This article contains spoilers for episodes 1 to 6 of Twin Peaks Season 3
Spoilers. Turn back all ye who fear spoilers.
So, I thought it was high time I put my two pence worth in about the beginning of Showtime’s Twin Peaks: The Return. There’s been so much on social media about it and I’ve had to duck and dive to avoid spoilers as I’ve gone along, even though the temptation has been almost overwhelming.
Yesterday, I saw some posts on Facebook groups that prompted me to chip in to the debate. Usually, I’d hang back and defer as I’m not a fan of confrontation but something made me stand up. Now I’m going to stand up again and give a full accounting of my opinions. Let’s preface this by saying that these are opinions. Like something else, everyone has them, as Clint Eastwood put it so succinctly in The Dead Pool.
Let me set the scene. Twin Peaks is my favourite television show of all time. Rightly or wrongly, I consider myself an expert. If I were to go on Mastermind, it would be my specialist subject. It’s been a part of my life since I watched the original two seasons as a 14 year old. I’ve already talked about that here so I’ll not tell the story again. I’ve read all the books from Brad Dukes’ brilliant Reflections to Laura Palmer’s diary to collections of critical essays on the show. I’ve been to the Twin Peaks UK Festival, I’ve been on a pilgrimage to visit the filming locations in Snoqualmie, North Bend and on Bainbridge Island. I’ve met Kyle Maclachlan, Sheryl Lee, Ian Buchanan, Chris Mulkey and Dana Ashbrook and they’re lovely people
I’ve been to the Great Northern. I’m an expert. You may disagree with what I’m about to say. I have to inform you, however, that there’s a fair to good chance that you’d be wrong to. I’m normally so placid on the Internet, too.
I should also say that I am a fan and follower of David Lynch’s work in general. I wrote a piece for Taste of Cinema here that you might have read. I’ve seen his short films and read lots of books about him and his work too. That’s not to say that I’m a sycophant who follows the company line and likes everything ‘because it’s Lynch’. I watched Eraserhead years ago and, honestly, I couldn’t make heads nor tails of it. I think I gave up about two thirds of the way through. I was left a little cold by Lost Highway and I found Inland Empire agonising at times. I’ve warmed up to Lost Highway a lot in the last few years whilst my appreciation for Wild At Heart has waned a little. I am deeply regretting selling my copy of Inland Empire on ebay for £1 as, based on what I have seen so far of Twin Peaks: The Return, I really want to revisit it. Part of what I didn’t like about Inland Empire was the lack of connection I had with the characters. I found it difficult to find a hook that would drag me in.
Writing my article for Taste of Cinema, I was forced to go back to Eraserhead. It was with trepidation that I stuck the DVD in the machine. How could I call myself a David Lynch fan if I didn’t like this? I sat, rapt for the entire running time of the film, overjoyed at how I was responding to it. Maybe it has something to do with my age. I’m a bit older now and I think I ‘get’ things a bit more than when I first watched it. Not only that but I’m now a father. The core subject of Eraserhead, in my mind, is adjusting to parenthood. The film had a profound effect on me second time around and I marvelled at the way it was put together. I think seeing this again was just the preparation needed for watching the new season of Twin Peaks.
So, going back a couple of years, it was with great excitement that I learned that there was going to be a third season of Twin Peaks. The chance to return to this place after so long was so exciting, coming as it did with the promise that Lynch was going to have sole directorial control and that he and Mark Frost had carte blanche to do what they wanted. I found myself wondering what would come of it. I wanted it to be just like it was in the past. I wanted to see all the old faces again and sink comfortably back into the story.
Then, I saw what happened with The X-Files when they brought that back. I’m going to upset a few people here but I thought the revival was a real disappointment. I can’t remember a single plotline or standout episode. The things that do stand out are for all the wrong reasons, most notably the cringe-worthy comedy episode shoehorned into the middle. It came and went and left nothing but a bad taste in my mouth. It also alerted me to the possibility that the revival of Twin Peaks was going to go the same way. In trying to revisit old territory, all that would be revealed was the fact that television and the world has moved on so far in the decades since Twin Peaks was first on. Nevertheless, the involvement of Lynch and Frost buoyed me and gave me cause for optimism.
The time finally came a round and I dragged myself out of bed at 4.45am on May 22nd to watch the premiere, freshly recorded off Sky Atlantic. At this point, I’ve written nearly a thousand words and not actually given any idea as to what I think of the new season. Let me nail my colours to the mast: I LOVE IT!
