Archive for Twin Peaks

Somehow he knows this

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , on July 3, 2020 by dcairns

My good friend Japa Fett introduced me to the work of Hayao Miyazaki, for which I’m forever grateful. This was back in the early nineties when I think only a couple of the master’s films had been translated. JF provided informal Benshi translations of TOTORRO and others. These were not super-detailed, but then the plotting in the films is fairly loose.

“Why does Kiki lose the power of flight?”

“Is not really explained.”

When it came to THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO, there’s a bit where Lupin III, our intrepid hero, discovers a treasure and suddenly expounds a bunch of phony history to explain it.

“Somehow he knows this,” said JF.

That’s a good phrase to keep in mind whenever you get an info-dump of exposition from a character who couldn’t possibly know it, or is inferring it from insufficient evidence. It’s a good phrase to keep in mind while watching season 3 of Dark.

Spoilers will be avoided as far as possible, but if you’re still to watch all of the last season you should save this for later.

Dark was a very enjoyable show, even if you did need to have some kind of checklist of characters by your side while watching. not only are there several interlinked families plus a bunch of outsiders, but nearly everyone is played by three actors, since they exist as kids, grown-ups and oldsters in the series’ multiple time periods. Season three adds to the potential confusion by introducing multiverse theory, so that you can have radically different versions of the same character at the same age. Fortunately for the viewer, they’re adept at applying different disfiguring injuries to their cast so you can tell them apart.

The show is almost entirely without humour — the only joke I can recall in twenty-eight episodes is a running gag about one particular injury, whose explanation is continually forestalled. The phrase “all fun and games until someone loses an eye” can be reversed, here: the eye loss is the traumatic event which lets comedy in, for an instant.

Now, my hero Ken Campbell always said to distrust anything that lacks humour, and he’s largely right, with some exceptions. In fact, Dark is absorbing and insanely watchable, and the high quality of every element, acting, writing, direction, photography and music, is sustained to the end. Critical responses so far have, accordingly. been very favourable. But it didn’t really satisfy me.

For a show so clearly influenced by Twin Peaks, the degree of closure supplied is quite high. There are a few things that weren’t clear to me, but I expect they’ll get covered by astute rewatchers. The big finish makes a lot of the smaller questions sort of irrelevant anyway — the gigantic Gordian knot of tangled plotlines are cut clean through in a way which is, essentially, consistent with story logic.

But Dark is a mystery, and the kind which promises a solution: the Lynchian ideal of a HANGING ROCK style non-explanatory denouement is not the goal. The show unquestionably gets to a solution, but does it do so fairly?

I’d identify three kinds of flaws with the conclusion.

  1. Is it fair to introduce the material required for a solution so late in the story? The second universe is introduced at the very end of season 2, but that just complicates the complications. The wrap-up is enabled by information supplied in the very last episode, without the benefit of real clues beforehand. Now, Dark may be a mystery but we’re far from Agatha Christie territory: I don’t think we can ask for total authorial fair-play here. I believe it was Asimov who suggested that science fiction and the whodunnit make uncomfortable bedfellows: the locked room mystery that can be solved by an s-f solution isn’t wholly satisfactory. So this isn’t a dealbreaker.
  2. But not only does the show hold back crucial information until it’s too late for us to guess ANYTHING, it executes a kind of genre-switch at the last minute. Writer Jantje Friese (think anti-freeze) drags in predestination and makes it the ultimate narrative problem the characters must solve. If flaw 1 is a kind of deus ex machina solution, hauled from the author’s ass with a flourish at the climactic moment, flaw 2 is the opposite, a deus ex machina PROBLEM. But maybe this is unfair of me: all through the series, the most active characters have been wrestling, across decades, with the fact that all their attempts to fix things go wrong. Friese, arguably, has just restated this problem in metaphysical terms. Still, it upsets me a little, the way that other time-travel show, Quantum Leap, explained itself quite early on with the idea that God was using its protagonist as an instrument. Having both divine intervention and time travel in a story struck me as a bad case of Double Voodoo.*
  3. And finally, we get to the “somehow he knows this” part. At the end of the penultimate episode, a character turns up to explain what’s been going wrong all this time. But she has deduced this solution from inadequate information. Somehow she knows this. Friese has to give her a monologue explaining how she arrived at her solution, but it’s transparently bullshit. A subdivision of this problem is the fact that the antagonistic forces in operation through the show, the Mabuseian manipulator figures, have ALSO based their ideas on bullshit with inadequate evidence to support it, though since they’ve got it wrong I guess that’s a justifiable narrative device.

