When the snowball made out of flesh (who used to be a little person and before that, used to be an arm) that was perched amid the branches of a dead tree opened it’s flesh-hole and burbled a warning to Agent Dale Cooper about its own doppelganger, we literally clapped with glee. Partially because we knew it meant we’d get to open this review with a sentence like that, but mainly because any trepidation we had about this endeavor evaporated with that gleeful applause. It is with a great sigh of relief that we can inform you, Twin Peaks is back. Really back. Not “Audrey Horne dancing in Norma’s diner to synth jazz” back. Not “Who has Catherine Martell’s ledger” back. Not even “Fish in the percolator” or “Wrapped in plastic” back. No, Twin Peaks is back in full-on surreal horror-weirdness mode and David Lynch uncorked all his bottles at once to make sure you were completely hypnotized. And watching all the confused, frustrated and downright angry recaps and reviews pouring into social media about this premiere only solidifies to us just how right Lynch is to go down this road at this point in time. If there’s one thing so-called “Prestige TV” needs right now, it’s someone willing to come in, ignore all the tired tropes of the form, and just blow it all the hell to pieces. This is the anti-Peak TV. This is Peaks TV.
This was the Twin Peaks full of mutilated corpses and motif-based violence (How many women got their eyes shot out?); the Twin Peaks of dark forests and unlit roads at night; the Twin Peaks of shacks in the woods and seedy motels on back roads. The Twin Peaks of diners and coffee and death and sex; of young women getting caught up in a darkness that eventually overtakes them; of cast-aside people and colorfully dark side characters. When Kyle Maclachlan stepped out of that car dressed more or less like the 2015 version of the demonic BOB, there weren’t enough “Oh, shit“s to fill our living room. To a fan of the original series, it was a shot across the bow. We’re really doing this. We’re really going there. You feared that Cooper was in hell for the last quarter-century and here’s us, pretty much confirming it to you.
(As an aside, it bothered us to the point of distraction that BOB-Cooper (if that’s who he is) didn’t have long gray hair. We can understand not wanting to put him in a stone-washed denim jacket, but the hair seems like a missed opportunity to reinforce that connection visually.)
But despite the darkness and weirdness, Lynch (and co-creator Mark Frost) clearly have a love of the show’s original cast of characters and gave the returning audience just enough hints of where and who they are in the modern day. Dr. Jacoby’s reintroduction was oddly mysterious (anyone who lives in those woods and orders a ton of shovels has got something going on), The Horne brothers remain the bizarre tinpot assholes they’ve always been. Lucy and Andy are still very much Lucy and Andy. Hawk is still stoic, dignified and mystical – and yet somehow manages to avoid being a cliche. Sarah Palmer hasn’t painted her living room in 25 years, but she’s got a huge flat screen TV where she can watch animals eviscerating other animals in awe. Shelley’s hanging out at the roadhouse still, complaining about her kid. James is still around, but apparently diminished in some way after a motorcycle accident. Margaret the Log Lady got the most affecting and emotional return; so emotional that we squirmed in our seats wondering whether we were watching an actress portray the sadness and desperation of someone at the end of her life or whether we were watching an actress merely convey her own sadness and desperation at the end of her life. Lynch being Lynch (a director who wants to make you uncomfortable) that question was probably central to her scenes.
If we were surprised about anything, it was the conventionality of some of it; the exposition dialogue that quickly and sometimes clumsily got us up to date on certain returning characters (Lucy had a boy! James had an accident! Jerry Horne is a pot dealer! No one’s seen Coop in decades! Remember when I said ‘doppelganger?’ Remember when I said I’d see you in 25 years?). This is almost certainly the influence of Frost, who was always the far more televisually conventional of the two creators and who is probably helping to serve as a stopgap against Lynch’s full, unfettered weirdness. In other words, as odd, surreal and unsettling as this two-hour premiere was, it was surprisingly cohesive and easy to watch.
“Easy” being a relative term, of course.
Then again, that may have been at least partially the point, because despite all its genre- and form-busting oddness, Twin Peaks, both the OG network TV soap-opera pastiche of the ’90s and the darkly surreal supernatural cable version of the present day, is in many ways, something of an ode to the medium of television and to our ways of engaging it. Much of what passes for modern prestige television comes down to creators who prefer to make the form as cinematic as possible. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that approach, which is generally considered the lynchpin to the modern Golden Age of television; the elevation of a form used to sell detergents into something closer to what we used to go to art house cinemas to watch. This has been a very good thing for TV in the main, but over time, these series have ossified into a formula as rigid as a Marvel superhero movie. The sameness of the prestige TV landscape in 2017 is somewhat drearily depressing. But David Lynch was not only doing arthouse cinema 3 decades ago (which means he has less of a need to recreate it here), he was also one of the very first A-list creators to cross over from the film festival into our living rooms. This is not a director who needs to make TV into film in order to work within it. Lynch always understood the power of television on its own merits and part of what makes his return to the form so exciting is the ways in which he’s going to show us what it can still do.
Was it subtle to have a scene where two people sit on a couch to watch a glass box which eventually devours their faces? Not remotely, but fuck subtlety. “Prestige TV” is currently awash in self-important subtlety. Right now, we need a naked video-demon to bust out of the glass box in front of us and eat our faces just to remind us of how much power that glass box holds.