Watching Television Evil With Mom

When my mother first moved in with us, she discovered the wonders of Apple TV. It took her a couple of months to figure out how the four-button remote works, what apps are, and the glories of Hulu, where she discovered FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle McLaughlin. Once she saw him, she didn’t have any more use for the remote.

Dale Cooper
Kyle MacLachian as FBI Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks

I had heard of Twin Peaks. It was a David Lynch deal. I’d seen Mulholland Drive, but didn’t understand it so of course I didn’t like it. Lynch is just, different. I wasn’t planning to join Mom, who couldn’t take her eyes off the screen. She’s ninety and as a tack. But she tires more easily, and spending a couple of hours watching television is, along with reading, her way of relaxing.

I work at home, so I take coffee breaks and sit with her. She usually hits the pause button to have a nice chat with her son, but with Twin Peaks, nothing doing. I’d watch Agent Cooper walking through velvet red curtains in the woods and disappearing, the tiny man dancing on a red and white checkered floor and talking like an automaton, and the constant refrain of a woman’s name: Laura Palmer, raped and murdered by a serial killer, who Cooper is hunting down. It didn’t make sense so I didn’t like it and went back to my office.

Then, suddenly, the show snagged me. I watched twenty minutes, thirty, then whole episodes. It fascinated me. Lynch was doing something extraordinary—he was looking deeply into the question of evil. So, I thought, this is what’s holding Mom’s attention: a study of the darkness in humanity.

That wasn’t it.

“This is such a good show,” she said. I agreed, said something about the intensity of the theme, and how Lynch used allegorical archetypes to explore good and evil. “Yeah yeah. And that Agent Cooper, ay, que guapo.”

“Oh. Yeah, I guess he is pretty good looking.”

“I mean, look at him.”

Cooper had survived a bullet wound to the abdomen the show previous. Now he was in his hotel room, his shirt off, checking the bandages.

‘Those muscles.” She sat back into the couch, slowly lifted her legs up and put them on her walker. “Such a fine specimen of manhood.” She talked about his strong jaw, his kind, penetrating eyes and goodness look at those shoulders and such a tight tummy. She lifted her head, looked at my dropped jaw and said, “What? You don’t think a ninety year old woman can appreciate a sexy man? I’m not dead yet.”

The show’s got us both hooked, and not just because of whatever geriatric erotica images are floating around in my mother’s head. It’s a murder mystery: who killed Laura Palmer? But it’s a supernatural show, with a dark spirit named Bob walking in and out of men’s heads. It’s a show about malice so real that it becomes too large for the mind; well, perhaps your mind. But not my mother’s, nor mine.

Lynch is amazing. He does what I preach to my students all the time: He use tricks of the aesthetic trade to bring the watcher safely to those dark places, where yes, we’ll be disturbed, but not swallowed. My mother and I, who both know evil and have survived it, can see, through Lynch’s work, our own painful roads. His cinematic art plays a role in keeping us alive.

Mom’s right; she’s not dead yet. Nor am I.

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