Warning: This recap for ‘Part 1 and Part 2’ of Twin Peaks contains spoilers.
Diane, 04:20 am, May 22, I’m wired on black coffee and about to recap the new Twin Peaks. I’ve never been so perplexed in my life.
There are many words you can use to describe murdered homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee): daughter, friend, lover, addict, rebel, victim. But one thing she is not is a liar. “I’ll see you again in 25 years” was the promise she made to Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) as he journeyed through the mysterious Black Lodge — a sort of spiritual realm inhabited by demons and doppelgangers (and now a talking tree) — in 1991’s viscerally powerful Twin Peaks finale. The specter offered no elaboration on her prediction, choosing instead to finish on a non-sequitur, “Meanwhile.” This scene replays at the start of the two-part premiere, acting as our portal back into the wonderful and strange world of Twin Peaks.
A lot has changed in that meanwhile. Not just in Twin Peaks but television as a whole. It’s a dramatically different medium than it was in the early 90s, not just in content but in the way we consume that content. We live in the on-demand, binge-all era where prestige drama and auter-driven storytelling are at our fingertips, just a click or swipe away. It is the age of Peak TV where our favorite shows battle for our attention.
But before there was “Peak TV” there was simply Peaks TV. At a time when television was still rather conservative and formulaic, Twin Peaks stood out amongst all the gaudy studio sitcoms and run-of-the-mill procedurals. I was still wearing diapers in the Spring of 1990 (I was a toddler, not a fetishist), so can’t pretend I was part of the original obsession. I didn’t watch the show until in my late teens, but even then, in an era of Lost smoke monsters and Tony Soprano coma-dreams, Twin Peaks was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Its cast of eccentric oddballs, offbeat storytelling, unsettling subject matter and lush visuals left a huge impression on me and my tastes in both TV and coffee.
The brainchild of prolific film director David Lynch and accomplished TV writer Mark Frost, Twin Peaks was a genre-blending, thought-provoking, small town American nightmare. Adopting motifs from the popular shows of the time (Dallas, Dynasty), the series used soap-opera theatrics and melodrama to lure viewers into a false sense of familiarity before subverting expectations with brutal horror, absurdist humor, and suburban surrealism. Twin Peaks was like staring at your reflection in a Funhouse mirror – the image still recognizable, but distorted, peculiar and sometimes frightening.
The question posed by many critics is whether the new season will have the same impact in a modern marketplace populated by shows Twin Peaks influenced and inspired in the first place? The elements which made the show so groundbreaking in the 90s are now covered across the TV spectrum: stylistic surrealism in Legion and American Gods, cinematic visuals in Better Call Saul and The Leftovers, quirky small-town oddities and the paranormal in Fargo and Stranger Things. But if these opening two hours prove anything, it’s that Lynch and Frost are not concerned with what everyone else is doing, this is the uncompromised artistic vision of a director unshackled from network constraints — and that is what makes this the most thrilling thing on TV.
Where to begin? It’s difficult to recap Twin Peaks as if it’s a regular show. Lynch has made it abundantly clear that he directed the new series as an 18-hour feature, rather than an episodic drama, hence why the installments are listed as “Parts” as opposed to “Episodes.” That becomes obvious over these opening two hours; there are no distinct cut-offs (well, things are definitely cut off, which we’ll get to in a minute) or cliffhangers to separate the parts.
It’s two hours of haunting beauty, terrifying imagery, dark humor, heartbreaking emotion, piercing sounds, bad wigs, old faces, new faces, and distorted faces. It truly is what Showtime exec David Nevins called “the pure heroin version of David Lynch.” What this certainly isn’t is a nostalgia trip. There is no leisurely stroll through the Douglas firs where we get to breathe in that crisp Northwestern air, gobble down a slice of cherry pie, and gawp at the beloved characters of yesteryear. This isn’t an X-Files or Fuller House situation. This is much more than that. Lynch has brought his entire toolkit he’s been using over his 40-plus year career to create the ultimate Lynchian extravaganza.
The narrative bounces between locations, dimensions, time and space while introducing a whole phonebook’s worth of characters (old and new). It’s disconcerting initially, and brilliantly unsettling as the best of Lynch’s work often is, but it is also surprisingly coherent. I’m not talking about the imagery or the wider mythology of the show, which are still laden with symbolism and indecipherable clues, but the story (or stories) contain an inner logic and are followable. This isn’t the hallucinatory freeform madness of Inland Empire — a film I adore but which is generally inaccessible to audiences outside of the hardcore Lynch fans.
So let’s break down the key plot points from the premiere.
