The first time I watched Parts 1 & 2 I spent so much of the time weeping that I forget most of the plot details; my remembrance of the true nuts and bolts of these two hours comes from subsequent watches, for articles I wrote here on 25YL Site or in the notes I took for my analysis on the Bickering Peaks podcast. What I do remember is the stunning visual and auditory welcome home, as it were, that greeted us in the first few minutes of Part 1. The Return seemed to waste no time returning us to the deceptively bucolic Pacific Northwest setting, a place that we know all too well holds more peril than peace in its rain-dampened soil.
Of course, like much of what was to come (though we didn’t know it at the time), this “return” was short-lived. We saw the trees and the fog, the mill and the high school, the iconic photo of Laura Palmer leading us straight to the falls and then directly into a whirling Red Room like we’d never seen it before. Some have suggested that this intro — like the ones to come — indicates a descent into the Red Room at the start of each Part, diving over Snoqualmie-as-White Tail Falls and into the realm of the Lodges themselves. Certainly the earlier theory that the falls themselves represented some kind of gateway adds to this idea and gives each Part a curious colour in light of later theories. Is all of The Return taking place in some other dimension? Where does reality end and the dream-fantasy begin? What year is this?
But I digress.
I do remember the first black and white shot in the world inhabited by The Giant/The Fireman. The clarity of these scenes was a stark contrast to the up-scaled “high-def” visuals of the remastered episodes from the 2014 Blu-ray release; that was my very first thought. (My second thought, incidentally, was “Someone has just vacuumed that carpet.” Looking back, especially after seeing the same carpeting in Part 8, it’s easy to see that the floor could be a visual representation of the surface of Jupiter, a nice contrast to the lamp of Saturn on the table in the Red Room. But in that initial moment? The Giant had just busted out his Dyson. That’s my brain, folks; I don’t make the rules, I just live by them.)
Cooper and the Giant, mysteriously credited as ??????? for much of the first half of Season 3, share cryptic bon mots that put our brains in detective mode from the very start. “430”. “Richard and Linda.” “Two birds with one stone.” Are these clues? A warning? I can’t have been the only one to obsessively write these down in the margins of my notebook. And every time a 4, a 3, or a 0 showed up, or someone mentioned a Richard or a Linda — even though I knew this was Twin Peaks, the same show that had no qualms about multiple Mikes and Bobs in the original series — I sat up and took notice. I couldn’t help it. As much as I wanted to immerse myself in the general experience, some things demanded closer inspection from the very start.
At the very least, the Giant’s exhortation to “listen to the sounds” informed many people’s approach to the next 18 hours. The sound design, incidentally, was meticulous and spectacular throughout; it is well worth listening to those sounds again and again and again, as closely as you can, because there are still things to be discovered if you do in all those [intense/ethereal/ominous whooshing] moments.
“You are far away” the Giant tells Cooper before he phases out of sight, and that is certainly true for the rest of the next two hours. Sure, we spend some time in Twin Peaks — we check in with Dr. Jacoby and discover his bewildering fascination with gold shovels, we meet the Brothers Horne and catch up with the owner of the hotel (Ben), the owner of the weed farm (Jerry), and the semi-sexual exploits that they were both well known for, and we see Hawk and Margaret sharing some time together (albeit over the phone) — but we also spend a significant portion of Parts 1 and 2 very far away from Twin Peaks. The first of these far-flung locations is New York City, where we are introduced to Sam and Tracey and the mysterious glass box that Sam is supposed to watch, which Tracey is too curious about, and which Michael Bisping is supposed to be guarding.
The stark contrast between the warm earth tones of Twin Peaks 1990 and Twin Peaks 2017 is never more noticeable than it is in these cold, sharp scenes in New York. But it’s also plainly evident in the technologically advanced glass box, the cameras, the SD card storage system. We’re not in the land of rotary phones and typewriters.
New York gives us mysteries and murder most foul (and supernatural). So, too, does Buckhorn, South Dakota. I’ll never forget the feeling that Ruth Davenport was going to be important and that her death was a harbinger of the darkness awaiting us. It was clear that the body in her bed was not hers; it never occurred to me that it could have been Major Briggs’, at least not until Part 3 when we saw his head floating through space atop the Purple World room where Naido and American Girl are present. Watching it with the knowledge of later Parts definitely imbues the scene with a kind of sadness — for the lost Major Briggs and for the dearly departed Don S Davis — that is enhanced by the body horror while also somehow transcending it. Now, we grieve his loss and are repulsed by the grotesqueness all at once. These scenes are powerfully moving when rewatched, knowing where the story is going to lead.
