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Written by Mark Frost & David Lynch
Directed by David Lynch

Airdate: 21 May, 2017

Author's Note: This and all subsequent reviews of Twin Peaks: The Return episodes will freely give away details from the episode at hand, and all those preceding it. The spoiler-averse should back away slowly.

Part 2 of Twin Peaks: The Return is what I think most of us were expecting when news came down that David Lynch & Mark Frost were reviving their beloved 1990s series. Haha, that's a lie. I can't imagine that anybody expected anything like this. Still, it's closer than Part 1, and between the pair of them, I think they offer something of a complete mission statement for what the remaining 16 hours are to bring, making them the perfect bundle to start off with, whether in their cushy slot at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, or their premiere as a two hour event on the night of 21 May, 2017. The first half of the duo is pure 21st Century Lynch, disregarding the Twin Peaks that went before except in glancing scenes that don't feel right with the rest of the show; the second half is almost nothing but various incarnations of what "a return to Twin Peaks" could look like, though very little of it takes place within the city limits of Twin Peaks, Washington.

A more direct way of saying it is that Part 2 is all about fleshing out that cliffhanger at the end of Episode 29, which first saw the light of day 25 years, 11 months, and three weeks before it. Not, good lord, explaining what happens at any point Episode 29. Just speeding us up to the end of the promised 25 years that started in that beloved mindfuck of a series finale, recreating the Red Room where so much of it took place, and giving us the vaguest sense of what has been happening to FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and his evil doppelgänger, in the interim.

If that is, in fact, what it is. We could easily go into a whole thing about trying to interpret all of this as symbolism or as narrative, and I won't lie, that's very nearly my least favorite way to deal with Twin Peaks. Still, I have to admire how neatly the episode explains absolutely not a damn thing, while still giving us plenty of pieces that can be assembled however we want. I am particularly thinking of the moment in which Cooper is visited by the presence of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) - and to be a perfectly awful fanboy for a moment, a scene where Cooper and Laura met up in the Black Lodge was the only specific thing I wanted from The Return, so three cheers for fulfilled expectations - who delivers an exact line of dialogue from Episode 2, when this red room was first introduced and the idea of the paranormal first infested Twin Peaks: "I feel like I know her, but sometimes my arms bend back". Seeing MacLachlan and Lee a quarter of a century older than they were when they filmed the first version of this scene, recreating the exact rhythms of olden days, doesn't by itself mean anything other than that that Lynch & Frost are not above tugging on the audience's nostalgia. But I think it's rather suggestive, giving me the impression that this cycle has repeated itself infinitely as Cooper and Laura age in their timeless prison. And of course it might be nothing of the sort. Regardless, the simple fact of repeating such an iconic moment with the actors showing the full effects of aging suggests in one swift kick to the gonads how the last 25 years might have been treating our boy Dale; an endless, context-free swirl of meaningless events repeated hollowly by the ghost of a girl who, if my understanding of Fire Walk with Me is right, has escaped this place and remains only as an echo.

But I have gotten sidetracked. As I had planned to say, the thrust of Part 2, particularly considered as a piece independent of Part 1, is to situate The Return firmly within Twin Peaks. I believe that only two scenes, at the tail end of the episode, exist totally independently of either Cooper or Evil Cooper. One is a short scene of a haggard Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) watching lions tear apart a water buffalo. The other is the finale inside that beloved old bar the Road House, rural Washington's favorite home for hazy, trancey dream-pop (with the Chromatics proving a highly effective successor to Julee Cruise). The episode has drummed up enough nostalgic goodwill from me that I can overlook how very little the actual content of the scene seems to matter as anything but fanservice: ooh, look, it's Shelly (Mädchen Amick, terrifyingly unchanged since she last played the character)! Or fan-baiting, in the case of James Hurley's (James Marshall) appearance, where we learn that he got into a motorcycle accident that left him a slow, dumb lug. Presumably, this accident took place at least a month or two prior to the first series. Also, I admire Lynch & Frost for telling us that they don't care how much we all hate James, but "James was always cool" is a fucking lie, and fuck you Shelly for saying it. But anyway, the whole thing, especially with that music, creates such a dreamy mood, and it feels so much like what Twin Peaks in 2017 ought to feel like, that I'm not nearly as offended by it as I maybe should be. Because if Part 1 promised anything, it's that The Return was to be the Twin Peaks we need, not the Twin Peaks we want, and the end of Part 2 is very much the opposite of that.

Anyway, the whole of the episode is strong as hell, if less acutely, aggressively overwhelming than Part 1. It front loads its most exhausting material, including the track from an animalistic Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard, whose give-it-all-up ferocity in his appearances is revelatory, to me at least) to some kind of ghost-corpse man, who appears to simultaneously vanish and dissolve into smoke. It's a perfect example of Lynchian horror: so slow and flat that it can't be scary, but so inevitable in its slow-moving uncanniness that it can't be anything else.

And then there's also our several encounters with Evil Cooper, and the first time we get enough of him to really appreciate how terrific MacLachlan is in the role, delivering lines in a choppy, baritone growl. The actor's voice has been slightly dropped, if I am not terribly mistaken, as part of Lynch's phenomenal sound design. I really simply can't get over the sound design of The Return: as great as the visuals are, the sounds are so much more piercing, rattling your skeleton and burrowing into your innermost brain. Like in the shot of a train crossing gate, the train screaming loudly in our ears long before we ever see it; it's a great echo of the old series' shots of a stop light in the pitch-black of night, turned into a rattling, noisy hell beast. Or there's the entirely pitch-black scene where we hear the loud noises of the wind; a purely audio assault that works fantastically well at unnerving and disorienting with absolutely nothing but well-layered sound effects.

But back to Evil Cooper, who is a wonderful villain in this episode: slow, methodical, almost sepulchral in his dark stare and plodding voice. He benefits enormously from Lynch's obvious delight in letting scenes move by with incredible slowness; lacking the outright madness and danger of Bob in the original show, the Cooper doppelgänger gains all of his threatening mien from our helplessness at being caught with him for endless moments, be they his lingering, fatalistic confrontation with Darya (Nicole LaLiberte), who knows just as well as we do how this will unquestionably end, or the way he works a man's cheeks between his finger and thumb for a short eternity.

There are plenty of the usual Lynchian touches: at the moment Phyllis Hastings (Cornelia Guest) is shot, the image briefly warps and stutters; and the whole aggressive weirdness of the Red Room sequence, from Laura's screaming departure into the air to the meaty object growing atop an animated tree, the new incarnation of the malevolent oracle the Man from Another Place. These latter pieces are perhaps a bit more expected (disorienting surrealism in the Red Room? Yep, feels like 1991 all right), and that's my own slight complaint about the episode: it feels like it's playing things a touch safe somewhat often, which after the howling vortex of Part 1 is the slightest letdown. But this is a hugely relative claim: only in the context of 21st Century David Lynch does Part 2 come across as "safe" in any way, shape, or form.

A final note: it's impossible that Jennifer Jason Leigh and David Lynch had never collaborated until 2017, but here they are, and her solitary scene is a perfect proof of what a natural fit she is for his slurry, hostile world.

Grade: A-