Twin Peaks: Major Briggs’ Vision

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The return of Twin Peaks – which originally aired for two seasons and thirty episodes between 1990 and 1991 – was confirmed on Monday, by means of two identical tweets posted simultaneously by series creators David Lynch and Mark Frost, closely followed by a tweeted announcement courtesy of the Showtime network, on which the new episodes will air.

A new series had been rumoured since Friday evening, when Lynch and Frost tweeted in tandem perhaps the most famous phrase from the eminently quotable show, stating ‘That gum you like is going to come back in style’. But a new series of Twin Peaks has been rumoured, speculated upon and hoped for time and time again, from the moment the second series came to a close in the summer of 1991, leaving much hanging and more still to be uncovered. While fans wished, media outlets hypothesised that these tweets on Friday were merely to promote repackages of old material.

Lynch and Frost’s tweets essentially announcing the rebirth of Twin Peaks used the line ‘it is happening again’: words spoken ominously by The Giant preceding one of the most harrowing sequences from the second series. The tweets were tagged #damngoodcoffee. Both they and Showtime linked to a video announcement, holding the worlds of art and entertainment to attention by virtue of an old-fashioned finger-click.

Many details have been left unsaid, and the new series is still very much in planning: the episodes haven’t been written yet, and the show is still to be cast. But the essentials seem to be firmly in place. The deal with Showtime is for a limited series of nine episodes, which will air in 2016. Lynch and Frost will write and produce all of the episodes, and Lynch has committed to direct all nine. His return to the director’s chair for longer-form filming after eight years – Inland Empire, his last feature film, was released at the end of 2006 – is enough to profoundly excite anyone who has been moved by any of his previous endeavours. Yet the return of his most fondly recalled and widely acclaimed work will send devoted fans into raptures.

It will be a return to the screen too for Frost, who last worked in film on the screenplays for the two Fantastic Four movies, released in 2005 and 2007; and in 2005 also adapted and produced the biographical sports film The Greatest Game Ever Played, based on his own non-fiction book of the same name.

More, the series’ lead actor, Kyle MacLachlan, appears set to reemerge as Agent Dale Cooper. MacLachlan has routinely identified Twin Peaks as one of his most enjoyable and creatively rewarding acting experiences; and on the heels of Monday’s announcement, he tweeted ‘Better fire up that percolator and find my black suit’.

Agent Cooper was left in a predicament at the end of the second series, and it may be questioned whether, twenty-five years hence, he will still be affiliated in any way with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. One of the strongest rumours in the years since has maintained that initial plans for the scrapped third season saw a time-gap of ten years, and Cooper having left the agency and become the town’s pharmacist. Will we find him in 2016 administering gum, floss, or electric toothbrushes from behind the counter of a store or pharmacy, aiding and abetting those who would wish to prevent cavities after a particularly sticky and sugary cherry pie; or will he be secreted out back, making up prescriptions for upset stomachs and other loudly bemoaned or softly-spoken ailments?

Without delving too much here into the full course of the series so far – the announcement of new episodes will surely have enticed newcomers to watch the show for the first time; and Showtime has announced additional plans to repeat the first two series before the new episodes begin – I want to look at one of my favourite scenes from Twin Peaks. It is from the first episode of the second season – alternately known simply as ‘Episode 8’ (the first season comprised an extended pilot plus seven further episodes), or as ‘May the Giant Be With You’ – and features Bobby Briggs meeting his father, Major Garland Briggs, in the town’s Double R Diner. Sitting opposite his son, Major Briggs recounts a vision.

Diners are special places for Lynch. They bear the pleasures of food and friends; and yet they are also sites of a peculiar stasis, which can be comforting as it relates to our simplest desires and most persistent habits, but can also prove unsettling: diners in the worlds Lynch creates often become portals of discovery and wellsprings of action. Lynch himself has frequented a handful of diners through the course of his life – notably Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank, California, which he visited regularly for seven years, at precisely 2:30 pm each day, to order a chocolate milkshake and drink coffee – and has described the ‘safety’ of diners, depicting them as places in which to think: ‘you can go off into strange dark areas’, he says, ‘and always come back to the safety of the diner’.

