Saturday, March 3, 2018


Warning! While it’s impossible to “spoil” great art (we all know that Charles Darnay and Elizabeth Lavenza get married at the end of “Romeo and Juliet,” but that doesn’t stop us from continuing to listen to the opera), this post does contain very specific information regarding the endings of both THE NIGHT STALKER movie and the novel by Jeff Rice. 

Please note the placement of Jeff Rice's name in the upper left corner, hidden amongst all the ballyhoo about the TV movie, while Matheson's name is separate at the bottom. Hm.

A few days ago I had the pleasure of participating in the FOUR BRAINS ONE MOVIE podcast with host Bradley Kornish and Dan Pullen, where the topic was the original Kolchak TV movie, THE NIGHT STALKER. Airing originally in January 1972, it was the highest-rated TV movie up to that point, earning a 54-share, meaning that 54% of all TVs turned on at the time were watching it. Seventy-five million people watched at least some of it. It was a rousing success that spawned a sequel movie and then a short-lived TV series that today maintains a loyal cult following and inspired just about every supernaturally themed TV show that’s appeared since.

In the opening credits of the THE NIGHT STALKER, we learn the screenplay was written by Richard Matheson, “from an unpublished story by Jeff Rice.” Matheson’s name was already legendary by that time. He was the writer of one of the most famous TWILIGHT ZONE episodes of all time, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” which featured William Shatner as a panicked plane passenger who sees a hairy man on the wing. He was also the author of the well-regarded story collection SHOCK, and the novels THE SHRINKING MAN and I AM LEGEND, both of which had already served as the basis for very famous films.

But who was Jeff Rice? And why was this story “unpublished”? For that, matter, why mention that particular fact at all?

Jeff Rice was a writer for the Las Vegas Sun in the 1960s. He began writing a novel called THE KOLCHAK PAPERS in 1970, and apparently finished writing it on October 31 of that year. The book was a fictionalized account of Rice’s difficulties in getting stories published about actual corruption in the city—including stories about the mob, crooked and inept politicians and police, editors colluding to hide the truth, and so forth.

Rice submitted the manuscript to Matheson’s agent. Matheson’s agent then turned around and sold the movie rights to ABC, without informing Rice. By the time Rice learned what had happened, he was essentially locked into the deal. He’d sold his first—and as yet unpublished!—novel manuscript to the movies! He must have been excited yet frustrated by this turn of events. Can you imagine being in that situation, in that era? If he turned down the offer and fought to assert his intellectual property rights at that time, it might have caused the whole deal to collapse—and cause him to lose any future opportunities to have his work published. So he went along with that deal, hoping he might at least get a chance to adapt the screenplay.

But, no: Matheson’s agent had already negotiated for his client to write the screenplay as well.

Reading Rice’s original novel, it’s difficult not to (a) filter the story through the lens of Rice’s own experiences and (b) lament what might have been for Rice as a horror writer. THE KOLCHAK PAPERS is uneven and repetitive at times, but it also has a raw energy and verisimilitude that keeps you reading. It also has a really engaging title character, even if he’s not quite as powerful as the character inhabited by the great Darren McGavin.

The novel starts out with a letter written by Carl Kolchak to Jeff Rice. Kolchak, now reduced to “prostituting my God-given talents as a flack for actors,” has, between bouts of drunkenness, written and recorded a series of notes regarding “the greatest manhunt in the history of Las Vegas”:

“The only clues to the killer’s motive and his “weapon” were so unbelievable, that to this day the facts have been suppressed in a massive snow-job by mutual consent of the law enforcement agencies involved and the local press.”

Following this letter, and one page whose authorship is left unclear in the Pocket Books mass market paperback from 1974, there’s a Prologue written by Jeff Rice, in which he describes meeting Kolchak in Los Angeles. Rice writes: “He was seedy, gross, aggressive, slightly drunk, and a general hindrance to all of us.” He lived in a “shabby one-room apartment”. And he “later lost all his clients to alcoholic excess.” The Carl Kolchak that Rice meets in Hollywood is a desperate, lonely, sad man who has been mistreated by forces completely outside his control. All he wants is to find someone to tell his story. Kolchak’s opening letter signs off with the poignant line “I just can’t fight it alone, anymore.” He believes that Rice is the man to help him finally get his story out. Rice, after some convincing, agrees.

