Location isn’t everything to David Lynch, but it’s a lot. It’s not for nothing that many of his best regarded works (“Twin Peaks,” “Lost Highway,” “Mulholland Dr.,” “Inland Empire”) refer directly to places or the roads between them. Much like time itself, place is one of those traditionally stable parameters that Lynch loves to subvert to disorienting effect: Just as his characters can often contain two selves, so too can places be everywhere and nowhere — both on and (way) off the map.
(By the way folks, you’re about two paragraphs deep into what will prove a deeply wonky “Twin Peaks: The Return” dorkout session — so while I apologize in advance if you’re in the woods here, that apology is tempered by my non-apology for caring so hard about this show, because it is the best thing on TV, and airs Sundays at 9 on Showtime. Moving on.)
In the case of “Twin Peaks,” Lynch has created an iconic location full of iconic locations.
There’s Big Ed’s Gas Farm and the Fat Trout Trailer Park; there’s the traffic lights at Sparkwood and 21; there’s that creepy stairwell in the Palmer home and Laura’s bedroom; there’s the roaring falls and the dark woods. At your most lost in Twin Peaks, you still know where you are.
But as beguiled as I may be by the Double R Diner (and its cherry pie) or as fully sucked into the Red Room (with its zigzag floors and upturned time) as I may find myself, there’s one location I keep coming back to: the Roadhouse.
One reason for this is the Roadhouse’s function as a separator between the 18 individual “parts” that comprise “Twin Peaks: The Return.” Roughly an hour will go by and we’re whooshed away from the action and over to the bar to enjoy a song and await the slow creep of the credits. From a purely practical standpoint, the Roadhouse is a way of regulating our intake of “Twin Peaks.”
Like the eerie circle of trees at Glastonbury Grove, or the mysterious glass cube in the New York City penthouse, and (most recently) the dilapidated shack at 2240 Sycamore in Buckhorn, South Dakota, the Roadhouse — or, its unspoken formal name, the “Bang-Bang Bar,” often registered in the trembling reflection of a parking lot puddle — is nothing less than a portal between worlds.
This is most pronounced in the story line of the show itself, where the Roadhouse serves as a bridge between youth and adulthood — it’s where Laura Palmer and Donna Heyward first sneak off as 14-year-olds to meet older men (i.e. boys barely old enough to drink). As such, the Roadhouse was also a passage between sobriety and, as Jacques Renault once put it, being “blank as a fart.”
During the series’ original run in the early ’90s, the Roadhouse was the place where good coexisted with bad — the bar was at once ersatz town courtroom, and the headquarters of a prostitution and drug ring. It was also the place where the real regularly hosted the unreal, a shady haunt for otherworldly spirits (very tall ones) to take the stage — drawn, perhaps to its familiar red drapes and the spectral coos of Julee Cruise.
This time around, for “The Return,” it feels like Lynch has expanded upon this vision of the Roadhouse as a place between places. For one thing, the bands getting booked to play there sound awfully familiar. Sharon Van Etten performed her smoky ballad “Tarifa”; Chromatics a new version of “Shadow”; the Cactus Brothers played an Everly-esque suicide lullaby called “Mississippi”; Trouble ripped through “Snake Eyes”; and synth trio Au Revoir Simone has appeared twice to perform “A Violent Yet Flammable World” and “Lark.”
Aesthetically, each song would be a perfect fit on the Platonic ideal of a David Lynch mixtape — a blur of Brill Building highs and ketamine lows, innocence ever in danger, echoes of a world we have and haven’t let go of.
But that gawdy definite article pinned onto the name of “The” Nine Inch Nails by the “MC” before Trent Reznor’s leather-gloved handling of “She’s Gone” (a “Twin Peaks” anthem if ever there was one) in the TV-rattling Part 8 feels like a winking insistence from stage that yes, this is the Nine Inch Nails. This land is our land.
And in the case of Rebekah Del Rio, who most recently appeared in Part 10 (joined by Moby on guitar) to perform the soaring, shimmering Lynch-penned ballad “No Stars,” the Roadhouse suddenly felt like a portal between Lynch’s own visions: Fans quickly recognized Del Rio from the stage of Club Silencio, another otherworldly venue in the Los Angeles of Lynch’s 2001 masterpiece “Mulholland Dr.” (Owl-eyed Internet theorists have also spotted two women that appear to be Laura Palmer and surviving friend Ronette Pulaski in the rows of the theater.)
Del Rio’s appearance (and unexpected exit) in “Mulholland” did not bode well for that film’s dual (quadruple?) heroines; and her emergence on the Roadhouse stage — mostly the puncture it caused between worlds we imagined to be distinct from each other — similiarly sucked the air out of the room.
But perhaps what resonates most from Lynch’s grand reopening of the Roadhouse in “Twin Peaks: The Return” is the way it presents music as a kind of magic. The music of the Roadhouse lures living souls and lost spirits to the same room — it’s the ultimate portal into the unknown. (And once they screen this beast in its entirety, an opportune time to visit the restroom.)