Today, I was supposed to write about the sexist, fascist dystopia that is the final season of The Strain. There are vampires on leashes, and somehow rape is still the leading threat against women. Then, Twin Peaks episode "Part 10" aired, and my original story was thrown out of the window in favour of dissecting David Lynch’s own sexist hellscape. That’s how badly Twin Peaks treats its women — it’s worse than the blood-sucking end times where the possibility of sexual assault hangs over every interaction. In Twin Peaks: The Return, there is no implication of assault. There’s simply brutal, bloody, epithet-filled violence against women, which the series consistently savours.
It’s no surprise Showtime’s revival is especially dangerous for women. The cult series has its roots in the rape and murder of a teen girl at the hands of her "possessed" father, after all. If that’s what you’re building your series off of, it’s doubtful things can take a feminist turn from there. The Return does little to leave its misogynistic history behind, as it begins with the vicious murder of a new women, high school librarian Ruth Davenport (Mary Stofle). "Part 1" also shows a mysterious monster in the premiere ripping two college students apart. While both die, only the female half of the couple, Tracey (Madeline Zima), is assaulted while completely nude. The object of Tracey’s affection, resident box-watcher Sam Colby (Ben Rosenfield) is allowed to have a last name and keep his pants on for the attack. That's double the amount of dignity Tracey No-Last-Name is afforded. From there, The Return gives us a haunting plague creature invading a young girl’s body, men telling the infamous Diane Evans (Laura Dern) to keep her attitude in check, and the very heavy suggestion that same Diane was raped by Agent Dale Cooper’s evil doppelgänger.
Clearly, we’ve been getting the hint Twin Peaks doesn’t exactly love its women characters the same way an apparently reformed Game Of Thrones does. The series truly drives that point home in "Part 10," which begins with the murder of a woman and only gets worse from there. After focusing on Woodsman, the mystery of Diane, and whatever it is “Dougie” is doing in Nevada, the series returns to Richard Horne’s fatal hit-and-run of "Part 6," which took a little boy’s life. As Richard (Eamon Farren) rushed away from the accident, he and the pie-loving Miriam Sullivan (Sarah Jean Long) locked eyes, meaning she's one of the few people who knows he's the culprit.
Four episodes later, the drugged-up killer finds Miriam and gets her to explain all the ways she’s informed the police of his crime. Once the drug dealer has that information, he rushes the woman’s door, breaks the glass open, and attacks her. The camera pulls out to a wide shot of the Miriam's sun-dappled trailer as we can hear her panicked and pained screams while Richard brutalizes her. As the shrieks stop, one final thud echoes across placid shot, implying Richard killed the woman. After such an artsy choice, it would have been enough to show the drug dealer fleeing the scene of the crime and announcing the only remaining proof of the hit-and-run is a letter Miriam wrote to the police. That would mean he’d eliminated Miriam. Instead, once Richard speeds away, the camera returns to the inside of her trailer, where it rests slowly on Miriam’s limp, face-down body, which is now drowning in a gigantic puddle of her own blood. The image is deeply disturbing and takes up nearly 10 full seconds of screen time. That is not a short peak at the carnage.
With that alarming scene for a cold open, things only get worse for the women of Twin Peaks in "Part 10." As soon as we leave Miriam’s grisly murder scene, we move on to Becky Burnett’s home, where her husband Steven Burnett (Caleb Landry Jones) is in the middle of verbally and physically abusing her. Steven screams at his wife, berating her life choices and nearly crushing her with his body. When Becky (Amanda Seyfried), who is original character Shelly’s (Mädchen Amick) daughter, tries to push Steven, he growls at her while holding his balled up fist high above her body. The short scene is given little context, so it’s an even more horrifying look at domestic violence. Yes, Twin Peaks may be all about esoteric, dreamlike vignettes, but why follow up the vicious murder of one woman with the vicious abuse of another, and then not even explain why we’re seeing the latter. Without any clarification, viewers are simply looking at violence for violence’s sake. Twin Peaks is supposed to be Art-with-a-capital-A, but this just feels like exploitation.
The final egregious instance of terrifying aggression towards women comes when Richard arrives at his grandmother Sylvia Horne’s home to shake her down for more cash. Richard grabs his grandma by the throat, screaming, "I will squeeze the shit outta you, bitch! You cock-sucking bitch!" He nearly follows through on his promise, choking Sylvia for the better part of a minute. The camera zooms in on the abuse so viewers can get a disturbingly intimate look a whimpering octogenarian woman. After Richard steals thousands of dollars from his grandmother, he drops abusers’ most common justification for their aggression, asking, “Why you have to make something so simple so fucking difficult?” For good measure, he calls his grandmother the c-word. Somehow, this entire near-murder experience is actually all Sylvia’s fault. It’s possible Twin Peaks is attempting to prove Richard is toxic masculinity personified, but, the fact even Sylvia’s estranged husband Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer) refuses to show any care for how she’s feeling after such a trauma demonstrates something far darker. The reaction points towards a special kind of coldness when it comes to the plight of women.
Speaking of the plight of women, when ladies' lives aren’t in literal mortal danger in "Part 10," they’re sobbing about unintentional slights against men. In the episode we also check in on a woman named Candy Shaker (Sara Paxton) — Candy! Shaker! Seriously, Twin Peaks? Is that all you could come up with since Pussy Galore was taken 53 years ago? — who attempts to kill a bug with a remote. Candy, whom we first met in "Part 4," misses the insect and instead whacks her benefactor, casino magnet Rodney Mitchum (Robert Knepper), in the face. Candy cries about the accident for a full day, which you can surmise since the waterworks begin when it is still light outside. By the time Candy stops crying, Las Vegas is fully ensconced in nighttime. This makes sense, because whenever a woman inadvertently harms a man, she usually bawls about it for a full eight hours. It's really that bad.
There is supposed to be a lot to love about Twin Peaks, as the twisty, obscure drama essentially gave birth to everything from Lost to Riverdale and Pretty Little Liars. Yet, it's hard to see any of that through all of this unrestricted, free-of-reproach violence against women. With eight full episodes left of The Return, it's impossible to know how much more I can stomach.
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