Something is Missing: Criticisms of The Return – Part One

There’s Some Fear in Letting Go

I’ll begin with a confession – I was disappointed in The Return. Go on, you can boo, hiss, and throw your Funko Dale Coopers at me. I know, I deserve it. I need to go and learn my Lynch as I clearly don’t understand the genius that I witnessed.

Wait though. I love Lynch. I’m not just a Twin Peaks fan who was expecting coffee, donuts and cherry pie. Dale Cooper gurning and giving the thumbs up to all and sundry, while slow-tempo finger-snapping jazz plays in the background. Ok, I would still gladly have watched that, but I wasn’t expecting it and didn’t really want it. We’ve all moved on, and I’ve moved on since my sixteen year old self who sat transfixed every week watching this strange show unfold before me, at one turn quirky, cheesy, and soapy and in the next moment dark, surreal, and emotional.

I should also state that I didn’t dislike The Return, I just didn’t really love it. I wanted to love it. I tried really hard to love it. Parts of it I enjoyed, parts of it made me laugh, parts of it were just mind-blowing, such as Part 8, which has to be one of the most astounding things to be shown on television ever. Overall, I’d say that I’m very glad it happened and my opinion may well change over time, as it did with Fire Walk With Me. Initially, I felt like I was missing something as everyone else seemed to love it from the beginning. Laura Stewart, an admin of the Twin Peaks 2017 Facebook group says: “On the whole it’s been widely and wildly embraced as a masterpiece.”

“For people that think it’s perfect and the greatest thing ever, I’m very happy for them and a little jealous.”

After looking a little deeper I found that I definitely wasn’t alone in having some issues with The Return. Brad Dukes, author of ‘Reflections, An Oral History of Twin Peaks’ and host of The Brad Dukes Show podcast ¹ is among those with more complex feelings about the show. He says “…this is the most dense instalment of TV I’ve ever seen. It’s going to take time, but I will say, I understand the people who are upset, and I think their feelings have merit. For people that think it’s perfect and the greatest thing ever, I’m very happy for them and a little jealous.”

This is exactly how I feel. As a huge fan of Twin Peaks and Lynch in general, I can’t help feeling that I’m missing a piece of the puzzle. Armed with this sense of loss and confusion I set out to investigate my own and others problems with The Return.

Were the issues I and other people had related more to our prior expectations rather than the show itself? I can’t say I had no expectations of The Return. Fire Walk With Me–released just a year after Twin Peaks finished–had a significantly different mood and focus to Twin Peaks, alienating a lot of fans with the lack of key characters. Critics largely hated it, fans of the series were confused, and annoyed that the cliffhanger ending wasn’t addressed at all. Although The Missing Pieces later gave a few hints, it was clear Lynch didn’t consider Annie important to his focus – something that he obviously still feels 25 years later. I wasn’t as much of a fan of Fire Walk With Me as immediately as I had been of the show, but didn’t hate it, and over the years I came around, and it now ranks as one of my favourites of his works. Perhaps this is a process that will occur with The Return as well.

In the intervening time we got Lost Highway, which I loved; Mulholland Drive, which is like a strange fever dream, but an oddly enjoyable one; and then Inland Empire, which I like to watch bits of but rarely watch all of at a time because it makes me question my own sanity. I hadn’t even seen The Straight Story yet because a Disney David Lynch film just seemed wrong.

Whilst I loved the mostly linear yet off-beat nature of Twin Peaks, I also enjoyed the darker dreamscapes of his later movies. I expected something akin to Twin Peaks meets Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. It was clear that without the constraints of network executives and viewing figures that Lynch on his own preferred to tell less linear stories, with an overall darker feel, challenging our perceptions of reality and story.

