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Written by Mark Frost & David Lynch
Directed by David Lynch

Airdate: 23 July, 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 11 of Twin Peaks: The Return has a second shot (or the illusion of one stitched together from several individual shots, if I haven't gone completely blind) that does almost nothing at all, but oh my, how it did get me all excited. To wit, three kids are throwing a ball around, and at one point, the ball rolls to the camera, and the littlest kid runs to pick it up, running practically right into the camera (which has veered around and down to keep the ball in frame) while another kid calls to him. Later, as the camera keeps tracking the ball, two of the kids inadvertently switch position so that it seems like one boy has in fact transformed into the other.

This has absolutely nothing to do with anything. This is nothing but a little stretching exercise, a bucolic scene destined to be interrupted by something horrid, in this case Miriam (Sarah Jean Long) crawling out of the woods, covered in scrapes and oozing blood. And Miriam, I'm so happy you didn't die in Part 10! I am really hugely on-board with Miriam as a character. But anyway, it's just simple, straightforward ironic foreshadowing; it's practically the exact same opening as that most beloved & repugnant of X-Files episodes, "Home".

And yet - I dunno, maybe I'm just that easy of a lay - and yet, it gripped me. I was entirely onboard with the episode at that point, and for all intents and purposes, the episode hadn't even started yet. But there's just something there, some oomph, I don't know what, with the dizzy perspective, the sense of the camera's very real presence in the scene when the boy nearly plows into it, erasing an important line between the recording apparatus and the recorded material. It's not docu-realism, or any such thing; it is the sudden and sure awareness of the TV spectator as an observer, and the unexpected tactility of the game of catch, which then becomes distractingly violated by the whip pans.

Anyway, I loved it very much, and I kept waiting for the moment to come when the high I got from that scene to wear off, and here's the amazing thing: it didn't. When all is said and done, Part 11 emerges as my favorite, by far, of the "normal" episodes of The Return, in part because of how deftly it weaves plot-advancing moments with the more artful, bizarre material of the show at its most unhinged; it is the first episode since Part 1 that has almost exactly the same mixture of the otherworldly and the prosaic, and the prosaic made otherworldly. The first act (this is another one of those terrifically well-structured episodes: the Briggs family, the FBI, the Briggs family again, and a final long sequence in Las Vegas; we get one sublimely moody, scene-setting burst of Twin Peaks's folk mythology in there, too) is about almost nothing else: what happens isn't that weird, but the way it's shot most certainly is. Becky (Amanda Seyfried) is having a tremendous freak-out that her shithole husband Steven (Caleb Landry Jones) is walking out on her - with long-forgotten Hayward daughter Gersten (Alicia Witt), no less! - and demands that her mother, Shelly (Mädchen Amick) brings her a car, upon which she speeds over to open fire on Steven and Gersten. But it's so fucking unsettling, how it's staged: several scenes of manic people staring into the camera (it's like the horror film antithesis of the beautiful shot straight into Seyfried's face from Part 5), Angelo Badalamenti's score screeching on the strings before it gets abruptly cut off by a cut, which happens twice, and the cartoon physics of Shelly hanging onto the car hood, before she gets flung off in an all-too-real thump, with her shoes flying off. I don't know why it's the shoes that get me so hard; but damn, how it makes the impact feel harder and more visceral. And on top of it all, there are two shots that are pure David Lynch funhouse horror: a warped angle looking down a stairwell, and a tracking shot down a hall that in theory just reflects Becky running, but given the speed of the first-person camera, feels like a dangerous, unpredictable plunge into madness.

And this is, all things considered, the sedate part of the episode. Gordon Cole's (Lynch) vision in the abandoned lot, with the images flickering and overlapping, and the cutting giving us no chance to orient ourselves in physical space as it pitches scary imagery at us, is as much the work of the director of INLAND EMPIRE as the opening act is the work of the man who set the aesthetic for the original run of Twin Peaks. Somewhere in-between are the moments on either side of Gordon's vision, with the woodsmen shifting in and out of existence, and one of them walking brazenly up along side the cop car - a perfect moment of "person walking up, doing nothing in particular, and it is SCARY AS FUCK" horror that's the closest anything in The Return has come to the absurdly effective terror of the man behind Winkie's in Mulholland Dr.

In short: this is, I would say, the scariest episode of The Return yet far, investing moments that are already a bit intense - Becky's freak-out, the woman screaming at Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) in a mixture of panic and entitled annoyance - with something almost, but not quite, paranormal in how they have a certain wrongness about them. But this isn't the only thing the episode is up to. As much as I relish the breakdown of the Shelly/Bobby/Becky scene in the cacophony of honking that leaves Bobby looking confused and sad and impossibly overwhelmed, the meat of the scene of this broken family attempting to enforce some kind of domestic normalcy is just as powerful, and without the need for explicit strangeness to sell it. We learn all we could possibly want to about the dynamic between the divorced Shelly and Bobby; in Becky's "are you fucking kidding me" expression towards her mother after Shelly's spontaneous kiss with Red (Balthazar Getty), we get years' worth of backstory in the tormented parent-child relationship that has led to Becky re-creating her mother's self-destructive (and apparently ongoing) relationship behavior. And Bobby sitting there in all his lumpy innocence suggests quite a lot about how his attempt to shed his bad-boy past left him as a passive, useless blob in his relationship with Shelly, which was such an important part of the erotic pulse of the old Twin Peaks.

I'm so delighted by all of this - and with the morbid sense of humor running through it all (Laura Dern's caustic deliver of "There's no back-up for this" is note-perfect, but Dern hasn't done anything else all season, so no surprise there) - that I find myself a little shocked to find that all of the material with Dougie Jones/Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) feels almost like an afterthought, after that material has been almost uniformly my favorite part of every episode it's been in. It's no slight on MacLachlan, who remains great as ever - the minute ways he draws a difference between Cooper being vacant and confused, vs. when he's thinking about such things as damn fine cherry pie, and what that might have meant a lifetime ago, are superbly subtle acting in a show that doesn't much demand subtlety - nor on the material, which speeds up the pace of the heretofore unmoving Las Vegas subplot considerably. I'm a fan of the lighthearted and maybe accidental parody of Se7en at play, and of the straight-faced silliness of Jim Belushi and Robert Knepper in discussing prophetic dreams. The moment where Belushi wobbles at his knees upon discovering that he's richer by $30 million is an excellent little grace note, fully justifying Belushi's presence in the show.

It's all good stuff - better than that, even. It's just that after the overwhelming "everything all at once" quality of the rest of the episode, it feels a bit... normal, which is hardly something that The Return could be accused of, but perhaps the show has, eleven episodes in, set its own definition of "normal", and now it's reverting to it. That's no slight: after the exhausting opening, having a cool-down period is good and perhaps necessary. It certainly doesn't do anything to steal the energy of what has been one of the most enthralling episodes of The Return to date, one that brings a modern twist on the old Twin Peaks vibe rather than just present us with latter day David Lynch under Twin Peaks branding. It's the best of both worlds, and one of the best things the new series has yet provided.

Grade: A+