Welcome back to my weekly Monday night column. There’s been a bit of a hiatus for this column—I posted my instant finale reactions on Sunday the 3rd instead of my traditional Monday night piece and then last week I posted The Community Speaks: A Tribute to John Thorne in place of “The Waiting Room”. I needed the time to figure out if I wanted to continue this column or move onto something new here on the site and then also, how to continue it in an interesting manner if I did continue it. What I came up with is at least for the short term to slowly dissect not only the polarizing finale but the entire 18 hours a little bit each week. Before I get into this week’s topic, I wanted to get a few things out of the way. What you will be reading not only here but in future columns are strictly my opinions and my interpretations. One of the most beautiful parts of Twin Peaks: The Return is precisely how much room we were left to dream in. As you can probably already tell, I am in the camp that loved the series. If you didn’t or even if you love it but still disagree with what I say, I’d love to chat about it! I’m looking forward to years of conversations, writing and analysis over what we just watched. With that out of the way, let’s rock! (Damn it felt good to type that again)
The Return was described by David Lynch as an 18-hour film and not a television show. That statement to me should be the nucleus of any potential theorizing. What exactly is an 18-hour film, directed by David Lynch? The obvious differences came in the editing as The Return was clearly not structured like a traditional television show. Scenes were longer; we didn’t have an “A, B and C plot” in each episode that alternated throughout the hour. We got all of Big Ed’s arc in Part 14 in back to back scenes for example. Nadine finds him; they talk, Ed drives to the Double R, attempts to talk to Norma, waits and questions if he’s too late, then they embrace. In a television show, Ed and Nadine’s breakup would have happened and we would have gone to another plot line before returning to Ed, perhaps even in the following episode. The Return wasn’t scripted or edited to be a television show. It was scripted and edited like a David Lynch film.
One of the most common complaints or criticisms of The Return has been not seeing enough of or getting a resolution to some of the many subplots in the series. To me, this goes back to the 18-hour film concept. This was marketed as a limited series event by the network and called a film by the filmmaker. A television series is ongoing. Arcs for characters either conclude at the end of the season or cliffhangers are set up to hopefully interest viewers into wanting to see more. Twin Peaks: The Return did neither. Many new and old characters alike were left in limbo, their stories seemingly stopping in the middle, leaving us to wonder: Where was Audrey and what was wrong with her? Did Steven actually kill himself and is Becky OK? What happened to Red? Perhaps I’m the odd man out here, but none of this bothers me, for several reasons. How many memorable characters in a David Lynch film had one or two really intriguing scenes only not to be seen for the rest of the film? Carl Rodd in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was onscreen for less than five minutes yet became one of the most beloved characters in that film, all mainly due to one line he had that caught people’s interest: “I’ve already gone places. I just want to stay where I am”. That line and as a result, that character got our minds wondering. It was one of many things that kept me dreaming of the world of Twin Peaks long after it ended and long before The Return. How are Steven and Becky any different? Being able to get lost in the worlds Lynch shows us on camera is only part of the reason he’s my favorite filmmaker. The gift he gives us of being able to dream and wonder what happens after the cameras quit rolling means this work can live on with us as long as we allow it to.
Now I understand that a popular character like Audrey is bound to draw a strong emotional response from frustrated and passionate fans. People waited until hour 12 to see her and when they finally got her, it was nothing like what they expected. What they got instead was Chet Desmond. Allow me to explain: Chet Desmond essentially played the role of Agent Cooper in the opening half hour of Fire Walk With Me, yet he was no Agent Cooper and fans wanted their Special Agent. It took years for people to acknowledge that Agent Desmond was an interesting character on his own and in not much screen time, left a pretty good impression on fans. The Audrey Horne of The Return did not exhibit the same characteristics of the Audrey Horne fans fell in love with in the original series. She was not in a situation we would expect Audrey to be in either. She in many ways was a new character to us played by the same actress (not exactly a new idea in a David Lynch film). Yet, much like Chet Desmond, Audrey made a pretty sizable impression in not much screen time, despite not being the character fans wanted.
