By Tony Beasley and Brandon Wetherbee
Spoilers: If you haven’t watched the first sixteen episodes of Twin Peaks season 3, you may want to watch those before continuing. If you don’t want to watch sixteen hours of television before continuing, at least watch episode 8.
At the start of summer, we pontificated the idea of Trent Reznor and David Lynch influencing each other’s works, either through overt collaboration or a hive mind. We did this based on a 2013 music video, the first four hours of Twin Peaks: The Return, and wishful thinking. At the end of summer, we’re going further to postulate that the current Nine Inch Nails EP trilogy is the unofficial soundtrack for the entire season.
Episode 8 of season 3 of Twin Peaks is the most important hour of scripted television that will come from 2017. Others have remarked that its surrealism and uniqueness make it worthy of playing on loop in a modern art museum. This is absolutely correct. The episode features the least amount of dialogue in Twin Peaks episode thus far. In the middle, “The” Nine Inch Nails perform “She’s Gone Away” at the old Roadhouse. Unlike most every other musical performance, it doesn’t close the show and it doesn’t cut away. It’s 5 minutes of storytelling rather than a coda. Some viewers found the NIN performance misplaced and distracting. This is absolutely incorrect. It is perfect.
We considered fleshing out that theory after episode 8 aired on June 25. When Add Violence was released July 19, it made sense to re-evaluate the series, the two EPs and our first theory.
Before analyzing the lyrics (this is the easiest connective tissue between the two works of art so we’ll close with obvious), let’s begin with some visual cues.
In our first essay we pointed out the similarity between the playing card shown in season 3, episode 2 and the images seen in the David Lynch-directed video for Nine Inch Nail’s “Came Back Haunted.” The similarities multiplied in episode 8 (really, if you haven’t watched episode 8, watch it now). Following the performance of “She’s Gone Away,” the first atomic bomb is detonated in New Mexico. For five minutes we witness the beauty and destruction of good while the perfectly Kubrick-flavored “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” by Penderecki crescendos in the background. At the 3:42 mark of “Came Back Haunted,” Lynch gave us a preview of what he would do in Twin Peaks with a similar type of mushroom cloud imagery. Finally, those similarities converse with the cover art for the “Add Violence” EP:
From the playing card to the atomic bomb, Lynch re-uses symbols in both Twin Peaks and through the music of Nine Inch Nails.
Reznor hasn’t done much press for the new EP and summer tour. The most extensive interview was with Vulture. Writer David Marchese asked Reznor about fans scrutinizing the work of NIN. Reznor’s reponse was
telling. “What the obsessives maybe don’t know is that if I were to explain everything to you, or just explicitly lay out what the new EP is about, you’d only be disappointed. You don’t really want to know. The experience of grappling with the thing is what makes it interesting, not the immediate gratification of going, “Oh, that’s what it means.””
By corollary, it’s more satisfying to think this NIN EP trilogy is about FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper caught in an alternate reality than it is to know, for fact certain, that it’s about FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper caught in an alternate reality.
The actual music on these EPs borrow from the full Reznor chronology, from 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine through his most recent soundtrack work with Atticus Ross for the upcoming Ken Burns documentary miniseries about the Vietnam War. The first song on Add Violence, “Less Than” is the clearest example of both aging gracefully and acknowledging your past. The first minute is all early synths and dance-y beats. It’s “Head Like A Hole” for a 2017 club. Then we go through a downward spiral before ending up in the cinematic sweep Reznor has only been able to accomplish due to technology that’s caught up to the vision.
Does season 3 of Twin Peaks exist if Kyle McLaughlin doesn’t look like he stepped out of 1990? Playing three roles, McLaughin as Agent Cooper, Evil Cooper / Mr. C and Dougie Jones alternates between good and evil, light and the dark, heedless and calculating, tailored and billowing, leather and …. green. That’s what the music on Add Violence does as well. It’s playful and wholly serious. The music video for “Less Than” embodies retro gaming while progressing into an unknown future.
Finally, and most obviously, the lyrics on Not the Actual Events and Add Violence are about Laura Palmer and Agent Cooper. “Branches/Bones” opens the series with an excellent primer for the entire series. From body parts sewed up to feeling like a tourist in a place you’ll never leave to “infected Japanese,” (remember Catherine Martell as Japanese businessman Mr Tojamura?) it’s a statement piece that ends with a monologue saying, “please go please please please yes i have been here before yes i have been here b. (the use of a lower case i is throughout all of Nine Inch Nails’ catalogue)”
“Dear World,” features one of the most memorable and gifable lines from Twin Peaks. “Just when it started… happening.”
“She’s Gone Away” is about Laura Palmer. See above. (Alternatively, it’s about Audrey Horne, who most fans believe is institutionalized and may have dreamed or hallucinated the entire dance sequence of episode 16.)
“The Idea of You” tells the story of a trapped Agent Cooper. The two voices of Reznor, both screaming from different places, “(Wait!) None of this (Wake!) Is happening,” fits the current season.
The EP closes with, “Burning Bright (Field on Fire),” an embrace of multiple aspects of self. The protagonist is marrying different personas and questioning if he’s living in a dream. He’s OK with himself in and outside the Lodge.
The EP was fine before the show returned. It became essential to Twin Peaks fans in May. Add Violence could not have been released at a better time. Just after episode 8 (no excuses, watch it), we’re hearing Cooper screaming from the Lodge, Vegas and throughout the Pacific Northwest.
“Less Than” is one of NIN’s best album openers. It instantly connects on multiple levels. We’ve already praised the music so let’s focus on the lyrics. Once again vague enough to be about whatever you want but the refrain, “And you can always justify/The missile trails across the sky again,” stands out now that we know the atomic bomb unlocked BOB on the world.
The one important line in “The Lovers” is “Everyone seems to be asleep but me.” The callback to “Dear World” is also about episode 16 Agent Dale Cooper.
“This Isn’t the Place” is the kind of NIN song diehards love to make about anything. Incredibly vague with an economy of words, we’re going to say the lines, “Carry me, carry me home/I thought we had…” is about Leland Palmer asking Cooper in season three to find Laura.
“Not Anymore” and “The Background World” is what convinced us the connection between the music and the series. The lines, “I can’t… I can’t seem to wake up” in “Not Anymore” and “The world is bleeding out/It folds itself in two,” in “The Background World” plays into the first 16 episodes of The Return. Cooper can’t wake up from the stupefied Dougie state while the two counter-veiling forces of the world around him, tied to the Black and White Lodge, come in more direct conflict.
Other than writers Mark Frost and David Lynch, the only person that has read the entire script for season 3 of Twin Peaks is Kyle McLaughlin. We’re positing that Trent Reznor also knew the entire story. In addition to the art, sound and words of Nine Inch Nails, the timeline also works.
Season 3 airs its final episodes on Sunday, September 3, 2017. Showtime announced the series would return in October 2014. Filming begun in 2015 and was completed by April 2016. Reznor announced Nine Inch Nails would return in December 2015, well into production of Twin Peaks season 3. Everything that happened in Lynch’s world was planned to happen. And now Reznor is releasing an EP trilogy that corresponds quite nicely to Lynch’s vision.
We won’t be able to flesh out our theory until the final EP in the trilogy is released later this year. Thus far, the 10 songs marry the 16 episodes better than any high concept art on major platforms. Even if Reznor and Lynch deny this not-exactly-accidental, coincidental story telling, it’ll still be wonderful to ponder. It’s art at its finest, something that’s relatively easy to obtain and rewarding with further exploration.