Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)

So, it’s finally finished. Twin Peaks: The Return has concluded, and there’s a shit-tonne of hot takes around. I’m going to write a little about it, too, because the original show has been so important to me over the years. In that, I suppose, I’m not unusual. It’s a show for nerds, populated by misfits.

I remember watching the original run when it aired on New Zealand television, where I lived at the time. I remember being intoxicated by the thing, the indeterminate time period, the music, the darkness. And I remember being terrified, late at night, by a screaming Laura, by a grinning BOB, by an owl flying towards me.

Since then, I’ve wanted to go back.

(Spoilers follow.)

Fire Walk With Me was a film I loved, though it was shitcanned repeatedly in print. It felt like an observation-based version of the maxim that the only way out is through: we had to survive the horror to transcend it. Despite my enthusiasm for it, I thought it had pretty much stopped the franchise, so I was pleasantly surprised when The Return was announced. Part of me kept praying pleasedon’tfuckitup, but by the end of the first episode I knew that the creative team hadn’t, and wouldn’t. It was what I wanted, truly: something that was as strange and as darkly appealing as the original had been.

Perhaps the greatest harbinger of what was to come was Xiu Xiu’s interpretation of Angelo Badalamenti’s music, Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks, the album version of a set of covers commissioned by the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art to coincide with an exhibition of David Lynch’s work.

Here’s the music we’re familiar with: that shadowed neo-jazz. But it’s corrupted somehow. It’s a more rotten, fraught, ragged-edged version of that dark syrup; at once familiar but somehow more adult, more remote. Colder. It’s an excellent foreshadowing of the worm in the apple, the morgue photo version of Twin Peaks we’d see on our screens.

Out of the gate, I think its interesting to consider what we’re revisiting. A lot of the press around the revival has been about revisiting small-town quirk and cherry pie and jazz music, and it is, but at the heart of it we’re revisiting a story of incest, rape, drug abuse and ultimately, murder. We’re revisiting a story of grief, suppression and violence.

(The Return amps this up with Richard’s behaviour, for example.)

Wrapped in plastic.

As humans do, we cleave to the stuff like the cherry pie and the smell of Douglas firs to distract from the horror at the heart of the show. But the horror is the prime mover of the series – it always was. It’s why the ending of The Return, a surrender of the hero to the fact that he’s been duped, that things are not what he expected or hoped, and that pain goes on and on, unavoidable, is kind of perfect. I’ll be picking this up on blu-ray when it’s released. If it’s an 18-hour film, I want the chance to experience it as such: uninterrupted, with fatigued horror clouding its end.

(As an aside, I’ve enjoyed the frustration of the weekly broadcast schedule. Normally I’d shotgun the series in one go, but having it meted out in smaller portions made for a more flavoursome meal, I suspect.)

The biggest problem going into The Return was always going to be expectation, particularly if you were a viewer unfamiliar with how dark Lynch can be when unrestricted, and how much pain he can put his characters through. On top of that was the darkness of age: many of the episodes were dedicated to members of the cast who had since died, including Miguel Ferrer, Don Davis, Frank Silva and Catherine Coulson. Indeed, Coulson’s appearances as Margaret Lanterman (who receives her own memorial entry in the title crawl) were the stuff of legend: a clearly dying woman, discussing her death with a near-silent Deputy Hawk.

You can never go home again.

That’s not to say it was all darkness with the season. I’ve been loving a lot of the new characters, and the spins on the old. I’m particularly fond of the lighter touches: seeing Albert romancing a local pathologist on a date, for example. The Mitchum Brothers’ ring-a-ding-ding low-rent Rat Pack schtick – with their ever-present Showgirls of Fate – was a delight, frankly, as was the bitchy interplay between assassins Hutch and Chantal. I liked James Hurley’s terrible song being given new life, Sarah Palmer’s increased role and the fact that fuck it, we finally got to meet Diane… or did we?