We’re also introduced to a host of new characters in and around Buckhorn, people who come to play important roles in the rest of Season 3. Constance Talbot and Dave Macklay follow the case as the FBI and military investigations take over what they stumbled into (thanks to Marjorie and Armstrong), and we’ll catch up with and learn more about them in later Parts. For now, these are vignettes, mostly cut from broad swaths of central casting fabric, not yet imbued with the character and humanity that we come to know from them as the season progresses. But this is necessary for introductions — we can’t know everything all at once, as much as we’d like to — and while I can’t speak for everyone, my first impressions of the Buckhorn PD was that they were good people, doing good work, not quite bumbling (and definitely not malicious, in the way that the Deer Meadow sheriffs department was portrayed), and trying to figure out what has happened in their quiet town.
Ray Monroe, also, appears as a seemingly minor character; we know from future episodes and Mark Frost’s book The Final Dossier that there is more to Ray than meets the eye, and watching his machinations with these ideas in mind has proven to be exciting.
Bill Hastings becomes a central figure through his and Ruth’s professional and personal relationship and their investigations into The Zone in later episodes. Here, he’s merely a high school principal who seems to have committed murder most foul, although — this being Twin Peaks — his actual culpability is called into question straight away. Because…who is this dark figure in the prison cell next to him? Apart from being one of the scariest moments of this opening two-parter, it’s still a big question mark for me. This character — later known as a Woodsman — is largely a mystery until much later in the series, but even today it’s not known what exactly his purpose was in this scene. Is he watching over Bill? Is his purpose fulfilled now that Bill has been successfully framed for the murder of Ruth Davenport? I have several guesses, but nothing concrete.
My intrigue is still highest around Phyllis Hastings, and in this rewatch I found myself particularly drawn to the scene in Part 2 when she is murdered by Mr. C — “You follow human nature perfectly,” he tells her, before shooting her through the left eye, just like Ruth. I’m still not sure what this means. It’s one of the most fascinating mysteries of the early Parts, and I can’t wait to see where the theories about this go in the months and years to come.
Then there’s Mr. C, Agent Cooper’s doppelganger, given full form and weight as his own character in a brilliant performance by Kyle MacLachlan. It’s more than just long hair, a fake tan, and black contact lenses. Mr. C is cold, calculating; he shows an adeptness with technology that echoes Agent Cooper’s famed use of tape recorders and memo calculators; here, he’s using a briefcase computer (hellooo-ooo-ooo Windom Earle!) to communicate with Philip Jeffries, who — last we knew, and apparently as far as Mr. C still knows — is trapped in an interdimensional nowhere. But Mr. C has been double crossed; time is not on his side as he realizes that Jeffries, like the owls, may not be what he seems, which leads to another mystery: Who is on the other end of the magic dictaphone? And why does he want to be with BOB again? (I believe, and have believed for some time, that it’s Philip Gerard; I’d love to hear your theories.)
In any case, this evil Cooper incarnation famously doesn’t need anything. He wants. And what he wants are coordinates; to what, we don’t know yet, and even future episodes aren’t clear on what exactly they are supposed to lead to (or what he thinks they’ll lead to.) He will do anything to achieve these wants, especially now that he knows his plan may not be going exactly as planned. Not even 2 hours in and we see him murder Phyllis Hastings, an assistant named Jack, and his lover Darya. It’s not a stretch to assume that the body in the bed and Ruth Davenport are also the result of his handiwork. But we don’t need to see the trail of bodies in his wake to know that he’s a bad dude, and while I hate the idea of Agent Cooper’s evil double roaming free in the world, I’m as captivated as ever by MacLachlan in this role, almost as much as I was captivated by Agent Cooper.
Which brings us to Agent Cooper, whom we don’t see much of until Part 2, and even then it’s largely in the Red Room. Flashbacks show us how he got there; in these modern day scenes (maybe? Is it future or is it past?) we’re shown that his position in the room hasn’t changed. He’s aged, handsomely. He’s still our Special Agent. But is that Laura with him? Or is that Carrie Page, a character we haven’t met yet but who will be integral to many fans’ understanding of the plot and furious consternation come early September?
