What story is that, Charlie?
It’s been a while since I published Part One of this article. For many reasons. Partly because writing the first part was a cathartic experience, laying to rest much of my discontent, because even though they didn’t make it into Part One much of what I intend to cover in this part was running through my mind as I wrote it. Also, I wondered if time away from the Summer of Peaks would change my view, once it had all coalesced in my mind. I haven’t rewatched any of Season Three since, or the ‘Limited event Series’, or whatever we’re supposed to be calling it now. I’m waiting for the Blu-ray to rewatch the series in it’s entirety, in lieu of getting a HD download like a civilised person. In what antiquated world do blu-rays still take precedence over downloading high definition digital files? Are we animals? I have a 300mbps internet connection and I still have to buy shiny plastic discs to watch things?
So, things have faded somewhat in my mind, and the urgency of my dissatisfaction has likewise faded. Perhaps when I watch the Blu-ray (Oh the humanity!) everything will finally fall into place and I will join the horde who find no wrong with Mr Lynch’s latest output. It’s always possible and you’ll certainly be the first to know. Except my cat. I tell him everything.
Looking back at my list of complaints though, it all comes flooding back. As I have said before, there were many things to love about Season 3, but others have spoken of that, at great length. The songs have been sung of the genius of the man. We’re here to get a little dirty, to whisper behind his back, to question his vision – perhaps even to say we don’t like certain things about it. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, we’re here for blasphemy, and I invite you to join me.
It’s ok to disagree with me though. We’re all different people, and others having a different opinion of something is normal and expected. Although in the world of Lynch it seems that people can get a little hot under the collar when you question Lynch the great and powerful. We’ll get into that a little later, but to save some time for those who will undoubtedly feel the urge to fill the comments section with things such as “Maybe it was just too dark for you”. Just…don’t. I am many things, but put off by darkness is not something that can be levelled at me. I welcome darkness. I am entirely made of dark. When I speak, all that comes out is little clouds of darkness. My point is that it’s not that I don’t ‘get’ Season 3. I get it. I am happy to watch the most bizarre, surreal, post-modern weirdness out there. As I’ve said, I like the works of Lynch. I liked Season 3. I have criticisms that’s all. I don’t think it’s perfect, and I think it could have been more. I’ve explored some of those reasons in Part One, and why it also may relate to my close personal relationship with the original show.
In this Part we’re going to look at everyones’ favourite bumbling idiot savant Dougie, the mysterious case of the flailing plot lines, ask what the hell was the point of Audrey, take a look at the return of Coop, explain the finale, and ponder why fans are just so weirdly defensive of criticism of Lynch’s work. That bit about the finale may be a lie.
“Someone manufactured you”.
The Dougie Show.
“I thought the show got out to a great start but quickly it became obvious that they were only going to develop and expound upon one storyline; the cooper/dougie thing.”
– Brian Bollman of the Twin Peaks Revival podcast
Possibly the most divisive element of Season Three was Dougie Jones. Or rather, Coop inhabiting the body of Dougie Jones, who we were led to understand was a tulpa created by Mr C that would be sent back to the Lodge in his stead when Cooper left, because Cooper couldn’t leave without his doppelgänger coming back in. The logistics of this swap-a-roo are a little sketchy given that Dougie is a apparently a tulpa made by Mr C and not Cooper’s doppelgänger, which makes the magic of the Lodge seem, well a bit dumb that it can be fooled that easily. Details details. These are not things we worry too much about in Season Three. It’s all about the grand vision! I shouldn’t be thinking about whether the plot works. That’s focusing on the wrong bit of the donut.
Indeed, let’s put this somewhat dodgy premise aside, because that isn’t really what bothered people. I didn’t have a problem with Dougie per se; it seemed an interesting way to keep Mr C in the world, and prevent Season Three turning into a Coop vs Coop cop show. Mr C was clearly someone we wanted to see more of. Dougie Jones, seemed mildly entertaining — in part three anyway — and then in Part Four we begin to realise this isn’t necessarily going to be a brief interlude, and wonder where they’re going to go with this character. The answer it turned out, was nowhere in particular. We’re just going to follow Dougie in his shuffling adventures with occasional interludes of following Lodgian will-o-the-wisps which we hope will be leading Dougie somewhere relevant.
