Twin Peaks: The Glass Box | Monsters of the Week

Who would have thought that
in a TV show made by David Lynch the iconic final statement by Laura Palmer
at the end of Twin Peaks… was meant literally? Well, as it turns out, it was –
and Agent Cooper’s odyssey into the quiet northwestern town
and the eldritch powers of the Black Lodge picks up –
exactly 25 years later. Wow! And no matter if you’re like me and have spent
a lifetime of brooding over the show’s quirks and themes,
its dark secrets and idiosyncrasies … and the coffee and pastries of this charming
and sedate little town or if the renewal was your first peak into
David Lynch’s iconic mystery universe after watching the first two episodes, you
probaly felt like this. The reception so far is positive, yet polarized
at times – either gushing about the return of the unmistakably
Lynchian beauty in visual storytelling – or condoning it for being frustrating. But this danger of frustration is something
that belongs to David Lynch like a hot, black cup of joe to a slice of
cherry pie. (I just had to be cheesy, sorry) It usually comes up when you approach his works with the expectation
to be able to “decipher” it – that, if you only pay close enough attention,
you’ll reach this eureka-moment, where you suddenly know
“Oh! Okay, that’s what it means, now it makes sense.” I’ve been there. But… that just… won’t happen. I’m convinced that David Lynch regularly
approaches the writing for his scenarios, scenes and themes without an absolute, crystal
clear interpretation in mind, but he rather comes up with the things that
just… “feel right”, that mean something to the creator himself,
but that don’t necessarily have “the one true interpretation” hidden behind a thin smoke screen of symbolism. David Lynch: “It’s, um… you’re working a
thing at a straight-ahead film you work a scene
’til it feels correct. And in this you work a scene ’til it feels
correct. The order of scenes… there’s a… there’s
a… thing… that you find by sometimes action and reaction, trial and error. Uuuh. But it’s… it’s always talkin’ to ya. And so… you just go… you just go until
it feels… until it feels right!” And that’s where the appeal, and also the
fun lies if you ask me. What everyone, in good and bad, seems to agree
on is that the new season does not feel like
your average, run-off-the-mill television show. It confuses more than it reveals and it feels
deliberately slow-paced and unconventionally patient in its delivery,
but at the same time – or rather through that foreboding and menacing in a very unusual way. Instead of imitating the almost rhythmically
fast pace and structure of modern binge-television,
it feels more like a forgotten Tarkovsky movie (mysteriously produced with contemporary,
state of the art technology) that you found, covered in thick layers of
dust in some old drawer or something. I personally find that exceptionally refreshing
– while others see it as a reason to be disappointed. “How dare you not turn Twin Peaks into yet
another Walking Dead like cliffhanger-fest, David!?” Well… I’m fairly convinced that
– within those first two episodes – he actually addressed this very question. It is all… right…. here. Yeah. That creepy, nondescript glass box,
sitting in an empty room, staring out at the New York city skyline through
a circular hole in the wall. With a person watching it apathetically for
hours on end and for no particular reason. It was one of the many things that made me
frown and go WTF in my mind in this double feature
– next to the electrified ‘evolution-of-arm’ tree, Doppelcoop and …
yeah, so many other things. Because.. what is even happening here? Why is a young man apparently being paid to
watch this contraption in secrecy, waiting for something to happen without having
a clue what it actually is. Methodically recording and cataloguing every
second of its existence in the hopes of… what exactly? If we try to explain it
– solely within the diegetic context of the show’s universe –
then we can at least conclude from Agent Cooper eventually spawning into the box
that it is in some way connected to the Black Lodge
– like a gateway between worlds. But I couldn’t help but think that this is
not the sole purpose of the glass box. I couldn’t help but feel that there’s a bit
more to it, that this is a device through which the director
himself speaks directly to the audience and paints a very dark and dreary picture
of what our culture has become in the quarter of a century that Twin Peaks was slumbering. You probably either have no idea what I’m
talking about or… already think that I’m reaching here. So let me explain…
but to do this, we first have to embark on a little journey through television history. Most TV shows nowadays
– and by that I mean specifically drama series follow a continuous narrative arc that is spanned over many episodic “short films” if
you will. Basically, a series is a very long movie split
into, mostly, hourlong segments. But that wasn’t always the case. TV series used to be, almost exclusively written
in a way that allowed viewers to pitch in at any time,
during any season at random and they would get a self-contained narrative
arc with a beginning and an end, so they would never miss crucial information
necessary to understand all the vital plot points in the episode. If the series featured a polt that spanned
over the entire series, it was usually scattered in tiny bits across
many episodes and more like an overarching element for the
hardcore fans, but never mandatory to enjoy a singular episode
on its own. “Last time on Star Trek: The Next Generation”
… was more an exception than the rule and cliffhangers were an absolute rarity,
used almost exclusively in special double-feature episodes. And they were usually followed up by the iconic
“And now… the conclusion” Fry: “Yep. I was just a matter of knowing the secret
of all TV shows. At the end of the episode, everything’s always
right back to normal!” This format was, as it is with everything,
a result of the medium. TV shows were exclusively delivered through
television broadcast and buying DVD Box sets was simply not a thing,
especially before the invention of the DVD… so there was really no way to watch series
on demand – in order – so if you wanted to keep up with a show,
you *had* to be there at the right time every week
(or record it on VHS or BetaMax) because otherwise, you’d miss it. So, logically, the writing of TV shows used
to be tailored around that. Our modern form of Binge-television only started
to become a thing after DVDs became commonplace
and *really* started to conquer everything with broadband. internet. The medium is the message. Just like music albums used to be structured
in ‘acts’ that were tailored to the length of a side
of an LP or like “Indie Games” were only able to flourish
in the age of digital distribution when the costly overhead of physical distribution
was eliminated. But of course.. there’s always the exception
– the work that’s in many ways – ahead of its time. For binge television, that was … you guessed
it … Twin Peaks. It pioneered this radical new approach of
a continuous narrative arc that needed to be watched consecutively in
order to keep up with the story. Continuous narrative arcs in TV shows, at
the time was something that was mostly reserved for..
