There’ve been so many pretenders to the Twin Peaks throne, but there was nothing quite like having the real thing back. Many shows since Twin Peaks have been better on their own merits, but nothing has ever come close to recapturing quite what it was.
The reason is simple, if you’re a showrunner out to emulate Twin Peaks, chances are you’re a normal person consciously trying to make something weird. Twin Peaks can only come from a weirdo making something he thinks is normal.
David Lynch usually comes across as a really affable guy who sees the world in an off kilter, sometimes disturbing way. In the days of the original series however, he was one voice among many. The most dominant and distinct voice to be sure, but one voice just the same. His collaboration with others gave us a series that was accessible and warm, with an undercurrent of strangeness and horror.
Now, 25 years later in Twin Peaks: The Return, he’s responsible for co-writing and directing every single moment we see onscreen. A series about a charming, quirky town with occasional forays into avant-garde filmmaking is now a series about avant-garde filmmaking with occasional forays into a charming, quirky town. And that’s for better or for worse, The Return can be cold and it can be frustrating. It’s littered with abrupt narrative dead ends and strangely utilized fan favourite characters. I can’t even say with any certainty what the whole thing is about.
But how often does a maniac like Lynch get to hijack eighteen hours of cable TV? I wouldn’t miss that for the world.
If The Return is arguably a failure as a traditional narrative, it’s a downright spellbinding demonstration of what can happen when an auteur is given unbridled creative control. In maybe the most hilariously brazen waste of a talented actor ever, Kyle MacLachlan’s Dale Cooper wanders around like a shellshocked toddler. Lucy and Andy smile indulgently as their son played by Michael Cera gives a rambling monologue from the back of his motorcycle. Dr. Jacobi runs a gold shovel business out of his trailer. A glass box conjures a monster who kills a young naked couple. A Showtime executive says “Why did I give David final cut?” before walking into the sea. That last scene could have been a dream I had. But I also seem to remember a five minute static wide shot of a janitor sweeping up at the Roadhouse, and no way that aired on TV too.
This is all early in the season. Following the infamous eighth episode, the story begins to… maybe coalesce is the wrong word. Maybe you just get used to it. Sequences start to become more interesting, more haunting, more intense. Characters you didn’t think much about earlier grow on you. We spend more and more time in Twin Peaks itself.
The original series was meant to be a microcosm of the American town with a mystery hook to keep you coming back, and the revival is that on a much grander scale. It is a mindboggling array of distinct characters going about their lives in a world in which everything is strange and nobody seems to notice. And all of these various characters in all these storylines, they… I guess saying they come together isn’t quite right. But a lot of them are in the same location by the end. Maybe that’s enough.
If I Had to Nitpick…: I’ve seen the whole season twice, and I don’t like that finale one bit. Luckily for me, I can turn the season off at the end of the penultimate season, which has almost the exact same final beat at the true finale, and it all makes exactly as much sense.
Notable Episodes: “Part 3” and especially “Part 8” are magnificent indulgences in pure, audience alienating visual bravado. “Part 14” is a collection of eerie scenes, and there’s a nice audience friendly explanation of what a “jobsworth” is. “Part 16” has the moments you’ve been waiting a REALLY long time for.