After 26 years the programme that revolutionized TV drama is back, and it’s utterly bonkers, but also utterly brilliant, writes TOBY WOOLLASTON.
David Lynch is a man blessed with a wild imagination and great hair, his cranial embellishments second only to his kissing cousin, Jim Jarmusch – an iconic filmmaker who has given us enigmatic worlds of fractured logic and narrative ambiguity harkening back to the surrealists of the early twentieth century (Luis Buñuel, Germaine Dulac, Salvador Dali). Mulholland Drive, Wild At Heart and Blue Velvet are just a few of his filmic canon that any cinephile should wax lyrical about. But this is not cinema, this is television; although Twin Peaks: The Return may as well be one big 18-hour movie.
The first season began way back in 1990 and swiftly garnered cult status. I was one of many who took up drinking too-strong black coffee, eating cherry pie, and wearing camel coloured trench coats. The second season followed a year later, but was met with tepid reviews and a declining audience, and no doubt a declining donut and cherry pie market (which probably saved a life or two). And so the show was swiftly wrapped up. The world of Twin Peaks was relegated to the nostalgic history bin.
Not many took notice of Laura Palmer’s final words in Season Two: “I will see you again in 25 years”, a prophecy that would’ve come true to the exact year, had Lynch not had to wrangle some extra cash from the studio’s bean counters in order to get Season Three done properly. I’m glad he did, and a whole eight more deliciously dreamy episodes than the studio originally envisioned. It stalled proceedings by a year, but hey, at least this time Lynch was able to complete the Twin Peaks story properly.
Stylistically little has changed over the 26 years, with the new series retaining much of its original charm, humour and peculiarity. Lynch has stuck to his guns, unapologetically stamping Twin Peaks: The Return with his unique style (with co-writer Mark Frost giving a few tugs on the reigns) and directing all 18 episodes that (at the time of writing) seem to be boldly eschewing TV norms yet again. Interestingly, Lynch is a product of middle America, and his upbringing is surprisingly unremarkable. But it presents a striking contrast to his artistic style, and this dichotomy perfectly sums up the enigma that is David Lynch. He is a visionary who belies the dark and sometimes violent nature of his work.
Despite being made for television, each episode’s visual and audible field is of cinematic scope and really deserves to be viewed on a system that does it justice. Episodes 1, 2, 3 and 8, in particular, are something to behold with some abrasive and wonderful imagery in concert with the intoxicating score. Each shot in Twin Peaks: The Return is exquisitely framed and the takes are satisfyingly slow. The brooding cinematography of Lynch’s camera oozes slow tracks and zooms that creep and crawl around his world, observing its denizens with a genuine sense of curiosity. The camera often pays attention to erroneous people or objects not apparently involved with the plot. One shot in Episode 7 is a three-minute take of a cleaner sweeping the floor at the Bang Bang Bar. Long empty minutes pass by as the employee patiently sweeps up the empty dance floor and another stands behind the bar, while ‘Green Onions’ plays in the background. Why? Dunno. I haven’t worked it out yet… nor may I ever. Just soak it up, because there is plenty more like this, always tickling a dreamlike logic and rarely revealing anything that makes immediate sense.
It’s unexplainably wonderful stuff. You really feel that Lynch is taking his time to carefully sketch out his world in excruciating detail, and sometimes he simply gets lost in the minutia. He once quipped, “My world was no bigger than a couple of blocks… huge worlds are in those two blocks”. Indeed, for Lynch, the devil is in the detail, and here the details are small, seemingly innocuous moments, captured with cosmic meaning courtesy of one director’s introspective focus. Lynch’s world has grown a few more blocks since the first two seasons, casting its net well beyond the borders of that sleepy town we love so dearly. The charm of the original series is still there, but it also feels satisfyingly fresh.
So, to the plot… hmm. Where do I start? I’ve tried to put this down on paper, but it just ends up a confusing mess, testament to Lynch’s penchant for building worlds that are notoriously difficult to nut out. Suffice to say, the broad (and spoiler free) strokes involve Agent Cooper’s return from the Black Lodge (an otherworld place where spirits reside) to the world of the living. You might recall that the last we saw of Coop, 26 years ago, he was possessed by the evil spirit Bob, who had previously possessed Laura Palmer’s dad (and murderer, as it turned out). The good Coop’s return to the real world has been thwarted by his evil Bob-possessed doppelgänger, who has beaten him to the punch and returned first, doing everything in his power to ensure that good Coop doesn’t return.
The title, Twin Peaks: The Return, is really a double entendre – it’s returning to our screens, but more pertinently it is a story about Agent Cooper’s return to the world of the living. Beyond that, there’s a murder case, some cosmic hullaballoo, a frog creature climbing into a sleeping girl’s mouth, tarred homeless men wandering the desert at night looking for a light… I could go on, but I’m sure you get the gist. It’s all completely bonkers, but it’s fantastic! Here’s a handy hint: some visual cues allow for a recalibration of your bearings. Red items tend to pertain to evil, a warning flag. Gold, on the other hand, is the opposite. Snuggle into that little colour-coded gem as you watch it and see how far it takes you.
The cast is worth a brief mention. It’s a veritable who’s who, with a stellar ensemble. Lynch regulars aside (Naomi Watts, Laura Dern, Kyle MacLachlan and most from the original series reprising their roles), further cameos come from David Duchovny, James Belushi, Ashley Judd, Harry Dean Stanton, Amanda Seyfried, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Cera, and Tim Roth. You get the feeling that the acting world is lining up for a last chance to be directed by the legend.
Yes, its many characters are a little confusing, and there are moments that some might find irksome. Many will throw their hands up in frustration at the show’s seemingly impervious wall of ambiguities. However, if you mindfully soak in the experience, rather than fuss and fidget over solving its riddles, then you will be richly rewarded. This may very well be Lynch’s swan song on the small screen, and if so, what a way to go out!
* Twin Peaks – The Return is available to stream on Neon in NZ.