Tons of Spoilers Ahead As the second season of Twin Peaks spun into the death spiral of rescheduling, postponements, and network hostility/indifference, after the resolution of the “Who Killed Laura Palmer” mystery (her father, possessed by the demonic entity known as Bob, was the culprit), the show introduced a new baddie in the form of Agent Cooper’s ex-partner, Windom Earl (The Void’s Kenneth Welsh). Earl was essentially the dark mirror version of Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), obsessed with Tibetan black magic and desperate to find access to the mythical Black Lodge, which was, as he described it, “a secret place where the cultivation of evil proceeds in an exponential fashion and with it the furtherance of evil’s resulting power.” He considered himself an evil sorcerer, a dugpa, cultivating evil solely for the sake of evil, motiveless and pure. As such, he kidnapped Cooper’s love interest (the awkwardly introduced and developed Annie, played by Heather Graham) and escaped to the Black Lodge, followed quickly by Agent Cooper. In the Lodge, Cooper was powerless, and Earl offered to release Annie in exchange for Cooper’s soul. But suddenly, the long-haired source of teen nightmares in 1990 through 91, Bob (Frank Silva) appeared, claiming Earl’s soul as his, retrieving it from Earl’s screaming body in a fount of fire. Cooper hot-footed it away, and suddenly MacLachlan reappeared as the agent’s white-eyed doppelganger in Bob’s service. The show famously ended in one of the darkest places a television show has ever left its audiences, with the Cooper Doppelganger free in the real world, and our heroic Agent Cooper trapped in the Black Lodge. Now, twenty-five years (or so) have passed and Twin Peaks is back, its 18-episode third season airing on Showtime (which means nudity and swearing) and crafted by original creators David Lynch and Mark Frost. When Twin Peaks broke onto the scene in April of 1990, there had literally never been a television show like it. Lynch and Frost had made the pilot with pretty much free rein, never expecting it to actually be picked up for series (they shot an alternate ending so it could be released in Europe as a film), but the network loved it and an 8-episode first season was made, as Special Agent Dale Cooper arrived in rustic Twin Peaks to investigate the rape and murder of high-school student, Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). While television shows had cultivated mysteries over seasons (most notably the classic “Who Killed J.R.?” cliffhanger from Dallas), or had used a mystery to springboard a series without resolution until its finale (The Fugitive, for example – which inspired Twin Peak’s one-armed man motif), police procedural’s always focused on the heroic detectives or cops solving new crimes week in and out. Twin Peaks took the murder investigation as its starting point, but then spent the rest of the season exploring the weird world of the Pacific Northwest in a bizarre combination of banality, surrealism, romance, horror, and mysticism. And to audiences’ consternation, the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer wasn’t resolved. Despite this, and thanks to Lynch and Frost’s tight control over the production of that first season, the show received a remarkable fourteen Emmy nominations (ultimately only winning two, for Costume Design and Editing). But the show had been hemorrhaging viewers over its short run, and when the Second Season aired, things were even worse. After the season’s 15th episode placed 85th out of 89 shows in the ratings, ABC put the show on hiatus and it was only given a reprieve thanks to an organized letter-writing campaign. Those final six episodes, however, were aired sporadically thanks to the Gulf War. Both Lynch and Frost regretted wrapping up the Laura Palmer mystery mid-season two, but they were under a lot of pressure from the network to do so. As such, neither was really satisfied with how it played out as they had never intended to solve the crime in the first place. Laura’s murder was the MacGuffin they wanted to use to explore the funhouse mirror soap opera world of Twin Peaks. As far as I’m concerned, I preferred to put the Laura Palmer story behind me and was far more invested in the conflict between Windom Earl and Cooper. I was also never a big fan of most of the ongoing storylines in the original series, especially the absurd romance between Big Ed (Everett McGill) and Nadine (Wendy Robie) – I liked them much better as a couple in Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs – the mean-spirited romance of Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) and Deputy Andy (Harry Goaz), and the clichéd doomed romance of Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) and Jocelyn Packard (Joan Chen). To be fair, though, I was living my own combination of banality, surrealism, romance, horror, and mysticism at that time, so I never even went back to the show after that first season finale. It’s only in preparing to start Season Three that I’ve finally caught up, and I can honestly say that despite the ratings downturn and the common critical opinion that Season Two doesn’t hold a candle to the first, I didn’t really see much difference in the two. Each season was filled with mind-numbingly boring stretches and inane comedy punctuated by truly mind-blowing surrealistic stretches and horrifying violence and darkness. Despite my