“Twin Peaks: The Return,” Showtime’s revival of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s beloved cult television series “Twin Peaks,” captivated audiences this summer just as the original did in 1990, albeit accompanied by a heightened sense of confusion. The show came to a close on September 3 with episodes 17 and 18 tying up a few loose ends, but not without Lynch pulling the curtain for fans to ponder on unresolved mysteries. For better or worse, “The Return” follows the trend set forth by its preceding seasons by placing Dale Cooper (Kyle Maclachlan) in yet another uncertain situation. In typical Lynch fashion, what you see is what you get — he’s not saying a single thing about the fate of certain characters or the meaning behind key scenes, leaving fans to pick up the pieces and build their own understanding.
As everyone’s favorite log-bearing weirdo once said, “the stars turn and a time presents itself.” The town of Twin Peaks, WA has changed plenty in 25 years, as have the lives of the people who lived there. 18 episodes — roughly equating to 18 hours of screentime — sounds like a long time (it really is), but in “The Return,” time moves slowly, or, in some cases, not at all. Four episodes might substantially move the main plot forward by days, yet only give certain side characters an hour to begin and end their storylines. Stages are set slowly and steadily — a constant phenomenon — to beautiful, disturbing and shocking effect. This comes with the nature of Lynch being given free reign to create “The Return” as he wanted it, without abiding by the same rules that governed him and Frost during the original series’ run on ABC. “The Return” is still “Twin Peaks,” yet it has more “Inland Empire” in its DNA than it does its namesake show. It’s a different, stronger brew of coffee.
Saying Lynch isn’t everybody’s idea of a good time is like pointing out the summer heat. By this point, you either know he’s your guy or he isn’t. There’s more unadulterated Lynch surrealism on display in these 18 hours for the camp that appreciate his unconventional style of filmmaking. “Twin Peaks” changed the face of television long ago, paving the way for the likes of “The Walking Dead” and “Breaking Bad,” among other cinematic series; neither extended feature film nor conventional cinematic television series, “The Return” accomplishes what its predecessors had two decades ago by creating a hybrid between television, film and a collective dream state with fresh storytelling language potent in its discussion factor. More than ever before, Lynch weaves dreams into this narrative and (more importantly) the experience of unfolding the series’ mysteries, engaging with and perplexing all who tune in. Plot is an integral part of any visual storytelling medium and it’s the lifeline of a narrative series, yet atmosphere and immediate impact take precedence more than ever before.
The creative direction of “The Return” may come across as abrasive for viewers still desperately clutching to the bittersweet flavors of nostalgia as “The Return” distances itself from its warm, welcoming past; in the stead of quaint folky living where “a yellow light still means slow down and not speed up” and the characters we’ve grown to love who are never unseen for longer than an episode or two, is an uncertainty in the fates of key characters’ lives. On the whole, evil seems to eclipse the forces of good — Angelo Badalamenti’s dreamy, often sultry score is pushed aside for Lynch’s own sound design, which is comprised of menacing vibrations, atmospheric hums and industrial whirs to set the show’s dark mood.
In lieu of constant appearances from town crybaby James Hurley or waitress heartthrob extraordinaire Shelly Johnson or monopoly man incarnate Benjamin Horne, “The Return’s” soap opera-inspired roots veer its series mainstays to the side, welcoming fresh new faces, sometimes related to the locals of old. Cooper, who finds himself stuck in Las Vegas as one Dougie Jones, and his voyage back to his former mind and body opens the story to some noteworthy new characters. Lynch regular Naomi Watts (naturally) joins the Twin Peaks universe as Dougie’s wife, Janey-E Jones and her performance shifts from comically hammy in service of Lynch’s bizarre sense of humor and emotionally vulnerable, somehow. Also involved are the Mitchum brothers Bradley (Jim Belushi) and Rodney (Robert Knepper), shady owners of the casino where the recently invalid Dougie (Coop? Dougie? You know what I mean) came home with a near half million dollars. They’re a bit rough on the edges, but they slowly warm up, becoming a fun pair with some charming chemistry when on camera. I don’t understand the deal with their cocktail waitress companions, but it’s one of those weird facets of characters that can only exist in this type of story that is difficult to not accept, embrace and laugh confusedly at how goofy their interactions are.
This isn’t to say that every new character has nearly as satisfying an impact, however; though some new Twin Peaks locals are introduced in breathtakingly dreamy sequences — as is the case of the chaotic husband-and-wife Becky (Amanda Seyfried) and her cocaine-addicted husband Steven (Caleb Landry Jones) — their stories are cut short in the least of satisfying ways. Seeing Harry Dean Stanton as the understatedly sweet owner of the New Fat Trout Trailer Park, Carl Rodd, and his interactions with the two felt much more substantial than where their stories lead them by the end. Hell, despite his brief appearances throughout the series, Stanton blessed every episode he was in, making his passing on September 15 all the more heartbreaking. Other negligible plotlines start and end in ways as violent as they start, as with Richard Horne (Eamon Farren), where the only appropriate response to their resolution is a disappointed “that’s it?” Lynch’s world building of the Twin Peaks universe feels uniformly organic, surely, and personal gripes may deal with subjective differences on style over substance or how substantial one-dimensional slice-of-life narratives can be in a series with so strong a main storyline, yet there’s an undeniable flaccidity to some of these characters’ stories.
In spite of these side plot disagreements, the main cast and their endeavors never fail to challenge expectations and exude awe. Legendary cinematographer Peter Deming aids Lynch in capturing the most wonderful dreams and the most beautiful human moments. The image of Monica Bellucci (as herself) visiting Gordon Cole (Lynch himself) in a dream is one etched into my mind, as is the image of lifelong lovers separated by a lifetime of complications finally being given the opportunity to join as one. The show’s color grading falls much flatter by comparison to the original, yet it proves just how strong the core visuals and storytelling are without the need of 35mm film.
the stars turn and a time presents itself.
In the words of the late David Bowie as the enigmatic FBI agent Phillip Jeffries, “I’m not gonna talk about Judy, in fact we’re not gonna talk about Judy at all, we’re gonna keep her out of it.” By Judy, of course, I refer to the controversial ending that shuts down any quixotic predictions that wrap the series up in a nice little box. Is this the end of the “Twin Peaks” series as we know it? Potentially, as a continuation could happen in the next four years, unless Lynch decides to pull ideas from his active imagination and transmute them into something else. Either way the pendulum swings is a plus; more Lynch is never a bad thing. But assuming this is, it’s a fair ending. Painful, but fair. The 18 hours to reach Laura Palmer’s (Sheryl Lee) curtain-pulling scream was both cryptic and alienating yet engaging, the best type of puzzle-piecing. Magic and fate took the series to where it wound up and if this is the end, then surely it’s meant to be. It’s just going to take a lifetime to ponder. It’s unclear what the future of the series holds, but it will be surely finds its ways to places both wonderful and strange.