Another question that begs to be answered is: Just when exactly is this supposed to be taking place? This is yet another instance where knowledge of what’s to come changes the way we look at the scene. If you believe that Agent Cooper never left the Red Room or the Lodge at all, this scene could be now or in the past or sometime in the future, and it could be repeating itself over and over and over again. It is chilling, nonetheless, to see Laura/Carrie vacuumed out of the Red Room, to meet the Evolution of the Arm, and to have Philip Gerard (and yes, that’s how he’s credited — another curiosity!) leading Cooper through the rooms until he meets the Arm’s doppelganger and is sent hurtling through the floor. “Non-exist-tent” the doppelganger hisses. Is this where Cooper is sent — into the nonexistence? Or is this a sign of what Cooper is now — non-existent? If he is, in fact, non-existent, is this because of his machinations in the past, removing Laura from her original timeline and away from her death?
Is this future or is it past, indeed. It’s not such a throwaway question, is it?
I think the most poignant moments of these two hours are in the scenes that are set in Twin Peaks. Lucy at her desk, looking remarkably unchanged by the passage of time; stalwart Andy in the wood-panelled conference room; Shelly in the Roadhouse (yes, even with strangers, and yes, even though she thinks James has always been cool…); the warmth of the sun as it filters through the — what kind of fantastic trees, again? — oh right! The Douglas firs outside Dr. Jacoby’s trailer; even Ben and Jerry discussing the benefits of edibles and, hilariously, their mother’s crocheted hat even has the warm glow of nostalgia about it. But it should be no surprise that the scenes that got me (and most of us) were the ones with Hawk and Margaret. Margaret’s log has something to tell Hawk, something about missing items (Agent Cooper? the diary page? Laura Palmer herself?) and his heritage (the Nez Perce symbol on the bathroom stall door? The Indian head coin?). But most interestingly, to me at least, is what she tells him in Part 2. “The stars turn and a time presents itself” she says. It’s a spine-tingling pronouncement, coming from the seer of seers in this mystical corner of the world.
Something is happening, isn’t it Margaret?
Yes, indeed, and it feels pre-ordained. There is a plan. Hope rises. Hawk, the man Cooper always hoped would be the one they sent to find him, heads off into the woods, and indeed finds the circle of sycamores, the pool of oil. He sees the red curtains. I remember holding my breath in anticipation, thinking that Agent Cooper would step out from between these curtains after all. How naive I was; we all were. But is there more to this scene than meets the eye? When Cooper does enter Glastonbury Grove again in Part 18, it’s not Hawk he meets but Diane. Was he supposed to meet Hawk? Why doesn’t he?
Or does he? Is this happening at some future point in time after the events of Part 18 have run their course? Then again, some of us have wondered if, in Part 14, we were introduced to parallel worlds. If that’s true, is this scene happening in some alternate dimension? Is Hawk supposed to meet Cooper here, and because he doesn’t, is that a sign that Cooper was diverted somehow away from where he was supposed to end up?
I don’t have answers to these questions yet. I may never have answers to these questions. But what I do have is the excitement of knowing that there are still questions out there. And the thing that has struck me the most, not just with this rewatch but in the months since the series ended, is that this must have been what fans in 1991 felt like upon the cancellation of the original series. Frustration, yes; despondent, maybe. Curious? You bet.
I cannot stress this enough: Watching Part 1 and 2 — and, presumably, the rest of the series — with knowledge of what happens in the next 16 hours before the electrifying finale is a mesmerizing experience in a way I hadn’t anticipated. Of course I thought that The Return would give us ample space to debate and discuss the finer points of this newly-expanded Twin Peaks mythology for years to come, but I wasn’t expecting to still be surprised by new insights. I can’t think of any other show as rewarding to watch and rewatch as Twin Peaks (excepting perhaps Arrested Development, which has a very deliberate, winkingly meta quality built right into it and so doesn’t really have the same effect as this does) and I’m only 2 hours into this rewatch now…
But, yet again, I digress.
The idea that we were given a show that told us not to play with nostalgia while still somehow managing to tug at that nostalgia all the same, and that a quarter century later people are discussing and analysing and digging deeper and deeper into mysteries that may never be solved…well I don’t know about you but I feel like we as a community have won the lottery.