And so we return and begin again. Of course, it would have been hard given the serendipity of the timing, not to begin with Laura Palmer’s ambiguous statement to Agent Cooper trapped in the mysterious Red Room, echoing down the intervening years, giving vain hope to us die-hard Peaks aficionados –
“I’ll see you again in twenty-five years…Meanwhile…”.
So, initially we get what amounts to a cheeky “Previously on Twin Peaks” pre-credits sequence; both acknowledging and dismissing the 25-year gap as artistic licence. Then the beautiful sweeping Badalamenti theme tune kicks in and we’re treated to a recreation of those iconic titles. Note though that this time our view is from above, vertiginously looking down over those roaring falls and fading into the far more animated billowing red curtains and zig-zag striped floor of the Lodge. Thus we are warned. This is not a repetition. Anyone expecting the cosy old slippers of ‘Damn fine coffee and cherry pie’ is in for a shock. All those Entertainment Weekly, TV Guide, YouTube and Sunday supplement ‘Twenty Things You Need To Know About Twin Peaks’ puff articles lead everyone right up a garden path that couldn’t possibly prepare anyone for these opening episodes of what is obviously a continuation not only of Lynch’s hit TV show from the nineties but of his entire oeuvre. Lynch is an artist, an auteur but can we describe his style?
‘Weird’ is an overused word when describing Lynch’s work as is ‘surreal’. Surrealism was a school of art in which painters, sculptors and writers created unnerving scenes sometimes with photo-realistic precision, made strange creatures from everyday domestic objects and allowed the unconscious to find expression through random juxtapositions. Relying on the human propensity to find connections, its aim was to attempt to resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality. With surrealism all the work should be done in the mind of the observer, the artist must avoid any overt signals, in order to allow the spectator to interpret the random noise. Lynch has been continuing, somewhat sporadically, since the success of Twin Peaks with his art via movies, paintings and music releases. Like all artists his work is a continuing process of transformation and expansion. If there is one clear through-line it’s perhaps the threat that all the strands presented here will come together at the denouement in 18 episodes time but this is David Lynch. Don’t expect any definitive explanations.
The opening scene in grainy monochrome between Cooper and the Giant in an unspecified liminal space recalls the aesthetic of his first major work ‘Eraserhead’ and the leisurely unfolding dynamic seems almost a continuation of his last film ‘Inland Empire’.
Then, in the first jarring cut we are flown over the New York skyline portrayed as being just as mysterious and powerful as those trees and mountains and waterfall back in Twin Peaks. We are shown a mystery box. Itself being observed by an as yet unknown character, Sam, who is himself being observed by closed circuit cameras.
So far so Kafkaesque. Indeed, look out for the framed portrait of Franz Kafka on the wall at FBI headquarters.
The box is a glass vacuum. Like an early TV tube or one of Nikola Tesla’s bonkers electrical magic tricks. It is eventually revealed to be some kind of portal through which a pale monster, a typical Lynchian art object emerges to eviscerate the man and his illicit hot date. Anyone familiar with the tropes of horror genres would know that illicit sex always leads to horrible murder. We were one step ahead of our object of observation here. Which, disturbingly places us inside the box looking out. We are placed in the position of the voyeur as monster. And yet we cannot look away. As in all good psychological horror we realize that the monster they’re waiting for could be us.
The pale monster could also be read more literally as a creature from another dimension, a close cousin of those other 1990’s obsessions the UFO ‘Grays’. This is perhaps where the influence of Lynch’s writing partner Mark Frost (whose books The Secret History of Twin Peaks and The Final Dossier are the go-to reference texts for this show) comes into play. The twin dynamic of Lynch’s oblique visions given form and substance via literal sub-text was always the most interesting aspect of the original Twin Peaks narrative.
