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Twin Peaks episode 14: these characters try — and fail — to make order out of chaos

Whether they tell stories or conduct investigations, they hope to make sense of a senseless world.

Twin Peaks
Deputy Andy finds something strange in the woods.
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.

We only have three weeks and four hours of this miraculous Twin Peaks miniseries left, which means I forgive you if you wondered why this episode spent so long on Freddie, a character we’ve barely met before (he was in a brief snippet of “Part 3”), explaining to James just how he came to Twin Peaks, wearing a rubber gardening glove on one hand.

To be sure, his long-winded explanation — which involves a trip from his native London to an audience with the Fireman (formerly known as “the Giant” or “???????” in his previous appearances in the world alongside our world), who tells him that if he wears a certain glove on his hand, that hand will have the strength of a pile driver — is a fascinatingly weird dip into Twin Peaks lore.

But this was also the episode where we learned Diane and Janey E are half sisters! Where Andy traveled into one of the Lodges and saw a vision of the series to date! Where everybody started to realize there was another Cooper! Why were we spending time on this?

The more I thought about it, though, the more the scene seemed key to the episode’s approach. “Part 14” has very little Cooper (he appears in a couple of seconds of screen time). Instead, it’s filled with all of the other characters trying to make sense of the weirdness that swirls all around them.

And how do we make sense of that? We tell each other stories.

Storytelling is key to pinning down Twin Peaks’ mystery — if it can be pinned down

Twin Peaks
Like what’s this all about anyway?

If you know literally anything about Twin Peaks, you know that it’s “weird.” The series indulges in dark flights of fancy that are unlike anything else in TV history, where characters seem as if they’re walking some line between sanity and some great, undulating ocean of madness. The series has made me think, more than once, of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, where understanding the true terrors that lie beneath everything else will surely cause you to lose your mind.

And this is largely true of human life, isn’t it? There is so much we don’t understand, from questions as big as “what is the purpose of life?” to ones as small as, “What is this other person thinking right now?” To go about your day to day life is to constantly court uncertainty, to be asked to accept that several contradictory things might be true at the same time, or that someone you think you know might turn out to seem as if they’ve been possessed by an alien invader when they do something that seems out of character to you. Human life is about finding ways to tidy up that chaos.

One of the ways we tidy up that chaos is to tell stories about it. What is religion, for instance, but an attempt to explain the inner workings of the universe by constructing a framework of storytelling atop them? This doesn’t mean that you understand anything any better, but if you believe in some sort of god, then you surely believe that they do understand what’s going on more than you do. The chaos swirls all around you, but you’re okay, because you know somebody’s got it locked down.

If you were a resident of Twin Peaks, though, this uncertainty might prove harder and harder to handle. We’ve been watching Sarah Palmer, for instance, shuffle through her solitary life over the last few episodes, but this hour reveals that she can remove her face to reveal a swirling void that apparently exists inside her head, then cause half of a man’s neck to explode via whatever these powers are. How do you make sense of that?

Well, you try to fashion it into a story. This is the power of David Lynch’s work, often. It plays with the strange logic of a dream, where Monica Belucci might approach you in Paris to offer help with a case, only to prompt you to turn around and see your younger self, but it also is presented via relatively straightforward filmmaking. Yes, you think. Sarah Palmer has a chaotic void just behind her face. Of course. It makes sense.

Then you might think about how this is the day to day reality for the residents of Twin Peaks. When the employees of the sheriff’s department launch their journey into the woods — which culminates in finding the naked but still living body of a woman with five or six eyes sealed shut on her face, because sure — they’re following the logic of some strange story they find themselves in. Their investigation keeps leading them to stranger and stranger places, but they’re unable to do anything but follow it.

This, the show suggests, is true for all of us. We know that life is essentially chaotic and random, and that we understand very, very little of it. But we keep finding ways to make ourselves part of its story, even if it makes no sense that we are. To live in Twin Peaks is to stand right up at the edge of a cliff that contains the dark, swirling undercurrents of the universe at its base, then decide the view looks great. But isn’t that what we all do?

Then again, time is a kind of storytelling order, isn’t it?

Twin Peaks
Albert and Tammy work to make sense of the chaos.

One of the most predominant theories about what’s going on in this season of Twin Peaks is that time has broken down somehow, that the universe has split open and started to devour our reality in a way that causes things to loop and repeat themselves, or events to happen out of order. And, naturally, the epicenter of this activity is at Twin Peaks, because that’s the epicenter of everything. (For more on this, Indiewire’s Hanh Nguyen has an excellent post.)

But as I watched the Twin Peaks police officers seem to exist as several ghostly selves simultaneously — as if we were watching time pull apart and stretch thin and cease to exist as a going concern — I found myself thinking about how time itself is a human construct that we’ve come up with to force order onto chaos. Time is just another story we tell ourselves, on some level.

Now, to be sure, there’s good reason for this. We exist in a dimension that means we are subservient to time. We can’t break free from its grasp, which means we keep aging, keep moving forward. No matter how much any of us might want to return to some moment in our past to set things right, we can’t. It’s telling, I think, that Andy captures a glimpse of the famous shot from the series’ pilot, in which a girl streaks, crying, across the lawn of Twin Peaks High School, having just learned that Laura Palmer died. He can’t get back there to save Laura, or to comfort that girl. He’s forced, instead, to watch that moment again, to return to that grief.

This is at least some of what this season of Twin Peaks has been about. The people of Twin Peaks seem like they’re stuck in a time loop because on some emotional level they are. They’re trapped in the events of the late 1980s, when Laura died and everything descended into horror, because when something so terrible happens, it’s impossible to escape its clutches.

The pilot has so many scenes of people just crying when they learn Laura has died, because Lynch has always been fascinated by exploring these sorts of moments in greater depth and detail than most filmmakers would offer. Twin Peaks is trapped in the most horrible moments of the past because all of us are. And if you accept that time is just a thing we’ve come up with to make sense of how we’re trapped in this never-ending current, it becomes easier to slip loose of it, to get stuck in some moment you might be better off leaving behind. Time heals all wounds — but what happens if you can’t stop poking at those wounds? Mightn’t time start to fray at the edges?

Every other part of Twin Peaks, then, from Freddie’s long story about his super strong hand to the investigation of the Blue Rose cases by the FBI, is an attempt to make sense of that chaos, to put things back in an orderly row and make sure all of the right boxes are checked. And I’m sure you can feel that desire for order inside of yourself, yeah? Even if you love the way the show sprawls all over the place, some part of you must be saying, “How are they going to wrap this up in four hours?” I know some part of me is.

But that’s the point. No matter what happens with the two Coopers, or with Billy and Tina, or with the two Lodges, or with the detonation of the atomic bomb, you’ll never have all the answers you want. To be human is to long for chaos to retract and for order to reign. You might get there in bits and pieces, but some part of you will always know that somewhere, outside, there is a darkness.