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Non-Review Review: Twin Peaks – The Missing Pieces

It says a lot about Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me that there were enough deleted scenes that they could be structured into a ninety-minute feature film. It says even more that the resulting feature film is almost coherent.

Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces is a strange piece of work, essentially a narrative film stitched together from the cast-offs of a theatrical release two decades earlier. It is a collection of deleted scenes, but deleted scenes that have taken on an uncanny importance. These deleted scenes have been edited together into something approaching a linear narrative by David Lynch, the director who shot them in the first place. They even come packaged with an introduction and a set of closing credits. They are vitally important to the revived television series. They are, in other words, like a real movie.

“Yeah, he’s going to need about twenty five years to recover.”

Some of this is because Fire Walk With Me is a notoriously inscrutable and abstract film, one defined by strange choices and bizarre imagery. David Lynch is a surrealist, and Fire Walk With Me reflects this; it is full of odd cul-de-sacs and strange segues. Fire Walk With Me was also a film heavily cut before its release, which accounts for why it feels like a film defined by what is absent so much as what is present. The incomplete nature of Fire Walk With Me makes the incomplete nature of The Missing Pieces more understandable. They fit together like the two pieces of Laura Palmer’s heart-shaped necklace.

However, The Missing Pieces is illuminating for more than just the little details of continuity and the appearances of familiar faces. It is a film that in some ways shades Fire Walk With Me, existing as a remainder of the absences carved from that earlier film. The Missing Pieces defines Fire Walk With Me through contrast, revealing the elements of Fire Walk With Me that were deemed inessential to the theatrical release. In keeping with Lynch’s recurring fascination with doppelgangers and doubles, The Missing Pieces illuminates Fire Walk With Me by presenting an alternative; it is what Fire Walk With Me chose not to be.

Past prologue.

Many of the individual sequences within The Missing Pieces are rewarding on their own terms. After all, the world of Twin Peaks is so charming and eccentric that it is worth celebrating any opportunity to jump back in. In particular, the focus on Laura in Fire Walk With Me meant that precious little screen time was spent with those cast members not caught in her immediate orbit; while Leo got more to do in Fire Walk With Me than he did over the entire course of the second season, characters like Harry Truman and Ed Hurley were entirely absent.

The Missing Pieces offers little snippets of how these characters spent Laura’s last few days. From a narrative and thematic perspective, it would be hard to justify including these moments in Fire Walk With Me, a movie that is (justifiably) too beholden to its own priorities to make room for small scenes like Andy Brennan contemplating how long the walk from Canada must be or a brief sequence of Ed and Norma cuddling together in a pick-up truck. Nevertheless, there is something very heartwarming in checking in with all the members of this vast and engaging ensemble.

“I don’t want no scrubs.”

The delayed release of The Missing Pieces adds an extra layer of poignancy to these small scenes. Although many of these actors were still working during the nineties, several of the performers have since moved on. Jack Nance and Don S. Davis both passed away between the end of the original series and the premiere of the revival, and both had their scenes cut from Fire Walk With Me. Although the revival does find a way to posthumously include them, there is something very comforting in getting to see Pete Martell and Major Garland one last time, years after their actors have passed on.

Indeed, some of the scenes even work beautifully on their own terms, playing with ideas that simmered through Twin Peaks. The sole scene with Pete Martell has no tangible connection to the plot, instead tapping into the nostalgia and anxiety threaded through Twin Peaks. When Dell Mibbler, the manager at the Savings and Loan with whom Pete would spend his final moments, shows up to complain that his “two-by-fours” measure significantly less that two-by-four, Pete explains that time takes its toll; attrition, inflation, decay, erosion.

Run of the mill.

When Mibbler insists on getting a two-by-four that actually measures two-by-four, Pete explains that such things are impossible. “Well, birchwood and clear wood, they’re exactly two-by-four for exporting. But even they can shrink. Green wood shrinks.” When Dell struggles to understand who everything is smalls than it should be, Pete tries to put it in context. “Mister Mibbler, look, down at your bank, is a dollar still worth what it used to be?” Pete asks rhetorically. This seems to sink in. “Oh, I see what you mean,” Dell concedes. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

This is great American capitalism and industry intertwined, as it always has been on Twin Peaks. After all, the Packard Mill is a huge source of revenue for the local economy and the opening credits even feature the sawing of wood. The two of Twin Peaks feels in someways like the end of the frontier, the most westerly point on the map, with the residents still wrestling with the wilderness. That small conversation between Pete and Dell taps into a whole host of American anxieties into the nineties, fears about the economy and about industry, and the gradual diminishing of both. It is beautiful.

