[The following contains spoilers.]
In 1990 the original viewers of Twin Peaks generally all watched the show at the same time. Unless they were organised enough to be able to use a VCR (I never was), they were required to be stationed before their televisions at the exact hour stipulated in the listings. Afterwards, when they were free to attend their own versions of the Double R Diner or the Bang Bang Bar, the latest episode would be a predetermined talking point, as though the same conversational prompt cards had been handed out amongst everyone.
In the decade following its cancellation in 1991, however, Twin Peaks tended to be remembered fondly rather than regularly consulted. David Lynch, the series’ creator (along with the writer Mark Frost), had directed only six out of its thirty episodes. He was never completely in control over the original series, and the ABC network would eventually pressurise him to reveal the solution to the show’s mystery as a ratings ploy. With Lynch’s alienation from the series, long-running storylines, such as Leo Johnson’s paralysis and Josie Packard’s bitter tragedy, were bungled, concluding abruptly and squandering weeks of suspense. Twin Peaks would play truant from its earlier horror with hours of hayseed comedy and lightweight soap opera storylines. Due to this ultimate inconsistency, Twin Peaks was not lavishly reissued until long into the era of box sets.
I encountered the first season through the DVD that was released in the UK in 2002. The second would not be obtainable until 2010, and so it was many winters before I knew who killed Laura Palmer. Younger viewers are no doubt familiarised with Twin Peaks from YouTube, where the show is now laid out as a kind of tapas of isolated, iconic clips. You can wander amongst it, nibbling.
There is currently such a crisis of overproduction within television that Twin Peaks: The Return is inevitably dwarfed. I purchased a Now TV entertainment pass to stream the new season, and I appear to have obtained about ten lifetimes of television viewing along with it. Everyone who I have spoken with about the new Twin Peaks would like to watch it and they will get around to it when they can. It is saved up for a rainy day. So how can Twin Peaks stand out in the collective consciousness as it once did? The melancholy implication is that such supremacy is no longer possible.
After watching the new Twin Peaks for about fifteen minutes, I felt a gigantic relief. It works. The show is beautiful and exhilarating and I feel like I am strapped securely in for the next sixteen episodes. Yet it is important to explain why it works, and the best way to do this is to illustrate what could have gone wrong.
Tychy has previously compared Twin Peaks to the BBC satirical show Have I Got News For You. Both shows were launched in the same year and both subverted pre-existing television formats. Twin Peaks was modelled with a needy sincerity upon glamorous prime time soap operas such as Dallas and Dynasty. These life-giving sources are long spent, and there is no modern soap opera with quite the same aura of innocence for Twin Peaks to latch on to. HIGNFY is today somewhat unhinged because the game shows that it parodies do not exist anymore and most of its guests cannot remember them. Peter Hoskin, reviewing the new Twin Peaks prematurely in last week’s Spectator, strewed around the N word liberally:
This is a time when pop culture is being overrun by nostalgia for the 1990s. Scientists have identified the origin of this trend as the release of Jurassic World into cinemas a couple of years ago, but it has continued on through Pokémon Go, through this year’s Power Rangers movie, through the impending Baywatch film, and will even extend to a reboot of The Matrix franchise. Nineties nostalgia has supplanted Eighties nostalgia as one of the biggest forces in showbiz. Some of this nostalgia is innocent and spontaneous. At other times, if you look hard at it, you can see the designs of the moneymen who want to relieve Nineties kids of their adult incomes.
What if Twin Peaks’ nostalgia, updated anew, came across not as innocent but as preposterous? These days no old sawmill town would be half inhabited by stylish teenagers. If it was a real place, Twin Peaks would have probably voted for Trump, to the horror of any hipster visitors. Nonetheless the town needs to be repopulated with beautiful young people, the 2017 equivalents of Audrey Horne and Josie Packard, in order to function as it once did. 90% of the conversations that I have had over the years about Twin Peaks have debated who the sexiest actress was. One of Lynch’s many talents is his ability to identify and procure the most beautiful women in the USA. Furthermore, the majority of his original cast have not been anywhere near the limelight for more than two decades. To force elderly or rusty actors to star in a major soap opera would appear to verge upon cruelty.
