“Are you going to put your coat on or talk me to death right here on the threshold?” – Charlie, Season 3 Episode 15
“There you will meet your own shadow self. My people call it the dweller on the threshold… But it is said if you confront the Black Lodge with imperfect courage it will utterly annihilate your soul.” – Tommy Hawk, Season 2 Episode Masked Ball
“Here no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it.” – The Gatekeeper, Franz Kafka’s Vor dem Gesetz
***CONTAINS SPOILER FOR ALL OF TWIN PEAKS UP TO SEASON 3 EPISODE 15***
David Lynch and Franz Kafka go together like, well, coffee and cherry pie. Shit digging and golden shovels. Silence and drapes. Cops and donuts.
It’s a good combo. A lot of people say they love Kafka, and David Lynch and I would belong to that group. I focused my studies on Kafka and Kafkaesque Cinema with a secondary topic of Freud and Dreams, and Lynch once even had plans to bring Kafka’s The Metamorphosis to the big screen. Those unfamiliar with the story, it is about questioning the value of existence, family dysfunction and cruelty, human sexuality, and a guy that gets turned into a bug. You know, that old tale. Like with Lynch and Twin Peaks, most people associate Kafka with The Metamorphosis. It’s a damn fine story. But Twin Peaks: The Return‘s 15th episode made me think of my favorite piece by Kafka, Vor dem Gesetz.
This episode dealt a lot with crossing thresholds and fulfilling desires. Vor dem Gesetz, or Before the Law, deals with exactly that. It is a nice short, strange story. Before the Law is about a man from the country seeking admittance to the Law. He arrives at the gate only to be given the Gandalf treatment… or maybe with a dash of the Tim the Enchanter treatment… Anyway, the man from the country asks the Gatekeeper if he could gain admittance to the Law, after all the gate is standing wide open. The Gatekeeper tells the man from the country he probably could enter, just not at the moment. The Gatekeeper then moves a bit to the side so the dude could get a peek. Being rather vague and dickish, the guard teases the man a bit and tells him to go ahead and try but be warned, there are more gatekeepers, each one more powerful than the last. And he’s the lowest one. And, shit, don’t get him started on the third one… he can’t even force himself to look at the third one. The guy decides to wait. But he waits so long he’s gotten old and his only friends are the fleas in the Gatekeeper’s coat. To top it off, he’s broke from trying to bribe the Gatekeeper, who just took it because he wanted the man from the country to feel like he was at least trying. Seeing the man so weak he can barely move, the Gatekeeper takes a bit of pity on the old fool and lets him get one question in before he croaks. So the man asks him why no one else every came to this gate besides him and the Gatekeeper yells in his face, mainly because the man has gone all Gordon Cole on him, that no one ever came along because the gate was meant only for him and since he never used it, he was going to close it. The End. Das Ende. Fin. And everyone lived happily ever after. Well, not the man from the country… Now before you start going all Gordon Cole on me and say “What the hell?”, the parable is vague on purpose. Mainly because that’s life. We’re all the man from the country and the Law is anything we desire or want to achieve. The Gatekeeper is all of our doubts, fears, and confusion holding us back from achieving our desires or moving onto the next phase of our lives.
This is theme retold in variants in Twin Peaks Episode 15 titled “There’s Some Fear In Letting Go.” Almost every scene contains either a metaphorical or quasi-physical gate, gatekeeper, and desire or attempt to cross the threshold to move into the next phase.
The opening scene is actually a two-for-the-price-of-one scene. Nadine walks all the way to Big Ed’s Gas Farm with golden-shit-digging shovel in tow. She did this to release Big Ed from their marriage so he can finally be happy and be with Norma. She does this because she has already passed through her own personal gate and is ready to begin her new phase herself. Nadine knows that Big Ed is stuck before his own gate and that their marriage is his own personal Gatekeeper. That she was the one holding him back from love and happiness, and he was allowing himself to be held back because he is “a saint.” Big Ed tells her that she will regret this in a bit and doesn’t mean it. Nadine assures him that she has passed through her gate, she had plenty of time to turn back if she was really scared of moving on, but she was ready to move on. Nadine had been shoveling herself out of the shit and was out of it. She’s ready to move on and shovel some other shit. Nadine is the “What-If” version of Kafka’s man from the country. The version that wasn’t a wuss. The version that didn’t wait for admittance to be verbally granted to him. And having passed her gate and seeing Big Ed being left behind, takes it upon herself to be brave for him so that he can pass through his threshold.
