Or, Constbert Rosenblot’s Post-Mortem: Is It Happening Again?
The final part of my final Twin Peaks review, before it all cannot be said aloud any longer.
Looking back at this entire experience and taking stock, there are bound to be a storm of different feelings and interpretations, which is just the beginning of a conversation that will rage onward for many years.
Certainly there has been a fair amount of hand-wringing over where David Lynch and Mark Frost have chosen to leave us. Some viewers even feel this entire endeavor has been a waste. It’s easy to see why a portion of the audience would have that opinion. While the Cooper storyline was wrapped up (in plastic) to at least some degree, plenty of other threads are left mercilessly dangling. Did Steven really shoot himself? What happened to Becky? Who the hell was Red? Are Ben and Beverly together now? Who is the young girl that swallowed the frogbug in 1956? And just where the fuck is Audrey?
Zero closure on any of that. While some will chalk it up to bad writing, I’d posit that it’s an artistic choice on Lynch and Frost’s part; they’re obviously aware these plots were left unresolved. This was less an actual season of television as we would normally define it, and more a snapshot of what both Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks look like in this day and age. Plenty of things happened before this which we don’t know about, and more things will happen after. Life in Twin Peaks goes on, whether or not we’re seeing it. This was an in media res visit to the town, and if things are left open-ended, it’s because we’re meant to be wondering.
For instance, I love that Red — this insane drug dealer who seems to have magic powers (or does he?), and who brings with him chaos wherever he goes — has no explanation. The two times we see him, the trail ends in madness: Richard runs over the little boy (an event which in turn feeds the Black Lodge), and later the chain of events occurs with the gun-wielding child and the mysteriously sick girl. His arrival seems to dovetail with the fact that Judy, that force of ultimate malevolence, has come down from the mountain and staked camp in the Palmer household (or at the very least made Sarah her emissary). The people of Twin Peaks are acting strangely, similar to the hand tremors in season two, almost like they can sense that darkness has descended. But whoever Red is, we don’t need an answer. He’s another enigma. Twin Peaks is not Twin Peaks if there aren’t more mysteries, and Red is another mystery.
Likewise with Audrey. Yes, it’s disappointing that she’s left in such a precarious and alarming spot. But her situation is obliquely addressed later, when the Arm repeats the line about the little girl who lived down the lane. In episode 18, that dialogue seems to refer to Laura/Carrie, but it feels like it refers to Audrey as well. Perhaps she too is trapped in a similar illusion spun by Judy, though in her case it looks like she’s woken up. Either way, the Arm’s repetition of Audrey’s question is the story’s way of acknowledging her in the final episode.
And what about all these random people at the Roadhouse talking about streams of other characters we don’t know? Again, apart from feeding the dreamlike narrative about Audrey and the way it ultimately culminates at the Roadhouse, most of these scenes are Polaroids. Little Greek choruses of small town life. Similar to Lynch’s Hotel Room, where every segment was set in the same room but in a different year, these moments in the Roadhouse mostly take place in the same booth. We’re seeing little mini-stories about whoever happens to be sitting in that booth in the episode. It’s not exactly always relevant to the overall narrative, but it’s relevant to the mood Lynch is creating, and in a lot of his work the mood drives the story.
As for the many other unanswered questions, some of them can more or less be resolved contextually. It doesn’t really matter who frogbug girl is, for example. Whether or not she’s Sarah (the age matches up, by the way) or a different established character or someone we’ve never met before, the conclusion is still the same: Judy’s spawn was loosed in the world and took residence in people. Likewise, by showing Mr. C present at the glass box site in New York, we can extrapolate that this is the work of either himself or Jeffries or both. Evil Cooper was looking for Mother/Judy, and she appeared in the box while pursuing Coop, so it kind of fits together on its own. These aren’t solid answers, but they are enough in the way of an implied explanation that they offer some resolution while still leaving room to dream.