But Twin Peaks is no longer being shaped by the calculations of ratings-chasing moneymen. The television landscape is now bigger, broader, and far less risk averse than it was in 1990. Twin Peaks therefore owes the circumstances of its rejuvenation to the decline of its own uniqueness. Placed in a culture in which its previous commercial misbehaviour is now seen as acceptable, it is allowed to misbehave. It can forget about nostalgia and it does. Lynch is not only in from the cold but he has “megalomaniac” almost as an official job title. He controls and directs every second of the new Twin Peaks. The result is a sequence of horror scenarios, supervised by a Surrealist who is, after many lost years, fully concentrating again.
Twin Peaks may reconnect with its soap opera heritage later in the season, but in the first and second episodes, the horror is like a death grip. The mores of Twin Peaks are perhaps not so much absent as postponed. FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is still stuck in the Black Lodge; the story outside is on holiday in New York and Las Vegas. In fact, the ostensibly real world outside the Black Lodge proves as disorienting as life usually is inside. Perhaps we are happier inside the Black Lodge: that swishing red curtain is almost homely; the talking tree is pleasant company.
A young man named Sam Colby (Benjamin Rosenfield) is paid to sit in a New York basement and monitor a glass box. Soon a simpering girlfriend (Madeline Zima) has joined him. We are all on tenterhooks for whatever will appear in that box. This scenario is so huge and open-ended as a metaphor for watching television that the device will not properly stick. It is more satisfying a little lower down, as just evocative imagery. The box will come to resemble a late-Victorian explanation for how modern television operates, with a spirit being transmitted into view. The jack-in-the-box is an angel with a chomping mouth. It is redolent of the Surrealist Rene Magritte’s 1935 painting “La Gâcheuse,” but there are no eyes.
Eyelessness is a persistent characteristic of Lynch’s recent horror. The angel in the box and the evolved arm in the Black Lodge both have heads that are like weird creatures from the bottom of the sea. They are eyeless bladders with hauntingly expressive snouts. Incidentally, Lynch’s video for the Nine Inch Nails’ 2013 single “Came Back Haunted” is possibly the best available trailer for the new Twin Peaks, with horror-heads and blurring-faces common to both.
The horror swoops down, as unnervingly as the angel herself. The only two beautiful young people in the first episode – youngsters who would have once been classic Twin Peaks characters – are pruriently undressed and promptly butchered. The shock is immense. The couple are later (in episode three) photographed as brainless, gory husks. Their heads, newly eyeless, are blown open like vast mouths. A marker has been laid down here. Twin Peaks’ traditional lovey-dovey teenagers are being ruled out from the very beginning.
On a bed in South Dakota, we encounter more eyelessness: a composite creature that is made from a woman’s gouged severed head and a decapitated male body. The horror here is initially mild but it will pick up speed with a squeal. We are settling down for a predictable storyline about mistaken identity, with the high school principal Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard) being comically arrested by his mournful fishing buddy, the local police chief (Brent Briscoe). The humour is immediately invalid when Hasting’s wife (Cornelia Guest) calls in on his prison cell and the pair become locked in each other’s eyes, hissing vicious, inhuman abuse. It is genuinely startling. Again, the fondly joking oldsters from the original soap opera appear to have been explicitly ruled out.
Elsewhere, there is the superb image of a dishevelled Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie), at home on the sofa and engrossed in television footage of lions devouring a buffalo. The footage is reflected in the mirrors behind her, recalling the liberation of that New York jack-in-a-box. You pour over this wordless scene as you would with a captivating painting.
There is so far no jazz in the new Twin Peaks. There is also no cherry pie. I always thought that cherry pie was the perfect metaphor for Twin Peaks itself – a sleeve of gore, with an authentic blood shine, but sweetened. Twin Peaks: The Return is left pointedly unsweetened. David Nevin the CEO of the company behind the new Twin Peaks, has guaranteed the “pure heroin vision of David Lynch.” I am not sure whether the first two episodes are pure horror or pure Surrealism, but Twin Peaks is basically the mixer that is missing.
The franchise that is being renewed is really that of Lynch’s astonishing horror films Mulholland Drive (2001) and Inland Empire (2006). The original Twin Peaks is now more distant an influence than Dallas was in its own day. The new season is addressed to Lynch’s existing fanbase, which one suspects is far narrower than that of the original show. Lynch can ignore uninitiated viewers with a haughtiness that would have been impossible for him to previously ever assert.
You will need to have patience, Lynch commands. Everyone will need to go at my pace and be interested in the exact things that I am interested in. It remains to be seen how many of us will go along with this megalomania, but I certainly will.
I don’t know if I will write about all of the eighteen episodes. I might review them in batches. It is currently more of a priority than the election.