Twin Peaks: The Return Preview

Warning: this article includes spoilers for the first two episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return as well as the show’s original run.

After a 26-year hiatus, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks finally returned to our screens last week. Sunday’s extended two-hour premiere brought a lot of joy, fear and confusion to many viewers and fans of the show. For the folk like me – who were hoping to get some answers to questions left up in the air for almost three decades – there wasn’t a lot of concrete information to latch on to. We caught up with a few familiar faces and saw what’s been happening in the 25 years since Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) became trapped in the Black Lodge, but were also introduced to a host of new characters and subplots, many of which didn’t even take place in the town itself.

In a sequence eerily reminiscent of Lynch’s earlier Mulholland Drive, two police officers investigate the murder of a librarian that leads them to arrest Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard), a school principal allegedly having an affair with the victim. While at first these scenes were seemingly disconnected from the rest of the show’s events, it is revealed to be a ruse devised by the evil Agent Cooper and possibly killer BOB, showing that murders similar to Laura Palmer’s have been happening all over America in the last quarter-decade. It’s upsetting to the viewer that the world of Twin Peaks hasn’t really gotten better since the show went off-air in 1991. This new world is gloomy, hopeless, decrepit; a huge departure from the romanticised hopeful America that Lynch emphasises in his earlier work.

By the end of the first episode, you can already sense the tonal disparity between this and the original series. The goofy score by Angelo Badalamenti is absent, replaced instead by an ambient drone similar to what Lynch used in Mulholland Drive. The colour palette is more relaxed, with fewer accentuated reds and blues, and the performances have improved beyond soap opera standards. Whether you think a bigger budget or a new vision has been the cause for this is too early to say, but one thing is certain. This isn’t the same Twin Peaks we fell in love with.

Is that a bad thing?

To understand the influence Twin Peaks had on TV culture, one must delve back into the world of 80s family sitcoms and cop shows. Up until that point most shows worked week-by-week. A narrative would resolve itself at the end of each episode and would very rarely carry over into the next. But in the spring of 1990, Twin Peaks hit our television screens. For most people, it felt like a real slice-of-life. There was drama, comedy, mystery – and the plot was never contained within a single episode. 

It’s no wonder that many shows would try and capitalise on Twin Peaks’ success. The TV industry took a big climb as more serials began cropping up throughout the ‘90s and into the new millennium. Most of television today is done in this format, a complete polar reversal from the climate in the 1980s. Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, The Wire – you name it, they all took something away from Twin Peaks. It almost became a genre of its own.

So when it was announced that Twin Peaks would return, I was sceptical. It wasn’t just because post-Mulholland Lynch had lost his artistic flair, but something else. If the show really was returning, it couldn’t stick to the same style and format it had previously succeeded in. Viewers would liken it too closely to Stranger Things or Wayward Pines. If the revival wanted to avoid becoming a part of the simulacrum (see my article on the simulacrum in The Man in the High Castle for more information), things would need to be shaken up.

Resting on a spectrum between TV and film, Twin Peaks: The Return features aspects of every Lynch work. The lad watching the glass box screamed Eraserhead to me. The scenes set in the town bear a closer resemblance to Blue Velvet and Fire Walk with Me. It’s a big deconstruction of his entire portfolio, and that’s perfect for the type of show it needs to be. Much like when we first catch up with Evil Cooper in South Dakota, we immediately realise that everything has changed. It’s a rejection of nostalgia, both for the show and the real world, because how can a show that has shaped TV as we know it go back to what it used to do? If you were expecting the same goofy antics of Cooper & Friends, I’m afraid you should just watch the original series again.

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