Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME
Jeff Jensen
May 22, 2017 07:16 AM

The new Twin Peaks was all over the place, at least for a week. The first two parts of this 18-hour opus roamed the country, flitting among cities, mysteries and tones, sometimes lingering, sometimes not. The story screeched upward and spiraled downward within the multi-dimensional spaces of its psycho-quantum world. The narrative played with time, marching forward at a deliberate pace, occasionally flipping backward, perhaps scrambling events out of sequence. The parts were imbued a knowing, manipulative intelligence, as if possessed; they played with you. You half expected director David Lynch to go full-meta and smash through the screen and punch your brain the way that cosmic horror nimbus escaped that glass box and furiously shredded the eyeballs of those young lover couch potatoes. He certainly wanted to blow your mind, but on his terms, and with a vengeance, too. Did he?

Showtime’s revival of the cult classic created by Lynch and Mark Frost brought us back to the titular misty mountain lumber town that first captured our imagination 27 years ago this spring at the advent of the alt-culture ’90s. They were also possessed with an ironic self-consciousness that winked at itself and its legacy. Once fringe-cool and freaky with quirks and secrets, Twin Peaks is a paradox, the same and different, but the dangerous and demented denizens novel have been tempered by grief, time, domesticity, and discovery. Bad boy brothel bros Ben (Richard Beymer) and Jerry (David Patrick Kelly) speak to the taming. The former won’t make a move on his new associate Beverly (Ashley Judd) because he’s found R-E-S-P-E-C-T for women, and besides, she’s married; the latter runs a new legal pot farm. The Bang! Bang! Bar is no longer an occult roadside dive. It’s a bumpin’ hangout for those damn millennial hipsters and their nostalgic Gen X parents. To borrow from judgy, prune-faced Buella (Kathleen Deming), it’s a world of truck drivers now, authentic and otherwise.

Subscribe to A Twin Peaks Podcast: A Podcast About Twin Peaks – on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts – to unwrap the mysteries in EW’s after-show every Monday during the Showtime revival.

Yet the dark woods rustled anew with unresolved mystery like a dreamer disturbed by a recurring nightmare. Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn), still rocking his 3-D spectacles, now living in a trailer in the forest, received a delivery of shovels to either dig something up or bury something. Hawk (Michael Horse), now chief deputy, went searching for Glastonbury Grove and saw an aurora of billowing crimson curtains in the trees. The psychic timber of our dear, ailing Log Lady (the late Catherine Coulson) bleated with alarm. The stars turn, and a time presents itself. Yep, it is happening again.

And it was happening everywhere, all at once. We visited Vegas, but only for a second, to watch the show plant a flag for more story in a two-hour premiere that was crowded with flag-plants. We stayed longer in Manhattan, for an arc that had a sublime Lynchian progression, moving from oddness to absurdity to sexiness to dread to near-unbearable cover-your-eyes terror. It was also an allegory for modern television and the show’s own anxieties about coming back to it. A big glass box built to recapture old magic? C’mon.

We spent time in the Black Lodge, the topsy-turvy limbo of Twin Peaks, though how much time we can’t say, because time does not behave properly or politely here. Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), 25 years older than when we last saw him, was still trapped here among backwards-talking spirits, demons, and doppelgänger, including two talking fir trees crowned with tiny brains, spindly and naked as Spielberg aliens, one kinda “I am Groot” cute, one a cancerous sapling that screams things like “NON-EXISTENCE.” That’s right, folks. Bad twin Brain Trees. That was a thing David Lynch just made you see on your TV. Bravo.