Additionally, both Audrey and Chet Desmond left their respective films right after their most interesting scene, forever leaving us to wonder what happened next. If a character like Audrey isn’t going to be used in a “fan service” kind of way then what better way to honor her character’s importance to the Twin Peaks franchise than to tie her to a compelling unsolved mystery that we’ll still be talking about years from now? The icing on the cake is that Audrey was sprinkled throughout the DNA of The Return by being revealed to be the mother of Richard Horne, a prominent character for most of the 18 hours and also as a result of being raped by Mr C, Audrey was tied into another major storyline. I think you could make a very compelling argument for Audrey Horne being one of the most important characters in The Return, all in less than 10 minutes of screen time and while not playing the character she was remembered and loved for. That, to me, is a huge testament to the writing of both Lynch and Frost.
The Roadhouse was a central point of both action and theorizing in The Return. Both Mark Frost and David Lynch are all about world building. Look at any of their previous work and you will see that stories are told in the surrounding atmosphere; stories that are every bit as important as the ones told being told by the main characters. Looking back at The Return as a complete work, there is an undeniable story being told about the town of Twin Peaks. Using The Roadhouse as the primary vehicle to tell this story, Lynch and Frost showed us that Twin Peaks modernized since we last left it. It’s no longer that sleepy town near the Canadian border that had a very 1950’s Americana vibe running through it. The innocence was lost and the rest of the world “invaded” Twin Peaks. “When” and “how” that innocence was lost is surely up for debate, but I think it’s a safe bet to assume that Laura Palmer’s murder was the beginning of that. That’s not to say that more stories weren’t being told at The Roadhouse—there was a lot going on in those scenes—but I firmly believe that The Roadhouse was used to show us what happened to our favorite town and offer a commentary perhaps from Lynch and Frost on the current state of small towns in America. For more about scenes at The Roadhouse, check out Conversations in Liminal Spaces: What is Going On at the Roadhouse?
The final topic I wanted to address was fan expectations. I want to start by saying that if I sound like a “Lynch apologist” or “Learn Lynch” guy, that’s not my intent at all. As far as expectations go, we’re all human; thus, we all have expectations. Many of us waited the nearly three decades for new Twin Peaks. Even if you weren’t an original fan, odds are you had to wait some amount of time for this project to come out. Anticipation, constant conversation and time invested also leads to expectations. To me, this feels a lot like Fire Walk With Me all over again. When that film came out, people were told ahead of time that it was a prequel, not a sequel, that would focus on the last seven days of Laura Palmer’s life. Despite being told that ahead of time, people were still let down when they only saw a handful of characters and most of them played small roles.
People were upset and Fire Walk With Me was considered a flop. David Lynch said at a press conference before The Return began airing that Fire Walk With Me was important to be familiar with before watching The Return. While most of us (myself included) took that to mean story-wise (which it was) it now can read as having another meaning: The Return was Dale Cooper’s Fire Walk With Me and some of the complaints about Fire Walk With Me were bound to rise again. Yes, we got to see other characters, but if they weren’t directed connected to Dale, odds are they weren’t getting the screen time we might have hoped for. Fire Walk With Me was a tough pill to swallow for a lot of reasons. It felt drastically different than the series. It was radically different from the series and it took some people years to let their expectations fade and enjoy the work. The Return is certainly different from the original series and Fire Walk With Me both. Perhaps one day those that aren’t currently satisfied with The Return will see things differently the way those not satisfied with Fire Walk With Me previously did.
Next week in this column, I’m not sure yet which topic I’m going to address yet. I have a lot of topics I want to cover:Agent Cooper and the journey we saw him go on, the Palmer family, the idea of ret-cons, what exactly Part 8 meant, audience expectations, the show’s mythology, how The Return makes me feel about previous seasons and Fire Walk With Me, Lynch and Frost’s influences and really so much more. I’m looking forward to slowly unpacking The Return a little bit each week, enjoying all the details and treating this body of work with the time and effort it deserves. I hope that’s something you might be interested in as well. Until next time my friends…