In his Prologue Rice tells us that he intended just to organize Kolchak’s rambling notes and tapes “into a compact, cohesive report by eliminating his endless digressions into unrelated subjects, his endless comments on fellow workers, and dissertations on various mundane aspects of Las Vegas not absolutely pertinent to the facts.” Rice ends up becoming almost Kolchakian himself, furthering his investigation and wondering if he’ll ever have another night of peaceful sleep himself.

Following the Prologue, Kolchak’s manuscript begins with the staccato, hardboiled voice that fans of the movies and TV series will recognize:

“On Saturday, April 25, at about 2:30 A.M., Cheryl Ann Hughes was tapping her foot angrily as she waited at the corner of Second and Fremont streets. She glanced repeatedly at her watch. The young man she was currently living with, Robert Lee Harmer, was supposed to be picking her up for ‘breakfast:’ and then a ride home. Harmer was nowhere in sight. He was at that moment quietly puffing away at a joint with some members of a local rock group, oblivious to the time.

Cheryl Ann Hughes: twenty-three, five feet five and a half inches tall, one hundred and eighteen shapely pounds, Clairol blond hair and light-brown eyes. Swing-shift change-girl at the classic Gold Dust Saloon, a gaudy western-styled casino built when Vegas was younger, smaller, and—some say—friendlier.

Cheryl Ann Hughes: Tired. Hungry. Disgusted at having waited twenty-five minutes for a ride, was now mad enough to walk the eight blocks to the small frame house she shared with Harmer just off the corner of Ninth and Bridger…”

In describing Cheryl Ann Hughes, her situation, the world of Las Vegas at night—Kolchak himself comes to vivid life. That is a distinctive voice. It’s the voice of a series character, feeling at once classically pulp and at the same time unique. This is the perfect character to lead us into this decadent and depraved world.

The voice is so good, in fact, that Matheson seems to have lifted quite a bit of it for his screenplay. (Is it possible Rice or perhaps someone else might have edited it to include Matheson’s voice over scripting?)

The Kolchak manuscript within the novels details the cynical but strangely hopeful journalist’s attempts to learn the truth behind the murders of at least five people between April 25 and May 15, 1970. Over the course of Kolchak’s investigation, he comes to believe that the culprit is a vampire. Kolchak believes that it’s important to let the public know what they’re potentially facing and just what exactly is stalking them. But he’s very much alone in that belief. At least where it counts. When he first tries to get the story told his way, the newspaper’s managing editor, Llewellyn Cairncross, says, “Bullshit! Kolchak, for years I have suspected you were mentally deranged and now I have confirmation of that suspicion. Why don’t you go to Alaska or Florida or anywhere and plague somebody else for a change?”

But the story is published, with heavy redactions. This earns the newspaper a call from the District Attorney, who attempts to intimidate Kolchak and the paper by suggesting that the Daily News should send Kolchak to study mentally ill patients “from personal experience—up in Sparks, Nevada, the Bedlam of the Golden West.”

Later, at an inquest where the coroner has suggested that the killer might actually be someone who has drunk the victims’ blood after biting them, Kolchak feels validated. But the District Attorney quashes the story:

“This ‘vampire’ stuff is to stay right in this room. Until we have the assailant in custody we say nothing about these girls being drained of blood. No more rumors. No reports in the papers,” he added, looking directly at me and ignoring my colleague from the opposition press. “The official opinion at this time is that the cause of death is ‘undetermined and under investigation.’ We don’t want to start a panic. It’s bad for police operations. It’s bad for the people. And it’s bad for business.”

The newspaper is all-too willing to agree with this official position, even going so far as to airbrush away the bite marks on the neck of one victim before publishing their photo. In between bouts of trying to get the story out, Kolchak gets drunk. It’s how he copes with the frustration and powerlessness he feels. There is a deep feeling of sadness that permeates the book. Kolchak continues on, despite one setback after another—somehow expecting he’ll finally win, and the story will be told.

