Marvel’s “grey villains”: Why Thanos, Killmonger and Loki work

Marvel have a villain problem. It’s not just long debated: it’s a fact. For far too long in the 18-strong franchise, villains more complex than your obligatory Big Bad were much needed and hard to come by.

Yes there was Loki, he of Asgard and adopted, emo brother of Thor, burdened by familial woes and self-righteous, glorious purpose. For a very long time, he was the sole purveyor of what could be deemed a more “complex” villain. Be it conquest, forgiveness, betrayal or redemption, the character only earned the marker of “Marvel’s Best Villain” due to the longevity of character development and potential for change, much of which only being allowed thanks to fan-servial resurrection.

Due to this, Loki has graced more films than any other Marvel villain to date, namely three Thor films, the first Avengers outing and most recently, Avengers: Infinity War. By the end of 2017’s game-changing Thor Ragnarok it is debatable as to whether Loki is even a villain at all, which is precisely what makes the character work so well; even when he has committed heinous, murderous acts for his own personal gain, his charming nature makes him engaging, as does his being flawed and relatable in his patheticness.

Whilst not necessarily the same, there are definite comparative dualities that make successive villains Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther) and Thanos (Josh BrolinAvengers: Infinity War) equally as compelling. As the first MCU film to centre on a black lead with a predominantly black cast and crew, Black Panther excelled in its representation of black culture and its portrayal of hereditary historical and societal black issues, touching upon colonialism, alienation and preservation of culture and pilgrimage to a homeland, a compulsion of many a person of colour.

Set in Wakanda – a fictional and technologically advanced African nation that shields its wealth from the world to protect its resources from the potential for colonialism and war – Black Panther celebrates African language, culture and history and offers a glimpse (albeit, a science fictional one) into what African nations may have grown to become had they not been pillaged in centuries previous. Eric Killmonger, the film’s antagonist to its king T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), is an American-born Wakandan with a grudge against his ancestral homeland and a claim to its throne. His belief that returning to Wakanda will offer him a sense of belonging intertwined with his fury results in a quest for dictatorship, acceptance and a longing to fill The Void of ancestry following slavery that so many African Americans continue to feel. Such deeper, more personal motivations provided a more complex insight into the motives of Killmonger than any Marvel villain seen previously, even Loki who – let’s face it – has always been a sly weasel of a character.

As audiences should expect, given ten years of the MCU and six years of build-up, Thanos needed to be the biggest of Big Bads. He did not disappoint, and solidified his status in the opening scene of Avengers: Infinity War – before the credits had even rolled – by slaughtering a whole host of Asgardian refugees and not one, but two major characters.

Thanos – as everyone knows by now – is hellbent on collecting the Infinity Stones, six elemental stones with unknown ability that make the bearer the most powerful being in the universe. But perhaps unprecedentedly, the “Mad Titan” has seemingly altruistic motives. Tired of seeing civilisations burden their planets by relentlessly depleting its resources, he plans to kill half of the universe’s inhabitants so as to allow these worlds to recoup. It is such a rationally reasoned quest for genocide that when Thanos explains it midway through the film, it almost sounds appealing because – as with all good villains – they are the heroes of their own story by their own perspective.

The sincerity with which he believes in his cause is undermined by his hubris. Unlike Loki and Killmonger, who ultimately start their respective crusades for selfish reasons, Thanos believes himself to be a saviour of life and not a bringer of death, and seeing such black and white perspectives juxtaposed onscreen results in a swathe of grey. Such grey narratives make for more interesting conflicts whereby viewers are able to see compelling – and wrong – points of view in places that they did not anticipate.

In equipping Thanos with the “Hero’s Journey” – a traditional storytelling technique that endears the main protagonist to the audience and allows them room to grow into their optimum self – directors Joe and Anthony Russo deploy the character with an unprecedented depth. Thanos is the Big Bad of Infinity War, but the aforementioned endearment and consequent sympathy to the root of his cause – to preserve life and the wider universe – confuses the narrative structure of film that audiences (especially Marvel ones) are so accustomed. You are propositioned with the temptation of power, and what you’d do with it. You are privy to Thanos’ rationalisation of his quest and actions to achieve it. You are invited to like him.

By the end of Infinity War, it is clear who should (and will) win such tussles in the as-of-yet-unnamed Avengers 4, but the parity of good vs evil is more skewed than ever before in the MCU. Then again, isn’t it fun to question your own psyche along the way.

The weight of silence in A Quiet Place

It’s oh. so. quiet.

Shh! Shh! But wait – even a “shh” is a noise. Best to practise stifled breathing, in the world of A Quiet Placefor John Krasinski‘s directoral debut has an originally novel take on suspense.

