A Return To Dreamland: Impressions Of Twin Peaks: The Return (1-4)

"My dream is a code, waiting to be broken. Crack the code, solve the crime."

-Special FBI Agent Dale Cooper

Fewer words were more inviting of the authors than this piece of dialogue from David Lynch & Mark Frost's almost legendary crack in the fabric of broadcast network time and space back in 1990. It's suggestion that none of what we see will be as it seems, and that normalcy is but a petty illusion we grant ourselves is at the dark, somber heart of Twin Peaks. A television event so singular in execution, generations of longform storytellers have been sampling Promethean fire from it ever since. The quirky, occasionally disturbing revelations beneath the veneer of a quiet northwestern American community in the wake of the brutal murder of the town's misunderstood high school sweetheart, became the kind of lore that inspired ceaseless discussion and debate. Also inspired many a Twin Peaks party as far down as my own small desert community just south of Palm Springs, California. Coffee and Pie, as simple price of admission to becoming part of what became one of the briefest, yet intense pop culture phenomenons I have ever had the good fortune to be a part of.

And to think, that this largely came from the mind behind one of the most jarring cinematic experiences of my youth, Blue Velvet(1986).

The demise of Twin Peaks, was as aggressively swift as the show's overnight success. The kind of network meddling that once made many a filmmaker steer clear, and more discerning viewers avoid broadcast television for years. Being forced to reveal that ever present, driving core question of, "Who killed Laura Palmer?" became one of the great crippling decisions that render creative teams rudderless, and as such the show was never quite the same again. That is, until a harrowing season finale signaling the return of Lynch to help rescue the show after a several months absence. History, naturally borne that more than a little late as time slots went from barely manageable to outright impossible, thereby quashing much hope of the show being saved via life support. Thankfully, the season finale, which became the show's original death march, went into history as one of the most indelibly bizarre, nightmarish, and utterly frustrating endings ever made. I vividly remember gasping in utter astonishment as the credits for Frost & Lynch came up on the screen as our central hero suddenly reveals himself to be overtaken by the evil forces behind some of the stranger goings on up in those mountains. Special Agent Dale Cooper, is trapped in the Black Lodge, while his evil doppelganger walks the world we live in..triumphant.

The finale left me angry, befuddled, even depressed. The show had so clearly drawn the moral cartography with such clarity with this character, and here we were, ending with goodness. possibly in a fate worse than death. In many ways a good analogy for the show itself. An almost magical confluence of elements that could easily be manipulated into a cage of its own destruction.

Thankfully, in the decades plus since the demise of the series, and the subsequent and inexplicable booing at Cannes for Lynch's film prequel, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, it seemed that despite all signs to Peaks being among the many casualties of myths that burnt out far too soon, here we are where creators, fans, and artists prevailed, granting David Lynch the utmost freedom to come back to a creation, and characters he so clearly still loves. The Showtime release of Twin Peaks: The Return, is not only another return to the success pool that so many filmmaking legends have. Rather, it is the kind of singular form of artistic revenge that only lands once or twice in our laps in a single lifetime. Much like a certain George Miller, what I've seen so far is reminiscent of his own vision unleashed. It is a wildly strange, unflinchingly Lynchian,  caustically funny, and occasionally terrifying opus of ideas that must have been percolating since 1991. Gone is the often screwball nature of the original series, but also not as tonally grim as the 1992 feature. What we have here, is the natural extension of all of Lynch's art spanning from as far back as his experimental films, not to mention ERASERHEAD(1974). 

