“We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives inside the dream.” – Monica Bellucci
Watching Twin Peaks: The Return is like watching a beautiful nightmare.
We’ve been lured into a false sense of security. Normally a TV show is a sign of comfort, a distraction from realities of the world by spending time with characters you adore. Twin Peaks: The Return serves up that healthy dose of nostalgia, returning to our screens for the first time since the show ended twenty-six years ago. However the essence of the show has never been conventional or formulaic. The revival series is art in the highest form and unlike anything you’ve seen on TV this year.
Each episode is like experiencing an intense and surreal dream. After eighteen hours of television Twin Peaks lives up to its premise of leaving the audience with more questions than concrete answers. David Lynch is deliberate in his ambiguity. He wants the mystery, the discussions and the theories to continue so that there’s no absolute ending. But there are not many shows where you can safely say that you’ve gone on an emotional journey. Twin Peaks will test your patience and stamina – you will feel frustrated and angry yet terrified, haunted and beautifully mesmerised at the heavy use of visual and cryptic storytelling. The tragic topic of what happened to Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) which dominated the first two seasons has evolved into a larger and deeper question. It becomes an ultimate justification of its existence especially towards the underrated yet originally maligned Fire Walk with Me. This is a battle of good versus evil between worlds in an existential examination of the human soul.
The spiritual resolve on the outlook of life is defined by its recognisable characters or from the number of guest stars littered throughout the eighteen episode run. Twin Peaks recognises the growth in characters. It crosses the boundaries of social satire and reality with characters experiencing challenges that eventually feeds into the larger context of the mystery. What determines the evil or good in the world? Is there a balance in the inner workings of the universe? Do our actions speak louder than words? Do small acts lead to a life-changing purpose? It dares to ask the question whether there is more to this life than anyone could imagine.
Perceptive of this change is Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) who experiences three different yet overlapping personalities in how they all view the world. Dale Cooper still provides moments of positive energy – a clear-cut optimism that we hopelessly root for. Mr. C confirms the theory of Cooper’s shadow self, his evil doppelgänger escaping the black lodge at the end of season two and has since gone on a destructive and murderous havoc. As Dougie Jones, it’s a world of family and responsibility. Kyle MacLachlan gives a tour de force performance that balances a naive innocence to a quiet and terrifying menace. Watching how all three characters converge turns Twin Peaks into a show that’s not limited by its singular location. Like life itself, we encounter so many people on our journey. We celebrate all the small little joys of love and happiness and mourn a reflective loss with loved ones passing on. This is a mystery that is expansive and investigated like a scenic road trip across America.
Music and sound is one of the most impressive aspects of Twin Peaks: The Return. During its original run Twin Peaks balanced the surreal with a nineties melodrama. Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtrack became the memorable glue that held it together. The “Twin Peaks theme” always felt traditional and simplistically inviting as if you were sitting around at your favourite go to spot enjoying life in that moment. This is in stark contrast that to the “Laura Palmer theme” where it presented the mysterious underbelly where good-hearted ideals found itself corrupted and heartbroken. Twin Peaks: The Return still incorporates those themes but the show doesn’t want to be purely defined by its musical past. What used to be constant becomes sporadic, updating itself for a modern audience. This update comes in the form of prolonged silence.
Silence helps build tension. Silence helps build character to showcase a patience, a train of thought or to illustrate pain. Silence helps convey emotion or motivation as it sets up an upcoming scene. Silence even breaks the horror monotony by telling a joke or used to re-evaluate the concept by switching to a silent movie format. Once you get use to the pattern you suddenly realise how unnerving the silence can be knowing anything can happen without the comforting reassurance of Baladamenti’s score. With Lynch directing all the episodes, he establishes a tone for the series. Yes it can be painfully slow at times and yes there are moments of extreme exaggeration but everything is done for a reason which makes the ultimate pay-off outstanding. Therefore silence helps to cement Lynch’s dreamlike vision similar to his other creation Mulholland Drive. It unsuspectingly lures you deeper and deeper into that world to the point of no escape. You’ll feel trapped by its hypnotic presence because no matter how strange the elements are or how your mind tries to connect the dots, the whole journey is simply captivating.
When music is re-introduced, David Lynch assembles an eclectic group of artists, their songs acting as a gateway to summarise the events of each episode. Some acknowledge nostalgia or an emotional feeling where songs do all the talking. Some are sentimental and uplifting whereas others acknowledge an obscene horror. Nine Inch Nails “She’s Gone Away” superimposes itself as the theme song for Bob in Part 8, arguably the best episode of the series. But where it matters, some songs become a reflection on the loss of innocence and a yearning to return to it. Hearing Julee Cruise’s “The World Spins” or Rebekah Del Rio’s “No Stars” are both beautiful when revealing their haunting and meaningful context. Lynch’s symbiotic relationship with music becomes a driver for the series – the plot drives the music and music drives the plot.
The beautiful thing about Twin Peaks: The Return is how it can be psychologically evaluated as a social commentary on TV today and how we manage expectations.
Shows like Twin Peaks are a product of its time. To recapture the cult success would have been impossible, something that The X-Files learned in 2016 in its revival series. Shows end up going on a tangent, daring to be different when the audience want a carbon copy of what they remembered as if characters are trapped in a time bubble they can never escape. For some that is too much of a challenge to grasp and will end up being disappointed.
Dougie Jones is an example of an empty vessel where his world is filled with regurgitation of what others say or actions that are perpetuated upon him, locked in a forced dream state without a single clear thought or control for ourselves. Doctor Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) counters this attitude by asking his viewers to “shovel your way out of the shit” by breaking free of the clouded conceptions and the delusional norm.
But once we’ve introduced a new dynamic we can end up being lost, just like the two-part finale. We get the recognisable familiar but something has ultimately change. David Lynch has never been about conclusions or happy endings but by exploring into a past (despite the good intentions), we may have disrupted a natural order, transitioning into a never-ending cycle doomed to repeat itself. Another season would be ideal to wrap up loose threads but do we endanger ourselves by complicating the mystery further and ruining the perfection? The Return acts as a suitable conclusion because for every challenge of evil, Lynch still retains an optimism that the essence of good will continue to fight the good fight as the past dictates the future.
Twin Peaks: The Return is the best show of 2017 and that is not even up for discussion. Twin Peaks can mean so many different things because of how dense and multi-layered it has become, rewarding its fans with a deepened mystery. This is a unique experience. It leaves you with a haunting yet tragic afterthought that lingers with you. Once you’ve realised the extent of what the mystery has brought, a sudden empty void will appear with a longing sensation to revisit it once again.
No other show can claim to have done that and what Lynch and Frost have achieved by redefining its history and challenging the fabric of art is to ensure that Twin Peaks will remain in the public consciousness for a very long time.