It has been a long time since 1990 – 27 years, maths fans – and since those heady days, when Twin Peaks took over the world for a short while, we’ve had all kinds of dramas on television that have elevated the medium to new heights. Just think, we’ve had The Wire, The Sopranos, Sex And The City, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, True Detective, The Killing, The Bridge and the rise of Netflix and other streaming sites. All genre-defining – era-defining – dramas that have raised the bar. But at the start of it all was Twin Peaks. It struck a chord for so many people – me included – thanks to its beguiling alchemy of whodunit, police procedural, soap and a melodrama (unashamedly so), as well as Lynchian expeditions into other dimensions and the subconscious. There were memorable characters, cliffhangers, emotionally engaging moments, as well as terrifying scenes aplenty that are still branded onto my retinas. Despite its many influences, it became a post-modern masterpiece, something genuinely fresh and new. But 27 years is a long time, and even though I’ve been impossibly excited by its return there was a kernel of dread fomenting in my belly. How would it hold up after all these years and after so much good envelope-pushing drama? My only hope was that this new run of 18 parts, this return to the world of Twin Peaks, would not be engulfed by the new benchmark in quality we’ve seen develop over the past decade or so. I just wanted it to hold its own and be good. It was more than that.
NB: Spoilers inside
I don’t know quite where to start with this. What I can say is that I’ve not seen anything like it on television before, and am likely never to see anything like it again (unless David Lynch makes something else, which isn’t an impossibility since he’s said that he won’t be returning to the big screen).
The overriding question many people wanted answering as soon as possible was what had happened to Agent Dale Cooper. We didn’t have to wait long, for striding out of the darkness was Dale Cooper, but a Dale Cooper we had not seen before – he was swarthy, long-haired and black-eyed. He was ruthless, and a killer. Bob was still there inside him.
Meanwhile, the Dale Cooper we knew and loved – the clean-cut, damn-fine-coffee-loving, cherry-pie-eating, Diane-dictating Dale Cooper – was still imprisoned in The Black Lodge, its red curtains and black-and-white zig-zagged floors offering both comfort and familiarity, as well as a terrifying sense of déjà vu. Good Coop was still trapped.
Before we saw Bad Coop do his thing, we were in New York. The city. There, in a locked room, a young man named Sam Colby was keeping watch over an enormous glass box, which was surrounded by hi-tech cameras and apparently owned by a nameless, important millionaire. A young woman brought him coffee and was making all the eyes at him, but Sam didn’t flinch – I’m so sorry Tracey, you can’t go in there. “Aw, shoot,” she exhaled with a wrinkle of her nose. It was pure Lynch – that deliberately tortuous pause between words and sentences, and that old-timey dialogue that feels out of place, out of step. Later Sam relented, and he and Tracey got to it on the couch he had been sitting on to watch the box. As clothes were peeled off and bare skin revealed, a phantom appeared in the box, ghosted outside of its confines and cut them to ribbons. How? Why? We wouldn’t quite know until the end of part two, when Good Coop appeared in that very same box. The box was a portal – connected to The Black Lodge, somehow, maybe – and we all know Lynch loves a portal. (In fact, the box reminded me of the glass vessels used to house and transport the hideous Space Guild emissaries in Lynch’s much-maligned adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune.) But this whole idea of a young man (and, eventually, a young woman) watching a box felt like a comment on modern television-watching habits. Perhaps it meant nothing. Perhaps it did. Perhaps this was Lynch commenting on the fast food nature of television – we sit there, expressionless, waiting to be force-fed something. Anything.
Elsewhere, in Buckhorn, South Dakota, a woman was found brutally murdered in her bed (the proceeding chat between the victim’s befuddled neighbour and the police had echoes of Fargo), except there was one thing odd about the body – the severed head was of the woman, and the body belonged to someone else. Duality echoing and rippling. Bad Coop; Good Coop. A woman’s head placed on another’s body.
The local school head, Bill Hastings, whose DNA was found all over the victim’s apartment, was brought in for questioning, and he was a dooze – Matthew Lillard might well turn out to be the next star of this new Twin Peaks. He has that crazed look in his eyes, and as he was being questioned by an old school buddy (one of the town’s police officers) he started to lose his cool. When his wife came in and berated him for the affair that she revealed she knew he was waging, I thought to myself: this is a pair worth watching.