What I began to have a problem with, and which got worse as the season went on, was the amount of screen time devoted to following Dougie bumbling around, when elsewhere there seemed to be an opportunity for focusing on far more interesting characters, both old and new. A common criticism of critics of Dougie was that people were just wanting Agent Cooper back. Maybe that was true for some, but I wasn’t too bothered about the return of Cooper; I just didn’t need that much Dougie either unless it was important to the development of the story. It turned out that it really wasn’t.
Vikram Murthi in Vulture1 takes the line that “Lynch and Frost have created the single most compelling character of The Return by refusing to provide the audience with what they ostensibly crave. Dougie-Coop represents Twin Peaks at its best — an unpredictable vision that challenges and provokes its audience rather than appeases them.”
Interesting point, but I didn’t crave Agent Cooper and it didn’t really provoke me so much as wonder why it was in front of my eyeballs for so much time.
Mark of the Formica Table podcast thought Part 8 was the high point in the series and that things improved later in the season with more focus on individual story strands and characters, even though much of it turned out to go nowhere, but “by that time, Dougie Jones had established himself as the Jar Jar Binks of TP and the damage done to the series was irreparable.”
There are and were champions of Dougie however, and to avoid the impression that I just sat through the Dougie scenes permanently scowling, there were moments of extreme beauty, namely the end of Part 5 where Dougie just stands staring at the statue fondling its shoes. I credit this more to Lynch’s direction, the cinematography, and the music more than any relevance to Dougie as a character though. This is a mood that is created very simply, and early in the Dougie storyline. My contention is that the Dougie story works fine in itself, but that its goals didn’t require that much screen time, and had no real relevance to the last two episodes. It was disconnected to everything else, and completely discarded once we reached the two-part final act. Does it matter that it kind of stands alone though in a season that clearly has no interest in following traditional storytelling methods?
Chiming in on the unnecessary amount of time devoted to Dougie is Tori Preston in Pajiba.2 “Episode 12 checked in on him. For 30 seconds. With no dialogue. The blessedly short scene was a marvel of storytelling economy. Dougie’s son, Sonny Jim, leads his “father” out to the backyard to play catch. He throws the ball, and it hits Coop-as-Dougie, who doesn’t even attempt to catch it. That’s it. That’s the whole scene. And it tells us everything we need to know. Coop is still Dougie-ing around in the other man’s life and can’t catch a ball.”
Joel Bocko3 has no such qualms about Dougie. “I am beginning to think if anything gives The Return equal footing with the previously existing high points of Twin Peaks, it’s the Dougie storyline. It works splendidly on its own terms, while contributing to our understanding of Cooper in a highly unique and original way (possibly suggesting an ideal path under the sly guise of a detour?). I love the idea that the bumbling fool everyone kept waiting to turn into the ‘real Coop; may actually hold the heart of The Return.”
As I said at the outset, this seems a highly divisive story line, but I find myself siding with Aidan of the Bickering Peaks podcast (as I often do!) in my ambivalence towards Dougie. As he put it: “There’s little about Dougie or his wacky adventures that keeps me pondering the way the ending, the mythological world-building, and the unexplained mysteries in the series, all do.”
The word from the Facebook frontlines seemed to more focused on getting good ole Coop back though. Christian Hartleben, one of the administrators of the Twin Peaks 2017 and Twin Peaks Logposting groups says that one of the most common complaints was “Too much Dougie, not enough Coop.” Another admin of the Twin Peaks 2017 group (and staff member here at 25YL), Laura Stewart, concurs that a big issue for many fans was “How long it took for Coop to awaken from his Dougie persona.” She continues: “When he did it was worth the wait for the ‘I am the FBI’ line alone. However fans were quickly disappointed again when the Coop we know and love seemed to disappear almost as soon as he arrived.”
I can’t help thinking that the amount of time dedicated to the Dougie character would have felt more worth it if there had been some connection between the storyline and the return of Coop, but there wasn’t. He shuffled around, accidentally solved an insurance scam, accidentally revived a marriage on the rocks by having rock hard abs, (that’s all it takes apparently) and then stuck a fork in a socket and Coop returned. We’ll come to that later, but making us try to invest in a character who then just disappears when you’re ready to finish up the season seems a little weak, especially in a show with so many characters that were terminally deprived of development or screen-time.