That’s not to say it didn’t take some getting used to. We’re not in Kansas (or Washington) anymore, that’s for sure. The visuals, the soundtrack, the narrative structure: all of these things are different to what fans of the original show are used to. They are all different to what we were expecting. Did I have some reservations whilst watching the premiere? Absolutely. This doesn’t feel the same. I want cherry pie and coffee and all that stuff. You know what, though. I just had to stop myself and say, “This isn’t about you and your expectations. This is about what’s in front of you right this second.” The world has moved on. What were people’s expectations when the show first aired 27 years ago? They were expecting more of the same old comfortable stuff that network television had been pumping out forever. In my mind, only Lost has ever come close to recreating the anticipation that flows from week to week.
Most shows didn’t even have story arcs back then, let alone confusing red herrings and mysteries. Television was designed so that you could check in from week to week, miss episodes and everything would be the same. Just look at a classic show from the late 60s, Star Trek. This was one of the best shows around and yet there we (or you, I wasn’t born) were at the end of each episode, pressing the reset button. Everybody back to their starting positions with no development, ready to start the next story like a day in The Truman Show. That’s what made Twin Peaks so special in the first place. It was different. You needed to see everything; you needed to look at nuances and remember things from 8 episodes ago if you were to have any chance of keeping up. God help you if you missed an episode. Look at what television has become since then; the whole industry has fallen into step and become a behemoth that it never was before. People laughed at television actors; television was the death of an actor’s career. It was largely a dumping ground. The Twin Peaks team lined up some huge talent: Piper Laurie, Richard Beymer, Peggy Lipton, Michael Ontkean and Kyle Maclachlan among many others with a host of bright new faces and turned television into something desirable. Over the years since, it has become THE place to work. Movie stars are clambering over each other to get TV deals. This was all new back then.
So, what did we expect this time around? A soft re-treading of the same familiar ground? A nostalgia trip so that everyone could get together again and have a few laughs and make a bit of money? A careful homage with nothing new? Did we really even entertain the idea that this was what was likely?
As the premiere moved on, I started to settle in to the new style and feel of the show. This felt more like Mulholland Drive than Twin Peaks. That’s the crazy thing. People are complaining, (the same people who complain about season 2 because Lynch didn’t have enough input) that the new show is too much like David Lynch’s other work. Helloo-ooo-ooo. I don’t like this: it’s too much like Mulholland Drive. (Translation: I don’t like this; it’s too much like one of the greatest films of the 21st Century so far). It doesn’t make sense. This is David Lynch and Mark Frost doing what they’ve always dreamed of doing. Telling their story with no creative interference from the networks who came close to ruining the show completely the first time around. It doesn’t matter that there’s a bunch of suits in an office who want it all sewn up nicely so it can be put in a nice little box. They’re not going to get their way because Lynch and Frost kept creative control. If only all projects could be like that. I mean, by that way of thinking, Pulp Fiction nearly got thrown out before it was even made because John Travolta is killed off about a third of the way through. They hated the idea. We could be living in a world without Pulp Fiction because some committee were nervous about it.
Creative control and the work of auteurs is what is so hard to see on TV at the minute. there are some great achievements but they are swamped in a glut of box sets that are being churned out at an alarming rate. Why is this happening? Well it worked for one; let’s just do lots of the same. The market is saturated and it’s hard to tell the wheat from the chaff sometimes. But here we are. Lots of people out there wanted ‘comfortable’. Comfortable this isn’t!
What is happening here is in direct contrast to the way TV has gone in the past couple of years. No-one wants to ait until next week to see what’s going to happen. People want all of it now! They want to binge watch. People are getting so frustrated over the lengthy lead in to events. Even though so much has happened in these first few episodes, people are up in arms because it’s all happening so slow. Dougie is seriously getting on people’s wick. It reminds me of that Simpsons episode where they have a machine that can deep-fry a buffalo in 30 seconds. “I want it now,” moans Homer. People want to see Cooper again; they want to see him swigging coffee and marvelling at trees and chickadees. Well, I’m sorry but these people have to question exactly how happy they’d be if that’s what they had been given. Cooper’s been stuck in some netherworld ‘hell’ for over 25 years. How long it feels to him is unknown. In his mind it could have been a week or it could have been a thousand years. He’s been damaged. To have that all wrapped up neatly in a couple of episodes would be the biggest con of all. That’s what happens in the most shallow of narratives. There have also been criticisms of the writing and editing. Again, the dialogue in the show was never akin to what we would see in other TV shows or in the real world. There was always a unique style and that is no different in The Return. As for the editing, a host of armchair experts are piping up and saying that it could and should have been condensed down into nine episodes. Yeah, OK. you know that Das Boot. Why don’t we get the scissors out and chop that up into a nice hour and a half. It would be a nice, tight little story about some dudes on a submarine. Sorry. you do that and you get U-571. You don’t end up with the fatigue and claustrophobia of Das Boot.
