A TWIN PEAKS RECAP: The Return, Parts 1 & 2

The stars turn and a time presents itself.

A TWIN PEAKS RECAP is a 15-week recap of the new Showtime limited series from David Lynch and Mark Frost, analysing the wonderful and strange happenings in the town of Twin Peaks and beyond every week.

Like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive before it, the new Twin Peaks is already holding up for mockery the traditional way in which we structure stories. Its seemingly-incoherent and random stream of scenes make a standard moment-for-moment recap increasingly problematic, and its cousin, The Thematic Recap, even more so. Complicating matters, Lynch has been quoted more than once calling this new batch of Twin Peaks an ‘18-hour film’ rather than a series paced over 18 weeks, with their own preoccupations and conflicts.

As a result, The Return is not simply a time capsule back to 1990. On the contrary, it’s a return to a place — as Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) once put it — ‘both wonderful and strange’, from the perspective of a artist in a different phase of his life. As such, though the Twin Peaks ‘feel’ remains, there are clear shades of the 21st century, no-holds-barred Lynch style, which vouches for Lynch and Frost’s sincerity in returning to a good thing. Like Don Draper’s cross-country odyssey in Mad Men’s final stretches, what separates The Return from its rebooted brethren is, so far, its purposeful shedding of the show’s most iconic elements.

Laura Palmer’s (Sheryl Lee) Black Lodge-double repeats — through re-used footage — the Season 2 finale’s premonition. “I’ll see you again in 25 years.” We see even more old footage from previous seasons, like the eerie school hallways and Laura’s haunting homecoming headshot in the trophy cabinet. We even get the iconic music and sweeping shots or the Douglas fir trees and adjoining waterfall in its title sequence. But 25 years later, we aren’t in the red room. There isn’t even any colour to speak of.

??????? (Carel Struycken) in Twin Peaks: The Return

Here Season 2’s Giant (Carel Struycken, credited as ‘???????’) delivers — backwards, of course — some clues to Agent Cooper, now trapped in the lodge for 25 years and visibly aged in comparison to the childlike lawman we knew before. The Giant tells Cooper “It is in our house now” and whatever ‘it’ is, “it all cannot be said aloud now.” Remember, he says, “430. Richard and Linda. Two birds with one stone.” Whatever these clues mean, if they’re anything like his previous warnings, we will almost certainly know soon enough.

After a brief, forest-set catch-up with Laura’s bespectacled former psychiatrist and lover Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn), presumably surrounding Twin Peaks (he’s purchased some shovels), we’re suddenly panning over the New York skyline. It’s a sinking feeling, this series of shots, because although Lynch has, of course, set one of his best films amongst iconic locations like the Hollywood sign, he manages to make a city as famous as New York feel utterly uncanny and strange. Aural ambience aside, the adjoining crane shot leading up into the glass cylinder window ranks among the most unnerving sequences of The Return’s first two hours, with its slow deliberateness echoing Lynch’s first feature Eraserhead.

In fact, Eraserhead looms large over this entire sub-plot, which involves Sam (Benjamin Rosenfield), a young guy tasked by an anonymous billionaire to watch over an empty glass box inside a Manhattan compound. Recorded by cameras whose SD cards must constantly be replaced, the box sits with its own underscored ambience, watching Sam like the Monolith from 2001. He sits on an ordinary couch, with a sidetable and bonsai tree, barely moving except to replace and store camera footage (Lynch directs this wide, like Henry Spencer walking across Eraserhead’s urban hellscape). Sam’s like the kind of viewer obsessed with Twin Peaks, eager to see whatever made the other guy go crazy, or so he heard.