Another bone of contention is the amount of time spent in locations that aren’t Twin Peaks. Las Vegas, South Dakota, New York City . . . all received a fair amount of screentime. It might seem jarring that so much of Twin Peaks took place outside of Twin Peaks, but considering season two and FWWM, the story was always moving to an arena where we’d see other things happening in other places. And stranding Cooper in Vegas was a brilliant stroke. What could be more the opposite of Twin Peaks than Las Vegas: a flashy neon distraction in the desert, the exact antithesis of where Cooper needs to be.
Yet, Vegas proved just as significant in the grand scheme of things, as its many characters became central to the new season’s storyline. Additionally, Twin Peaks is nothing if not a tale about the mystical frontier of America, and the landscape of the Mojave is as perfect a carrier for that notion as the Northwest. (Not to mention, episode 8 revealed the mythology of Twin Peaks to be intimately tied to the American desert). As for Buckhorn, it’s basically another Twin Peaks, just in South Dakota instead of Washington, and it adds to the idea that there are many strange places in that part of the world.
The 2017 Twin Peaks was an odd hybrid, a continuation of the old Twin Peaks that in some ways had little to do with the previous series, and yet in others had everything to do with it, feeling both maddeningly incomplete and yet complete unto itself. We call this the third season, but in a sense that’s not correct, as it’s more like the latest stage in the life cycle of a show that has continuously reinvented its identity (the pilot, the first season, the second season, Fire Walk With Me) and has now evolved into a somewhat new creature altogether. It both was and was not Twin Peaks, which, if you think about it, is a very Twin Peaks thing to do. Beyond that, it also manages to work as perhaps the purest cinematic David Lynch experience that has ever been created, apart from maybe Eraserhead.
For sure, the new Twin Peaks comes off in a lot of ways like the capper for Lynch’s entire career as an artist. The season is dotted with numerous repetitions of images, sounds, motifs, and ideas from every single film he’s ever made. And also those Lynch films that never were: the existentialism and mysticism of his famously unmade Ronnie Rocket, as well as the absurd humor of his never produced comedies One Saliva Bubble (which he wrote with Mark Frost) and The Dream of the Bovine (written with FWWM writer Bob Engels), have all found a home in the new Twin Peaks, with both direct and indirect references.
But as I said way back at the beginning of this season, I really doubt Lynch created this new series as a shrine to himself, unless the Transcendental Meditation isn’t working and he’s secretly a raging egomaniac. I think he’s more just basking in the creative freedom of this situation, and as most artists tend to repeat ideas obsessively, he’s drawing from everything swirling in his head from 70+ years on this planet.
This is not to discount Mark Frost, just as much an integral part of the fabric of Twin Peaks as Lynch. His interests in the occult, conspiracy theories, American history, police procedurals, and mysteries that pay off in unexpected fashion all fuel the current incarnation of the show. In many ways it’s Frost who has erected this grand mythology. Which is not to say that Lynch shies from the mythological (see Dune, or the openings of Eraserhead and Inland Empire), but it was during the second season when Frost was largely in charge that many of the seeds which became the recent season were planted.
And though Twin Peaks is not a “political” show, Frost has always been very vocal in his concerns about the direction of the country, and there’s a good chance that elements such as the current economic condition of Twin Peaks (note that many of the residents are poor and living in trailers) and the references to the fallout from the W. Bush-era wars (Doris and Frank’s son was a veteran who committed suicide, and the unseen Linda at the Fat Trout is in a wheelchair from the war) are attributable to Frost’s inclinations.
But it’s not just Lynch and Frost who deserve praise. Many other people in front of and behind the camera helped to make this the achievement that it was.