Don’t cry for him, Argentina.

There are also moments in The Missing Pieces that feel conspicuously absent from Fire Walk With Me, scenes that would most likely have strengthened the original release had those been included. These are obviously the scenes with Laura, which serve to further develop her character and provide a greater sense of context for her tragedy. Indeed, there are several scenes in The Missing Pieces that establish thematic beats paid off in Fire Walk With Me, rendering several narrative and dialogue choices in Fire Walk With Me a little more coherent and organic.

This is most apparent in Laura’s relationship with Donna, which is significantly fleshed out in both The Missing Pieces and Fire Walk With Me. Indeed, an extended sequence with the Haywood family in The Missing Pieces grounds several later developments in Fire Walk With Me. An early conversation about muffins proves especially important, with Laura rejecting the wholesomeness of the Haywood household. “You are the muffin,” she warns Donna. This provides context for a seemingly abstract moment in the Pink Room in Fire Walk With Me in which Laura asserts, “I am the muffin.”

Nothing to sniff at.

Similarly, a small exchange between Laura and Will Haywood in that section of The Missing Pieces sets up the grand finale of Fire Walk With Me, particularly the angel imagery. Studying a prescription for Laura, Will obviously feels a great deal of compassion for the young woman. He reassures her, “This isn’t a prescription. It’s a secret message for Laura. ‘The angels will return, and when you see the one that’s meant to help you, you will weep with joy.'” This is obviously exactly what happens at the end of Fire Walk With Me.

To be fair, Fire Walk With Me is not as incoherent as its reputation would suggest. Even without the context provided by The Missing Pieces, these moments work well enough in the larger context of Fire Walk With Me. The line “I am the muffin” is so surreal and abstract (and all-American) that it suggests Laura’s increasing disassociation with reality even without the set-up. Similarly, Fire Walk With Me certainly seeds its angel imagery very heavily, and properly foreshadows the sense that Laura needs something overlooking her, albeit without the clarity of Will Haywood’s observation.

“Your recovery may take a bit longer than twenty-five years.”

Still, there is a sense that there are a handful of scenes in The Missing Pieces that would enrich or enhance Fire Walk With Me had they not been left on the cutting room floor. At the same time, it is instructive the parts of Fire Walk With Me that are not represented in The Missing Pieces, the scenes and beats that seemed to flow straight from Lynch’s imagination to the final cut, the parts that made it into the film largely uncut while these smaller details were trimmed from the final product.

There is relatively little Deer Meadow in The Missing Pieces, for example. There is a small recurring joke about Agent Desmond’s unique “M.O.”, and an extended bare-knuckle boxing match that seems surreal even as a delete scene. However, it seems like Lynch incorporated most of the material from Deer Meadow into the final cut of Fire Walk With Me. Similarly, the Pink Room is almost entirely absent from The Missing Pieces, barring a short expository scene showing Laura and Donna’s arrival at the venue and Donna’s refusal to take cocaine.

Oh, Deer.

As such, it seems fair to observe that these were the parts of Fire Walk With Me that Lynch considered essential to the film, the aspects that absolutely could not be trimmed or tidied or smoothed over. This is interesting, in large part because these are the most consciously abrasive aspects of Fire Walk With Me, the parts of the film that seem most provocative and confrontational. After all, spending the opening thirty five minutes in Deer Meadow was a move that seemed consciously designed to alienate fans. However, it seems like that sequence unfolded exactly as Lynch intended.

Indeed, however effective the elements of The Missing Pieces might be on their own terms, they add up to something much more intriguing when taken as a whole. The deleted scenes actually fit together quite well, although not necessarily in plot terms. Although many of the scenes have their own arcs, The Missing Pieces makes no sense without the prism of Fire Walk With Me through which it might be understood. However, watched as a single ninety-minute film, these scenes are remarkably consistent in tone. They are a decidedly gentler and more welcoming experience than Fire Walk With Me.

Had your Phil?