own misgivings about the series, Twin Peaks changed the landscape of television, influencing shows as diverse as The X-Files, Lost, The Killing, Hannibal, Bates Motel, True Detective, and Gravity Falls. In fact, the rise of original programming on cable networks has become so impressive that we are essentially living in a Golden Age of television. The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, The Wire, The Nick, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and Fargo are maybe the cream of the crop, but they also signify what shows have to strive for today. What was groundbreaking for Twin Peaks is now a standard that has to be met on a regular basis. Cinematography, character development, long-running storylines, violence, sex, and, at times, an embrace of the absurd, are what viewers have been trained to expect. So can Lynch and Frost return to the arena they established and hold their ground with today’s audiences? That is the question. Originally announced as a nine-episode season, the final product is a whopping eighteen episodes which center on Agent Cooper’s “odyssey” back to Twin Peaks. Many of the original cast has returned, and the new faces are legion with some just walking on for a scene and then never returning. I must admit to being a bit concerned at the eighteen episode run, preferring the more streamlined seasons that most contemporary cable shows have embraced. I’m afraid that the doubling of the episode count will lead to more extended awkward scenes like the one we get in episode four, where Michael Cera appears doing an extended Marlon Brando impression that is just painful to sit through. The first two episodes, however, are damn near perfect in their Lynchian horror. In contrast to the original series, “The Return,” as it’s being called, takes us all across America. In New York, a young man named Sam Colby (Ben Rosenfield) has been tasked by a nameless billionaire to watch a mysterious glass box while maintaining the cameras that are continually filming it as well. A young woman, Tracy Barberato (Madeline Zima) visits, the two have sex, and are then brutally murdered by some sort of apparition from the glass box in what is simultaneously gruesome and cheaply staged. Meanwhile, in Buckhorn, South Dakota, Cooper’s Doppelganger, leathery-skinned and long-haired, gathers two henchmen for some unknown task. Also in Buckhorn, a woman is found murdered, her severed head left with a beheaded male body in her apartment. Local principal Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard) is arrested. In a nearby cell, a mysterious apparition of what appears to be a burned-to-a-crisp mourning man slowly dissipates. Back in Twin Peaks, Deputy Chief Hawk (Michael Horse) receives a call from the Log Lady (Catherine Coulson) saying something is missing regarding Dale Cooper and Hawk’s heritage is the only way of discovering what it is and finding it. This is easily the weakest part of the episode, but it is nice to see the late Coulson on-screen again. Oh, no. Wait. The weakest part would be checking in with Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer) and his ne’er-do-well brother, Jerry (David Patrick Kelly). The task that Cooper’s Doppelganger is working on isn’t clearly revealed, but he’s looking for information. In a not-too-surprising twist, the people he’s working with have been hired to kill him by someone for some reason, but being a demonic force of evil, that doesn’t end well for them. What is revealed, however, is that it’s time for CD to return to The Black Lodge and he’s having none of it. In the Black Lodge, Cooper has brief run-ins with Laura and Leland Palmer, the One-Armed Man Mike, and in what is maybe the most ingenious bit of recasting in a television series ever, a skeletal tree with a disturbing bulbous brain-like head, calling itself The Evolution of the Arm (The Arm, or The Man From Another Place, was played in the original series by Michael J. Anderson, who has had a pretty extreme and fairly insane falling out with Lynch over the years). The Evolution of the Arm and Mike tell Coop that he has to leave and bring his doppelganger back. Then the floor opens up and our intrepid hero falls into space. All in all, if you hadn’t seen Twin Peaks Season Two, you’d probably be lost as fuck through most of these first two episodes (cut together as one), but to be fair, you’d probably be lost as fuck even if you had. The new elements introduced expand the world of the show while simultaneously making it even darker and stranger. This isn’t existential horror like you’ll find in something like The Walking Dead or The Killing, this is a surrealist metaphysics that you’ve not seen before on television. Remember, Lynch has never been about using metaphor. He’s all about the surrealist image and dream logic. Meaning will come later, if ever. So this return to the world of Twin Peaks is all about setting the stage for Agent Cooper’s return to the world after twenty-five years in The Black Lodge. And it’s about Cooper’s Doppelganger’s struggle to avoid returning to The Black Lodge after twenty-five years spreading chaos and evil in the real world. It’s surprisingly straightforward, though. Sure the Black Lodge stuff is bizarre with the backwards dialogue, the weird edits, and the talking skeletal tree, but aside from Cooper’s Doppelganger talking to a mysterious voice on a mysterious device (and mentioning having contact with Garland