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Written by Mark Frost & David Lynch
Directed by David Lynch

Airdate: 18 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.

Among its many guises, Twin Peaks: The Return has been an exercise in managing and subverting audience expectations. Whatever anybody expected from a third season of a television series that had been off the air for 26 years, I am confident that it wasn't an immensely protracted subplot in which that series' protagonist had been reincarnated as an idiot man-child gently repeating everything said to him in a birdlike lilt as all of his family and co-workers steadily refuse to acknowledge that anything is wrong with him. Nor, I think, would most of us have assumed that the scenes set in Twin Peaks, Washington would feel so incidental and tacked-on, while the real plot was happening off in New York, Las Vegas, and South Dakota. Of course, ever since Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, David Lynch's interest in the material has apparently been to do very much the opposite of what the audience would expect or think that they wanted. So none of this is very surprising.

I mention this now, in particular, because with Part 7 - the beginning of the second third of the 18-part series - there has apparently been enough of The Return that Lynch and co-writer Mark Frost can start subverting our expectations about the new episodes themselves. And by this, I primarily mean, "so, how about that sweeping scene, anyway?" We've figured it out, by this point: we arrive at the Roadhouse, we hear some dream pop act that Lynch likes and wants to highlight, and the credits start rolling over concert footage. And so when we arrive at that location, to hear Booker T & the M.G.s' "Green Onions" on the radio, we're primed to get ready for the wrap-up. And what do we get? Just a hair over two minutes of a single shot, in which a man with a broom (William Clouter) patiently (and rather inefficiently) sweeps up peanut shells or some such while Jean-Michel Renault (Walter Olkewicz) stands passively behind the bar. It is a moment that I think determines what kind of Twin Peaks and David Lynch viewer you are: the sort that is disappointed this go-nowhere moment is so long, or the sort that is disappointed it's so short (I'm the latter).

Either way, it's a bold and showy choice that state, without any modicum of subtlety, that we have just been given a good slap for trying to get ahead of the show. It will do what it wants, and we are going to have to wait, nice and patient, for this gentleman to finish cleaning. I find it to be hilarious, one of the highlights of The Return thus far, though I can easily imagine why somebody absolutely wouldn't.

It's all the more startling for coming at the end of such an otherwise remarkably straightforward, normal episode of television. Notwithstanding what I said in the lede, this is honestly almost exactly the show that it was easiest to anticipate when the rumors of "Twin Peaks's long-delayed third season" started circulating years ago. It's all very explanatory: the conversation between Frank (Robert Forster) and an ancient-looking Doc Hayward (Warren Frost) is the first time in seven episodes that Lynch and Mark Frost - Warren's son - have seemingly considered that not every member of their audience has an encyclopedic knowledge of the pre-existing Twin Peaks material, or saw it in the first place. And so we get a nice little recap of the conclusion to the Laura Palmer mystery, and I can't say that I mind it, not really: Forster's every appearance so far has been terrific, and Warren Frost's irascibly senile old man routine gives the scene more of a personality than it sounds like on paper. But it's not really doing anything, and that's slightly deflating, especially as it comes as part of a rush of scenes that all feel a bit too willing to hold our hands - oho, so Hawk (Michael Horse) has figured out where the plot ended in Episode 29! Now can get started! But that's not what The Return has been interested in so far, and being told things we already knew is frustrating to me in a way that e.g. two-minute shots of sweeping are most certainly not.

Still and all, Part 7 is generally much more satisfying than that, even when it's fan service: if every scene with old characters was as interestingly strange as Jerry Horne's (David Patrick Kelly) existential freak-out over a stolen car that maybe never existed (overlapping with the story back there in Las Vegas) while Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) listens on in annoyance, or Ben's later conversation with Beverly Paige (Ashley Judd) about the hum in the walls of the Great Northern, almost a self-parody of Lynch's tendency to use constant droning in his sound mixes, I'd be completely on board with all of it.

Better yet is when the "let's just go over the plot, shall we?" material takes the form of great character material as it does when Diane (Laura Dern) is dragged, over her acidic, angry objections, to square off with Evil Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) - not just scratching my Twin Peaks nostalgia itch, but my Blue Velvet itch as well - and we get to see Dern uncork. Has any performer, ever, fitted so perfectly into Lynch's filmmaking technique? Maybe Jack Nance, but between Blue Velvet Wild at Heart, and INLAND EMPIRE, Dern has reliably struck me as a critical ingredient in Lynch's work, the last of those three especially: she gives hyper-realistic, emotionally lacerating performances that center the garish, surrealistic grotesquerie of Lynch's aesthetic. The Return is less grotesque than at least two of those, though the effect is still very much the same: the deep shadows swirling around MacLachlan, and his digitally deepened voice, have a highly artificial, paranormal quality, that jars in exactly the right way with Dern's tensely physical, human performance: her eyes scrunched in little slices of agony, the tendons in her neck strained and nearly ripping out of her body. It's not just in her conversation with MacLachlan, either: in one earlier moment on a plane, we see her eavesdropping on the FBI agents in the back of the shot - a nice little bit of shallow-focus staging, on top of everything else, with a distressed, anxious look that suddenly reveals all of her hard-boiled swearing to have been a defensive posture rather than an aggressive one. It's just a superlative performance - that Dern would be my favorite actor in The Return was almost without doubt, but I'm glad to see it playing out that way.

At any rate, Dern's performance elevates the material above mere "tell the story, move the pieces around" mechanics, but what really boosts the episode for me are the moments where it transgresses our expectations. The sweeping scene is one of them, the other is when, after several episodes lulling us into the slow cadence of storytelling and relatively hushed, subdued moments, Lynch and Frost rip everything wide open in Dougie's abrupt transition into an unflappable killer, like something out of a '90s Hong Kong action film, while the hideously organic tree/Arm thing hisses "squeeze his hand off!" in a gravelly voice. It's completely shocking and unexpected, and it throws the whole episode into disarray: even its aftermath is shot in a loosey-goosey news footage style that feels at odds with anything and everything we've seen before. If this moment of complete disorientation was the payoff for the show's drift towards unusual clarity, then it was all worth it. It's also an abrupt swerve that promises that the show is about to drift into some new territory afterwards, a blaring violation of a sedate hour that returns to its simple, steady slowness after this - even the horror film moment of the prison hallway holding Evil Cooper, lit with a flaring flashlight that creates an expressionist jumble of lines and cold blue tinting, is more sedate than scary - but has been rattled enough that the old Twin Peaks aura of pure menace hovering below everything has been firmly re-established. It's not anywhere close to my favorite hour of The Return thus far, but it's rich with that distinctive Twin Peaks feeling, in both its classic and new forms.

Grade: A-