After watching the first episodes of director David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return, the deliciously morbid yet delightfully obtuse follow up to the original TV series, I realized that I needed a refresher course in all things Lynchian (if there is not such a term there should be).
Since I hadn’t seen the original series since it was cancelled 26 years ago, I remembered much of it but had forgotten many things. My first order of business was to watch the series again, but I could not find the VHS tapes that I religiously recorded every week so long ago. They exist somewhere in the netherworld of my garage and basement which could be considered my own Black Lodge, but that’s another story.
Thanks to Netflix, I was able to binge watch all 30 original episodes this past week. To say it was an exhausting but rewarding experience is less an understatement and more the product of absorption and assimilation of Lynch’s oeuvre, which in large doses rattles the brain and crosses the eyes. Still, by watching not as it was meant to be watched (one week at a time and anticipating the next episode) I reaped many rewards as well, and this crash course in all things Twin Peaks reminded me of the quirky humor, the off dialogue, and the zany array of characters which was kind of like a marriage of the old TV series Green Acres and The Twilight Zone.
I am not saying that one needs to watch the original series or even have had seen it long ago (as I had before my binge), but the little inserted gems in the new series are so much more appreciated if you have had a refresher course. One thing that completely stands out is the feeling of confidence the old series provided via the exuberance of Kyle MacLachlan’s performance as Special Agent Dale Cooper. Whether being confronted with a naked teenage Audrey Horne (Sherylin Fenn) in his bed or French-Canadian gangsters ready to kill him, Cooper went about his business with an attitude that promoted smiles and also a feeling of security.
Especially missing from the new version is Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean), who together with MacLachlan’s Cooper formed an incredible if unlikely cop duo – the out of town Fed and the hometown cop – and their bond carried the series in many ways that kept it from being an ordinary police procedural. Harry’s willingness to follow Cooper’s lead and Cooper’s respect for Harry’s knowledge of the town and area worked well, and even when Cooper is briefly suspended from the FBI in season 2 Harry quickly deputizes him to keep the team together. In the new version Harry is supposed to be quite ill and his brother Frank (a terrifically deadpan Robert Forster) has taken his place in charge. Since they have yet to have a scene together we will have to wait to see if there is any similar connection between these two men.
Unfortunately, as of now, the new version of Cooper (after the first five episodes) is difficult to accept, but there is an understanding that he has been locked in the Red Room in the Black Lodge for 25 plus years makes it more believable. His reintroduction to the real world is culture shock after being in the company of giants, dwarves, the One-armed Man, and a talking brain atop of a tree. He also left behind the specter of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), whose murder he solved and yet left many questions remaining after his disappearance.
We have only seen snippets of the old gang back in Twin Peaks (mostly at the Sheriff’s Department), but the feeling that time has advanced and that still things remain the same is evident. Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) and Andy (Harry Goaz) are still a couple and seem as cluelessly happy as ever. Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) has a mane of gray hair but he is still on the job and in contact with the Log Lady (the late Catherine E. Coulson) who relays messages from her log via phone now. We get a brief glimpse of Shelly the waitress (Mädchen Amick) in the bar with friends and James Hurley (James Marshall) with shaved head and no doubt still riding his hog, but none of this is satisfying if you are expecting one big happy reunion.
In episode 5 we do see Shelly again and Norma (Peggy Lipton), and they seem closer than ever, but we really don’t get the feel of the Double R (that diner was like the heart and soul of the old show) and the big moment occurs there when Shelly’s daughter Becky (Amanda Seyfried) comes in to make a delivery from the bakery and to beg some money from mom. She goes driving off with her junkie boyfriend (Caleb Landry Jones) who looks like he’s made up to be a zombie on The Walking Dead. Their subsequent dangerous car ride features Becky staring up at the sky in the speeding convertible, and we start wondering if she is just going too closely down the path that Laura Palmer once tread.
Sadly, the old characters are on the periphery (hopefully just for now) while the Good Cooper is returned from the Black Lodge and assuming the identity of a second dopplegänger named Dougie, who is married to the beautiful Janey-E (Naomi Watts). The first dopplegänger is Evil Cooper who has beaten and murdered people before getting an attack just as Good Cooper emerges into the real world, causing him to crash his car and throw up what looks like creamed corn and his stomach lining.
At this point we are not sure where the narrative will take us, but that is why it is helpful to get back to my binge. Besides watching the old series, I also immersed myself in three Lynch films: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Mullholland Drive, and Eraserhead. I actually just finished Fire Walk With Me and, judging from its harrowing and distinctly dismal story, I am thinking that Twin Peaks: The Return is going to be more like it than the old series.