This would seem to be the point. The Missing Pieces is, by definition, not Fire Walk With Me. It stands in opposition to Fire Walk With Me rather than in support of it. In fact, one of the more interesting aspects of The Missing Pieces is the way in which the deleted scenes suggest another completely different context for Fire Walk With Me. As it was released, Fire Walk With Me felt consciously like a prequel to Twin Peaks, taking audiences back to the beginning of the story. The Missing Pieces suggests a different reading, something more akin to sandwich.

To be fair, the future does haunt Fire Walk With Me. The disappearance of Chet Desmond in Deer Meadow at the start of Fire Walk With Me is obviously designed to mirror the disappearance of Dale Cooper at the end of the original series. In one particularly strange sequence, Laura is visited by the ghost of Annie, who warns her about the events at the end of the television series. However, these feel like echoes and abstractions more than essential points. They are details, rather than the big picture itself.

Bleeding cool.

The Missing Pieces suggests a more holistic approach to the Twin Peaks mythos. There are several scenes with the dislocated Dale Cooper inside the ethereal realm with the Man From Another Place. It seems almost like Dale Cooper is watching the events of the movie unfold from a vantage point outside of time, perhaps playing into the television metaphor that runs through Fire Walk With Me. The Man From Another Place challenges Cooper, “Is it future… or is it past?”

The implication would seem to be that past and future are not so easily distinguished from one another, that cycles continue and perpetuate. Chet Desmond’s disappearance repeats with that of Dale Cooper. Even within Fire Walk With Me itself, Leland’s murder of Laura Palmer is prefigured by the murder of Teresa Banks, suggesting a literal cycle of violence. The time-travelling body of Annie Blackburn reinforces the suggestion that the violence against women in Twin Peaks will not end with Laura either.

Cutting.

It is no coincidence that the image of a ring recurs in Fire Walk With Me and The Missing Pieces, even in that scene where the Man From Another Place asks Cooper to delineate between future and past. He offers Cooper a ring with an owl on it, tying back into the recurring owl imagery of the series as a whole. The ring seems like an abstract concept, a literalisation of the cycles of violence that recur in Twin Peaks and an embodiment of how time seems to work within the confines of that strange small town, repeating and doubling back over itself.

However, The Missing Pieces also makes a point to build off the cliffhanger to the original series, something largely ignored by Fire Walk With Me and likely a source of frustration to long-term fans of the show who had been promised a feature film adaptation. The Missing Pieces reveals that Annie has been recovered, and is rushed to hospital with multiple stab wounds. It also literally follows up on the final scene of the original series, with Harry Truman and Will Haywood rushing to be bathroom as Cooper smashes his face against the glass.

“I guess you could say that I was the Designated Survivor of the trip to Deer Meadow. Oh, don’t worry. That joke will kill in twenty-five years.”

There is nothing conclusive here, nothing that hints at meaningful resolution. Nevertheless, The Missing Pieces suggests a version of Fire Walk With Me that would undoubtedly have been more satisfying for fans of the series, offering some sense of forward movement even amid the journey back to the origins of the series. The Missing Pieces smooths a lot of the rough edges of Fire Walk With Me, offering something a lot closer to “the Twin Peaks movie” that audiences likely expected when the project was announced on the news after the original series finale.

Of course, The Missing Pieces also suggests that the confrontational and abrasive nature of Fire Walk With Me was entirely intentional, a conscious design choice rather than an accidental development. Many movies file down their rough edges in the edit, but Lynch seems to have actively sharpened all the pointed corners of his feature film. It is a good choice. Fire Walk With Me works as well as it does because it is confrontational and aggressive, because it thwarts fannish desires and because it subverts expectation. Fire Walk With Me is a jarring and unsettling watch, and it works because of that.

Duelin’ Desmond.

However, The Missing Pieces allows Lynch (and fans) to have the best of both worlds. Lovingly structured into something that (at least cosmetically) resembles a coherent narrative, The Missing Pieces offers a softer and gentler vision of a Twin Peaks movie, something that is perhaps a lot more in keeping with the tone that audiences associated with the television show and featuring more of the familiar and beloved faces. The Missing Pieces and Fire Walk With Me exist in contrast to one another, two very different facets of the same story.

The Missing Pieces and Fire Walk With Me are essentially Lynchian twins; two parts of the same broken whole, each distinct and contrasted, while somehow also suggesting a greater whole. Each of these two films feels like an embodiment of the broken half-heart that has become such a rich part of the series’ iconography, something incomplete and yet evocative for that lack of completion.

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