“Have you ever studied your hand?”
“I couldn’t shake the feeling that with half the number of ‘parts’ and half the (vast) number of periphery characters we’d have an infinitely more engaging, more focussed and more satisfying overall experience.”
– Mark Walker, Formica Table podcast
Season Three was initially intended to be nine episodes. Lynch decided he needed more, had a bit of an auteur fit and held Showtime to ransom to ensure his artistic vision got the money he needed to tell the story the way he needed to tell it. Twin Peaks fans rejoiced. Another nine hours of intricately woven story and weirdness. Not so much. The actual plot seemed to remain around the nine-hour mark, and the rest was filled up with random bits of characters lives, people we have never seen before and never see again, the beginnings of stories that go nowhere, and actual stories that seem to be going somewhere but then fizzle out. As the series progressed, we see more and more of the town of Twin Peaks, but in small largely unconnected bursts. There is no real story going on here, and where we feel like there may be a story, it dwindles, then dies on the vine. Aidan Hailes feels that “…they contributed nothing to the actual plots of the series itself, and they never engaged with the world that Cooper finds himself in at the end…There are too many scenes that just are, without any of the connections that could have strengthened the impact of that final hour.”
For me, the first four episodes seemed far more absorbing despite lacking much of a connection to the town. Where there was plot that didn’t develop further in the series, such as the glass box scenes, it was laying a mysterious background for us to think about. in reality much of what occurred in season three had no real purpose or connection to the finale. We spend an inordinate amount of time following Dougie Jones’s adventures in insurance, only for Cooper to wake up and immediately bugger off to Twin Peaks. Nothing of what occurred to Cooper as Dougie was of any importance. Likewise Mr C. who roams around for the entire series shooting people in the eye, looking for co-ordinates, arm-wrestling, and then when he does find the co-ordinates gets locked up in a cage by the Fireman, then wanders into the Sheriffs station and gets shot by Lucy. These are the characters we’ve followed all season? Why?
Then we have the numerous escapades in the town of Twin Peaks. Some characters get a lot of time, and a semblance of plot, like Richard, Becky, Shelley, Ben Horne and Beverley, but this time spent with them feels somewhat wasted when their stories go nowhere and contribute nothing to the conclusion. What was the point of Richard? Why should we care about Becky? What happened to Red? Why do we get to follow Beverley home to see a glimpse of her home life and then there be no further development at all? Was there a point to Doctor Jacoby’s rantings other than as a shoebox for Mr Frost to vent a little about the state of the world? What happened with Hawk in the woods? What the devil was the point of Jerry’s wilderness survival trek? Then we have the Roadhouse scenes where people we don’t know talk about other people we don’t know for absolutely no purpose? There is a case to be made for having scenes simply to create atmosphere and mood, slices of life, but to take this approach for the majority of your characters and screen time seems to detract from the mood and the absorption of the viewer.
Polls conducted at dugpa.com4 of fans highlight some interesting things. The poll conducted after the finale differs significantly from polls taken at intervals during the series. People who said they liked or loved the series was between 80-85% in the polls for 1-4, 1-9 and 1-16 but as a whole this figure was down to 65%. Perhaps this can be put down to dissatisfaction with the finale, but possibly it can be ascribed to people expecting some of these plotlines to have a resolution, or a mention at all.