We have to treat what has happened to Coop and where he’s been all this time as an experience that has some actual gravity and consequence. Not only that, but we don’t know how much of him is actually there. How much of Cooper’s psyche is being carried around by his doppelganger? It reminds me of the old Star Trek episode, The Enemy Within where Kirk gets split in two. Maybe Dougie Coop has all the nice stuff and Bob Coop has all the drive and the ruthless streak required by an investigator. That said, Dougie Coop is displaying all the traits of his former self in his work for the Insurance Liability Company. The old instincts are there, slowly and wonderfully being reawakened. But for people to cry out that they’re sick of it and it’s moving too slowly and everything else just stinks of the worst kind of impatience. Imagine the feeling after all this when Cooper finally returns to himself. that’s the title of the show for goodness’ sake: The Return. Is it possible that this is what it’s all about: the journey of Cooper to regain his former self. The truth is that not one of us knows where this is all going. Maybe Dougie is all a dream. But, instead of accepting the story and waiting to see how it turns out, people are leaving savage reviews on IMDb and other sites bemoaning the show and saying that it has ‘ruined Twin peaks’ for them. Some reviewers actually go so far as to say that they have been personally ‘insulted’ by Lynch and Frost. I’m sorry but this show does not exist to pander to your expectations; it exists to challenge them. The latest article I read said that fans are ‘furious that Audrey Horne hasn’t yet made an appearance. She’s in the cast list, people. She’ll turn up when it’s her time.
This new season is, as one reviewer put it, a gift to us. When I saw the credits come up on the last episode all those years ago, I was so deflated. That was it! I was doomed to wonder forever what happened to Cooper after his encounter in the Black Lodge. Over the years I began to accept it as just being the greatest cliffhanger of all time. However, to be given a chance to dive back into this strange world where nothing is as it seems is something we never thought we would get. We can’t think it is up to us to define how it should be. that was never a power we had in the past and it isn’t a power I’d want to have. I want to be surprised.
For me, I love The Return. Finally, I am back to the place where I am clinging on from week to week waiting to see what is coming next. I am waiting to see if and how things all fit together. Like I said before, only Lost has come close to this feeling in the intervening years. The anticipation from episode to episode is palpable.
Kyle Maclachlan is playing his multiple roles fantastically well and is being supported by old and new faces who are all adding mystery and intrigue to proceedings. As Bob Coop he has provided us with a couple of genuinely chilling moments (the phone call and the interview have genuinely had my skin crawling)
and as Dougie Coop he has given us real warmth and tragic confusion in the moments with Sonny Jim.
So, in conclusion, the new series is compelling and frustrating in the most glorious way. there are so many questions and so many ways to interpret everything. Thank you David Lynch and Mark Frost and everyone involved for creating at (in the first six episodes at least) a glorious return to the world that I’ve missed so much. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out. I want it all just as it comes: Dougie, Mr Strawberry, Ike “The Spike”, We’re gonna get the black mould, Frank!!! All of it. I want that Richard Horne to get what’s coming to him, I want Cooper back, I want to see Audrey. I want to see more of Shelly and Bobby and know what happened with them. I want to see big Ed. You know what, though: I can wait. I want to wait because that’s what makes payoffs worthwhile. Otherwise, hey, why not just tell us who Keyser Soze is at the start of the movie. Then we’d have it straight, right? Why wait three films for Frodo to make it to Mount Doom? He could just catch an eagle there and be there in half an hour, right? While we’re on the subject, wouldn’t it have been better if we’d known that Bruce Willis was dead all along? or if we started Psycho with a shot of Norman Bates’ dead mother! This is what a mystery is people. Enjoy it. Fix your hearts or die.
I’m not a sycophant, I don’t say these things ‘because it’s Lynch. If it didn’t have the same greatness, I wouldn’t be bothering. I’ve got a full-time job, a toddler and an ‘editor’ at Taste of Cinema bugging me for more ideas; believe me I have other things to occupy my time!
My only hope, the one thing I would dearly love, is a cameo from Harry. The possibility lives on. I thought they were going to write it so that doppelganger Coop had killed him. To hear that he’s just sick made me well up. I have a warm feeling in my heart that they managed to drag him out of Hawaii for a two minute cameo. that would be lovely. seriously, there might be tears.
Thanks for reading,
Also, I’d like to give a shout out to Matt Chorney and Scott Meaney. You can find their brilliant ‘Fish in the Percolator’ podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and YouTube and it’s well worth a listen. Their view of the show is irreverent and hilarious and it’s been one of the most entertaining things about my cycle to work over the past few weeks. And I’m with you, the whole “Clean Place, Reasonably priced” thing on the back of the key is a bit clunky, unless the whole Dougie thing is a dream inside Cooper’s head.
Wow, 3200 words. That was a rant, wasn’t it?