Dale Cooper’s entrance into The Black Lodge was unlike anything ever seen on television. It’s only right that his exit follows suit.
Re-watching the first two parts of the new Twin Peaks this weekend, it struck me that practically every scene in “Part 1” is a new beginning. I’d give any of those stories a shot, even the one about the crotchety maintenance man with the giant smartphone, the physician’s bag full of unknown valuables, and a tortured relationship with somebody named Harvey. But the story we’re most meant to care about—inasmuch as there’s any sense of narrative running through this premium-cable stream of non sequitur and garmonbozia—is Special Agent Dale Cooper’s. He’s so important to Twin Peaks, now and then, that there are even three versions of him running around “Part 3” and “Part 4.”
Although, “running” implies a sense of haste that is anathema to what’s been happening in the first four hours of this revival. It’s been 25 years since we last saw Agent Cooper, and we still haven’t really seen him—not as the crackerjack investigator, chipper coffee enthusiast, and all-around beacon of righteousness that we know him as. To watch the new Twin Peaks is to constantly feel the “pain from an old wound” sort of nostalgia famously described by one of the shows that took its fair share of cues from Twin Peaks. David Lynch greets us with the faces of those who are dead, yet live on—hey there, floating head of Don S. Davis—while also challenging us with Cooper’s lengthy, frustrating, and still incomplete journey back to consciousness. Want to see Kyle MacLachlan back in his impeccably tailored G-man duds, waxing rhapsodic about pie and solving murders in his dreams? First you’ll have to see him in Dougie Jones’ ill-fitting Howard Cosell threads. As Coop himself once said, “No, it can wait ’til morning.”
Nevertheless, this feels less like Lynch and Mark Frost taunting us, and more like Twin Peaks rising to clear the bars it set for itself—and the medium—at the turn of the 1990s. They’ve taken the show’s surrealism to new heights on both sides of the veil, first in Coop’s glitchy encounter with the eyeless woman, then in the way that everyone in South Dakota is too tied up in their own bullshit to notice just how strangely Dougie Jones is acting. That Lynch uses these means to both terrifying and humorous ends feels especially necessary in the current TV climate. Horror has become a major commodity on cable, thanks to the successes of American Horror Story and The Walking Dead, but the frights of those shows are freighted to convention—jump scares and gore, viscera and brutality. Meanwhile, Coop’s time in the weird, steampunk space freighter startles because of the way it proceeds (like an MPEG of an old nickelodeon streamed on a dial-up connection) and the way it sounds (the unexplained banging on the door, harkening back to Rabbits). The Twin Peaks revival is making fewer ripples in the culture at large than the original did in its heyday, but for any newcomers, I do get the feeling that watching these episodes today would be like seeing The Man From Another Place dance for the first time in 1990.
And just for the record: I’m pro-Wally Brando here, though Cooper’s “Hello-oh-ohh!” didn’t crack me up as much as it seems like it did everyone else.
I wrote last week about just how much this new iteration of the show loves to stretch out time, with gaps in between dialogue large enough to drive a truck bearing a dozen tree trunks. But with episodes three and four, it’s becoming clear the show also wants to stretch out its storylines, with analogous pauses taking place on the various subplots. Most notably, completely absent from these two installments is any check-in with Matthew Lillard’s principal from the premiere, whose murder case is ostensibly one of the major stories of the season. Sure, we get a couple of fleeting scenes with the officers investigating the case, and a tantalizing hint that the military is involved in keeping some records from being accessed, but both chapters are essentially the Dale Cooper/Dougie Jones show. The near-somnambulant Cooper seems to be suffering from a slightly more animated case of Leo Johnson syndrome and isn’t even able to wear a tie properly, which stretches things out even further. Though his rediscovery of coffee prompted a real show of emotion (on both sides of the screen).
It was our time spent in the Twin Peaks sheriff’s station, however, that carried the most significance, both in cementing the show’s connections to its past and in framing the outlandish, continent-spanning stories that began the new season. Robert Forster is a welcome sight as Frank Truman, and having him and the newly deputized (!) Bobby Briggs dig back into the Laura Palmer case gave the revival some real emotional stakes—something we hadn’t gotten much prior to this, particularly amid the Andy And Lucy Comedy Hour. Bobby’s outpouring of grief was especially touching. With Cooper currently stuck in amnesiac autopilot, it’s good to have a few characters expressing genuine feelings outside of amusement or befuddlement.
And Erik, I will join you on the pro-Wally wagon. He’s exactly the kind of single-scene oddball David Lynch loves to lob into frame, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we never see him again. But if we do, another droning monologue about traversing the highways and byways of this great country of ours is just fine with me.
