A Puzzle Wrapped In An Enigma: Twin Peaks: The Return

I purposefully waited a while before committing my thoughts on David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks: The Return because, frankly, I am still thoroughly stunned and bewildered by the final product. That shouldn’t have come as a surprise but here we are.

The Return is the aptly named third season of Twin Peaks, the quirky soap opera parody that gripped a television audience until it’s unfortunate cancellation and soul crushingly unfulfilled cliffhanger. When the series ended in 1991 viewers left with an Agent Cooper possessed by BOB, laughing as he mockingly asked, “How’s Annie?” 25 years later, Lynch and Frost return to the cozy little town in the Pacific Northwest…without really resolving that question. Instead, the limited Showtime series is a floaty, amorphous production at strange odds with Showtime’s marketing. Get yer Log Lady pillows and Black Lodge coasters right here at low, low prices! Want Double R coffee mugs? We got that! Laura Palmer posters? By the barrel full! There’s a part of me that fantasized about a newly minted Twin Peaks fan, laden head to toe with merch, settling in for The Return, completely unprepared for the Lynchian surrealist nightmare it turned out to be.

The series returns to present day Twin Peaks, a town that’s just as sleepy and mellow as it was in the 1990s. The most fascinating element of the new series was seeing how familiar faces like Lucy, Big Ed, James Hurley, Norma, and Dr. Jacoby exist in 2017. While some have stayed true to their roots–Big Ed has his “gas farm”, Norma’s franchising the Double R, and Shelly is still a waitress–others have moved in new, interesting directions. The best character change, by far, is Dr. Jacoby who went from a Hawaiian-enthused psychologist to an angry, anti-government, anti-establishment shock jock peddling spray painted shovels. Bad boy Bobby, former flame of the late Laura Palmer, is now an officer of the Twin Peaks Sheriff Department and Jerry Horne has given up real estate pursuits for the greener pastures of psychedelic drugs and mind altering edibles (to hilarious results).

What drew me to the new series, however, was the fate of Dale Cooper, the happy go lucky FBI agent who fellow in love with the town’s coffee, pie, and Douglas fir trees. After unsuccessfully fleeing the Black Lodge, this poor man has been stuck in the Red Room while the world moved on without him. In his place, however, is his evil doppleganger/BOB. Alive in our world, he’s been given free reign to do…whatever he’s trying to accomplish. Mr. C, as he is known by his cronies, travels cross country in search of something and leaving death in his wake. This “something”  might have to do with the show’s opening scene, in which a young man spends his evenings in a New York high rise monitoring a giant glass cube that pulls in a ghastly spirit that rips he and his lover’s faces to bloody pieces. At first, I thought Mr. C’s travels had to do with this limited time on Earth, as the Red Room inhabitants declared that BOB would be sent back to his unearthly realm in 25 years. To circumvent this, Mr. C creates a second doppleganger, Douglas “Dougie” Jones, whom he intends to go back to the Black Lodge in his place. The trick is successful but backfires as a catatonic Cooper takes Dougie’s place.

Dougie’s story is one of the more consistent narratives in The Return. Stuck in Las Vegas with the inability to properly express himself– he always repeats the last words said to him–Cooper is guided by MIKE in the most peculiar of ways. When he gets stuck in a casino, Cooper is led to slot machines that yield instant jackpot prizes. This, in turn, leads him to his estranged “wife” Janey-E (played to perfection by Naomi Watts), who drives him to work at an insurance firm where he uncovers an embezzling plot by another coworker (holy crap, it’s Tom Sizemore), and earns the ire of the Mitchum brothers (one of which is Jim Belushi, also played to total perfection) who run the casino where Dougie won all his money. Meanwhile, Gordon Cole and the delightfully grumpy Albert Rosenfield attempt to crack the ultimate Blue Rose case that connects Dale Cooper, his disappearance, and Bobby’s father Garland Briggs to Mr. C. Dougie Coop’s Las Vegas adventures play out largely as moments of comic relief, which is important considering how dark the rest of the show can get.

While Cooper leaves a seemingly perfect life in Vegas, Twin Peaks reels from the loss of his positive influence. Shelly married (and later divorced) Bobby and had a daughter, whose own husband is a drug addict good for nothing who can’t get a job and sleeps around. There’s also a young British man wearing a green latex glove that gives him super strength, claiming that his arrival to the sleepy town is his “destiny.” And then there’s Richard Horne, quite possibly the offspring of Audrey Horne and Mr. C! Richard hangs around Twin Peaks like a black cloud of malevolence and is never too far from terrible incidents involving drug dealing, murder, roughing people up, and just generally being a real creep. Oddly enough, he rarely pays the price for his behavior. When he brutalizes a woman who witnessed him killing a child because of his wreckless driving, any sort of “justice” we see is his grandfather, Benjamin Horne, exasperatedly agree to pay the woman’s medical bills. Richard eventually gets his just desserts and I find myself particularly unsatisfied with the end of his arc because it’s stripped of an emotional catharsis. It would have been awesome to see Deputy Hawk take him down hard or Cooper come back and slap cuffs on him.

What I mostly didn’t expect is how the Return is so entrenched in Lynch and Frost’s Twin Peaks lore. This is a series that has callbacks to not just the first two seasons but also the Fire Walk With Me feature film and tie-in books, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks. Taking the deep dive into Lynch’s transmedia soap opera is a requirement to piece together just what the hell is going on in the new series. It’s something I’m already planning to incorporate my inevitable rewatch of the series. There is so much to unpack with Twin Peaks and the best part about that has been watching the community try to figure out the meaning of the show, it’s ending, and how time influence what we’re watching. Lots of people out there who are much, much smarter than me have been doing a great job trying to piece together, Charlie Day-style, and make sense of the show’s most cryptic elements.

If this were any other show, it’s creator wouldn’t hesitate to capitalize on its nostalgia. In different hands, we might have seen Cooper return to Twin Peaks in the first episode, gather all his friends and colleagues, load up a police cruiser with assault weapons and shoot their way through the Black Lodge, blasting brain trees and BOB spheres left and right while eating doughnuts by the fistful. David Lynch actively plays against nostalgia, forcing viewers onto a convoluted path of his own making. For the better part of the show, he doesn’t even bother to answer any lingering questions from season two, like the fate of Audrey Horne, nor does he cleanly wrap up threads like, well, the fate of Audrey Horne. For the most part, Twin Peaks: The Return flies in the face of all storytelling convention and presents itself as a loose collection of abstract thoughts and ideas. But again, you should kind of expect that coming in.

Even with the frustrations I felt for the better part of The Return, I was happy that David Lynch got to make something and come back to his quirky pocket of the universe where the coffee runs hot and murder airs out a town’s dirty laundry. Given, I expect, free reign and complete creative control to present his own vision (something I seriously doubt he could get away with on a major network), Lynch delivers in his trademark baffling abstract style that is so compelling regardless of how painfully confusing he can be.

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