One of the most unexpectedly powerful moments in Twin Peaks: The Return, a series that gave us many poignant scenes, involved none other than Carl Rodd. Harry Dean Stanton’s character, who we had previously seen stealing the show as the grouchy manager of the Fat Trout Trailer Park in the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, has changed a lot since we last saw him.
Other than the usual signs of ageing, he seemed a little more relaxed and generous, and while his exhaustion is still present, now it seems more melancholic than beleaguered.
Carl sits down on a park bench with a cigarette in one hand a coffee in the other. He sighs and looks up at the sunlight flickering through the trees, listening to the birdsong and the gentle shift of the leaves in the wind. It looks as if a smile is struggling to surface under the weight of a lifetime, and he can’t help but stare at the nature that has remained just as beautiful and bewildering.
He notices a woman and her young son playing a game. Stopping and starting, they chase each other along the path, laughing with joy. A smile breaks on his face, and he contentedly takes another sip of his coffee. Minutes later, he’s comforting the mother as she cradles her son’s lifeless body in her arms.
“Not much I got to look forward to at my age,” Carl remarked in an earlier scene, “except the hammer slamming down.” Yet now Carl sees the hammer has come down on someone else, a child with his whole life ahead of him. He spots a light emerge from the boy, an inexplicable flickering yellow flame floating up into the sky like a soul to heaven. It’s unfair, confounding, and deeply sad. You can see all of this in Harry Dean Stanton’s face.
Nine weeks and three days after this episode aired, he passed away.