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Written by Mark Frost & David Lynch
Directed by David Lynch

Airdate: 4 June, 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.

We do not, at this point, have the luxury of years of conventional wisdom forming around those elements of Twin Peaks: The Return that are the best and those that are the worst (though I don't think I've yet encountered the opinion that Part 8 is any less than a transformative hour of television), the way we do with the first two seasons. That is, while just about everybody knows that the dream sequence at the end of Episode 2 is a great triumph, and everybody knows to shudder with disgust if you say "James's motorcycle road trip", but we just don't have that yet with The Return. Still and all, I feel like there's enough of a consensus that I can declare that Part 5 finds me at least slightly off-consensus. Simply put, I adored it; it's the episode that Part 2 didn't quite manage to be, looking backwards to the original Twin Peaks in a manner that feels like it's own thing.

This is particularly gratifying so soon after Part 4 adopted the same backwards-looking vibe in such a cack-handed, inelegant way. I cannot start to explain why I love the one and only mostly tolerate the other, but there it is. And I loved it from the minute it started dipping into the nostalgia well, reacquainting us with Mike Nelson (Gary Hershberger), who's now a car dealership manager, berating a burnout slacker kid for disrespecting the holy sanctity of the job application process. It's a moment presented without the "hey, I know that person!" feeling that has trailed after the re-introductions of James, Bobby, and so on; it's driven more by the oddball energy of the moment itself, with its the lightly scathing attack on middle-class propriety, than on whether or not we've recognised our good old buddy Mike.

And even better, it's the first of three more-or-less consecutive scenes where Part 5 taps into the old-fashioned Twin Peaks vibe without feeling like it's pandering: the next scene largely features Frank Truman (Robert Forster) staring with quiet resignation as his wife Doris (Candy Clark) lays into him about all of the shit she has to deal with - about 50/50 split between genuine grievances and petty complaining - in what I'd confidently declare to be the funniest scene of The Return to this point, not that it's a spectacularly high bar to clear. And if the only thing The Return ever has Forster do is react with fatigued patience to the weird monologues that apparently happen every day in Twin Peaks, his character is still an unmitigated triumph. And then the third scene gives us a vintage Angelo Badalamenti percussive, jazzy musical setting, as the barely-resurrected Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) staggers through Dougie Jones's office, in Dougie Jones's too-large lime green jacket, with cow-like interest in the world around him.

That all being said, I don't think that Part 5 is great just because it reminds me of 1990s Twin Peaks; indeed, I still feel a little pang of longing for the raging Lynchiana of Part 1 or Part 3 that's absent here. Still, there's a tremendous amount of pleasure to be gotten from the more sedate material we see here. Honestly the episode had its "A" grad locked down just from the sequences in and out of the Double R Diner, showing up for the first time in The Return, and looking spectacularly in HD and widescreen; sort of like that feeling you get when you see a place you know from real life show up on television or in a movie, and it seems to have a legitimacy that it doesn't when you're standing there in front of it physically. Or at least a different kind of legitimacy.

But if it were just a swell establishing shot in sharper lines and colors than I was used to, I doubt I'd love it enough to mention it. The scene that transpires inside is a very quiet, very tiny masterpiece of audio-visual staging. Our introduction to Becky (Amanda Seyfried), who we can gather from context to be Shelly's (Mädchen Amick) daughter, and we can gather from the end credits to be the wife of druggie Steven (Caleb Landry Jones), the very same kid who got chewed out by Mike, is an outstanding microcosm of how to extract the most emotional impact from the least material: it's really just an unusually long shot (particularly given that it's an interior scene) with just barely sub-audible dialogue. Which already gives us a lot: we know, from the one line she says in our hearing, that Becky is in some kind of trouble, and the sound mix's subtle refusal to let us know more than that is ingeniously frustrating, particularly the longer we watch her without being given any additional info. And then it's just a simple pattern of cross-cutting with Norma's (Peggy Lipton) thin-lipped look of worry to tell us that this is an ongoing problem. It's extraordinarily effective minimalism, in a show that is thoroughly happy to embrace maximalism.

As indeed it does, minutes later, during my absolute favorite part of the episode: Becky and Steven drive off, and Becky rocks her head back to look at the sky, while listening to the 1961 Paris Sisters single "I Love How You Love Me". And for a solid minute, or a bit more, the camera just stops and looks at her, pointing down at her beaming, ecstatic expression. It's a transporting moment: the shape of Seyfried's face is a wonderful match for the intensity of the close-up, and the gentle sway of the music creates a beatific feeling that banishes all thoughts of danger or death. I could have happily watched an entire episode that was nothing but this blissful image for the full hour.

At any rate, the rest of what we get is good and great, if never so sublime as that. We also get a bit of the ridiculous, in Dr. Jacoby's (Russ Tamblyn) trashy webcast of aimless hippie-nationalist patriotism in service of selling tacky gewgaws - intercut with our first glimpse in The Reveal of Nadine Hurley (Wendy Robie), looking calm, with a very wise smile on her face - and we get some unsettling creepiness that turns into raw terror, as a nasty young man, credited as Richard Horne (Eamon Farren) starts out as merely rude with his cigarette, and grows increasingly vile and repulsive right before our eyes, threatening to rape the young woman whose throat he's clamping down on, his grip growing visibly tighter as the scene progresses. Or maybe that's just the loud, repetitive music (by David Lynch's son's band), which has a distinct tendency to ratchet up the tension all by itself, even without Farren's vicious performance. And that grip! It looks for all the world like Farren is genuinely strangling actress Grace Victoria Cox, whose performance in this scene is pretty extraordinary in its own right.

Now, that's the tonal whiplash that I remember from Twin Peaks, disarming us with charming goofball comedy right before hitting us in the gut with the darkest crevices of human depravity. And I love this new incarnation of it, in this more sedately-paced, dreamy version of the show.

There's more to Part 5 than its nifty resurrection of the Peaks of old, though I think that's clearly the new element introduced into The Return in this episode - the sense that Twin Peaks, WA is in fact a place of great consequence still, the feeling that the younger generation (Becky, Richard) are all set to re-create the tragedies of the old, in new forms. What has been good remains good: MacLachlan's superb performance as the evil Cooper doppelgänger and the robotic new Cooper shell is still captivating, and while Naomi Watts still hasn't gotten much to do as Janey-E, her harried frustration at her "husband's" dysfunctional behavior considerably fleshes out the character even in just a few choice line readings. The intrusion of the inexplicable into the melodramatic near the end is a terrific moment: Evil Cooper's phone call that turns his prison into a storm of flashing lights and alarms is weirdly, almost inexplicably scary. While the explosion of a car, set to a brief flourish of horns in nigh-operatic fashion (it almost replicates the opening of the Götterdämmerung funeral march), is inexplicably hilarious, something like a Tex Avery Cartoon accidentally leaping across the screen for just a moment. Other than the sense that this isn't pushing any envelopes (and obviously, it's unfair to demand that an 18-episode series do that in every episode, but still, Part 3 was a high that I expect to keep chasing for a while yet), I can't come up with anything that didn't wholly please me about Part 5: its deliberate pacing interrupted by moments that feel consequential in ways that aren't wholly clear yet gives the episode a center of gravity that Part 4 lacked. It can't be faulted for otherworldly ambition, but if the atmospheric meandering on display here was all that The Return ever planned to offer, I wouldn't consider myself ill-used.

Grade: A