Set in a world of a never-quite-explained invasion, the Abbott family are some of incredibly few survivors. The majority of the human race have been wiped out by ravenous alien creatures, blind, swift and blessed with hypersensitive hearing that alerts them to potential prey lurking miles away. The sleepy hometown of the Abbotts is desolate and deserted, its inhabitants long devoured and its contents clumsily pillaged by the sightless creatures. The family have only survived this long by communicating silently via sign language. Their eldest daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf.

Such fluency is pivotal when even the soft chop of salad or the tap of Monopoly tokens are undertaken with utmost precision, whereas louder activities are presumably avoided altogether. Even footsteps on the earth are muffled by the avoidance of shoes, the sound dampened by sand. All sound is treated with suspicion, and rightly so.

There is an imminent and palpable fear at the prospect of everyday existing, whilst the prolonged silence of the film is the dizzying antithesis of a modern cinema experience. This ominous immersion transplants cinema-goers directly into the world of A Quiet Place, sparking a tense friction and that heart-in-the-mouth feeling that death is lurking with baited breath just outside of one’s periphery.

It is perhaps this that grounds the film emotionally. The endless threat of child harm or death, the sickeningly plausible body horror of pregnant mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt) (and her saga with that damn nail) and a father’s (portrayed by Krasinski) quest to protect them from otherworldly danger are all plausible – if extrapolated – real-life worries. How can one be silent in mortal terror, anguish, childbirth or the unavoidably loud aftermath?

The bold use of amplified diegetic sound is undermined somewhat by Marco Beltrami’s score. In an interview with IGN, Krasinski stated that what he wanted to do was to “make sure that people had some familiarity with movies from before, so it didn’t feel like an experiment.”[1] With the way that A Quiet Place thrives on the tension derived from the paranoia of making any noise at all – a feeling that extended itself to cinemagoers too uncomfortable to dare munch on their popcorn – it would have been interesting to see a different edit where its creators had the courage to stick to only diegetic sound in its most emotive and stressful moments.

The crossing paths of humans and aliens is all but inevitable, but in their actions to avoid, overcome or outwit the mysterious creatures, we learn everything about the family and compare their choices with the ones we fantasise we may have made as people. In A Quiet Place, actions really do speak louder than words.

Jackie: A respect for history

“Do you know who James Garfield was?”

“No ma’am.”

“Do you know who William McKinley was?”

The driver of the ambulance car carrying the body of the recently assassinated President John F. Kennedy knows neither.

“How about Abraham Lincoln?”

“He won the Civil War and abolished slavery.”

Jackie Kennedy, still in shock, turns away and closes the hatch. She looks to Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), sat beside her. “Tomorrow we must find all of the books accounting for Lincoln’s funeral.” As she alludes many times in Jackie, director Pablo Larraín’s titular ode to the most renowned First Lady, she has a great respect for history.

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy is one of the most notable and shocking events of the 20th century. Young, handsome and Catholic, Kennedy inspired strong fervour and contention due to his Cold War relations and subsequent quest for space. Along with his wife Jackie, the couple were regarded by the media as celebrities, being treated much in the manner of how popstars are in the present.

Born to a Wall Street broker and a socialite, Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) appears uniquely predisposed to such attention. Regarded as an icon of style during and after her time as First Lady, Kennedy welcomed the public into her’s and her husband’s lives, forging a connection between the Presidential couple and American citizens. That connection soon turned to a thirst thanks to the likes of television and transparency, the Kennedys breaking down the barrier between office and public with their infamous 1962 tour of a restored White House; Jackie’s passion project.

A keen writer and reporter in her time before marriage and then a student of American History in the early years after, her love of literature and – most importantly – tradition centred her time in the White House and later life. The restoration of the White House was undertaken to regain historical pieces that had been removed from the mansion upon the departure of each successive president. Kennedy went on to coin a Congressional bill and founded a collection of trusts and committees declaring historical items property of the Smithsonian Institute, and therefore not fit for private acquisition.

Segmented between the sombre recount of President Kennedy’s death and subsequent aftermath, the televised CBS News tour shows a different Jackie: younger, more amiable, a deer caught in the headlights of the world – one that she has courted. By jarring comparison, the woman that exists following the assassination is harshly resolute and single-minded, an air of emotional detachment shrouding her person. She fixates on giving her late husband the remembrance he deserves, an unshakable drive to cement his place in both American and world history, all whilst living in paranoia of her son and daughter being taken from her along with her husband and two children.

“When something is written down, does that make it true?” Kennedy asks of the journalist (supposedly Theodore H. White of Life magazine) as he tries to lift the veil on the woman who aired her grief for the world to see. Her being interviewed is another attempt to keep her husband alive in the thoughts of her still captive audience: if a person’s name continues to be spoken, do they ever really die? In cementing the memory of President Kennedy, she is also solidifying that of herself. “You understand I will be editing this conversation,” Kennedy says. “Just in case I don’t say exactly what I mean?” The journalist complies, begrudgingly.

