Twin Peaks: The Return premiere

‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ Premiere (3.01 & 3.02) Recap: “Is It Future or Is It Past?”

Twenty-six years after the last episode aired on ABC, David Lynch has resurrected his famed cult TV series ‘Twin Peaks’ for a third season, now with the artistic freedom of premium cable at his disposal. I approached this revival with equal measures of anticipation and dread ever since it was first announced. I’m not sure if that helped me deal with the result that aired on Showtime this Sunday or not.

I’ve been a fanatical ‘Twin Peaks’ fan ever since the original pilot episode aired in April of 1990, and it remains my favorite TV series of all time. The show was canceled after just two seasons, ending with a mind-screw finale designed to leave viewers perplexed. The follow-up prequel movie, ‘Fire Walk With Me’, provided some measure of emotional closure even as it denied fans narrative closure. For me, that was a satisfying enough conclusion, and I’ve long felt that David Lynch should leave the property alone, to exist in that perhaps imperfect but mesmerizing state forever. Any questions left dangling at the end were, in my opinion, best left to each fan’s imagination to sort out.

When word first circulated that Showtime had commissioned Lynch to bring back the series on his own terms, free to continue the story however he wanted, I had mixed feelings. Lynch has been in a period of unmistakable artistic decline for more than a decade and a half, and his last feature film, 2006’s ‘Inland Empire‘, was an abysmal three-hour disaster. I couldn’t help fearing that any new ‘Twin Peaks’ would wind up being more ‘Inland Empire’ than… well, ‘Twin Peaks’. Some of those concerns eased a little when it was announced that many of Lynch’s original collaborators would also return, including series co-creator Mark Frost, the man who brought much of the humanity and the backbone of narrative structure to the show. That seemed like a good sign. Beyond that, and a monstrously huge list of famous names signing up to join the cast, I made a point of avoiding any further publicity or promotion for the new show. I wanted to go into it as fresh as possible without setting any further expectations.

Having just watched the two-hour premiere, I have no idea what to make of it. Whatever this is, it isn’t ‘Twin Peaks’. As much as it indulges in some of the original imagery and trots out a handful of old cast members for cameos, it bears little resemblance to the show I remember. It has no narrative hook to draw viewers in, no appealing new characters and little screen time for the old ones, no emotional involvement, next to no humor, and hardly any of it even takes place in the town of Twin Peaks. It feels clear to me that Lynch originally developed this as an independent project, but the only way he could get financing for it was to wrap it up in the ‘Twin Peaks’ branding. Once that decision was made, he dove head-first into the minutiae of ‘Peaks’ mythology and dumped it all on top of his other new ideas.

Honestly, I’d be OK with that if only the new show had a compelling story of its own. As far as I can tell, this has no story at all. It’s little more than an assemblage of random, unconnected scenes that were probably each filmed independently of one another with no clear plan for how they’d link together, if they ever would. I pity anyone who makes the mistake of trying to pick up the show for the first time with this revival. It makes no allowances whatsoever for the possibility of new viewers. If you don’t know the ins-and-outs of Black Lodge lore or what the phrase “I am the arm” means, forget it. Don’t even watch. This wasn’t made for you and you very likely won’t get anything out of it.

Where Are They Now?

Due to the show having virtually no coherent plot, I’m not able to provide a traditional plot recap in this article. All I can do is highlight a few of the weird things that appear on screen.

The last we saw him, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) was trapped in the red-curtained Black Lodge while his evil doppelganger escaped into the world. We’re reminded of this briefly with some recycled clips from the original series, including Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) telling Cooper, “I’ll see you again in 25 years.”

Now here we are, slightly over 25 years later, and the good Dale is still in the Lodge. His doppelganger is also still out and about, going by the name “Mr. C” and sporting long hair and a leather jacket that suggest he’s a fan of Nicolas Cage’s schlockier movies. (His snakeskin shirt is no doubt a fan-service reference to Lynch’s ‘Wild at Heart’.) From the white trash lowlifes he hangs out with and the cruel way he treats them, it’s immediately clear that he’s a real scumbag sonofabitch. Over the course of the premiere, we learn that he’s being recalled back to the Black Lodge but is adamant that he won’t go. Good Dale can’t leave the Lodge until the bad one returns.

