TV Review: Twin Peaks – The Return

Rarely have I seen a show as capable as dividing audiences as Twin Peaks, and the same is true of its director, David Lynch. Now that it’s back on Showtime, the question of why is ripe for discussion.

Rarely have I seen a show as capable as dividing audiences as Twin Peaks, and the same is true of its director, David Lynch. Now that it’s back on Showtime, the question of why is ripe for discussion.

Let’s assume that you know nothing about either the man and his films, or the original series which aired in 1990. What would you think after tuning in to the two-hour premiere of the latest incarnation? You’d most certainly be confused, and chances are only slightly smaller that you’d think it was a heaping pile of crap. Now let’s say that you did watch the original, enjoyed it, and were looking forward to more damn fine coffee and cherry pie with Dale Cooper and the gang. Again, you’d most certainly be confused, and chances are only slightly smaller that… well… you get the picture.

Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it? And yet, The Return has a 95% fresh metascore on Rotten Tomatoes, plenty of glowing reviews and plenty of fans old and new, grinning like idiots with each oddball scenario. They look forward to seeing where the next episode will take us, theorizing and debating endlessly on Reddit and Youtube. Where I live, a friend and I both watch on Mondays, as soon as it’s released in Europe. On Wednesdays, over coffee we laugh at the last episode’s most absurd moments, and then Fridays get together and watch it again with the rest of our usual circle, minus one, who (surprise, surprise) HATES it and refuses to watch. But overall, the evidence states that it’s a hit.

Twin Peaks is a lot like this sign hung by Deputy Hawk: You get it or you don’t.

On its surface, the original Twin Peaks was a bit of a whodunnit, taking place in a small town in the northwest United States. The cozy aspects of the show, such as the quirky staff at the Sheriff’s Department, the giggling waitress at the RR Diner, the opening theme, and of course, the copious amounts of coffee, cherry pie and donuts all instilled within us feelings of nostalgia for the good ole days. At first, the non sequiturs and random moments only endeared it further to its viewers (“There’s a FIIISH… in the PERCOLATOR!”). Then they baffled and made them wholly uncomfortable in season two’s opener, drawing out a scene where a decrepit and senile waiter at the Great Northern hotel couldn’t figure out what to do as agent Cooper lay dying, so he gives him warm milk and several winks and “thumbs up” over the course of about five minutes. And finally, when (Laura Palmer’s) killer was at long last revealed, many found the surrounding revelations distasteful enough to jump ship entirely.

This is Twin Peaks, and the rest of Lynch’s oeuvre in a nutshell, though. He is an expert at showing us the surface of America, the idealized polished perfection which began rearing its head mid-twentieth century, as well as what lays beneath it. He’s a master of the uncomfortable. In the decades since his last notable works, though, many others have followed in his footsteps. Today these themes in and of themselves are nothing new, and it could be seen as a turnoff for yet another show to come along attempting to show us “the dark side”, even if it’s from the so-called master. Could it be that he has just become a parody of himself, just one of the crowd he helped to spawn? The thing is, even today, few (if any) are willing to go to the lengths David Lynch does.

Critics cry foul when, in The Return, women seem to be treated as nothing more than a sex object, prop for abuse, or nagging wife. The key word here is “seem”, as many more women are interesting and strong characters. Crime Scene Investigator Constance Talbot, FBI agent Tammy Preston, Margaret Lanterman, Shelly & Norma, and even Janey-E, just to name a few who have shown up six episodes into this belated third season. Could it be, that whatever cliches and/or over the top evils Lynch & Frost depict, are nonetheless truths as well, even today? Isn’t it possible that there is a worthwhile commentary happening here? We get a clue to that end toward the close of the sixth episode “Don’t Die”, when one of the male cops mocks Sheriff Truman’s wife Doris, who remains, for the second time in as many episodes, hysterical over perceived inattention from her husband. The truck and that leak STILL aren’t fixed!! Another officer in the room makes it clear that she is traumatized over the suicide of their war veteran son. The deeper we go, the more we realize that treatment of the characters by the writers is not quite so black and white as it first might have appeared.

twin-peaks-gold-box-DVDIf misogynistic leanings weren’t the most irritating aspect, then perhaps it’s all the weird and/or supernatural stuff which goes on, often at a mega-plodding pace. Our beloved quick thinking, cuppa-joe loving agent Cooper has now stood around for the better part of six episodes as the persona of vacant vegetable Dougie Jones, staring at random things and repeating what those around him say, while nobody seems too concerned for his well being. It’s like a parody of the perceived coldness of our society… or is it? Maybe it’s just me, but playing it as straight as Lynch and MacLachlan do here, invokes something very different than it might if it were played as pure comedy. It makes it hit a bit closer to home. I’ll admit it… it makes me uneasy. And I love it for doing so.

Then there’s the Red Room, a representation of the afterlife, which was amazing when it showed up the first time, still nifty when it showed up the second. By the fifth or eighth or whatever the case may be 27 years later, the novelty has worn off. But is it supposed to be only a novelty? I don’t think so. It has an important role in the story. And actually at its core, Twin Peaks is less about superficial “whodunnit” mysteries and more about the ones still hotly debated in our time: the supernatural and the possibility of its influence on “the real world”.

That’s more than some people will be comfortable with, particularly the way Lynch depicts it. Therein, I think, lies the real root of its love it or hate it nature. Leland Palmer (spoiler alert) did not kill Laura on his own, but as a result of the heavy influence of the demon Bob which had entered him at some point in his childhood. This is an absurd thought to individuals who value justice and personal responsibility as unshakable pillars of their worldview. Likewise, the idea that different realms exist just beyond this one and interact with it in abstract ways does not compute to people with very straightforward views of the laws governing reality.

Lynch’s vision eschews these ways of thinking and embraces exploration of other aspects of our reality to their furthest extents: Dreams, visions, eccentric behaviors, gruesome behaviors. He dwells on mood and feeling, and the hundreds of possibilities in a mundane moment, which is why so many of his filmed moments last so long. He asks you to consider the various things they might mean to you. Because it defies convention to such an extreme as it does, two camps will love this show: those who are able to appreciate such considerations, and even feast on them – and those who are able to laugh at how crazy life (and this show) really is. The “normal” among us can look elsewhere.

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