Dale Cooper and Laura Palmer in the Black Lodge
Dale Cooper and Laura Palmer in the Black Lodge
Screencap: "The Return Part 2"

No, David Lynch Is Not Trolling Us With the New Twin Peaks

After the announcement that Twin Peaks would return to television a quarter-century after its cancellation, there was a point where rumors had co-creator and director David Lynch withdrawing from the project as it went ahead. Most fans I know howled, but I thought, “Meh, maybe it’s for the best.” It’s not because I don’t love Lynch. I’ve got 90 percent of his oeuvre in my DVD case, including a bootleg of Industrial Symphony No. 1. It’s because, well, I knew the Lynch of the 21st century and the Lynch of the 1990s were very different artists, and I doubted that what people really loved about Twin Peaks was going to be in the forefront of his mind. I was right.

A lot of people I know who were fans of the original show felt betrayed by the first two episodes of the revival, now airing Sundays on Showtime. I think people were expecting something closer to the 2005 reboot of Doctor Who; a dense franchise that would be geared toward an easy transition back in that would please fans and newcomers alike. Why anyone would think that based on Lynch’s behavior from the turn of the century on is beyond me.

You have to remember, Lynch's last two films were Inland Empire – which a friend and fan described to me as “more Lynch than anyone really needs” – and Mulholland Drive. The latter was meant as a pilot to a new series, and the revived Twin Peaks is the greatest reminder of why Mulholland Drive never became one.

The show picks up thematically right from where Season 2 and the related film Fire Walk With Me ended. Dale Cooper is still trapped in the Black Lodge, and his doppelganger, possessed by BOB, roams America committing atrocities for fun and profit.

Here are the things that the show does very well. The loss of Frank Silva’s BOB is more than adequately covered by the capable acting chops of Kyle McLachlan, who does double duty as the real Cooper and villainous Mr. C. He’s definitely one of the linchpins of the show, though his brutality takes violence that was largely implied in the original and makes it overt.

Many of the characters who were played by actors since gone to their reward, such as Major Briggs and Phillip Jeffries (Don S. Davis and David Bowie, respectively), still have prominent on-screen presences thanks to clever namedrops in important plot points. Some of the original actors, notably Al Strobel and Carel Struycken, appear virtually identical to their previous appearances.

Another wise decision was to hang the heroic side of the show on Michael Horse as Deputy Chief Hawk. It’s he who goes on the initial quest to find Cooper, having been alerted by the Log Lady that it was time he was found. Hawk was always one of the most underutilized characters in the original series, though his stoic nature and capable abilities made him every bit the hero Cooper was on many occasions. It’s nice to see Horse graduate from sidekick to leader.

Unfortunately, Hawk and his attempts to free Cooper from the Black Lodge are just about the only thing holding the show cohesively together. Heck, in the first two episodes I would argue that less than a third of the total runtime actually even takes place in Twin Peaks. The rest occurs in New York City, Las Vegas, and a town in South Dakota where a gruesome murder-mystery by BOB unfolds. It’s almost like Lynch binge-watched Fargo and decided that’s what he wanted Twin Peaks to be.

Which robs the town of its identity. Twin Peaks was as much a character as any human person in the original story. Here it’s almost nonexistent. We get a scene in the Great Northern here, an inexplicable scene with Dr. Jacoby there, and the second episode ends with a strangely pointless scene in the Bang Bang Bar. None of it makes any sense, and it feels like a never-ending parade of nostalgia-driven cameos rather than anything like character-building. Virtually no character from any of the various threads interacts with any other. It’s not a rich tapestry; it’s just a pile of threads.

I think people forget how little of the Black Lodge and the other mystical goings-on there actually was in the original series. The famous dream sequence and things like that were used very sparingly to maximize their impact. The rest of the time the show was focused on the kidnapping of Audrey Horne, the more traditional police hunt for the killer of Laura Palmer, the plot to burn the Packard Mill, and other, more mundane things. Before we ever heard The Man From Another Place speaking backwards and dancing mad, we had a solid cast of well-established personalities that connected in a small Pacific Northwest town.

Now, characters are dropped in and out so fast I had difficulty remembering their names. Six named characters die in the first two episodes alone, and that’s not even counting the murder-mystery victim who is already dead. It’s murder and the madness of the Black Lodge for most of the show so far, and the Black Lodge gets pretentious and tedious if you spend too much time there. It worked at the end of the original show and in Fire Walk With Me because by that point, we’d invested a lot in getting there. Here it just incomprehensibly engulfs the entire narrative as if it were the only point. That and the strange glass box in New York, a plot device that drags on for very long minutes and which feels more like a deleted scene from Mulholland Drive than anything else.

Finally, let’s talk about the, ahem, mature content. Again, this dark and deeply sexual side of Lynch’s work shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has followed him for the past two decades. Even Fire Walk With Me showed that, free from network television’s restraints, Lynch was going to get Hard R. The macabre murder of Ruth Davenport is grotesque in its presentation, totally unlike the tasteful framing of Sheryl Lee’s face in her plastic cocoon from the original. Instead, Davenport’s eye has been blown out of her face, her head severed and then posed on top of the rotting and fully nude body of another person.

In the New York sequences, what starts as a drawn-out curiosity turns into a grisly and ghostly murder of two people making love. It’s like David Lynch took Deadly Premonitions, the horror-survival video game heavily based on Twin Peaks and full of way more ghosts and gore, and thought, “Yes, that’s what I meant. Thanks, Swery!”

This doesn’t feel like the Twin Peaks we know and love and that’s because it’s not. This is the creation of an auteur who has spent his later career being as disjointed, violent and sexual as he possibly can, and able to do so because every actor wants to have a David Lynch film on his or her résumé. This was always the show we were going to get, though I had hoped Mark Frost might rein him in some. Lynch isn’t trolling us. Even going straight from Fire Walk With Me to this incarnation of the show makes perfect sense.

The question is simply, “Is that what you want to see?”

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