“My log is afraid of fire. There is fire where you are going.”
It’s been interesting to watch The Return settle into a more plot-based rhythm following the surreal atomic explosion that was Part 8. Before that thrilling hour of abstract cinema, Lynch and Frost’s Twin Peaks revival wasn’t simply a dare to those attempting to perform weekly recaps/reviews, it was a clear indication the creators really didn’t give a shit about how critics were going to discuss their 18-hour magnum opus as it fell into place, piece by piece. There were linear, disconnected narrative strands that lent themselves toward hazy, half-assed guesswork, but anyone who dared say “I know where this is headed” was only setting themselves up to look like a complete fool.
However, the last three weeks have delivered installments that are chugging along in rather straightforward fashion, as The Return is (both thrillingly and depressingly) entering the back half of its otherworldly mystery. Last week, Dougie (Kyle MacLachlan) got laid, Richard Horne (Eamon Farren) murdered a witness to his hit and run (well, at least we thought he did), and Gordon Cole (Lynch) experienced a vision of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) in his hotel room. Diane (Laura Dern) is in cahoots with Evil Coop (MacLachlan, again), and Horne’s got a plant inside the local PD (fucking Chad), intercepting evidence before it reaches Sheriff Truman’s (Robert Forster) desk. It’s the interconnected melodrama we all knew and loved during the highs of OG Twin Peaks, only now its spread thin across an entire country and (hopefully) threatening to eventually intersect.
One of the most awkwardly affecting creative decisions Lynch and Frost have made regarding The Return is a character arc this writer has lovingly dubbed “The Ballad of Bobby Briggs”. Fans of the original run and Fire Walk With Me will recall that Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) was (as we all were) a much different human being than the silver fox lawman he’s become twenty-five years on. The cocky son of a bitch who was head over heels for Laura and murdered Cliff Howard during a drug deal in Fire Walk (an event The Return really needs to address in order for his transformation to feel complete) now almost has an emotional breakdown upon seeing the slain Prom Queen’s picture in the TPPD conference room. As Angelo Badalementi’s theme swelled, we witnessed all those awful memories come flooding back into Bobby’s brain – not just of what happened to the pretty girl he once thought was the love of his life, but also recollections of the deranged fuck up he was during his high school years.
Speaking of guesswork: it’s fairly easy to imagine why Bobby became a cop. When Laura was torn away from this mortal plain – the explanation behind her demise becoming increasingly bizarre with every development – Bobby was a punk kid who had to try and process a dearth of earthly answers. Deputy Briggs is the character we arguably feel the most change in during the near three decades since we last saw him; a badge and gun allowing him to become an investigator into the unknowable secrecies that dominate this sleepy, Washington municipality. Only, it wasn’t all spectral murder cases during those years, as routine traffic stops and domestic disputes now dominate his days. Watching Lynch and Frost not only resurrect the greatest question of this man’s life, but also tie it to his father’s equally enigmatic death, allowing him to fulfill the promise the Major (Don Davis) once saw in him, has been incredibly moving. It’s a reminder that Twin Peaks is all about “lost and found”, and Bobby is uncovering a strength inside of himself that years of bad behavior buried. He’s a Springsteen protag, filtered through the hauntingly silly poetry of Captain Beefheart.
Too bad this redemption comes at the cost of basically every happiness Bobby’s attempted to enjoy in life. His daughter, Becky (Amanda Seyfried), pops off and goes after her abusive, junkie husband (Caleb Landry Jones), tossing Shelly (Mädchen Amick) from the hood of her car before plugging six shots into the door of his goomah’s apartment. Bobby gets called in and calms both his little girl and his baby mama down, telling both that he’ll arrest the dirtbag if he ever lays another hand on Becky again. But while the three are having this fractured family meeting in the Double R Diner, Shelly’s new boy toy comes knocking on the window, and she races out to give him a big smooch right in front of Bobby. It’s hard not to feel your heart break a little as Deputy Briggs watches the mother of his child run off into another man’s arms, because no matter how hard he tries to become a good man and do all the right things, it seems the world is ready to kick some dirt right back into his eye.
Meanwhile in South Dakota, Gordon, Albert (Miguel Ferrer), Diane and Tammy (Chrysta Bell) drive Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard) out to the site where he claims to have last seen Major Briggs. Gordon observes some sort of vortex open up over the dilapidated building, as one of BOB’s soot-encrusted hobo minions breaks into the car and forcibly removes the top of Hastings’ head. This isn’t until after the gang discovers Ruth Davenport’s body, complete with coordinates scribbled onto her arm. Could these be leading the team of investigators straight back to Twin Peaks, where Hawk has rolled out his ancient “living map” to show Sheriff Truman where their own journey (presumably to the interdimensional whirlpool called the Black Lodge) leads? Like all things in this universe, we can presume that this may be true, but there’s a 70/30 shot we’re also way off base.
For heathens tired of Dougie Jones’ ongoing goofball insurance investigator saga, the end seems to be in sight. In a comedic inversion of Mulholland Drive’s horrifying “diner dream” sequence (that saw one man get scared to death by that masterwork’s version of the evil hobo “Woodsman”), Dougie is driven out into the desert to meet the infamous Mitchum Brothers (Robert Knepper and Jim Belushi), who are ready to kill the simpleton thanks to a set up Dougie’s crooked colleague (Tom Sizemore) put into motion last week. But Bradley Mitchum’s dream from the night before comes true. Dougie shows up with baked goods and a check for thirty million dollars, as the claim involving one of the Mitchums’ casinos that was once deemed “arson” has been cleared for payment, causing the siblings to dance and take the insurance man out for some cherry pie. While indulging in his desert, the piano player catches Dougie’s ear with a familiar tune, and he utters the words “damn good”. It appears Agent Cooper is starting to wake up, triggers from his past life pulling him out of these wacky gangster hijinks.
Before we go, it should be noted that one of the greatest magic tricks Lynch is pulling off via his direction of The Return is making us fall in love with Jim Belushi all over again. While it’s easy to sneer at the actor – thanks to many years of hack sitcom work lodged under his belt – the work Belushi’s putting in as Bradley Mitchum is just magnificent, and a reminder that he was a powerhouse screen presence at one point in his career (if you disagree, Thief, Salvador, Red Heat, and The Principal would all like to have a word with you). Equal parts hulking menace and bumbling funny man, Belushi’s celebration over seeing all the zeros on that check is matched only by the way he constantly side-eyes the line of showgirls who follow he and his brother everywhere. This is close to “Travolta in Pulp Fiction” levels of talent reclamation, the sparkle in Belushi’s eyes impossible to deny as he carries every single scene he appears in. There are many reasons that The Return is the most special piece of cinema crafted in 2017, but Belushi’s acting should not go overlooked.