I’m going to use most of my allotted space here to weigh in on The Great Wally Brando Debate, as I’m definitely less enthusiastic than you guys are. Alex, you’re correct that Lynch likes to bring in the occasional single-scene weirdo, though this has typically been limited to his films; I’m struggling to recall a character from the original Twin Peaks who appeared solely for the sake of stylistic diversion, and who didn’t have at least something to do with something. (Those sailors bouncing balls in the Great Northern, I guess?) I also don’t mind the idea of Lucy and Andy’s son being a bizarre Marlon Brando caricature; even if this were solely for Lynch’s own amusement, he’s more than earned that indulgence. And furthermore, Michael Cera did a good-to-great job of mimicking Brando’s lisping cadence and world-weary, yet pompous way of speaking. The whole thing was very amusing, and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been thinking about that scene since I saw it.
However, most of what I’m thinking about is the why of it, and I’m afraid my conclusions tend toward the cynical. Wally Brando feels like he was engineered simply to be a “moment”—a scene explicitly designed for GIFs and YouTube tributes, and for a newer generation of viewers to take to Twitter about how “Wally Brando is my spirit animal” and so on—in a way that the original series never did consciously (or even had to think about). More troubling, Wally also feels like he was created solely to find a place for Michael Cera in the project, putting the character in service of the actor in a way that the original series so deftly avoided—and in a way that fans who saw that initial, celebrity-filled cast list for The Return worried about. For me, Wally is so obviously “Michael Cera doing a weird Marlon Brando impression” that it completely takes me out of the show’s world.
When I recently profiled Lynch for GQ, I also spoke to most of the actors who were joining the show for the first time, Cera included. And although I phrased it a bit more delicately than this, my main question for Cera, for Jim Belushi—for everyone with a famous face and the baggage of an established persona—was essentially, “How will you avoid spoiling Twin Peaks with your distracting presence?” Belushi insisted that everyone “submits” to Lynch—that no one is bigger than him or the story he’s trying to tell. But seeing what Cera actually ended up doing, well… The parade of cameos still to come has me a little bit nervous now.
On the other hand, Naomi Watts (a Lynch veteran) was both great and not distracting as Dougie’s wife, and of course, Robert Forster (also a Lynch veteran) did some typically stellar, naturalistic work as Frank Truman. Both of these actors really were subsumed within their characters (and I guess you could say the same for Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Chantal from the previous episodes, though it was too quick to tell much). They also didn’t feel wedged in the way Cera did. If Wally Brando is one of those one-off oddballs, brought in just to lighten things up amid all the gruesome garmonbozia barfing, I suppose there’s no real harm done. But I don’t know how excited I am about the prospect of Twin Peaks pausing its storylines again just so we can, say, watch Eddie Vedder and Trent Reznor play Quebec lumberjacks (or whatever).
And look: I like fun! Wally Brando is a fun idea—and God knows this show has always balanced its supernatural horror with levity, whether it’s the misadventures of Senor Droolcup, Andy’s prolonged bouts of slapstick, pretty much all of Nadine’s storyline, or even Cooper’s channeling of Daryl Hannah in Splash here. Who knows; maybe I’ll be more receptive to it on rewatch, many years from now. (I’m also prepared to eat my words if it turns out Wally is really Catherine Martell in disguise.)
I have to admit that I still don’t quite understand the metaphysics of how Dougie Jones came to be. I get that he was made to take Evil Cooper’s place in the Black Lodge, but who made him—and when? That said, I found the focus on Cooper in the third and fourth episodes very satisfying, and not only for MacLachlan’s wonderful acting in the scene where he takes his first sip of post-Black Lodge coffee. His extended visit to the steampunk space box and subsequent return to Earth encompassed a full range of Lynchian emotions, from intuitive terror to befuddled amusement (I liked “Hello-oh-ohh!,” for what it’s worth), all sustained beautifully over two hours of TV with more than enough room to breathe. Plus, now we can add electrical outlets to the “Lynchian household object” list.
And it was all a welcome distraction from possibly my least favorite aspect of the new series: Andy and Lucy’s gradual transformation into the Two Stooges. I have to agree with our Twin Peaks reviewer Emily Stephens on this one: In the original series, Andy and Lucy were wacky, sure, but they weren’t the useless dipshits they’ve been so far. The scene where Lucy faints because she doesn’t understand how cell phones work was mean-spirited in a “Ha ha, look at this idiot!” way I don’t remember from the first or second seasons.
Sean is concerned about upcoming cameos from new players, and I agree, I really don’t want to watch Trent Reznor put on a French-Canadian accent. But I’m more apprehensive about Lynch’s apparent boredom with some of his recurring characters. See also: the revelation that Gordon Cole is a bit of a creep toward his young female employees. That scene of Cole and Albert Rosenfield lustily watching Agent Tamara Preston slink away would be uncomfortable regardless, but there’s something about the director orchestrating that scene, just so he could star in it, that enhanced the vibe. It better tie in to something later, is all I’m saying.
As far as Wally Brando goes, I may be one of the few people who don’t have a strong opinion on it either way. If Lynch introduced Wally to make James (ugh, James) seem cooler by comparison—and if Shelly’s comment at the end of episode two means anything, James’ coolness does seem to be a plot point—then mission accomplished. But all told, given what we’ve seen there so far, I’m glad we’re not spending that much time back in the town of Twin Peaks this season. Right now, I’m much more interested in the multiple Coopers running around.