Time has no meaning in Twin Peaks, so the second part of this review concerns the whopping prospect of Parts Five to Eighteen. By the fifth instalment my initial shock at having the series back in the first place had worn off and I’d acclimatized to what I was watching. Most of what I witnessed will have me scratching the old noggin till my dying day but that’s alright – the show is above all a mystery. While David Lynch and Mark Frost were kind enough to throw some answers in our general direction, the overall impression was one of profound frustration. Just like getting to the end of the previous run in fact. That’s the way it’s always been and it made sense that’s what happened this time round.
The best way to analyze fourteen hours or so of Lynch-infused weirdness is to look at the broad sweep, so here goes. When initially announced, The Return was going to be nine episodes. After what appeared to be some behind the scenes wrangling, with the director leaving for a while following arguments over the budget, that number doubled. This creative bump in the road appears to have been responsible for the season’s main weakness: it’s padded heavier than a wall in a busy asylum.
Many of the new characters have arcs that go precisely nowhere, notably the “history repeating itself” narrative of Becky (Amanda Seyfried) and her abusive, drug-crazed beau Steven (Caleb Landry Jones). We’d watched Becky’s mother Shelley (Mädchen Amick) suffer at the hands of the infamous Leo Johnson in the previous century. Then when it was revealed Shelley’s former lover Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) was Becky’s father it seemed an intriguing plotline could be on the cards. Aside from histrionics, it transpired nothing much happened and Steven killed himself in the woods, as if to polish matters off in anticipation of the finale. Even Amick’s association with mystical gangster Red (Balthazar Getty) didn’t get more than a cursory mention. Still, at least we got the unexpected sight of Bobby being a trusted member of the Twin Peaks police force, a distinct contrast to the wayward young man we left in the Nineties. The Return’s juiciest subplot, that of Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) being stuck in a hallucinatory haze, ended abruptly with no further explanation, though in fairness this was the moment that best evoked the Peaks of old.
These seemingly random elements were what marked the third season apart from its predecessors. Whereas previously Twin Peaks was a conventional soap opera with an artisan approach, it’s since evolved into a Lynchian video installation. There appeared to be little of Frost’s personality in the mix (for that read his novel The Secret History of Twin Peaks). Yet despite this break from the established format, the creators expected viewers to remember things that happened twenty-five years ago. The resolution of the love triangle between Big Ed (Everett McGill), Norma (Peggy Lipton) and Nadine (Wendy Robie) had been a major part of the classic series. In this version we see Ed and Nadine separately and it’s never shown that they’re married until she walks up to him and announces he’s free to marry Norma. A great release for the fans but also a resolution with no build up, and surely one that would leave non-aficionados wondering what the fuss was about.
Lynch is also overly-preoccupied with sensation, inserting at least one thing a week to do with bodily fluids. The protracted appearances of Jay Aaseng’s drooling prisoner, who repeats everyone’s words back to them, was a prime example of this. A repetition of extremes, from vomiting to characters being subjected to cruel ordeals, became almost par for the course and these moments lost their impact as a result.
I mentioned in my previous piece how the mythology of the Black Lodge had been expanded upon in Season 3 and this is one area where the production truly soared. Frost and Lynch introduced the concept of “tulpas” with egg-like skin who took the place of human beings and in Part Eight gave us an atomic-powered look at how Killer Bob came to be and the conception of Laura Palmer to apparently counter this evil presence. The spectacle of this particular episode, which began with Evil Coop being revived by blackened lumberjacks and ended with an amphibious moth crawling into a little girl’s mouth was quite simply one of the most jaw-dropping episodes of TV in years. The writers cleverly gave fans what they wanted with one hand, while adding a whole other layer of ambiguity with the other.
Another aspect I welcomed was the focus on Kyle MacLachlan’s journey from one dimension to the next. Lynch amply provided his friend with not one but three roles to sink his teeth into and former pretty boy MacLachlan rose to the challenge. The “Dougie Jones” plot definitely filled the hours rather than being anything rewarding but Naomi Watts’ excellent performance as Janey-E made it worth the slog. Also introduced in this section were the Mitchum Brothers (Robert Knepper and Jim Belushi). I didn’t see the point in the bimbo-flanked crime bosses at first – the narrative was awash with the underworld anyway. But gradually I warmed to them and they took their place among the ranks of memorable Peaks personalities.
I was surprised that I didn’t refer to Angelo Badalamenti’s music in the first part of this review. However I realized it wasn’t an essential piece of the puzzle in the way it was before. Badalamenti provided a richly-textured muzak for the soap incarnation of the show. Here he scored a different beast. He had his moments, Part Eight being a standout in its mix of the ominous and divine. On the whole his work was overshadowed by the musical showcases at the Roadhouse, which were properly eclectic. Original singer Julee Cruise got short shrift but Chromatics best floated my boat with their electronic dreamscapes.
The finale annoyed me at first. Part Seventeen delivered a reasonably satisfying reunion between Cooper and the gang, by way of a Cockney wearing a gardening glove. Jake Wardle played that difficult role and while he gave it his all I couldn’t quite get my head around this plot device in human form. As for Part Eighteen, well when the credits rolled I felt cheated. Then I started thinking about what I’d seen. By the time I’d mulled it over I kind of loved it. Lynch directed an abstract retread of the Season Two denouement, only this time with our Special Agent being seriously displaced. The low key yet chilling final moments saw him and an alternate Laura trapped not only in another dimension but one not far removed from our own, and all the more dangerous for it.
Twin Peaks: The Return was simultaneously a non event and also the biggest event of the streaming generation. It disappointed and stirred in equal measure. Its audacious visuals and cerebral savagery will perhaps never be replicated. I’d love to have a Season Four, but if this is the last we see of the town I grew to love so much, then so be it. It’s a bonus I never anticipated and I thank Lynch and Frost for making the titanic effort to revisit this extraordinary terrain.
This article first appeared in Strange Skins Digital