Laura is also still in the Lodge, delivering cryptic clues in backwards-speak. She pulls off her face to reveal a blinding white light underneath. Cooper also briefly interacts with the One-Armed Man (Al Strobel), the Giant (Carel Struycken), and Leland Palmer (Ray Wise).

In the town of Twin Peaks, we get cameos from Lucy (Kimmy Robertson), still behind the desk at the sheriff’s department and now married to Deputy Andy (Harry Goaz); Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) living as a hermit in the woods; the elderly Ben Horne (Richard Beymer), forever annoyed by his kooky brother Jerry (David Patrick Kelly); and Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) watching violent nature footage of animals tearing each other apart on TV. Middled-aged Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick) and James Hurley (James Marshall) cross paths at the Roadhouse club. The Log Lady (Catherine Coulson, who sadly passed away shortly after filming her scenes) makes a call to Hawk (Michael Horse), who’s now Deputy Chief, to deliver a message from her log pertaining to something important happening in the woods.

If that sounds like a lot of classic ‘Peaks’ material, most of these scenes are very brief and (at least so far) don’t add up to anything important.

The New Stuff

Most of the new ‘Twin Peaks’ takes place outside of Twin Peaks.

Mr. C learns that his moll, Darya, has double-crossed him and was paid to kill him, so he brutally murders her instead. He then uses a strange electronic device to contact a voice he initially believes is Phillip Jeffries (David Bowie’s character in ‘Fire Walk With Me’), but it doesn’t sound like him and turns out not to be him.

In New York City, a young man sits in a locked room staring at a glass box, waiting for something to appear in it. He gets distracted after sneaking his girlfriend (Madeline Zima from ‘Californication’) into the room to have sex with her, during which a ghostly figure appears in the box, smashes through the glass, and bludgeons both of them to death.

In Las Vegas, a man named Mr. Todd (Patrick Fischler from ‘Mulholland Drive’) apparently works for someone really terrible. The details of this are incredibly vague.

The most substantial subplot takes place in South Dakota, where high school principal Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard) is arrested for allegedly murdering his mistress, the school librarian. The woman’s decapitated head was found staged in her bed on top of a naked male body. Hastings insists that he had a dream about being in the apartment but never actually went there. In jail, he learns that his wife Phyllis framed him for the crime.

As if to connect some of these dots, Mr. C later stops at the Hastings’ house and murders Phyllis, cryptically saying, “You did good. You followed human nature perfectly.” Is this to imply that he’s hunting down and killing other Black Lodge denizens?

When Good Dale tries to find an exit from the Lodge, he’s attacked by an evil talking tree (the less said about which, the better), drops into a pit of black oil, then falls through the sky and lands on top of the glass box in New York while no one is looking. (In a bit of a time loop, the kid who’d been staring at the box just left the room to let in his girlfriend.) Cooper then sinks through the glass into the box, upon which he shrinks down to a tiny size and is last seen plummeting through space.

Celebrity Cameos

Somewhere in the middle of all this, Ashley Judd has a walk-on role as Ben Horne’s personal assistant. After killing Darya, Mr. C goes to the motel room next door where Jennifer Jason Leigh is waiting for him. I’ll be very surprised if we see either of them again. The sense I get is that the revival series is going to be overflowing with guest stars eager to put some face time into appearances in ‘Twin Peaks’.

Premiere Verdict

Prior to watching it, I set my expectations for this new ‘Twin Peaks’ at absolute rock bottom, worried that it would actually turn out to be ‘Inland Empire: The Series’. Those fears were not unfounded, and in many ways, it kind of is. However, it’s fortunately not quite as bad as ‘Inland Empire’. Ultimately, I didn’t hate it. That said, I also didn’t like it very much. I can’t imagine that this is what any fan ever wanted from a return to ‘Twin Peaks’.

An argument can be made that this is a good thing, that David Lynch is trying to buck the trend of so many other recent revival TV series that merely regurgitate famous moments from the past and slather them in fan-service winks and nods. I get that. I still don’t think this is the way to do it.

Kyle MacLachlan is quite good and creepy playing Scary Cooper. The two-hour premiere also has a number of classic Lynchian set-pieces, and the influences of his ‘Eraserhead’ and ‘Lost Highway’ are felt strongly throughout. I happen to love both of those movies. But they’re not ‘Twin Peaks’.

