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Written by Mark Frost & David Lynch
Directed by David Lynch

Airdate: 11 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.

I am torn in two. Given the choice, I would never have wanted to actually see Diane, the woman back at the FBI to whom Special Agent Dale Cooper sent taped progress reports and requisition requests throughout the first two seasons of Twin Peaks (mostly just the first), as one of the most reliable, effective aspects of the offbeat humor that the show was so extremely good at. But then, I'll take any collaboration between Laura Dern and David Lynch that I can get, and if that means Dern playing Diane - well, Diane, I am ecstatic to finally meet you.

This is of course a completely ridiculous response to have to a character who appears in literally one shot of Part 6 of Twin Peaks: The Return, and not even a very long shot. In fact, in an episode that takes particularly perverse joy in stretching out little nothing moments, the moment when Albert (Miguel Ferrer) calls Diane's name is particularly noticeable for being just about the briefest action in the whole episode. We'll get to see more of Dern later, and I'll be perfectly ecstatic to talk about her then. In the meantime, we have in front of us what I'd consider to be a remarkably elegant piece of television, with possibly the neatest structure that Lynch & Mark Frost have written for any episode of The Return to date.

Scale all the way back and look at it: we have an opening focused on basically just one thing, Dougie "Dale Cooper" Jones (Kyle MacLachlan) - unless it's Dale "Dougie Jones" Cooper - fumbling his way around his family and job in Los Angeles, still chirping in his baby-like tendency to repeat the last few words spoken to him, and somehow thus lucking his way into convincing every adult around him that he is in some command of any of his faculties. He's sort of a far more intense version of Mr. Magoo, or Chance the gardener from Being There. And in this episode, I think we first really get it pounded into us how very sad this is. I am reminded of how Lynch, uniquely among all the directors to work in the original era of Twin Peaks, could look at the wackiness surrounding super-strong, amnesiac Nadine Hurley, and have the keen insight to treat it as an extraordinarily dour tragedy. Really, is the Dougie-Cooper plotline any less ludicrous than that one? But it never feels ludicrous. Right now, it feels ineffably melancholic, right from the opening scene with Officer Reynaldo (Juan Carlos Cantu) firmly but kindly guiding Cooper away from the empty plaza where he's been standing, as a saxophone weeps in Angelo Badalamenti's soundtrack, and the background is full of cool blue glass. And MacLachlan scores a devastating reading of the simple line "Dougie Jones" that filled me with warm sorrow.

So much for scaling back. But let's return to that: the opening is all about Dougie, and it is tender & generous & very sad. The action then switches to a series of apparently disconnected scenes (the most exciting of which reconnects us to trailer park owner Carl Rodd, played by the great Harry Dean Stanton, last spotted in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me), which only eventually resolve into a single location: all of these scenes take place in close to real time, and they combine at one very consequential intersection in Twin Peaks (also seen in Fire Walk with Me) where a pointless, abrupt tragedy blasts its way through the fuzzy quirkiness that has hung around for most of this central parenthesis. We then return to Las Vegas and Dougie, but now it's all about the action around Dougie: Janey-E's (Naomi Watts) blustery ultimatum to a pair of mob types (any lingering doubt that Watts is superb in this role - that she is, to a great degree, anchoring the whole of the Vegas material while MacLachlan is still playing an overgrown baby bird - should not be put to rest by her incandescent work in this scene), the hypnotically sudden and savage violence of Ike "The Spike" Stadtler (Christophe Zajac-Denek). Somewhere in all there, we spend enough time in the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Office for Frost & Lynch to deliver a quick flurry of blows in which we learn that the huffing-and-puffing Doris Truman (Candy Clark) has suffered immense personal trauma, and that accounts for her blowsy behavior. Which is also awfully sad, the more so for being unexpected.

There's a cleanliness to that overall structure that I find extremely satisfying. Part 6 is, by and large, a "normal" episode - with the caveat that this is an entirely abnormal series - in which simple stuff happens at great length and with no sense of urgent pacing at all. The trade-off is that we get to spend a hell of a lot of quality time with the Joneses, letting them live in front of us without the artifice of plot to shape their behavior. And that well-built three-part shape helps to focus our attention on how the opening act presents the family. It is quite possibly the most aimless stretch of The Return yet, allowing any and all storytelling to halt in order to, for example, show us a languid scene of "Dougie" and Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon) play with the clapper light switch in the boy's bedroom. It's a densely-packed emotional experience: by my count, this one little scene invites us to feel the playful joy of a child having a last bit of fun before bed with his silly dad; to feel a sense of melancholia at the dramatic irony of knowing well and good that this is some half-formed stranger, and not the boy's father at all; to feel the awestruck wonder of Cooper encountering the magical technology of the clapper for the first time (if there's one thing MacLachlan does supremely well in this episode - and there are several, but I'm saying if I had to rank them - it would be his delight at beginning to piece out how the world works. If Dougie-Cooper has till now been a barely-articulate emotional infant, he is, in this episode, more like an ecstatic toddler); to feel the ongoing frustration and fear that Cooper, our Cooper, isn't getting better and maybe isn't ever going to get better. All in one little scene that has nothing to do with anything else, and as long as The Return keeps providing these amazing blasts of feelings, I do not merely find myself okay with its slow development of the narrative, I prefer it (is this almost non-existent plot momentum what Frost & Lynch would have done with original recipe Twin Peaks, if they'd been free from network prodding? I bet it is, and I'm all for it).

The middle section takes us back to more evergreen Twin Peaks/David Lynch material, the intrusion of the horrible, the violent, and the arbitrary into pleasant, nostalgic spaces. And it works, extremely well; the payoff to the curiously dopey and upbeat diner scene could only ever be the alarmingly cheerful Miriam (Sarah Jean Long) bearing witness to a horrific fucking death, because in this series and this director's career, emotional states always need to come in contrasting pairs, and the little vignette in this middle of this episode does that to perfection. It feels very much like vintage Lynch; in particular, the theatrical performance of drug dealer Red (Balthazar Getty), infinitely more unnerving and dangerous than the raw brute savagery of Richard Horne (Eamon Farren), feels like a throwback to Blue Velvet, in particular, though I am not sure how much that's just the presence of Dern and MacLachlan in the same hour of television priming me to think about Blue Velvet.

And then the episode ends with a few disconnected, individually fantastic moments: Janey-E and the mobsters, Ike the Spike bursting violently into the series with a moment that starts and stops the music on the soundtrack with a gut-wrenching suddenness, and then committing a series of horribly vicious murders, on-screen and off-screen, in a perfectly-framed collection of longer-than-expected takes. And some swell deep staging, too: the image of him rocketing down the hall and into Lorraine's (Tammy Baird) office, all in one smooth motion with no cutting to cushion the moment, stuffed me full of a sense of onrushing doom, long enough to have a distinct "oh shit oh shit oh shit" sense of real dread before the actual violence started. Twin Peaks has done good work with making hallways look threatening and abyssal in the past, but this goes beyond; it reminded me powerfully much of the helpless feeling I get when the camera steadily plunges towards the dumpster at the back of the diner in Mulholland Dr. It feels about right that the same episode that introduces the most low-key, domestic tenderness in The Return so far would also be the one to introduce the most off-putting, stomach-churning brutality - blunt and realistic, rather than the art-horror violence we've seen before now - for balance must, as always, be maintained. And Part 6 is a beautifully well-balanced hour of storytelling.

Grade: A