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Written by Mark Frost & David Lynch
Directed by David Lynch

Airdate: 9 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.

Whatever followed on the heels of Part 8 of Twin Peaks: The Return was always going to be a relative letdown, even with the two-week break in the original airing schedule, so it makes pretty good sense, I think, that Part 9 is all about hunkering down and getting some work down in recapping where we've been and sketching out where we're going. Might as well deal with the sausage-making when the artistic extravagance was going to be at a low ebb anyway.

The result is a largely plotty episode, though one in which the plot is, by and large, worthwhile. If I have complaints, they're more in the nature of taste issues: there's just nowhere near enough of Kyle MacLachlan, in either of his incarnations. He's reliably the best performer on the show, and by this point, I still haven't gotten even slightly tired of the sadly comic life of Dougie Jones, who we see here in just one scene, staring with fixed interested at a U.S. flag as "America the Beautiful" plays softly in the sound mix.

Beyond that it's very much a grab bag of different bits and pieces of story happening, some of it obviously more connected to the emerging macro-narrative than others (if the Brennan family upholstery color ends up being germane to the greater story, I'll be flabbergasted, even knowing David Lynch's propensity for recycling odd little details like that). There's much to love within those bits and pieces, certainly: that self-same little aside between Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) and Andy (Harry Goaz) is the first time I've been entirely happy to see those characters all season, with Lucy's contentment at having won the argument with her husband shading magnanimity. It's an appealing moment that's true to the little insubstantial wars in the real-life long-established marriages I've seen, and even if I can't quite figure out what it's doing in this show or this episode, it's enjoyable.

I'm not sure if anything else feels quite that irrelevant, but most of the episode has that same feeling of being a nice little grace note - if not of sweetness, than of menace or surrealism. I presume that Jerry Horne's (David Patrick Kelly)'s squeaky foot that claims not to be his foot, and his subsequent lunge at the camera that results in a black-out (his? the show's?) will in some capacity return, but if not, it's a wonderful little jolt of the inscrutable weirdness still living in the woods outside Twin Peaks. Or the excellent opening shot of Evil Cooper walking down a wooded road towards a red handkerchief that stands out like a beacon against the green-dominated composition, a shot that perfectly contrasts the sunny cheeriness of the lighting with the threatening black blotch of Cooper himself, to create something that feels atmospherically ominous in a vague, background way, rather than coming front and center to spook us (and honestly, a little more of that couldn't have hurt; I prefer my Twin Peaks when it's more tuned-in to horror than this, the least scary or menacing episode of The Return thus far).

I could go on listing moments, in large part because I haven't even touched on my favorites yet, but it gets at the slight frustration I do feel with Part 9: it's more of an hour hanging out with these characters than being pitched into the dense emotional thickets that the show can force us into when it's at its best. The hanging out is great: I wouldn't trade that shot of a an antsy Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell) and an awkwardly silent Gordon Cole (Lynch) looming over a clearly pissed Diane Evans (Laura Dern) for anything: the way that the composition so vividly funnels all the weight and power to Dern, the little details of expression and movement (it's the first time I haven't largely disliked Bell's performance),  and the way that the tense stand-off between the three imperceptibly blends into a sweet nostalgic moment between Gordon and Diane - it is the best use of smoking as a signifier of bonding in many long years (I get why smoking doesn't show up in movies and TV much anymore, but it took an incredibly important tool out of the screen actors' toolbox when that social norm disappeared). And I am surely reading into it too much, but I feel like all of the exchanges between Lynch and Dern in this episode have a certain delicacy to them that draws on their longstanding, highly productive professional relationship.

At any rate the whole episode is full of good stuff like that: nice little character beats, elegant, understated compositions of people standing in clusters. Other than one single line of dialogue - Albert (Miguel Ferrer) starting a ream of exposition with the words "As you know", which is the worst imaginable way to start off a ream of exposition, and shame on Lynch and Mark Frost - I don't think I can point to anything here that's bad, whereas I could point to several things that are great: Bill Hastings's (Matthew Lillard) wretched breakdown, the sense of joy that Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) seems to be suffused by when confronting his father's last legacy to him, the shot of the three detectives Fusco rounding a corner and raising their guns like echoes of each other, the shot that perfectly frames David Koechner's head in a picture frame. None of it transports me, though, and I feel like this is the first episode of The Return where that has been true. The show isn't unaware of this: the biggest plot point that announces itself as such is the decision to regroup two days hence to see what the late Major Briggs was leading his son to find. It's as an explicit a declaration that this is an episode where we're just stretching and taking a deep breath as one could expect to find.

And I get it: after Part 8, Frost & Lynch are giving us a breather. There was a lot to take in with that episode. Besides, like I said up top, I was surely going to be slightly disappointed anything after that hour. But knowing why a thing is so isn't the same as being completely onboard with it. Part 9 is a very good episode of television, but it isn't an outrageously great episode of television, and by God, I have by this point come to express greatness from The Return on a regular basis.

Grade: B+