“Twin Peaks” is one of the most influential television series in recent history — perhaps the history of television, period.
It perplexed and captivated audiences at the time of its release in the 1990s and again in the 2000s with its re-release on Netflix — younger generations were equally as obsessed with the the mystery and psychological horror of “Twin Peaks.” We all wanted to share a pie and a coffee with Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan). Everyone wanted to be Shelly (Mädchen Amick) or Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn). The figure of BOB (Frank Silva) terrified us, because he embodied the kinds of violence that haunt our worst nightmares — but, of course, creator David Lynch was not afraid to disgust, haunt and puzzle us. He wasn’t afraid to take us there.
And he wasn’t afraid to take us back again, with the arrival of “Twin Peaks: The Return” this summer on Showtime — Lynch is simply following up on Laura Palmer’s (Sheryl Lee) promise to see us in 25 years.
At first, “The Return” was about Cooper and his return to Twin Peaks, after he spent 25 years in the pseudo-universe of The Black Lodge — while his evil, greasy doppelgänger roamed the earth inflicting grotesque violence.
Next, “The Return” was about the Cooper doppelgängers — the first of which we saw at the end of the original series, cackling maniacally with BOB, and the second of which was created by the first in order to avoid obliteration by The Black Lodge. Meanwhile, as Cooper sat entrapped in dilated time, his leather jacket-wearing doppelgänger posed as him — creating a second doppelgänger named “Dougie” and having a son with Audrey Horne, both of whom died in his place. When Cooper escaped The Black Lodge, he was catatonic and looked just like Dougie — so he lived as Dougie for the majority of “The Return.”
Then, “The Return” was about the rest of the original characters. Shelly and Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) were in love, had a daughter and divorced. Ed (Everett McGill) and Norma (Peggy Lipton) finally got together. Cooper’s best friend, Sheriff Harry Truman, was replaced by his cousin, Frank Truman (Robert Forster). James Hurley (James Marshall) is still brooding, Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) is a supernatural badass. For several episodes, it’s easy to think that “The Return” is simply about cameos: the return of much of the original cast and debut of new characters — Michael Cera as the son of Andy (Harry Goaz) and Lucy (Kimmy Robertson), Amanda Seyfried as the daughter of Shelly and Bobby.
The episodes are fun, but by “Part IX,” the “Where’s Waldo” of original characters becomes tiresome. Things move at a snail’s pace and don’t pick up much until “Part XIV.” Cooper is catatonic for so long that it’s exciting when he robotically eats a slice of pie or chases his coworkers like a zombie for a cup of coffee — these are the only semblances of the real Agent Cooper for three-quarters of “The Return.” The slow pace of the series leaves little time for any resolution to the many narrative threads of “The Return,” to the point where a few of the numerous plots feel superfluous — even pointless.
Of course, “The Return” is not without its Lynchian imagery — in fact, “Part VIII” is exactly that: abstraction, surrealism, avant garde cinema packed into a one-hour episode. It looks like a reboot of “Eraserhead.”
“The Return” also continues Lynch’s pattern of using rape as a tool for emphasizing the extremity of his male characters — he did it in “Twin Peaks,” and he did it in “Blue Velvet.” His propensity to use sexual violence for shock value is nauseating and overdone. The central crime in original “Twin Peaks” was that Laura was raped and murdered by her father, and the antagonist of “Blue Velvet” is sexually abusive — we get it, David Lynch, you’re interested in the intersection of sex and psychosis.
There comes a point when such representations are not only fraught, they’re excessive — this was the case with the scene of Diane covering Cooper’s face while having sex with him, because he looked just like the doppelgänger who raped her. Her agency and desires are valid, but the scene drags on too long, and then Diane disappears from the show while Cooper sleeps — she doesn’t get a proper goodbye.
But there’s more to “The Return” than narrative progression. From “Part XIV” onward, we start to see more character development: Andy and Lucy both get to save the day eventually, Cooper electrocutes himself and goes back to being endearing Agent Coop. The problem is that by the time things finally got going, there were only three episodes left in the series.
Toward the end, “The Return” was about Laura Palmer and Cooper’s attempt to rescue her — to go back in time and prevent her murder. His attempt is successful, in that Laura is no longer murdered, but by removing Laura Palmer from her place in one timeline of history, the reality in which she died is erased. The Twin Peaks we knew — and everyone in it — no longer exists.
Thus, “The Return” was really about nothing at all.
Maybe “Twin Peaks” and “The Return” were meant to be to be one long, ultimately unsolvable, puzzle. But what it lacks in resolution, it delivers in entertainment and Lynchian style — and neither speed nor narrative is imperative to either of those things. If what you’re looking for is surprises around every turn, then “The Return” certainly delivers.
Ultimately, “The Return” is either a profound masterpiece or a simultaneously auspicious and egregious cop-out.
Sophie-Marie Prime covers “Twin Peaks: The Return.” Contact her at [email protected].