Briggs (Don S. Davis), the military man who worked on Project Blue Book back in the day), this is pretty standard stuff, characterized by Lynch’s trademark awkward weirdness and stilted language. Episode Three, on the other hand, goes full-on batshit crazy as Lynch embraces his groundbreaking Eraserhead style of storytelling. Cooper finds himself plunging through dimensional space until he lands on the balcony of a strange metal box, hanging in space. Once inside, he encounters two women who try to protect him from an entity pounding on the door that may or may not be some form of Mother. This sequence is edited in a stuttering style, with washed out colors and a soundscape that will inspire nightmares. This is what I was hoping for with the return of Twin Peaks. It doesn’t last too long, for those of you who find such excursions disturbing and annoying, and Cooper finds a way out to our world, as we discover what his Doppelganger had planned. We cut to MacLachlan playing a third role, this time bad-haired, overweight loser Dougie Jones, who is just finishing up an encounter with a prostitute. Dougie has what appears to be a stroke, but is, in fact, The Black Lodge summoning him home as he is replaced with a blank slate Dale Cooper who ends up wandering around like an idiot manchild in a casino, winning jackpots at slot machines. Anyway, once at The Black Lodge, Dougie dissolves, transforming into a little gold ball after Mike tells him he was manufactured for a purpose that has now been fulfilled. I can only assume that Dougie was a tulpa, created by the Doppelganger to avoid his own summoning back to the Black Lodge. And since a tulpa is Tibetan, I would like to assume that when Bob yanked Windom Earle’s soul out back in the Season Two finale, it had something to do with the creation of the Cooper Doppelganger. I’d really give just about anything to see Earle return in some capacity, but I’m not counting on it. But Doppelganger Coop doesn’t get out of this process unscathed. He ends up wrecking his car and vomiting some sort of toxic poison all over himself and his car, sending one police officer to the hospital just by coming in contact with it. This is really the Twin Peaks I wanted to see. It’s crazy, scary, and follows its own path regardless of what Showtime might think an audience is tuning in to see. But then we get to Episode Four. A large chunk of this episode is kind of like Lynch’s version of Rain Man as Coop wanders around hitting jackpots and muttering back whatever is said to him. He’s been reborn in our world and we spend a lot of time watching him wander about as people just point him in directions and act like it’s no big deal for a person to be acting this way. Usually, it’s kind of played for laughs as people encounter him and treat him like he’s just weird instead of potentially brain damaged – which is how MacLachlan plays him. This is a little disturbing when combined with Lynch and Frost’s presentation of Deputy Andy and Lucy, two more characters who are essentially mentally challenged but treated as comedy relief by the script. Even Dougie’s wife treats Coop as though he’s just being contrary instead of clearly showing signs of mental trauma and potential brain damage. He’s even forgotten how to pee and eat, which is also played for laughs. The episode begins pulling itself back together with the introduction of the always fantastic Robert Forster as Sheriff Frank Truman (Harry is in the hospital and Michael Ontkean isn’t on any cast lists, so I guess he’s not coming back). It turns out the Twin Peaks police department has a whole other wing we never saw before, with real police officers who also see Deputy Andy and Lucy as annoying wastes while they deal with real issues. Their son, Wally “Brando” Brennan (he was born on Marlon Brando’s birthday) is maybe the low point of the first four episodes, with Michael Cera, as mentioned earlier, doing an extended Brando impression while dressed like a biker from The Wild One. Luckily the rest of the episode is taken up with Lynch and the late Miguel Ferrer reprising their roles as Deputy Director Gordon Cole and Agent Albert Rosenfeld. It seems Cooper has turned up in a South Dakota prison so they head out to figure out where he’s been for the past twenty-five years. Instead of Coop, however, they find his Doppelganger claiming to be him and urgently requesting a debriefing. Neither Gordon nor Albert trusts him though. Which is a good thing. It appears that Showtime isn’t going to keep airing these in two-hour blocks, which means that we’re looking at at least three more months of stretching this story out, and I for one am not looking forward to that wait. It’s bad enough waiting to get through a season of Fargo or Better Call Saul and they only run ten episodes a pop. And since this season was described as Cooper’s odyssey back to Twin Peaks, it looks like we’re going to have quite a few episodes devoted to Cooper relearning everything and maybe becoming someone very different from the Cooper we know and love. That’s not what I was hoping to see with The Return, and given how much of the original series was skippable, I have some legitimate concerns for this series. Ultimately, though, we’re getting David Lynch’s and Mark Frost’s undiluted vision and when it’s one point, it’s going to be a helluva ride. But when it starts meandering, it might get bumpy. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.