Finally, the police and the local politicians seem to agree with Kolchak, and they take his advice to bring Crucifixes, holy water, and wooden stakes with them in their search for the vampire, Janos Skorzeny. Kolchak even accompanies the police when they find his home and stake it out. While in the movie Kolchak uses an informant (played by the great Elisha Cook, Jr no less!) to find Skorzeny’s home before the police, in the book, Kolchak is brought along by the police when they find Skorzeny’s home. Kolchak is essentially ordered by Detective Jenks to kill Skorzeny with a wooden stake, even as Skorzeny lies at their feet, melting from having holy water poured on him.

This makes the ending of the book even more powerful. In the film, of course, Kolchak takes the initiative himself and stakes Skorzeny. So, tortured as it might be, there’s a kind of a case to be made that what Kolchak did was “premeditated murder.” In the book, the police very deliberately instruct Kolchak to stake him. Then, while they don’t run Kolchak out of town that day, they do make it so toxic for him in Las Vegas that he’s forced to leave, under threat of a murder charge.

The book ends with an Appendix on Jack the Ripper.


Rice tells us that Kolchak shared Rice’s interest in the Ripper murders, and had even intended on one day writing a book about them. (Another book from Rice that we’ll never get!) There are then about two pages of notes on the murders. Why were these pages included? I think there’s a clue to that in the final note from Rice which reads, in part:

“Perhaps, because of my association with Kolchak, and the experiences I had in Las Vegas, I may have become somewhat sensitive to the smell of a cover-up, but I theorize that the ‘Ripper’ was caught, and that he (or she) was someone very prominent, and that it was all hushed up, the killer being quietly ‘put away’ forever. —JR”

This is Rice letting us know that Kolchak’s experiences were very much based on Rice’s own. It’s a highly personal, idiosyncratic book. It’s a real shame that we didn’t get more from Rice, beyond his novelization of the second Kolchak movie. Whatever was the cause, Rice apparently couldn’t bring himself to write more with the character, or to write anymore fiction that he felt he could share.

The character has lived on, however. Speaking of which—the graphic novel I scripted, KOLCHAK: DAWN OF THE DEMONS, should be available shortly, after some lengthy and unexpected delays.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Doomsday Clock is the Walden 2 of major publisher event comics

Watchmen is the greatest superhero comic book of all time. It forms, along with Kazou Koike and Goseki Kojima’s manga Lone Wolf and Cub and Alejandro Jodorowsky and Juan Gimenez’s The Metabarons, my personal holy trinity of graphic fiction. It is a dense, frustrating, moving, powerful, disappointing, valuable work of art that rewards re-reading. I’ve probably read it all the way, from beginning to end, at least four times, and there are parts of it that I’ve read ten times or more. My reactions to it tend to be based on my mood/mindset at the time of reading it. 

When I wrote this essay on DC’s cynical cash grab "Before Watchmen" project I was of the opinion that it was too cold and too meticulously engineered to be emotionally engaging, haha. But I was also despairing at the state of the comics industry, and I’m much less despairing now.

And a big reason for my optimism for the future of comics has to do with DC. And their Watchmen-exploiting event comic Doomsday Clock is a huge part of that optimism.

The writer of Watchmen, Alan Moore, is our greatest living comics writer. He is a powerful creative force who clearly sees himself on a continuum of creativity that stretches back hundreds of years. Artists have always used characters and themes and events that have come before in order to illuminate the world in which they’re creating their work. Watchmen was of course based on Charlton’s characters—but even more than that, it was based on situations from Charlton comics. For instance, did you realize that the Dr Manhattan/cancer subplot came from a Captain Atom story that spanned issues 83 and 84 of his title (November 66 and January 67)?

Reprinted in the indispensable Action Heroes Archives Vol 2, featuring Ditko’s best Charlton superhero work.

Moore either plundered the works of the past as a shortcut in his storytelling, or he sought inspiration in the works of others to advance art in the modern age. Depends on your point of view. Regardless of how you feel about Moore’s work and whether or not he’s a hypocrite for decrying the use of the Watchmen universe by current DC creators, you cannot deny the fact that the Watchmen characters are DC’s Intellectual Property, to be exploited in whatever means they see fit. What we can hope for is that they use that Intellectual Property in a way that is exciting to readers and moves comics art forward.

