Perspectival beyonds to the social reality image in Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and Wayward Pines.
Wayward Pines is a US television drama that ran over two seasons in 2015-16, adapted from the series of books by US novelist Blake Crouch.
The original plan was for the programme to have one season (understandable given the effectiveness of its schematic structure) and as a result the second season comes across almost as an afterthought. Although with little chance of replicating the mysterious confounding of the first, it still manages to effect some powerful moments of story telling.
In the most direct sense, Wayward Pines owes something to Twin Peaks (more of which below) but on a more functional level, it is Blue Velvet which pre-figures it. Blue Velvet (directed by David Lynch in 1986) effectively established the correlation between the dream US suburban town as a shallow veneer of social projection, a move of image-as-reality, shown up (in this case) by the crazed, violently controlling and power toxified character Frank (Dennis Hopper).
Additionally, and for all its potential psycho-graphic possibilities (beneath the surface of the American suburban psyche you get control-violence and familial sexual mores) one implication of the story is that of equivalence. Frank, while ‘necessary’ as the component which punctures the image of docile passivity (or playful innocence in the case of Kyle McLachlan’s Joseph) is also a correspondent of the same modes of power which are wielded by the state (and its correlative placatory story of lawful stability that threads through the state-social). For this reason it makes sense when Frank’s partner (The ‘Yellow Man’) is revealed as a policeman. But if this world of individuals – as emblems of power – satisfying themselves at the cruel expense of others (a Hobbesian milieu) is what Lynch primarily uses in going beyond the image of suburban passivity, then he risks the story becoming a tool of the same predilections. At this point it is only the love that is simultaneously being formed between Jeffrey and Laura Dern’s Sandy which is the counterpoint, as something being born in the searing intensity of the story.
But between Blue Velvet and 1990’s Twin Peaks (which Lynch co-wrote with Mark Frost) has been an incursion from somewhere far stranger than the psycho-sexual Frank and his hypercharging usage of amyl nitrate. By the time of Twin Peaks, additional dimensions/worlds are involved, as well as other kinds of being, affective entities that come and go and move around between human beings (Holy Motors). However and despite all this Twin Peaks still contextualises these elements through dualism (the white lodge, the black lodge, Mike and Bob) and in beginning with the murder of a young girl (now very much the murder-mystery and gothic-mystery trope) the expression is set to unfold in conditions primarily related to a dark sadness and diminution.
Yet part of what makes Twin Peaks such a success to watch is that it continues to create mysterious intensity around an ongoing expansion of story which is tied to a coherent (but initially unknown) extent of ontology. In this respect, simply revealing interplanarity (which is not the partially blinded, one-layered depiction of the purely gothic) in the slow and unfolding way that this is done, is itself an energising prospect – the walls of the world are suddenly less solid, albeit that the pre-eminent frequency of this is shared with the gothic.
But what drives Twin Peaks the story is the mode of the search and the hunt (which takes on an anomalous dimension) and in this respect, it is also open to the appearance of agents of extraordinary assistance (although Cooper’s mystical bent is definitely primarily directed to the global East) in the navigation of a widened and re-configured reality that now includes other spaces of existence through cosmic doorways in the landscape.
Wayward Pines then, while borrowing Twin Peaks’ affective clothes, actually has a steady tiller of its own, as high concept science fiction in reveal and one that presents different constitutive elements in its implications as a story.
Upon waking after a car accident to find himself in the titular town, it is quickly revealed to Matt Dillon’s character Secret Agent Ethan Burke that the emphasis in the Idaho town Wayward Pines, has moved to maintaining that veneer of contented community living as a front for a violence of control that specifically functions to stop people reaching the outside of the town – keeps them explicitly in a present which constantly and punitively reinforces the ‘now’ while actually being formed as a shard of the past (the fascism of enforced ordinariness, whose mode is the quintessential mid-American town). But in Wayward Pines this philosophy is coded in simple rules, as Burke quickly discovers, Do not try to leave, Do not discuss the past or your life before and always answer the phone.
The Director of the pilot (and executive producer along with Stranger things Duffer Brothers) was M. Night Shyamalan, the director of Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and others, arguably an exemplar of a creative force that became trapped within the mode of his successful films, that they would twist, or in some consistent way transform as a story.