So many actors delivered standout performances this season. Madchen Amick, Sherilyn Fenn, Everett McGill, Peggy Lipton, Wendy Robie, Russ Tamblyn, Harry Goaz, Michael Horse, Kimmy Robertson, Richard Beymer, Carel Struyken . . . all of them believably built on the characters they’d previously established, and it’s lovely to see the original cast return to this world they helped create. The always stellar Graze Zabriskie brings so much to the table as Sarah Palmer, a ruined shell of a woman who may now be harboring supreme darkness in her soul. Finally, Dana Ashbrook, whose character is not one of the most endeared from the original run, managed to own every scene in which he appeared, instilling Bobby with the wisdom and warmth that his dad would have wished for him. Yes, Bobby freaking Briggs brought a tremendous amount of heart to the new Twin Peaks.
As do so many of the actors turning in some of their final work. The late Miguel Ferrer makes Albert a backbone of this whole venture, offering wry commentary on the proceedings without just being a snarky G-man or comic relief; his working relationship (and longtime friendship) with Gordon, mentoring of Tammy, and budding romance with the amazing Constance Talbot all gave this revival an indelible tenderness despite his acidic wit. (And “Fuck Gene Kelley, you motherfucker!” is now my go-to line for being caught in a storm). Catherine Coulson, just days away from death herself, brings such aching dignity to the Log Lady’s demise that it’s impossible not to see Margaret’s goodbye to Hawk as also a message from Coulson to the audience. And Harry Dean Stanton, who passed away just yesterday as of this writing, updates his gruff Carl Rodd to an almost Christlike figure of compassion, a mystic cut from a similar cloth as the Log Lady and Major Briggs.
Speaking of death, Lynch and Frost manage to honor a handful of the cast members whose mortal departures preceded the filming of this new season — in particular Frank Silva, Jack Nance, Don Davis, and David Bowie (who died during production and was too ill to participate)— by making those characters still vital parts of the story, despite not being able to film any new footage with them.
As for actors fresh to Twin Peaks, throw a rock and you’ll hit someone who knocked it out of the park. Laura Dern immediately turns Diane into an iconic figure, and that’s before we learn we haven’t even met the real Diane yet. She gives so many shades and nuances to this enigmatic character, and it ranks as another of her best performances. Naomi Watts, whose Janey-E starts off as the stereotypical nagging wife, slowly reveals the hidden dimensions of Diane’s sister, showing us a frustrated person so boxed-in by her barely functional husband that she’ll do anything to protect her family, because no one else will. Robert Forster has a tough job replacing Michael Ontkean, but he more than admirably fills the shoes (and hat) of Harry’s older brother, embodying the laid back stoicism of a sheriff in the mountains.
Even the smaller roles pack a punch. Tom Sizemore and Matthew Lillard both end up stealing the show in their final scenes, and Jim Belushi is a goddamn joy in a role that could have been a one-dimensional tough guy. Ashley Judd does an incredibly moving job as Beverly Paige, a woman trapped with a dying and controlling spouse and seeking an escape through her employer Ben Horne, a man whose sordid past she does not know. And let’s not forget Nefessa Williams as Jade — one of my favorite new additions — a comic highlight due to the sheer pragmatic normalcy of her character.
But it’s Kyle MacLachlan who will be remembered the most for this revival, and rightfully so, as he more than earns his top billing in every episode. Between having to play “regular” Cooper, Cooper trapped in the Lodge for three decades, Cooper’s doppelganger, Dougie, Dougie 2.0, and finally Richard, MacLachlan is tasked with embodying so many variations of his famous special agent that it could have been daunting at the very least. But he sells everything, and despite all the ambiguity of this Twin Peaks, it’s never unclear which Coop you’re looking at. Whenever something is off or different about Cooper, MacLachlan makes sure you see it without necessarily overplaying the hand. It’s truly a defining performance of his career.
Behind the scenes, Lynch’s collaborators were just as much on top of things. Angelo Badalamenti contributes a handful of new musical pieces to this series, all of which now feel almost as beautiful and essential as his score for the original show. Dean Hurley’s ambient work is equally effective, as is the pop music used in the new episodes, incorporating preexisting songs and material recorded specifically for this event. Everything from the Chromatics to ZZ Top to the Platters to Nine Inch Nails to Shawn Colvin somehow all sit together seamlessly.
