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[TV Review] ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’: Checking In Half-Way Through the Madness

With David Lynch and Mark Frost’s glorious return to “Twin Peaks” now officially at its half-way point, we check in with how the new season is doing

“Make sense of it”

Here we are, going into the ninth episode of this delirious return to David Lynch’s small Northwestern town. And even though we might be at the half-way point of all of this, many viewers are scratching their heads, finding themselves even more confused than when these new episodes began.

That’s a good thing.

That’s the effect that “Twin Peaks” had on audiences 25 years ago and while that same product wouldn’t shock and confound current TV watchers as thoroughly, Lynch and Frost have found a way to recreate that feeling in the modern age. Modern television watchers are sophisticated as hell. Seriously, there’s a reason that courses are being taught on the modern slate of “prestige television.” Yet in spite of all of that Lynch has still found a way to completely re-invent the medium and do things with a television series that I daresay have never been done before. The biggest question with a revival of this nature is ultimately if it was worth it, or if this return has tarnished the name of the original series. I think it’s fair to say that “Twin Peaks: The Return” has been an unequivocal success and that Lynch and Frost’s hard work has absolutely paid off.

One of the most remarkable thing about this new season of the show is in how Lynch has defied  viewers expectations by denying them of their sweet Special Agent Dale Cooper—in the true sense of the character. Cooper is arguably the lynchpin of the series and the most enjoyable character for the original series, so what the series has been slowly pulling off in this regard is seriously ambitious, bold behavior. You want your Cooper back? Well, you’re going to have to work for it! If anything, these episodes have been Lynch’s way of showing the audience that he plays by no one’s rules but his own. It’s truly impossible to predict what direction he’s going to go in. Just when you think you’ve developed some handle on the pacing, things will explode and completely send you back to the drawing board. Lynch has repeatedly said that he intends for this to be viewed as an 18-hour movie—which is how he wrote it—and so even though analyzing this mid-way point defeats that purpose to some extent, these eight episodes have at least revealed some things and led to some truly fascinating scenes. Many of which have unquestionably been some of the most powerful from Lynch’s entire career.

On that note, “Twin Peaks: The Return”, has also very much felt like a swan song for Lynch’s career. Before this glorious return it had been over ten years since INLAND EMPIRE had come out, and this series very much feels like the culmination of his life’s work. Pieces from each of his films and whispers of former characters pepper these episodes and it’s only fitting that this masterpiece just happens to gravitate around “Twin Peaks”, of all things. In that sense, those that have wanted the old series in every sense of the word, are inevitably going to be disappointed. This is a weirder, angrier, scarier “Twin Peaks”. There’s still plenty of quirk here, but the world has become a darker place over the course of 25 years and it’s easy to see that here.

There’s been a lot to get excited about so far, but the true stand-out at this point has been Kyle MacLachlan, but not in the way that anyone would have suspected. He’s been playing triple duty in this show, and yet we’re still struggling to return to his famous role. This degree of teasing is going to make Cooper’s return such a sublime experience, but in the meantime, it’s been delightful to watch Evil Cooper do his best human impression and creep everyone out or marvel at Dougie bumbling his way through life like the Holy Fool that he is. I think we will return to the real Cooper at some point soon (we’ve gotten awfully close so far), but the series has done a good job at preparing people for the fact that this might not happen, which is a crazy feat to have pulled off. It’s crazy how Lynch has made something as simple as Cooper getting his old attire back on an extremely exhilarating experience. The re-assembling of Dale Cooper is being handled almost like he’s the mystery himself (and in many ways he is). “Coffee. Agent. Case Files,” indeed.

Curiously, “Twin Peaks: The Return” has also been less of a gratuitous reunion and more of a calculated use of characters. The show has jumped around the globe undeniably more than anything in the original 29 episodes and Twin Peaks OGs have been used about sparingly while a new crop of characters have taken plenty of the spotlight. At the same time, the Black Lodge has almost become the main character this season and gotten perhaps the most focus out of anyone. Many characters and plot lines have been introduced and set up only to have receded into the background as the larger battle between Good and Evil wages on. This isn’t at all a bad thing, but it is of course a different thing than the series’ original iteration. It’s worth pointing out that Lynch only directed a handful of episodes of the original series and was also gone during stretches of time while working on Wild at Heart. This is the series you get when Lynch is directing every installment. The network interference and other writers tacking on subplots and obstacles are gone now. This is pure, undiluted Lynch. Make sense of it, or a tiny person is going to stab you in the chest with an awl.

We gave the first four episodes of this season a rather in-depth review back when this season premiered, but the following four episodes have included some truly unbelievable set pieces that have been immensely satisfying to watch play out. Furthermore, each episode exhibits increasing examples of people getting caught up in games of chicken with the borders of reality. These delightful set pieces where everyone brushes up against something weird before the plot of the scene kicks in are always a delight in Lynch’s hands.

