“I’ll see you again in twenty-five years.”
There’s an enigmatic story thread during the first two episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return that works as a perfect metaphor for the audience’s rapt attention. A young man sits in a New York City loft that’s been equipped with a gigantic glass box in its center. Banks of audio/video equipment are set up; the amount of wiring and blinking lights utilized intimidating to anyone who isn’t a roadie for Metallica. A pretty girl visits him each night, delivering lattes and playful flirtation, but the grim guard who monitors the keycard-locked apartment will not let her past his post. The boy’s entire endeavor is shrouded in secrecy and, on a night when the watchman finally vacates his desk, she follows him in and asks what he’s looking for with all that gear. The kid tells her he’s not sure. He’s just supposed to watch the box, and use the A/V set-up to record his findings for a billionaire investor. The mystery will reveal itself in time, and when it finally does (during a mid-coital embrace that feels lifted from a B-Horror picture) all Hell breaks loose.
How large a cultural event the return of Twin Peaks is certainly isn’t lost on co-writer/director David Lynch, but this pop significance seems like a distant second concern to the fact that Showtime is letting him do whatever the fuck his little heart desires. ABC won’t be breathing down his neck, inquiring as to when they’re finally going to reveal the identity of Laura Palmer’s murderer (like they did during Twin Peaks’ initial run). Nor will the network jettison his pilot outright, forcing the auteur to shoot a tacked-on finale that provides some semblance of closure, as was the case on Mulholland Drive (which, to be fair, resulted in what some consider to be his crowning cinematic achievement). The reportedly 400-page plus document that Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost handed in has been described as the “pure heroin” form of the noted oddball artist’s already eccentric stylings. David Lynch will have his revenge on TV, and it comes in the form of an eighteen-hour motion picture that’s been divided into a single season of prestige viewing, aired in weekly segments, and thus rejecting the binge format that’s emerged during the decades since the groundbreaking murder melodrama initially aired.*
This freedom means a few things, if the first two episodes are any indication. Firstly: we should let go of everything we already know about Twin Peaks. Lynch has hinted before that the ’92 anti-sequel which followed the show’s premature cancellation, Fire Walk With Me, is key to understanding what’s coming now, and perhaps he means more about The Return’s ethos than the actual narrative we’re about to ingest. Fire Walk was a complete rejection of the network series’ balance between horrific violence and goofball humor, and The Return seems like it’s distancing itself from even that harrowing work of masterful terror (though instances of its grim tone remain). Furthermore, only a fraction of the first two installments’ running time takes place in the titular town, and the scenes that do are rather perfunctory comedic reintroductions to Lucy Moran (Kimmy Robertson), Deputy Sheriff 'Hawk' (Michael Horse), bumbling lawman Andy (Harry Goaz), and the rest of the town’s idiosyncratic ilk. Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) still hasn’t been seen since he disappeared into the nefarious Black Lodge, but we know he’s still there, as the cryptic black and white opening sees him sitting and talking in ‘Paul is Dead’ record skips with the Giant (Carel Struycken). To wit, this isn’t your father’s Twin Peaks – or anyone’s Twin Peaks but its creators’, really.
Secondly: these characters are all much older now than they were twenty-five years ago. This seems like a rather redundant statement, but seeing the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson) clutching her prized, wooden oracle while sucking oxygen through tubes in her nose is rather upsetting. Cooper may be asked “is it future or is it past?” while he explores the seemingly timeless, unknowable red purgatory he’s been trapped in since we saw him last, but the stretch has certainly done a number on all our favorite Washingtonians. Even Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), who acknowledges the demise of her mortal form, shows signs of wear from waiting for release from the Lodge’s confines. Meanwhile, Cooper’s doppelgänger has been a busy boy, establishing himself as some sort of criminal operative mastermind who’s been murdering folks left and right across the country. The world continued to turn, and Sarah Palmer (Grace Zariskie) continued to smoke cigarette after cigarette, alone in a cold living room and free from her evil husband, Leland (Ray Wise), who begs Cooper to find Laura after she’s sucked into another realm of anti-existence. Welcome back everyone, we’re all going to die eventually.
Speaking of the world, Lynch and Frost make no bones about jumping all over the United States – taking us to NYC, Las Vegas, and beautiful Buckhorn, South Dakota. To say the scope of The Return is much broader than anything we’ve seen in the previously self-contained microcosm would be an understatement. This iteration of Twin Peaks feels less like a new season than it does Lynch and Frost’s sprawling approximation of an epic (which makes sense, as they don’t even want the “Parts” to be viewed as anything but slices of a whole pie). We feel the lack of creative interference most here, because if this reboot were attempted during any other era, studio notes would certainly pile up on its EPs’ desks, begging them to bring the story back home. “It’s called Twin Peaks for a reason, after all,” the hypothetical red ink screams in your head; but obviously no such suggestions were given here (or, if they did exist, were ignored/stealthily negotiated). Lynch and Frost are charting their own path, offering up a litany of lined, familiar faces while charting a new course for them to traverse. A virgin viewer (which, one suspects with this revived phenomenon, many are) could arguably tune into The Return having never seen a frame of either Twin Peaks or Fire Walk With Me,and follow along with minimal recapping or online gap-filling. The combination of Lynch’s trademark cryptic pulp and this newfound openness produces something fresh and exciting for both inexperienced and seasoned audience members alike.
During its first two hours, The Return raises several questions that may or may not be answered throughout the subsequent sixteen. Like, why did a South Darkota high school principal (Matthew Lillard) seemingly dream about murdering a woman he was having an affair with, and then get arrested when said crime turned out to be real? Who is Dale Cooper’s doppelgänger killing all these people for, and how is he allowed to refuse returning to the Black Lodge when expected back? What next level of Hell was Laura Palmer pulled to? Why is Leland searching for the daughter he brutalized? Who are these men in Las Vegas, and what are they so afraid of? What was that murderous black mass that appeared in the glass box after Cooper? Who is funding the box’s existence at all?
It’s worth noting that not only has time affected these characters, but Lynch’s instantly recognizable cinematic style has evolved since helming the finale of Twin Peaks’ second season in ‘91. His frisky static visual language (complete with eerie cinematography from Mulholland Drive DP Peter Deming) and imaginative symbolism remain the same (including a misshapen Ace of Spades and a brainy “arm” seemingly pulled from a lost Eraserhead nightmare). But The Return seems more narratively linked to the dread-filled noir abstractions of Lost Highway (with the janky digital dreamscapes of Inland Empire thrown in for good measure) than it does the soap theatrics of the original series. So, the greatest question may actually be: will this Greatest Hits amalgamation coagulate into a late period long-form classic on the iconoclast’s directorial CV?
We’ll just have to sit and watch our own glass boxes to find out how this mystery unfurls.
*The first four Parts are available now to stream, but will drop one-per-week moving forward.