Sam Colby (Benjamin Rosenfield) and Tracey (Madeline Zima) in Twin Peaks: The Return

Sam’s also plagued by repeat visits from Tracey (Madeline Zima), a woman we assume he already knows, offering coffee in exchange for a trip inside. Eventually he yields, inviting her in to sit on the couch, gaze longingly at the glass box and, inevitably, make out on the couch before initiating sex. Both scenes set here are filled with these apparent allusions to viewership and gazing, particularly towards television, that are suddenly made complex and horrifying through Sam and Tracey’s bloody mutilation at the hands of whatever emerged from the now black and foggy glass box. The scene is a letter of intent on the parts of Lynch and Frost. It’s also the kind of water-cooler moment this new season perhaps needed, catalysing discussion of that moment, of that thing in the glass box.

The Return’s opening two hours makes frequent absurd detours, but ultimately sticks to a handful of revolving plotlines, each informing the other, and so on. Dale Cooper’s earthbound doppelgänger — the subject of much discussion following that Season 2 cliffhanger — leaves a trail of dead bodies and chaos in his stead, operating as a kind of snakeskin jacket Heisenberg (the Breaking Bad one, not the theoretical physicist), with two backwater accomplices, Ray (George Griffith) and Darya (Nicole LaLiberte), summoned to his side. This new Cooper looks more like Bob, the series’ manifestation of evil in a denim jacket, with long hair and eagerness for fun (i.e. sex and violence). His later slaying of Darya on a motel bed rings of Blue Velvet’s Frank Booth, an intimidating gangster and beater of woman, but also Bob’s killing of Maddy Ferguson in Season 2 — in which a punch packs all the power of a shot through the eye, and more impactful for Lynch’s sound design.

Special Agent Dale Cooper’s doppelgänger (Kyle MacLachlan) in Twin Peaks: The Return

Pre-empting his being pulled back into the Black Lodge from whence he came (something he intends to prevent), the doppelgänger sets up a chain of events resulting in a near-replay of the Laura Palmer case, framing school principal Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard) for the brutal murder of librarian Ruth Davenport (Mary Stofle) in the small town of Buckhorn, South Dakota. Like Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) before him, Hastings is the pillar of a small community, whose wife Phyllis (Cornelia Guest) is perhaps more disturbed by the police interrupting their dinner plans with the Morgans than her husband’s arrest. Even one of the forensic squad later proclaims in disbelief “That’s my kid’s principal.” Close to rumbling the plot against him, Bill and Phyllis nearly come to blows in his cell, revealing her affair with his lawyer and apathy to the life sentence hanging over her husband’s head. Later, returning to the scene of Bill’s personal breakdown in his cell, we see a charred figure (Demon? Spirit?) disappear as barely a floating head just a few cells down from Hastings. It’s one final ominous note in a plotline filled with foreboding.

Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) in Twin Peaks: The Return

Underscoring the pure weirdness of everyday life in Lynch Land is Dale Cooper’s ultimate journey through the Black Lodge, a kind of spirit realm where he’s been trapped for the last 25 years. “Is it future or is it past?” asks the One-Armed Man, Philip Gerard (Al Strobel), and who could tell? Since Cooper’s evil doppelgänger escaped the lodge in his place, our Special Agent has aged along with it, perhaps holding the same conversations in the same room for the entire time he’s been off the air. Through interactions with the spirit of Gerard, the deceased and yet living Laura Palmer and the evolution of The Arm (the iconic dancing dwarf, now a neuron-looking tree with an Eraserhead baby on top), we learn Cooper can go now, but only if his doppelgänger replaces him in the lodge — but, of course, he won’t come willingly.

We see more of the lodge than ever before in these two hours, thus the place becomes even stranger and more complex than once thought, eventually crumbling and leaving Cooper falling through space in one ingenious sequence. One of the lines that stands out, for me, is probably this subplot’s simplest: “Find Laura.” And it comes from the mouth of a visibly-disheartened, older Leland Palmer, after Agent Cooper witnesses her violent removal (literally, out of the air) from the familiar red room. Cooper doesn’t find Laura, but floating through space he slams down onto and suddenly inside the glass box from the premiere’s first hour — crossing time and space, fitting in-between scenes, but before the mutilation of the box’s anxious hosts — and back again, falling, falling; gone, promising limitless and expansive exploration of whatever else exists within the lodge.

