GRADE: A

 
Notes:

  • The abrupt way Part 1 ends, the fact that the first two parts aired together, and that they can be watched together on the blu-ray, makes me believe that’s how they were meant to be watched, so I will review them as one episode.
  • There is a lot to cover in this premiere, so this write-up will be unusually long.

 
SYNOPSIS
 

The Giant offers Cooper some typically cryptic pronouncements. Lawrence Jacoby receives a shipment of shovels. A young man is paid to watch and record a glass box in New York City. A creature appears in the box and breaks out of it to kill him and his companion. In Buckhorn, South Dakota, school principal Bill Hastings is arrested as a suspect in a grisly murder when his fingerprints are found all over the crime scene. He claims innocence, but tells his wife Phyllis he dreamt he was there. She tells him she knows about his affair with the woman he’s accused of murdering. The police find what looks like a severed tongue or piece of flesh in his car’s trunk. Cooper’s doppelgänger, now known as Mr. C, is involved in criminal activities, including the Buckhorn plotline. He shoots Hastings’ wife Phyllis. He finds out two of his compatriots were hired to kill him, and he murders one of them. Margaret Lanterman (the Log Lady) calls Deputy Hawk to tell him that “something is missing” relating to Agent Cooper. In the Red Room, Cooper chats with Mike, Laura, and a tree-like thing that is apparently the evolution of the Man From Another Place. They give him conflicting information: that he can leave, and also that his doppelgänger must come back in before Cooper can leave. Something goes wrong and Cooper ends up briefly appearing in the NYC glass box, then seemingly falling through space.

 
REVIEW
 

When I learned that they were going to make new Twin Peaks, I was very curious, because I knew it couldn’t possibly resemble the original seasons – times had changed. But then, what would it be like? Since Lynch was working without network tv constraints, I expected it to be more like the movie, which made me uneasy, because I’m not as enamoured of it as I am of the Lynch-directed episodes. The friction resulting from an artist like Lynch working on tv produced some fantastic results.

 

The first two seasons of Twin Peaks gave its numerous storylines near-equal weight. As a result, the show felt like an organic whole. Fire Walk With Me was a reversal of this – it’s Laura’s story. Characters barely related to the main plot showed up, but they felt like tacked-on cameos. The Return lands somewhere between these two approaches. The Cooper/FBI story is clearly the main one. We frequently drop in on the lives of Twin Peaks residents, but they are not given as much weight. The disconnect between the main and secondary stories is more muted than it was in the movie, but it’s still felt.

 

This show is a LOT. David Lynch and Mark Frost give us so much in the first episode that it’s hard to wrap your head around it.

 

What we see before the credits:
-a replay of the moment when Laura tells Cooper she’ll see him again in 25 years;
-a fog-drenched landscape;
-what’s left of the mill;
-the empty high school hallway;
-the girl who ran across the courtyard screaming while the class was being told (without being told) that Laura had died;
-Laura’s prom queen picture, at which point the show’s familiar theme music begins. It gives you a shot of nostalgia (which makes it even more jarring that what follows rarely resembles the original seasons).

 

What this sequence tells us is that, though her murder was solved one third into the second season, we’re not done with Laura by a long shot.

 

Then we get the credits, mostly over fancy drone shots of the beautiful Snoqualmie Falls, then the undulating curtains and the spinning zig-zag floor of the Red Room.

 

The first thing we see after the credits is a sequence shot in black and white. The camera pans over a carpeted floor to the Giant (listed in the credits as ???????). We haven’t been in this room before. He tells Agent Cooper to “listen to the sounds”. He’s talking about a scratchy electric sound coming from a cylinder phonograph. Apparently, the sounds are an indication that “it is in our house now”. This information seems to alarm Cooper. So he knows what it means, even though the viewer doesn’t. The Giant proceeds to say that “It all cannot be said aloud now.” Possibly meaning that whatever is “in their house” can overhear them, which explains why the rest of what he says is vaguely worded. The Giant tells him to remember three things: 430, Richard and Linda, and “two birds with one stone”. Cooper understands. The Giant tells him, “You are far away,” and Cooper seems to glitch out of the room. That moment gave me goosebumps, and thus, hope that this revival would be something special. The Giant’s last statement could mean a lot of things, and it makes me wonder not only where, but when the scene is taking place.