In many ways it feels as if Lynch is simply filling in his extra time with characters and scenes, and there isn’t an additional nine hours of script to cover the additional nine hours of screen time he won. The townsfolk of Twin Peaks seem a lot like the rabbits in Inland Empire. Interludes to the actual action going on, and yet somehow less interesting, because at least the rabbits were disturbing, and felt as if they symbolised something. Looking back at the events in the town in Season Three it’s hard to feel that they meant anything beyond some sentimental throwbacks to the original series, and some undeveloped character studies. I think, and hope that Lynch’s vision was something that he has talked about in the past, to look in on a never-ending story, to view these lives as an observer, without the usual exposition that we are treated to. I think this is a fine experiment, but don’t think it succeeds in a show that also has clear narrative threads and linear plot progression, albeit plot that ultimately dissipates in the face of the true quest, to try to save Laura. I think this is why Lynch films that challenge traditional plot work far better, because they are more focused on that goal, rather than a haphazard mishmash of traditional story and artistic vision. The original Lynch-directed Twin Peaks worked so well because Lynch’s imagery and mood was contained within a traditional story structure. It elevated it. Likewise in Lynch’s movies, the converse works – The story is subservient to the mood and vision. Movies like Mulholland Drive work because even if you don’t really know what is going on, you can let the vision unfold before you like a strange dream. Season Three of Twin Peaks doesn’t have that controlling focus and feels more disjointed as a result. There are too many characters to care about, too many scenes that don’t belong and too much time is spent developing plot, for no purpose.
“Isn’t it too dreamy”
One of the characters fans were anticipating the return of the most was the return of Audrey Horne. Every episode that went by brought with it more confusion from the masses. Where is Audrey? As the story progressed, it became apparent that a character like Audrey wouldn’t really fit into this new Twin Peaks world. What could they do with her? When she finally appeared in episode 12, the response was largely confusion. How did our Audrey transform into this angry shrew, and what is the purpose of this overlong rambling amateur dramatic conversation with Charlie, who for some reason seems inexplicably sleepy? Who is writing this script?
As Jen Chaney in Vulture5 puts it: “The Audrey–Charlie interaction goes on for ten minutes and 38 frustrating seconds. That’s nearly 20 percent of the running time of this week’s episode. Perhaps there’s an artistic reason why Lynch and his collaborator Mark Frost chose to drag the scene out in this way…Whatever the intent…it’s not enough to justify a scene that was awkwardly executed and lacks any sort of depth or context.”
The Twin Peaks internet went into convulsions trying to fit this into some grand scheme that would make sense. Audrey is in a coma. She’s in an asylum. She is trapped in the Black Lodge! Any of these could be true. Or none of them. After a few more similarly confounding chats with Charlie, focused on Tina and Billy and getting to the Roadhouse, we get the somewhat bizarre scene where Audrey reenacts her dance at the diner. This and James’ similar tribute to the charmingly bad ‘Just You’ seem to be saying something, but nobody knows what. As a fight breaks out, Audrey runs back to Charlie and we cut to her in a white room staring into a mirror. What does this mean? Again, no idea, but it is at least interesting, whereas the previous weeks scenes with Audrey have largely been quite hard going.
And, then nothing. Audrey’s story, such as it is seemingly exists outside the rest of the show. It is disconnected, in a way that seems a common trope in Season 3. The friendly yet dysfunctional town we knew and loved in the original show has become a sick, diseased and lonely place in Season Three. Not in an intriguing and disturbing way that we know Lynch is capable of creating, but in a somewhat desultory and offhand manner. Although, there are moments of dark genius, such as the angry woman in the car with a sick child that Bobby encounters. These are the confusing shards of surrealism from Lynch that really strike a chord, but are too few and far between in Season 3 when the comedic folksy stuff doesn’t work as well as it did in the original run.
“I am the FBI”
The Return of Cooper
Part 16 was where it all happened. On one hand, it was a pure joy to watch — so much was happening — and on the other hand, there was a sense of confusion over the pacing of this show. Some episodes drift by with nothing happening, while some are packed with plot even if they have no real import at the end of the day. Where is any semblance of consistency? Some may say that Lynch doesn’t conform to such requirements, but I would argue against that. His films show a remarkable understanding of pacing, timing and the balance of scenes. Even Inland Empire, which defies much normal analysis, has a heartbeat all its own, and drags you kicking and screaming into its confusing vision.
After watching Dougie faff around for 13 episodes, Cooper wakes up and instantly takes control. It’s telling that for all the Dougie love there was, it paled in comparison to the delight around the world when Coop woke up and slipped right back into the character we remember. We could interpret this as Lynch and Frost wanting to make the viewers wait for their rewards, to appreciate it all the more, but it just feels more like that they didn’t want to or maybe just Lynch didn’t want to do another “Cooper show”, but threw this episode in as fan service. After most of the season being relatively slow-paced, at episode 15 things suddenly launch into action as if everything in between has merely been passing the time. The incongruity is jarring, and the sense of excitement at things actually happening makes one wonder why we’ve been deprived of this breakneck plot and emotional drive the whole season since the first few episodes.
