Review: Twin Peaks 3×1-3×2 (US: Showtime; UK: Sky Atlantic)

Lynch at his best in years

Twin Peaks

In the US: Sundays, 9pm ET/PT, Showtime
In the UK: Mondays, 2am, Sky Atlantic

Like most of David Lynch’s work, it’s easy to recognise Twin Peaks‘ importance without really being able to explain why it’s important. Ostensibly a pastiche of US soap operas mashed up with a murder-mystery, it was still obvious from the get-go that Lynch was doing something TV really hadn’t done before. But it was really hard to say what it was doing.

I remember sitting in the TV room during my first week of university watching the show that all the papers had told us was must-see TV. I was already a Lynch fan, Channel 4 having introduced me to most of his movies over the years, so I was looking forward to it even more than most.

But for half an hour we sat there, wondering what the hell everyone was raving about, as the body of high school cheerleader Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) was washed up ‘wrapped in plastic’ near the small town of Twin Peaks and the inhabitants underwent all the stages of grief you’d expect from seeing a golden girl struck down in the prime of life in a town that felt like it hadn’t quite escaped the 1950s.

Then enter Special Agent Dale Cooper (Dune and Blue Velvet‘s Kyle MacLachlan), a boy scout of an FBI agent sent to investigate the murder, and suddenly the tension of the room eased. At last, we understood what everyone was on about. This was magic. This was art.

Over the course of the next two seasons, the show proved elusive. Sometimes a murder-mystery, sometimes a comedy, sometimes a horror movie, Twin Peaks was indefinable oddness, with perfectly ordinary characters (James the biker boy) interspersed with oddball small town characters (Deputy Andy), oddball FBI agents (David Duchovny’s cross-dressing agent and Lynch’s own deaf agent), oddball characters from nowhere in the world (The Log Lady – so-called, because she carried a log with her) and oddball characters from nightmares (Bob, the ultimate killer of Laura Palmer, who came from ‘the Black Lodge’ and possessed people).

There have been books filled with theories about Twin Peaks and what it was. What’s often forgotten is that it wasn’t very David Lynch. Sure, the undertones from Blue Velvet, with its theme of “the darkness hiding behind the facade of white picket fences”, was obvious. But while Cooper got inspiration from dreams and the Black Lodge had dead people talking backwards and dwarves dancing…

…the nightmare surrealism of Eraserhead was a distant memory.

In fact, objectively speaking, Twin Peaks was mostly a very conventional ABC soap opera cum thriller that just happened to have some wonderful characters and some wonderful moments of surrealism.

Nevertheless, despite being cancelled after two seasons and its follow-up movie flopping, Twin Peaks has remained a worldwide cult classic, esteemed almost as much as its contemporary The X-Files was, but without having been dragged past the point of a natural death and ending on a worthy cliffhanger – Cooper seemingly possessed by Bob after a final encounter in the Black Lodge.

Somewhat perfectly, though, the show had a built-in promise that it would return in 25 years and Showtime in the US has delivered on that promise with a whole new limited series. The question was: what form would it take? Would it be a simple cash-in that brought back a few characters for a quick new murder to be solved? Would it simply riff all the original’s greatest hits without adding anything? Sure, David Lynch was on board, but when was the last time he’d done something exceptional? Mullholland Drive or Lost Highway maybe?

Well, the first two episodes are in and I have to say the new Twin Peaks is magnificent. Absolutely magnificent. And what’s more, it’s a return not just to Twin Peaks but to the David Lynch of pretty much all his movies, including Eraserhead. Although maybe not Dune (Hal yawm!).

About
Directed entirely by David Lynch, the new SHOWTIME 18-part limited event series picks up 25 years after the inhabitants of a quaint northwestern town were stunned when their homecoming queen Laura Palmer was shockingly murdered. TWIN PEAKS is written and executive produced by series creators David Lynch and Mark Frost, and is executive produced by Sabrina S. Sutherland.

Is it any good?
The pacing’s slightly off compared to modern shows, but honestly, I can’t remembering loving the first couple of episodes of show as much as this since Hannibal.

The worry, of course, was that the show was going to be just cameos from much-loved characters. And indeed, practically everyone from the original show does indeed appear in the first two episodes. A few are missing, including Sheriff Truman, but Laura Palmer, Shelly Johnson, Leyland Palmer, Ben Horne, Lucy Moran, Nadine Hurley et al all show up and not just for the sake of showing up – they’re all integral in some way or other.

But for the most part, this is all about Cooper (or should I say Bob?) and what he’s been up for the past 25 years, as well as setting the scene for a whole bunch of new characters. Most of the action in fact takes place outside of Twin Peaks in Buckhorn, North Dakota and New York, where we meet characters such as Matthew Lillard (The Bridge, Homeland)’s high school principal, accused of killing a librarian he hardly knows. His fingerprints are all over the apartment but he says he never went there… except in a dream.

Dreams are the unifying theme to much of Lynch’s work (The Straight Story escapes that analysis, except as a pure dream, rather than Lynch’s fondness for nightmares) and while tonally, a lot of the small town action does have qualities of The Straight Story, with earnest, nice people being nice and amusing, these first two episodes are really out to terrify you. There’s a college student paid to sit and stare at a large transparent box all day, every day, while it’s being constantly filmed by cameras. Will something ever show up inside the box? Good question. Yes, and by God, it’s terrifying.

However, that’s relatively tame stuff compared to the bulk of episode two, which pulls in elements of Lost HighwayEraserhead and more to give us more or less an extended dream sequence inside the Black Lodge. And I mean an actual dream, with its own logic, rather than Inception or Falling Water dreaming. It’s actually genuinely disturbing and unsettling, much like a Buñuel film, while still being obviously Lynchian. You can follow it if you think of it as a dream (“This is the evolution of the arm… This is what the arm sounds like”) and imagine how much a tree looks like a nervous system and vice versa. Then it makes sense.

As a disturbing vision of a world that only makes sense when seen through the prism of dreams, Twin Peaks: The Return is perfect Lynch, the best he’s been in many years. I so hope the rest of the series doesn’t disappoint. We’ve so many more characters to show up, so much more story to see.

Will we get long-promised answers to burning questions? I honestly don’t care. I just want more of Lynch.

  • JustStark

    Then it makes sense

    You lie!

    It’s very very slow, but it still demands absolute concentration: you can’t look away from the screen for a moment or you’ll miss something. And even though I have no idea what’s going on (well, some of the threads I know what’s going on, at the most superficial level, but not why) I still want to know what;s going to happen next.

    If I had one complaint, it would be that occasionally, when there’s a point that has to be got across to the audience, the dialogue drops into a subtextless, ‘just state it outright’ register.

    If there was one thing I liked best, it would be that every time I think I know where it’s going — what’s being set up — it goes in a completely different direction. Every single time.

    I think it is about the bunny.

    • No, really. I understand everything…

      Yes – you really can’t look away from the screen ever (much like the box observer), which is a rather marvellous feature. Watching episode 3 and it’s even better so far than episode 2. Just such marvellous imagery and the fact it’s either done without CGI or made to look like it uses old-school film techniques only makes everything even more mesmerising.

    • Seen episode 3 now. You’re right – I think the bunny might be important