Cooper vs. Cooper
Agent Cooper is still trapped in the Black Lodge, the spirit realm hidden in the depths of Ghostwood Forest just outside Twin Peaks. He entered there in the Season 2 finale in pursuit of his girlfriend Annie Blackburn who had been kidnapped by his former partner turned flute-playing lunatic Windom Earl. It’s there, in the Black Lodge’s Red Room, where Laura Palmer tells Cooper she’ll see him again in 25 years, a scene which is reshot here but which we originally saw in the third episode of Season 1 in Cooper’s dream. Dialogue from that sequence is repeated, such as “I feel like I know her but sometimes by arms bend back,” as well as the kiss and whisper in the ear (which if you remember was Laura telling Cooper, “My father killed me.”).
“I’m dead, yet I live,” Laura says, before removing her face to let out a blinding white light, and then unleashing a blood-curdling scream as she disappears into the ether. Other familiar Lodge inhabitants visit Cooper, including the mysterious Giant (Carel Struycken) in an eerie black and white segment reminiscent of Eraserhead. Al Strobel’s One-Armed Man and Ray Wise’s Leland Palmer also pop up to deliver clue-filled non-sequiturs. The Man From Another Place (or The Arm) has been replaced by a sentient sycamore tree which is sure to set Michael J. Anderson off another hate-filled Facebook rant (he did once tell Cooper, “When you see me again it won’t be me.”). The Tree/Arm (god bless you, Lynch), refuses to let Cooper leave until his doppelganger returns.
That’s right, while Cooper has been listening to reverse-talk and conversing with the dead for the past quarter century, his BOB possessed doppelganger — who escaped the Lodge with Annie in Season 2 and was last seen smashing his head into a mirror and wasting toothpaste — has been rampaging through the real world. Characters refer to him as Mr. C but let’s call him what he really is — Evil Coop. Kyle MachLachan drops the boyish charm and wide-eyed wonder of Cooper to play an intimidating, murderous, leather jacket wearing, bad wig sporting badass, who sort of looks like heavy metal star Danzig spent too much time in the sun.
Evil Coop has taken up with some backwater hillbilly types, including what I assume to be brother and sister, Ray (George Griffith) and Darya (Nicole LaLiberte). He wants information, not “needs,” never tell Evil Coop he needs anything unless you want your face squished to death. Whatever this information is, apparently Ray can get it, except he gets himself locked up in federal prison for carrying weapons across the state line. Evil Coop brutally beats and then murders Darya in a seedy motel room after finding out she and Ray were planning to kill him at the behest of some unknown figure. It’s unclear exactly what Evil Coop is planning, but whatever it is it avoids returning to the Black Lodge as instructed — I guess his vacation time is up?
The Glass Box
Twin Peaks newcomers Madeline Zima and Ben Rosenfield are violently bludgeoned into a bloody mess (while having sex) by a freakish alien-looking monster which appears in an ominous glass box. Once again, something very Eraserhead in the imagery, combined with the disorientating camerawork of Inland Empire. Also, the aerial shots of the New York City skyscrapers are absolutely stunning.
What is this Glass Box? UFC fighter Michael Bisping guards it for one thing. But Rosenfield’s unnamed character didn’t seem to know much about it. He tells Tracey (Zima) that the building belongs to an anonymous billionaire, and he’s paid to watch the box and see if anything appears. The person he replaced once saw something but never said what it was he saw. While the NY lovers were busy chatting about coffee, they miss Cooper, who appears in the box after slipping through some sort of black hole time warp when trying to escape the Lodge. He’s then sucked into tinier and tinier boxes before completely disappearing.
Is this another gateway to the Lodge? Or perhaps a man-made portal, given all the equipment and wiring? Clearly, spirits and people and disturbing monsters can pass through.
Buckhorn, South Dakota
Meanwhile, in Buckorn, South Dakota, high school principal Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard, excellent casting!) is arrested for the murder of Ruth Davenport (Mary Stofle), whose decapitated head is found next to a headless body of an unidentified male. As gruesome as that sounds, the scene leading up to the discovery of the body is perhaps the funniest of these opening two hours, as the local law enforcement try and figure out their way into the apartment.
Bill denies the charges, despite his fingerprints being found all over Ruth’s apartment. He later confesses to his wife Phyllis (Cornelia Guest), who is more concerned that the Morgans are coming for dinner, that he dreamed he was in her apartment, but it wasn’t him. “I swear to you it was a dream,” he pleads.
Is Bill possessed by a Lodge spirit much like Leland was in the original series? Evil Coop is also currently residing in Buckhorn, so he could have brought other spirits with him, like that creepy figure painted black that appears and disappears in the jail cell beside Bill.
