This review contains spoilers.
I knew it was going to be tough to review the new series of Twin Peaks as if it were any other show. There was a period, in the original series, where it fell into clear rhythms—developing and twisting its various storylines about affairs, criminal activity, and supernatural gubbins—but this was also when the show was at its absolute worst. Its best episodes featured some of that stuff combined with unknowable David Lynch horror and oddness.
Fire Walk With Me immersed itself completely in the Lynchian side of Twin Peaks. I enjoy that film a great deal, but because it’s a David Lynch film. It doesn’t feel much like the show and to assess it in the same way is bound to lead to disappointment. When confronted with pure, uncut Lynch, the enjoyment comes from the emotions he makes you feel and how adept he is at making you feel those emotions strongly. Anything else is gravy.
This new series is all Lynch-directed and on a premium cable network to boot, free from the norms and constraints of any conventional television programming. However, unlike Fire Walk With Me, co-creator Mark Frost co-wrote all of this new series with Lynch and he always seemed like the gently guiding hand of familiarity, bringing Lynch back down to earth, forcing him to make something that felt at least a little like a TV show.
But I don’t sense Mark Frost in the first two parts of the return at all. This is pure Lynch. And, so, how do I feel?
Disturbed, worried, confused, intrigued, and, occasionally, briefly, comforted. Also, at times, well, a little bored.
Some perspective: the original Twin Peaks pilot was also long, slow-moving, and introduced numerous disparate plot elements without resolution. However, there is a crucial difference here. The original pilot spent its time bringing the town alive, introducing every character and their respective situations. The first two parts of The Return, in contrast, feel almost bereft of characters. A bunch of the new characters we meet are summarily murdered and the ones we’re being reacquainted with are either already dead or are sad and/or perverted versions of what we remember (which is all quite Fire Walk-y indeed).
Sarah Palmer sits in a darkened room watching graphic footage of lions mauling a rhino(?). Lucy seems like her old self but also more confused than usual. Hawk is currently in charge of the police department and is accepting, though exhausted, in the role. James was in a motorcycle accident and is quieter now. He and Shelly, well into their adulthoods, still hang out at the Roadhouse bar. Ben Horne is tired; his days of callous womanising long behind him. But, hey, at least his brother Jerry seems to have adapted to the modern era well; he’s now in the business of legal weed. The Man from Another Place appears to have evolved into an electrified tree with a fleshy orb for a head that looks like a distant cousin of the baby from Eraserhead. Most tragic are the appearances of the Log Lady, adorned with nasal cannula, speaking sadly to Hawk about how she won’t be able to join him on this new mystery (the actress, Catherine Coulson, died during production).
This premiere has little interest in recalling the comforting familiarity of the titular town. In fact, much of these first two parts is spent outside of Twin Peaks in New York, Las Vegas, and (predominantly) Buckhorn, South Dakota. The most familiar location is the Black Lodge. It should give you some idea how unnerving these episodes are that we only really get a sense of returning to the comfort of the original Twin Peaks’ world during the time spent in the series’ most confounding and terrifying location.
There’s little whimsy or overt humour here. A tragic, tense, and unfriendly air hangs over everything. An evil Dale Cooper doppelganger with hair like the late David Carradine’s is traipsing about murdering people and saying the word “fuck.” The violence is stark and graphic (a crime scene featuring two portioned bodies is inspired in its grotesquery). There’s nudity! Angelo Badalamenti’s score is used extremely sparingly. Most of the running time features no music whatsoever, another factor that contributes to how little this feels like the old show.
Let’s be clear: it’s okay that it doesn’t feel like the old show. I don’t think anyone expected it was possible, at this stage, to recapture that vibe exactly. Furthermore, let’s remember that the original series dipped in quality so deeply for a while there that it’s fair to call Twin Peaks one of the best shows ever and, simultaneously, one of the worst. The series has such a chequered past that it’s hard to say what, exactly, we’d hope to return to.
Still, this is a decidedly unwelcoming premiere. When we last saw Cooper, he was in a bad way and this series picks up, unapologetically, with him still in that way and the rest of the world paralleling that vibe. This is about a new terror spread out across the country. Coop aside, the glimpses we get into Twin Peaks and the lives of the characters we care for are brief and illuminate little. When Showtime CEO David Nevins called it “the pure heroin version of David Lynch,” he wasn’t kidding. This is Fire Walk With Me. This is Lost Highway. This is Eraserhead. It is absolutely engrossing, but it is also slow-moving, intense, and terrifying, like it’s challenging you to stick it out to the end.
I very much want to know what happens next and will be checking out the next two episodes very soon, but there’s an important distinction I want to make. A David Lynch film only lasts a few hours. It may keep you on edge (The Straight Story notwithstanding) and befuddled for the better part of it, but, at the culmination of two to three hours, there is a strange sense of, if not clarity, at least of closure, of payoff, of release. Again, I want to and will keep watching through to the end, but I have to admit I am hoping at least a little more levity is allowed to creep back Twin Peaks’ return. An 18-hour shot of pure heroin Lynch is quite the extended nightmare to have to take in.