In Blue Velvet, Jeffrey and Sandy sit in a diner as Jeffrey eats and plans their entry into a darkly mysterious world, which has been opened up obliquely by the discovery of a severed ear. More markedly, the scene from ‘May the Giant Be With You’ parallels a noted scene from 2001’s Mulholland Drive. There too two men meet in a diner – in ‘Winkie’s’ on Sunset Boulevard – and, sitting across from each other, one recounts to the other a dream he has experienced. If the broad outlines of the two scenes are identical, they differ profoundly in points of detail.

In Mulholland Drive, after a close-up of the Winkie’s sign, we focus immediately on the two men, who are already seated. In ‘May the Giant Be With You’, we watch as Bobby enters the Double R Diner alone. He is smoking, and takes off his leather jacket as he goes to sit at the diner’s counter. He is not present to see his father – the two have not planned to meet – but as he takes his seat, we see his father seated in a booth in the left corner of the diner, with his back to the counter. As Bobby taps his fingers impatiently on the counter-top, Major Briggs turns and sees his son over his shoulder.

An over-the-shoulder look towards the counter in Mulholland Drive portends terror, as the two characters find themselves stuck in a loop, and the semblance of any boundary between waking life and the realm of dreams and nightmares dissipates. Instead in ‘May the Giant Be With You’, Major Briggs hesitates for a moment, then calls out: ‘Son’. Bobby responds, ‘Dad’, and Major Briggs tentatively offers, ‘Would you care to join me?’. Bobby sighs, stubs out his cigarette, and goes over. He slouches in the booth, all but horizontal opposite his father, holding himself up only via his left hand on the table top, as his father eats his pie and begins to ask Bobby about his school day.

At this juncture in Twin Peaks, we have the sense of Bobby as a decidedly troublesome teenager. Originally one of the prime suspects in the show’s central murder mystery, through the course of the first series he emerges as a figure entangled in many of the town’s darkest plots, and potentially prone to violent outbursts – but he is complex, and not uncaring. With his father a Major, we may suspect that this relationship is at the root of much of his behaviour: a fairly typical case of an authoritative father producing an unruly child. Yet this scene at the beginning of the second season confounds this suspicion.

Because Bobby is slouched on his side of the booth while Major Briggs sits upright, the camera can fix the Major firmly to the left, but looks down upon Bobby over the Major’s right shoulder. In the scene from Mulholland Drive, it is the younger of the two men who recounts his dream to the older, middle-aged man; and likewise the camera looks down on the younger man, who like Bobby is seated to the right of the table, and slightly upwards towards the older man on the left. However, everything about the scene in Winkie’s is uneasy: the camera floats unsteadily, ambient sound is muted and replaced by an indistinct hum, and an overt power dynamic is at play. The relationship between the two men is undefined – perhaps they have been lovers, perhaps close work colleagues or friends – but the older man appears impatient and condescends to his younger companion, who is hesitant as he unfolds the purpose of their visit.

By contrast, despite the dynamic which would be suggested by the differing perspectives of the camera and the inviolable relationship between father and son, there is an utter absence of authority in the scene in the Double R Diner. Major Briggs views his son with head tilted slightly to one side, and engages in a reciprocal discussion. Bobby responds to his father’s question by asking about his father’s day. When his father responds that his day was good, Bobby ponders for a moment, pushes himself up so that he is facing his father directly, and asks ‘Dad – what is it that you do exactly?’. Major Briggs smiles softly and says, ‘That’s classified’.

As Bobby continues to ponder – his thoughts in all respects wandering far from schoolwork – his father asks him if he would care for a piece of pie. The huckleberries, it turns out, ‘are particularly delicious today. Particularly fresh, and delicious’. Bobby declines. Major Briggs finishes his own pie, and makes another offer: ‘Bobby, may I share something with you?’. Now Bobby assents.

In Mulholland Drive, the point of the pair’s meeting is explicitly the conveying of a dream – and a dream which, situated in an ambiguous ‘half-night’ in time, has Winkie’s diner at its centre. Instead, Major Briggs is careful to note that he intends to share not a dream, but a vision:

A vision I had in my sleep last night. As distinguished from a dream which is mere sorting and cataloguing of the day’s events by the subconscious. This was a vision – fresh and clear as a mountain stream – the mind revealing itself to itself.