As Bill Walton (Richard E. Grant) once said to Kennedy, “People need their history… They need to know real men actually lived [at the White House]. Not ghosts and storybook legends – people who faced adversity and overcame it.” But who gets to decide what is history and what is fiction? Is history not, after all, the fiction of the victor in war? In taking charge of media canon, Kennedy ensured the public perception of her husband and his presidency was largely one of her creation and not one of those intent on smearing his name.

“There won’t be another Camelot,” states Jackie of the Kennedy term in office, comparing that brief tenure to the fantasy Kingdom,  one that had been snatched from her before its time. To her, this period – though marred by personal tragedy – was one of novelistic quality, a skewed narrative of which she chose to indulge.

Fiction or history, to Jackie Kennedy, legacy is all that matters.

 

 

Why going straight to Netflix may have been best for Annihilation

It sucks, doesn’t it, that online streaming services are fast becoming the last bastion of off-beat film? It seems that there is no place for the left-field in multiplex cinemas, home of the cinematic universe, goggle-eyed kids flicks and the Zac Efron vom-com.

When Marvel debuted 2008’s Iron Man they cannot have known that in pushing the boundaries of scale and long-term vision they had in fact spawned the virus that was to be the death of cinema as we knew it. What was explored in decades previous as mere franchise was stretched to breaking point. Cue present day and the concept of franchise has been morphed into mere commodity. It’s fair to say that – outside of children or genre fans – no one really cares anymore, but most feel compelled to make the pilgrimage anyway.

Annihilation, the latest film by buzz-worthy Britsh director Alex Garland, is the perfect example of how present-day habits of cinemagoers have damaged the potential of truly original work. Only the second feature by Garland – who burst onto the scene with his acclaimed 2015 sci-fi Ex Machina – Annihilation is adapted from the Jeff VanderMeer novel of the same name and follows Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist and former soldier who is enlisted to investigate the “Shimmer” following the suspicious reappearance of her husband (Oscar Isaac), who has been missing for a year.

With an all-star cast including Portman, Isaac, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriquez, Tuva Novotny, Benedict Wong and Jennifer Jason Leigh, it had major potential to be an alternative success – so much so that Paramount Pictures stumped up $55 million for it. But following poor test screenings and worries that the film was “too intelligent” and “too complicated”[1] Paramount financier David Ellison demanded changes – including an alternate ending and making Lena more sympathetic – to appease audiences. Producer Scott Rudin and Garland refused, and just like that its international release (China aside) was pushed onto Netflix, the movie apparently too risky following the underperformance of similar outings Mother! and Suburbicon.

Garland later said of the debacle:

“We made the film for cinema. I’ve got no problem with the small screen at all. The best genre piece I’ve seen in a long time was The Handmaid’s Tale, so I think there’s incredible potential within that context, but if you’re doing that – you make it for that and you think of it in those terms. Look… it is what it is. The film is getting a theatrical release in the States, which I’m really pleased about.

One of the big pluses of Netflix is that it goes out to a lot of people and you don’t have that strange opening weekend thing where you’re wondering if anyone is going to turn up and then if they don’t, it vanishes from cinema screens in two weeks. So it’s got pluses and minuses, but from my point of view and the collective of the people who made it – [it was made] to be seen on a big screen.”[2]

But why did Ellison, of Skydance Media, and Paramount ultimately decide that Annihilation wasn’t worth the risk? It had bankable actors, critically acclaimed source material and a director whose previous release received a plethora of nominations including Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars. Surely there was an eager audience? Judging on the $11 million it made on its U.S opening weekend – modest by any film’s standards – perhaps Ellison made the right call. But the press generated by the shift to Netflix has only garnered more attention to a film that may have otherwise slipped under the box office radar.

There are positives to the Netflix shift, ones that only benefit the viewer and not the studio. Viewing the film is essentially “free” if we’re not counting the general subscription price. There is no dishing out for overpriced popcorn. Then there is the convenience factor, but despite such flexibility Netflix recently stated that 70% of its users persist in viewing its content on TV as opposed to tablets or mobile phones. [3] No doubt this will be some music to Garland’s ears, given the grotesquely beautiful and colourful visuals best viewed on a large screen.

Currently certified 87% fresh (thanks Rotten Tomatoes) with an audience rating of 67%, Annihilation has clearly resonated with someone. It’s parallels with 2016’s Arrival in being multilayered, understated yet grandiose, continues a subtler wave of science fiction film most notably ushered in by Ex Machina itself. When there is action, it is justified. When there are jumps, death and confrontation, the plot pays off. Annihilation deals in intelligent conversation. Perhaps studios would benefit from respecting their audience a little bit more.

