Here we are, doing that thing we swore we wouldn’t: recapping Twin Peaks.
We still firmly believe, as we stated several times before this series started, that there’s little point in trying to pull off traditional episodic recaps of this show. Given David Lynch’s predilection for surrealism (which has only gotten stronger since he last directed a Twin Peaks episode, 25 years ago) and his … shall we say, unique sense of time in storytelling (i.e., pacing so glacial it’s like watching paintings and waiting for them so speak), the standard episodic recap blog post would seem to be something of a waste of energy. Additionally, now that there are 4 “episodes” out, it’s pretty clear that David Lynch’s insistence that Twin Peaks: The Return be seen as an 18-hour movie rather than 18 episodes of a TV series is largely on the mark. Not that we had reason to doubt him on this matter, but it’s not uncommon for TV creators with auteurist tendencies to declare their work above the need for weekly reviews. In this case, however, the creator knows what he’s talking about.
And yet, like we said, here we are. In our defense, Twin Peaks: The Return has turned out to be one of the most exciting things to happen in television — we’ll be conservative and say “all year,” but we really want to say “in years.” But that may be over-selling it. Suffice it to say, we find ourselves dying to talk about this show, mainly because the dreamlike quality and the way it burrows into your subconscious and tends to set up camp there practically demand that we spew our thoughts lest we become buried underneath them.
Good Cooper falls through space for an eternity until he lands on some sort of metal balcony overlooking an endless purple sea. He climbs in through a window, into a room bathed in pink light in which time passes differently and also there’s a woman with no eyes who speaks in toothy huffs of breath, but uses no words. There’s a loud banging, so she shushes him and beckons him to follow her through a door. They climb up a ladder until they’re outside in space (instead of overlooking an endless purple sea). The woman without eyes pulls a lever, electrocutes herself, and leaps into space, seemingly to her doom. Then Bobby Briggs’ dad’s face floats by and he says ” Blue Rose.” Then Cooper goes back inside the box except the room is no longer pink and Ronette Pulaski, who was with Laura Palmer the night she died, is sitting there, speaking backwards about her mother. The banging starts again and Good Cooper pushes his way into a giant electrical outlet until he disappears, leaving his shoes behind. Out in the real world, Cooper’s heretofore unknown doppelgänger, Dougie, is just completing his afternoon of fun with his favorite sex worker when he notes that his left arm has gone numb. He’s wearing the green ring Laura Palmer and Teresa Banks were wearing when they died, as noted in Fire Walk with Me. Good DoppelDougie starts vomiting, until he passes out, there’s a large bang, and he disappears. Meanwhile Bad (possibly BOB) DoppelCooper crashes his car and then vomits enormous amounts of creamed corn, which is actually garmonbozia, which is the physical form of pain and suffering that all the denizens of the Black Lodge exist on. DoppelDougie materializes in the red room, MIKE (or The Man With One Arm) tells him that he was manufactured for a purpose, then DoppelDougie’s head pops off and he turns into a little gold ball, leaving the infamous green ring behind. The “real” Cooper flows out of the electrical socket in the room DoppelDougie just disappeared from, except he appears to be brain damaged by the trip.
Just so we’re all on the same page.
And while there’s a discussion to be had about the glacial pace that David Lynch is working at (which we will soon have), we feel compelled to point out that all of this happened in the first 30 minutes of episode three. You can say Lynch is a director who likes to take his time telling his story, but you can’t really claim that nothing’s happening. If anything, we’re truly surprised by how much is happening – and how easy it all is to track. As nonsensical as that summary paragraph may sound, it’s all fairly tight from a plotting and storytelling perspective, even if the imagery is surreal and the dialogue is distorted or even hidden from the viewer. After 25 years in the Black Lodge, Dale Cooper is allowed to leave, with his bad doppelgänger scheduled to return. Except the bad doppelgänger, having seemingly gotten more clever and shrewd over the decades (as opposed to his wild-dog persona 25 years ago) has somehow created a duplicate doppelgänger (who married and has a child) to take his place in the Lodge when the time comes. The duplicate gets swept away, the original doppelgänger, sickened somehow by the exchange, winds up in police custody, and the original Cooper is finally free from his prison, except he’s more or less a blank slate of a human being now. Since they both can’t co-exist on the same plane, we’re looking at a Good Coop vs. Bad Coop showdown almost 3 decades in the making. Goofy, sure. But there were plenty of episodes of Lost that make much less sense than that. Hell, there are episodes of Law & Order: SVU that make less sense than that.