 

Then, we see the mountains of Twin Peaks, and someone delivering a lot of shovels to Dr. Jacoby, who is living in a camper in the woods. Perhaps this was chosen as the first earthbound scene to pre-emptively reassure the viewer with a recognizable Twin Peaks resident, because the next scene takes place in New York City and features characters we’ve never seen before. We meet a man (Sam) whose job is to watch an empty glass box (inviting comparisons to television viewing). The visuals of this scene reminded me of Fred and Renee Madison’s house in Lost Highway. In fact, this scene is the first inkling you get that this is going to be a lot more like Lynch’s movies and less like the show’s initial run. This briefly, slightly bummed me out. But I quickly accepted that it was basically a new show and adjusted my expectations accordingly. I was grateful to finally have a brand-new Lynch project to sink my teeth into – seventeen hours of it, too! And being reminiscent of Lynch’s movies isn’t a bad thing at all (others that came to mind: Mulholland Drive and Eraserhead). Lynch/Frost wrote the season as one big narrative before splitting it into episodes, and you can feel the show resisting this separation. The episodes don’t feel like discrete units as they did in the original.

 

Next, we get another scene featuring familiar characters, perhaps to further cushion the introduction of the New York plotline. Richard Beymer doesn’t miss a beat; he sounds exactly the same as he used to as Ben Horne. In fact, everyone reprising their roles comes off just right, thanks partly to the script, and perhaps with the help of some guidance from Lynch. In a callback to the show’s 90s run, Jerry Horne asks, “Is that the new girl?” about Ben’s assistant. Like the Jacoby scene, this one feels inconsequential.

 

Cooper’s doppelgänger is introduced in dramatic fashion, driving at night down a dirt road, to the sound of a slowed-down, pitched-down song (“American Woman” by Muddy Magnolias). The appropriately badass lyrics:
 
I know my worth and who I am
Mister if you’re hard up, I can spare a few blam
Hell will freeze over and I’ll be damned
‘Fore I take orders from any ol’ man

 

His eyes are black, his hair is long and greasy, he looks overly tan, and the best way to describe his demeanour is that he appears not to have a soul. Lynch had to coach Kyle MacLachlan a lot to get him to suppress his humanity, and it worked. He’s a chilling character. He goes by Mr. C, and he’s worlds away from the cackling loony we saw at the end of season 2. But 25 years can change a person. Or an entity. It wouldn’t have been feasible for him to continue acting like a nutjob for that long. MacLachlan is so good (the hair, makeup, and wardrobe departments also deserve props) that while you’re watching him in this role, you never once think of Agent Cooper. The cabin he’s driving to contains some typically unusual-looking Lynch characters, an aspect of his style I’m not always comfortable with. Sometimes it feels like he’s treating these characters as circus freaks, displaying them for us to gawk at.

 

Then we’re back in NYC. A woman (Tracey) who’s blatantly horny for Sam gets to see what his job involves. They soon begin to make out and undress. Lynch ratchets up the erotic tension and the suspense in concert. He keeps cutting back and forth from the couple to the glass box, until the latter goes dark. A very creepy figure appears in it, breaks through the glass, and slaughters them. It’s one of the scariest scenes in Lynch’s oeuvre. Partly because the figure is never clearly seen – the classic horror trick of letting the viewer’s imagination do the work. At first it merely looks like a glitchy image, so when it actually thumps against the glass, asserting its physicality, it’s a great shock (as is its subsequent butchering of the couple). It’s no accident that the way it was filmed, it looks like it’s thumping against your tv screen. The alarming mood is abetted by a soundtrack that’s full of eerie, disturbing sounds (as ever with Lynch, much attention was paid to the sound design, and it is very effective). If we continue the tv metaphor, you could say this scene announces what Lynch aims to do with this show: create art that messes with your head (though not so literally).