At the heart of it, though, The Return was unafraid to draw a line under the town of Twin Peaks. It’s not the centre of this world, and most of the older series’ characters turned up in minor roles. Sure, Ben Horne is there to facilitate angst about his grandson – but he’s never given much to do. Dr Jacoby exists as a livestreaming agitator flogging shit-digging shovels to viewers like Nadine, watching ensconced in her excellently-named Run Silent Run Drapes. Jerry Horne is around, but he’s a stoner who gets lost and thinks his binoculars kill people. Denise Bryson shows up to Gordon can mouth off about deadshits. None of these are essential. Hell, even Norma and Ed’s happiness is immaterial: it exists to warm the cockles of fans who wanted them to give it a shot, and to wrong-foot us into thinking that the larger narrative would receive a similar level of conclusive finality.

Awwwwww.

(I was surprised we even got that level of a return to the old, to be honest. There’s some bowing to expectation going on, but not a lot.)

The acting, uniformly, was great in this series. There wasn’t any Michael Ontkean-level horror – though my mind would be shattered if it turned out his terribad takes in the first seasons were meant to be that way. Kyle MacLachlan displayed a lot more range than I’d seen in him, and the series relies on his ability to create compelling variants of the same man. The menace of Mr C and the heartbreaking simplicity of Dougie in one guy? Outstanding. The level of tension created by Mr C.’s visit to Twin Peaks relies purely on MacLachlan’s burnt-oil menace. No SFX, no otherworldliness: just sheer performance-driven menace.

There’s no way this could possibly end badly.

(Any “bad” acting – like the Wally Brando bit – is, I assume, intentional in the same way that Lynch occasionally goes for bodgy effects. Episode 8’s terrifying atomic origin story showed that the production could afford the fanciest tech, which means less-than-great choices were that: choices. In something as minutely planned as this series appeared to be, I would be very, very surprised to think the same doesn’t extend to acting decisions.)

It’s been said that Fire Walk With Me was crucial to interpreting this season – much moreso than most of season two of the original run, anyway – but I’m pretty sure that Lost Highway is another touchstone. This iteration of TP relies on that film’s bifurcated narrator, but ups the ante: instead of two Coops, we have a multitude. Dougie(s), Coop, Mr C., Richard. Are they the same? Aspects of the same? And are any reliable? Under scrutiny, everything cracks and slips away, whether it’s your memory of Twin Peaks or your face in the mirror.

We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives inside the dream.

Now, what happened in the end? I’ve read a lot of articles on the thing, and I like this one, this one, this one, this one and this one.  Part of the way Lynch’s direction works is that it can’t really be pinned down: being dreamlike, hypnogogic, the settings are open to interpretation, to change. You can hold a couple of views at once, because the reflected image changes moment to moment. We’re at once dealing with characters in a teleplay, and with our own world, and with our role as viewers and consumers. The show is dream, the show is reality, the show is neither. Grasping for concrete meaning – for anything other than an intuitive sense of what’s transpired – is to set yourself up for failure, which I suspect is the point.

I’ve read a lot of criticism online that the show retcons its way out of Laura’s murder, but I suspect it’s much worse than that. I’ve been thinking that Cooper believes that this is an equation that can be solved: by moving Laura, he’ll be able to circumvent everything. But what’s that phrase? Nature abhors a vacuum? Jeffries’ message – the owl symbol turning into an infinity, with a little ball tracking around it – warned him that even if he went back into the past, he couldn’t really change things. The cycle is permanent, inescapable. He’s Sisyphus in a black suit.

Mike asked Cooper in the Red Room whether he thought this was the story of the little girl down the lane – the cheerleader, the straight-a student, and Cooper’s flaw is that he believes that it is, and that he can change things. That he can protect people – the same way he failed to protect Windom Earle’s wife Caroline, who he fell in love with. He’s a tragic hero who can’t see that people he tries to help – how’s Annie? – get hurt almost every time. We’ve seen these scenes before: we know it won’t end well.

