TV Recap: Twin Peaks: The Return, Part 1 and Part 2
“Is it future, or is it past?”
A man sits alone in a secret room, staring at a window in a box. He drinks coffee, and he stares, and he does nothing else. Cameras record the box endlessly, other eyes watching what he’s watching, but he can’t look away. Then, eventually, after keeping this vigil for untold months, maybe years, he lets his guard down. And that’s when something happens in the box, and breaks the box. It escapes its confines, and it tears the man's face off. In this moment, I can relate to this guy.
This column is ostensibly supposed to be a “recap” of the new season of Twin Peaks. That’s what media websites do with the event television of the day, right? We run a post the next morning summarizing the plot points of the week’s episode in case you missed it. Frankly, I can’t imagine an exercise more futile than doing that with the two hours I just watched (okay, I obviously watched the other two hours that went online afterwards as well, but we’re not going to talk about those just yet). When Showtime president David Nevins described the revival as “pure uncut David Lynch”, he was not wrong. When Lynch himself insisted that it would not take the form of episodes, but of “a feature film in eighteen parts”, he was being completely honest. What that means is that this opening sample defies summary, analysis, or theorizing. All I can do is react.
It’s been thirty months since David Lynch and Mark Frost confirmed that Twin Peaks was returning after twenty-five years. I don’t need to tell you what that announcement and the subsequent wait have meant to those of us devoted to the show—there are a lot of us and we’ve been talking non-stop lately. I’ve been adamant about having no particular expectations for the show. I wanted Lynch and Frost to take full creative control, and I suspected this meant that the project would more closely resemble a blend of Fire Walk With Me, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire than the original two seasons of the show. In these two points, I got exactly what I wanted and expected.
The man watching the window in the box is just one element introduced in these first two hours that feels tantalizingly close to being related to the goings-on in the titular town, even if you can’t yet put your finger on how or guess why. Meanwhile, there’s a grisly murder in which a head and body have been switched, around which swirls a set-up, multiple affairs, and a spirit in a prison. Into this shadowy web strides the doppelganger of Dale Cooper, the man we last saw twenty-six years ago in the final terrifying moments of Twin Peaks Season Two, the man with Bob inside him. He’s due back in the Black Lodge, but he doesn’t want to go. For reasons not yet clear, he’s trying to reach Phillip Jeffries (Bowie may be gone, but it’s clear his spirit will hover over Twin Peaks in a major way).
The real Cooper is still in the Red Room, and things there aren’t any less surreal than they were before. The one-armed Mike is with him, while the entity we’ve known as The Man From Another Place has “evolved” into an electric tree with a fleshy fetus head (hopefully you see now why I don’t want to bother with a straightforward recap). Laura Palmer appears, and they have the same discussion they had in their living dreams, but with new cryptic comments about what it means to be alive or dead, and, most importantly, an invitation to “go out now”. The Tree From Another Place tells Dale that the doppelganger must come back in before he can leave, but the tree’s own doppelganger then appears and seemingly tears the Red Room apart, banishing Dale into…somewhere. Look, I’m not recapping this, okay?
Meanwhile, Lynch and Frost offer only the briefest of glimpses at the lives of our old favorite Twin Peaks citizens. Ben is still running the Great Northern, while Washington’s legalization of recreational marijuana has opened new entrepreneurial avenues for Jerry. Sarah Palmer is watching documentaries about animals devouring each other. Shelly is fretting over drinks with friends about her daughter dating the wrong guy. Dr. Jacoby is doing something with shovels. The plot, such as it is, clicks into motion when the Log Lady calls Deputy Chief Hawk with a message from the log: something is missing, and it has to do with Dale Cooper. Hawk gathers Andy and Lucy, happily married all these years later and beguiled as ever, and enlists their help in opening the dusty files on the murder of Laura Palmer.
I’m going to guess a lot of old school Twin Peaks fans will be very turned off by this two-hour premiere and how little time it spends with the characters who mean so much to us. But what Lynch and Frost sow with these teases is a tension, a desire to get to what we can feel for certain is just around the corner. Everything from the performances to the compositions is thick with this longing to dig deeper into mysteries both new and old. Line deliveries are deliberately paced, and everything we want to see is obscured, but only enough to keep us reaching. Lynch’s standoff with Showtime over the number of hours budgeted, that near-calamity of two full years ago, feels completely justified. The story still has sixteen more hours to reveal itself, and the slowness is exquisite.
I stayed off my phone almost entirely for the whole day of the debut. I didn’t want to engage with the discourse, I didn’t want to get even the mildest of spoilers from anyone who saw Friday’s premiere screening in L.A. I let these first new Lynch moments wash over me with the lights down, the sound up, and no distractions. It’s been nigh impossible to disconnect with the news lately, to step away from the constant drip of social media into my veins. I can’t describe how incredible it felt to give myself over to David Lynch’s visions for a while, to have nothing on my mind but wondering who we’d see next, puzzling over the chronology of what was happening, delighting in the surprises, feeling the mystery. I got chills when I saw the Giant again. I giggled with glee as Andy and Lucy resumed their lovestruck antics. I cried when I saw a cancer-stricken Margaret, knowing her precious few scenes were shot just before Catherine E. Coulson passed away nearly two years ago. In fact, my single favorite thing about this opening chapter might be that even though Catherine has left us, Margaret got to deliver one last message from the log, a message that just might save Dale Cooper’s soul.
Oh, and James? James is still cool. He’s always been cool.
Andrew is co-hosting “Don’t Zap the Geek”, a podcast about the Twin Peaks revival, with JoJo Seames and Christa Lee. Follow them on Twitter at @AndrewIhla, @JoJoSeames, and @OhPoorPup to catch their in-depth discussions each week.