 

Next we are introduced to another of the season’s important locations, Buckhorn, South Dakota. We are treated to Lynch’s idea of humour, in the form of a woman who reports a foul smell coming from her neighbour’s apartment, and who tests the patience of the police officers who show up (no one knows who wrote what, but this scene sounds like Lynch; she’s a large woman with a little dog – hardy har har, David). Inside, the cops find a woman’s head in a bed, positioned atop a man’s headless body. Matthew Lillard does a great job showing Bill Hastings unravel as he’s being questioned. Two cells over from him, in a very creepy image, a staring figure that is coal-black from head to toe (clothes included) vanishes as its head floats to the ceiling. Meanwhile, there is a visual glitch when Mr. C shoots Phyllis, which he does after telling her that she followed human nature perfectly. What these things mean is a mystery, but possible explanations will surface in later episodes.

 

Sheryl Lee remains my favourite Red Room inhabitant, managing to come off as otherworldly as the talking tree. Even aside from her performance, she’s given some high-impact material, like removing her face, revealing a white light within, and later screaming as she is pulled upwards and out of the room. When Cooper attempts to leave the Red Room, the tree’s doppelgänger sabotages his exit. I have to admit the doppelgänger business still perplexes me. And I think the Red Room is… like the vestibule of the Lodges? (One of its residents called it a “waiting room” in the season 2 finale.)

 

Margaret Lanterman (the Log Lady) calls Deputy Hawk a few times, looking and sounding very frail, with very little hair on her head. Catherine Coulson filmed these scenes while ailing from a cancer that claimed her life shortly after, lending her scenes extra poignancy.

 

One of the main things that make The Return feel so different from the show’s original run is the way it handles music. In the first two seasons, the episodes were drenched in Angelo Badalamenti’s moody score. It became one of the show’s most prominent elements. Here music is used sparingly, giving the show a much drier tone. When there is something, it could more accurately be described as tones or soundscapes. What the show has more of is songs. In what will become a recurring motif, the episode ends at the Roadhouse, where the dream pop band Chromatics is performing, a suitable analog to Julee Cruise. We spot some familiar faces (Shelley and James), and when the credits start rolling, I feel a sense of elation at what I’ve just watched. I was mystified by much of what I’d seen, but it also left me wanting more, always hoping the next scene wouldn’t be the last. This would end up being true of the entire season.

 

At one point, Mr. C says with great emphasis, “I don’t need anything. I want things.” (BOB says the same in the Laura Palmer diary Jennifer Lynch wrote.) It got me thinking about how we got the Twin Peaks we needed (as mind-blowing an experience as the first time), as opposed to the one we wanted (nostalgia). There are some moments that seem to cater to the fans, but they are doled out very judiciously. When the original show came out, everyone said, “There is nothing like this on tv!” Miraculously, Lynch/Frost managed to pull off that same trick, 27 years later.

 
Stray observations:
 

  • The foggy landscape which opens every episode features a lens flare that, with the benefit of hindsight, looks like a golden orb (see Part 8).

 

  • The security guard in the NYC scenes, who looks like he’s barely suppressing his rage while remaining still, reminds me of Lynch’s comic strip, “The Angriest Dog in the World”.
  • Having seen the whole thing, I found it interesting that Mr. C was introduced right after Lucy’s first scene.
  • When Laura says, “I am dead,” I got chills.
  • Significant things spoken by Red Room denizens: “Is it future, or is it past?” and “253. Time and time again.”
  • Mr. C says this is what he wants:

 

  • Mr. C tries to call Phillip Jeffries on some sort of machine, but seems to have contacted someone else, who tells him he is “going back in” and that this mysterious person will then be reunited with BOB.
  • The FBI website as presented here looks like it hasn’t been updated since the 90s.

 

  • Cooper appearing in the NYC glass box (pictured at top of review) is one of the most elegant images of the episode.
  • The image of Cooper falling through space calls to mind Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” video.

 

  • Sucking down alcohol and cigarettes, Sarah Palmer is riveted by gruesome footage of lions butchering a buffalo, a disturbing scene that will acquire more significance later.

 

  • “Everybody loves Steven!” – Shelley’s friend. Gee, I wonder how well that statement will have aged once we meet him.
  • When Shelley says that James has “always been cool”, it sounds pointed, like it’s a response to fans who have made fun of the character in the past.
  • What’s the late Jacques Renault doing tending bar at the Roadhouse?! The answer to this mystery can only be found in the credits, where the character is listed as Jean-Michel Renault, apparently another of Jacques’ brothers, and a welcome excuse to feature Walter Olkewicz on the show.
  • Laura will appear in the credits for every single episode, even if all we see is her image.

 
 

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