Where to begin with last night's Twin Peaks? I watch a lot of movies and it's only a few times I can remember walking away from something so brilliant I felt like I didn't want to see or hear anything else for a good while afterwards. I achieved that beautiful afterglow last night. I wondered if I'd ever get anything done ever again. But to-day I'm ready to talk about it, another sign of a great work of art, and to be sure lots of people have been talking about it, opinions generally divided between assertions that it's totally baffling and assertions that its meanings are very, very clear. Judging from most of the broad strokes of interpretations, I'd have to go with the latter assertion, which is a good thing. Art is about communication not obfuscation, it should be clear. Often times when people say a great work is confusing, generally the impression I get is those people are too uncomfortable with the message they've received to admit they understand it, which is definitely the impression I have here. This is one of those times where the few negative opinions are an additional sign that a work of art has succeeded well beyond measure. And, oh, wow, has it.
Spoilers after the screenshot
I'm going to see if I can add some interpretation without repeating too much what other people have said. Plenty have pointed out that the episode ties the birth of Bob, and the malevolent supernatural forces of Twin Peaks, with the first atomic bomb detonation, thereby making the loss of innocence portrayed on Twin Peaks a reflection of the greater loss of innocence of the U.S. as a whole. Now, of course, one can point out that the U.S. and humanity in general have done plenty of bad things before the atom bomb. Lynch isn't arguing humanity was perfect before the atom bomb, he's using it as a symbol to tell a uniquely American story about love versus corruption.
A lot of people have pointed out that the Woodsman at the end who violently commandeers a radio station was played by an Abraham Lincoln impersonator named Robert Broski and then tied this to the image of Lincoln on the penny picked up by the little girl (Tikaeni Faircrest).
I didn't think of Abraham Lincoln when I saw the Woodsman but this makes sense with a lot of other things I saw going on in the episode. It's better to take Lincoln as a symbol than for any of the other nuances we'd consider when pondering him as a human being. Think about what Lincoln means to these profoundly innocent American kids--he's a symbol of what's great about the American spirit. He's seen as being the figure most directly responsible for fighting against another of the country's greatest sins, slavery, so to a kid in the fifties he's a symbol that the true spirit of the country is one that celebrates freedom and happiness for everyone and the strength to fight against anything that would curtail those rights. So the Woodsman taking the form of Abraham Lincoln would be an especially potent form of corruption.
The movie--I mean episode of Twin Peaks--is very much about symbol or rather media, both for good and bad. The spell cast by the Woodsman over the air waves, "This is the water and this is the well, drink full and ascend," seems to be commentary on the hazards of addiction to junk, meaningless media. Real art doesn't need to tell you it's the water and the well but this promise lulls listeners to sleep and renders them susceptible to Bob's control. One could say a corruption of a Republican president as a symbol that reflects a deep spiritual problem is a particularly potent story right now though I doubt Lynch was consciously making an argument about Trump. Though, who knows, maybe he was. Certainly misuse of the media has been a critical issue in this mess. "This is the water and this is the well," probably counts as fake news.
It's even more effective because a moment before, when the radio was playing "My Prayer" performed by The Platters, the medium was providing its listeners with a real well of spiritual sustenance. Like the image of Lincoln, the Woodsman has hijacked a genuine piece of art. The message about the horse I'm less certain of, though I my mind immediately associates it with the white horse Sarah Palmer had visions of and which appeared in the Black Lodge earlier this season.
When the Giant (Carl Struycken) reviews the events of the atom bomb detonation and what it caused, he's not simply viewing security footage, he's viewing the same footage we saw, in other words Lynch's film. This is emphasised by the fact that the Giant is viewing the footage in a movie theatre, Lynch is showing us how art can show us a truth which we can then act upon. The Giant then hovers and then reclines as though sleeping and from his head, like a dream or like the strange stuff that emerged from the dead child a few episodes ago, comes a gold substance producing a golden orb with the image of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) inside.
But it's not just any image of Laura Palmer or a new image of Sheryl Lee. It's that same prom queen photo we've seen again and again. Like the image of Lincoln on the coin, this is less about Laura than about what she symbolised for the community of Twin Peaks. I've been listening lately to the recently released audiobook of Laura Palmer's diary performed by Sheryl Lee--and she deserves big praise for it. She does not compromise on mining emotional trauma for her performance. Much of the book has to do with Laura's anxiety about her persona, and the responsibility it confers on her, and the contrast with Bob who isn't just abusing her physically but is conducting a lifelong campaign to make her feel ashamed of her sexuality.
This is something very much at play on the show as well. Just as at the beginning of season three the young couple are engaging in innocent, casual sex and are murdered for it, we see two kids in last night's episode who are even more innocent, their shared first kiss as adorable as anything I've ever seen (I wouldn't be surprised if the little boy ended up being a young Gordon Cole). We're seeing corruption and fall from the Garden of Eden and instead of Eve eating a fruit she swallows a newborn Bob who looks like a frog with cockroach wings.
I doubt Lynch was thinking about Paradise Lost, though maybe he had been--Milton had a huge influence on American 19th century literature and was, in praising him, called by Margaret Fuller a great example of a Puritan-- the moral conflict shown on Twin Peaks seems clearly a descendent of American Puritanism. When seeing Bob's early form when he invades the little girl in her sleep, it's hard not to think of Milton's description of Satan when he's manipulating the dream of a slumbering Eve:
him there they found
Squat like a Toad, close at the eare of EVE;
Assaying by his Devilish art to reach
The Organs of her Fancie, and with them forge
Illusions as he list, Phantasms and Dreams,
Or if, inspiring venom, he might taint
Th' animal Spirits that from pure blood arise
Like gentle breaths from Rivers pure, thence raise
At least distemperd, discontented thoughts,
Vain hopes, vain aimes, inordinate desires
Blown up with high conceits ingendring pride.
I loved the pacing and imagery of last night's episode. All this interpretation does nothing to convey the wonder in the pure experience of watching the episode.
The perspective on the atom bomb explosion starts out making it look strange even before the camera pulls into a 2001 homage. Like Kubrick, Lynch was here using a barrage of strange and violent sensory stimuli to impress upon us how perfectly strange the experience is for the human mind, rendering clearly how a barrier between two worlds is being violently torn down. Many people are speculating that the strange being shown vomiting is the same being who murdered the couple back at the beginning of the season, which would make a lot of sense. Looking at the screenshot now, I just realised that her hand is backwards--the thumb is on the wrong side:
Much like everyone speaks backwards in the other world. I'd love it if we found out eventually it was Alice's looking-glass world all along.
Also, I enjoyed the performance by Nine Inch Nails. As with "My Prayer", the lyrics to the song nicely complimented and expanded on what we were seeing.