It’s been a highly enjoyable discovery to see Hawk occupy such a role here and really become the unsung hero of this season. The moments when he’s dealing with the Nez Percé logo or the diary pages involving Annie from Fire Walk With Me made me so damn happy. It’s like you’ve been sitting on a secret for 25 years that you finally have permission to spill. Due to this return doing so much of its own thing, the moments where plot progression does end up happening become all the more satisfying. It’s the same sort of joy that’s experienced over slowly learning how damn important Garland Briggs seems to be to all of this too, with Project Bluebook seeming to be a major component of this season. This is material that’s gone into in much deeper detail in the recently published The Secret History of Twin Peaks, which is written by Mark Frost. It’s been very interesting to track how much content from this book has ended up coming into play in these new episodes and once more, I cannot stress enough how great a read this is for any “Twin Peaks” junkies that are out there.

Another severe highlight has been Naomi Watts’ performance as Janey-E Jones (a name that’s so absurd it still makes me laugh every time I say it). She is such a revelation in this and I find it hard to believe that anyone else could sell this material as well as she does. The scene where she handles Dougie’s loan men is a powerhouse performance. And not that he’s amounted to much yet, but fellow Mulholland Dr. co-star, Justin Theroux, has popped up as an especially skeezy thug that’s looking to blow up Dougie.

Other interesting weirdos have also scuttled out of the woodwork, such as the beyond rape-y Richard Horne, who very well could be Audrey’s son, as much as that would pain me. Lynch continues to show what a master he is by first showing Richard as a super predatory person, but then pacifying him to an embarrassing degree in his next scene when he finds himself up against Balthazar Getty’s magician drug dealer—a character who’s essentially Frank Booth meets Sailor Ripley. All of these have been enjoyable performances, but it feels like Laura Dern stepping in and kicking ass as Diane needs to get some special love here. It’s such a perfect stroke of casting and watching her run her mouth off against Gordon and Albert is more fun than it deserves to be.

While these performances are all memorable, Lynch has also crafted certain scenes that are unquestionably burned into his audience’s brains. The scene where Becky and Steve Burnett get high and then drive around in their convertible is unreal and so damn beautiful. It’s so reminiscent of the painful beauty of Laura Palmer and again plays with the expectations of where the scene might be heading. On the other end of the spectrum, moments like Harry Dean Stanton’s Carl Rodd witnessing a brutal, devastating car crash and watching a boy’s spirit ascend to Heaven or the White Lodge is remarkable in a whole different sort of way.

The series’ latest installment, its eighth episode, is the biggest departure yet for the show, which is seriously saying something. It feels like Lynch is straight up making a 1940s monster movie. I’m deeply surprised to see the show actually doing flashbacks to the material from New Mexico in the ‘40s with Project Bluebook. I seriously thought that it would just be background material from Frost’s companion books that would complement the series, but to actually be visiting it is damn exciting. It also once again shows that any set of rules or expectations are thrown out the window with this new season.

Lynch plays around with things in this episode like an extreme slow motion push-in on a nuclear explosion and it becomes a sequence of sheer beauty. Then he inexplicably takes us inside the mushroom cloud, in a moment that almost feels like the ambient, dissonant strokes of the beginning of Eraserhead. It (and the accompanying madness at the convenience store) is one of my favorite sequences that Lynch has done in his entire career and it manages to give the “Star Gate” sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey a run for its money. This episode should be in a museum and preserved for all time.

These unbelievable images end up telling the audience what is basically the backstory on how the opening between our world and the Black Lodge came to be, with the birth of Bob happening in the process. Not to mention, the creation of Laura Palmer also happens here, but it also seems to be as if she’s some Christ figure that’s meant to save the world from the Black Lodge? It appears that both the Black and White Lodge send their figureheads, Laura and Bob, down onto Earth to fight for dominance. It’s worth mentioning that The Secret History of Twin Peaks specifically talks about a “Moonchild” concept where a child is created to banish evil from the world but becomes susceptible to those very same evil forces. That’s pretty much Laura Palmer to a T. If anything, this episode proves how crucial Laura is to the series. The evil FrogBob entity that hatches in this entry (which is pure nightmare fuel, by the way) has been looking for her from the start of things. On top of all of that, the idea that humanity deciding to drop the bomb was the original evil and the point of no turning back seems like the perfect sort of catalyst for the invasion of the Black Lodge. It’s even downright poetic.

We’ve come a long fucking way from fish in percolators being the weirdest thing in this show, and I couldn’t be more excited to see where things are going next.

 

“This is the water and this is the well. Drink full and descend.”

Overall Grade Half-Way Through the Season: 4.5/5

‘Twin Peaks’ third season continues to air on Sundays at 9pm on Showtime

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