Duwayne Dunham, an editor and director on the old series, returns to cut The Return, and he had quite the job ahead of him, but he and the show’s many assistant editors (including Brian Berdan, whose work on Natural Born Killers is some of the very best montage cutting ever committed to film) proved up to the task. Lynch having no limit on the running time allows his material to fully breathe and sit in a way that it’s never had before, and that space helps to define this series. Lastly, frequent Lynch cinematographer Peter Deming produces some of the most gorgeous, haunting images of his career; even shots as innocuous as a highway at night, a mist-covered valley, and the NYC skyline are rendered so unforgettably that they burn their way into the viewer’s grey matter in an instant.
The original Twin Peaks broke the mold of television, knocking down the wall and helping to create the fertile TV environment that exists today. Frost was right to think that he and Lynch should get back in the game. Did they succeed in breaking the mold again? Oh my, yes.
The new Twin Peaks plays completely by its own rulebook. Characters and storylines randomly start and stop, some never to be heard from again. Many scenes don’t take place anywhere near Washington state (or Mt. Rushmore, sorry Gordon). Episodes are built on atmosphere and tone as opposed to just plot, but then the plot itself can be so twisty that it becomes demanding in its own way. The mythology will veer anywhere from UFOs to Arthurian legend to surreal landscapes of inner space to time travel to demonic forces. Twin Peaks will randomly throw in Monica Bellucci as herself without batting an eye. And it can give us an hour like episode 8, a mindblowing piece of experimental art-house fodder that somehow was broadcast on Showtime.
What’s fascinating is that this wasn’t even written or created like a normal television series. Lynch and Frost spent two years writing the script before presenting it to the network. While the finished script eventually clocked in around 500-something pages, which would normally equate to about 9 hours, Lynch fought Showtime over their insistence on only 9 episodes because he’s well aware that he does not film at the Hollywood standard of “one page = one minute of running time.” A character walking down a hallway can take ten minutes in a David Lynch movie. He knew it would be longer and rightfully insisted on the budget to have up to eighteen hours of finished, edited material. Lynch then directed the entire thing while Frost penned not one but two supplementary novels.
None of this is in keeping with how television is produced today, not even so-called auteur TV. We refer to the new Twin Peaks in terms of episodes but these weren’t written as individual episodes with a beginning, middle, and end. As stated above, this was written as a giant movie to be divided into segments later. According to Lynch and producer Sabrina Sutherland, Lynch wrote additional material during filming (likely some of the more vignette-ish moments on the series as well as a handful of bigger scenes, plus there was some rewriting to accommodate the various casting issues), but as Lynch has elsewhere mentioned, most of the script was locked in place by himself and Frost before production began. This wasn’t a matter of starting a season of television and seeing where it led; this was a new way of producing TV.
While certain other cable series — the first season of True Detective, for instance — have been written during pre-production and maintained the same director for the entire season, those are still shows which adhere to the standard format of defined individual episodes. Twin Peaks might be the first case where it was entirely unclear how many episodes there would be, or what scenes would end up in which installment. Lynch’s freeform approach to creating a TV show is probably difficult for a network and its bean counters — hence Lynch coming to blows with Showtime over the budget — but it’s a thrill to behold.
In today’s recap culture, we have a very specific expectation for how to consume television, and the new Twin Peaks completely sidesteps those expectations. Trying to review it like a normal television show is virtually impossible. It doesn’t work on an episodic basis, even if the episodes hold together on their own . . . which they all do, somehow. But you almost can’t have an informed opinion until you’ve seen the whole thing. This might drive TV critics crazy, but if Twin Peaks is helping to create a new paradigm (and a haven for the artist who no longer has a place in modern American movies), then we all might need to heed Cooper’s advice and accept that things are about to change.