 

“It’s not green, it’s teal” – The use of colour in The Shape of Water

SPOILERS AHEAD

‘It’s not green, it’s teal” grumbles Michael Shannon‘s Colonel Richard Strickland, not too long re-educated himself on the deviant shade of his brand new Cadillac. As the salesman says, teal is the “colour of the future,” but in Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy romance The Shape of Water it traps its inhabitants in the confines of the past.

Set in a parallel relic of 1962 Cold War Baltimore, The Shape of Water centres around Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor at a secret laboratory who falls in love with The Asset, a humanoid amphibian man dredged from the depths of the Amazon rainforest. Eyed for vivisection by the cruel Strickland, Elisa conspires an escape plan with the help of her friend Giles (Richard Jenkins) and her sympathetic co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer).

With a precarious future on the doorstep and the echoes of the Second World War lurking in the periphery, the sense of purgatory is all around. Paranoia is in the air, along with a palpable need to stay one step ahead of Soviet opposition. The eyes of the U.S government are fixed on a fantastical and seemingly unattainable prize amidst the space race: the ultimate proclamation of world power. Who needs Earth after all, when you have the moon in your back pocket?

It is not the moon within reach however. The amphibian man is a creature fit for pulp reader salivation, albeit a lot closer to home. Shades of green are omnipresent, from the sheen of The Asset’s scales to the shade of Elisa’s scrubs. In the darkly cynical and clinical setting of it’s laboratory dwelling, The Asset’s shimming scales and green palette make a pleasant change from the bleak, industry standard of grey. As pleasing as it may be to the eye, the blue-green hue and 50s architecture implies a suspension of societal imbalance between the wild implications of the space race and the comfort of a post-war past.

Teal – and also, green – in The Shape of Water  denotes the aspirations of mankind to conquer new, unknown territories, and when the world has been afflicted by war, what better distraction to look to the stars? Societal recovery following the Second World War propelled itself on an unprecedented scale, a revelry of innovation twisted into simulacrum. This hyperreality culminates in the alien nature of The Asset itself, and the woman whose perception of self  is so rooted in “otherness” that the only entity she feels a connection with is the non-judgemental nature of a newly discovered species. Elisa does not feel at home in her world, just as The Asset itself is – quite literally – a fish out of water, both forced to inhabit a space which does not suit their natures amidst humans who do not understand them and wish to inflict their own means of oppression.

The same could be said for Giles. A gay illustrator renounced of employment for not hiding his sexuality, Giles’ employer opts to string him along rather than admit their own bigotry. He rejects his illustration of a family mealtime, stating that the red jelly in the picture be replaced with green: the colour of the future, replacing classic imagery with a flavour altogether more faddish. As it transpires, Giles’ employer soon decides that his illustrations are not as good as a photograph. His subsequent inhalation of the greenest key-lime pie you ever did see – and aggressive rejection by his crush, the pie-shop assistant – only reinforce Gile’s otherness in the more conservative 60s.

Smattered amongst the teal is a red awakening of a blossoming love. Upon consummating her relationship with The Asset, Elisa’s dress introduces ruby shoes and a scarlet headband, showcasing her desire for the world to see. By the end of the film, even her dress is red, so consumed by love that she follows it until its end. Set upon a background of the “Red Mist” of communism, instances of red are regarded with deviance and suspicion despite being the most sincere. The red velvet of the cinema below Elisa’s apartment implies the purist creativity of film, one that was tainted with the anti-communist propaganda of the era, one that perpetuated the hyperreal “all-American” family, and dream.

In 1960s sci-fi, the alien entity was only ever hellbent on world control, quite often so by stealth. By comparison, The Asset merely wants to be left to its own devices in a peaceful coexistence far from the gaze of the human world. Elisa’s transformation and movement from the human world to the amphibian shows that humans have more to gain in trying to comprehend which they do not understand, rather than destroy it. Elisa’s acceptance and love of The Asset is the core of this film, reminding that amongst the machinations of futurism it is the most earnest and honest values that survive through time. A teal innovation may signal the quest for a new beginning, but through touches of red Del Toro evokes acceptance, purity and a heartfelt nod to the past.

 

Between Peaks: Cooper cuts a lonely image in this week’s Twin Peaks – ‘Part 5’ (Season 3)

Twin Peaks has seemed a bit shy as of late. Not the show itself of course – no one could ever accuse David Lynch of being “shy” in his aesthetic output – but the town of its namesake. Outside of the sheriff’s department and the episode-end cameos of the Bang Bang Bar (seemingly a new right of passage for the muso-lover’s best kept secret), there has been little sight of the town, almost as if it has been avoiding our hungry gaze on purpose. It has been 25 years after all, and whilst we have both aged gracefully, there is a trust to be renewed.

