant.
But what we understand isn’t really what’s important. What’s important, for now, is what Cooper now understands – that Leland Palmer killed his daughter, and killed Madeleine Ferguson. I enjoyed the way in which Cooper never tips his hand once the truth is known, pretending to close down on Ben Horne even as he’s slyly inviting Leland to come along to the Station as Ben’s lawyer. Coop’s eccentric, but he’s also a razor-sharp thinker; he maneuvers Leland into position with admirable subtlety and Truman gets a quiet moment of badassness (yeah, that’s a word now – ‘cause I MADE IT ONE) once they arrive at the Station, and Cooper whispers the truth to him.
All of which is prelude to the episode’s ending minutes, which again rank among the series’ best. When people talk about Twin Peaks as a show worth watching – as something seminal and strange and wondrous and terrifying – they aren’t talking about, or even remembering, plot lines like Catherine’s Japanese man-suit or The Amazing Talking Blocks of Wood that are James and (mostly) Donna. They’re talking about moments like this one – moments where television transcends itself.
I don’t know precisely why Leland wildly hooting like an owl in response to Cooper’s question (“Did you kill Laura Palmer?”), and then dryly responding in kind with “That’s a yes” is so creepy and compelling to me. It simply is. Much of it has to do with Ray Wise’s performance over the course of this series and over the course of the last few episodes specifically. Wise sells every moment like he’s Don frickin’ Draper – leaping effortlessly from pathos to arrogance to lunacy to grief and sanity and then to utter malevolence. It’s a virtuoso performance taken as a whole, and it’s disappointing that Wise never graduated to the ranks of the “A List.” He’s popped up many times since Twin Peaks to deliver other terrific performances (see Good Night and Good Luck) but he’s clearly capable of permanently playing in the so-called Big Leagues, and it would be nice to see him essay a role in, say, P.T. Anderson’s upcoming not-a-Scientology-movie Scientology movie The Master, or in one of Aronofsky’s ambitious flicks, or – dare I say (dare! dare!) in a Guillermo Del Toro picture. Are you reading this, Guillermo (Answer: “Fuck no”)? Cast Ray Wise.
I know I said that I wasn’t going to comment on Lucy and her baby-identifying issues, but I have to for one moment: What are you thinking, Twin Peaks? You craft a solidly compelling series of scenes that leads to the discovery and capture of Laura and Maddie’s killer, you leave him cuffed to a chair in a holding cell, and then you…cut to Lucy and Andy and Dick Tremaine?
ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?!
I mean, I get that someone needs to light a cigarette so that the fire alarm can be triggered, creating some fun and spooky atmosphere for the episode’s final moments, but really? Ben Horne is RIGHT THERE. There’s no way Hawk has processed him that quickly. We know he smokes cigars. Why not have him light one up, thus making him the unknowing perpetuator of the Evil that is Bob? That’d be appropriate, thematically satisfying, and would not result in the sudden and total emotional and narrative whiplash that results in going from Leland’s interrogation to the who-gives-a-flying-fark baby situation and back again.
There. I feel a little better having vented for a moment. Onward and upward, because what’s left is riveting.
The sprinkler system in the Sherriff’s Station goes off and Bob/Leland chooses that moment of confusion to commit suicide by continual-ramming-of-the-head-against-a-steel-door. By the time Albert, Cooper and Truman have entered the holding cell Leland is bleeding out all over the floor and, most horrifically, he now appears to be himself, and to remember what it is that “he” has done. In his last moments among the living, Leland is confronted by the full weight of his sin, his complicity, and Wise again sells the heck out of what is an inarguably disturbing, final bit of backstory for both himself and Bob. As he lays dying, Leland explains that he was “just a boy,” that Bob came to him in his dreams, that he asked Leland if he “wanted to play,” and then, in one of the most transparently-metaphorical-and-awful lines of the series, he “Came inside” of Leland. Keep the sophomoric humor to yourselves for a moment. “When he was inside,” Leland “didn’t know.” And when Bob left – indicating that Bob used Leland like a car, and not as a full-time second skin – Leland “couldn’t remember.” That wording isn’t, I don’t think, accidental at all – not when we’ve literally just learned of the incestual ugliness that existed between father and daughter Palmer. It’s all but stated that Leland was abused as a boy, and we can (unfortunately) assume that it was a family member or close friend who committed those acts. The violation that Leland experienced at the hands of Bob is rendered gruesomely vivid with a handful of words, and here is another circle – a circle of familial abuse and sexual corruption that, thanks to Laura’s death, has broken.
Those folks who’re interested in things like “the Philosophy of Religion” have suggested that there are two forms of “Evil” in the world – Moral evil and Natural evil. Moral evil results from the “willful acts” of human beings, while Natural evil is typically associated with natural disasters like hurricanes, floods and earthquakes.