Because with the original Twin Peaks Lynch invented Event Television with its catch-phrases and water cooler moments. Here, in Twin Peaks: The Return, Lynch seems to be creating a new kind of viewing experience. A collaged melange of signal and noise. The seemingly disparate and as yet unconnected scenes and locations shot in a variety of styles feels like channel surfing as art and I’m happy to trust Lynch with control of my remote. Lynch is the master editor and director, always knowing just how long to stay on one channel, when to hold a shot, when to pause a piece of dialogue with almost Pinteresque persistence and when to abruptly cut away from a scene because he’s impatient to show us something else.
Ah, Evil Cooper, clarifying the ambiguous ending of the original series. No, Cooper has not been possessed by BOB but rather this is Cooper’s evil doppelganger. A Lynchian monster straight out of ‘Wild at Heart’ or ‘Blue Velvet’. McLachlan is playing Frank Booth by way of Sailor Ripley. On the run and in our world. He shoots his victims through the left eye (the window to the soul?) Recalling his expert marksmanship on the shooting range with Truman, Hawk and Andy in the original series.
Most disturbing is his repeated assertion that he “needs nothing, wants everything”. There’s a motive for a monster if you needed one. His only plan seems to be to avoid having to return to the Black Lodge where we know the good Cooper is trapped if he doesn’t. There is apparently some fairy tale changeling logic at play here.
The other narrative strand we’re invited to observe takes place in Buckhorn, South Dakota. A double murder/body swap scenario that just gets odder the more its inhabitants try to make sense of it. This may be emblematic of Lynch’s whole approach, warning us not to analyse too far. To be careful what we dig up (like Doctor Jacoby and his shovels). As well as bodies we are discovering/disinterring strange echoes of Lynch’s other works – Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, Wild at Heart.
The scenes back in the Red Room are extraordinarily effective and suitably disorienting but Lynch has never been that interested in special effects for their own sake. Always preferring the simple, practical solution to showing the unshowable over technically flashy state of the art CGI. Here the simple effects such as the wipes and fades, the oddly disturbing animatronic ‘Evolution of the Arm’ tree with a brain, the light behind Laura’s mask are deliberately utilized to remind us that we’re witnessing art. A painting not a photograph.
Later, in another example of voyeurism. We are invited to observe Sarah Palmer at home as she herself watches a particularly vicious and bloody scene from a nature program on her widescreen TV. I was reminded of a similar scene from the Nicholas Roeg Movie The Man Who Fell to Earth where Bowie, playing stranded Starman, Thomas Jerome Newton, attempts to make sense of human nature by watching simultaneous multiple TV screens showing film noir, pulp serials, soaps and nature documentaries. Is Lynch making a statement about the act of viewing itself? Are we watching the characters in this movie as they themselves are being observed and mirrored by those mysterious denizens of the Black Lodge? Just as the character of Sam at the beginning is tasked with watching the glass box in case anything should appear in it. Let’s not forget that Bowie also haunts this show as the missing Agent Phillip Jeffries from Fire Walk With Me.
Then, just when we are at our most disturbed by what we’ve witnessed we’re treated to a comforting scene. The rainy reflection of the fizzy red neon sign outside the ‘Bang Bang Bar’. We’re back on familiar territory. Inside we find lovely Shelly Johnson, played by the still beautiful Madchen Amick, hanging out with characters who are strangers to us but obviously familiar to her. She’s on a ladies’ night, doing shots with her girlfriends. Then in walks James Hurley and we’re treated to what, for me, was one of the best lines –
“James was always cool!”
This one line of meta-textual commentary delivered by Amick with such love, both for the show and for her fellow actor immediately dispelled 25 years of misplaced fan-hate. James Hurley’s character of blank rebellious biker forever trying to escape the confines of the small town was always deliberately postmodern and knowing. A cliché character from a different movie imprisoned in a TV soap, never having the self-awareness to become the James Dean or Marlon Brando his destiny demands he be (We see this trope explored further in the character of Wally Brando).
Then the house band ‘The Chromatics’ are playing a number that sounds dreamily both old and new. Summoning that Badalamenti/Julee Cruse vibe and finally we’re home.
