Checking in on Twin Peaks: The Return

A couple of months ago, I came before you, friends and readers, to herald the return of that nexus of alternate dimensions, spiritual possession, unexplained murders, damn fine coffee, and cherry pie that is Twin Peaks. Now, with thirteen episodes in the rear-view, I’m back to report on my findings.

First things first: It’s been a confusing, funny, creepy, and weird ride. It’s been hypnotic, astounding, and occasionally even beautiful. In short, it’s been one of the most interesting things I’ve ever watched. Every Sunday evening, I do my best to watch it as it airs, something I only do with a few of my favorite series. Most of the time, I’m content to watch recorded shows when I have time, but with Twin Peaks, I can’t wait. Maybe this is what sports fans feel like.  

Here are a few of the things I’m appreciating most about the new series:

The Surprise: One of the coolest things about watching Twin Peaks: The Return is that you never know what’s going to happen. According to many of the actors, they only received scripts containing their own lines, and the sheets were shredded soon after filming. Since the show has come back, every returning original actor has been credited as appearing in every episode. As it progresses, each episode’s IMDB page is only updated after it airs, so except for one actor (okay, I’m just going to say it–Kyle McLachlan), we don’t even know who’s going to be featured in each week’s installment.

This means watching the new series is almost like traveling back to 1990 and watching the original show on ABC, without a clue as to where things are headed. It’s both infuriating and exhilarating. With numbered titles and vaguely ominous synopses like “Laura is the one,” “There’s fire where you’re going,” “Let’s rock,” and “We are like the dreamer,” every episode is like a plain box wrapped just for us by David Lynch and his co-writer Mark Frost. Sure, that’s a disturbing thought to contemplate, but that’s sort of the point.

The Same, Only Different: Most of the original cast of Twin Peaks is back, including a few actors who died soon after completing filming their scenes in 2016. Some characters are the same as they ever were: FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole (David Lynch) is loud and hearing-impaired, Deputy Andy (Harry Goaz) and Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) are dippy, Laura Palmer’s mother Sarah (Grace Zabriskie) still drinks and smokes like a champ, Margaret Lanterman (the late Catherine Coulson) dispenses cryptic wisdom from her log, Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) seems to know more than he’s letting on, and Big Ed Hurley (Everett McGill) pines away for Norma (Peggy Lipton) like they never left high school.

On the other hand, some returning characters have changed: Anti-authoritarian bad boy Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) is a Twin Peaks deputy, Agent Rosenfield (the late Miguel Ferrer) is prickly and sarcastic but a bit more contemplative, Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) is, well, none of us are quite sure what’s up with Audrey, and let’s just say freshly-escaped-from-the-Black-Lodge Agent Dale Cooper (McLachlan) isn’t himself at all. Add to this the vast number of new characters in Twin Peaks: The Return, and what you have is a story that’s both old and new, familiar and disorienting, comforting and unsettling.    

The Creeping Dread: David Lynch’s work is never ordinary, even when it seems to be. In fact, it’s especially during those moments when he seems to be passing for normal that you know the true weirdness is about to drop by for a sit-down. Think about the opening sequence of the original series: a bird, a sawmill, a grand hotel, the bucolic Pacific Northwest, a lazy flowing river, the dreamy, haunting strains of Angelo Badalamenti’s “Falling,” all of them alluding to the innocence and darkness that inhabits the town of Twin Peaks.

Here’s another example: Ask any true Twin Peaks aficionado what they think of when they see a ceiling fan. If their answer is “A ceiling fan,” then they lied about knowing Twin Peaks. (The correct answer, of course, is BOB. To be fair, though, the answer to most Twin Peaks questions is BOB.) Lynch’s brilliance lies in his ability to take these seemingly mundane characters, settings, and objects and exploit their normalcy, turning it on its ear and exposing a feeling of dread that’s all too plausible.

Episode Eight: Every episode of the new season has been worth the watch, but for my money, episode eight was the one that made it all worthwhile. Without major spoilers, I can say that we get to see the July 6, 1945 Trinity atomic bomb test, what may well be the White Lodge, the arrival of BOB on Earth, and a deployment of the woodsmen, the shadowy characters we first saw in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. This episode was significant enough for me to say that years hence, it will be forever remembered as the episode where David Lynch got his Eraserhead back. It was that weird, but it was also that good.   

Twin Peaks: The Return isn’t for everyone, but that’s going to be a surprise only to the uninitiated. David Lynch has been a polarizing artist from the beginning, loved and hated in equal measure, often by the same people. If you’re a fan, give it a watch.