Bobby Briggs and Twin Peaks: The Return’s Most Surreal Scene
Apples Don’t Fall Far from Their Trees
There can only ever be so much success in attempting to analyze Twin Peaks. Once you accept that, though, it is possible to uncover all types of meaning in the famously bizarre series, even in its most surreal moments. 2017’s Twin Peaks: The Return was arguably even more surreal than the show’s original run; one of its strangest sequences came in Episode 11. The scene involves a child firing a gun into the crowded Double R Diner, an out-of-context tirade by an angry old woman who will not stop honking her horn, and a zombie-like kid dripping with green mucus — you know the one. The seeming randomness of the scene can potentially be made sense of, though, if one considers it in context with its primary character: Deputy Bobby Briggs.
Before analyzing the Return scene in question, let us refresh our memories of Bobby as a character from the original Twin Peaks. From the start, Bobby was bad news, and not just in the way that all teenagers are sort of bad news: when we first meet him, Bobby both uses and sells cocaine on behalf of Leo Johnson, whose wife, Shelly, Bobby is sleeping with. He is an angry, violent punk tangentially involved in the death of Laura Palmer. In the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Bobby executes a man via a gunshot to the head. He’s a terrible little POS, and surely bound for nothing good.
One of the biggest surprises of The Return is that Bobby turned out… pretty well, actually. Shockingly well, in fact, given his thorough awfulness as a teenager. A lot can change in twenty-five years, though, and Bobby has changed dramatically: he is now a deputy at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department, working alongside Hawk, Andy, and the new Sheriff Truman. He is calm and level-headed, good at his job, and has the respect of his colleagues. Bobby has come a long way, no doubt due in large part to the steady love and trust given to him by his father, Major Garland Briggs, one of Twin Peaks’ wisest and most inscrutable characters.
Grown-up Bobby may be a much better person than Teenage Bobby, but that does not mean that his life is easy. While Bobby and Shelly are no longer together, they share a daughter, Becky, who must have been born shortly after the events of the original series. With Becky, it is plain to see that the apple has fallen close to the tree: she seems to share many of the self-destructive characteristics and tendencies to poor judgment that defined both of her parents as young adults. Becky’s issues are what bring us to the surreal scene outside the Double R.
The scene shows Bobby and Shelly coming together to help Becky in the midst of a prolonged life-crisis. Throughout The Return, we see that Becky is married to a vile young man named Steven Burnett. Steven does not work, is lazy and repulsive, and shares a cocaine addiction with Becky that seems to be the only thing holding their mutually-abusive marriage together. Their domestic life is awful: they live in a squalid mobile home at the Fat Trout Trailer Park. Becky constantly comes to her mother for money — despite the fact that Shelly still works waiting tables at the diner — all of which Steven blew on coke, she later reveals. Becky positively refuses to leave her husband, insisting upon his goodness-at-heart. When she finds out that Steven is sleeping with Gersten Hayward — Donna’s piano-prodigy sister from the original series, now also strung out on cocaine — though, Becky gets a gun and puts six rounds through Gersten’s apartment door.
This is the situation when Bobby and Shelly meet up with Becky at the diner to hash out a plan to get their daughter to a safe place. Becky is obstinate, of course: she has no intention of paying to fix the door, of leaving her husband — who really does love her — or of shaping up in any way, it seems. Just as Bobby tells Becky he will pay for the door, Shelly’s face lights up: her boyfriend has appeared outside, and Shelly drops everything to rush out and make a show of kissing him. The display is pretty cringe-inducing. We see that, despite no longer being a teenager, Shelly still acts more or less like the ditzy seventeen-year-old she was on the original Peaks, even when dealing with a major family crisis. One might reasonably expect a middle-aged mother to have more composure, especially in such a situation. Despite no longer being romantically involved with her, Bobby’s face falls when Shelly rushes out to see her new beau.
That’s when the shots ring out, one of them firing through a window and into the diner. Bobby draws his gun and makes his way cautiously outside as everyone hunkers down with the lights off. Traffic has stopped, and the shots seem to have come from a van stopped in the middle of the street. Angry screaming from inside the van — Bobby ascertains that a little boy in the back seat fired a revolver he found into the diner. The boy’s mother chews out his father for letting him get his hands on the gun — the father responds by looking away and adjusting his ball cap. The father’s response to the awful situation is not to scold his son and apologize profusely, but to stand in the road looking surly with his hand in his pocket. Bobby looks from the father to the son: not only are both dressed in the same camouflage-print outfit, but both stand in the same flippant pose, unapologetic with hand shoved in pocket. Bobby looks back and forth, from son to father and father to son — they are identical.
Here we come to the point: people have kids, who turn out like their parents. Bad things happen, and it usually traces back to some problem with the parents. The kid is a callous little shit with no remorse about firing a gun into a diner full of people because his father is a callous shit who feels no remorse about anything. Apples don’t fall far from their trees. It is not lost on Bobby that his daughter’s issues stem from her being very much like he and Shelly were in their youth (and still may be in some ways).
As for the raving old woman who won’t let off her horn and the zombie-kid with her, these are simply classic Lynchian components of a scene meant to induce stress: angry drama in stalled traffic — see Leland Palmer and Philip Gerard’s encounter in Fire Walk with Me, or the hit-and-run earlier in The Return. An adult tantrum about personal issues with no context — see Frank Truman’s lovely wife Doris, or characters from practically any Lynch work. To say nothing of the disturbing image of the kid rising up in the passenger seat and spewing green bile — David Lynch is always up for vomit. All of these bizarre tropes are Lynchian staples, often employed by the director to evoke feelings of discomfort, disgust, and general wrongness. Here, they make us empathize with the turmoil and dread Bobby feels. Where once he was the unfixable problem-child of a responsible father who cared and wished the best for him, he is now a responsible father who cares and wishes the best for his own unfixable problem-child. Apples and trees.
Twin Peaks can be a frustrating show to watch, especially the more bizarre Lynchian scenes, like the one outside the Double R Diner in Episode 11 of The Return. The series can be confusing and seem impenetrable. Often, though, there is nothing more to read into Lynch’s bizarre or grotesque sequences other than that they are bizarre and grotesque. Take the raving old woman and zombie-kid as embodiments of how Bobby Briggs’ life feels so awful and surreal at the moment — he has grown up more than anyone could ever have expected, and with his newfound maturity comes a heaping crop of shit to deal with. Shelly, who he still seems to have feelings for, does not appear to have matured in all of the same ways, which makes it harder to deal with the problems of a daughter who has turned out to be the same kind of punk they used to be. The juxtaposition of the little jackass who fired the gun and his big jackass of a father illustrates that paradox in an external way for Bobby to witness and be affected by. In Twin Peaks: The Return, Bobby Briggs has grown up into the fine man his father knew he could be, and now faces the same problems he once caused his parents — perhaps it is karma for being such an awful little punk for so long.