As a long time devotee of Twin Peaks who was there at the beginning, initially intrigued by what a David Lynch television series could possibly be within the constraints of network television in the early 1990s, I was naturally excited about the announcement that a third season would be made and shown more than a quarter century after the show's cancellation.
Not only excited, but apprehensive as well. Those who watched the original series in its entirety at the time it was originally on televison have a love-hate relationship with the second season. As David Lynch and writer Mark Frost surrendered much of the creative control of the series during that season, only to reclaim it for the finale, the series lost its way. In part due to attempts to appease nervous network executives, and in larger part due to a lack of creative focus, the second season frequently dipped into subplots that were at best comical and at their worst inane or just plain stupid. And I say this a one of the biggest Twin Peaks fans you will ever meet.
It is safe to say that with the first two hours of "The Return," David Lynch and Mark Frost have retaken creative control in spades. Anyone who is unable to access the David Lynch plane of creative existence and who does not have a working knowledge of the original series will be either utterly confused, angry or disappointed. Those elements of the show that were parodies of television genres and tropes are not anywhere near the forefront of those first two hours.
What those first two hours is about is the answer to the two biggest questions posed by the season two cliffhanger. What is going to happen now that Special Agent Dale Cooper's doppleganger has been unleashed in our world and how the hell is Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) going to come back? And it is answered in true Lynchian style. If you know the details of how season two ended you understand that this is not an easy question to answer, and rather than shrugging this off and elude to vague explanations of "how it all worked out" as some might do, we descend into a dark vision of the result of that event twenty-six years ago that fully takes into account the passage of time.
The two hour premier (comprising episodes one and two) take the "WTF is this?" to a level beyond what the original series' first two hours did back in 1990 on CBS. The impact that premier had on network television gets lost on anyone who did not see the original show when it was broadcast. Because Twin Peaks had a dramatic effect on television, changing it forever (you have to remember the vapid nature of television in 1990), and its impact on so much that followed, a rehash of the original series would have meant nothing. So many shows since have paid tribute to Twin Peaks in one way or another, sometimes less than obvious and sometimes more so (if you are a fan of the show Sense8 watch the opening credits closely - they know who their mother is).
On a more basic level, the original series was groundbreaking at the time. It would not be so today. Those that watched it in a historical context see it in a very different light than those who watched it for the first time within a different context. The groundbreaking aspect is therefore profoundly dated. So, any hopes certain persons may have had of it continuing on that same level as a nostalgia tour were... misguided.
Episodes Three and Four were immediately available for streaming, which I believe was done with a purpose in mind. Even the best tuned devotees of David Lynch and of the show's mythology will find themselves feeling both bewildered and sick. Five minutes at best of those first two hours happen anywhere near the town of Twin Peaks.
POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD
Those first two hours deal almost entirely with two things, what impact Cooper's doppleganger ("Evil Cooper" essentially) has had during his time in our world and how Special Agent Dale Cooper, trapped elsewhere, we shall say, could possibly return. This is not quite obvious on the first viewing, but in today's universe of streaming and on-demand programming we have an option we did not have in 1990. We can, without much trouble, watch it again. And the immediate availability of episodes three and four provide us with a level of clarification of this.
This is not a series for the casual viewer, the way the original series could be. The uninitiated will surely say "Fuck this shit" and give up. This isn't a warm and sunny cast reunion. This isn't a replay of the original series. This is a quarter of a century later that is fully aware of everything that has transpired in the evolution of television programming during that time.
Put into perspective (and this is a show that is about perspective), in the third episode the character of Deputy Director Gordon Cole, played by David Lynch himself, views footage taken during the first two hours and reacts with a confused expression and declares, "What the hell?!?" This is his way of telling us we're not wrong to be utterly confused by what we watched. We then cut to his office, which displays two pictures, one depicting an nuclear explosion and another of Franz Kafka.
The quirky and quotable nature of the original series is not ignored, but those aspects are not front and center. This is a show that is about Dale Cooper and essentially a mythological story of a hero's greatest battle, the one for his own soul, told through the distinctive lens of David Lynch. One of the most quotable lines thus far is a throwback to another quotable line from the original series, "It's not about the bunnies!" It is a line that is comical in and of itself in the immediate context, the kind of thing that could entertain a casual viewer, but this show is not about the bunnies, nor is it a rehash of the old (those deeply familiar with David Lynch's work will also connect the line to a short film he made involving rabbits that most certainly wasn't "about the bunnies"). Is it about the bunnies? No, it is not.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: WITH CONTINUED POTENTIAL SPOILERS
Four of the main cast passed away before or during the filming of The Return. Other notable characters chose not to reprise their roles. There is nothing in this third season quite as heartbreaking as the scenes involving Catherine Coulson, The Log Lady, who died in September 2015. She filmed these scenes in her last days during her battle with cancer and they are devastatingly real and human. You are not shielded from the reality of her situation.
There is one scene, uncomfortably drawn out and reminiscent of those pointless subplots of the second season. It involves Michael Cera and feels completely out of place. Whether it actually has any relevance to anything at all seems like a shot in the dark, even by David Lynch standards. It truly feels like one of those inane subplots, like James' infamous affair with a wealthy married woman in the original series that had nothing to do with anything. I have seen some speculate that it is a practical joke they tried to play on the audience which ended up going awkwardly wrong.
This is not a murder mystery, which the original series pretended to be in order to get on network television. At its heart, the original series was the story of a young woman's battle for her soul against both earthly forces and otherworldly spiritual forces in much the same way this is about Cooper's similar battle. Laura Palmer's murder was the least of her problems.
The most ridiculed character of the original series, the overly melodramatic James Hurley, who jumped from a proclamation of undying true love for one character to the next with ridiculous ease, makes an appearance in which onlookers sitting at a table with another returning character make remarks that call back to that. That other returning character comes to his defense, and this is all done from afar, in such a way that it felt like a backhanded way of speaking to the issue of bullying.
I read an article that brought up the subject of the show's continued focus on violence towards women, which I feel missed an important point in how this is treated in the new season. While the graphic and often sexualized murder of women does jump up in your face, the show's treatment of the murder of men, which happens with the same degree of frequency, ignores the details and does not show it happening. For me, this is more a commentary on how the media treats the murder of attractive women differently than the murder of men. We want all the gory details when it comes to the murder of attractive young women. We want all resources expended to find who killed the pretty young white girl, but the murder of anyone else is treated like a statistic. So it is in this show. The murder of men is treated as irrelevant, which also seems to relate to the decapitated head of a woman found with the body of a man. The investigation concentrates on the dead woman, the dead man's body only serves to make her murder more disturbing.
There is something that isn't random about Tracy, the young woman who has a seemingly desperate desire to hook up with the young man tasked with watching the "What the hell?!?" glass cube in New York City. Why does she keep coming to his workplace and trying to get inside in spite of security, and why does she bring him, of all things, coffee each time? Why are they both so seemingly devoid of personality and soul, even as they "get it on"? "Good Cooper" passes into the cube at one point and, well, if you want to attract Special Agent Cooper, you would naturally try to do it with coffee.
I could go on with my musings for most the next three days, but with my own personal mythology often as confusing to others as a David Lynch masterpiece, I will end here by saying...
Today is only May 22, 2017. I have a long way to go, and so does this series.
Damn, I am glad to have it back.