soap operas! Which is why it had a certain… nyeh… flavor
to it. Twin Peaks was fully aware of that stigma
and it both, self-consciously embraced the soap-trope and recurringly made fun of it. It basically weaved this format that was previously
considered lowest-common-denominator entertainment,
made it cerebral and catapulted it into the mainstream. And this became one of the key factors
that turned it from a simple murder mystery show into a cultural phenomenon. It was truly – ahead of its time. And aside from a few other examples, like
Star Trek – Deep Space Nine and in parts, the X-Files
– which even took open and heavy inspiration from Twin Peaks in the first place,
it took a good decade until this format took up steam. But these days – binge television in drama
series is the norm. David Lynch: “I think feature films are in
trouble… and the arthouses are dead, uuuh, so, um
cable television being, y’know, a place for a continuing story told with freedom is a beautiful thing.” The way we consume television shows has drastically
changed through the widespread accessibility of broadband
internet and on-demand services like Netflix, Hulu,
HBO and Amazon. But… it has become widely formulaic. Most modern shows follow an almost mechanical
approach in terms of pacing and narrative structure
that audiences have become somewhat complacent and hard to *really* surprise. You know what you’re gonna get and you know
what to expect, even down to things like plot-twists and…
ugh… cliffhangers. Yeah. Even the most popular and critically acclaimed
television shows of all time have become, in many ways, extremely predictable
in terms of pacing and delivery – because producers seem to have figured out
‘what works’ in order to keep an audience glued to the
screen. And they obey that path. Mostly, of course. And we… keep watching. These days not just at home, but basically
wherever we go – with out notebooks and tablets and smartphones…. “David Lynch: Now if you’re playing the movie
on a telephone you will never, in a trillion years, experience
the film. You’ll think you have experienced it,
but you’ll be… cheated! It’s such a sadness. That you think you’ve seen a film…
on your *fucking* telephone! Get real! And we keep following season after season,
hoping for some kind of tacit, undefined bliss, but most of the times… we never get there. We only get the next cliffhanger. And the next. And the next. And we keep binging. Until we’ve long forgotten how we got here
in the first place. This… is us. Sitting in our rooms, on a couch that’s arranged
towards the one thing we keep staring at for hours on end. The glass box that comes with the unspoken
promise of some undisclosed form of “something” to
happen… that makes a difference. Everything in this room makes it abundantly
clear that the glass box is the absolute center
of our attention – of our lives. All the other stuff is just meaningless rubbish
that we don’t really need. Aside from lots and lots of data storage
– that for some reason belongs to an “unknown” billionaire who,
for more.. reasons unknown, wants us to keep watching – keep staring…
at the glass box. Think about it – this is literally a “box”
with a hole – a camera obscura. And the camera basically has become our window
through which we see the outside world. We’ve become more and more… lonely and isolated. We cannot really leave and intuitively feel
that it’s best if we let no one in. But if we do “let our social guard down” once
in a while, then what do we do when we stare at the box..
together. We embed it into our social life,
we build it around the box. … we… have sex. Or it is called these days:
We “Netflix and chill.” Getting together to binge TV series has turned
into a social phenomenon – using the sedative and droning nature of
TV entertainment as a segue – or a bridge to build romantic relationships. It’s so commonplace that it has turned into
a fucking meme! So here we are. Dale Cooper has been locked away for 25 years
in the black lodge and we’ve turned into lonely drones of modern
media entertainment in the meantime. BUt… at least we’re still having coffee,
right? “I brought us two lattes again!” “Well….” Welp, but even here… it is no longer
“Cooper: Black as midnight on a moonless night!” “Pete: Pretty black!” We drink syrupy lattes from one of the uncountable
Starbucks derivatives, served in soulless paper cups. Things have truly changed… haven’t they… And now… the conclusion. After hundreds of TV shows that have all followed
in the footsteps of Twin Peaks in one way or another
and after countless films, books, shows, video games
that have taken open and loving inspiration from the iconic and enigmatic storytelling-style
of David Lynch… This… is none other than he himself… the
director, the maker.. trying to shake us awake from our somnambulistic
television habits… by literally shattering the 4th wall and jumping
in the face of the audience saying: “Listen kiddos. It’s nice what you’ve done here while I was
away. Like, I really appreciate it. But now Papa’s back, so please step aside. You all know you’ve been waiting for something
to happen without really knowing what –
so… so here’s what I have for you. It’s not gonna be what you expect –
but I promise if you don’t look away and pay attention…
it is gonna … tear you apart!”

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