Some have opined that The Return is Lynch’s way of trolling the audience, by dismantling the old Twin Peaks and correcting the mistakes of the original series. There is perhaps a hair of truth buried in that sentiment. Lynch is notoriously touchy about the second season, the development of which he was less involved with due to post-production and publicity commitments for Wild at Heart. He then stepped away from the series almost entirely when he disagreed with the decision to reveal Laura’s killer midseason, only getting involved again on a creative level near the end. It has always been a gaping wound for Lynch.
Certainly, having Cooper go back in time and change the course of events almost feels like an attempt to rewrite the past of the series and clean up any of its narrative transgressions, particularly in the second season. But if anything, I suspect this is more a requiem for Twin Peaks and its history — the good and the bad — just as Twin Peaks itself is a requiem for Laura Palmer. Lynch grudgingly accepts that the portions of Twin Peaks where he was less present are still Twin Peaks, and he’s not taking that away from us. Or, as Mark Frost so succinctly put it to Esquire earlier this year: “We long ago made peace with whatever perceived issues there might have been with that second half of season two. It is what it is, it was what it was, and I think all of it in one way or another proved foundational for what we did moving forward.”
No, David Lynch isn’t actively trying to destroy Twin Peaks, troll the fans, or flip the audience the myna bird. He simply doesn’t care. Lynch is off in his own little world and is drawn to things that interest him. What does not interest him is considering people’s expectations. At this point in his life, he’s managed to almost entirely phase out thoughts about how the audience may potentially react.
Therefore, while The Return may be in some ways be commenting on the legacy of Twin Peaks and the lure of returning to the past, I don’t think it’s subverting itself to the level of actually sabotaging Twin Peaks. At the end of the day, Lynch loves this small town and the people who live there. That’s why he came back. (I also doubt he and Frost would have spent years writing this, and then more years filming and editing, just to be making the equivalent of “oh you want Twin Peaks? Fuck you”).
So, is this it? Are we really at the end, or is more Twin Peaks waiting for us in the future? What’s currently known is that Lynch and Frost wrote this as an ending, but they left the door open and are willing to talk about more. So far, those discussions haven’t happened.
I cannot and would not speak for any other Twin Peaks fans, but personally, I’m okay if this is it. I spent over 20 years thinking we’d never see an ending to this story, and to finally get some sense of closure (or the intentional lack thereof) is a fantastic thing. Don’t get me wrong. I was so happy to return to this world, and if David Lynch and Mark Frost feel that there’s more to say, I trust them and welcome it. But if this is goodbye, it’s the most wonderful goodbye we could have possibly gotten.
Let’s also not forget that it took five years to make this new Twin Peaks happen, Lynch almost completely walked away at one point, and it was just a massive undertaking in terms of all involved. To get something this good again, it could be another five years, and Lynch and Frost aren’t getting any younger. So, we’ll just see what happens.
But we’re not totally out of the woods yet, as Mark Frost will soon be publishing The Final Dossier, his follow-up to The Secret History of Twin Peaks that will fill in the blanks between the old series and the new one. With a title like that, it admittedly does feel like a further closing of the door on Twin Peaks. On the other hand, Lynch hasn’t even read Frost’s books, and with the revelations in the final two episodes, there seem to be multiple Twin Peakses. The world in Frost’s novels, as rich and complex as it is, doesn’t necessarily have to be the same exact one that David Lynch films.
Indeed, Lynch and Frost likely have somewhat different interpretations of Twin Peaks, but those interpretations complement each other, creating something that neither of them would have made on their own. And what they’ve achieved here is beyond anything that anyone could have guessed or expected.
Whether or not this is the end, this has been such a rewarding experience, possibly the most unique television event any of us will see in our lifetimes. I am so thankful that this happened, and so grateful to Mark Frost and David Lynch for taking us back to this place of dreams and nightmares and coffee and pie and the absurd mystery of the strange forces of existence.
But if there is more, Mark and David, I just want to politely request one thing: please tell us how the fuck Annie is doing.
One More Thought That Happened:
Thanks to any and all of you who may have followed my reviews this season. I appreciate your support. I’ll see you in the trees.