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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.

The Evolution of the Arm in front of the red curtains with Dale Coopers face superimposed

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.”

The Black Lodge, Dale stands by Laura in her chair, as a birds shadow appears on the curtains

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 few 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.

Gordon Cole whistles at his desk in front of a photo of an atom bomb explosion

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.

The strange ectoplasm that emerges from "Mother" in Part 8

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/


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Written by Matt Armitage

Once in charge of the Film Department, Matt now roams in the shadows of 25YL—like a ronin—always alert for the misuse of em-dashes and bad alt text. These days he enjoys harassing PR companies for free films and beating writers until they agree to write about said free films. Also, webmaster. I write on occasion, mostly about weird stuff nobody else cares about.

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