This is a facet that story has, deceiving toward our acceptance that can then retrospectively transform our understanding of what we have encountered. It reveals the multiplicity of our experience and of the story, our capacity to realise the story in different ways that can evolve and change. It is the operation upon this capacity (to change our realisation of the story) which is the kind of power of manoeuvre, partly based in the creation of (an) additional layers in the context of the reality of the story – deliberately occluded from clear representation in the story. This world is not as we have believed.
It is not just that on these occasions post-reveal, human beings are rewarded with being part of the ‘new understanding’ of the story (it was there all along!) and congratulate themselves on experiencing this alteration (if it is succesful) it is that the same principals apply to the intensity of the story as to the intensity of what is outside the story. As such, we are given a form of ‘precursory reveal’ – an act that in virtuality opens the modality of the same circumstance (in lucid perception) for our experiences of life. That we might encounter and also grasp that running parallel to our understading of what forms and constitutes reality, are other threads (some hidden) which are equally present where our lives are in intersection, but are removed from the subsequent and the (oft-times marginalised) corresponding sense of the immanent.
It is this facet which haunts the haunting of conspiracy theorists and others who use narrative fixations to create and curate stories of power. This is not to say that those stories can’t be true or can’t contain truth-like elements, or that they cannot be reflections or pigments of what might effectively describe deeper, hidden components of our stories as humans and human groups. What often permeates these theories (stories), as matters of production is their relationship with lineages and lineaments of control – this is where there is a fixation of narrative as a composition, in terms of what it is composed of. The result of which is almost always a diminution – an apparent realisation of how, why, when things got maginalised, denuded, enslaved, manipulated. This is why and in the context of human life as it is lived now by most on the planet, there is always the chance of compatibility between these narratives and many of the ingredients of our lives. In this respect they end up forming (in their fixational mode) a far flung act that re-instates those very powers that are being ‘revealed’ or ‘found out’ – continuing to narratively guide the form of an architecture of reality which encourages (on some level) specific reactivities, which are versions of its own.
Conspiracy theories are one mode by which this process (essentially stratic in nature) can be seen to be enacted – a process of capture of energised re-formulation of being. The act of seeing and perceiving are themselves ontological, therefore transforming perception and the substrate components of awareness is an alteration of being and its possibilities. Being Hooked back into a control-story (‘capture’ in the sense above) involves a pre-fabricated confluence in terms of abstract positioning (the person for whom the narrative is going into effect becomes a part of the world where the control narrative is finding its genuine expression – on a specific level of intensity. However, in the realm of our blind spots or the strata of our erroneous explanations, there is always a secondary aspect, which is itself the limit set by the nature and bounds of the story. The point beyond which the story (and its relational components and eco-systemic connections) cannot seemingly exist. Establishing dimished realms of affect, dreamings and ultimately the compositional image and movement of mind and being (as well as those things that masquerade as being outside them), but which in fact are also secretly now.
And yet the congruence of circumstance-in-direction (as continua of relative intensity) is itself multi-stranded, becoming the direction of a power relation which diminishes the being carrying and instantiating it, but also the possible direction of the opening delta of the abstract and its intensifications. A process that necessarily includes the understanding of the need to respond to the active, hidden forces of reactivity and control, but that places this response on a different (co-existing) plane of action and engagement, with corresponding approaches to affect, becomings and the mysterious alignments of circumstance that chance upon and beyond the edge of reason.
The story involves secret service agent Matt Dillon, despatched to Idaho to find two other agents who have gone missing. After a road accident which kills his partner, he wakes in hospital in Wayward Pines, where he first meets Nurse Pam (Melissa Leo) who radiates an oddness that borders on malevolance.
He quickly becomes aware that not all is as it seems in the town, not least when he finally encounters one of the agents he’s been sent to find Kate – who is living in Wayward Pines, but is somehow older, married and claims to have lived there for twelve years (when in fact they last saw each other five weeks ago).
It is in the scale of its apparent disjunctions (and specific disjunctions in time) that WP seems to present a schismatic impact on reality. It generates a kind of temporal relativity in its story that is genuinely bemusing and is able to retain a structural integrity in how this is resolved.
By the point at which Dillon and others are shorn of their illusions and it is revealed why exactly WP functions with such a strange and totalitarian insularity, we see a very clever and effective storytelling structure has been in effect. One that was able to draw effectively on a number of mystery science fiction and horror tropes.
