Television

“Twin Peaks: The Return” A Meditation on Auteur Television

*As this is a reflection of the Third, and likely last, season of Twin Peaks-there will be Spoilers. You have been warned*

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Now that David Lynch’s return to Twin Peaks has ended we can try to analyze and understand just what exactly it was that he shared with us. Throughout the return’s airtime I often heard the idea floating around that even attempting to analyze David Lynch’s work could lead to courting madness, it was as if every time something enticingly odd happened onscreen viewers would wave their arms about and chime “You’re just being weird for weird’s sake Lynch!”. Personally, I disagree with that notion. While Lynch’s work lives and breathes in the weird and the unexpected, it does not mean it is void of structure and meaning. Like a good book that delves into ideas both ambiguous and abstract, Lynch toys with the fabric of reality in his own constructed worlds, but especially with the accepted “rules” of story structure. I once had a great art teacher that said “You do have to know the general rules as you begin. However after that everything’s in play and you can figure out which rules were inherently meant to be broken. Sometimes you have to burn down the idea to see what works and what doesn’t. Art is subjective after all.”

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At the beginning of 2017 I started watching the initial two seasons of “Twin Peaks” that had originally aired in the early 1990’s and became entranced by the show’s evolving state of storytelling. It had cryptic dreams about otherworldly places and beings, but it was also a murder mystery surrounding the death of homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), and yet the show weaved the supernatural and the unknown with slapstick moments of comedy paired with a near constant outpouring of intense emotions from many of the residents of Twin Peaks. It was a strange and fascinating microcosm of life. I ended up finishing the series the day that the coveted third season aired it’s first two episodes on Showtime. I might have been one of the few people to ever get instant gratification from the notorious cliffhanger ending of season two and dive immediately into The Return. Oh, what a return it was.

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There are a few major themes that I believe the show was attempting to convey or express. I won’t claim to be an expert of David Lynch’s work, or to even fully understand Twin Peaks itself, but there were some fairly present ideas in this third season. The first, and most important, factor going into this season of the show was patience. There were countless scenes where the camera would linger on an actor’s face as they processed information, tried to remember something relevant, or as they were simply ambivalent about the world around them. Hell, there’s even a scene in one of the recurring locations across all seasons, The Roadhouse AKA The Bang Bang Bar, where a random employee sweeps the floor after closing time for roughly three minutes before we cut to a member of the Renault family answering a ringing phone only to get half the conversation. Not to mention that while fans were anxiously awaiting FBI agent Dale Cooper’s (Kyle MacLachlan, who plays a variety of roles here) return to the world of the living to finish the fight against Bob (an evil host spirit of sorts that had been running free over the Earth in a doppelganger body resembling Dale Cooper’s), they would have to wait a majority of the season to see him. What we got instead was Dougie Jones, a brain-fried version of the former agent that haphazardly slipped into a family whose father figure was yet another doppelganger (made by Bob this time) who traded places with the real Dale Cooper who had been stuck in the Red Room/Black Lodge for those last twenty-five years. Yes, I know, this is all very confusing to explain to anyone that has no familiarity with the quirks of the show. Again, I would encourage a hefty spoonful of patience.

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Another one of the pillars of The Return that is touched on throughout the season is that of death. This part of the show isn’t just a focus thematically, but one that breached reality for many of the show’s actors. Several key players either died after they had shot their scenes for The Return or had passed away before production had gotten started. From Miguel Ferrer’s character Albert, the ornery yet stalwart FBI agent that worked closely with David Lynch’s Gordon Cole (the in-show director of the FBI) to Catherine E. Coulson’s iconic portrayal of the prophetic Log Lady, many did not live to see the show’s release. Some characters barely even made an appearance due to their health. Doc Hayward, for example, only appeared once to talk via Skype to Sheriff Truman (Robert Forster, not former Sheriff Truman Michael Ontkean) and was never seen again. He was portrayed by Warren Frost, father of Mark Frost who co-created the show with David Lynch. After much thought on the theme of death in the show, I feel that Lynch might see death as more of transitional experience than one of black-and-white finality. We can see this in Kyle MacLachlan’s character arc for Dale Cooper. The character goes through a hell of a lot in The Return and he changes by the end of it, never going against his steadfast nature of goodwill upon the world, but by traveling through either dimensions or parallel earths, he continues onward with motives in his actions and nature, but there is still change. Change is the only constant in the universe after all.

