Ravings on Twin Peaks “The Return” Episode 8 and Penderecki’s “Threnody”

It is a rare encounter with art that leaves an audience member at once recognizing the music/image as being highly effective, yet also so original, unusual and confounding that you really aren’t sure what exactly it was that you’re talking about in the first place. Such it is with episode 8 of Twin Peaks “The Return”, aka season three. Of all the many things to speak of, the use of Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” as the viewer is taken into the center of an atomic test blast stands out as one of the most striking moments in television.


Penderecki’s Threnody seems to defy its own definition (song of lamentation for the dead). Surely the piece is more representational of the incomprehensible chaos and death associated with the atomic atrocities at Hiroshima than reflective of those that grieve for those that suffer(ed). The music seems beyond fear and loss, containing perhaps the most devastating and sustained dissonances in western orchestral music.

As a Westerner it is especially difficult to describe the context this piece places itself in. The music, let alone the events, are constructed by the reader as a distant, from afar mental recreation of what must have happened there. Even with military films of atomic blasts, and the gruesome news reels of the aftermath, anyone who wasn’t on the ground really doesn’t know what the bomb looks/sounds like up close. If the listener connects this music to the event then that inconceivable surely is reflected in the extreme dissonance of the orchestra.  This is music that could never be mistaken for something pleasant, yet it is moving in it’s uncompromising attack on tonality and tradition. It is as if Penderecki has found a way to partially compensate for the listener’s lack of direct contact with history through his undeniably brutal sonorities.

Similarly, Lynch’s imagery has little to comfort the viewer. The opening black and white, innocent text and countdown are violently disrupted not by the sound of  the blast (which is eerily absent) but by the flash of light and the sudden shock that accompanies the beginning of the music. The alien landscape emerges as we (or at least the viewer’s point of view) is hurled toward and into the mushroom cloud, quickly loosing sight of earth as we enter into the maelstrom.  The viewer is subjected to several minutes of visual chaos, with little continuity or conception of the images.   The viewer loses all context of where we exactly they are, how they could be there, why they would be there in the first place. The unanswered questions abound, leaving no footing to contextualize the unpredictable use of texture and color. Similarly, Penderecki’s music has no key, meter, or even obvious pitch content by with to understand the violent and unpredictable shifts in dynamics.  The montage is an onslaught of visual chaos in concert with all that is sonically damned.

mother-e1498463456678My own experience of this scene (and the entire series) caused me to give up any of my own feeble pursuits of what these images and sounds might “mean” within the context of history or this series. I though later that there seem to be two paths to choose from when thinking about much of Lynch’s work here, either 1) try to invent explanations the story which have no definitive resolution or meaning, or 2) give up the pursuit all together (if you can) and accept that you are along for the ride. The beauty of episode 8 is that choice has been made for you.