Laura promised Cooper he’d be back in 25 years. And somehow, she made good on the promise. Twin Peaks is back, and in full form.
At the same time, this isn’t quite the Twin Peaks you remember – and it can’t be.
Twin Peaks began as a simple mystery: Who killed Laura Palmer? We got the answer to that part-way through the show’s second season. We’re not going to meet these characters again, and pulling them in for another mystery would be a disappointing farce. The very beginning and end of Twin Peaks both hinted at a wider world, and that’s what Twin Peaks: The Return seems to be all about.
Prepare for possible spoilers for Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: The Return within. And some stuff that barely makes sense.
In the version of reality in which Twin Peaks resides, there are two worlds. The first is the real world. The second is the world where the Lodges reside, another dimension with its own kind of logic, its own flow of time. There’s a tissue-thin barrier between the two, and that’s where Twin Peaks is. It straddles the two worlds, and they bleed together on the show. Characters like Dale Cooper and Deputy Chief Hawk are some of the few denizens of the world we live in that know that other world exists, let alone are able to begin to enter it.
Twin Peaks: The Return, so far, is about exploring these worlds. Exploring the bleed of the other world, which we’ll call the Black Lodge for now, though that term may end up being too narrow to explain it, and all the places it takes Cooper in the first few episodes. The show is somewhat less about that weird town, Twin Peaks, and the people who live in it, though that’s still definitely part of the story. In the intervening 25 years since the original series’ finale, Cooper’s Doppleganger, who escaped the Black Lodge and trapped Cooper himself inside, has been free to act as he pleases. It seems like, maybe, this has allowed the Black Lodge itself to expand its influence. That takes us to other cities – New York, Las Vegas, and Buckhorn, South Dakota.
This gives us the space and new characters necessary to explore some of the show’s concepts further and to see them from the point of view of some new characters. And, perhaps even better, to really go full bore into David Lynch’s very particular style of storytelling and filmmaking. It seems clear from the outset that Showtime gave him a budget and then turned around and looked away. This is Peak Lynch, you guys. This is Eraserhead weird. This is Blue Velvet weird.
David Lynch is a master of dream logic
It’s hard to make sense of Twin Peaks: The Return, but that’s not because it’s nonsense. There’s meaning in places, and some that will clearly come later as more details are revealed. But a lot of what Lynch presents us with isn’t about telling the story or getting things done – it’s about feeling. And this is where Lynch does things that no director before or since has done on television quite the way he does.
The actors and script are crucial to Twin Peaks, but the lighting, camerawork, and set design in this show stand out in ways they don’t in other shows.
Spaces are always too big or too small. One man inside a vast empty warehouse, sitting and calmly staring. A Faceless Old Woman sits alone in a classic Lynch setting – a small, poorly-lit room with dark walls that seem to suck any light sources right back into them.
Even in mundane spaces, though, Lynch finds ways to push us out of our comfort zone as viewers. A still shot of an empty chair that lingers just a bit too long. A trailing or leading shot of a character entering a room, letting us see them, but not what they’re seeing, building tension to that reveal and stringing it just long enough that it works, but never too long.
Cheap effects have a huge effect
The effects Lynch uses would feel more at home back in the 1990s when he made the original series and the Twin Peaks movie, Fire Walk With Me, but they somehow work here, too. They look so weird and unnatural that they feel downright otherworldly.There’s no attempt to blend them in – that would defeat the purpose.
A man seemingly of black ash with wide, terrified eyes, sits in a prison cell in one scene, still as stone. And then, he disintegrates and his head, still wide-eyed, floats toward the top of the screen. We don’t know who this could be, why it happened, or what it means yet. But it increases the sense that the other world is bleeding through in places, and that it’s often just outside our periphery. That’s something we can latch onto in our personal lives. We can only be in so many places at once. While I’m getting ready for bed at night, anything could be happening in the boiler room in the ground floor of my apartment building. I can guess that it’s probably a lot of nothing. But the seed Lynch plants there makes me want to think that might not be true.
Meanwhile, there are definitely hooks for Twin Peaks fans to latch onto. Lucy and Andy are still as weird as ever. The Log Lady and Agent Rosenfield – played by Catherine Coulson and Miguel Ferrer, both of whom have recently passed away – are the stodgily helpful characters they’ve always been. I will mention here that Michael Cera’s cameo was one of the low points of the first four episodes. Michael Cera is plenty weird on his own, and I don’t feel like it quite meshes with Lynch’s style. But it’s just a couple minutes out of four hours.
What we have so far in Twin Peaks: The Return‘s opening hours is a show that is uncompromisingly David Lynch. Unlike with the original series, Lynch’s vision informs the entire series. We don’t know yet what we’re in for. But if these four episodes are any indication, it’s going to be a weird tour of his brain that only he can take us on, and to a depth he’s never quite been able to go before.