Twin Peaks: The Return and the Left Eye of Nadine Hurley

The first two episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return – shown together so that as with the Twin Peaks pilot all those years ago, the opening to the series effectively functions as a standalone piece of cinema – were bravura displays of filmmaking. Drawing us back into the heart of the familiarly off-kilter world while puncturing it with new locales which feel like portals, slow-paced on the level of the scene but bubbling over with tension and detail, impactful through their sleek and squelching sound design, peerless in the restraint and idiosyncrasy of their cinematography, perhaps most of all for longtime fans of the series, they were full of emotional resonance.

We started where we left off twenty-five years ago, trapped inside the Black Lodge, with a visibly aged but otherwise intact Dale Cooper. And not just intact, for Cooper looked lean as ever, capable of vigour and with the old glimmer in his eye almost tangible, if it weren’t suppressed and rendered askew by the strange and unsettling stasis which lingers over the Red Room and its adjacent hallway.

Cooper is listening to the Giant, who in black-and-white offers a cluster of cryptic messages – ‘Remember 4-3-0. Richard and Linda. Two birds with one stone. It all cannot be said aloud now’ – before leaving Dale to the more dubious pleasures of the one-armed MIKE and the long-deceased Laura Palmer. Later in the episodes he will meet The Man from Another Place in the form of ‘the evolution of the arm’, Michael J. Anderson’s red-suited dwarf from the original series supplanted by an electrified and leafless tree with a fleshy centre. As the 1992 prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me made explicit, The Man from Another Place and MIKE’s severed arm are one and the same creature.

While Cooper lingers patiently inside the Black Lodge, his doppelgänger of sorts, the evil lookalike who took his place in the world at the end of the second season, long haired and ostensibly reeking of gasoline, carries out a sequence of grisly murders somewhere in South Dakota. One concerns the wife of a school principal who has just been arrested on suspicion of the same: the disembodied head of the school librarian has been discovered and the principal’s fingerprints are all over the scene, if not over the flesh of her face or the corpulent John Doe whose decapitated body lies under the bed covers. Hoping for some support from his wife, instead the school principal is scorned as she reveals an affair with his lawyer, but when she returns home she is shot from behind by the malevolent Cooper loitering in the shadows.

As the episodes progress and the doppelgänger Cooper keeps slithering and shuddering into view, it turns out that time is pressing. He is scheduled to return to the Black Lodge, and his criminal partners either know something about it or intend to hasten his demise by killing him. He is too sharp and too ruthless for that, but as the second episode draws to a close, his car looks set to careen off the highway or over and down some unforeseeable precipice, just as the ‘real’ Cooper falls through the zig-zag floors of the Black Lodge and jolts devastatingly through a glass box-cum-oversized test tube suspended in a secretive warehouse in New York City.

Back in Twin Peaks, it is Deputy Hawk who keeps things together, still treading the woods, the venerable face of the Sheriff’s Department, and crucially still hoping to somehow find Cooper. He receives a phone call from Margaret, The Log Lady, who with tubes in her nose finds the courage to pass on a message, telling Hawk that the answer will relate to his Indian heritage. Discussing the return of Twin Peaks, Showtime CEO David Nevins would only say that ‘the core of it is Agent Cooper’s odyssey’, and The Return already has that feeling, replete with cyclops, sirens, and pernicious suitors.

To some extent this was Twin Peaks at its rawest, stripped back, violent, iconographic, overtly Lynchian, a Twin Peaks of waiting rooms and insolubly bleak murders. Yet the gentlest moments of the first two parts of The Return were equally visceral and intriguing. Our first glimpse of the town proper had us rustling in the stillness of the forest, watching mostly from afar as Dr. Lawrence Jacoby – replete with his red and blue glasses – received and unwrapped a truckload of shovels. More than the unexplained subject matter of the scene, the triangular layout of Jacoby’s mobile home, workbenches, and canopies, the muted voices from a conversation we could barely overhear, and our distant vantage point between the trees evoked a sense of mystery and wonderment.