FROM PEN: Get a Behind The Scenes Look at The Casting Of Twin Peaks

And we parked in South Dakota to bear witness to a divorce noir tragedy with so many echoes to Lynch’s previous work. The generic small-town America (and a severed fleshy appendage) of Blue Velvet, the tainted love, betrayed relationships, and psychotic breaks of Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. The whole yarn is a warped version of Twin Peaks itself, a mystery catalyzed by the discovery of murdered woman. It commenced with electronics on the fritz (see: Detective “Woof” and his flickering flashlight), as all Lynch mysteries must. But it was also a parody of modern serialized soap forms – and/or a sincere one, though stripped of “prestige” gravitas – just the way the original Twin Peaks was. With the Fargo-ish Bill and Phyllis Hastings (Matthew Lillard, Cornelia Guest), just an average, ordinary pair of suburban fakes and unhappily married folks, we have a middle-aged man breaking bad and a desperate housewife going femme fatale. Their hate-spewing jail-cell kiss-off – both actors shot in intimate close-up, nose to nose, vibrating with emotional intensity – was simultaneously over-the-top silly and intensely raw. Lynch put a horror button on it, adding one of his unnerving still-life grotesques. The camera dollied away from death row-bound Bill to another cell, where a bearded man sat on a bunk, painted black, eyed bugged, frozen in contorted agony. Shades of: the hideous hobo in Mulholland Drive. He turned to vapor and the spectral remains of his head floated away like a balloon. And we remember that in Twin Peaks, the evil that people do attracts otherworldly entities like flies to s—.

One such devil had turned South Dakota into his hunting ground. He is a corrupted copy of Agent Cooper, conformed to the image of the unholy spirit inside him, BOB. Here in the heartland of Twin Peaks Nation, this abominable man in black sows and reaps a pulpy-corny crop of pain and sorrow, mostly by manipulating and murdering women. (Though in one scene, he rubs out a guy by literally rubbing the man’s face, as if massaging the life out him.) He might make or break your interest in Twin Peaks 2.0. We hate him because he’s loathsome, we hate him for not being the Cooper we want him to be, and we hate him because Lynch has decided to make MacLachlan wear Nicholas Cage-in-Con Air hair.

Refresher. We first met this counterfeit, inhuman Cooper in the last moments of the original series. A creation of the Black Lodge, a bad idea made flesh, doppelgänger Dale ambushed real-deal Dale and took his place in Twin Peaks. We left this BOB-enhanced double defiling Cooper’s decency by faking it and then mocking it (“How’s Annie?”) and laughing a maniac laugh. The series concluded on that gutting cliffhanger, but it was never meant to be the end of the story; the show was canceled after Lynch shot it. In light of the TV that followed Twin Peaks, specifically the anti-hero dramas and surreal dark fantasy that claim Twin Peaks as an inspiration, the unleashing of Dirty Cooper functioned as a harbinger of bleak TV.

If I had to take an early stab at what the new Twin Peaks is all about, I’d say it’s the story of a culture gone mean and cold from unchecked corruption, and a pop culture exhausted by a fascination with nihilism that’s run its course. Here, at present, it’s the unhappy ending version of Lost: It’s what would have happened if Fake Locke extinguished the light of The Island and escaped into the world and jacked it up with meaninglessness.

The Dirty Cooper of the new Twin Peaks can be seen as a comment on the state of the anti-hero archetype. He’s clearly spent too long producing evil under the sun, because man, is Dirty Cooper one tanned, leathery dude. His fingernails are stained with filth; his hair has grown crazy-ass long. Speaking of Cage, Dirty Cooper wears his Man In Black bad-assness the way Cage’s Sailor wore his rock n’ roll snake-skinned jacket in Wild at Heart, as a symbol of his individualism and personal freedom, except it’s hardened and rotted into something hollow and toxic. He seems to have a vast network of underworld followers, including Chantal (Jennifer Jason Leigh), his hot-for-him secretary (Dirty Cooper has his own version of Diane!), and a family of oddballs and broken folk led by the puckered Buella.

But it does seem people are getting tired of Dirty Cooper’s brand of sinister shtick, including a pair of associates, Ray (George Griffith) and Darya (Nicole LaLiberte), who accepted a job to whack him for $500,000. But Dirty Cooper smoked it out. He has a tape recorder, just like Agent Cooper, and he used it capture a conversation between Darya and Ray discussing the conspiracy. (How did Dirty Cooper make that recording? Did you get the sense that his tape recorder has magical properties, like the ability to hack electronic communications?) Dirty Cooper confronted Darya and shot her dead, the second woman to get a bullet from him in the episode. (Also R.I.P. Phyllis, whom Dirty Cooper was manipulating as part of a scheme against her husband.) What’s the significance of Dirty Cooper’s doctored Ace of Spades card, the symbol made to look like a bug with a pair of antennae? Another hint of his techno-occult surveillance powers?

