Warning: Major spoilers up to Episode 4.
“Albert, I hate to admit this, but I don’t understand this situation at all.”
That’s the humble admission of FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole, played by David Lynch, to his associate Albert Rosenfield at the end of Twin Peaks: The Return’s fourth episode.
It’s a logical response to what the two of them have witnessed. First, it was the brutal mutilation of a pair of young lovers outside of a glass case in New York City, the only suspect a strange human-like figure that appears in a single frame in the surveillance footage. Now, their dear friend Agent Cooper appears to have returned, twenty-five years after his disappearance, in an unsettling manner. Cooper’s former colleagues watch him through the tinted glass of a holding cell as he explains his absence: a secret undercover operation; Phillip Jeffries as collaborator; hidden messages left along the way. Cooper wants Cole to brief him on his side of the situation, pronto, but his story is faulty and Cole and Rosenfield both sense that their old friend may not be who he seems.
“Blue Rose,” Alfred utters to Cole, citing their codeword for cases that seem to flirt with the paranormal—cases they can’t begin to understand. Cole nods. “It doesn’t get any bluer.”
Cole’s mea culpa plays as a kind of peace offering on Lynch’s part, aimed through the TV screen at the many viewers he knew by this point would be frustrated. How to make sense of the show’s disjointed story threads, deliberately slow pace, and impenetrable characters? It’s alright, Lynch is saying. You’re not supposed to get it. Not yet. And while that attitude may not satisfy everyone, I suspect it to be enough of a pep talk for most to keep soldiering on as the series continues. Not to mention that, for some diehards, what does happen in these two episodes will be enough Twin Peaks mythology-building to chew on for weeks.
Lynch doles out a big helping of that mythology at the beginning of “Part 3,” when Cooper finds himself hurtled through a cosmic tunnel after having been rejected from the glass chamber in New York City, through which it seems he was supposed to return to our dimension. He ends up in another realm bathed in purple and red, a place murkier and more dungeon-esque than the Black Lodge where time seems to fold inward on itself. It is the latest in Lynch’s oeuvre of uncanny dreamscapes going back to his 1977 debut Eraserhead, and this newest world’s desolate landscape and stone interiors hearken back to another touchstone of Lynch’s career, his 1984 Hollywood adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune.
I can’t find much of a reference point, though, for Cooper’s receiving help from a mysterious and panicked woman whose eyes appear to have been scratched out. Her wordless attempts to warn Cooper about the looming threat have an almost childlike quality to them that makes them even creepier—the repeated sounds and hand gestures almost reminiscent of a kindergarten teacher giving one of her toddlers a safety lesson. Combined with Lynch’s time-warped editing style, the sequence imposes a nightmarish narrative logic of its own, and in doing so shakes us to the core.
When Cooper finally does make it back to our dimension, his mind has been wiped clean thanks to the sabotage efforts of his doppelgänger. What ensues is a chain of comic misunderstandings that casts Cooper in the trope of the simple man who, à la Peter Sellers in Being There, gets in way over his head but somehow can’t be touched by any of the adversaries surrounding him. This premise begins to wear thin by the end of “Part 4,” but I was still deeply, deeply entertained by the sight of Cooper in a green suit, a tie draped casually over his head, scalding his tongue on hot coffee he drinks out of Dougie’s personalized mug (“I am Dougie’s Coffee,” it announces itself).
At the end of the day, things seem to be looking up for our scattered protagonists: the Real Cooper has rediscovered his greatest delight in a damn fine cup of coffee; the FBI agents are flying in a mystery woman as the “one certain person” who can verify the ostensible Cooper sitting in custody; and back in Twin Peaks, Sheriff Frank Truman receives words of support from Michael Cera, who, for reasons that remain unclear, delivers an impressive and altogether hilarious Wild One-era Brando impersonation as Wally.
There’s a careful attention to visual detail throughout all of this, from the green, yellow, and red theme of Dougie’s house, to Wally’s cursive autograph stitched onto his leather jacket. Credit for this goes to the show’s design team of Ruth de Jong (Manchester by the Sea, Song to Song) and Cara Brower (Gone Girl, Hail, Caesar!), who in their first collaboration with Lynch have already added new layers to the director’s expansive visual palette.
The idea of a visual palette is especially appropriate for Lynch, who is an accomplished painter in addition to his film work, and the unhurried rhythm of the series is partly his way of making us notice and dwell upon the little things. Last week, I quoted Lynch as saying the point of the new series was to extend for as long as possible “the experience of going into the world of Twin Peaks, and catching that mood, and going on a trip,” and that philosophy applies even more to this week’s episodes. Indeed, if these mysteries can be solved, the answers won’t be coming anytime soon—so in the meantime, we might as well stop and smell the proverbial blue roses.
Next week: “Part 5”