Music swells softly as the Major recounts his vision. Where the younger man in Mulholland Drive largely fixes on his companion while telling his dream, occasionally glancing off to one side, alternately smiling nervously and furrowing his brow, Major Briggs looks down and to the right in deep thought, drawing from memory to explicate his vision in detail. He remains open to his son, frequently looking at him, including him in the retelling.

He evokes from his vision a palazzo with a light emanating from within, which he recognises as the place of his birth and youth. New rooms have been added to the building since he was last there, but they cohere seamlessly with the rest of the house. Moving from room to room, he gradually returns to the grand foyer, and hears a knock at the door. It is his son:

happy and carefree, clearly living a life of deep harmony and joy. We embraced, a warm and loving embrace, nothing withheld. We were in this moment one.

My vision ended. I awoke with a tremendous feeling of optimism and confidence in you and your future. That was my vision – it was you.

The warmth of the Major’s vision, and his warm smile as he brings it to a close, have rendered Bobby emotional. ‘Really?’, he responds. The optimism inherent within the vision has provided for Bobby a sense of hope and a moment of tranquility amid what is proving an otherwise turbulent time in his life and in the life of the town. His father concludes, ‘I am so glad to have had this opportunity to share it with you.’

Major Briggs stands up, and the camera remains broadly at table-height, embellishing the Major’s stature. He offers Bobby his hand, and tells him, ‘I wish you nothing but the very best in all things’. Bobby says, ‘Thank you, Dad’, and the camera focuses in on father and son’s entwined hands, before Major Briggs says he will see his son later at home. Bobby smiles sweetly, then places his head in his palm as his father departs. The scene from Mulholland Drive will only come to a close once the younger man has laid aside his uneaten food, and ventured with his older companion around the back of Winkie’s diner. It ends with the younger man collapsing into the older man’s arms as he falls to the ground, leaving the older man crouched above him, checking his pulse. The scene from ‘May the Giant Be With You’ ends on a lighter note, as the Major is asked by Hank Jennings, who is tending the diner, whether he enjoyed his pie. ‘Exceptional, as always’, the Major replies, and he and Hank share a salute.

David Lynch directed this episode of Twin Peaks – in fact, it was one of only four he directed across the twenty-two episodes of the second season. Dreams and visions are repeated facets of his work, which has often been summarised as dreamlike owing to its bold and surreal imagery. Yet it is fair to say that visions and dreams in Lynch are never reducible solely to dreams: they never serve as bland, easy-to-read symbols, and never detach entirely from waking reality.

Tolstoy famously wrote that happy families are all alike, while every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. When it comes to art, it seems we can turn this somewhat on its head. Genuinely bad art tends to be definably bad; when it comes to film and television, this is so whether this badness owes to weak characterisation, a thin or incoherent plot, a poorly realised world, or absurd and inconsistent dialogue. But great art always possesses something indefinable.

It resists precise categorisation, and as much as we can check off a list of virtues by which it succeeds, its greatness often rests on something not quite tangible, throbbing at its centre but just out of our reach. In film, this is true whatever the era or genre: whether the nervously psychological, dreamlike visions of Vertigo or , the differently austere works of Bergman or Ozu, or a rambunctious comedy like Bringing Up Baby. And despite the analysis above, it is true of the diner scene from ‘May the Giant Be With You’, which offers a strangely beautiful, richly moving, boundless sensation of love between father and son and union between two individual persons.

Major Briggs becomes key to the progress of the second season, as Agent Cooper and company search towards the elusive White and Black Lodges which seem to hold the secrets to the murders plaguing the town. The diner scene – the highlight from the opening to the second season – significantly prefigures these later explorations. And speculation maintains that the third series was to have placed Major Briggs centre stage. Alas, the actor who played the character, Don S. Davis, died of a heart attack in 2008, aged just sixty-five. Still, it is hard to imagine that Major Briggs will not have some role to play when life is restored to the town of Twin Peaks come 2016.

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