What this gets us in storytelling terms is now the American mid west town as petri dish of conservation. The town transported to a semi-metaphorical context when in its entirety it is alienated from the space-time of the planet. Walled in to maintain illusion of its reality, with human beings as the ostensible ultra successful prime predator and organiser on the planet. Only now (and in the latter half of the first season) this ongoing (and unknown) pretense of civilisation is revealed as something strung together from fear turned to reactivity and control. You could have a good life in Wayward Pines, if you just stopped trying to reach the outside.
And in this instance the outside is every bit as dangerous as they finally admit to (hence the horror element), while it is the second season that explains that that danger – from humanoid predators living in the woods was originated by and large because of human beings in the first place.
As such, this modulates the Hobbesian tableau by having the savage nature of the outside of the state-social ordination being that which was ostensibly created by humans in the first place. A subversion underlined when the leaders of the new and savage predatory beings of the outside (Aberations, or ‘Abbies’) are revealed to be led by their females, who in the context of one such leader (nicknamed ‘Margaret’) is able to confound and dupe her human captors understanding and expectation (the achilles heel of human abstract prefabrication). Also demonstrating a far from ‘savage’ manner in her approach and investigation of Wayward Pines, the impact of which results in the murderous reactivity of the town’s limited but zealous leader. This is a culmination of the the story’s demonstration of the scientificised outlook of the reality (composition) of their situation, incapable of grasping the reality of the ‘savage’ encountered in the land (a land they are in the process of constantly ‘unmaking’ through territorialisation). Thus echoing the early American/European milieu of the destruction of the reality of indigenous human living. A cognitive modality of which is still very much in an ascendant now (part of which esconced within capitalism – where in the town we see it employed as a necessary simulation and organisational occupation of the inhabitants).
A strength of this potential, that the violent predatory outside to the town (occupied by the Abbies in a state of nature) may have been caused by Wayward Pines’ founders murderous reactivity – doesn’t preclude that a different outside (and the relationship with the Abbies) was possible, if only humans hadn’t been so violently and blindly reactive in the first place.
The story relies upon the lucid transformation of women at a number of key junctures in fact. It is a repeated element in both seasons for the patriarchal male power figure to be directly stopped (and betrayed) by the woman closest to him, thus ending specific reigns of control.
Where WP feels particularly effective in illustrative terms, is in in taking us through the image of the genteel country town as literally cut and sealed off from – yet simultaneously transplanted onto – the natural world that now becomes outside it. It is effectively an alien figment that sustains itself through a violence of repression (that is backgrounded except for the occasion public demonstration) and the attempted manipulations of the reality-story of its incumbents. Resonant further still in that this violence and oppression against curiosity, exploration-outside and the outside itself is all in the name of preserving the life of the population and the inherent good of their pseudo-capitalist, small town paradise (of course its not an accident that those challenging the order of things are also often the ones who need to be made an example of and are also the ones most keen on finding out what is outside Wayward Pines).
That these things are done secretly in the name of a terror-of-the-outside is perhaps its most revealing facet, pull at the threads of the social-real of power’s story (and its instructions to kowtow and to be passive and not push at these boundaries) and a lucid continuity emerges. Although in its science fiction form where its most powertful structural conceit is present, it also blocks itself off from the line of flight of the same de-territorialising that it effectuates (time is transformed and yet the instantiated social-human structures of control and fear remain).
In terms of the actual micro-grammar of possibility of Wayward Pines, it must be noted that it has maintained a ‘grounded realism’ (actions still have all the normal consequences and expectations in the minutiae, even while it presents these confounding story discombobulations). Something finally demonstrated as consistent through its science fiction conceit – but in this faithfulness it becomes itself bounded in a way that Lynch’s place of real unreal intersections (Twin Peaks) is not. Because for all the possibilities revealed by the twisting or confounding storyline; the question still always remains – but what is your explanation? and how far does it go beyond the presuppositions that its absence in the story (up to a point) was challenging?
This is where Twin Peaks edges further, Cooper’s world of the interplanar reveals in its strange parallelism with the ordinary (for example the character Josie Packard’s abstract displacement into the wooden knob of a drawer handle) excised both the boundaries and conditions of our reality story – that in the course of Cooper’s investigations are shown as both malleable and de-stratified. Having said that, Wayward Pines’ hidden interleaved temporality (necessary as part of the first season) is a genuine wonder of story that unfurls the gift of a re-mythologised modern social reality in the most stark of ways.