Welcome to Twin Peaks.
Even though most modern TV owes a debt of at least liberated ideas if not tone and concept to the original Twin Peaks, the fact remains that Lynch here is just not interested in either pandering to the aficionados or giving the casual viewer an easy ride. He’s determined to essay exactly the narrative that he wants to tell; in precisely the way he wants to paint it.
I use the visual metaphor of paint deliberately. This is in many ways, like all Lynch’s work a collage of sound and vision. Once again, an appreciation of outsider art, sculpture and performance video installations will stand you in better stead in appreciating this new season of Twin Peaks than a life spent absorbing daytime soaps, Netflix mini-series or ‘high-concept’ Box-Sets. Not that all those tropes don’t figure in these episodes but they are used with deliberation. Not as pastiche but as colours, tones and shadows. The familiar and the unfamiliar, the cosily comforting and the viscerally disturbing rubbing along together like unwitting passengers on a mystery tour.
In the sequel/prequel movie Fire Walk With Me Donna asks Laura:
“Do you think that if you were falling in space… that you would slow down after a while, or go faster and faster?”
“Faster and faster. And for a long time, you wouldn’t feel anything. And then you’d burst into fire. Forever… And the angels wouldn’t help you. Because they’ve all gone away.”
Cooper struggles to re-enter the Real World from the timeless Black Lodge; falling through space and into a beautiful purple world inhabited by what may be angels. A blind woman who cannot communicate more than an urgency. The giant floating head of Major Garland Briggs who intones the phrase “Blue Rose”. Then another girl, played by the same actor who played the abused Ronnette Polaski way back in the season one pilot guides Cooper to swap bodies with the hapless Dougie. A construct we learn, created specifically to be a vessel for Cooper’s return but of course the actual physical dynamics of this remain wilfully obscure.
At the Silver Mustang Casino, Dougie/Cooper is dropped off by kindly hooker Jade, who gives him $5 to go inside and call for help. Guided by a vision of the Red Room among the slot machines he wins numerous jackpots, simultaneously creating yet another Twin Peaks catch-phrase: “Hellloooooo!”
At FBI headquarters in Philadelphia, Gordon Cole, Albert Rosenfield and Tamara Preston (soon to become the epistolary narrator of Mark Frost’s Secret History and Final Dossier) look over the evidence of the demonic deaths in the glass box warehouse in New York. Cole receives a phone call where he’s informed that Cooper’s in trouble. “We’re headed back to the black hills of South Dakota,” he tells Albert and Tamara.
We’re hit with a number of competing plot strands. Cole meets with David Duchovny’s transgender Denise who is now the Chief of Staff for the FBI. She gives Gordon the go-ahead to take his team to South Dakota. Cole sees a bundle of red roses on the seat next to him. Another code? Of course, but once again we may never learn their significance. Have you got it yet? Here’s a clue. Lynch’s clues are meanings in themselves they have no weight outside their own points of reference.
Yet there’s still a mystery at the centre of it all. Not ‘Whodunnit?’ not ‘Who Killed Laura Palmer’ not even ‘How’s Annie?’ – the chilling hypothetical we were left with at the end of season two. No, the mystery here is more existentialist. More ‘who are we and what are we doing here?’ and ultimately ‘What year is this?’ Don’t expect any simple answers. This isn’t Sherlock or Hannibal it’s closer to Doctor Who. The monsters are from the id. Conjured from the everyday minutia of ordinary lives. Haunting rooms and chasing us down corridors, causing us to doubt our ability to construct our own narrative from the clues provided. Thus we feel as helpless as poor Dougie/Cooper/Mr Jackpots. Nothing makes sense but we’re winning somehow in the ‘Best worst day of our lives’.
Welcome to Twin Peaks.
Twin Peaks. Twins. The double, the doppelganger, dual identities are an obvious theme throughout. The overbearing double mountains that gave the town its name seem to dictate this from the start.