Also incongruous is Cooper’s assertive understanding of the situation. He seems entirely knowledgeable of the processes of tulpas and how Dougie was created, and what he needs to do, and yet when he arrives in Twin Peaks he seems somewhat of a spare wheel. Is he there simply to pick up Naido/Diane? He certainly has little to do with the defeat of Mr C and Bob. This is taken care of by Dick Van Dyke Jr and his magic Marvel glove, in possibly the most ridiculous scene of the show. Everything about episodes 16 and 17 just seems a little haphazard. From Richard’s death, to Cooper’s triumphant return and rush to Twin Peaks to confront Mr C, only to stand around in the background, it all seems rushed, out of context with the pacing of the show, and out of context with the rest of the show. The feeling is that the scripted plot was chopped up, rearranged and padded out in filming and editing, and the overall pacing suffered as a result.
[DEVICE CLANKS, OMINOUS HUMMING]
“The finale changed everything for me. I can’t remember any work of fiction, in any medium, affecting me like that.”
– Aidan Hailes, Bickering Peaks Podcast
I was surprised that the finale proved to be so disturbing to so many, because I didn’t have any problems with it beyond my issues with the whole series. It seemed odd to me that after watching the previous 16 episodes of The Return people would expect things to be resolved in anything approaching a satisfactory manner. Given Lynch’s developing approach to storytelling over the last twenty-five years one would almost expect him to do something that rips things apart. Of course this isn’t a two-hour movie but something that people have invested in for over 25 years. This is personal. It seems that many felt that the ending somehow robbed them of the story they felt was core to Twin Peaks, that it deleted everything. This may very well be Lynch’s intention, and in that respect it is kind of a genius move.
Matt Humphrey of the Twin Peaks Podcast thought “it was incredibly disrespectful to it’s own source material, effectively erasing it and at the same time not wrapping up any of the new characters we were introduced to this season. This made me wonder why they even bothered to show us these stories in the first place.”
Aidan Hailes took the finale pretty hard at first. “There was no clarity, not even about which parts — if any — of what I’d seen could be considered real. It was terrifying and terrible, and I honestly felt betrayed…then slowly, over a day or two, as my brain kept bringing me back to the finale, I started to see slivers of meaning and honesty in the ending…I started to see the ending for what it was: an ending befitting all the ambiguity and conflict we’d been exposed to all season.”
Fan reaction on the internet was divided. Laura Stewart says: “Part 17 brought such joy but it was quickly turned to confusion after part 18. Initially many people were devastated and left feeling a little hollow. Someone compared it to being kicked in the balls, others were lost for words.” Christian Hartleben says that few fans in the Facebook groups loved the ending without reservation or conflict, and many were deeply frustrated, angry and dismissive.
There was a huge stylistic division between Part 17 and Part 18, and one can only assume this was a deliberate decision by Frost and Lynch. Was it successful though? Brad Dukes, author of Reflections was unsure. “My gut reaction, is part 18 was way too obtuse and left a sour aftertaste. I like that lasting visual of Cooper and Carrie on the street, but I don’t know if I like the journey there.”
Part 17 seemed to pack half a seasons worth of plot into one episode, which would be my main criticism of it, and of the season as a whole. There was very little sense of rhythm to the season, and these final two episodes highlighted that. All the main antagonists and protagonists converged on the Sheriffs station for a showdown, but Mr C’s season-long journey was snuffed out remarkably easily by Lucy Moran of all people, and then we had the farcical boss battle featuring Freddie the dodgy cockney vs Bob the bouncing ball. For Mr C to be dispatched so easily when convenient was irksome enough, but for Bob to go out in this manner seems like Frost and Lynch were deliberately trying to destroy everything they’d done before, more so than Cooper saving Laura changing the timeline we know.