Lynch’s very best works (‘Blue Velvet’, ‘Twin Peaks’, ‘Mulholland Drive’) find a way to lure audiences into them with what initially look like conventional storytelling methods centered around appealing and sympathetic characters, before digging beneath the surface and rolling out the weirdness underneath. The new ‘Twin Peaks’ makes no effort at that. It’s all weirdness, all the time. Its stilted pacing (a Lynch trademark, but exaggerated here), brutal violence and graphic sexuality feel tonally misjudged. (Yes, I know, ‘Fire Walk With Me’ also had graphic sex and violence in it. But it also had Laura Palmer’s stunning emotional arc to guide viewers through.) This is one of the most instantly and deliberately alienating things Lynch has ever made. It just doesn’t feel like ‘Twin Peaks’ to me.

That’s to say nothing of some moments of genuine awfulness. The episodes have astoundingly cheesy visual effects that look like they were created in After Effects v1.0, and the thing with the talking tree is unbelievably laughable. Lynch needs someone he can trust to tell him when he’s going off the rails.

In addition to the two-hour premiere, Showtime has also made the following two episodes available On-Demand. I didn’t have time to watch those. My life these days is too busy for a four-hour marathon of anything, even ‘Twin Peaks’. I’m told by friends that the third and fourth episodes start to warm up and are better. I hope that’s true, but all I can judge by at the moment are the first two hours, and my verdict has to honestly reflect my reaction to it.

I’m disappointed. Even if this gets better as it goes, I still think that Lynch should have left well enough alone.

Grade: C-

3 comments

  1. Elizabeth

    I’ve watched all 4 episodes that are available and they’re definitely weird and not at all easy to follow. Not wanting to give too much away, but I doubt many of the new characters from the first two episodes will be seen again in the series. Episodes 3 and 4 definitely start bringing back more of the original Twin Peaks feel. And the chocolate bunny scene is hysterically weird.

    The special effects don’t bother me at all. It’s pretty clear they were done in what would be considered poor quality intentionally. And the talking tree thing is Mike’s arm, aka the dancing dwarf, the Man from Another Place.

    I’m looking forward to the remaining 14 parts. I think that’s really the only fair way to judge it, by waiting for all 18 parts of it and judging it as a whole. It’s not episodic television and it was clearly never intended to be. It’s really one super long movie, something akin to what Fire Walk With Me would have been if he had been allowed. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Lynch insists that it be released on disc without breaks between the parts except as required by disc space.

    It’s subtitled The Return and I think we’ll get more and more of the town of Twin Peaks as it progresses and the major players all make their way back to the town. I’m willing to make the journey with them.

  2. I’m interested to get Josh’s take on Episodes 3 and 4 – especially 4, since that’s the most “Peaks”-y of the lot. I’m generally with him on everything he said above, although I perhaps enjoyed it just a little more than he did.

    My biggest complaint so far is with the stilted acting. Some of the takes Lynch has chosen to use are just terrible. Scenes with Kimmy Robertson, Harry Goaz, and Michael Horse are particularly bad – perhaps because those three were never stellar actors to begin with and they seem to have a director that doesn’t care about their delivery as long as they get the dialogue right.

    I’d really like to talk about Cooper (I’m waiting to see Josh’s reaction to 3 & 4 before discussing) – as it looks like we may go through a big chunk of this series before we have the “real” Cooper back again. Josh talks a lot about this series not being what fans wanted – the fact that we might not see much of Cooper’s famous quips and Sherlock Holmes-like rituals in this return could be it’s biggest disappointment.

  3. If he enjoyed Fire Walk With Me I don’t get why he wouldn’t like these episodes. It’s basically like the strange Chris Isaak/Bowie first 20 mins of that movie, before it gets around to the Laura Palmer story. If this is basically a an 18 hour single story, then spending two hours introducing the wider plot is basically following the same pattern.
    I loved it. I assume the reaction to these new episodes depends on what part of Twin Peaks appealed to you: the goofy humour or the really dark surreal parts.
    My only minor complaint is the opening credits, with the shortened version of the music and no town shots.

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