In the end, I suppose inevitably, it would always have been about that ‘Welcome to Twin Peaks’ sign. It’s side of the road, comfortingly naïve-art, double mountain painting welcoming us home while simultaneously subtitled with the town’s population total – 51,201. Which, in the very first scene of the original series, we learn has been violently reduced by one.
To visit the world of Twin Peaks, to drive down that road, is to momentarily add yourself to that total. 51,202. If you add up those numbers you get 10. Which as David Lynch as Gordon Cole reminds us via a message from his agent Dale Cooper is the number of completion. In Tarot the major arcana card ten is known as The Wheel of Fortune. The title of episode one of this final season was ‘The Stars Turn’.
Adding 1 and zero produces 1; which in Tarot is the number of the Magician.
Through the darkness of futures past, the magician longs to see.
One chants out between two worlds…
“Fire Walk With Me”
In most iterations of the deck the Magician is depicted with the symbol for infinity above his head, a figure 8 turned on its side. This image is also presented to Cooper in the Lodge by Phillip Jefferies (played by David Bowie as a teapot); created by morphing the now familiar glyph of the double mountains on the mysterious ring, it’s stylized depiction also suggesting an owl, who, as we know, are not what they seem.
There are always two worlds in Lynch’s work (arguably more). The world of quirky, unpredictable reality and the world of myth and dreams.
Lynch/Cole recounts a ‘Monica Bellucci dream’ where Monica Bellucci states that we are in a dream and then asks “Who is the dreamer?” Monica Bellucci, a real person, an actress, appearing to Cole, an imaginary person played by an actor in a dream within a flash-back scene creates delicious postmodern and magical worlds within worlds in itself but I think also provides the clue to the identity of ‘the dreamer’.
Is it Audrey Horne? Ever the temptress. Teasing us with her coma dream world that encompasses a reality of guest bands playing at the twin-named venue the Roadhouse/Bang Bang Bar while simultaneously allowing us to eavesdrop on conversations about characters we do not know and never meet. Are these people and their soap opera stories in some way ‘realer’ than the characters who inhabit the worlds of Twin Peaks? Are they visitors chatting in the hospital while Audrey overhears them through her dream?
Is the Dreamer Laura Palmer herself, is it Diane the Tulpa or the original? Is it Cooper or Dougie or Mr C or David Lynch?
Is it the beautiful, ethereal, not quite of this world Candie with her spiritual sisters Mandie and Sandie? The three muses of the Silver Mustang Casino. Mythical usherettes of the liminal space between the silver screen and us the audience. The cocktail waitress Three Fates, serving finger sandwiches while a battle between good and evil is fought.
Is it Judy or Joudy. The entity of immense evil that has invaded our world through dreams? Is it Judy? As in Garland, as in the Wizard of OZ. Not Dorothy Gale but Judy Garland herself echoed in Major GARLAND Briggs. How much does that scene of Cooper bidding farewell to everyone in the Sherriff’s station recall the waking from a dream denouement of The Wizard of OZ.
“You were there and you were there and you and you!”
“But that’s a horse of a different colour”
“There’s no place Like Home”
Which brings us back to the theme of coming home. Twin Peaks: The Return as the title of this eighteen-part movie has it. They say you can never go back. But what do ‘they’ know? Who are ‘they’ anyway? David Lynch gives us some clues and enough imagery and material to create our own story and its own ending.
Twin Peaks has always had the underlying sense of a fairy tale. Its plot through-line is dream-logic and its narrative is that of a mythical quest. To save the princess, to wake her from magical slumber, to slay the dragon. Except now there appear to be many princesses and princes in various states of slumber and many dragons to fight. As well as many iterations of the same character, doppelgangers, evolutions, tulpas, agents and gangsters, doctors and lawmen and magicians. It’s a confusing world now made of many narratives. Homages to movies and literature abound. It’d be easy to get lost in these woods, to forget who you are.