Doomsday Clock seems to be a decent extension of the Watchmen story that is also serving the interests of commercial storytelling.

One of the most disappointing aspects of Before Watchmen was its very premise: those stories were prequels. Rather than deal with the questions raised by Ozymandias’s incredibly cynical and stupid plan to save the world, they sidestepped the messy implications in favor of telling “stories” (and yes those are sneer quotes around that word because, well—did you actually read the stuff that was published under the “Before Watchmen” banner? ugh) that had no consequence and didn’t advance the story or characters in any meaningful way. Doomsday Clock makes an attempt right from the opening page, as we see a crowd of protesters outside what we come to find is Adrain Veidt/Ozymandias’s building.

Over those images we get narration that’s lettered in a style very reminiscent of Rorschach’s. But while the lettering might at least superficially appear to the same, the voice is off. This isn’t Walter Kovacs. At least, it’s not Moore’s Walter Kovacs. Is the scripter, Geoff Johns, trying to approximate that voice and doing a bad job, or is something else going on?

Clearly this Rorschach read the original's journal ("split open the world's belly"/"tire tread on burst stomach"), but couldn't quite match his let's say "unique" vision and voice.

Johns has become one of the best comics writers working today, and he’s doing something actually really clever with the narration: giving us a Rorschach that’s not Rorschach at all, but someone pretending to be Rorschach. And, like a writer taking on a piece of Intellectual Property he doesn’t fully sympathize with, this character is off by… just a little bit.

Anyway, in a symmetrical nod to the original series we see “Rorschach” breaking into a prison to break someone out. This person is the Marionette, a new piece of Intellectual Property. Rorschach reveals that he’s not the real Rorschach at all. For one thing—this Rorschach is a person of color. 

We don’t know yet why the Marionette is needed, but we do know that she won’t leave without her husband, a violent psychopath called the Mime. There are fun few sight gags based around this character, such as the bit in which the three have to sneak deeper into the prison in order to retrieve his weapons which are at best invisible and at worst—well, maybe they don’t even exist at all.

The Marionette and the Mime are, like the main Watchmen characters, based on characters that originally appeared in Charlton comics—Punch and Jewelee.

At the same time rioters are breaking into Ozymandias’s building, we see a group of heavily armed people breaking into Ozymandias’s Antarctic fortress of solitude Karnak—there they find an x-ray (conveniently still hanging on a lightbox) which appears to show a skull with a tumor in it. When Rorschach brings the Marionette and the Mime to Nite Owl’s underground headquarters we learn that his partner isn’t Nite Owl but Ozymandias—who makes a big show of saying that he has cancer. 

Now, Ozymandias is a fantastically manipulative man, so there’s no way of knowing at this point whether he actually has cancer or not. He did, after, all, manage to convince people that he was the smartest man in the world—yet he came up with a hugely, massively stupid idea to save the world at the end of the original Watchmen series… so who knows?

Ozymandias reveals that, for some reason, they’ve got to find Dr Manhattan—“Wherever he’s retreated to.” At which point the scene shifts to Metropolis, where Clark Kent has a nightmare in which his Smallville parents are horribly killed. He’s never had a nightmare, apparently.

But: Perhaps most importantly, we see that Clark Kent/Superman’s bedside reading includes B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two. Oh, boy—imagine the cheek of that. A sort-of “sequel” to a classic work of literature, which deals with the creation of a utopian society. The means of creating that utopia involves engineering an environment in which human beings are made to believe they’re doing what’s in their own best interests while serving the good of the larger community.

Although utopian by today's standards, Walden Twowas (and is) controversial to the point of being labeled dystopian because of its alleged premises and practices (e.g., Krutch, 1966). Its premises are criticized for dismissing purpose, mind, and freedom, without which social justice putatively has no foundation. Its practices purportedly involved behavioral engineering and mind manipulation (Matson, 1971). Critics also allege that the premises and practices were dictated by Skinner and his science. As one critic put it, Skinner's utopian vision could “change the nature of Western civilization more disastrously than the nuclear physicists and biochemists combined” (Jessup, 1948, p. 192). These criticisms, however, miss their mark. They equate Skinner's vision with essentialist premises and practices, whereas these were assumptions or discoveries that were then demonstrated to work, not a priori features of the behavior-analytic utopia.

