I was hooked, I remember vividly, to Twin Peaks from its first ever episode. As Twin Peaks: The Return is about to reach its midseason point (at next week’s part 9), I find myself far from being hooked.
This is personal. As was the relation the legendary and groundbreaking original series built (for life) with its viewers/fans/cult followers. It drew us in by an – anything but farfetched – tragic event: the recovery of the body of Laura Palmer, a beautiful, promising young adult. Her strange demise stirred the secrets, lies and dysfunctionalities of her close-knit community and attracted oddball but endearing FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) to her small, rural town.
Immediately we cared for Twin Peaks population. Either because we were wide-eyed, rebellious, and more or less troubled youth, much like Laura, or any of her friends and schoolmates. Or as we were “responsible” adults/parents struggling to cope with both our life choices and our dues to the younger, demanding generation. Thus, the people Laura left behind became our people, their pains and tribulations, our pains and tribulations. And as they were gradually sucked into the uncanny, the Other place, the Black Lodge, so were we.
This was always David Lynch’s genius: to lure us in his bizarre, mysterious, irrational and often nightmarish universes via unexpectedly, yet effortlessly relatable characters. We instinctively saw ourselves in the mirror of the glorious imperfections, desires, plights and dreams of Blue Velvet’s Dorothy and Jeffrey, of Wild At Heart’s Sailor and Lula, of Mulholland Drive’s Betty/Diane and Rita, and, yes, of Twin Peaks’ Dale, Laura, Shelly, Harry, Dona, Audrey and James (to name just a few). Along with them we partook in all the weird, which consequently became familiar. Intimate.
Akin to all of Lynch’s work (even to his rare… straight stories) Twin Peaks existed on unsettled borders, the in between… Reality and unreality. Realism and surrealism. Natural and supernatural. Consciousness and sub-consciousness. Sweet dream and nightmare. Hope and fear. (Greek) Tragedy and soap opera. Crime drama and fantasy thriller. Comedy and melodrama. Rom com and horror! Motion pictures and video art. Linear was only the course of their perception. They were first received emotionally, by the heart and then rationally by the mind, ultimately expanding both. Being experienced, rather than simply watched.
This is not the case with the… über hyped Return. From the initial moments of its first episode the uncanny is front and centre with scarcely any relatable character in sight. Instead we are faced with a mysterious glass box, a gruesome killing of a love-making couple in front of it, Special Agent Cooper still trapped in the Black Lodge, his vicious, inhabited by Bob doppelgänger still out and about among us, a horrific, mysterious murder in South Dakota, and only some sporadic glimpses of the people we know and love.
As the two parts opener ends at the bar where Shelly (Mädchen Amick) and her friends discuss the realities of their adult everyday life over drinks however, and soon after “good” Cooper seems to find his way out of the Other place, expectations bloom and the heart drums. Is the Return about to become real? Alas, no. Due to “bad” Cooper’s nefarious (and quite disgusting) plots, “good” Cooper is not fully back. He returns far from Twin Peaks, as – a suddenly slim – Dougie Jones, a (former) cheater husband, absentee father and useless both as an employee and a small time crook, who currently walks around helpless as an infant, constantly spaced out and virtually mute.
Simultaneously the forays back to Twin Peaks are rare, fleeting and far between. Worse, when they do occur, little of substance is disclosed of what happened to our people in the last 25 years. Sure, Tommy “Hawk” is still the deputy Sheriff, Benjamin (Richard Beymer) still runs the hotel and argues with his brother, Margaret (Catherine E. Coulson) still listens to and relays messages from her log, Shelly still works at Norma’s (Peggy Lipton) diner and Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) remains the goofy receptionist of the Sheriff’s office. But how and why? And beyond these persisting norms, what? In the place of answers we get a couple of hasty introductions to the latter two’s offspring: Becky (as a somewhat younger version of Lula, tripping in her desperately immature and irresponsible boyfriend’s convertible) and Wally (as a – meant to be – hilarious homage to Marlon Brandon’s The Wild One), incarnated by Amanda Seyfried and Michael Cera, respectively.
To the above, more or less blink and you missed them… celebrity sightings add those of Naomi Watts (as Dougie’s wife), Ashley Judd (as Benjamin’s secretary), Laura Dern (as one of Special Agent Cooper’s former partners) Jenifer Jason Lee (as one of “bad” Cooper’s minions), Harry Dean Stanton (as Carl, who witnesses a freak automobile accident and the subsequent ascendance of a little boy’s soul to heaven), James Belushi (as a casino executive) and Richard Chamberlein (as David Duchovny’s FBI Chief Denise Bryson)! Who are all these people apart from their well-known performers (so infatuated with their director that they will do even… nothing for him)? And why should we care? … Silencio.
This Return commits all the sins the quite lamented 2nd season of the original series committed, and then some. It “babbles” its story on throughout doubled in numbers episodes than its initial conception (the first ever season was 8, while the current one was first announced as a 9 parts one). It introduces an array of new characters and plot-lines that come off minimum relevant to and end up annoyingly distracting from its core story and heroes. It deliberately forgoes its precious balance on the borders, abruptly veering towards the one or the other direction – usually the extremely bizarre. Case in point the mostly abstract, black & white latest episode 8, which nevertheless seemed as a wacky explanation of Bob’s and Laura Palmer’s origins! And whereas 25 years ago we had our beloved people to carry us through and keep us hooked, now we are afforded no such comfort.
Hence the course of our perception is disrupted. Our emotion lies dormant. And without it logic cannot accept the uncanny. So it stays unfamiliar and alien. Void, inane and pretentious. Not an experience, just a conceited visual brain-teaser.
What is left to say? Kudos to Showtime for giving David Lynch and his co-creator Mark Frost free rein to experiment with the conventions of the TV procedural drama. Kudos also to Lynch himself for writing, directing and producing the whole series, while also staring as the always oddly charming FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole. Kudos lastly to the passionate fan in me that even now hopes beyond hope that the next 9 parts of this Return will be more of the series I know and love. Thus far however, this is not my town. These are not my people. This is not my weird. And sure as hell this is not my Dale Cooper.