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Another tenant of the series here is the simple act of storytelling. The art of storytelling is alive and well in The Return as many characters tell stories to each other. Some of it is your usual exposition to fill the audience in (Especially useful for Twin Peaks to cover bits and pieces of the monumental quarter-century gap between it’s seasons). Some of it has nothing to do with the characters we know about, but instead about tertiary events and storylines taking place in the world of Twin Peaks. It’s occasionally used to introduce entirely new characters at a moment’s notice and explain their motivations and how they fit into the puzzle, while other times it is only for information gathering. The Monica Bellucci dream sequence in part fourteen is an excellent example of this as it weighs heavily with dreams, imagination, and exposition. In the opening of the episode Gordon Cole tells Albert and Tammy (Chrysta Bell as the new FBI recruit) of a dream he had involving Monica Bellucci. We begin in a black and white scene in which Gordon hazily recalls being at a street-side cafe in Paris. He starts by noting that “Cooper was there, but I couldn’t see his face..” She brought friends and they all sit and share a coffee. As he’s sitting across from Monica she asks him “We are like the dreamer who dreams and lives inside the dream, but who is the dreamer?” She then looks over his shoulder and Gordon curiously, and with unease, turns back to see a scene ripped directly from “Fire Walk with Me” (The Twin Peaks Movie fitting in between seasons two and three-but also being a prequel to the series), only now in the dream’s black and white coloring, in which a younger version of himself is sitting in the FBI offices as he listens to Agent Cooper tell him about a dream he had, just before Philip Jeffries (David Bowie, whose character plays a big part in The Return and had to be reworked after his death as well) barges in and points a finger at Cooper. He asks Gordon, “Who do you think that is there?” which startles Gordon into remembering that very moment. Given the context of the show up until that point, this scene now carries more weight, and guides Gordon’s thought process towards the truth.

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There’s a great scene near the last few episodes when Norma (Peggy Lipton) has been considering franchising the RR cafe that has become a well known staple in both the town and the world of Twin Peaks. Norma eventually declines this notion, the other locations won’t take her recipes and handle them with care, they are simply looking to take the idea of the Double R and replicate it without taking the time or the details into consideration. The other restaurants follow her recipes only to profit from her success. They ignore her notes to get organic and naturally grown ingredients for their dishes and while this method may secure a firmer bottom line for the franchises’ bank accounts, the final product is devoid of the parts that made it stand out from the crowd. This seems to me to be akin to Lynch laying out his thoughts on the creative process, the migraines of marketing, and selling ideas to those that don’t get what made it special in the first place, and I can respect that.

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Mark Frost and David Lynch made something ethereal with this return to their Twin Peaks property. Particularly so after watching and digesting the final two episodes of the series. Personally, I found this culmination of the show to be incredibly gratifying. I know some of the audience really despised the end of the show, but it’s very nature isn’t new to Twin Peaks. Part seventeen was essentially groundbreaking for a television show, circumventing expectation and giving fans a bit of what they wanted and other things that were likely as unexpected as it gets. I won’t dive into all of the details, some things are best left discovered naturally, but I found it to be somewhat cyclical. A far cry from the cliffhanger that we got in season two. Who needs a resolution anyways? Twin Peaks is now open-ended because it symbolizes the conflict between the steadfast nature of good and the omnipresence of evil. This isn’t something that has an end, but rather an ongoing cycle of the nature of the universe that humanity is tangled in.

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Twin Peaks: The Return was an exciting experience for me because it defied all of my expectations of what a series is or can be, it even defied most notions of film structure. I applaud everyone that worked to make it happen and encourage all artists to create without bounds, we need more originality in our entertainment. Hopefully Frost and Lynch shook people awake from our own dreams so that we too may create something as odd and unexpected as Twin Peaks.

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Television

Let’s talk about Twin Peaks

A few years back when I was working a summer in-between semesters of college I was engaging in a favorite pastime with a coworker-talking about our shared love of movies. It wasn’t long before he brought up the name David Lynch, asking if I had heard of him or his movies. I had claimed to be a future director and writer of films, but had not heard this name. My fellow colleague stared blankly at me Was I joking with him? He started naming titles of films I had never even remotely heard of; Blue Velvet? No. Eraserhead? Nope. Surely I had heard of Mulholland Dr.? Not even once.