If I’m remembering rightly, Cooper didn’t see the Fireman and Señorita Dido send Laura into the world to defeat Bob – only the viewer did. So he thinks that Laura’s just a regular girl who was murdered, rather than a bulwark against evil, something greater than just a corpse. Her death led, circuitously but ultimately, to the destruction of BOB, years later – but you can’t change the past.

That’s why, even though Laura is apparently someone else now, she hears the distorted psychogeographic echo of Sarah, calling her, she screams, pulled back into the truth of her existence. The house flashes and goes black because it’s a tulpa, almost; a dream of being someone else, a world of Carrie and Richard, and the Palmer house owned by Tremonds. She tried to escape for a while, but eventually her sacrificial role caught up with her.

I have read online a darker theory, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. It posits the idea is that the dreamer is Laura. That the whole series is a glamorous daydream of post-murder care and investigation by an abused, tortured woman. The reason everything ends when Carrie hears a distorted Sarah calling “Laura” from within the house is because it flips the switch: she hears her reality calling and screams in recognition that she can’t escape it, no matter how much she reinvents herself. She is crucial to the story – it cannot exist without her murder – and therefore nothing can change. I wonder whether certain parts of her dream begin to become self-aware – Audrey, specifically – but it’s of no consequence because when Laura comes back to herself, everything ends, so that she can end.

The end.

(I suspect my view on this will change when I’ve had a chance to rewatch the series as a whole, but I am very keen on the idea of either the story as a dream-state of Laura, or perhaps a message to Cooper: that if you think the outcome can be changed, you’re dreaming. Again, I don’t think it’s unusual that one can hold a couple of takes on the ending at once: the material seems open to a multiplicity of readings, and I would hazard that despite its highly planned appearance, even Lynch and Frost themselves would be reluctant to finger a precise description of what’s really going on. And fair enough: that’s not their job, not really.)

There’s calls for a fourth season, but I’m uncertain that I’d be happy if it were to be made. I’d watch it, of course, as I’m a big fan of Lynch’s visuals, married to Frost’s world. But there’s been no talk of it – not yet – and I wonder how much drive there is for the creators to follow up such a big undertaking, so soon. Certainly, I think given the abstract painting that comprises The Return, any follow-up would be just as oblique. There’s no answers coming: that’s the point. We continue to consider questions, again and again – like the small ball circling Teapot Phillip Jeffries’ infinity symbol, we look for answers without understanding that maybe this is just how things are.

Well, good art asks questions, you know? It doesn’t always provide answers. I think that’s what we’re experiencing right now. (Laughs.) It’s not always the most comfortable or the most satisfying feeling. It’s also asking us to consider what we’ve just seen. That’s how I’m looking at it. – Kyle MacLachlan on the finale.

Maybe there is no closure, because life generally doesn’t offer closure, not really. We make sense of the loose threads of existence; we paper the rooms of our lives with detritus that we’re convinced has a meaning, has greater import. Because what is the alternative?

The Return has been divisive: people have felt gypped by the ending of the series. They feel it’s cruel, or that it’s been a big tease; that Lynch didn’t know how to end it.

I’m not so sure.

Maybe there is no closure, because life generally doesn’t offer closure, not really. We make sense of the loose threads of existence; we paper the rooms of our lives with detritus that we’re convinced has a meaning, has greater import. We sift through the evidence – the pictures of bombs, corn and Kafka – for sense. Because what is the alternative?

After The Return finished, I was quiet. I felt uncomfortable. Not shocked, not really, but uneasy. I didn’t like how I felt but I appreciated what had been done. Things were concluded and they weren’t, but more than that, the darkness inside the world of Twin Peaks (or wherever they would end up at the series’ end) was given a whip hand. The horrible truth is that when the cherry pie’s eaten, when the floor of the Roadhouse is swept, and when the lights go out, the only thing that’s left is you, trying to make sense of the dark.

Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

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