What does the placement of this book mean? I suppose we’ll have to wait for future issues to find out. But my guess is that Johns and Frank are alerting us to their intentions with this book.

Gary Frank isn’t the most dynamic comics illustrator. His panels don’t necessarily convey movement, but his staging and composition are fantastic, and he does an outstanding job of clearly delineating the story. It’s realized in a way that recalls Dave Gibbons’s original illustrations while managing to feel authentically new. As you can see from the scans I’ve dropped into this review, his work is an integral part of the comic’s success. 

As someone who has written comics featuring licensed Intellectual Property, I can tell you that there is immense pressure from multiple sources to construct something that meets a lot of disparate needs… and not all of those needs are what you’d call “artistic.” It appears that Moore and Gibbons were not interfered with in any meaningful way by editorial or legal or marketing people (the early 80s was a different time, though—for crying out loud now EVERYTHING is potential movie/TV/video game fodder and as such EVERYTHING gets touched by some outside hands!). This can’t have been true of Doomsday Clock, which is part of a DC Universe that is vitally important to Warner Bros. The fact that this first issue manages to feel like something more important than just trademark maintenance is a real achievement. 

I’m looking forward to future issues!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The highly personal reasons I was wrong about the third season of "Twin Peaks"

This post contains spoilers about my life.

I wrote some pretty snarky stuff about the third season of Twin Peaks, which is to be released on DVD December 5, 2017. In particular, I singled out the character commonly referred to as “Dougie Cooper,” whom I called “Stupor Cooper,” for special derision. 

Basically, I saw the character as everything that was wrong with the third season of Twin Peaks. Boy was I ever wrong. Dougie Cooper isn’t just the best character in the Twin Peaks revival, he might be the best Twin Peaks character ever. The reasons for this are highly personal, even painful.

As I was watching it, the third season of Twin Peaks was a frustrating, annoying experience. I even spent a few weeks writing and creating the voice over for a parody video in which I was going to make fun of the people doing explainer videos, and make fun of Lynch and Frost for what seemed to me to be capricious, artsy (as opposed to artful) choices that were preventing us spending time in the presence of the characters we loved from the original iteration of the show, in particular the amazing Agent Dale Cooper.

What we got in Agent Cooper’s place was Dougie Cooper, who wandered and stumbled his way through the show, repeating the last word he’d heard or scribbling lines on paper that would later be interpreted by others as some amazing insights. The repetition got to be unbearable, especially in those moments when it appeared that Agent Cooper was going to come back to us, that Dougie was going to finally “snap out of it” and get back to Twin Peaks for a reunion with Hawk and Lucy and Andy and (dare to hope!) Audrey and so on. 

I think now that part of why I resented Dougie Cooper so much is because, well, I have been Dougie Cooper. For awhile. Stumbling through my life confused, befuddled by my place in the world, by my purpose—misunderstanding what I was supposed to be doing. And, more importantly, who I was supposed to be.

Part of me understood that I was living a life that was full of very important benefits and comforts and safety, but that I was still not fully present for lack of a better word. There was something wrong with the way I was living. I needed to change. I needed to wake up! I’ve often had the feeling that all I was doing was mimicking what I saw other people doing without fully understanding the motives behind those actions. Not only that—I have to rely on others to point me in the correct direction—even to the point that I need someone to grab me before I LITERALLY walked into a wall.

When Agent Cooper finally made his appearance, breaking out of the Dougie Cooper stupor, I got very emotional. It wasn’t just the Twin Peaks theme playing in the background, and it wasn’t just his “I AM the FBI” line. I think it was a part of me recognizing that I was in the process of changing.

Change is difficult, and painful.

