Twenty-six years after the ostensible Laura Palmer sat opposite Special Agent Dale Cooper and eerily told him that she would see him again in twenty-five years, David Lynch and Mark Frost’s cult classic series makes a triumphant return with a two-part premiere at the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival. Continuing on from the muddled events of the previous season – as well as introducing plenty confusing elements of it’s own – the debut episodes are a slow-paced, tense experience that offers little clarification and even less closure. In short – Twin Peaks has returned.
The finale of season two – and what many believed to be the untimely end of the series as a whole – saw the introduction of a new nightmare, that most believed would never see resolution. Not one to leave a loose plot thread hanging, David Lynch picks up directly where he left off – albeit a quarter of a century later. Trapped in the extra-dimensional plane of existence known as “The Black Lodge”, Special Agent Dale Cooper (returning star Kyle MacLachlan) spends his days conversing with the multiple spirits who inhabit the realm, trying to decipher their cryptic clues and figure out how to return to the mortal world.
According to the talking electric tree (no, seriously) the key to Cooper’s escape is to ensure the return of his doppelganger (also played by Kyle MacLachlan, just with Tommy Wiseau hair) to the lodge where he belongs. Doppelcooper, of course, isn’t thrilled by the concept of being returned to his confinement, and embarks on a violence and swears fuelled crusade, determined to cheat his fate and remain a free man. Elsewhere, the Buckhorn, South Dakota police department are called to an apartment block by a woman who noticed a strange smell coming from her neighbours place, and a security guard in a New York skyscraper is charged with watching a large, empty glass box to see if anything unusual appears inside.
Twin Peaks’ narrative operates like a jigsaw puzzle without a picture on the box.
While these separate plot threads may sound about as disparate as flicking through multiple channels of standard dramas on a Sunday night, here they all have their place, and even the most seemingly insignificant details can have major relevance further down the line. Twin Peaks’ narrative operates like a jigsaw puzzle without a picture on the box. Watching it through, it’s obvious that these wildly varying events intertwine in some way, particularly when certain elements of the individual plots overlap in the latter half of episode two, but there’s still no conceivable big picture yet, just shapes that vaguely seem to slot together.
The sprawling narrative means that very little time has actually been spent in the titular town so far, with more emphasis on the Buckhorn and New York story-lines. Returning fans of the original series won’t feel too adrift, however, thanks to the outstanding number of cast members that Lynch and Frost have brought back with them. Besides MacLachlan, who’s age has brought a debonair gravitas that feeds into both of his performances, Lynch checks in with hotel-owner Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) and his now weed-farming brother Jerry (David Patrick Kelly), comical pairing Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) and Andy (Harry Goaz), and of course, the woman who instigated the plot way back in 1990, Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). This dedication to reuniting the cast gives a strong continuation to the show, as if everything in and around Twin Peaks has just kept going these past years, and the audience are now returning to visit the town, just as another supernatural mystery unfolds.
The stark realities of the passage of time, displayed here with unflinching accuracy, mostly serve to improve characters; an extra level of wisdom or weariness shows through as these people are forced to confront more horror and mystery. The darker side of this phenomenon, however, is impossible to ignore. Iconic characters from the original run, including Major Briggs (Don S. Davis) and Killer BOB (Frank Silva), saw their actors passing away during the long hiatus, so if they are to return, it won’t be in quite the same way. Most heartbreaking of all are the short but sweet phone conversations between Deputy Chief Tommy ‘Hawk’ Hill (Michael Horse) and the sweet old lady who takes prescient advice from a log (again, seriously). The Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson) is thin of hair and breathing through tubes in her nose, and tells Hawk that she’s too weak to join him on his investigation. The palpable frailty of her is a little close to home, as Coulson died during production due to complications from cancer, and each time she and Hawk say goodbye, there’s a harrowing sense that it may be the last.
Even the innocuous-looking scenes carry a deeper meaning, hidden in the depths of their precise, stylish framing.
While returning fans of the series will be comforted by these familiar faces, there is no mistaking that, while these may be the first episodes to air in over two decades, this season is most definitely a continuation of an already establish, and overtly confusing plot. As a result, the plot can be extremely esoteric at times, with absolutely no hand-holding for new viewers. Given the already confusing nature of the narrative, this lack of a comprehensive structure could tempt some to switch over and declare the show unwatchable, rather than go back and catch up on the nineties seasons. Luckily, for those that stick it out, Lynch more than makes amends by the end of episode two, as the story-lines collide in a most satisfying way.
Along with his trademark, oftentimes frustrating refusal to dilute his material to suit a wider audience, Lynch also brings back plenty of his directorial flair in the introductory episodes, using long, lingering shots to play with audience expectations and ramp up the tension by denying the predictable payoff. Even the innocuous-looking scenes carry a deeper meaning, hidden in the depths of their precise, stylish framing. A particularly poignant detail sees a returning character who has had to deal with the animalistic nature of mankind in the past, watching a nature documentary. Instead of showing her eye line, Lynch opts to focus on her as she idly stares at the screen. While it may seem that she is the sole focus to be seen, reflected in the mirrors behind her, eagle-eyed viewers will catch a glimpse of the TV, just in time to see a pride of lions slaughter a water buffalo. Not only is this a beautifully shot reminder of the violence she has seen, it is a clever wink to the more savage nature of the doppelganger, himself a dark reflection of Agent Cooper.
Though undeniably a challenge for new viewers, Twin Peaks offers a fresh, intriguing return to a series that changed all the rules of television and inspired two decades of weird, wacky and wonderful stories into life. David Lynch’s absurd writing and artistic direction remain the core foundations of the series, bolstered by the excellent cast that have swarmed back to this strange little town. It may have taken over twenty-five years, but the standing ovation Lynch received after the screening in the Lumiere Theatre said it all: it’s good to be back.