By Christian DiMartino
Warning: do not read unless you’ve seen all of Twin Peaks.
As I sit here typing, a few weeks has passed since finishing Twin Peaks: The Return, the Showtime limited series directed by the masterful David Lynch, released back in 2017. The date is October 18th. For reasons that are beyond explanation, I decided to put a halt on writing. As usual, I was in a slump, a fog, a creative absence. Creatively, I wasn’t there. For weeks, I’ve contemplated writing about this, but I’ve always talked myself out of it. But finally, I, like our beloved Agent Cooper, have woken up.
Going in, the word was that I was in for a masterpiece, or I was in for disappointment. Truth be told, Twin Peaks: The Return is often pretty amazing- a series filled with mystery, intrigue, humor, and fascination that held me in its grip for all 18 beautifully filmed, star-studded, and well crafted episodes. Watching it in the moment, I’d have a nitpick or two, but otherwise, it was quite the ride. Having said all of this though, whenever the series came to an end, there was a sense of disappointment that lingered over. As I see it, there can’t really be a complete verdict on this series until Lynch confirms that there is or isn’t going to be a 4th season. If there is to be one, my love for it will increase, and if there isn’t, then it’s still pretty good, but with faults.
To talk about Twin Peaks: The Return without talking about the original series would be silly, so I’ll provide a brief recap. Twin Peaks, which aired from 1990-1991, revolved around the townsfolk of a small, scenic Washington town named Twin Peaks. The show centered on a handful of townsfolk and the drama surrounding them, and their involvement in the death of teenage beauty pageant queen, Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). At the center of the show was Agent Cooper (the wonderful Kyle MacLachlan), a charming and charismatic FBI agent hired to investigate the murder. The show began as a whodunit, but once the “who” part was revealed, 8 episodes into season 2, the rest of the season focused on the “why,” which involved a paranormal dimension known as “The Black Lodge,” from which Palmer’s killer came from. The finale of season two found Cooper entering The Black Lodge, only to ultimately be left in The Black Lodge, while Palmer’s killer, a spirit known as “Bob,” took over his body. Another character is involved in an explosion, with both cliffhangers intended to be resolved in season 3.
Well… the show was abruptly cancelled. That is, until Twin Peaks: The Return, which was made some 26 years later. As the series begins, we hear about the murder of a librarian, which may or may not have happened at the hands of a high school principal (Matthew Lillard). There is also a weird glass box in a building in New York City that has significance. Not to mention, The Log Lady, a character from the previous seasons, begins calling Sheriff Truman (the late Robert Forster) with cryptic premonitions.
But what of Agent Cooper? Nobody has seen him since the night of his possession. When we see him, we see a mulletted man who is definitely the version possessed by Bob. Yet it also appears that Agent Cooper is still in The Black Lodge. MacLachlan plays these two, of course, but also plays a man named Dougie Jones, who plays a role early on. All of this is introduced in the first two episodes, but for the first 5 or 6 episodes, more and more plot threads are introduced, but it’s never hard to follow.
This is a difficult series to discuss because, again, in many ways the series is satisfying. There is never a dull moment in all 18 episodes. If you’ve seen the first two seasons, it will hold your attention… but it will also test your patience. The first two seasons also demanded your patience, keep in mind, but you kept watching because you knew it was going to amount to something. Twin Peaks: The Return does amount to something, but there are also some things that deserved more in the way of payoff. More on that later. But most of it works. One thing I could nitpick though is the way that Lynch devotes the last 6 or 7 minutes of each episode to a musical performance. Nothing wrong with the performances, but why not devote that time to furthering the story? The musical numbers don’t.
There are many shades of great in Twin Peaks: The Return. The acting is pretty superb, and watching it, it was a total delight to see so many faces, both old and new. The new include Amanda Seyfriend, Michael Cera, Laura Dern, Naomi Watts (my personal favorite), Jim Belushi, and so on. The show works as entertainment, but it’s also aesthetically pleasing, while also the enjoyable in its callbacks to the first two seasons. That might be the most enjoyable aspect.
Two episodes deserve recognition the most: Part 8, and Part 16. Part 8 is the David Lynch-iest David Lynch project I’ve ever seen. The whole series, make no mistake, but this 8th episode is what defines him. It’s weird, it’s horrific, it’s gorgeous, and it’s glorious. You won’t know what hit you.
Part 16 is excellent by means of satisfaction. One thing I could’ve done without is the extended Dougie Jones storyline. I do find it funny to a degree, in the way Hal Ashby’s Being There worked, plus I love the performance by Watts as Dougie’s wife, Janey-E (they have a son named… Sonny Jim). Yet I wanted to see Agent Cooper being Agent Cooper, not a punchline. But with this said, Lynch keeps you waiting for the conclusion of this story, and whenever it arrives, it is a moment so great, it just about receives forgiveness.
And yet… not everything ends with satisfaction. Truth is, if Lynch only intended to make one season, he should’ve made sure everything ended correctly. Yes, season 2 ended without satisfaction, but the show was cancelled, so it’s excused. Here, the ball is in Lynch’s court, and certain things leave you wanting more. Take, for example, the reappearance of Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn). This character receives nothing in the way of justice. Also, take her son, who plays a villainous role. His role meets a proper fate, but there was a bunch of buildup for… not much. Then, of course, there’s the finale. Part 17 would’ve made for a great finale. Not everything was resolved, but it still would’ve worked. Then Part 18 arrives and leaves you with more questions than answers.
The intrigue that Lynch is always able to provide is of course on display- I also love his performance in this season. Yet by the end, again, the jury is still kind of out. It’s a show that is perhaps equal parts brilliant and maddening, but I enjoyed watching it in the moment and hopefully I’ll enjoy it more in the future. Either way, it’s just great to have Lynch working still. Few filmmaking voices are as bold, beautiful, creative and audacious.
P.S. If you were also frustrated, I highly recommend co-creator Mark Frost’s book Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier. It elaborates on many of my questions.