“I both expected and hoped for an 18-hour Mulholland Drive set in the world of Twin Peaks and featuring our favourite characters”

I’m not alone in my expectations of The Return. Aidan Hailes, half of the husband and wife podcast team Bickering Peaks², says: “I both expected and hoped for an 18-hour Mulholland Drive set in the world of Twin Peaks and featuring our favourite characters. So in that sense I guess I can say I got exactly what I wanted. I just didn’t know what I wanted could be quite as painful as it turned out to be.”

Brian of the Twin Peaks Revival podcast³ thinks maybe his expectations did affect his experience. “I wish I could have been more open minded going in. Like a lot of people not ‘all in’ on the return I don’t know exactly what those expectations were but clearly the show didn’t deliver on them or I would have loved it.”

Like me, these aren’t people who were expecting a return to the 90s soapy tropes and style of the original, but were possibly expecting something more akin to Lynch movie meets Twin Peaks. An updated, more surreal Twin Peaks maybe. However, a lot of fans did want a return in the literal sense. Matt Humphrey of the Twin Peaks Podcast(the longest running Twin Peaks podcast) wanted “a continuation of the old series that felt at least a little familiar and tonally similar…a series with warmth and quirky characters that made the town of Twin Peaks comes alive in my mind…Instead we got a cold, unfeeling and sterile show with none of the warmth, character, humour or subtle mystery of the original.”

“This sense that for 50 minutes you are transported to this sleepy, moonlit town surrounded by dark mysterious woods”

This also touches on one of the main issues I had with The Return, it’s atmosphere and mood. Mark Walker of the Formica Table podcast5 identifies this as one of the only things he expected from a new season of Twin Peaks. “I hoped…that we’d get that indescribably deep sense of place that few (if any) beyond Twin Peaks has managed to produce. This sense that for 50 minutes you are transported to this sleepy, moonlit town surrounded by dark mysterious woods. Even outside of those 50 minutes, that feeling would linger, living in your head until your fix the following week. We got a smattering of that this time around, but not rich and constant, like back in the day.”

This isn’t a criticism that I’ve seen expressed much, but I think it underpins a lot of the other issues. I believe that what made Twin Peaks such a cult show–with so many devoted fans–was its unique atmosphere. The blend of warmth, humour, and gentle surrealism that always had an undercurrent of menace that occasionally emerged in disturbing ways. The incidental music had a lot to do with the mood of Twin Peaks, and often seemed to provide emotional cues for the viewer, directing them as to how to take a particular scene, like Lynch training wheels.

As Daniel Dylan Wray wrote in Pitchfork6 “the role of music in the original “Twin Peaks” remains as crucial to the program as any character or plot line. Its moody, melodramatic presence was embedded into the show’s most fundamental DNA, running through the town’s core with the same tangible presence as its gushing waterfall or buzzing sawmill.”

I wasn’t expecting to hear the same music, except the occasional whiff where appropriate, which we did get, but with Badalamenti on board again I hoped we’d have a new soundscape, weaving seamlessly into the scenes and elevating the story. What we actually got was a show with almost no incidental music. Individual tracks were used as a backing to certain scenes, and some of the choices were good, but there wasn’t a coherent feel to the music as in the original. We also got the roadhouse acts, either to play the show out, or as backing for events happening at the roadhouse, but these seemed designed to serve mainly as punctuation in the story, to allow time for reflection. One of the only times the music seemed to work as full partner to the visuals was in Part Eight when Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima served as a haunting accompaniment to the nuclear explosion sequence.

“The lack of music kept me at a distance, instead of drawing me in”

For Matt Humphrey it was a big factor. “The lack of music kept me at a distance, instead of drawing me in…” a sentiment that I feel sympathy for, but it was clear that Lynch, credited as the Sound Designer, had very different intentions with The Return. It was telegraphed very early on that sound was important with the Firemans statement “Listen to the sounds”. Whatever Lynch’s intentions with the sound design, the minimal incidental music resulted in a much starker and colder feeling show, that undoubtedly put a lot of people off.