To forget, to meet oneself on the road, to be buried alive, to experience something that should not be there or not see something that should, are standard examples within Freud’s definition of the uncanny. He wrote a long essay about it. Twin Peaks: The Return fills the narrative with these tropes without ever feeling it necessary to tie them neatly up or pay them off, knowing that to do so would devalue their currency.
To return in that way, to buy into the crass, cliché, Hollywood, Joseph Campbell ‘hero’s journey’ writers’ workshop way of telling a story is just not Lynch’s style. He is the definition of the auteur. The artist who, to quote himself, attempts to make ‘paintings that move’. Which is why for most if not all of this ‘return’ our protagonist is rendered by turns impotent, evil, or just different. He is Dougie, Mr C, Coop, Richard and probably more. Kyle MacLachlan gives the performance of a lifetime for his mentor Lynch, as does Laura Dern. As the redhead Diane, she asks at one point “Is it you?” MacLachlan answers “Yes. Is it you?” there’s a pause before she answers in the affirmative but by this point we’re not sure.
So, ultimately, we’re given Cooper not as Hero or even Anti-Hero but as a tragic figure. It is not Cooper who kills Mr C, the doppelganger techno-warlock but Lucy the technophobe. It is not Cooper who defeats the demon Bob but Green-Glove Freddie, a minor comedy super-hero introduced as a deliberately bathetic deus ex machina. It seems Cooper was the wrong kind of hero for this story all along.
Cooper/Richard loses Diane/Linda after performing some sex-magic ritual, presumably to close the portal to the Lodges. Cauterising the psychic wound with passionate fire he finds himself with a ‘Dear John’ letter alone in a world that seems somehow more mundane than the Twin Peaks universe. Duller, scaled down. Even more so than Deer Meadow in Fire Walk With Me.
In Judy’s Diner, facing off against the cowboys he is still ‘FBI’ but not with the style we’ve come to know. Agent Cooper loses his agency. In the final third of episode 18 where he tragically gains and loses Laura, attempting to literally pull her out of the flashback movie of twenty five years ago, he looks back and like Orpheus rescuing Eurydice from the Underworld he lets her slip from his grip. It seems you can take the forest out of the girl but you can’t take the girl out of the forest. It’s as though Cooper, for the sin of attempting to ‘save’ Laura and perhaps for forgiving Leland, is paying penance like the Arthurian knight he always aspired to. No coincidence that the Waiting Room is accessed via ‘Glastonbury Grove’ and Dougie and his family live in ‘Lancelot Court’.
Speaking of Dougie and Janey E we are at least given a small ‘happy ending’ with his homecoming. We MUST believe they at least will live happily ever after. As will Norma and Big Ed and (in my version) Shelly and Bobby.
Finally, in Odessa (Odyssey?) this muted Cooper, announcing himself as simply ‘FBI’ not even ‘Special Agent Dale Cooper’ finds Carrie Page who may or may not be Laura or an aspect of her. Driving her back to Twin Peaks through night-time lost highways that recall the liminal spaces more associated with Evil Mr C they rock up outside the Palmer house. Now owned by a Mrs Tremond who bought it from a Mrs Chalfont. Names that will send chills up the spines of die-hard Peakies but leave casual viewers (if any are still watching) a little puzzled. Chalfont and Tremond are names used by Lodge denizens of a particularly sinister aspect manifesting usually as an old lady and her magician nephew.
We end on a question posed by Cooper, articulating a line of enquiry not addressed since the original series’ timeless glamour was established – “What year is this?”
Laura lets out a chilling scream and after a blackout we are back in the familiar red and black waiting room as she whispers something terrible to Cooper. The secret of Twin Peaks one imagines. We’ll never know.
“This is the water and this is the well.
Drink full and descend.
The Horse is the white of the eyes and dark within.
Through the darkness of futures past, the magician longs to see.
One chants out between two worlds…
Fire Walk With Me”