The sequence was also queasy with female objectification and violence against women that seems to be part of the point of this franchise. It was here that MacLachlan’s performance clicked for me. Dirty Cooper was hard to take seriously at first, and he might continue to be in the parts to come. But MacLachlan makes the character credible and gives him meaning by muting everything about him, lowering his voice, paralyzing his face. That mad spark we saw and heard at the end of the original series has been extinguished. He’s an empty, hollow cut-out. Dirty Cooper is a hideous, tedious zeitgeist gone native, a joke that needs to end.

His impeachment might be at hand. Not only is an earthly conspiracy targeting him, but higher forces and other menaces are trying to corral this fugitive golem. Either the Black Lodge has been chasing him, or there’s a term limit on how long he and/or BOB can be out and about producing mayhem and mischief in the world, or both. He says he has a plan to deal with that; details TBD. We saw him receive a call from someone he thought to be another associate, Phillip Jeffries. Some explanation: Phillip Jeffries was the name of the teleporting FBI agent played by David Bowie in Lynch’s 1992 prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. It was hard to know from that film if Jeffries was on the side of angels or if he had been corrupted through his undercover work of infiltrating a meeting of Black Lodge entities.

Regardless, it wasn’t Jeffries who called. It was someone posing as Jeffries, a mystery man who knew that Dirty Cooper had recently met with Major Garland Briggs in New York, and who wants Dirty Cooper back in the Black Lodge so he (the mystery man) “could be with BOB again.” It should be noted that all of this aroused Dirty Cooper as much as it worried him. The bored rogue even seemed to suggest he regards this intensifying threat to his existence as a game to be played. We shall see. (Refresher: Major Briggs, the father of Bobby Briggs, knew quite a bit about the Black Lodge back in the original series. He also researched and compiled a massive dossier on the occult history of Twin Peaks.)

Dirty Cooper might soon have one more person on his tail: The soul whose life he stole is coming for him. By the end of Part 2, Agent Cooper had fallen out of the Black Lodge… maybe? The arc of his escape was a metaphor for the end of the original Twin Peaks and the risky business of its return. We saw him fall through the cracks of the ruptured chevron floor and into negative space of cancellation. We saw him get inexplicably sucked into a big glass box in New York (more on that in a minute). We saw that box do something to him – it telescoped in and out, reducing him, restoring him, crunching him like data – and then sending him back into the void, destination unknown. We assume, though, that this is some kind of transmigration of the soul, that Agent Cooper is spiraling back toward creation, and hopefully, back to the place where he and Twin Peaks belong, to a misty mountain lumber town that misses him and needs him. We know he has two objectives: (1) He has to find a way to get Dirty Cooper back into the Black Lodge before he can reenter the world as a corporal entity, before he can reincarnate as a human being. His story, then, is about rehumanization. (2) He received a commission from the specter of Leland Palmer: “Find Laura.”

That latter mission excites me. I suspect it’s the emotional core of “The Return.” Part 1 opened with a red room dream scene from the original series, in which Laura told Cooper in the Black Lodge that she would see him again in 25 years – a vision we now understand to be a prophecy. Giving us that scene was a way for Lynch and Frost to ret-con some randomness and to pat themselves on the back for including it in the first place. But it could also be telling us something about the saga about to unspool. It’s about Cooper and Laura in equal measure.

Watch the cast discuss the show’s odd universe and the revival in the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN) special EW Reunites: Twin Peaks here, or download the app on your favorite mobile and streaming devices.

The new Black Lodge scenes were consistently spectacular in their strangeness, tension, and ideas. They were swamped with cryptic details we’ll be decoding and theorizing about for weeks. (If you were stumped by Brain Tree, I can help you. I think. The nice Brain Tree was dubbed “the evolution of The Arm.” In Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the character known as The Man From Another Place – the dancing guy in the red velvet tux – called himself “The Arm.” The actor who played TMFAP, Michael J. Anderson, wasn’t asked back for “The Return,” so it appears that Lynch has recast him. With a talking tree.) But they ultimately served to sear Laura into our minds anew, and perhaps launch both Cooper and her back into the “real” world.