I love to engage with great art. It’s exciting to encounter something that’s worth the time it takes to actually decipher, to understand the full implications of the point the creator is attempting to get across. Most mass produced entertainment is disposable, and there are multiple reasons for this, both nefarious and benign. On the one hand, the megaconglomerates that produce most of the entertainment we consume have an incentive to keep us interested in as many things as possible, so we’ll keep spending money. On the other hand, most of us have such busy lives that we don’t have the time to devote ourselves to contemplating what a capital-A Artist is trying to tell us.

What David Lynch and Mark Frost showed us with the latest iteration of Twin Peaks was that they are in fact real artists, with some poignant things to say about the way we live our lives.

I’m optimistic enough to believe that there is more great art being produced today than at any point in history. In fact, there’s so much great art being produced that I won’t have the opportunity to engage with even a fraction of it. But what is rare is that I find something that actually helps me to understand my place in the world, and to offer an aspirational message that I can overcome my own stupid limitations.

I don’t consider most of what is popular to be great art. Superhero movies, for instance, don’t speak to me on an emotional level, even if I can appreciate the engineering that goes into them. Maybe you consider them to be great art—and that’s okay with me! It only proves my point that there’s a lot of great art out there!

I was wrong about the third season of Twin Peaks. It wasn’t what I wanted, but in a weird way it was actually what I needed.

I’m not sure that I even care, at this point, what actually happened when Agent Cooper and Diane crossed over. That was a choice that Agent Cooper made after coming out of his stupor—once he’d rediscovered himself he made the decision to continue on with his quest to rescue Laura Palmer. In the process, Cooper became another iteration of himself. And that iteration was the type of guy who kicks rednecks in the balls and drops their guns in boiling grease.

He wasn’t the Cooper that we all knew and loved. Who will I become once I’ve finally stuck that fork in the outlet? Who will you become when you evolve?

In addition to be difficult and painful, change is… unpredictable. Great art explores uncomfortable subjects, thoroughly and honestly. The third season of Twin Peaks did that, even if it made me very uncomfortable watching.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Billy Joel's "Piano Man" is full of nightmare visions if you take it literally

When I was a small child, my mother was a huge Billy Joel fan. She listened to his albums just about every single day; as such, I developed a very high tolerance for his music. This tolerance remains with me to this day, at least through An Innocent Man.

But, I had some trouble with some of his songs. I was very literal minded. “Piano Man,” in particular, was problematic for me. That song was full of terrible booby traps that completely befuddled my seven year-old self. The lyrics were… well, if you took the song literally, the lyrics were bizarre, even hateful.

Very early in the song we get the following line:

There’s an old man sitting next to me, making love to his tonic and gin.

I knew what “making love” meant. I didn’t see this line as metaphorical, so I thought that the old man was literally making love to a glass with tonic and gin in it. This struck me as something that might happen in a bar in a Steely Dan song (I was and remain a big fan of theirs and spent a lot of time listening to them)—but what in the heck was Billy Joel doing singing about that?

But given the fact that “Captain Jack” appears on the same record, I figured that in fact Mr Joel had “gone there.” Weird. Strange. Disturbing.

Then it gets slightly more disturbing:

He says son can you play me a memory,
I’m not really sure how it goes
But it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete
When I wore a younger man’s clothes

Now this is a very poet and elegant (“polegant”) way of saying that the man was younger when he knew the song. But the way my literal mind took it was that he’d stolen the clothes of someone younger, and had worn them, but for some reason he’d forgotten what he’d heard while he was wearing this younger man’s clothes.

That’s just flat-out weird.


Now Paul is a real estate novelist

Who writes novels about real estate? Is that like a J. K. Huysmans kind of thing? (Full disclosure: I didn’t know who J. K. Huysmans was when I was seven.) Seemed a very niche market to me.

The waitress is practicing politics

Wha—? She’s running for office?

I did understand the “They’re sharing a drink they call loneliness” line, though.

For me, the worst line came very near the end:

And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar
And say, ‘Man, what are you doin’ here?’

That sounded absolutely horrible to me. I didn’t understand that “bread” meant money, that they were tipping him because they liked his playing, and that they were asking him “what are you doin’ here?” because they thought he could do better.

Instead, I thought they hated his playing, and they were stuffing actual bread, as in slices of white bread, into his tip jar to prevent anyone actually tipping him. And that “Man, what are you doin’ here?” was a threatening question. “Why are you here? Why don’t you get out? WE DON’T WANT YOU IN HERE!”