And just to sell that sense of conventionality in the midst of surrealism (which is the essence of Twin Peaks, when you get right down to it), here comes Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), to remind us of Twin Peaks‘ origins as a pastiche of TV melodramas and soap operas. Was his weep-session melodramatic to the point of being uncomfortable? Yep. But that’s the point. It might have seemed a little out of place, but it was a powerful reminder of what the OG TP used to be; a message from Lynch to the fanbase that despite the far-flung nature of this “return,” he hasn’t forgotten its roots. Additionally, the scene bridged the more fantastical aspects of these episodes by forging a link between Bobby’s father and Cooper; a link further solidified by the Major’s face floating in space and intoning “blue rose,” which is the FBI designation for an x-file, essentially; a case with supernatural qualities to it. Hence, Gordon Cole saying “It doesn’t get any bluer” to Albert after visiting the uncomfortably strange DoppelCooper in prison.
And while we’re on the subject – or more accurately, bouncing all over the place on various subjects – can we just say how much we’re loving David Lynch’s return as Deputy Director Gordon Cole of the F.B.I.? To our great surprise, his extended interactions and scenes have wound up as some of our favorites of the whole series so far. You might be convinced that a creator placing himself in the center of the action like this smacks of ego, but it’s a hard argument to make when the camera spends so much time lingering over every crease, wrinkle and ravine on Lynch’s face. It seems to us that Lynch, as a creator, realized without ego what he had in his own face: the weathered and fascinating visage of a great character actor. While we wouldn’t claim he has the acting skill of a master, we nonetheless found his conversations with Denise, DoppelCooper and Albert to be some of the most entertaining and even gripping of the series so far. Plus he’s got a way with a line, from “What the HELL?” to “Holy Jumping George” to “Fix their hearts or die.”
Before we lose complete control of this rambling non-review, we’re gonna rein ourselves in here and focus on the final two observations we want to make – and they’re not unrelated to each other: Lynch’s sense of pacing and Lynch’s obsession with communication barriers.
Let’s take the latter first, since it’s something Lynch is beyond obsessed with here, from the backwards-talking of the Lodge denizens, to the breath-speaking of the Eyeless Woman, to the strange, tar-thick sound of DoppelCooper’s voice in the holding cell, to Cooper’s post-Lodge inability to do anything but mimic phrases, and even to Gordon Cole’s hearing, which can often result in misunderstandings, repetition of phrases (a HUGE Lynch obsession), and frustration on the part of others. Twin Peaks always had these elements; this understanding that the true meaning of things is largely obscured and difficult to get to; that communication holds the key to understanding, but that there’s always something preventing it; some ripped-out diary page or faulty hearing aid or military classified file that keeps the whole picture from forming. But with this return, this concept seems to have been ramped up considerably. Roughly one-quarter of the series so far has dealt with a largely mute Cooper frustrating the hell out of every single person he meets – and curiously, he meets a lot – because he simply can’t communicate with any of them. Twin Peaks has always been a story full of omens and portents and mysteries, so the idea of obscured information is built directly into it, but in the modern era, in this tale specifically, Lynch is imbuing practically every scene with a frustrating lack of communication or lack of specifics.
Which brings us to our next topic: Lynch’s highly idiosyncratic sense of pacing. Let’s go back to blank-slate Cooper/Mr. Jackpots. Like virtually all of Lynch’s jokes, it goes on interminably (“HELLOOO-OO-OOOO!”) and far past the point of believability. Which isn’t a criticism, because clearly, this is not a story where believability is a concern. But Lynch is one of those directors who’s able to keep pushing at the boundaries of a scene until it stops being repetitive and starts somehow looping back on itself in a deliberate way. We suppose the Mr. Jackpots scenes could have had a good ten minutes cut from them without losing one bit of the story, but it’s that very repetition that lulls you in. You stop wondering how long this Michael Cera scene is going to go on and start admiring Lynch for how long he’s able to make it sustain itself. There’s no denying how confident his pacing his; how sure he is that he can hold the audience’s interest and keep the story flowing even as the editing works against it.
Which isn’t to say there weren’t a few scenes that made our asses itch, if we’re being quite honest. Lucy and Andy, good to see you. Please take a seat, now. The Michael Cera scene seems to have inspired sharply divided opinions, but we tend to come down on the side that loved it. Lynch is not the kind of storyteller who’s going to tell you that a character is weird or annoying. He’s going to show you; and he’s going to make you encounter the weird and annoying the same way you do in real life: as an inescapable, uncomfortable thing that feels like it’s going on forever. There are no cuts in real life. He could’ve gotten across Wally Brando’s outrageous pretension (“caucas-eeans“) or Mr. Jackpots’ brain damage in one quarter the amount of time he took to do so, but in stretching moments like those out, Lynch is not only indulging in the kind of absurdist fare he’s always loved, he’s making you feel this world like a person who lives in it. In other words, the dreamlike pacing, which tends to consistently extend scenes far past the point of their usefulness or interest, is a way of drawing the viewer fully into this bizarre world, making the more surreal moments all that more of a shock to the system. Just like a dream that shifts into nightmare unexpectedly.