Hawk’s appearance brought genuine relief, as much for his sturdy and sympathetic presence. Fleeting visits with Benjamin and Jerry Horne at The Great Northern and with Andy and Lucy Brennan at the Sheriff’s Department were enough to renew old acquaintances. And the two episodes finished with one of those unforgettable moments pitched somewhere between the first flush of love and an elegy, in the Roadhouse with the Chromatics, Shelly concerned for the welfare of her daughter, and the return of the ‘still cool’ James Hurley.

One of the most striking facets of the first two episodes seems to bear relation to James’ onetime aunt, Nadine Hurley. In fact The Return not only deepens but utterly recasts our sense of the character. Across the first two seasons of Twin Peaks, the soapy saga of Nadine and her husband Ed seemed one of the most frivolous of the series’ storylines, hardly touching upon the pressing question of who killed Laura Palmer. Nadine was one of the few characters in Twin Peaks who never interacted with Agent Cooper.

In the first season, Nadine’s world revolved around her pursuit of silent drapes, a goal belatedly achieved – and after much marital strife – when Ed drips grease on the cotton balls she is attaching to the runners. After her patent is denied, she attempts suicide, overdosing on pills, and spends the bulk of season two in love with the high school wrestler Mike Nelson, the effect of her trauma making her believe that she is a teenager. Eventually a bump on the head restores her to adulthood, and she retains no memory of anything that occurred following her suicide attempt. The darker subtext to Nadine Hurley’s story remained firmly submerged, and with her youthful antics and superhuman strength she served largely as comic relief, but the subtext was there: the suicide attempt, and the eye patch, apparently the result of a hunting accident on her and Ed’s honeymoon.

Ed loves his high school sweetheart Norma Jennings, who owns the Double R Diner, but they carry out their romance intermittently and clandestinely partly because of Nadine’s ferocious temper, but also because Ed still feels guilt over the hunting accident. A piece of buckshot fired by Ed ricocheted off a rock and hit Nadine in her left eye, leaving her permanently disfigured. The patch covers the wound while serving as a constant reminder.

Across the first two episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return, a series of startling stills conjure the visage of Nadine. The disembodied head of the librarian in South Dakota could even be mistaken for Nadine’s: found resting on the pillow of the bed in the librarian’s small apartment, it is scarred down the left side, but all stemming from the gaping wound which was once the woman’s left eye socket. Like Nadine, the librarian appears to have had red hair. The resemblance is uncanny and unmistakable.

From left to right: Nadine Hurley in the original Twin Peaks; the severed head of Ruth Davenport, a school librarian from South Dakota; Phyllis Hastings, wife of William Hastings, after she was murdered by the doppelgänger Cooper

After the first couple of episodes, we don’t know who killed the librarian, though the school principal remains the chief suspect despite contending that he only ever entered her apartment in a dream. But Cooper’s evil doppelgänger is lurking South Dakota with intent, and when he shoots the principal’s wife on her return home from the jail, she too winds up with a gunshot wound and blood pouring from her eye socket. Did the principal’s wife know doppelgänger Cooper? She doesn’t seem startled by his presence in her home, instead asking him with a familiar tone, ‘What are you doing here?’.

Perhaps they too were carrying out an affair, or perhaps she had engaged him to deal with her husband. Whatever, when the greasy-haired Coop raises his gun and shoots her from behind as she turns fleeing, the result is a blown out eye – and it appears to be the left one – even though the back of her head shows no obvious entry wound. Doppelgänger Cooper kills a couple more times through the course of the first two parts of The Return, but a car mechanic is slowly massaged to death while Darya – one of the group of criminals who betrays him – is shot in the left side of the head while being smothered with a pillow. She comes to rest with one eye open, the other closed, but the gunshot wound doesn’t encroach upon either eye socket.

If the popular conception of David Lynch is of cinema’s arch surrealist, what is sometimes lost is his meticulous preparatory work and his close attention to themes and motifs, signs, symbols, and physical details. Along with the tarred figure which inhabits an otherwise empty South Dakota jail cell and the obese body which lies underneath the head of the librarian, it is the gaping, festering, bloody eye sockets which provide the first two episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return with their most ghastly images. The face and the fact of Nadine Hurley is thrown into stark relief, and we remember her discombobulated by time, and her silent drapes wafting silent as red curtains.