Take Five in Twin Peaks


There’s a wonderful moment in Episode 4 of Twin Peaks: The Return (which I’m only now getting around to seeing). After 25 years trapped in the Black Lodge, a catatonic Agent Cooper returns to what appears to be our own Earthly plane. Unknowingly, he has returned into the vacant spot left by an artificial and probably lodge-manufactured look-a-like Dougie Jones who has his own family, a wife and child splendidly named Janey-E and Sonny-Jim. Still dazed and amnesiac Cooper wanders downstairs in Dougie’s lime-green, too-big suit with a tie on his head, to a breakfast of pancakes as The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s ‘Take Five’ begins to play on the soundtrack.

It’s a totally surprising and inspired choice of soundtrack music, integral to the scene in a way which is positively mysterious. Like so many moments in the original series, it feels intuitively satisfying in a way which defies obvious explanation. In the new series, Lynch has extended and expanded his daring in this regard. Something about this scene in particular is radiant with authentic positivity, a slowly-building, unexplainable joy: we see Cooper in his amnesiac state, staring at a table laden with pancakes, orange juice, maple syrup. We see Sonny-Jim laughing at Cooper and then helping him sit down. We see Janey-E played brilliantly by Naomi Watts navigating her way confidently around the brightly-lit kitchen, an environment that exudes domestic warmth and comfort. Sonny-Jim pours syrup on Cooper’s pancakes and, in parallel to the song’s breakdown, with its anticipatory drum solo, Cooper ever so slowly lifts his knife and fork and begins to eat. All this before we even get to the subject of Dougie’s coffee, which arrives before Cooper in a mug which hilariously bears the words ‘I am DOUGIE’S COFFEE’.

Something about the choreography and Kyle MacLachlan’s movements are reminiscent of early slapstick but operating in a register wholly new and strange. At this point in the series, we are still waiting for Coop to remember himself, wondering if he will ever return to his original persona of heroic positivity or if he will simply bumble zombie-like through the new series. We fear that he’ll never quite make it back. The fact that nobody who knows ‘Dougie’ seems particularly concerned about his odd behaviour only heightens the tension, as if the universe hasn’t itself yet caught up with Coop’s return. The music’s hi-hats and two-chord vamp carry this tension forward beautifully, extending it but directing it through a brief oasis of domestic harmony, in which Coop is given time and space to re-inhabit his old self. Prompted by his faux-son, who is himself a strangely compassionate and enigmatic figure, Coop eats, and we see him savour his rediscovery of his senses, the simple, pure goodness of a great-tasting pancake. This scene appears to show a significant jump forward in his return to full selfhood.

On the Twin Peaks Rewatch podcast, the hosts Chris Remo and Jake Rodkin were perplexed at the use of ‘Take Five’ in favour of one of Angelo Badalamenti’s original finger-snappin’ soundtrack pieces, like ‘Freshly Squeezed’. To them, it almost seemed like a snub, given that Badalamenti’s jazz noir so obviously nods towards the musical vocabulary established in the popular imagination by tracks like ‘Take Five’. What I think they miss, perhaps, is the way ‘Take Five’ has been inserted by Lynch into the fabric of Twin Peaks so as to play on these layers of intertextual familiarity, with the uncanny result that ‘Take Five’ seems, Pierre Menard-like, to be a Badalamenti composition rather than Paul Desmond.

In a show as strange and unfamiliar as Twin Peaks, the sheer familiarity of ‘Take Five’ is jarring. Jarring but also oddly comforting, like Coop’s long-awaited return. In the original series, Badalamenti’s hi-hats and fingersnaps gave scenes an uncanny irony, underscoring the ways in which the inhabitants of Twin Peaks attempted to act out their own melodramas, Donna Hayward and Audrey Horne taking turns in the role of femme fatale, frightened children pretending to be tough adults like Bobby Briggs, and the soap opera subplots which were played weirdly straight. Listening to the actual soundtrack, there’s more going on than just hi-hats but it’s the hi-hats I remember because they worked to transform each scene in which they appeared into a sinister cartoon of real life. Implicit in those brush-strokes were years of conditioned audience-association: the sound of something funny going down behind the scenes. That music literally gave rhythm to the life of Twin Peaks’ characters, but it also constrained them, or it revealed how they were constrained by the flatness of the characters they were so desperately trying to play. The music functioned superbly as soundtrack, but it also stood as a signifier for a whole notional underworld.

By contrast, when ‘Take Five’ appears, Lynch refuses to treat it like soundtrack. The temptation of the music’s richness is too powerful and takes over, transforming the scene into an impromptu music video. How many tv shows, movies and restaurants use ‘Take Five’ to instantly evoke an atmosphere, a certain style of sophisticated cool? All you need is a minute of that iconic vamp and you’re set. So immediate is it as a form of cultural shorthand that the music itself is almost superfluous, yet Lynch has us stay with the song almost until its conclusion, forcing us to hear it anew, like Coop tasting pancakes as if for the first time.  Insisting on its distinctness as a piece of reality, it functions in the opposite way to the classic Badalamenti score, which worked to sound anonymous and deliberately generic. It is a brilliant and subtle choice because it connects but also contrasts with our memories of the original show. Perhaps this is one of the ways in which, as David Auerbach writes, the new season is ‘about “Twin Peaks”–not the town, but the show itself.’

‘Take Five’ was one of any number of jazz standards alluded to but flattened out by Badalamenti’s score, a score which relied on a shared cultural recognition of music such as ‘Take Five’ in order to be most effective. Or in other words, tracks like ‘Freshly Squeezed’ (which, from its title, would seem highly appropriate to this scene, given the glasses of OJ on the breakfast table) were effectively low-resolution snapshots of the whole range of possible moods and feelings contained in tracks like ‘Take Five’. Those feelings were stylized into the archetypal noir soundtrack, one appropriate to the dream-world of the Black Lodge, a place inhabited only by flat, abstract archetypes. ‘Take Five’ would never have worked for those moments in the original series where characters tried to lose themselves in dreams of noir fantasy or soap drama because audience recognition would have prevented us from joining in their shared trance. But back in this scene, Cooper is in the process of coming out of a trance, one that has lasted 25 years. Free from the archetype-haunted Black Lodge, his return is signified not by dream music but by a recognizable song from a recognizable time and place.

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