In fact, the opening two scenes are people digging themselves out of their own shit in order to achieve their desires—Nadine frees herself so she can give the greatest gift of love, giving the person you love what they want so they can be happy, and Norma offers to sell her shares of the diners so that she can be with the ones she loves… and probably so she wouldn’t have to change her cherry pie recipe.
The next scenes are of Mr. C and Steven. Evil Coop arrives at the convenience store where he is confronted by not 1, not 2, but 3 Gatekeepers. The first Gatekeeper, Mr. C simply asks to see Phillip Jeffries. Done deal, just flip a switch and follow the dirty fat guy. The second Gatekeeper just opens the locked door for him. And the third Gatekeeper, Jeffries, is, like Kafka’s third Gatekeeper, kind of hard to look at. Though, mainly because he is embodying an apparatus similar to the Fireman’s and Naido’s from previous episodes.
But here, Jeffries is playing the traditional Gatekeeper. Mr. C’s gate can only be crossed once he has his questions answered, mainly about who Judy is. Jeffries, always vague and unyiedlingly so, doesn’t allow him to cross and seemingly tricks him into leaving by answering the ringing phone (Author’s Note: That is my opinion on what happened. What do you think?). Steven on the other hand is blocked from moving on into death by Gersten. At least until the dog-walker caught Steven with his hand in her shirt and she ran off. Though, the outcome of this scene is off screen… so anything beyond that is speculating. Movie/TV deaths aren’t final until the bodies are shown, in my book.
Speaking of deaths, we got Duncan Todd getting a “gate” opened up in his face courtesy of Chantal… Dougie (dead or not) decides after hearing Gordon Cole’s name being mentioned in Sunset Boulevard to try and pass through a gate either cleverly disguised as an electrical outlet or is just an outlet by sticking a fork in it, quite literally trying to exit this world the same way he came in… And the Log Lady says goodbye. During the Log Lady’s adieu phone call with Hawk, she states the line that would be used as the episode’s title: There’s some fear in letting go. And this is really at the heart of the episode and Kafka’s Before the Law. There is a fear of the unknown and in change. People can remain unchanged and stationary in life but never achieve their full potential nor desires. It is only through letting go and moving forward that we can achieve this.
Now, the most Kafkaesque scene in the whole episode and the closest to his Before the Law was Audrey’s scene with Charlie before the door. She heads towards the door and tells Charlie she is tired of waiting for the phone and she is going to the Roadhouse. Great, Charlie is too. He was already standing by the door, quasi guarding it. He tells her, they can go together. She just has to put on her coat and they will go. Instead, seemingly afraid to go, Audrey berates Charlie instead putting on her coat. Charlie holds dominance over Audrey, he will go but he is tired, so sleepy, and he won’t wait. Either her coat goes on or his coat goes off. She can leave, she just has to put on her coat. But what is holding her back? Charlie says, “Are you going to put your coat on or talk me to death right here on the threshold?” Just like the Gatekeeper and the man from the country, nothing is actually holding Audrey back. Instead, she wastes time talking (in the man’s case, he was constantly trying to bribe and coerce information from the fleas in the Gatekeeper’s coat). She believes her task of passing through the front door is impossible and mentions that Charlie is someone she doesn’t recognize, “Who are you, Charlie?” Charlie then takes off his coat and Audrey begins to strangle him. But was passing through that door impossible or was it just Audrey’s fear of leaving that was really holding her back? Like the man from the country, she could have at any point put on her coat, passed over the threshold, and started down the path of achieving her goal of finding Billy… or at least what has happened to Billy. But in the end, almost as if it was a game neither Charlie nor Audrey wants to play, they both give up. It is just that Charlie, being the Gatekeeper, has the final say of when the game is up. His taking off the coat is the Gatekeeper closing the gate that was always open and ready for her to pass through.
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