All season long it was as though Showtime’s Twin Peaks: The Return was something other than the Twin Peaks we knew in the 1990s. Yes, it starred some of the same old faces, but it felt like David Lynch could call the show something else, like Las Vegas or Looking for Dougie Jones. In any given specific episode, the majority of the drama didn’t actually take place in Twin Peaks, rather in Nevada and South Dakota. Many of the zany townspeople we loved from the original series seemed lucky to make cameos in each episode, and were dwarfed by brand new characters.
Until tonight at least in the penultimate episode Chapter 17 when we finally see Dale Cooper back as his old self, finally returning to Twin Peaks just as his evil doppelganger is shot by Lucy Brennan in the office of Sheriff Frank Truman (In episode 16, we see Cooper finally rising out of the body of the aloof body of Dougie Jones). A floating bubble of the evil Bob comes out of Cooper and engages in a fight with young prisoner Freddie (Jake Wardle), who punches Bob to smithereens as pieces of the spirit float to the sky.
But then in the final episode, chapter 18, everything goes sideways again. We’re pulled back into the purgatory we’ve been living with all summer long (this phantasm reality where spirits abound and doppelgangers exist), but now it’s the good version of Cooper in the middle world and he’s looking to bring Laura Palmer back to life. Can’t she just die? Soon after his evil spirit disappears, he bids adieu to the police department and his FBI associates and enters his old mystical hotel room, the Great Northern #315, in an effort to foil time, and bring Palmer back to life. For a minute, it appeared Cooper’s hard work paid off.
We’re flashbacked to a forest where Laura is having a fling with James Hurley. Cooper watches and soon enough connects with her, informing her that he’s taking her home to Twin Peaks. Suddenly, her death is erased, and we know this because in another flashback from the original 1990 pilot, we see her body is no longer dead, wrapped in plastic at the lake shore. Suddenly, during her walk with Cooper, Laura screams and then we’ve lost her all over again. This puts Cooper on a journey to Odessa, Texas to find Palmer. Prior to tracking her down, he makes a pit stop at a motel with his former assistant Diane (Laura Dern). She too had an evil twin just like Cooper’s, and she disappeared in Episode 16 after trying to kill Gordon (Lynch) and his FBI agents. Diane and Cooper make love, but he awakes and she’s gone the next morning. Cooper tracks down what looks like Palmer, but she says she’s Carrie Page and she can’t remember a thing about having any life in Twin Peaks.
Cooper believes she’s Palmer and talks her into returning to Twin Peaks. Good timing, since Carrie just shot a guy in the head. Cooper drives Palmer/Carrie straight up to her old house in Twin Peaks, but her mother isn’t living there. It’s a blonde woman by the name of Alison Tremont. Neither Laura or Carrie recognize each other; hence you can never go home again.
Laura then lets out a scream much like the one that made her disappear in the forest. The scene then cuts to the classic image of Cooper sitting in the Red Room with Palmer whispering in his ear. Fade to Black. So ends our 18 episode down Twin Peaks: The Return‘s lost highway. We’re as confused as when we started the journey, hence the gift of Lynch. As Deadline’s Senior Editor Dominic Patten said in his review at the start of the season, “WTF”.
Oh, and by the way, seems like Audrey Horne is still missing in the netherworld, a white room. That’s another cliffhanger. If you remember at the end of Episode 16, she flashed out of the Bang Bang Bar after doing her dance, just as a brawl ensued.
Twin Peaks: The Return was a wild ride, especially if you’re a Lynch fan. There are few crimes that Lynch, the modern day Eugene Ionesco can do, and it was great to see him back to his old hat, confusing us every week. Similar to any play by Ionesco, Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return was laugh out loud funny with its abrupt non-sequiturs; there’s just too many moments to count. After Dern’s Diane attempts to shoot Gordon’s FBI posse in a hotel, and then disappears, we open up in episode 17 with the agents casually drinking wine after the whole ordeal (“Here’s to the Bureau,” beams Gordon). In a previous episode, there’s a moment where Lynch’s Gordon is entertaining what seems to be a French call girl in his hotel room. Albert enters and informs Gordon, she needs to leave, and she hysterically takes forever to do so. It’s moments like that when Twin Peaks: The Return was ripe.
As Damon Lindelof said during the Twin Peaks panel at San Diego Comic-Con, “Without Twin Peaks, there would be no Sopranos, no X-Files, no True Detective, no Fargo, no Lost…”. Lynch truly laid the groundwork for great episodic ensemble drama as we know it. But to say that Lynch has done it again, and taken on peak TV and won is ridiculous. Twin Peaks season 3 didn’t break any rules or create any new standards. It just showed that episodic TV can be even more confusing than HBO’s Westworld. Furthermore, Lynch has practiced this absurdist schtick for his entire career, and if anything he’s overstayed his welcome in this Peyton Place-meets-noir sphere. We’ve driven down that long dark road several times this past season, and we’ve been there before in Lost Highway and Wild at Heart.
What was going on with Lynch here on Showtime was that he was working without a net. He had a broad canvas in which to paint sans network censors, sans commercial breaks. There was no network executive who was going to unplug his vision due to waning ratings. Lynch was finally allowed to be unhinged as he wanted in this streaming, binge watching, pay cable creative license era. However, the Twin Peaks we initially fell in love with 25 years ago was one born out of a yesteryear network TV model, one which demanded a structure so that audiences didn’t lose interest. In addition, Lynch’s characters on the original show were much more fleshed out; in The Return they were cutouts.