I was afraid for the Piano Man, who was playing in a very bizarre, strange, hateful place, full of menacingly odd people.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

What is wrong with Twin Peaks? The revival is going disastrously, sadly wrong.

Actually, it’s not a total disaster. There’s plenty to like about it. There was a lot of fun to be had watching Cooper escape the Black Lodge, for example. The scene in which we meet Wally Brando was inspired. I liked the scene in which the new Sheriff Truman’s wife ranted about the leak, and the bucket. I liked the glass box in the first few episodes, but I don’t like what they’ve done with the glass box since (basically nothing, except to show an image of Bob Cooper inside it, or something). There were images in the “atomic bomb” sequence that were full of creative energy and life. Matthew Lillard’s Ray Wise-inspired performance as the highly emotional “zone” visitor and accused murderer William Hastings was very good. I always like seeing Jane Adams in anything, and she’s been very good here, but outside of revealing that she performs comedy on open mic nights her character, coroner Constance Talbot, hasn’t had all that much to do.

What does it say about the Twin Peaks revival that the Wally Brando scene has been the best moment so far?

The show is also making some very bad narrative decisions. While the pace is turgid, the storyline is unfocused and undisciplined. It focuses on exactly the wrong or the least interesting aspects of what’s going on—then glosses over the truly interesting stuff. For instance, two episodes ago we learned that Hastings had a BLOG in which he was BLOGGING for crying out loud about ACTUALLY VISITING THE  BLACK LODGE (which he called “the zone” and meeting Major Briggs [“the Major”]). And we learn about this from basically a throw-away line from Albert, who’s reading a report on the discovery of Major Briggs’s decapitated body. Then Agent Tammy Preston talks to him and he tells, not shows, about visiting the Black Lodge, describing meeting the Major in a scene that’s so beautiful and scary—yet we only get his reaction to it, not the scene itself. Lillard breaks down admirably, Leland Palmer-style, but the viewer is still left with the feeling that… we should be seeing this, not hearing about it.

The problem with that lack of narrative focus was compounded by last week’s episode’s visit to the spot where Hastings et al visited “the zone.” Agents Cole, Albert, Preston, and Diane (why oh why did Diane have to turn out to be a real person and not just the name of Cooper’s personal tape recorder???) and Detective Dave Macklay bring Hastings to a run-down, skeevy looking area with dilapidated buildings, dust, and weeds— a perfect spot for Lynch creepiness. Hastings points to the building and Albert and Gordon walk up to it. Then Gordon has a vision.


Why would anyone, even Gordon Cole, be able to just walk up to that building and see the Woodsmen standing on a staircase like that? Could anyone just walk up to that spot and see Woodsmen? There’s not much sense that this other place, if it is the Black Lodge, is anything particularly special.

Then a Woodsman sneaks into Macklay’s car and explodes Hastings’ head. Which prompts some dry humor from Lynch, as his Gordon deadpans, “He’s dead.” The scene doesn’t have nearly the impact it should—there’s very little sense of menace—because the viewer never gets the sense that this is grounded in anything other than a desire to explain stuff.

And speaking of explaining stuff… How about that note from Major Briggs? The show was essentially twiddling its thumbs and decided, “Well, things have to move forward now…” and so came up with the note telling the Sheriff, Hawk, and Bobby to go visit a certain place at a certain time. And then Hawk had a scroll (at least Lynch and his co-writer, Mark Frost) had enough cheek to have Hawk say something about the scroll never changing but always being current—it’s what the Native Americans call a Factitious Scroll) revealing that when they go to that place there’s going to be BLACK FIRE for crying out loud. So we have that to look forward to while we…

…Watch Stupor Cooper stumble around and repeat the last few words he’s heard. Over and over. Eventually it’s going to become what? Endearing? Funny?

Stupor Cooper is an annoyance on many levels. In my previous Twin Peaks post, I hoped that Stupor Cooper wouldn’t win the show. So far, unfortunately, he has. This has gone on way too long. First of all, what casino just gives someone over $400K (in cash!) without taking some kind of information from them? Wouldn’t they put the winner’s name and face all over, to help drum up business?