The Black Lodge weirdness that made the biggest impression on me was the scorching sequence in which MacLachlan and Lee recreated the Cooper-Laura red room conversation, but with expanded moments that were deeply moving and incandescent with meaning. “I… am… dead… and yet I live,” said Laura, and Lee’s reading – even with the backwards-speaking sound effect – made the point clear: Laura Palmer is still raging pissed 27 years after her murder by her BOB-possessed, incestuous-rapist father. She then showed us that life – and that furious anger – by removing her face, revealing blazing light. She made a move to kiss him – then denied him the kiss. She whispered a secret in his ear, one that made him recoil in terror. She stepped away from him, and then things got really bizarre. The red room began to quake.  Laura began to seize. She became abstracted, her face lost coherency, and then she flew away, screaming.

Is Laura still being used and abused in this surreal afterlife? Or did we just witness Laura transform in to pure inchoate fury and blow out of the Black Lodge by harnessing the energy of all her accumulated rage?

I took this scene to mean that Lynch fully intends to complete the project he began in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me to do right by the dead girl MacGuffin who launched his franchise. Her destruction continues to mean something. Her suffering continues to mean something. Her absence in the world and the grief of those who miss her continue to mean something. I’m wondering if Laura Palmer, like Cooper, might find new life in this new show. I’m wondering if she’s out for justice or out for revenge like the furies of myth. I’m wondering if Laura is about to wreak hot holy hell on a world gone wicked, mean, and cold.

I’m wondering if Laura is the monster in the glass box that broke free and ripped those kids’ faces off.

Much like the storytelling in these first two hours of “The Return,” my thoughts and feelings are all over the place. I’m engaged by it, clearly. But I’ve also had 48 hours to think about it: I saw Part 1 and Part 2 at the Hollywood premiere on Friday. I began to watch it again on Sunday to check my facts, and I like both parts even more upon re-watch. Lynch – especially difficult late Lynch – always ages well upon reflection. It was what I expected, and nothing that I expected.

The two parts pleased me the way Lynch often pleases me, with sounds and images combining to form sequences of extraordinary power that were distinctively, purely Lynchian. The entry into the South Dakota sequence deployed a classic rope-a-dope strategy of drawing you in with a ridiculously long stretch of absurd broad comedy (the large lady with the small dog, the banter with the cops that floods you with maybe pertinent, maybe irrelevant details and names) that suddenly turns into pure dread, then floors you with a horrific visual punch line: the corpse of the murdered woman in the bed, head decapitated and separated from a bloated (or pregnant?) body.

Watch the cast discuss the show’s odd universe and the revival in the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN) special EW Reunites: Twin Peaks here, or download the app on your favorite mobile and streaming devices.

I might have enjoyed the Manhattan story best. I liked it as a thing unto itself and the apparent randomness of it, but  I liked how Cooper’s arc intersected with it, suggesting possibilities for relevancy to the greater whole. It was a very meta locked-room mystery with metaphysical significance that played out like a myth, an allegory, and a dream. Let’s walk through it.

A young man in a large flat sits on a couch on a raised dais and watches a giant glass box affixed to a portal window. It is also being filmed by digital cameras and linked by cables to routers and other gizmos. The young man’s loyal viewership is his livelihood. His job also includes maintaining those recording devices. We will eventually come to understand that he’s a college student, being paid by an anonymous techno-occultist billionaire (Major Briggs? Ben Horne?) who’s trying to catch a big fish with a motion capture cage, trying to pull something magical out of thin air – a jinn, a spirit, a dream – and bottle it. It happened before, apparently. What a story it could tell if it happened again.

A young woman, attracted to him and curious, keeps trying to get up in his business in more ways than one, tempting him with an offering of damn good coffee.  On her second visit, the guard that monitors him goes MIA. Not even in the bathroom. Weird. So he lets her in. Rules are being broken here, a sacred charge is being violated. A fall has begun.

The young man and the young woman sit on the couch. They watch the box, waiting for some action. They quickly get bored and move to a different kind of action. As the custodian and his not-so-helpful helpmate take their eyes off the prize and get naked and shameful with each other, something wicked this way comes. It’s showtime.

A cloud as black as sin accumulates behind the glass. Perhaps it was drawn to this place by the young man’s dereliction of duty or the sex; maybe it’s just a coincidence. (Note this recurring theme of betrayal and faithlessness in both parts.) Regardless, after so much waiting, an epic advent season produces a miracle. And it is terrifying. The murk-filled box becomes an unholy womb, conceiving a ghastly being that flickers into furious, monstrous form. It bursts through the glass and ravages its viewers, shedding their faces and spraying their pulping heads against the wall. The Death By Sex horror trope strikes again!

