Ford On Film

Chronicles of a silver screen addict

Twin Peaks is back – was it worth the wait?

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Laura Palmer’s promise came true. Twenty-five years since coffee loving FBI agent Dale Cooper was trapped in the Black Lodge by evil spirit BOB, David Lynch’s beloved cult mystery Twin Peaks has returned to television screens. With Lynch directing all eighteen episodes and much of the original cast returning to their most iconic roles, Twin Peaks: The Return certainly isn’t a nostalgic cash-in. Four episodes have been released so far – were they worth the wait?

Though Twin Peaks often merged the dark and atmospheric with comedy and homeliness, the opening two episodes are Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost at their avant-garde best. Despite spending time in the Black Lodge with Agent Cooper (the still-wonderful Kyle Maclachlan), and featuring appearances from returning characters like Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer), Doc Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn), and Shelly Johnson (madchen Amick), The Return: Part 1 & 2 is mostly a disorientating, bewildering experience.

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A young man guards a mysterious glass box that acts as a portal for a disturbing spirit that brutally kills him and his lover. A high school principal (Matthew Lillard, the highlight of the series so far) is arrested for a gory murder which he claims to have dreamt. In the Black Lodge, Cooper meets ‘the evolution of the arm’, a screaming tree with a brain. In many ways, the Twin Peaks revival feels like the show Mulholland Drive might have become: abstract, confusing, and possibly genius.

Not being able to understand 90% of the plot doesn’t even matter when the material is this intriguing. The fun of Twin Peaks was always in the chase rather than the catch; the quality of the show declined once Laura Palmer’s murderer was revealed. In its first four hours, Twin Peaks: The Return sets up a handful of mysteries and simply waits for viewers to puzzle over the deranged images in front of them. We may or may not find out who the no-eyed woman Cooper meets in the Otherworld is, or what Killer Bob (Maclachlan again, this time wearing a hilarious wig) has been doing for the past two decades, but we can enjoy the ride as Lynch once again takes us on a descent into hell.

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Twin Peaks fans should be ecstatic that the show has finally returned, but David Lynch fans should be even more jubilant. It’s been over ten years since his last film, 2006’s mindfuck Inland Empire, and since then his masochistic fan base has had to be content with just a few music videos. While his filmography is inconsistent (the highs of Mulholland Drive, the lows of Dune), Lynch is perhaps the most unique director of his generation, and any new material from him is worth watching. Twin Peaks: The Return might be his magnum opus, casually borrowing elements from all his previous films to create something entirely original. Whether the new series will reach be as thrilling as Blue Velvet or as slow as Lost Highway remains to be seen, but there’s no denying it will be unpredictable.

With the return of David Lynch comes the return of almost all the surviving members of the original cast, giving Twin Peaks a feeling of deep melancholy. Sherriff Hawk (Michael Horse) is a wise, white-haired gent, James Hurley (James Marshall) is balding and skinny, and Agent Cooper looks as sharp as ever (seriously, Kyle Maclachlan barely looks any different). Most moving of all is the wonderful Catherine Coulson as the Log Lady. Filmed just weeks before she sadly died of cancer, Coulson looks frail but her performance, delivering important news to Hawk, is sublime, and nostalgic fans may be moved to tears by her beautiful words.

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If there was one element of Twin Peaks’ original run that wasn’t well-received, it was Lynch’s very specific sense of humour. Often cheesy or camp, subplots like Nadine Hurley’s super strength or the foppish dandy known as Dick Tremaine were some of the toughest scenes to get through. So far, the new Twin Peaks has only occasionally gone for comedy, but it’s been a mixed bag. Michael Cera’s cameo as Wally Brando was genuinely hilarious, and Lynch’s performance as deaf FBI superior Gordon Cole is always welcome, but Andy and Lucy, two of the best characters of the original series, feel far too broad and quirky to deliver genuine laughs. Lynch is at his best when he’s terrifying you, so hopefully the comedy remains in the background.

Will Twin Peaks: The Return prove to be a classic revival of a classic show, or a bewildering, off-putting flop? Only time will tell, but the first four hours hint at greater things to come. There are some weak elements (Andy and Lucy, the rather shoddy visual effects), but Lynch proves once again that he’s the master of nightmare imagery. The glass box and its inhabitant, the spectre in Lillard’s cell, the gruesome corpse of Ruth Davenport – this isn’t so much a revival of Twin Peaks as a newer, darker force, combining elements of Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet, and even Eraserhead to create some of the most disturbing television in years. It’s not perfect, but it’s still a damn fine cup of coffee.

 

By Harry J. Ford

 

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