One of the reasons Twin Peaks: The Return kept me glued to the screen is David Lynch's seeming ability to read my expectations and then exploit them to provide a striking experience. It's like he could read my mind and knew just how to pull the rug out from under me. So here's a list of ten times Twin Peaks: The Return went off the rails in a really wonderful, frightening, or funny way.
Chantal and Hutch
Casting Jennifer Jason Lee and Tim Roth as the two ultimate assassins hired by Mr. C to take out sleep walking Agent Cooper already sets them up as significant players. Their meandering conversations about Mormons and philosophising somehow implies they're even deadlier--in standard storytelling parlance it's this kind of thing that usually indicates someone is a particularly formidable killer. It's the main reason the two feel like they come out of a Quentin Tarantino movie, aside from the fact that both actors were in The Hateful 8. So when they meet their end at the hands of some random accountant with anger issues, it's kind of a shock even as it's perfectly in keeping with their story. They who live by the non-sequitor may die by the non-sequitor.
The unseen Billy was teased all season, not just by Audrey Horne but by a man looking for him in the RR and by some of the girls in the recurring vignettes of characters in the roadhouse booths who were never seen again. When one girl talks about Billy having a relationship with her mother her friend asks for her mother's name and Lynch intentionally holds the moment, knowing we're expecting her to say "Audrey". When she says "Tina" instead we start to sense the story about frustrated, diverted connexions perhaps infecting the community on some massive subconscious level.
The three cops investigating Dougie Jones aren't exactly incompetent and they're not exactly masters but their oddness causes us to expect one or the other. From their first scene in Dougie's office they show a capacity to arrest the viewer when one of them, who hadn't spoken for the whole scene, emits his strange, high pitched laugh for the first time. And then it turns out there's nothing really extraordinary about them aside from their very credible, extraordinarily normal weirdness.
The Turnip Joke
Who would have thought Gordon having some foreplay with a mysterious French beauty was a setup just for him to tell a hilariously dumb joke about turnip farming to Albert? But it's Albert's reaction that clenches this scene's play on expectations--somehow his complete lack of response, his completely blank expression, is both odd and yet, characteristic of Albert, impossibly down to earth.
From the early scene where she hunts an elusive fly Candie establishes herself as the fly in the ointment of otherwise smooth sailing. Right up to her final line about preparing so many sandwiches, Candie had a bizarre knack for making everyone stop and wonder just what the hell is really going on. From her over enthusiastic agreement with Cooper that the Mitchums have "hearts of gold" to her intense contemplation of traffic on the Strip, Candie was like a canary in the coal mine of reality, alerting us to some hidden danger that even now remains obscure.
Dougie Jones, Coiled Cobra
Another reason a showdown with Chantal and Hutch had such a buildup was because of the unexpected revelation that even sleep-walking Cooper could instantly marshal his legendary reflexes and coordination. The gentle, cow-like, grazing man suddenly sprang to life when Ike the Spike threatened him and Janey E. An appearance by the Arm cemented the strangeness of the lighting fury in the scene.
The Sound at the Great Northern
By the end of the series this sound seems to be related to a portal in the Great Northern's boiler room yet we also hear a similar sound when Cooper wakes in the hospital. But for most of the season it was a background noise to Ben and Beverly's sinister flirtations. So while the sound drew our minds to one mystery it really served as a way to inject a strange energy into the chemistry between the married Beverly and her boss. Were the two phenomena related? Given the way the supernatural is intimately connected to personal relationships, I'd say probably. But it's the uncertainty that keeps our attention.
The Walking Woodsman
We see him in the morgue, walking, unnoticed by Cynthia Knox who's busy talking on the phone about Major Briggs' body. The Woodsman just keeps getting closer and closer and finally . . . continues down the hall, not even breaking stride. Somehow this is more disturbing than him actually doing anything, the sight of his walking and the ominous sounds perfectly playing off the grisly mystery involving the body.
Janey E, Negotiator
Dougie's got a bad gambling debt so when Janey E confronts the lone sharks the history of such stories have taught us this can't go well for her or Dougie. But somehow she seems to get her and Dougie out of it by sheer willpower and the ferocity of Naomi Watts' performance. And we never see these schlubs again.
"This is the water . . ."
My list isn't in any particular order but this one is probably my favourite. Why is that chant uttered by the Woodsman on that fateful night so effective? The words he chooses and his tone are a crucial part of it--"This is," he starts out like he's going to give us any radio call sign, "This is TPKR in Chicago and you're listening to--" or whatever. Then he takes it to something primal; "This is the water and this is the well." It reflects the sense of reassurance meant to be intrinsic in such radio announcements and the promise meant to be in there that you're going to hear something that nourishes you spiritually in some way, either with good music or maybe some entertaining talk. Some reassuring human sound, in other words. But by laying it bare in this way, saying this is life sustaining water in this place, the well, where you can reliably go back and get it, is incredibly sinister. The fact that we know such announcements are normally exaggerated and intended to seduce us implicates us as complicit. The mind is forced to loop back on its interpretation and accept this Woodsman's stripped down reality. That's how hypnosis works. It really is a spell.