Las Vegas, Nevada
In Vegas, in what appears to be a hotel, a Mr. Todd (Mulholland Drive‘s Patrick Fischler) asks his assistant Roger (Joe Adler) to “Tell her she has the job.” We don’t find out who the “her” is but whatever the job she’s been hired to do is it doesn’t sound pleasurable. “Why do you let him make you do these things?” Roger asks Mr. Todd. Is the “him” Evil Coop? Or is the anonymous billionaire who also owns the Glass Box?
Despite being billed as “Twin Peaks: The Return,” we spend very little time in the actual town of Twin Peaks itself in these first two parts. It’s perhaps a wise decision so as not to turn the whole thing into the aforementioned nostalgia fest. Instead, there is just the right amount of Peaks to break up the intrigue and violence happening elsewhere.
Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) is now living in a trailer out in the woods and receives a large delivery of shovels. Brothers Ben (Richard Beymer) and Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly) are still salivating over food (Jerry is particularly fond of banana bread) at The Great Northern, where Ben has a new secretary, Beverly (Ashley Judd). Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) and Andy (Harry Goaz) are now married, and their son Wally is 24-years-old. Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) watches a gruesome wildlife show on the TV — there’s an incredible shot of the animals reflecting in the mirrors (symbolic of Leland’s animal instincts reflected back as BOB in those mirrors). Shelly (Mädchen Amick) is on a girls-night-out at the Bang Bang Bar where she reveals she has a daughter (Becky) and disapproves of her current boyfriend (Stephen). She also flirts across the bar with an unknown man (Lost Highway‘s Balthazar Getty) — where is Bobby?! James Hurley (James Marshall) is also hanging at The Roadhouse; Shelly informs her friends he had motorcycle accident but is still “cool” — come on, James was never cool, have you heard his singing?
The most compelling and heartbreaking return, though, is that of the Log Lady, played by Catherine Coulson who was very sick at the time of filming and passed away soon after in 2015. It adds extra gravitas to her scenes, as she gives Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) clues to find Agent Cooper, delivered in her usual enigmatic style. “My log has a message for you,” she says, “something is missing, and you have to find it. It has to do with Special Agent Dale Cooper.” It’s a wonderful callback to the original series where on bidding his farewells to the Sherrif’s Department, Cooper tells Deputy Hawk, “If I’m ever lost, I hope you’re the man they send to find me.” Well, thanks to Log Lady Margaret Lanterman, Hawk is coming to find you, Coop!
There is one final original Twin Peaks character referenced, Agent Phillip Jeffries, played by the recently deceased David Bowie in the prequel movie Fire Walk With Me. While he doesn’t appear on-screen, Evil Coop uses a device to call who he believes is Jeffries, who tells the doppelganger, “You’re going back in tomorrow, and I will be with BOB again.” When Jeffries appeared out of nowhere in FWWM, he shouted at Chief Gordon Cole (David Lynch) “Who do you think this is right here?” while pointing at Agent Cooper. It appears Jeffries has been bouncing around in time and was aware that at some point Cooper would become evil.
As the Chromatics perform a dreamy song in the Roadhouse to close us out, I’m left bewildered, frightened, amused, excited, and deeply engrossed in this journey. Yes, this ride isn’t going to be comfortable, it will be bumpy, take some dark turns, and lead us down the rabbit hole of confounding Lynchian madness, but we have a clear and semi-understandable plot. Good Cooper needs to return Evil Cooper to the Black Lodge in order to save his soul — and perhaps, all our souls.
Thoughts From Another Place
- The new title sequence was breathtaking and dizzying in equal measure. There’s a beautiful aerial shot of the Snoqualmie waterfall. In fact, there was a lot of fantastic overhead shots in these two parts: the NYC cityscape, Vegas strip, and the woods outside Twin Peaks. Lynch is bringing us new angles on his world.
- Evil Coop appears to have a partner in crime called Chantal (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Another Lynch film sprang to mind here, Wild At Heart, what with Evil Coop’s long, greasy hair and leather.
- Where was the black and white scene set? Is that part of the Black Lodge? It looked different from The Red Room. And when was that set? The One-Armed Man later asked, “Is it the future or the past?” Time seems like it will play a big role this series.
- Where are Cooper and Laura? Those are the big questions heading into Part 3 and 4 (now available on demand). Laura was ripped from the Red Room while Cooper was seemingly sucked into nothingness from inside that glass box. Hopefully the tree will tell us.
Twin Peaks airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Showtime.
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