I don’t have any suggestions as to what should have been done differently. Other than, I suppose, dripping the information in more gradually. The character with the ultimate answer should probably have been behaving more consistently all along, also, like someone working towards that answer.

It also feels like a nasty case of “the ends justify the means,” a moral approach that I would like to see avoided, like, forever.

But, you know, by the standards of most TV finales, it’s moderately satisfying. Which is another way of saying, TV has gotten really good but they don’t seem to have figured out endings.


Lumiere Sisters

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2019 by dcairns

I’ve already expressed my dissatisfaction with aspects of ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD. Daniel Riccuito of The Chiseler had a very nearly opposite response, however, and when he asked me to provide a few words for a piece he was putting together along with Tom Sutpen, connecting the reincarnated Sharon Tate played by Margot Robbie with the reincarnated Laura Palmer played by Amanda Seyfried in Twin Peaks, I cheerily agreed.

The result, as Freddie Jones is always saying, is plain to see…


The Time Tunnel

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , on July 26, 2019 by dcairns

Yes, we are enjoying Dark, since you ask.

A German Netflix show about time travel, it so far, two out of three promised seasons in, shows every sign of being meticulously planned, so that it might be one of those rare shows that not only compels binge-watching, but leaves you satisfied at the end.

It’s set in the fictitious town of Winden, where it’s always raining and everyone’s miserable, so as Scots we related. As with any good small-town soap opera, everyone has a secret, too, which in this case translates into nearly everyone having a small package buried in the woods.

Timelines multiply — we meet the characters in 2019 but are soon time-traveling back to 1986. Then 1953, and so on — the number 33 is significant (yay! my favourite number, because in French it sounds like a fanfare). One of the amazing accomplishments is to have found so many sets of three German actors who can play the same characters at three different times in their lives. They use a few tricks like stick-on moles, an impressive cauliflower ear, and heterochromatic eyes to help you follow who is now who. But the line “Confused? You will be,” is still an apt one.

I instinctively distrust things without humour, and Dark is quite remarkably free of laughs. However, it doesn’t seem to be making many mistakes. One of the questions raised by the narrative is whether time travel precludes free will, as a way of preventing paradoxes, and the conclusion seems to be that it does. We even get Appointment in Samarra type instances of characters attempting to alter events, and their interventions become the springboards that CAUSE those events. The downside of this is a couple of scenes where the pre-determined plot causes characters to do things you can’t quite believe they WOULD do (like acquiescing to a loved one’s suicide, based on no proof that this is necessary, on the say-so of a character they have no reason to trust), or suddenly act stupidy because the plot demands it, despite being otherwise smart and capable (“Let’s go to the place where you’re supposed to die today, even though I’m trying to prevent that!”)

These are missteps, but they don’t cancel out the otherwise strong presentation (particularly gorgeous nocturnal establishing shots), performances (although humour could lift these even further), or twisty, moreish plotting. They’re the only indications that the showrunners, director Baran bo Odar and his writing partner Jantje Friese, might not be equal to resolving their tangle of timelines (a temporal wormhole thingy central to events fittingly resembles a ball of black wool having an epileptic fit). Oh, and a scene where three nice characters basically torture a friend, get what they need from him, and are then all friends again. Not wild about that.

The show is probably successful in part because it’s not WILDLY original. It takes time travel seriously and applies it to a soap format, and otherwise it borrows from other places in rather direct ways — the showrunners perhaps don’t even know they’re doing it. “It’s happening again,” says a character early on, straight-up quoting the Giant in Twin Peaks. The recurrent, cyclic spates of child abduction/murder echo Stephen King’s It. A mysterious, windy tunnel is right out of BEING JOHN MALKOVITCH, though its destination is not the inside of a famous actor’s head (unless that’s a plot turn being held back for Season 3). When Matt Groening created The Simpsons, he says, he tried to keep certain elements mundane — the domestic setting, the two point four kids — so the audience’s heads wouldn’t explode from all the other crazy stuff. This seems to work, but you have to be really good to pull it off.

The Dark team seem to be really good.

More TV stuff shortly — we’re halfway through the new Veronica Mars.