 Opening within an enigmatic space of pure monochrome, a slightly aged Dale Cooper has now been within realms beyond the feared Black Lodge, and has been informed by The Giant, that the time to leave is nigh. Speech remains in eerie reverse, but the color has been completely bled out, perhaps implying that the show we had previously watched over the years had indeed entered the world of classic vintage television. We are also introduced to various characters from New York City to even Buckhorn, South Dakota, where matters have undertaken less the episodic, and often goofy feel of the original, and taken an almost novel-like structure. A school principal dreams of murdering a co-worker, only to awaken and be arrested for a similar crime. A woman with faulty memory, helps the police discover a murder victim with the wrong head on its shoulders. A young man, is tasked with watching a glass box in a city skyscraper that may or may not be a transportation device for alternate dimensions. Meanwhile, a man in black leather who bears a bizarre resemblance to Cooper is on a mission to obtain information, and kill a few along the way as his help might very well be in the process of betraying him. As new revelations that seemingly come from other Lynch worlds expand themselves into the larger story, it rapidly becomes clear that the tale of Peaks has bled out across the country.

All of this, as Sheriff Tommy "Hawk" Hill(Michael Horse) is given a call by Margaret (The Log Lady, played by the late, wonderful Catherine Coulson) that some new puzzle pieces have suddenly come to light. Little by little, it is indeed happening again. And whether or not anyone is ready, it seems like The Return, is not only a sober, more adult Peaks, but it's also something of a liberation from the confines of network broadcast. An existence that ultimately sunk the original show. Frost, makes good use of the lore he has helped hone over the years, helping Lynch further ground his series in a way that we had only been hinted at with Fire Walk With Me. The range is certainly lighter than that excursion into the bleak, but it is no less unsettling when Lynch goes full horror show. And not unlike 2001's Mulholland Drive, the tonal shifts somehow find even keel weaving an endlessly fascinating new life for a show that at one time captured the minds of many in its vision of a Rockwell dream gone malignant. Oh, for sure, innocence remains strong within Peaks, but it has begun to waver with the loss of Cooper, and Major Garland Briggs. Andy and Lucy(Harry Goaz & Kimmy Robertson), are good and well as they could ever be as fixtures in the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Office. And while we do not have Harry Truman who's apparently ill, we have his brother in Frank (Robert Forster!) taking care of the law enforcement family alongside Hawk. 

And as hours three and four have unveiled themselves, it rings louder than ever that Lynch has a fire within that even I though had long been diminished. It's the kind of creative fury that only the right producers and supportive entities could have allowed. In hindsight, this so easily could have flown completely off the rails, and yet somehow, even the most bizarre events of these two episodes seem perfectly in keeping with the world presented. No matter how insane things get, it's always in support of Cooper's journey toward not only the home of his beloved deep black joe, and pie, but himself. Playing at this point, three roles is easily the best work Kyle MacLachlan has ever executed on film. Years of describing him as something of Lynch's visual analog couldn't be more fitting as he traverses between worlds and personalities with the precision and trust only collaborating friends could ever conjure. And this is but one blip among a wealth of performances that further offer a depth that the show had only hinted at in the past. Sure, there are a few that hit those strange notes (Chrysta Bell, instantly comes to mind), but considering the universe of Peaks as something that exists in a plane not quite ours, it never milks the camp factor beyond tolerance levels.

But the real surprising juice comes in the form of elder Gordon Cole(Lynch himself), and fellow agent, Albert Rosenfeld(The late, great Miguel Ferrer) who upon receiving cryptic information about the long lost Cooper, venture out to meet a captured man, only to wonder who exactly they have behind bars. It's a truly mesmerizing final few minutes in this series of episodes that both sells the utter eerie nature of old events returning to haunt old friends, as well as their loyalty to their fellow agents. The final scene hued in a deep shade of blue, brings to the forefront revelations that harken to both the original series as well as FWWM, hinting at something both men had been troubled by for years. No, none of this feels normal at all. But maybe there is someone we know who can help. It's a bang-up way to leave us hanging. Needless to say, I am probably just as hooked now as I was back in 1990. Perhaps even moreso. Like Albert and Gordon, a part of me had lied dormant. Ever resigned to the idea that these forces would forever be ignored, leaving threads eternally neglected. And despite knowing of this project for over a year now, I never expected it to be rekindled with such energy and sincerity. It's the kind of return we rarely to never receive. At last, we have Twin Peaks as a complete story. Whether or not this is truly Lynch's great goodbye to narrative filmmaking, I'll be there with many others, savoring every delicious moment.  

14 hours remain..