The stark, otherworldly abruptness of the first few episodes has now abated a little and the humour has started to creep back in though the cracks, in a manner more awkward than ever. Angelo Badalamenti’s precious score is ever-missed! Can you imagine that Wally Brando scene with a hint of “Freshly Squeezed”? Wouldn’t that be perfection?

Thankfully, despite the sonic absence of the music our hearts bleed for, we are treated to the return of a few more old hands in this week’s episode. Lynch’s penchant for seemingly pointless asides makes a comeback with Lawrence Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) and his golden shovels. Who would’ve thought the doctor would’ve been a fan of live streaming his nonsensical mundanities, eh? Even more surprising, who would’ve presumed Nadine (Wendy Robie) would be a fan of his sage life advice, or left-field brother Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly)?

At this point, Jacoby’s new mantra of “shovel yourself out of the shit and into the truth” feels wholly apt, for whilst season 3 of Twin Peaks has been incredibly entertaining as of yet, it is further removed from the small town intrigues of series past with its Eraserhead-come-Mullholland Drive weirdness. Before you throw sharp things our way, no – it is not bad, yes – we do love it, but as the episodes start to tick over there is the nagging thought in the back of your mind that you simply can’t wait to understand the overall context of the myriad of tasty snacks that have been placed in front of you. The full meal if what you want, but you’re only being served side-dishes. The longer the wait the sweeter the taste, but then again, there is no real cure for impatience, is there?

But back to familiar faces. Segway to the Double R Diner and we find Norma (Peggy Lipton) tucked in the corner with her paperwork when a young blonde woman careers through the door. It turns out this is Becky Burnett (Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of diner waitress Shelley (Mädchen Amick) and an as-of-yet unidentified father who has a habit of lending money from her mother and not paying it back. Norma and Shelley are aware of Becky’s excuses for cash, most likely to spend on drugs with her husband Steven (Caleb Landry Jones) who has a preference for the white stuff and can’t land a job (with Bobby’s old friend Mike Nelson, nonetheless.) Her disdain at her current situation is plain on her face, but when Steven offers her the end of his line she isn’t keen to resist. It is hard not to make parallels between Becky and her mother Shelley, who was herself married to the drug dealing and abusive Leo; it is by no means a stretch to consider that Steve treats Becky in the same way. It is Norma, herself a mothering figure to Shelley, who spells it out: “If you don’t help her now, it’s going to get a lot harder to help her later”.

The other notable addition to this episode is that of the new resident bad boy in town. His smoking under a non-smoking sign seems pretty amusing, until he proceeds to do a shady deal with the bouncer of the Bang Bang Bar and goes on to assault and threaten a teenage girl from the neighbouring booth. The scene has creepy echoes of that of Evil Coop (not to mention Blue Velvet‘s Frank Booth) and Darya a few episode ago, and a peek at the credit cast list identifies this man as Richard Horne (Eamon Farren). Given his age, it is not a stretch to presume that this could be Audrey’s son, but being as she is still to appear we must wait to find out.

The aforementioned Evil Coop is still confined and now being subject to investigation. As Agent Gordon Cole identified in the previous episode, something is definitely not quite right, a factor only stressed in the oddly blank expression and monotonous speech emanating from this doppelgänger. The police detectives grace him his phone call (“Shall I call Mr. Strawberry? No…) only for the room to suddenly descending into darkness and clamour with flashing white light. BOB is alive and well in this body it seems, and if his remarks in the cell mirror are anything to imply, there may be a piece of the real Cooper there with him…

But, as always, the anchor of this episode is Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) himself. Decked in Dougie’s officious, oversize lime green blazer, he is a sorry sight made only more bedraggled by his naivety and loss, both in regards to his surroundings and sense of self. His own destitution and bewilderment is mirrored by our own, for who will navigate our trajectory through this strange land if not Cooper? Perhaps that is what makes his wandering the grounds of his workplace (after being dropped there by Janey-E) so disconcerting; his trying to find a path, clinging to the simplest signs of purpose and lack of connection function as our own. Nothing (on the weird scale of things) will make sense to us, until Cooper makes it make sense to us.

His unknowledgeable regard for the world lands him in some amusing predicaments, between brandishing a senior colleague a liar (another new superpower), being on the receiving end of the flirtations of another, or greedily snaffling up someone else’s coffee. He is an alien outside of the Black Lodge despite the echoes of his former self, yet all his scenes in this episode only serve to exaggerate the sad isolation he finds himself in and the lack of people near him who really care.

