September 18th, 2019

Cooper and Bowie

Twin Spots

I finished the first season of Black Spot (Zone Blanche) last night, the French Twin Peaks inspired supernatural crime drama. It's a good show, and extra fun for any Twin Peaks fan, though not an outstanding show.

It's not until the penultimate episode that Black Spot really gets its "wrapped in plastic" moment, a scene analogous to the one where Laura Palmer's naked body is discovered wrapped in plastic on a riverbank. In a very characteristic style choice, director David Lynch juxtaposed the girl's corpse with a giant log.

Some might interpret this as a commentary on American culture or it might simply be part of Lynch's preoccupation with woodworking or the motif of logs on Twin Peaks specifically. There's a dreadful awe to it, the large expanse of gnarled wood abruptly cutting off to the pale grey contrast of water and pebbles on which Laura's body is almost invisible save for her dark, tangled hair.

I wonder if the makers of Black Spot thought to themselves, "How can we make this more brutal and more European?" So Major Laurene Weiss (Suliane Brahim) finds the body of Marion Steiner (Sarah-Megan Allouch) curled up deliberately like a bog mummy in a dark bog littered with animal bones.

It certainly makes an impression. Then the show sets up a number of potential suspects along with the hint that the killer may be found from outside that group of suspects. This is the tension that made Twin Peaks compulsively watchable in its first season and the first eight episodes of its second--it sharpens the viewer's attention like a pencil. You look at everyone and wonder, "What is it about their personality that might be the red flag indicating they're the killer?" Quentin Tarantino exploited a similar tension in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by leaving unresolved the question as to whether Cliff murdered his wife.

When we do learn the killer's identity on Twin Peaks, it becomes a different show, one much more focused on the supernatural. This doesn't make it a bad show--the fact that David Lynch temporarily left the series led to the infamously bad episodes before the brilliant final episode (though a hardcore fan like me appreciates even those episodes after a while). But it makes the show less compulsively watchable.

Black Spot is more front-loaded with the supernatural stuff though it plays a bit coy about it. But it's much more overt than Twin Peaks often was. One scene in Black Spot has one episode's villain attacked by snakes, another features a cave, reminiscent of Owl Cave, in which the protagonists hallucinate. Most Twin Peaks-inspired series like Veronica Mars or Broadchurch focus primarily on the dichotomy of a town populated by distinct personalities with a murder investigation, while a few others, like the first season of True Detective, also have hints of Twin Peaks' brand of the supernatural. Black Spot is maybe the most unambiguous about its supernatural world-building, tying it very clearly to European mythology with the bog mummy and the horned figure.

I've yet to discover if this guy's Herne the Hunter or not. He makes an effective appearance in the background of a Blair Witch-ish piece of footage of teenagers in the woods found in the fourth episode. The supernatural is Black Spot's strongest point, with second place going to the character of Franck Siriani (Laurent Capelluto).

A lot of credit goes to the actor here for his sly, musing delivery. He's the only odd personality the show successfully establishes though he has plenty of Twin Peaks in his DNA. Partly he's Agent Cooper but also his obsession for getting to bed on time is reminiscent of Sam Stanley in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. There were so many direct references to Twin Peaks that I'm quite sure I missed a few. When Marion's body is discovered, the coroner remarks on how sad it was to perform an autopsy on a girl for whom she'd been personal physician, much like Doc Hayward on Twin Peaks remarks on being Laura's family doctor after performing an autopsy on her. There's an influential landowning family woven into the plot called the Steiners, similar to the Hornes, and there are two instances of Laurene apparently being fatally shot only to recover like Agent Cooper at the end of Twin Peaks season 1.

This adds to the feeling that the makers of Black Spot were trying to make a really good show, which is fine, though it reminds me that one of the things that makes Lynch's episodes of Twin Peaks so much better than the ones he didn't direct is they aren't so much about making good television as they are about conveying to the audience the feeling of knowing these people, of being in this place, of experiencing these dreams.

Black Spot and the first two seasons of Twin Peaks are available on NetFlix in the U.S.