Now, when the young man went out of the room to greet the young woman on her second visit? That was when Cooper was sucked into the glass box. Which meant that Cooper’s capture occurred before the monster materialized inside the box. Is the box engineered to draw, trap, and redirect Black Lodge entities? Did the monster follow Cooper out of the Black Lodge and get sucked into the box, too? (If so, theory revised: It’s Brain Tree’s doppelgänger.)

The first two parts gave us many mysteries to mull, just as the two-hour pilot of the original Twin Peaks did. But I have to admit that the absence of certain conventions that even that unconventional pilot possessed — particularly a sympathetic point of view character, one who actually exists as a flesh-and-blood person, not a ghost or a concept — frustrated my investment and makes me worry for the series moving forward. The widowed scenes, the jumping around, and the slow stirring-in of contextual information created a narrative flow that was mostly dreamy, but an impersonal, fragmented dream. The sound design gave the greater whole a personality of menace and mystery that pulled us through; the minimal Angelo Badalamenti score – a key weapon on Lynch’s want to mystify us and make us feel all his feels – was striking, and while it may have been strategic, it was missed.

I loved the scope. I’m all in on this ambition to extrapolate Dirty Cooper into a psycho-spiritual toxic spill, demonizing and possessing the country, em-biggening Twin Peaks into an abstract description of our cultural condition (or the authors’ view of it). The fleeting check-ins we got with select Twin Peaks icons – including Shelly and James, Lucy and Andy — served an important balancing function. They provided a pleasant melody running through so much chaos jazz, and they implicitly promise us that in a story of a world gone crazy-wayward, full of tangents and digressions, all roads will eventually lead back to Twin Peaks. A few had tremendous emotional power, although they relied on our nostalgia and franchise knowledge for their punch, particularly the phone conversations between Hawk and the Log Lady, his tender tones and her oxygen tubes implicitly reminding those who know that the actress, Catherine Coulson, filmed all her scenes shortly before her death.

If that was the intention of Lynch and Frost, to make us pine for being in Twin Peaks, the gambit worked too well. Every time we went there, I wanted to stay there and play out a character arc instead of skittering away to the other things in the shadow-lands beyond its environs that didn’t immediately identify as Twin Peaks or were only Twin Peaks by association with Dirty Cooper. I immediately wanted to spend more time with Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie). We found her living alone in her haunted old house, captivated and repulsed by the sick spectacle on her television, a gruesome nature show depicting big cats devouring a kill. The drama on her screen embellished the themes in the Dirty Cooper/South Dakota portion the show, depicting people as wretched animals and greedy, lusty consumers of each other. But that show-within-the-show drama also overshadowed the most important element of the scene, the human being in it, the person watching it, Sarah herself. You could see the scene as an allegorical critique of TV more interested in sensationalism than humanity. But you could also see it as a metaphor for anyone who came to something called Twin Peaks wanting a story about the people of Twin Peaks, not a show full of other shows that are tangentially Twin Peaks or fill the time simply to speak coded things about Twin Peaks.

And yet, I’m engaged. We might also be wise to withhold judgments for a while. The Twin Peaks pilot and Fire Walk With Me started slow, too, their long opening acts functioning as overtures or prologue that orient us to the world, to characters, themes and style. Agent Cooper – the sympathetic point of view character of character of the original series – didn’t drive into town until 30 minutes into the thing. Ditto Laura Palmer’s arrival in the prequel flick. Parts 1 and 2 might represent a similar walk-up in a narrative that aspires to be not a traditional TV series, but a singular 18-hour movie. The allegory of the big glass box suggests we should stay diligent in our observation and remain open to mind-blowing revelation and catharsis as this dark fantasy takes shape. I can be patient. Can you?

For a deeper dive into Parts 1 and 2, you can also listen to me and Darren Franich do so right now in our podcast, “A Twin Peaks Podcast: A Podcast About Twin Peaks.” We analyze each story line, taking them city by city. (We also recorded it Saturday morning, with the experience still fresh and raw in our minds. I’m already reconsidering some of what I told Darren.) In the weeks to come in this space, you can expect recaps that take a more scene-by-scene approach to summary and analysis, offering description, impression, and a theory or two.

In the meantime: Did you enjoy the return to Twin Peaks?

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