  • Elsewhere and the body from the season premiere has been identified as that of Major Garland Briggs. However, nothing is ever quite that simple, and we discover -courtesy of some offbeat humour from forensic Constance Talbot (Jane Adams, a brief highlight) that the Major’s body had a wedding ring inside its stomach, that engraved with the name of Dougie’s (you know, the otherother Cooper) wife Janey-E. The mind boggles…
  • It’s going down at the casino where owners Bradley and Rodney Mitchum believe that manager Warwick was working with Coop to deliver $425,000 of earnings. Understandably, he finds himself on the wrong end of his boot. Back at Dougie’s car and the would-be assassins are still keeping an eye out, to no avail. They go to search his car only to be blown into flames in the process. Dougie’s sex-worker friend Jade (Nafessa Williams) also finds his key to his room at the Great Northern Hotel on the floor of her car and deposits it in a postbox. No doubt that will make another appearance sooner rather than later…

Is Richard Horne Audrey’s son? Is BOB resurfacing in Evil Coop? Will Cooper still be stood outside in the morning? Til next time….

PS. It’s gif time

 

 

Between Peaks: Twin Peaks scales new, baffling heights – ‘Parts 3+4’ (Season 3)

HELLOO-OOOO – Wally Brando!

That name alone is the most baffling thing so far in season three of Twin Peaks. We digress (honest), but all in all, whoever presumed that Michael Cera’s appearance would be a cameo of Sheriff deputy Andy (Harry Goaz) and secretary Lucy’s (Kimmy Robertson) 25 year old son? (And just look at him; he could easily be their real life lovechild!) Sheriff Frank Truman (Robert Forster)  – and yes, the brother of original series fave Harry Truman – is similarly thrown, and just when we thought the events of the previous double episode had got a little heavy, here is a totem of how David Lynch excels in deploying awkward bouts of humour. As a viewer, your cringing is drawn out for his own perverse enjoyment.

But Cera’s inclusion as the bike straddling, simperingly self-conscious cool guy ushers in some of the Twin Peaks of old, and with episodes three and four we are treated to a generous dollop of good ol’ fun. It is not without purpose however; Wally’s fleeting visit is to pay respects to the aforementioned Harry Truman, his godfather, who it transpires has been ill.

Wally’s stiff and hyperbolic dialogue contrasts with the return of Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), who is revisiting the Laura Palmer case file along with Frank and co. Yes, Bobby is now a member of the sheriff department, and in an uncannily similar fashion as to when Donna first learned of Laura’s death in the season one pilot, Bobby crumbles and sobs uncontrollably, losing every ounce of composure at the sight of the iconic Homecoming picture of his dead ex.

There is a quality about the returning characters that feels a little alien, a warmth recalled from our previous encounters that doesn’t feel quite present. Perhaps, until now, none of us realised how much our emotion on Angelo Badalamenti’s formerly ever-present though now noticeably absent score. In some ways, they could easily have been replaced by doppelgängers, just like out poor Coop, the real centrepiece of this double episode.

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Following his vacuum travels with a detour via a glass box, Cooper finds himself in a dark room inhabited by a woman with no eyes. She struggles to communicate, taking him up a ladder to escape the ominous entity that is hammering on the locked door. They find themselves surrounded by stars and clinging to a satellite. She flips a switch before falling, only to be forgotten seconds later due to the floating head of Major Briggs saying “Blue Rose”: the code term for a case classified as supernatural. One such case was that of Laura Palmer.

He drifts and Coop descends back to the first room, the banging louder and a new woman (spotted by those eagle-eyed as Phoebe Augustine, a victim of the original series) perched on the sofa. With difficulty, Cooper is sucked back into the real world via a contraption, leaving only his shoes behind. This seemingly disjoints all involved. Evil Coop is violently sick and careers off the road, whilst a third Coop – introduced as Dougie Jones (it is implied that Evil Coop made Dougie as a replacement for himself for the Black Lodge) – abruptly exchanges places with the real one, his body leaving a golden orb and Laura Palmer’s owl ring in the Red Room.

That real Cooper is quickly revealed as having suffered some sort of mental ailment, either from the transportation or being stuck in the Black Lodge for 25 years, and is clearly befuddled by modern day Las Vegas. Dougie’s hooker leaves him at a casino, at which Cooper discovers a knack for spotting winning bandits (HELLOOO-OOO Mr. Jackpots!), racking up thousands of dollars before being removed from the premises and dumped back “home” to Dougie’s wife Janey-E (Naomi Watts, Mulholland Drive) and son, Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon of Looper and Extant). It quickly transpires that Cooper needs to relearn the basics – like using the bathroom – and can only speak in mimicry. One can only hope that one large gulp of hot coffee will shake Coop out of his reverie.

Elsewhere and Agent Gordon Cole (David Lynch himself) and Agent Albert Rosenfield (the late Miguel Ferrer) receive a phone call that they’d never presumed to hear: Agent Cooper has been found. Alas, it is not Mr. Jackpots, but evil doppelgänger Cooper, who was discovered in the aforementioned car wreckage and taken into custody. After a brief visit to Denise Bryson (David Duchovny), now head of the FBI, the two – accompanied by Agent Tamara Preston (Chrysta Bell) – travel to South Dakota to see him, but quickly surmise that something is amiss. Evil Cooper’s alien exchange leaves Cole and Rosenfield rattled; they know that this isn’t quite the same man that they saw some 25 years ago.

