Twin Peaks is back—and that sound you hear is the internet collapsing in on itself.
David Lynch’s long-awaited homecoming to his eminent Pacific Northwest enclave didn’t disappoint, as the two-hour Showtime premiere of Twin Peaks: The Return picked up where the 1990-1991 ABC series left off—which is to say, in a mystifying and terrifying free fall into surrealistic murder-mystery madness. Except that this wasn’t a continuation so much as an amplification; despite its promotional tagline proclaiming “It Is Happening Again,” Lynch’s revival spent its opening hours making sure audiences, and the rest of its small-screen competition, understood that this 18-episode event was going to be far more bizarre, and bewildering, than anything that’s come before.
In the process, Lynch’s premiere was basically recap-proof, at least in any traditional analytical sense. Alternating between various storylines whose connections were semi-comprehensible at best, and whose scattered geographic locations expanded the show’s portentous purview, Twin Peaks: The Return established its waking-dream form from the outset.
In an intro black-and-white sequence, the Giant (Carel Struycken), sitting in a decayed version of the Black Lodge’s red room, tells an aged Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) to listen to the scratchy noises emanating from an old phonograph before cautioning, “It is in our house now.” Lynch subsequently shifts his gaze to white-haired Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) at a remote woodland trailer, where he receives crates filled with shovels. Then, the action leaps out of its trademark region and into nocturnal New York, where a young man sits on a couch in an austere apartment room, staring at a giant elevated glass box that boasts a round window looking out onto Manhattan.
This transparent enclosure is being filmed by multiple video cameras, and occasionally, the young man gets up to change their SIM cards (which are filed away in a black cabinet), and also to exit the room to chat with a woman named Tracy who brings him coffee. Apparently, he’s been hired to watch the box to see if something materializes inside it. And lo and behold, something murderous eventually does, at the exactly moment he and Tracy begin to have sex on his couch. It’s a technology-powered portal of some kind—although straightforward explanations are, predictably, nowhere to be found.
Sprinkled throughout are reintroductions to familiar, if now far older, faces. Toward the beginning of episode one, we get a brief glimpse of Ben Horne (Richard Beymer), who still runs The Great Northern Hotel (with Ashley Judd as his assistant), as well as his brother Jerry (David Patrick Kelly), who’s now a marijuana tycoon with a long beard and a funny hat. At the end of episode two, we receive our initial look at James Hurley (James Marshall) at The Bang Bang Bar, where he spies Shelley (Mädchen Amick), who—in the show’s only wrongheaded line—proclaims that James has “always been cool.” In between, other old favorites make fleeting appearances: Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) watching a nature show about lions devouring prey; Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) and Andy (Harry Goaz) talking about their now-grown son; and the Log Lady (the late Catherine E. Coulson) calling Deputy Chief Hawk (Michael Horse) to tell him that her log says “something is missing” regarding the long-MIA Agent Cooper—leading Hawk to visit the forest gateway to the Black Lodge.
Additionally, Twin Peaks: The Return’s maiden chapters focus on two even more baffling narrative strands. In the first, which appears designed to provide the series with its investigative-whodunit “structure” (if such a term applies to this phantasmagoric nightmare), a Buckhorn, South Dakota librarian named Ruth Davenport is found dead in her apartment—or, at least, her head is, lying in her bed above the bloated, twisted corpse of an unidentified man. Thanks to fingerprints found at the scene, local high school principal Dale Hastings (Matthew Lillard) is arrested. The thing is, Dale claims to his wife Phyllis that, the night before, he’d only dreamed that he was in Ruth’s place. Which is as unexpected as the fact that Phyllis reacts by stating that she knows about Dale’s affair with Ruth, and, after having her own affair with their lawyer thrown back in her face by Dale, tells her spouse, “You’re going down. Life in prison, Bill. Life in prison.”
And then Phyllis goes home and is promptly shot dead by Agent Dale Cooper.
Or should I say, the long-haired, sunburnt, leather-jacketed man who looks and sounds like Agent Dale Cooper. That’s because it’s soon clear that this figure—who’s in league with two cohorts named Ray and Daria in a plot involving Dale’s (unseen) secretary—is the doppelganger who took Cooper’s place in our reality at the end of the original Twin Peaks series finale, leaving the real Cooper trapped in the Black Lodge. This evil double now intends to avoid some predestined return to the Black Lodge. However, during a weird briefcase phone call with a man whom he thinks is Phillip Jeffries (the FBI agent played by David Bowie in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me)—but in fact is someone else—he’s informed, “You’re going back in tomorrow. And I’ll be with Bob again.”
That’s about as incomprehensible as the red room-centric material with the genuine Agent Cooper, which is awash in distorted-perspective hallucinatory visions of zigzagging carpets, fluttering red curtains, and a white horse. While there, Cooper speaks with a creepy-blinking Laura (Sheryl Lee), who tells him “I am dead, yet I live,” and her dad Leland (Ray Wise). And he spends considerable time in the company of the one-armed man (Al Strobel) and, in the most WTF? moment of the night, a flickering tree with a brain. The tree, it turns out, is “The evolution of the arm.” And it informs Cooper, “I sound like this,” before making otherworldly fluttering mouth noises that, in a perfectly insane way, are exactly what one might imagine a tree-brain’s voice to sound like. Some time later, the tree sends Cooper plummeting through dark, inky space back to New York, presumably so he can return his doppelganger to the Black Lodge.
What does it all mean? Hell if I know. But that’s the fundamental joy of Twin Peaks: The Return, whose odd tonal shifts, scarily schizoid imagery, and mind-boggling train-of-thought digressions are unadulterated Lynch. Mulholland Drive cinematographer Peter Deming brings a silky ominousness to everything from point-of-view shots through dark woods illuminated by flashlights, to creeping crawls through a nondescript apartment building and its prosaic residences. Those sights are augmented by Angelo Badalamenti’s typically incredible soundscape of mournful melodies and buzzing/scratching/droning audio effects. And at the center of this awesome aesthetic spectacle, MacLachlan continues to exude a composure, and yet also (via his doppelganger role) an off-kilter intensity and sweaty menace, that’s perfectly on Lynch’s wacko wavelength.
While Twin Peaks: The Return’s premiere lays the groundwork for its forthcoming narrative—which will, it seems, deal with Cooper’s search for his malevolent twin, and the related investigation into Ruth’s slaying—its power comes from its electric inventiveness and gleeful inscrutability. An inimitable stew of the romantic and the demonic, the cartoonish and the crazy, it is, in the purest sense of the term, Lynchian.
Peak TV, indeed.