Yet, this is what seemed to trouble most people. When Cooper “saves” Laura and prevents her death this is viewed as somehow erasing everything we’ve seen before, which is a betrayal of us as viewers, that they are destroying the story. I don’t see it that way. It’s clear, to me at least, from what they’ve shown us before that time is not a constant in the world they have built, that reality is slippery, so while Cooper may have saved Laura and created a reality where she lived, this doesn’t negate the original reality. How these two realities co-exist, how people experience them, and the effects this may have on the town itself may well be one of the more interesting mysteries of the third season. There were many clues to a growing sickness in the town in this season, odd glitches in reality such as at the diner, and if there was any point to Jerry’s wanderings at all it may be to show us that you can still stumble into some pretty weird stuff when walking in those woods.
It’s interesting that where I found many things to criticise which others had no issue with, I had no real problems with the reality-altering ending, which many people struggled with, at least initially.
“Step inside. Let’s play the game.”
Criticism of criticism
I mostly enjoyed The Return, so I didn’t express my criticisms during the run because I wanted to see the whole thing before I judged it. I did join a few Facebook groups in the run-up to the new season and so was a witness to a lot of the discussion that went on during the season. Some of it was good-natured, some of it was intriguing, some of it was akin to open warfare. A pattern emerged whereby whenever anyone posted a criticism of the new season or an aspect of the new season that they disliked they would be turned on by their peers in a fashion that was sometimes shocking to behold. I’d always had an image of Twin Peaks fans as benevolent happy weirdos, probably overly fond of cats, and slightly awkward socially. That last part may well be true, but it was a surprise to see the level of vitriol that was often aimed at anyone who said anything less than overwhelmingly positive about The Return, no matter how constructive the criticism was. Laura Stewart puts it down to “a select crowd who are so passionate about it that any criticism means you’re not a ‘real fan’ or that ‘you don’t understand’ which is condescending to say the least.” It seems to be more common on Facebook for this kind of personal attacks on anyone with different views to you, but it certainly wasn’t restricted to that arena.
Aidan Hailes points to Lynch inspiring a certain kind of devotion: “I think there are hardcore fans of almost any series who refuse to accept criticism of their fandom, and Lynch seems to inspire a certain level of hero-worship in a small group of his fans as well because he is such a visionary director.”
For Matt Humphrey of Twin Peaks Podcast the reaction to his criticism has had a profound effect. “…the way people have reacted to me, and the way this season turned out it’s erased a lot of my warm feelings towards the show and the fandom. Twin Peaks used to feel like home… But now I want to get away from it for a while.”
Brian Bollman of the Twin Peaks Revival Podcast says of the reaction to criticism: “It’s been kind of sad…People seem to assume that criticism is coming from some sort of place of malice when rarely that’s the case. Being critical is an important part of engaging with a TV show in my opinion. Just because it’s Twin Peaks and Lynch doesn’t mean every second will be perfect.”
What is it about criticism of a show that inspires anger in someone? Is it that they feel threatened? If their opinion is based upon strong foundations why would you feel threatened by someone having a differing viewpoint? As Mark Walker of The Formica Table Podcast says “I understand the devotion to Twin Peaks but find the zealotry disturbing and quite at odds with Lynch’s own philosophies of love and goodness…Twin Peaks is art, a rare and beautiful thing in cinema and television – by one of America’s greatest living artists – but like religion, art isn’t beyond criticism.”
Perhaps it’s merely surprising in the context of the Twin Peaks community, which for so long was more of a support group than traditional fan communities. Nobody had any real hope that Lynch and Frost would return to Twin Peaks so everyone just made the best of it and celebrated what we had. The sudden influx of so much new material into a world we know so intimately is a seismic shift in the world of Twin Peaks fandom.
As it stands, it’s amazing to be where we are, and to have 18 new episodes of Lynch/Frost produced work to absorb and criticise and engage with. I’m looking forward to getting the Blu-ray, and to watch Season Three in a different way, in high resolution, and to nerd out over all the extras and documentaries. It’s possible my feelings and criticisms will change on my rewatch, as they did with Fire Walk With Me. There has been nothing else on TV this year that I’m interested in rewatching so soon, so maybe that tells you something.
Your remarks, counter-arguments, and frothing outrage are welcome in the comments section.
Many thanks to everyone who answered my questions and contributed their thoughts to these articles. I could only use a fraction of the answers you gave, so the full transcripts are available for anyone interested.