The other two films are not what we traditionally want from movies, at least that is if we want a distinct and linear story and a clear and satisfying conclusion. Mullholland Drive starts off almost like traditional film noir, but it quickly devolves into something unexpected and yet at times wonderful but ultimately depressing. Eraserhead is another matter entirely, starring the late Jack Nance (who would go on to play Pete Martell in the old Twin Peaks) as Spencer in a world that could be right out of the Black Lodge. Here we have a baby that looks like a reptilian and a Lady in the Radiator (don’t ask) that may be a distant relation of the Log Lady.
What I got from watching these Lynch’s films and the old Twin Peaks is not only a headache (from thinking too deeply) but also a handle on what is happening now in Twin Peaks: The Return. Instead of expecting the trappings of the old series: Cooper’s chipper attitude, his dictated recordings to Diane, copious cups of black coffee, generous helpings of cherry pie, and the soap opera-ish drama about who is sleeping with whom, we should welcome this new version of the show which is as different as a cell phone is compared to an old rotary dial job.
There are dubious pleasures in the new series, especially the return of Albert Rosenfield (the late Miguel Ferrer) and FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole (Lynch himself) as Cooper’s hearing challenged supervisor. When they go to visit Evil Cooper in jail someplace in South Dakota, it is hilarious to see Cole react to this incarnation of Cooper. Later on as Albert and Gordon discuss what happened, the two are well aware something is wrong and mention Blue Rose (a crucial element from Fire Walk With Me), which gets me thinking that connections are going to come that link everything together.
The problem with David Lynch is also a joy, as we expect the unexpected and assume that nothing is insignificant, no matter how tangential it may seem. When Evil Cooper gets his one phone call and pushes buttons that make lights and computers screens flash on and off throughout the whole prison, it could be just a one-time thing or his utterance into the phone “The cow jumped over the moon” may bring hell upon the warden and his guards. We can never know with Lynch and that’s the delight to be found in his work.
On the other side are the fans that want the old Twin Peaks – the Bobby and Shelly and Norma and Big Ed and Ben Horne thinking he was a Confederate general one. They want Audrey flirting with Good Coop and Donna and James kissing in the dark; they want the quirky characters like the Log Lady and Andy and Lucy and Nadine Hurley (Wendy Robie) and Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) with his colored lenses in his glasses.
We do get a Jacoby doing a web show where he rants and raves about things wrong in the world. We get a glimpse of Nadine looking on approvingly and we also see Jerry Horne (Michael Patrick Kelly) having a little weed while enjoying the show. In the end Jacoby shows the shovels he had spray painted gold and is hawking them to be used to shovel the manure – a shot of him standing in excrement is included. Whether this means anything or nothing to the bigger picture cannot be determined at this time, but it may be just a way to check in on some of our old friends.
There are also scenes of Dougie going to work in Las Vegas and having a conflict with a colleague (Tom Sizemore), but certain words like “case files” and “agent” seem to click something in his brain, and he is still drawn to drinking coffee which may be a sign the old Coop is in there just waiting to burst forth. For those viewers who are bothered by this slow transformation process, let’s make it clear that Lynch does not care if you like it or not. For him it’s not arriving that matters but getting there.
Earlier we saw the real Dougie’s hooker/friend (Nafessa Williams) find Cooper’s old The Great Northern Hotel key in her car and deposit it into a mailbox. That act will no doubt be important, perhaps just as important as FBI Agent Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell) noticing that Evil Coop and Good Coop’s fingerprints don’t exactly match. Or maybe that box in Buenos Aires that may be in the office of Phillip Jeffries (the late David Bowie) who disappeared in that city will turn out to be crucial since it crumples into a little chunk after Evil Cooper’s cryptic call. There is just no way of knowing what will happen with Lynch – think Spencer and the Lady in the Radiator at the end of Eraserhead. What we see as a happy ending is not Lynch’s definition of it.
So, after watching the films and the old series, I would say Good Cooper is right where he needs to be right now – staring at a statue outside the office building and holding those case files. How he gets back to being the real Dale Cooper shouldn’t be exasperating but part of the experience. And, perhaps, Dougie never becomes the real Good Cooper again just as Don Draper in Mad Men never became Dick Whitman again. What we want for Cooper is to be the effervescent FBI agent drinking a cup of black coffee with a grin and giving a thumbs up, but that Cooper may never return, and for now I am okay with that because Lynch is giving me something I haven’t had in a long time – a TV show that is unpredictable and volatile morass where anything can happen.
I am looking forward to jumping on board for the next 13 episodes for the ride even though I have no idea where I am going because with Lynch it is all about the journey – one I wish would not end. Man, I am just loving this series!