This murder story was undoubtedly different from the original Laura Palmer murder story in the first series. Laura Palmer’s body was found in the very opening scene, and yet this new body was found half-way through the first episode. Back in 1990, we were hooked instantly because the discovery of Laura’s body precipitated such emotional outpourings – how could our beautiful Laura be taken away from us? – as the town got to grips with murder in their community. Here, there was no fanfare, no outpouring of grief – it didn’t quite have the emotional hook.
These were the two main new story strands, and they were intriguing to the point you couldn’t take your eyes of them. In part two, it was all about Good Coop and The Black Lodge. We had seen right at the start two old favourites – the Giant and Mike – tell Good Coop in the red room that he was ‘far away’ and ask ‘is it future or is it present?’ Who knows. Good Coop didn’t.
And then, the moment. Laura Palmer appeared opposite Good Coop, dressed in black, looking like a million dollars. ‘I am dead, and yet I live,’ she garbled, in that trademark backwards language. Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer could be the finest piece of casting in television history: she is beguilingly beautiful, and back then had the ability to go from innocent butter-wouldn’t-melt teen to terrifying snarl in one easy step. She also oozed sneaky, coquettish sexuality, especially when she manifested in The Black Lodge. She did the same, here, 27 years later. As a spirit – demon? – she sashayed over to Good Coop and held her lips achingly close to his, a lustful smile that at once promised and threatened something. She kissed him.
And then things went really nuts. Instead of the dwarf, Good Coop was introduced to a Tim Burtonesque tree – all spindly, glowing branches – with a blob of gelatinous flesh atop, like a fucked-up Christmas fairy. The blob spoke to him. It told him that in order for him to leave the Lodge, Bad Coop had to return. A strict one in, one out policy.
With that Good Coop went searching for an exit. The floor throbbed and the curtains pulsed, and the whole place shuddered as he marched from identical room to identical room. The Black Lodge – that terrifying dream world, that stark manifestation of the subconscious – was a maze, but you got a sense that it was being ruptured, affected by something. The discordant, white noise, quasi-industrial soundtrack (designed in extraordinary fashion by Lynch himself) got louder and more claustrophobic by the second. Good Coop began to tumble through dimensional layers, one foot in The Black Lodge, the other in the conscious world until he appeared in the glass box, drifting horizontally.
There was one problem though – Bad Coop was having too much fun on the outside. He had already shot Bill Hastings’ wife, callously meted out violence and eventually shot his young accomplice, Darla, and was having lustful sex with a woman named Chantal (Jennifer Jason Leigh alert). He was also tapping into the FBI’s secure mainframe to find out where Bill Hastings was kept. He was mixed up in something, and he sure as heck didn’t want to go back into the Black Lodge.
This was all new and exciting and terrifying, but the closing scenes, in the familiar Bang Bang Bar back in Twin Peaks, provided comfort after all the madness. There was James and there was Shelly. Earlier, we had seen Benjamin Horne and his brother Jerry, and, poignantly, a frail Log Lady (the late Catherine E Coulson) in conversation with Deputy Chief Hawk. There was Andy and Lucy, and there was Doctor Jacoby (who inexplicably took a delivery of shovels at his shack in the woods). There was also a lonely Sarah Palmer, watching a nature programme featuring two lions devour its prey.
There was much to ponder. Much to process. New characters to fathom and get to know; and old, familiar ones to coo over. It was uncompromising, unsettling, scary. If anything this was less Wild At Heart and Blue Velvet, and more Mulholland Drive. Dialogue was sparse, the imagery was terrifying, and the sound… my God, the sound of it. Incredible stuff.
But it won’t be for everyone. Some will find it wilfully opaque, infuriatingly slow and, actually, just plain stupid. And I have to admit, these first two episodes lacked the folksie charm – for now – of the original, and an emotional hook. What it did do, however, was present to us a new Twin Peaks, one that was much, much darker in tone. As Twin Peaks re-invigorated television, the shows it influenced and flourished in its wake got serious and gave us ever more daring drama. But nothing like this. Instead of trying to match them, Lynch has, instead, gone full weird: stranger and conventionless than anything we’ve seen on television before.
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