It was Part Eight that made me realise that I wasn’t just hankering for old school Twin Peaks though, because if anything should alienate anyone wanting cherry pie, dancing dwarves and hot black coffee, it is the visual art bomb that was Part Eight. I loved Part Eight though. Part Eight kept me going. For some fans though, it was the final nail in the coffin. Matt Humphrey says “I was feeling unmoved and unengaged already, but by the time part 8 rolled around I was basically fully out. I realized this wasn’t for me as a primarily Twin Peaks fan. This is for die hard Lynch fans.”

Aidan Hailes was more in line with my own thinking at this point. “I didn’t love the first six or seven parts, so much as I appreciated them…I was enjoying the experience as a whole – emotionally and intellectually – but I wasn’t eagerly anticipating each Sunday night just yet. Part 8 definitely changed that. Not just because it was so unlike everything else, but because it came out of nowhere and really redefined just what we were watching. It wasn’t just a show about Cooper’s return to Twin Peaks, it was something otherworldly (both literally and figuratively) that could take us back in time and redefine entire concepts we’d taken for granted in new, amazing ways. After Episode 8 I couldn’t wait to watch every Sunday.”

“…it pulled open this rich tapestry of character and story set in a small town and stretched it across the cosmos”

Mark Walker also found Part 8 to be a game changer. “It renewed my own flagging faith in the series. It did something really incredible, it pulled open this rich tapestry of character and story set in a small town and stretched it across the cosmos. It made Twin Peaks into something that Lynch/Frost had always hinted at but never fully established. It deepened the mythology around the series and elevated Laura Palmer into a Christ-like figure of love and goodness and cast Bob as this primal evil born of man’s worst instincts. It made Twin Peaks a story set against the backdrop of this epic struggle between good and evil, light and dark. It was incredible.”

Whilst Part Eight did reinvigorate me, it didn’t last long. I was disappointed when things quickly slipped back into the normal pace of the show after that. I think I’d hoped this was a halfway point, that we’d had a slow-paced contemplative first half, setting up a mythos, putting characters in place, and with the explosion that was Part 8 things would now begin to coalesce into something more recognisable as a story, bring the scattered parts together and feel less disjointed.

Looking back at the season as a whole, I can absolutely see a great deal to appreciate. I watched all eighteen parts after all, and never reached a point where I didn’t look forward to the next part. The Return is generally more coherent plot-wise than many of Lynch’s works, but the issues I have with it bother me more than anything wrong with any of his films. Why is this? I think, possibly it’s because Twin Peaks is part of me and has been for a long time. At sixteen watching the original run it felt like something made just for me, and has been something I’ve revisited for over twenty five years. I can watch a Lynch movie and ignore its foibles –and even appreciate them– because it’s a movie, and it’s Lynch. But Twin Peaks, that’s precious to me, I feel a sense of ownership, and in that it has been part of my life for so long, a strange sense of authorship as well. Something seismic has occurred to an underlying structure of my sense of self, and it bothers me.

Next Time: Dougie Jones, stray plotlines, cut-ups, learning lynch, and the story of the little girl who lives down the lane.


Many thanks to all the contributors to this piece, some of whom have not yet featured: Joel Bocko, Brian Bollman, Brad Dukes, Aidan Hailes, Matt Humphrey, Christian Hartleben, Patrick Hook, Laura Stewart, Mark Walker.