“I hate to admit this,” states Cole. “But I don’t understand this situation at all.” Never have truer words being spoken of Twin Peaks, especially as of late, but Rosenfield feels something different.

“Blue Rose,” he says. “Can’t get any bluer.”

They agree that one other must visit Evil Cooper before anything else progresses to determine if what they feel is correct. “I don’t know where she lives,” Rosenfield says. “But I know where she drinks.”

Between this week’s surrealism Eraserhead-come-Mullholland Drive surrealism and Lynch’s signature uncomfortable humour, Twin Peaks: Then Return is beginning to look like the most Lynchian amalgamation of all of his work to date.

What do you think of the surrealist edge? Does Cooper remember covfefe?  Perhaps the mysterious Diane will make an appearance after all this time? And what did you think of Wally Brando? Till next time…

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Between Peaks: Twin Peaks – ‘The Return Parts 1+2’ (Season 3)

Between being the most feverishly analysed TV series of the past three decades, and the most longed for and anticipated to return, season three of Twin Peaks had a lot to live up to. In many ways it was the first “cult” TV show – or at least in the terms that we consider now – one that spouted reams of fan forums, celebratory creations and plenty of speculation over all of the plot lines that it failed to tie up when it was cancelled after two seasons.

Years of theorising over the final episode, continued discussion – that transitioned from zines to blogs to podcasts – and a seemingly undying influence on present day pop culture breathed life into the corpse long after it had died. Many fans (including this here writer) were born after its demise, but learned to love its quirkiness of humour, uniqueness of vision and unparalleled eerie horror with just as much zeal as those that were enraptured during its original run.

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So when the ads abated, we sat nervous, tense, with an amalgamation of fear and excitement nestled in our chests. With that trepidation in our hearts, and the claim by Showtime boss David Nevins that season three would be “the pure heroin version of David Lynch” seared in our minds, on began the double whammy assault of parts 1+2. *SPOILERS AHEAD* With the eerie image of a demented Dale Cooper haunting fans for 25 years as the face of evil entity BOB leered from the bathroom mirror, it is now confirmed that it was Coop’s doppelgänger that escaped the Black Lodge and was set loose upon the real world. It’s not long before we are reintroduced to Evil Coop, actor Kyle MacLachlan being on fine form as the unnerving amalgamation of Cooper and the deceased Frank Silva, who played BOB in the first two seasons. Any semblance of the real Cooper is lost on this alternate; Evil Coop dallies in undesirable machinations and is clearly on a mission, potentially to slay us all with his greasy, slicked back mane.

What his quest entails is, as of yet, unknown, though his influence is no doubt more widespread than first assumed. For a series so deeply rooted between the pines of the titular Washington logging town, in the first episodes of season three viewers have been led across cities as far flung as New York, Las Vegas and Buckhorn; South Dakota. It is here that a mutilated body is discovered and the murder linked to a school headmaster Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard). His fingerprints are all over the room of the woman in question, though he – seemingly earnestly – maintains that he has never been there but instead saw the happenings in a dream. It transpires that there is no love lost between he and his wife Phyllis (Cornelia Guest), who quite gleefully reveals she’s having an affair with their lawyer before being shot by Evil Coop (the pair seemingly know each other) not long thereafter.

Back in New York and newbie Sam (Benjamin Rosenfeld) beholds a large glass box. Inside is a vacuum, and outside are many cameras all trained on the glass in the possibility that something should occur inside. The owner of the box is unknown, but the mass storage of SD cards suggests that this set up has been here a while. Sam isn’t privy to all of the information, all he knows is that he’s getting paid, and if that means he can get busy with his kinda girlfriend Tracy (Madeline Zima) on the job then well, why not eh? Bad choice, it seems, for as the pair are otherwise occupied the box darkens and a spindly and mysterious shape appears, coming in and out of clarity before it suddenly – and incredibly violently – makes short work of the two.

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The grotesque and surreal imagery of course makes it to the Red Room itself. It is here that we encounter Cooper, unmoved for 25 years, lined with age and a little dusty. He is woken from his reverie by Laura Palmer herself; she did, after all, promise that she would see him again in 25 years. “Are you Laura Palmer?” asks Cooper of the aged beauty. “I feel like I know her,” states actor Sheryl Lee. “But sometimes, my arms bend back.” The echo of their past encounters carries a melancholy air; both are visibly older and yet suspended in a purgatory of sporadic torment. Though there is an odd air of peace, Cooper’s lack of reaction when visited by the the other inhabitants of the Red Room and acceptance of their surreal actions reminding that he is but a respectful guest in someone else’s house. It is here that writers David Lynch and Mark Frost lay their first clue: for Cooper to leave the Black Lodge, another must return. It is a fair exchange and one that perhaps explains why Laura Palmer (if the one of the Red Room is, indeed, the real one) is trapped; her doppelgänger died on the outside, ultimately confining her to the Black Lodge. She shares a kiss and another secret with Cooper – one that makes him recoil – before flying from view.

