The past is not dead; it’s not even past.
* There are some spoilers in this review.
As I watched and re-watched the first two episodes of series creators Mark Frost and David Lynch’s surreal, stunning, and sensational Showtime reboot of Twin Peaks, I kept thinking of Faulkner’s words and the feeling of being between two (or more) worlds. In a telling moment in the Red Room the One-Armed Man (Al Strobel) asks “Is it future or is it past?” and we have no idea what the answer could be. There is a sense of familiarity that is jarred by the reality that time and space have taken us far but never away from this narrative and these wonderfully odd, strange, and grim characters that inhabit it.
Twin Peaks: The Return is more than a reboot and beyond a season three, so much so that it is hard to categorize it other than it seems to be an extension of a story that needed to still be told – Lynch himself has said as much. And for we fans of the original series who savored the two seasons we were given (yes, the end of season two took its toll and only we truly loyal fans hung in there), we knew there had to be more than that horrific ending when Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) smashed his head against the mirror and saw the image of the savage killer Bob (the late Frank Silva) in the shattered glass.
We have been waiting all these years, and now the story unwinds slowly, like jagged yet beautiful bloody shards of that mirror floating across the years and coming back together gradually to fit together like razor-sharp puzzle pieces that may finally give us the answers we have been long awaiting.
There is so much going on in these first two episodes (which really just run together as one whole) that much of what happens seems like spoiler territory; however, the events that happen are just seedlings that are being sown masterfully by Lynch (who directed these two and all 18 episodes of the series) in his chaotic, gradual, procedural, and surreal style that is so jarring and yet so welcome. Damn, I missed feeling this overwhelmed, intrigued, and frustrated watching TV for too long (26 years to be exact).
Hearing people talk about the series since the premier on Sunday, the watercooler buzz has been that Frost and Lynch borrowed from Lost, Stranger Things, Fargo, and True Detective, but I was quick to point out the truth is that those series borrowed from what Lynch had done so long ago in the original series, which was more than ground-breaking and as I recall a game changer for television shows. People were like “You can’t do that on television” and Frost and Lynch just said, “Oh, yes we can.”
I must note that I was hooked from the very first episode of Twin Peaks back in season one. I recall never being so intrigued, disturbed, confused, and delighted while watching a TV show. The dismal beauty that Lynch brought to life had the amazing ability to make me feel totally lost but to a point that I somehow felt powerfully found. Happily, I have all the same feelings again as I am watching this new incarnation, and the nostalgic factor is compelling but subsumed by the notion that Lynch is making something old new again.
Many interesting choices are made to get us back into the world of Agent Cooper, and we begin with one of the most essential characters – the one around whom the first two seasons revolved – Laura Palmer (the still stunningly beautiful Sheryl Lee). First, we see the young Laura with Cooper at the Black Lodge in the Red Room – this is an alternate reality – and she tells Cooper that she will see him in 25 years.
Amazingly that scene is from the original series, and now just around 25 years later we are here again. An older Laura enters the Red Room wearing a long black dress and walking stiffly to the sound of what seems like a record being pushed backwards. This odd effect is appropriately unsettling. Cooper stares at her in disbelief because he (and we) know she was murdered more than a quarter of a century ago. Laura tells him, “I am dead, yet I live.” After a brief kiss, Laura is sucked out of the room screaming all the way, lost to Cooper once more, and later an image of her father Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) appears and tells Cooper, “Find Laura.” And I’m thinking, “Is it all going to revolve around Laura again?”
We also get a black and white scene with the Giant (Carel Struycken) who seems even more ominous aged; he still is offering Cooper information that we need subtitles to understand, but we still cannot be sure about what it all actually means. Later in color we see Cooper in the Red Room again, and the One-Armed Man is there and shows him that the dancing dwarf (Michael J. Anderson) has somehow become a brain stuck on a bare-limbed tree. The Brain reminds Cooper of his doppelgänger (the Evil Cooper possessed by Bob) and that Good Cooper can only leave the Red Room if Evil Cooper comes back in.
Evil Cooper is not quite a sight for sore eyes. Complete with long hair, spray suntan, a menacing expression, and clad in leather, EC looks like he escaped from an ‘80s rock band video. Now EC is driving hot cars, sleeping with hot girls like Darya (Nicole LaLiberte) and Chantal (Jennifer Jason Leigh) while also killing people in cold blood. Evil Cooper has a plan and seems to be on an inevitable collision course with Good Cooper as he embarks upon a trip with sinister intentions.
We do get glimpses of old characters we are happy to see back, even if it seems that they appear so briefly. While it is good to see these Twin Peak residents – Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn), Ben Horne (Richard Beymer), his brother Jerry (David Patrick Kelly), ditzy Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) and her Andy (Harry Goaz), waitress Shelly (Mädchen Amick), Laura’s mother Sarah (Grace Zabriske), James Hurley (James Marshall), and Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) – the most welcome face is the Log Lady (deceased Catherine E. Coulson) who is now depicted as quite frail and using an oxygen tank but still holding her trusty log.
Log Lady’s interaction (so far) is only with Hawk over the phone and it has to do with Agent Cooper. She tells Hawk “Something is missing” and then Hawk proceeds to go deep into the dark forest in an nerve-wracking scene that turns up something that may or may not be a way to get Cooper home.
Besides these familiar faces, there are other narratives interwoven into the episodes that are intriguing and haunting. One involves Scream star Matthew Lillard who plays respected high school principal Bill Hastings who lives in Buckhorn, South Dakota, and is being accused of murdering the school’s librarian Ruth (Emily Stofle) because his fingerprints are all over her apartment. He claims to be innocent and tells his wife Phyllis (Cornelia Guest) he “dreamed” it, just like Leland Palmer who didn’t know he was possessed by Bob and killed his daughter Laura; I have a feeling old Bill is in for a rude awakening.
Another of these new narratives involves a seemingly unoccupied luxury apartment in a New York City skyscraper where a glass cube is affixed to the wall with a portal that opens up to a view of the city. In this room on a comfortable sofa a young man (Ben Rosenfield) sits and watches the empty cube as he records it on cameras. A pretty young woman named Tracey (Madeline Zima) comes baring lattes but wants to get romantic on that sofa. When something dark and foreboding enters that cube, it looks like their erotic interlude is over and then some.
How all these seedlings will grow and intertwine cannot be determined yet, but that has always been the awesome draw of Twin Peaks – we don’t know where we are going, we don’t know how we’re getting there, and we don’t know if we will even arrive, but we joyfully take the trip anyway.
Along with Frost and Lynch putting all their touches on the narrative and the visuals (now greatly enhanced with CGI especially in the Red Room scenes), we get Angelo Badalamenti’s music, including the haunting score that accompanies the opening credits – its deceptively simple but evocative strains still make me shiver as I feel myself entering a place I’m not supposed to be but have no choice but to enter.
The first two hours end with us back in The Bang Bang Bar where Shelly and her friends are partying just like it’s 1991. We go out with the slightly eerie and dreamlike song “Shadow” performed by The Chromatics, with lyrics like “I took your picture from the frame/And now you are nothing how you seemed” reminding me of that chilling photo of murdered homecoming queen Laura Palmer, whose death started this narrative 27 years ago.
Twin Peaks: The Return has me hooked just as the original did, so I am in all the way to the end. I may not know what is happening at times, but I am enjoying the hell out of this series, and ignorance has never felt more like bliss.