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Written by Mark Frost & David Lynch
Directed by David Lynch

Airdate: 30 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.

Twin Peaks: The Return is in large part a show about nostalgia. Or at least a kind of counter-nostalgia: it's a show about the ways that trying to go back in time (to Return, as it were) can only end in ruin and misery. The whole plot, in its way, is dedicated to thwarting the pandering fan service of all the many nostalgia-driven reboots that have cropped up like maggots in the last several years: while it's surely an exaggeration to say that David Lynch & Mark Frost have been doing all of this for sole purpose of agitating Twin Peaks fans, it would be impossible to pretend that deliberately, willfully frustrating the audience isn't part of the show's strategy.

This would, in theory, be a point that one could bring up in regard to any given episode. I mention it now because nostalgia, toxic or otherwise, is at the forefront of the episode. Like many episodes of The Return, Part 12 is dominated by a few extremely long, lingering scenes that Lynch allows to play out in something like half-speed, among them a scene where Frank Truman (Robert Forster) arrives to tell Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) about the horrors perpetrated by Richard. As far as that goes, it's just a spartan plot-advancing scene, which tells us nothing new, and allows us to see that Ben's attempts to turn good at the end of the second season have apparently turned out well. But the most interesting, and moving, parts of the scene are what happens outside of this: when Ben gives Frank the old key to Cooper's room, to give the conspicuously-absent Harry as a memento, and when Ben drifts into reflection on the time his father bought him a second-hand bike. There's a sad warmth to these moments, humanising the villainous landowner as a man who can look upon the past and feel deep regret for the present, and allowing the audience to reflect on loss and the passage of time, and whatever combination of age, health, and the simple desire for privacy led to Michael Ontkean declining the invitation to come back for The Return.

Another Horne features heavily in another one of the episode's marathon-length scenes: the return of Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), a favorite of fans and Lynch alike (so much a favorite that Mulholland Dr., in its first incarnation, was centered on the further adventures of Audrey). And here we find possibly the purest incarnation so far of The Return fucking with the audience's hopes and expectations: Audrey has grown embittered as she enters middle age, shackled to a dopey husband (Clark Middleton) who doesn't even kick when she angrily insists that he help her find her missing lover. It's a horribly unpleasant fate for a beloved character, all the more because it feels very plausible that Audrey, as we knew her, might have grown up to become just this person, filled with stunted rage at the punching bag she married, at herself, at the world. The scene is shot stiffly, in a medium shot that leaves Audrey immobile at the side of the screen as she fumes; it's deeply uncomfortable to watch. It's a nasty trick to play on the audience - how nasty we'll find out when the show is all said and done - but it feels exactly in keeping with the episode's overall sense of misery at the past.

There's one other example of this theme coming up the fore: when we finally get to spend some quality time with Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie), who has unsurprisingly become a shambling alcoholic, with an apparent tendency to paranoid rants at the world of evil spirits blurring into the world of daily life. The scene where Hawk (Michael Horse) attempts to console her is another example of the past being better left buried; we have no idea what's going on, but the glimpse we catch of the Palmer family ceiling fan, an avatar of doom since all the way back in the series pilot, coupled with the angry grimaces on Zabriskie's skeletal face, are all we need to know that something evil is brewing, and that it has to be connected to the traumatic experiences of 1989, which Hawk for some reason is trying to bring back to Sarah's life.

I like all three of these scenes, quite a bit, and more besides them - when Carl talks one of his tenants out of selling his blood, it's piercing little insert of real-world desperation crawling into the fabric of Twin Peaks, a reminder of the basic evils that happen every day in America (and ties into the scene of Ben paying for Miriam's care;  people too impoverished to afford to keep living isn't a theme that I necessarily expected to see pop up in this show, but it fits) - and yet I'll confess that Part 12 left me a bit disappointed. Partially it's because of how much I adored Part 11, I'm sure. And it doesn't help one bit that Part 12 opens with my very least-favorite kind of scene, in Twin Peaks or elsewhere, though it feels particularly out-of-place in a show like this: the exposition dump, where things we could guess at are made plain, and mysteries are solved by somebody saying "hey, I knew this all along, let me tell you". When we first heard about "blue rose" cases in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, it was just part of the otherworldly fabric of the show's mythology, something to be guessed at, but vaguely, blindly. Now that we hear that it's just the classification for the FBI's seemingly paranormal cases - that it's this world's version of an X-file, almost exactly, down to the "is it aliens, or something weirder?" vibe - it feels kind of shabbily straightforward. I do appreciate the sense of expansion that comes from explicitly drawing Fire Walk with Me's peculiar opening scene with Chris Isaak and David Bowie back into the world, but it's still a damned clumsy scene.

And the rest of the episode is guilty of one of my least-favorite sins of Twin Peaks in particular: it's a whole bunch of disconnected micro-scenes, all thrown together to give us a sense of the narrative clicking along, but without any sort of organic flow between them. I am happy to have seen Dougie (Kyle MacLachlan) get smacked in the head with a baseball, and I enjoy the perversity of having MacLachlan's appearance consist of less than 30 seconds; I admire the slow-burn comedy of Gordon's (Lynch)... are we taking it for granted that she's a prostitute? Because his "mother's friend's daughter" bit recalls Fire Walk with Me, but his carriage and hers both suggest that he hires call girls to cuddle him while he talks about old FBI cases. Which is slightly adorable in its creepiness. Anyway, the French woman (Bérénice Marlohe), campily over-playing her giggly, girlish side, as Gordon looks on with a pathetically lecherous smile, and Albert (Miguel Ferrer) stares with impatience and a clear aura of judgment. I found it hilarious in its endless drawn-out action - it's the most obvious "slow cinema played for laughs" moment in The Return so far, the spiritual successor to the shuffling old man in Episode 8 of the original show - and a neat ironic joke at the expense of the show's depiction of Lynch's affection for beautiful women.

But anyway, the whole episode feels like it's been assembled from a jumble of puzzle pieces, selected at random, and while I'm in no hurry to see the plot of The Return advance to its conclusion, I do appreciate it when it feels like everything onscreen has been arranged to give the feeling of flow. This is maybe the messiest episode of The Return so far, and while I love many of the component parts, the whole thing just doesn't quite do anything for me but sit there.

Grade: B+