Courtesy of Showtime, via Indiewire
David Lynch’s return to the world of Twin Peaks is bizarre, frustrating… and totally brilliant
Warning: Major Spoilers up to Episode 2.
For those of us who thought Twin Peaks: The Return, David Lynch’s follow-up to his beloved cult series after a twenty-five year hiatus, would look anything like the cinematic TV dramas that have come to dominate American television—we should have known better. Despite Lynch’s having become associated with the Golden Age of Television in recent years, with critics pointing to the original Twin Peaks as perhaps the most-influential of any cult classic on modern TV, Lynch remains a filmmaker whose first rule is to break all the rules. Within the first two episodes of the new Twin Peaks, he’s already broken most of them.
Details about the show in advance of Sunday’s premiere of the first four episodes were extremely scarce; Showtime spent months teasing fans with clips of waving trees and static road signs that offered barely an inkling of what shape the new season would take. The only concrete information came to us over a year ago in April of 2016, when Showtime released a full list of the enormous, 217-member cast, pretty much a laundry list of the coolest actors in Hollywood. Some fans, myself included, were a little wary. Would Lynch stay true to the ambitious storytelling and profound mythology of the original series, or was his return to television just an excuse to keep hanging out with Sky Ferreira?
Thankfully, Twin Peaks: The Return is much more than a celeb-fest. It’s also a bold refusal on the part of Lynch and his co-creator, Mark Frost, to fall in line with other genre-bending premium cable dramas, like Riverdale on Netflix or Fargo on FX, to which many fans expected it to earn easy comparisons. Those shows, like much of what’s on TV, are spiritual descendants of the original Twin Peaks, and for Lynch to retrace his own steps would have ultimately been quite the missed creative opportunity. Instead, Lynch has made something that is no doubt bizarre and sometimes bewildering, but it has the potential to take us somewhere premium cable has never gone before. And that’s an opportunity worth exploring.
So let’s review what we’ve seen in these first two episodes. (Newcomers to the series would do well to read up on the labyrinthine plotline of the original series if they haven’t done so already.) When we last saw our hero Agent Cooper, he was trapped in the Black Lodge, an extradimensional realm of Pure Evil, while a spirit named BOB possessed his body in our own dimension. At the beginning of “Part 1,” Cooper is still in the Black Lodge, but believe it or not, that creepy message he receives from the Giant is actually a promising step towards him getting out.
Meanwhile, in our own dimension, a handful of bizarre events play out, seemingly unconnected: atop a skyscraper in New York City, a twentysomething lets his love interest join him in appreciating an empty glass chamber; in the sleepy town of Buckhorn, South Dakota, a high school principal is arrested for the brutal murder of the local librarian; somewhere in the forest, a BOB-possessed Cooper is hatching a plan to prevent the real Cooper from getting back into his body; and back in Twin Peaks, Washington, a former associate of Agent Cooper’s, the sure-footed Deputy Chief Hawk, is looking for something.
Courtesy of Showtime, via Indiewire
The important thing to know about all of this is that it’s not supposed to make sense. Not yet, at least. This may strike some viewers as an alibi for sloppy storytelling, and given that premieres are usually engineered to snatch viewers’ attention with punchy writing and an efficient set-up of the show’s central conflict, that’s not an unfair reaction. I’ll admit that it was my reaction to the first 40 minutes of “Part 1,” during which I was literally cursing under my breath not only at the lack of coherence, but also at the story’s glacial pace, the wooden acting, Lynch’s directionless direction. Was the whole series to be a pointless, robotic cop-out, a severing of the sacred covenant between showrunner and audience?
Then, something happens. Something I can only assume Lynch intended to shock us out of our brooding, since I found myself suddenly electrified, unable to look away from the screen. You know what thing I’m talking about. It is a shocking act of spectral violence—captivating and deeply disturbing at the same time.
What does it mean? In Peak TV world, we’re used to getting the answer right away, whether by binge-watching the next episode, or watching Nerdwriter explain it, or scanning a dozen threads about it on Reddit. But Lynch is not interested in answers, only questions—and therein lies his genius as a storyteller. In a recent interview with Deadline Hollywood, Lynched explained that his purpose in returning to the series after 25 years was not to give audiences the answers they have craved for so long, but quite the opposite. “People want to know [the answers] right up until the time they know, and then they don’t care anymore,” Lynch reflected. “The whole thing is about the experience of going into the world of Twin Peaks… catching that mood, and going on a trip.”
No answers, only a trail of questions: it’s the core philosophy behind the original series that made it an unforgettable piece of television, one that viewers connected with at a level deeper than they knew television could reach—one that forced viewers to keep caring. The new Twin Peaks seems primed to do something similar, and while some viewers may be ready to to bow out of this journey, I do encourage you to stay. There might be some damned fine coffee waiting for us on the other side.
Next week: “Part 3” / “Part 4”