Evil Coop has made steps to avert his return to the Black Lodge, which is drawing ominously near, the prospect of which is detailed to the real Coop via a mutated tree with a brain-mouth gobule known as The Arm, who abruptly ejects the real Cooper (seemingly) from the Black Lodge and on an inter-diminsional trip via the glass box. Things are beginning to move after all this time and aptly, the Log Lady knows about it. Portrayed by the late Catherine Coulson, both look and sound startlingly fragile as she rings a white haired Hawk (Michael Horse) to alert him of her log’s latest message, this one in relation to the long-gone Laura Palmer murder investigation (there’s also some much needed humour courtesy of receptionist Lucy and her officer husband Andy.) This, alongside Cooper and Laura’s interaction in the Red Room feels poignantly bittersweet, for whist the fundamentals of these relationships haven’t changed the actors and characters visibly have.

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The episode ends with an abrupt detour to the Bang Bang Bar. This old haunt still – for the most part – looks the same, though the ghost of Julee Cruise has been ushered away by Drive-famous band Chromatics. Their sonic meshing of new and old encapsulates the altogether homely yet jarring experience of new Twin Peaks; from old haunts and new blood to the ripples of Lynch’s more challenging work Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive, or the welcoming of digital and the eschewing of much of Badalamenti’s iconic score, it is clear that Lynch and Frost have revitalised the core of their most beloved work. Will it polarise fans? Of course – it is, no doubt, precisely what they want – but as Shelley (Mädchen Amick) remarks of James (James Marshall) in a simple moment that could make you weep, “James is still cool. He’s always been cool.” He doesn’t care what others think, and neither does Twin Peaks.

A love letter to Twin Peaks 

So here we are…

The time has come at last. It has been 27 years since Twin Peaks last graced our screens, and the irony is that I wasn’t even alive when the show first aired in 1990. I was but a bean in my mother’s midriff when the second season got cancelled, and for much of my life the only “Annie” I had concerns for was that of ‘Billie Jean’.

I confess, I had a late renaissance. For a good decade, I wrongly (though sincerely) believed that Twin Peaks was a romantic drama akin to that of a soap, the One Tree Hill or Gilmore Girls of its day (don’t shoot me, please!) Of course, how wrong that opinion was proved to be.

When I finally succumbed to the pilot, after one too many times of being told to, I found myself wholly baffled. The intro felt overblown and self-indulgent (it is), whilst Angelo Badalamenti’s famous score struck me as superfluously saccharine. It bristled every nerve in my body, causing me to tense in discomfort in the way of when something that you dislike is unavoidable to you, like that grating song on the radio, or the prospect of being forced to eat your most dreaded childhood food. Combine that with Audrey’s renegade posturing, Donna’s melodramatic wailing and Laura’s myriad of suitors and the only thing that made sense was the washed up body on the beach.

Dazed and very confused, I no doubt scoffed. I recall not wanting to continue, there was plenty of such drivel on present-day TV after all, so why suffer one that simple oozes overblown 80s eccentricity? Though, I confess, I am nothing if not stubborn. If Twin Peaks were so universally lauded then, by the Log Lady’s log, what was I missing? Why didn’t I get it, when so many others did? Why was I not privy to its secret? Perhaps, I was merely tasteless…

So I persevered in pure spite and somewhere along the way, to my honest surprise, I began to enjoy myself. The two minute long intro was no longer a chore but a ritual of sincere joy, Badalamenti’s music tugging at my heartstrings as every fibre of me longed for the solitude between the pines. I began to appreciate the humour in its pastiche of 1950s-1980s melodrama. Audrey’s vanity in fact hid a vulnerability that I had not anticipated, Donna’s simpering masked a recklessly jealous streak, whilst those aforementioned would be suitors only served to complicate the mystery that was Laura.

The universally adored prom queen lived a seemingly perfect existence – from the outside, yet almost immediately that ideal begins to unravel into something far more sinister in a town far more otherworldly than any of us ever expected. Perhaps it was the duality of intrigue that kept – and keeps – us all hooked, for as we can compute the concept of a young girl led down a path of crime and suffering routine abuse, can we ever hope for enlightenment if the threat is forever unfathomable?

And perhaps that is why we return now. It is the journey that compels us onwards, not the desire to reach the destination, and with the long pined-for season three may David Lynch leave us with more questions than we could ever dream of answering.

Those owls are not what they seem, after all…