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Twin Peaks episode 10: the series delves deeper into violence against women and American misogyny

Explorations of horrors visited upon women are baked into the show. But this miniseries is particularly attuned to them.

Twin Peaks
That’s Vegas, baby!
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Hawk sits, listening to his friend the Log Lady, on the other end of a phone call. His eyes are closed. He almost seems like he’s meditating.

After a long monologue that seems like the Log Lady’s usual obtuse profundity, she concludes with a very simple statement: “Hawk, Laura is the one.” Indeed, maybe we should capitalize that O. “Laura is the One.”

That phrase was also the episode description Showtime offered up for “Part 10.” (Instead of writing traditional episode descriptions for its Twin Peaks miniseries, the network uses disconnected lines of dialogue.) So I’d spent several days since first reading the description, with its sadly uncapitalized o, wondering what it could mean. That Laura was the key to unlocking all of Twin Peaks secrets? That she, too, had returned to our plane, along with Cooper? That she was the One who could transcend life and death?

Well, not quite. “Part 10” is slower and more ruminative than the last few episodes of Twin Peaks, and it moves to its own rhythm as well. It feels, in some ways, like it’s constructed from spare bits and pieces that didn’t fit into those earlier episodes, and its contribution to the forward movement of the plot is minimal.

But that doesn’t matter, because what “Part 10” is trying to suggest is that Laura is the prism through which the rest of the show’s characters need to see the world — and especially the way women are treated within it.

Twin Peaks is deeply concerned with the ways men bring violence upon women

Twin Peaks
Sylvia Horne suffers at the hands of her grandson.

I’ve always hesitated a bit to call Twin Peaks a “feminist” show — at least in the colloquial definition of “feminist art,” which usually just means something that either highlights a well-drawn female protagonist or explores the ways horrible things are brought upon women in a patriarchal society. (For a show that fits both of those descriptions, think about Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, or the Margaret Atwood novel that inspired it.)

But Twin Peaks is at least adjacent to that second colloquial definition. (I should hasten to add here that academic feminist criticism is much more rigorous than my offhand summation of mainstream criticism inspired by academic feminist criticism. But that goes for most mainstream criticism in its relationship to its academic cousin.) The show’s original sin was the brutal murder of Laura Palmer, and the more that Cooper investigated her death, the more he realized she had been subject to all manner of horrible things.

Within the ’50s-inspired small-town world of Twin Peaks, both men and women crumble beneath a societal insistence upon traditional gender roles. Most of them escape that crumbling by giving in to their own inner oddity, but some turn violent, or become the objects of violence.

This is why Laura remains so important to the show, long after her murder was solved. She’s the Rosetta stone to understand everything else, just as the Black Lodge is at the center of Twin Peaks’ mythology because it’s a beautifully elastic symbol for Everything Evil and/or Mysterious in the World. Laura is at once an American archetype — the blonde homecoming queen — but also far more complicated than her surface. And yet the residents of Twin Peaks, confident in their belief that they knew her from the surface she presented, mostly didn’t dig beneath it until it was too late.

Plenty of the original Twin Peaks, especially after David Lynch and Mark Frost left, didn’t engage with this idea of the world warping and destroying young women — or it did so poorly (the Miss Twin Peaks pageant from late in the second season comes to mind). But it’s so baked into the show’s DNA, thanks to being present from the very first, that the show can never get away from it for long.

And it’s been present in the miniseries as well. Right away in the two-hour premiere, a dead woman’s head was found with a dead man’s headless body, and Evil Cooper was killing a scantily clad woman. There have been episodes since then where I’ve found myself reflexively shuddering when a woman enters view because I fear something bad might happen to her, whether by forces supernatural or (more often) otherwise.

And this is, I think, what Lynch and Frost intend. Twin Peaks contains lots of violence against women because the world it takes place in contains lots of violence against women, as does our world. This idea — that the kind of carefully constructed small-town utopia the American dream is built on comes with a hefty side of misogyny and violence against women — has been present in a lot of Lynch’s work. But it’s never been so prominently in the foreground as it is in this miniseries.

“Part 10” is all about how men’s relationships with women are too often destructive

Twin Peaks

It’s not like you have to go digging to find this theme. One of the earliest scenes in the episode involves Harry Dean Stanton’s Carl, last seen in “Part 6,” pausing in playing “Red River Valley” on his guitar because Steven (the husband of Becky, the character played by Amanda Seyfried, who was last seen along with Steven in “Part 5”) has thrown a mug through the window of the trailer next door. Carl shakes his head and laments the violence, but he also doesn’t do anything about it.

Cut to inside the trailer. Steven has pushed Becky back onto the couch, and he launches himself at her, hands going for her throat. He’s desperate and mad, and he’s going to take it out on someone smaller than him, someone who’s nearby. That someone is his wife.

Seeing that scene early on in “Part 10” makes a lot of a seemingly disconnected moments snap into place. Take, for instance, the scenes in Las Vegas, which often have scantily clad blondes (named Candie, Randie, and Mandie) running around in the background or weeping with sorrow over having accidentally hit a man with a remote while trying to kill a fly. (That Candie cries over an accident, while Steven seems completely unaware of what he’s actively choosing to do, might be key here too.)

Or think about how everybody just assumes Gordon brought Tammy along on the case because he thinks she’s attractive. Or Richard going to his grandmother’s house to rob her. Or any other number of scenes where the relationship between a man and woman — platonic or romantic or otherwise — seems as if it could turn poisonous at any moment, because it’s steeped in toxicity from the start.

Twin Peaks doesn’t believe relationships between men and women are inherently horrible. Indeed, there’s a very sweet scene in “Part 10” when we get to peek in on Albert and Constance having a quiet dinner for two, one that seems like a little gift from the show to the audience, an oasis from everything else that’s happening.

And if nothing else, there’s the continued and growing closeness of Janey-E and Cooper/Dougie, who seem as if they’re slowly but surely falling in love. (I’m sure her eventual realization that he’s not her husband, but rather a doppelgänger from another dimension, will just fuck everything up.)

Yet you don’t have to listen too closely to stories of Dougie and Janey-E’s past to discern that the way things were before was horribly broken, even if it wasn’t outright violent. To be taken for granted by someone you once deeply loved carries its own kind of horror.

So, yes, Laura is the One, and her phantom even turns up at Gordon’s door in this episode as if she wants to underline the point. But she’s also not the One, in the sense of being the key that unlocks all mysteries — though she may still prove to be that. She’s “the One” in the sense that she keeps turning our focus toward something dark and poisonous at the heart of too many lives.

So many of David Lynch’s films have been about how easy it is to pretend you don’t know what’s happening behind the closed door next door, even when that mug comes flying through the window. Laura is important because she forces us to look, if only for a little while.