[1] Reflections, An Oral History of Twin Peaks – http://a.co/7ULIcox

https://twitter.com/brad_d_

[2] https://soundcloud.com/bickering-peaks

https://twitter.com/bickeringpeaks

[3] https://twinpeaksrevival.podbean.com

https://twitter.com/TwinPeaksIsBack

[4] http://twinpeakspodcast.libsyn.com/
http://www.twitter.com/twinpeakscast

[5] https://twitter.com/formicatabletp

[6] https://pitchfork.com/features/article/the-secrets-behind-the-music-of-twin-peaks-the-return/

15 Replies to “Something is Missing: Criticisms of The Return – Part One”

  1. You have almost exactly encapsulated my own feelings about the Return. The lack of music and atmosphere, the cold and disconnected feeling, the lack of mystery. I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t love it. And overall I am vaguely disappointed. One of the most unpleasant things that resulted from this experience was the alarmingly intolerant attitudes of some fans. If you didn’t love it, you were an enemy. On some discussion boards there was no room for discussion because it got to the point where admins were literally banning people for disagreeing with their pet theories or for saying that the Return was anything less than the most amazing thing ever created. It was outright censorship, especially towards the end. That was very unexpected from usually open minded Twin Peaks fans, many of whom I have been discussing the show with for the past 27 years. It is still almost taboo to even suggest you didn’t love it to some people without being ridiculed as a simpleton. But almost everyone I have talked to in person has some level of disappointment. So thanks for representing the feelings of many fans.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t spend a lot of time on most discussion boards, or FB groups for that very reason. I’ve found Twitter is possibly the most civil arena for discussion, but it’s obviously quite limited. Also, depends who you follow!
      There are also a lot of podcasts out there who have had constructive criticism throughout the return. I mention some in my article. I don’t really understand why there has been so little tolerance of criticism of The Return. People love to bitch about Season 2 of TP, but we still love it. Why can’t we do the same with the Return? Also, I find it weird that so many people have no criticism. That’s just not right. Everything has issues. Why not discuss them? That’s what debate is about.

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  2. This is bang on. I watched every week religiously, but found it hard to put my feelings into words by the end of it. The last paragraph of this article does a nice job of explaining what I was struggling to..

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  3. I feel the complete opposite about almost all of this. I think the restrain in the music use made all the moments with music feel completely earned, while in the original series it would come to a point where it was just repetitive to hear the themes used again and again for every dramatic moment. In The Return, every time music shows up, it’s completely fitting and rich because it’s unique. And the moments without music have a completely incredible soundscape, like being in a cold night and listening to your own warm breath every once in a while. It was amazing and it involved me completely in this universe of infinite possibilities. I was never felt like i was being detached by the sound.

    It’s the same with the rich mythology that allowed me to put my own self and my own ideas into the world, turning the story into a personal thing for me. I don’t understand at all criticism about the “lack of mystery”. I have never seen before something so engaging, intriguing and absolutely mysterious that made me question reality itself so many times during its runtime, without actually going out and answering our calls for help, always keeping the flame alive. It’s a series about an unsolvable mystery, and it is all over the story. A beautiful thing, and true to the world we live in.

    The slow pace and quiet tone is a myriad of different landscapes and realities, extremely meditative (since Lynch is a huge promoter of meditation and contemplation), extremely subtle to the point of being, for me, an entirely different experience every time i start to watch it again. I never cease to new and different ideas about the content, that’s how incredible it was for me. This series has one of the strongest atmospheres i’ve ever experienced because it’s absolutely rich in every front. It depends a lot on projection from the viewer, but that’s exactly what Lynch wants, for the viewer to participate as a creator in the world he’s giving us, and for me it absolutely worked. It’s an imaginative masterpiece.

    Of course i’m not saying you’re all wrong for feeling the way you do, after all these are your legitimate reactions to what you’ve seen, but i really fail to understand them because i felt differently on all the points you’ve made.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s good that you enjoyed the mood of The Return so much. I also enjoyed it many places, but-and I’ll look at this more in the next part-I found it a little patchy, and without the coherency of something like Mulholland Drive or Lost Highway or season 1 and some of season 2 of TP.
      I have yet to rewatch the whole of the Return, so my mind may change yet. Thanks for taking the time to give us your thoughts despite disagreeing!

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  4. Same here. I missed the music, the characters that we loved so dearly even though we got some of that. Another thing that I noticed that made it feel different for me was the weather. The original Twin Peaks is set in the fall and winter, but this one was so sunny. I missed the rainy streets and woodland paths.