Deputy Tommy ‘Hawk’ Hill (Michael Horse) in Twin Peaks: The Return

Playing out beside Cooper’s desperate odyssey back to Twin Peaks, Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) of the Sheriff’s Department receives a phone call. It’s from Margaret Lanterman (Catherine Coulson), better known as the Log Lady, warning Hawk that there’s something missing — something to do with his heritage, and especially to do with the presumed-missing Special Agent Dale Cooper, thus igniting the now-married Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) and Andy (Harry Goaz) to aid Hawk in re-examining the case files surrounding Laura Palmer’s death. It’s a relief of an intrusion into the darker, meatier plotlines of this first two hours, but entirely welcome considering it contains Coulson’s very last, heartbreaking scenes as the Log Lady. Her line, regarding the coffee and cherry pie waiting for Hawk if he should ever drop by, IS Twin Peaks for me.

All in all, we end on something of an odd note. Which is funny, considering the last ninety minutes or so, but not entirely out of the ordinary following the numerous original series episodes which often ended with a sudden cut to, for instance, Michael J Anderson’s dancing dwarf or basic still images of what we just saw playing under the credits. Notably, we’re in the Roadhouse, Twin Peaks’ biker bar/community hall now apparently suffering from gentrification and packed with hipsters, swaying to the on-stage band.

Our return to Twin Peaks is not entirely perfunctory, thanks to appearances from an older James Hurley (James Marshall) and (the former?) Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick). We also have our first sight of Balthazar Getty’s (Lynch’s Lost Highway) character sitting at the bar, making eyes at Shelly, who mentions a daughter, Becky. She also lets her giggling friends know James — despite a motorcycle accident that’s apparently left him in a strange place — “is still cool” and “he’s always been cool.” Meanwhile James, standing around after ordering a beer, glances longingly from the crowd at one of the girls beside Shelly, with Lynch and Frost perhaps hinting at a slight return to the soapier aspects of the original series. The music continues overhead, playing the premiere out over the credits — which come as something of a sudden shock, rather like watching the end of a live concert movie than a prime-time drama.

Chromatics (pictured) in Twin Peaks: The Return

The music is Chromatics, a real-life band, performing ‘Shadow’ — and like any great Twin Peaks soundtrack choice, The Return doesn’t skimp on its significance. The song speaks of driving in a car at night, leaving a town behind and two people — one on the shore and one in the water, “still thinking that I hear your voice.” Badalamenti-like bassline and ‘highway at night’ allusions aside, the lyrics recall the body of Laura Palmer, wrapped in plastic on the shore, but also The Return’s own shadow — Cooper’s doppelgänger, standing on the shore while Dale remains trapped, seemingly forever, in the Black Lodge.

The Big Questions

  1. Later in the premiere’s second hour, Cooper’s doppelgänger receives a call from Phillip Jeffries, who you may remember as David Bowie’s missing FBI agent from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. But something’s off — and not just that he doesn’t sound very much like the recently-deceased David Bowie. What we know of Jeffries doesn’t quite gel with his involvement with the doppelgänger, let alone his apparent activities in New York — considering what little flicker remained of Jeffries by the time we saw him in Fire Walk With Me. Is the man on the phone really Jeffries? How does he fit into this story?
  2. Who is the anonymous billionaire obsessed with capturing whatever appears in the glass box? Could Phillip Jeffries’ New York activities have something to do with Sam and Tracey’s deaths and the thing that caused it?
  3. Though many have simply hand-waved Bob and the doppelgänger’s connection to each other, The Return complicates the relationship further. Though, of course, Frank Silva (the set-dresser turned actor behind the character) is dead, we have so far heard mention of Bob from both the evolution of The Arm and Jeffries, with the latter being in the third-person (“You’re going back in tomorrow, and I will be with Bob again.”) Is Cooper’s doppelgänger another manifestation of Bob? Does he have some larger part to play behind the scenes? Where is Bob?