Life continued that way for awhile, too busy consuming other films along with finishing college, and then getting some sort of job here and there. You know, the typical creative path: winding and without a clear direction. Fast forward to last fall when murmurs of a show called Twin Peaks was going to make a comeback much like many shows recently, reanimated from the dead for one last swipe at the small screen. More importantly though the name David Lynch came up again and like a mysterious ringing in the distance, I went to discover what may lie uncovered. So I did what anyone else in my position with an ounce of curiosity would do, I searched Netflix for Twin Peaks.

What I found was a show all it’s own. First and foremost, Twin Peaks is weird. Quite weird in fact. The show takes its time unraveling this weirdness to the audience. We’re introduced to, well, the whole town essentially. It’s a cast of characters that all feel quirky enough on the outside to be real in their own odd way. The show took risks, for the time anyway, as it was aired on television in the early 1990’s. It all began with the murder of the town’s high school homecoming queen, Laura Palmer, beloved by everyone.

The original show, seasons one and two, are still on Netflix and I encourage you to check them out if you haven’t seen them. Twin Peaks is.. many things all at once. It’s an over the top emotional murder mystery that unravels mystery after mystery the more the characters try to dig at the truth. It’s a show about loss and grief, and how a death can affect a community. The show is also about abuse in a multitude of forms. It’s also got a varied sense of humor that morphs over time from stylized black humor, to something a bit dry, sometimes even slapstick, or sometimes simply awkward humor ahead of its time. Between juggling soap opera tendencies with a police procedural, the show’s main attraction are the cast of characters that live in Twin Peaks. The star character and fan favorite of the show though is Kyle MacLachlan’s FBI Agent Dale Cooper. He’s the one through-line of everything Twin Peaks. With everything that happens in this universe, Agent Cooper, in one form or another, is one of the few consistent entities that gets focus. His love of trees, strong black coffee, and his almost childlike optimism throughout his time in the original Twin Peaks quickly made him the lovable, but true to his morals, character that the audience embraced. Which is why the ending of the original show crushed so many. With the cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers that ended the series due to its cancellation, many wondered, would we ever find out what happened?

Then, in 1992 a Twin Peaks movie was released and entirely directed by David Lynch unlike the show during its run. Huzzah! Answers! Or at least that’s what most probably assumed they would be getting. Not so fast! The film “Fire walk with me” was a prequel that focused on the last week of Laura Palmer’s life and the events that lead to her death. You may think, if it’s a prequel, should I watch it before the original series? Not unless you want massive spoilers, the film flutters around time and the context that the show gives the film helps to understand what’s happening. The film is far darker than the show, fully embracing the sexual abuse and violence that the original series hinted at. Plus, David Bowie plays an FBI agent, so that’s kinda cool.

Now, twenty-five years later, we have the much anticipated third season of Twin Peaks, which is calling itself “The Return” and is a limited run series eighteen episodes in length airing on Showtime. You can also find the show streaming on Showtime’s website. David Lynch has reunited with writer Mark Frost and is directing every episode of the show’s return. As of the time of this writing Showtime has released eight of the eighteen episodes, and boy, does it get weird. As someone who was never entirely into abstraction in narrative, I have to admit, if I had described this show’s style and demeanor to myself before seeing it, I might not have been so eager to give it a watch. Here, David Lynch has captured my rapt attention. By placing new and innovative visuals and artistic style in the world of a narrative that I’ve come to know and become invested in, he has me returning to Showtime’s website each week to find out what will happen to Agent Cooper? I don’t want to dive too far into the details because it really is something you have to see for yourself, but I must heed a warning; this show requires your viewing patience. If you can’t sit through a three minute scene of someone sweeping up the Bang Bang Bar floor after closing for the night, then you may not enjoy this revival of Twin Peaks. This is not the cozy pacific northwest town you once knew, nor is it the style of show that we are given. However it is fascinating because it feels as though there is a clear artistic vision behind all of the choices being made. The audience may never know exactly what Lynch was planning. Or maybe we will. That’s kind of the beauty of this revival. The term “Lynchian Horror” has been thrown around in describing this show, and though I am not familiar with his other works, it seems appropriate. Between ideas of existential crisis, the origin of a new evil, brooding and unsettling atmospheres abound-this feels like a psychological horror rather than anything traditional.

As I’ve gotten older I have come to appreciate art that challenges the viewer in new ways, and this show is most definitely of that variety. If you’re game for something new and inexplicable, I suggest giving the show- in its variety of forms- a watch. I may return after the show has ended to give my thoughts on this television experiment, until then-try watching something new, it’s good for you!