[The following contains spoilers.]
It often seems as if the new Twin Peaks is unmistakably set on a different planet to the old one. Everything is crystalline and radiant; the gravity is slightly out of sync; the sunlight is more acute at the same time that the atmosphere is distinctly cooler. The best way of getting to grips with the new Twin Peaks is to try to imagine what it would have looked like had Mark Frost and David Lynch made it in 1992. They didn’t – Lynch instead undertook the tactical retreat of Fire Walk With Me, a disconcertingly cold-blooded “prequel” to Laura Palmer’s story. But presumably Lynch must have had some conscious plans for Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) when he dispatched him to the Black Lodge at the end of season two. It is therefore not inappropriate to speculate about how Cooper’s adventure would have continued had, by some fluke of television-making, the ABC network suddenly commissioned more episodes.
If you embark upon this mental game of reimagining Twin Peaks: The Return as though consistent with the standards of early-1990s television, then almost everything in episode six is toned down or written out. I’m not certain that the words, “Fuck you, Gene Kelly, you motherfucker” could have ever appeared on the small screen in 1992, as they do here. Viewers in 1991 had been freaked out by a dancing dwarf – how would they have responded to Ike “The Spike” (Christophe Zajac-Denek)? Slightly too bouncy on his feet for a dwarf, he is a hitman with a powerful, scampering child’s body who runs amok with an ice pick in an all-female office.
This imagery would be nightmarish even if Lynch hadn’t pressed the camera right up to the pain and gore. It makes Don’t Look Now resemble rank amateurism. The same nightmarishness runs pure again, albeit bloodlessly, when the crime boss Red (Balthazar Getty) threatens the young punk Richard Horne (Eamon Farren) and performs a magic trick with a coin. When written down on paper, this scene must come to nothing but on screen it is huge with menace. If filmed for television in the 1990s, this scene would not have worked because it could not have threatened us with anything. Most violence was corny in the 1990s and it was always corny on television. Now, however, we are abandoned with vicious, unpredictable men in a realm where most of the rules are gone. Indeed, BOB, the show’s original monster, currently seems shrunken and innocuous, in his physical presence, with each new episode.
In this season, Twin Peaks is always very far away even when we are on its streets. It is as though we never truly left the Black Lodge and the old town is still waiting untouched outside of the narrative. We almost slipped back in and reconnected during this episode’s scene in the Double R Diner. Miriam (Sarah Jean Long) is merrily pigging out on cherry pie – there is quaint small-town chat and good manners. Just as it feels that we have never been away, there is a snarl, a cruel derisory leer, a ripping away of the needle from the record, and then, SPLAT!
A young boy (Hunter Sanchez) is run over by a truck that doesn’t stop. His mother (Lisa Coronado) is amazed – she, and indeed we, have seen everything. There was no flipping the camera in another direction or delicate allusions to the nature of the death. In 2017 this can really happen on the streets of Twin Peaks.
Random members of the community emerge and they surround the body, weeping and helpless. One onlooker, Carl Rodd (Harry Dean Stanton), can see the boy’s soul ascending to heaven. This rosy imagery is empty and even spurious when compared to the gratuitous realism of the boy’s death. Rodd was previously boasting about his lifetime of smoking and the boy’s soul had looked rather like the flame on a cigarette lighter. Maybe Rodd had simply seen what was on his mind, superimposing the personal and the banal over the cosmic.
So Twin Peaks is no longer a soap opera, even superficially. It has pulled itself up by its own roots. It has behaved so badly that we will never be able to trust its old small-town friendliness again. It has just killed a child for Chrissake! Treading with deliberation on the dangerous side of bad taste, Lynch’s unconcern is almost insolent.
Dale Cooper is still absent, sealed up in another man’s body and unable to talk, but benefiting from bizarre streaks of enchanted good fortune. We might dare to imagine that the next episode will feature a decisive encounter between Cooper and Ike “The Spike.” Yet Twin Peaks is being constantly crammed with new characters and the already-introduced ones are ostensibly held in a queue. Diane (Laura Dern) belatedly showed her face this week though Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) is still to appear. Hours of dallying could pass before Ike and Cooper cross paths, let alone Cooper and Audrey.
If any more characters are inserted into Twin Peaks, the story will explode. This is, I feel, a structural weakness – we have surely grasped how the series will play out from the time needed for the storylines that are presently pencilled in. The sense of liberation that has been so far crucial to Twin Peaks: The Return is now mildly oppressed.
From scanning the online forums, it is evident that some people are disappointed in the new Twin Peaks. Cooper has returned a stranger and the old town is chilly and unwelcome. You feel for fans who have waited twenty-five years for a television show and who are not enjoying it. Twin Peaks is like a prodigal son who is boorish and surly at the dinner table. Nonetheless the new season reminds me of the lesson that the film critic Mark Kermode had taken from Lynch’s 1986 horror movie Blue Velvet. Kermode had originally panned the film but he changed his mind after a second viewing:
…there are films that you can love and there are films that you can hate, but the really brilliant films are often the films that you can love and hate at exactly the same time… when a film really gets under your skin and really provokes a visceral reaction, you have to be very careful about assessing it.
I am enjoying Twin Peaks and, of course, I enjoy being infuriated by it too.