What’s interesting about how Twin Peaks conceptualizes evil as it relates to Leland Palmer is that Lynch and Frost have chosen to portray Moral evil as Natural evil. The sins that Leland commits are awful, but if we accept that Bob has been in control of Leland during the commission of incest, murder, and God knows what else, then we must concede that Leland’s actions are arguably not “willful,” or at least they haven’t been for a long time. In point of fact, the evil that inhabits Leland is a Natural evil – an evil that exists outside of humanity, that takes away “will” and replaces it with parasitical hunger. Bob is, metaphorically-speaking, a kind of metaphysical hurricane or earthquake – a force large and inhuman and answerable to no man’s conscience. Notice how he reacts to a sudden infusion of the elements – he howls in the rain like the Id unleashed.
I admire this choice. It serves to dramatize the reality of detective work – the cold, hard, unforgiving fact that, while a killer may be caught and a continuing injustice halted, the act of doing so does not halt the relentless march of Evil. Catch a killer and you may achieve some measure of closure but you cannot reverse the act of murder, nor can you proactively prevent others from killing again. To fight on Cooper and Truman’s side is to fight a war against never-ending, never-diminishing atrocity – a war in which victory is a nebulous term at best. This nebulous quality is reflected in the show’s (Germanically-apppointed) title: Arbitrary Law. It is reinforced by Leland’s comment to Cooper about Pittsburgh, which implies rather effectively that Bob, or someone that Bob knew (Mike?) was involved in the events there.
There’s something awful and hopeless about this view of justice – of Knights that save no damsels, but only hope to kill the dragon after the fact – and yet there’s something powerfully noble about it as well. These men fight on regardless, not because there is a final victory to be had, but because fighting Evil in all of its inexorable forms is the Right Thing to Do. More than his dreams and visions, his chipper demeanor, his oddball methodologies, or his dogged determination, this is what makes Cooper a true hero (and what will, eventually, make him a tragic hero in the best sense of the term); he refuses to let the fact of darkness overwhelm him.
Instead, in what may be Cooper’s finest moment in the entire series – one that serves to sum up all of what I love and admire about the character – Cooper forgives Leland Palmer, and guides his soul/spirit/energy to the Light of the Great Beyond with words that are genuinely moving to me.
Cooper: “Leland, the time has come for you to seek the path. Your soul has set you face-to-face with a clear light and you are now about to experience it in its reality, wherein all things are like the void and cloudless sky and the naked, spotless intellect is like a transparent vacuum without circumference or center. Leland, in this moment, know yourself, and abide in that state. Look to the light, Leland. Find the light.”
Those words are almost identical to these words:
“…the time hath now come for thee to seek the Path [in reality]. Thy breathing is about to cease. Thy guru hath set thee face to face before with the Clear Light; and now thou art about to experience in its Reality in the Bardo state, wherein all things are like the void and cloudless sky, and the naked, spotless intellect is like unto a transparent vacuum without circumference or centre. At this moment, know thou thyself-, and abide in that state.”
Those words are taken from the Tibetan Book of the Dead (something apparently also noted by the site ‘The Worst Horse,’ which I guess analyzes instances of Buddhism in pop culture – a very nifty idea) and they offer both Leland and we the audience a measure of peace in the wake of terror. Perhaps life is suffering – but perhaps there is something more on the other side of life. Perhaps there is a place like the one Major Briggs dreamt about – a place of peace and tranquility, where we are reunited with those we love, and have lost. Perhaps that’s nothing but the wistful longings of “Sky Daddy” dependant dreamers. But what exactly is wrong with such a lovely dream, in and of itself? In the face of life’s ongoing tragedies, why shouldn’t we hope for something more – whether in this life or in the next? Some people would answer “Because it’s not realistic,” to which I might respond “Aren’t you the one watching a show about magical Giants and Body-hopping serial killers?”
Put another way:
Truman: “I’ve lived in these old woods most of my life. I’ve seen some strange things – but this is way off the map. I’m having a hard time believing.”
Cooper: “Harry, is it easier to believe a man would rape and murder his own daughter? Any more comforting?”
Did you notice that Cooper and his improvised Knights of the Round Table are quite literally “on a path” through the woods at the end of the episode? Recall Hawk’s words: “You’re on the path – you don’t need to know where it leads; just follow.” As Cooper, Truman, Albert and an unexplained but welcome Major Briggs contemplate Bob’s “reality,” and the notion that he might symbolize “the evil that men do” we’re left with several unresolved, utterly-disquieting facts – Bob is free, is still out there (as Evil always is), and will undoubtedly kill again if given the chance. In the process, he will corrupt another life the same way that he corrupted the lives of Leland and Laura (and, one assumes, many, many more). But perhaps even more disturbing than this fact is something subtler: Before Leland dies, as he explains what has happened to him, he continually says “they.” Not “he,” but “they.” “They” wanted Laura. “They” made him kill her. Bob is only one man. If we’re to take him for truthful, Mike is no longer with Bob. So, who are “they”? Just how many spirits like Bob are out there in the world? And how many of them have we already, unknowingly, met?
HAVE YOUR BADGE AND GUN TAKEN AWAY AFTER THE PAGE BREAK!