Welcome back to Twin Peaks! Since the release of Inland Empire (2006), Lynch’s name might have receded. But Lynch hasn’t stopped creating, producing experimental short films, Lady Blue Shanghai (2010) for Dior, launched a coffee range, remaining an artist, collating The Missing Pieces (2014), yet Twin Peaks acts as his return to both television and longform narrative storytelling.
Lynch became embittered by his experience attempting to produce Mulholland Drive (2001) as a series at ABC, but television has shifted radically as a medium in years since. Though television remains a difficult industry, built upon unfulfilled pilots, premature cancellations and racial and gender disparities, relying on rote narratives, unnecessary filler and cheaply produced content, the rise of showrunner-led shows with clear visions and passion for storytelling and incredible cinematography has created an industry of high-profile productions, thanks in part to the high budgets of Netflix, Amazon Studios and HBO. David Fincher directed House of Cards (2013-present). Nicholas Winding Refn is directing the Ed Brubaker-scripted Too Old to Die Young. Barry Jenkins is directing The Underground Railroad.
Twin Peaks existed before boxsets; television was ethereal, only available in cut-down versions, scriptbooks or synopses, before binges became possible without a VCR. But its influence on longform storytelling was immense, even as recently as series like Riverdale (2017-present), using the basic premise of small-town teenagers and a deceased fellow student washed up on a lake.
Other series tried to resurrect themselves, with Dallas (2012-14) struggling to find a foothold. Twin Peaks ended with a cliffhanger, recently touched upon within The Missing Pieces but never properly concluded. Whatever happened to Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan)? The series’ ending had been obscure enough that it never demanded an ending; its lack of resolution is conclusion in itself. The Return follows along that narrative arc, but never offers an immediate answer.
Twin Peaks built itself upon worldbuilding; Twin Peaks was a character in itself, the meeting place for students, FBI agents, parents and prostitutes, defined by Angelo Badalamenti’s score, the Packard Sawmill, the Great Northern and the Welcome to Twin Peaks sign in the series’ iconic opening, leading the viewer in. Filmed in Snoqualmie Valley, the locations have become a tourist destination in itself, carrying a sense of depth. Twin Peaks was a soap opera, frequently leaning upon the absurd and surreal, remaining lovable with a cast of well-written characters to keep going back to. The series rarely penetrated its own borders; even as characters entered Canada into One Eyed Jack’s, it remained in driveable distance, within the linear confines of the story. Fire Walk With Me (1992) might have expanded the series’ world, elaborating upon key backstory, yet its traversing of location only occupied the film’s opening act, a prelude to events before Angelo Badalamenti’s score opens the film for real.
The opening episode is not so much interested in Twin Peaks as a unified location but in its characters, themes and concepts. We move between New York City, Twin Peaks and Buckhorn, South Dakota, free from the confines of location, within a world where travel seems more freely available, the small-town an illusion. Most of the students at Twin Peaks High School in the original series probably upped and left long ago, seeking their own personal homes. Even our new title sequence is tied less to physical place but more ethereal emotion, traversing the texture of the Black Lodge and the flow of the waterfall. Moving from 4:3 to 16:9, the mountain ranges and the Great Northern suddenly seem uneasily broader.
Lynch’s depiction of NYC owes something to his approach to LA in Mulholland Drive. A city of nighttime skyline, it betrays a different lifestyle. Sam (Ben Rosenfield) and Tracey (Madeline Zima) drink lattes from oversized paper cups, more concerned with Starbucks than percolating cups of black joe. Sam’s obsession with the camera, observing changes within a window-shaped glass box, feel a reinvention of Mr. Roque’s hidden gaze in Mulholland Drive. Our mysterious place becomes an unoccupied warehouse, befitting any hipster wanting to move in rent-free, its sofa and lamp transposed from the surreal domesticity of the Red Room. In Buckhorn, the procedural elements play as a more competent version of the Sherriff’s Department, as principal Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard) is charged with murder. Constance (Jane Adams) checks fingerprints against a database in seconds, still drinking her mug of coffee, beyond the paper trail that could lead an episode’s entire subplot within the era of Twin Peaks. Yet some of the series’ most iconic locations are absent, with no Double R Diner to position the viewer; Badalamenti’s score is largely subdued.
The Return demands strong knowledge of what came before, refusing to offer clear guidance for those late to the party. Twin Peaks continues as though it were 1992, or as if 24 seasons had followed with the same cast. It takes getting used to, characters aged by decades yet acting unchanged, dressing the same, without movement, shattering the illusion of their iconic youthful appearance. The Sherriff’s Department has no young replacements, with deputy chief Hawk (Michael Horse) adopting Cooper’s fondness for donuts and coffee in his absence. Andy (Harry Goaz) and Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) reappear still together, delivering exposition as they mention their 24 year old son; Lucy’s choice to leave Dick Tremayne is here to stay, still acting as receptionist. Only an updated computer by her desk has changed.
Less egregious is the opening appearance of Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn), sans Hawaiian shirts or therapy. As Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) meets up with his brother Jerry (David Patrick Kelly) at the desk in the Great Northern, we sense time’s progression. Ben is an old man holding onto an empire, beyond the pine weasels and confederate flags of male insanity of the original series. Ben and Jerry look backwards, commenting on his new secretary Beverly (Ashley Judd), remembering how their relations with women used to be. Perhaps the episode’s most welcome appearance is the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson), speaking on the phone to Hawk, offering mysterious clues. Coulson passed away of cancer in 2015, and her emaciated body, short hair and oxygen tank make this clear, unable to deliver the strongest of performances. The Log Lady is a symbol, the subject of t-shirt prints and rerun openings filmed for syndication, but her presence, however brief, remains appreciated. But The Return becomes its most engaging where we focus upon new characters, following forgetful Marjorie (Melissa Bailey) and dog Armstrong as police attempt to open the room of deceased librarian Ruth, unaware she has the key in the first place, using a Lynchian sense of farce.
Moving to Showtime, The Return allows the series to push itself beyond ABC’s guidelines, just as Fire Walk With Me allowed a far more brutal and honest depiction of Laura and Donna’s sexuality; Sam and Tracey make out on the sofa, escalating as Tracey strips naked, left in bloody death as they take their eyes off the box. The Return’s murder mystery avoids the immediacy of the hook of both the original series and Fire Walk With Me, the discovery of Laura and Teresa’s bodies launching forward both narratives. Laura’s presence hangs over, throughout promotional material and in the opening as a photograph within the school’s cabinet, an unavoidable ghostly spectre. Cooper becomes immersed within the monochrome surrealism of the Black Lodge, evoking back to Eraserhead (1977), sitting alongside ??????? (Carel Struycken) and his phonograph.
Although the series’ opening is far from Lynch’s best work, never capturing its heights, its questions weigh down upon the viewer, unravelling within the mind. Lynch leaves hooks, between the glass box and Cooper’s presence, remaining to be answered.