    It was still beautiful but all things combined made it feel like it was something separate from the other two seasons. An addendum. And that is how I’m personally treating it. Nothing beats the original for me but I am very happy that we got it.

    I’m thankful for the few music pieces from mr. Badalamenti that we did get because they break my heart into tiny little pieces. I’m so glad that the Red Room music is something I can listen to daily now.

    Thankful that we got Cooper back for a minute (I would not have been surprised if he had not been coming back at all).

    I love Lynch and most of his movies. Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, FWWM….
    I could not finish Inland Empire, I tried 4 times because I wanted to love it so much.

    My first introduction into the works of David Lynch was Twin Peaks, back then when I was 14. Maybe that has something with it. The partnership with Mark Frost.

    I also saw the comments on social media that if you didn’t love the Return immediately that you obviously didn’t understand Lynch and shoo… away with you. As one of those original fans that is now in her forties I feel like everybody should be included in this little quirky, but oh so mysterious town many call home in their minds. I do. I go there often when reality is a little bit too much.

    Your last lines especially speak to me too. Something bothers me. At least Norma and Ed and Dougie and Janey-E got their happy end. 😉
    Audrey? Did Shelly get back with Bobby after seeing Norma and Ed get back together (Madchen believes so on her Instagram), and how does that chair look in Lucy and Andy’s study? What does Hawk’s cabin look like? (My point, I would have loved more of them, less Roadhouse one timers).

    Thanks for letting me rant here.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ” and throw your Funko Dale Coopers at me ”

    Ugh, you just reminded me of how rabid fandom has even poisoned Twin Peaks now. Turned it into some new variation of some stupid Man-Child, mouth breathing Star Wars toy collector-thon. TWIN PEAKS has these dumb action figures now. I thought it was supposed to be a show for adults ?

    Twin Peaks has toys now. REALLY stupid looking ones at that. Yeesh 😦

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      1. Luxury! In my days you had to buy a 15-VHS video tapes box set and the Pilot was sold separately with a bizarre ending tackled at the end. 🙂
        (btw in this bizarre ending, the dream Dale Cooper and Laura shared was presented as reality, occuring 25 years later)

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      2. I remember those days, but all those tapes were wealth beyond my wildest dreams. The 2nd and 3rd times I watched TP was on VHS (thanks Jess!), but I didn’t actually own it until it came out on DVD.

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  6. The most basic problem with it was Dale Cooper wasn’t in it until the end and then only for a few minutes. It’s really that simple for me. Each week I longed for the idiotic Dougie Jones stuff to end. I still don’t know what the point was.

    Ironically, my friend who isn’t a huge Lynch nut like me enjoyed the show much more. She watched it all within a week after it finished while I counted the seconds between each week as it went out. Maybe that’s a factor too, the pace was maddening but if you can watch more than one at a time it might not seem such an ordeal in patience.

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  7. FWWM was Lynch unleashed, the return was also without a TV execs leash around his and frosts neck, it was never ever going to be like S1 & 2. People seem to be disapointedd that it isn’t in this similar vein but I’m overall happy that we got this contrast- it’s jarring, unsettling, frustrating and doesn’t pander, especially to those who think the audience has a right to resolution 🙂
    I know people who love the return but hate all the things people like about S1&2 and vice versa, It really is like marmite.

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  8. I hated Twin Peaks for its ridiculous melodrama and cliche unlikable characters, basically a cast full of dumb bratty kids, disgusting predatory men, and ’90s era weirdos (like the wacky trans FBI director)

    This new season was great precisely because it threw out the old and alienated it’s audience in search for deeper meaning in our decaying world instead of generic liberal hedonism like cherry pies and coffee…that silliness is fake, and frankly unethical art considering how much suffering there is in the world (let alone the world of twin peaks!)

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