Still not funny.

Beyond that—if you knew someone who was stumbling around in a stupor, who was barely verbal, would you wait three or four days to take them to the hospital, the way Dougie’s wife did? Let’s leave all that stuff aside. Let’s even leave aside the fact that the Stupor Cooper joke has completely worn out (David Lynch’s sense of humor often tends toward “dad jokes” and very dry, deadpan stuff, so I can see why this appealed to him and I can even see having Stupor Cooper for maybe two or three episodes). What really hurts about this is, this is probably the last Twin Peaks we’re going to get, ever.

We’ve gone since 1992 without seeing Cooper. Cooper has been trapped in the Black Lodge for 25 years. And now that he’s back, he’s in a complete stupor?

I want Agent Dale Cooper. I didn’t subscribe to Showtime (seriously, I added Showtime to my Amazon Prime for one reason and one reason only, and it wasn’t so I could watch that documentary about how the Tim Burton-Nicolas Cage Superman movie didn’t get made) to watch my beloved Agent Cooper stumbling around like a moron for—however many episodes it’s been.

And Bob Cooper’s even worse.

Bob was a deeply disturbing creation. Maybe the scariest character ever to appear on network television. Do you remember when Sarah Palmer had that vision of Bob in the second episode of the original series? Damn that was scary. Unfortunately the actor who portrayed Bob has passed away, and the revival has done some interesting and occasionally inspired things to bring him into the storyline.

Now THIS was a scary moment.

But what the show really needed to do was to give us a truly disturbing antagonist. Someone or something that could measure up to Bob. They’ve tried with the Woodsmen, and it hasn’t worked for me. But that would be okay if there was a single force that made us feel like there were actually high stakes involved. A character that you would not, under any circumstances, want to see out of the corner of your eye. I think that’s what they tried to do with Bob Cooper.

They gave the evil Cooper long stringy hair and dressed him vaguely like Bob, but so far it hasn’t come across (they also, at one point when Bob Cooper was in prison, had his mirror image twist slightly so that it became Bob-ish). He can apparently cause sirens to go off in a prison by dialing a few numbers on a phone. He’s got the protection of the Woodsmen, who saved his life after Ray shot him. But none of what we’ve seen captures the sense of dread that the original Bob inspired. This Bob Cooper just seems so uninspired. Even the scene in which he killed Darya felt mundane. It could have appeared in an episode of "Arrow."

When the original Twin Peaks series began the viewers became invested in the proceedings in part because there was a sense that the creators were discovering all this stuff along with us. There was a real sense of wonder to the show. The pace, roughly one day per episode, was such that we had time to process everything that was happening in Twin Peaks. And there was a sense that this was an odd little town with a lot of secrets, most of which were fairly routine (extramarital affairs), tawdry (prostitution, drug-running) and then, eventually… really horrible (incest, child prostitution). Meanwhile we were also learning that there were actual supernatural forces at work, on top of everything else. It’s incredible that they were able to strike a balance so that everything worked together so elegantly.

I cared as much about Pete Martell, Hawk, and Major Briggs as about Agent Cooper and “The Little Man from Another Place” who later came to be known as the Arm. This time around there are no new characters to take their place (do you care about Bobby’s and Shelly’s daughter? How about Beverly?

My friend Michael has suggested that this new revival feels like a fan film to him, and I think that’s an accurate way of looking at it. Lynch and Frost are coming across like a pair of very enthusiastic fans who absorbed all of the events memorized all the characters and their back stories, kept copious notes when Windom Earle told Rusty about the White Lodge and Black Lodge—but did not absorb any of the emotion and heart of the show. This story isn’t doing anything to advance the world of Twin Peaks. It’s so bogged down in trying to explain the mythology (even to the extent that it might have actually presented an “origin” of Bob) that, for all its creativity, it feels hollow and lifeless. There’s nothing here to build on for a potential future series or film or book. It feels like it was put together by a team of Stupor Coopers, just repeating the last few words they heard, over and over again, trying to show what’s going on but in the process forgetting everything that made the original so special in the first place.

Where is Invitation to Love??