“I’ll see you in 25 years.” The words uttered by Laura Palmer in that unsettling backwards-talk that defines Twin Peaks‘ Red Room became their own self-fulfilling prophecy. Within the timeframe between the show’s sudden cancellation in 1991 and its resurrection on Showtime in 2017, however, the landscape of television has undoubtedly changed. Not simply in regard to the stories making their way to the small screen but in the way audiences absorb and engage with them. Would Twin Peaks be able to reassume its place in the pantheon of shows, or would hype and nostalgia only contribute to the revival’s downfall? Based on what we’ve seen so far, this Twin Peaks is nothing like the original Twin Peaks, and that’s a good thing.
A year after the original series ended, David Lynch finally brought one of the Twin Peaks stories he most wanted to tell to cinemas. 1992’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, which explores the final days of Laura Palmer’s life and fills in the gaps of Twin Peaks‘ preceding narrative, was initially panned by critics, mostly due to its more intense subject matter and what some considered a darker digression from the more whimsical mood of the television series. However, watching the film years removed from when it originally premiered (and flopped) reveals a sadder meditation on the character of Laura Palmer, as well as the unspeakable traumas she endured. Fire Walk with Me is an uneasy film, and in retrospect may be the key to understanding why the Twin Peaks we got this time around isn’t the one many might have been expecting.
Twin Peaks was always chock full of unconventional storytelling techniques, and Twin Peaks: The Return is no exception. In fact, where episodes of Twin Peaks waned alongside more frenetic, fast-paced shows, its revival doubles down on those drawn-out, uncomfortable moments. The camera lingers for longer than might be considered necessary, forcing the audience to sit with those characters like some kind of cosmic waiting room. When it comes to violence, the revival doesn’t skimp on its new opportunities. In the first episode, a young couple (Ben Rosenfield and Madeline Zima) is interrupted in the middle of impromptu sex by a terrifying apparition that breaks free from the glass box that appears to serve as a gateway between the Black Lodge and the real world. Their bodies are torn apart, but the camera never cuts away. We can’t avert our gaze, and maybe we don’t really want to.
Non-network television gives this new Twin Peaks an advantage to go deeper and darker than ever before. The dismembered bodies of a hometown librarian and a John Doe are bloated and decomposing, disgusting when juxtaposed against the famous image of Laura Palmer, wrapped in plastic and peaceful in death’s repose, like a macabre Sleeping Beauty. Other scenes, like the camera panning over to the coal-black being sitting in the cell next to hapless murder suspect William Hastings (Matthew Lillard), are almost more terrifying than BOB was at the height of his power. Freed from the constraints of network censorship, Twin Peaks seems poised to go down the rabbit hole of twisted, disturbing, utterly mind-boggling television.
There are other story choices to reconcile with, including the fact that Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) has been trapped in the Black Lodge since the second season ended, meaning that his evil doppelgänger has been driving around the Midwest leaving chaos and death in his wake. (Hearing Agent Cooper drop the F bomb is jarring right up until you remember that this isn’t really him, but rather someone wearing his face.) But as far as his friends are concerned, Coop has been MIA for the last 25 years, so scenes at the Twin Peaks sheriff’s department with fan-favorites Andy, Lucy, and Hawk are peppered in with the stories that expand beyond the limits of Twin Peaks. The rest of the world has managed to move on, but in a plot that feels somewhat meta in its reveal, Hawk gets a call from the Log Lady in the premiere. He needs to find Agent Cooper, and conveniently it’s just as we’ve tuned in to find out what happens next.
Even when it aired on ABC, the original Twin Peaks pushed the boundaries of television and paved the way for many of the shows that we consider innovative storytelling even today. Yet as dark as the first iteration of the TV series got, one got the impression that Lynch was never given free rein to depict everything he really wanted to. Even the grislier aspects revolving around Laura Palmer’s murder and the supernatural elements which contributed to her death felt more sanitized than perhaps they could have been. These days, so-called “prestige” television is moving the goalposts more and more when it comes to surrealism and the unsettling–two things David Lynch has always been a master of. Based on what’s been released so far this show is a perfect example of Lynch at his most Lynchian, whether we like it or not.