“Lonely Souls” was the third episode of the second season of Twin Peaks to be directed by David Lynch and it’s probably my favourite. Like Lynch’s previous episodes, it’s characterised by longer and more elaborate shots than the rest of the series, as well as more assured and absurd mise-en-scenes. In effect, this is the climactic episode of the season, since it’s where Laura Palmer’s killer is finally revealed to be her father, Leland, and yet for a denouement it’s surprisingly devoid of narrative energy, instead playing as an emergent atmosphere that only crystallises in the final sequence. That’s not to say, however, that there are no narrative events per se in “Lonely Souls,” since this is, in some sense, the most eventful episode of the series as well, between the discovery of Laura Palmer’s diary, the wrongful arrest of Ben Horne, the revelation that Tajumora is in fact Catherine Martell and, of course, Leland’s murder of Maddy Ferguson while Sarah lies prostrate by his side. But Lynch deals with these events in such a circumspect and eccentric way that they are utterly folded into the texture of the episode as a whole, replacing any real sense of revelatory catharsis with a more emergent sense of dread and doom.
One of the curious paradoxes of “Lonely Souls,” then, is that it is precisely at this moment of discovery that we are made to feel the vague and amorphous portents of something that stretches far beyond the procedural element of the series as we know it, even if it is rooted in that procedural element at the same time. As much as we might accrue new pieces of information in this episode, and as far ahead as we may be of Agent Cooper at this point, we’re still forced to sympathise and identify with his inchoate awareness that “something is happening,” as if Lynch were displacing the local significance of the murder at precisely the moment he reveals its perpetrator. Of course, that speaks to the uneasy identification between Leland and BOB, as well as their gradual dissociation over the next few episodes. But it also elegantly establishes a direction for the series in the wake of Laura’s murder that doesn’t exactly consign her life and experience to the past but instead uses it as a launching-point for a more eerie and unsettling immersion in the life of Twin Peaks and its residents – a direction that will presumably be taken up by the third season when it debuts later in the year. In other words, the procedural elements of “Lonely Souls” are gradually subsumed into a more musical and metaphysical atmosphere that will come to characterise the rest of the second season and, in some ways, the prequel.
Not surprisingly, then, the most traditionally procedural part of the episode is the subplot attending to the arrest of Ben Horne. In some ways, this is the greatest red herring of the series, as Lynch does a really great job of gradually converging the action on the Great Northern, allowing the audience to guess at Horne’s complicity just before it is revealed and giving the impression of a twist ending that is about to be cleaned up. At the same time, Horne is also imbued with a slightly demonic edge during this episode that makes him feel like a part of BOB’s world and mindset as well, even or especially as it’s merely an intensification of the histrionic energy he’s demonstrated so consistently over the series as a whole. On the one hand, it’s a new and more threatening iteration of Horne, but, on the other hand, it’s also recognisable from his previous behaviour, and that combination makes it feel as if he has to be culpable in some direct way, even if he isn’t the only killer.
As the episode proceeds, however, that more traditionally procedural element is gradually eclipsed by the extremity of Lynch’s mise-en-scenes, which invoke 50s cinema and culture more emphatically in this episode than in any other. In one of my favourite sequences, Shelley Johnson announces to Norma Jennings that she’s leaving the RR Diner, leading Norma to give her some words of wisdom that wouldn’t be out of place in a great weepie, melodrama or daytime soap. It’s only enhanced by what sounds like a completely new refrain from Angelo Badalamenti, only for it to be abruptly interrupted by a rockabilly riff as Nadine and Ed Hurley enter the diner. Finally, a short sequence between James Hurley and Maddy Ferguson overlays a third musical motif – and these kinds of musical medleys and combinations are quite characteristic of the episode as a whole, as Lynch builds an escalating dissonance that concludes with the mashup of Julee Cruise’s “The World Spins” and “Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart” with Badalamenti’s musical score. Sometimes the Nadine stuff can seem like a wacky extra touch, but in Lynch’s hands, and as the culmination of this scene, it beautifully encapsulates the series’ schizoid zone between present and past, as Nadine breaks a milkshake in excitement, spraying blood, malted milk and cream everywhere, as she tells Ed that “I could just kiss you dead.”
Apart from the RR Diner, the other key space in this episode is the Palmer household. Time and again, Lynch returns to this space – it seems to have a special fascination for him, perhaps because it’s where he first glimpsed Frank Da Silva and came up with the idea for BOB. Only the Black Lodge is more associated with the Lynchian side of Twin Peaks, so it’s appropriate that this critical episode opens with Sarah and Leland sitting at home and appearing more sane than ever before, only for a slight ripple to cross the surface when Maddy announces that she’s finally heading home to Missoula, Lynch’s home town. From there, the episode dances back and forth between the Palmer household and other iconic spaces in the film, especially the Johnson household, since Shelley and Bobby Briggs often play as a parodic, soapier reflection of the Palmers – apparently enmeshed in the middle of an idyllic suburban life but racked by some deep subterranean trauma (it’s during this episode that Leo first starts to emit the deep, guttural screams that will make Shelley and Bobby more and more concerned about his actual level of consciousness and cognition).
All that culminates in one of the best sequences of the series, a bravura set piece that starts with Sarah sleep-crawling across the floor with the same groping and disembodied tactility with which Lynch’s camera tracks and trails across all the curios and objects in the Palmer household, mirroring her progress at an oblique remove. As she enters the living room, Lynch pairs weird shots of the fan, floor and fixtures with a record skipping to converge all the dissonances of the episode into a pregnant sense of emptiness and absence that he can start to texture and embellish with BOB’s presence. As with the first episode of this season, “May the Giant Be With You,” Lynch’s direction really distinguishes itself by his willingness to constellate the action around these voids and empty spaces, which is perhaps why his episodes are also the eeriest, since it’s in these spaces that BOB really starts to make himself felt, along with the outlines of the more abstract and imaginative spaces radiating out from the Black Lodge.
As Leland starts to murder Maddy, Lynch cuts between the Palmer house and the Roadhouse, where everybody from the town seems to have gathered in the definitive crystallisation of the languorous, haunted 50s vibe that hangs over the series as a whole. With Julee Cruise moving between “Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart” and “The World Spins,” a stillness and ambience settles over the town that’s only periodically interrupted by bursts of abrasive noise, just even the most violent and brutal of Leland’s assaults on Maddy can never quite puncture the oppressive stillness and quietness of the Palmer household. In a sublime couple of minutes, all the characters, motions and gestures are subsumed into the song, in a strange kind of music video that manages to gather even the most histrionic and heightened moments of the series in a sublime apprehension of a missed significance. By the time the Giant reappears to tell Cooper that “it is happening again,” the murder of Maddy has already taken place, and we cut to the final tableau of the Palmer house – Sarah on the floor, Leland planning to go out, Maddy choking – before the camera just seems to fade into Cruise’s music and words and the episode doesn’t end so much as evaporate into the ether.
In the most beautiful way, then, Lynch manages to create a climax that is entirely devoid of regular resolution, displacing the murder at the same time he solves it. It’s well known, now, that neither Lynch nor Frost wanted to reveal the killer so early in the second series, but they do it in the best possible way, ensuring that everything that remains is still touched by and implicated in Laura’s death, which remains as a kind of condition of possibility governing the town at large, even or especially once it has been solved. Key to that process are the next couple of transitional episodes, in which BOB’s agency is gradually generalised beyond Leland and beyond the crime, which is perhaps why these are some of the most unusual and tensile episodes in the series – more on those next time.