Despite the grand dramatis personae that Twin Peaks boasts, there was a lot of truth and sincerity to all the crazy town people in the ABC series. Small town kids do get bored, do illicit things, girls cheat on their boyfriends, and before you graduate high school, adolescence can unfortunately yield a casualty or two. Next to Heathers, Twin Peaks was a great mirror of the excess of spoiled 1980s teenagers. Rich lumber barons do rule the towns in which their mills reside. Coffee and pie were innocent comforts amidst the chaos. And that’s what was so wonderful and grounded about the original show: Twin Peaks was everyone’s hometown. That’s why the show was so popular initially before it went off the road in season 2.
However, with over 200-plus notable actors making cameos, Twin Peaks: The Return was more akin to The Matrix: Revolutions meets It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Next to the original series, the characters felt thin. Why employ the brilliant Jennifer Jason Leigh and Ashley Judd if you’re just going to use them as featured extras, respectively a bad girl assassin and Benjamin Horne’s secretary? Moments where Lynch tries to stoke fans by revisiting the original Twin Peaks’ crazy characters largely goes hollow: They’re all living mediocre, complicated lives, weighed down by whatever bad decisions they made decades ago. When we first see Audrey, she’s in a looped, nonsensical argument with her husband Charlie (it’s as though the two actors were improvising). There’s a scene toward the middle of the series where Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) and Shelly (Madchen Amick) are calming their reckless daughter Rebecca (Amanda Seyfried) down after her boyfriend goes awry. It’s clear Bobby is still in love with Shelly, but she’s grown far apart from him and her heart is with another man. Such is life, but it’s a storyline that goes nowhere and in the course of the action is sacrificed for the overplayed, zany Dougie/evil Dale Cooper hijinks.
Lynch knows how to write a multi-dimensional female roles (Sherilyn Fenn’s Audrey, Lara Flynn Boyle’s Donna), but in Return, all Naomi Watts’ Janey did was shriek while Kyle MacLachlan played Dougie Jones like Chance Gardener from Being There. Then there was Chrysta Bell’s Agent Tammy who looked so bored as an FBI agent she’d rather be walking down a Paris fashion runway then fight bad guys. Laura Dern’s Diane, the famed assistant of Cooper, was an odd duck, a fashionable, multi-colored fingernail, chain-smoking, up-tight person who had little patience for her ex-employer the FBI. Tonight, Lynch tried to deliver an extra flame for fans with an intense love scene between Cooper and Diane; Dern and MacLachlan are something of a Hepburn and Bogart in the Lynch-verse having originally broke out as love birds in Blue Velvet. But Cooper and Diane have zero chemistry here. He’s the kind of guy who likes to save damsels in distress (25 years later he’s still trying to rescue Laura Palmer!), and Diane isn’t one who needs to be saved. She wants to be left alone.
But there’s something to be said about boundaries. What? Fence Mr. Lynch in? Seriously, if you go back to Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart or even the first season of ABC’s Twin Peaks when ever Lynch grounds himself in the real world sans all the Matrix and phantasm stuff, brilliance shines. That’s when his left turns and left hooks are at their jawdropping zenith versus this freeform splash painting in Twin Peaks: The Return. While the underbelly of Norman Rockwell America has been Lynch’s specialty forever, Blue Velvet truly brought a shocking terror to mundane situations: A teenage boy loses his virginity to an older woman, only to learn that she likes to be sexually abused. An oxygen-drunk villain overpowers them and kidnaps them for a wild ride with his posse, like a bunch of hooligans bullying a nerd and taking him to the woods. More examples of Lynch’s ability to leave a viewer gripping their seat, gasping for their breath: That scene in Wild at Heart where Willem Dafoe’s Bobby Peru assaults Dern’s Lulu. Those are unforgettable moments from Lynch, and Twin Peaks: The Return lacked that fierceness. Instead we’re treated to time machines in Manhattan with the power to destroy people.
Twin Peaks: The Return was enjoyable, but it’s not perfect Lynch. He dabbled so excessively in the abstract that storylines became a blur and tedious (The atom bomb and raging dirty vagrant in Episode 8 anyone?). Or as Audrey said in the original series, “In real life, there is no algebra.” Cooper was driven in the original series and the moral compass, but with the trio of FBI agents looking to quell evil Cooper –David Lynch’s Gordon, Miguel Ferrer’s Albert and Bell’s Tammy — it was like the Three Stooges were on the case in season 3.
Given the cliffhanger we’ve been handed tonight whether Laura Palmer is really alive or not, and whether that leads to another season, it’s obvious Lynch has a hard time quitting the homecoming queen, and moving on to another case. While X-Files drew inspiration from Twin Peaks, it’s an understatement to say that Lynch really never wanted to build something akin to X-Files with its cases of the week in Twin Peaks.
At the beginning of Episode 17 tonight, Lynch’s Gordon informs Albert about the evil spirit Jude who’s been making all these FBI agents like Cooper disappear. But it was as though Lynch was talking to us all along about season 3: “This plan, Albert, I couldn’t tell you about and I’m sorry…I don’t know if this plan is unfolding properly.”
Thanks for the late heads up.