Though last week’s cherry pie and champagne sounds like a pretty swell combination, any fan knows that the authentic taste of Twin Peaks—and the simple, homey taste that warms Dale Cooper’s heart—is cherry pie and coffee. In “The Return, Part 13,” Mark Frost and David Lynch finally deliver that pairing.
Slowly but surely, Twin Peaks is taking itself, and us, back to starting positions. Some of those starting positions are more than two decades old. Big Ed Hurley (Everett McGill) is still dining at the Double R, and still pining over Norma (Peggy Lipton) while she’s laying kisses on a man with a slick smile and big plans to make over her business. (Norma does have a type.) Bobby Briggs is hanging around the diner, hoping to run into Shelly. James Hurley is singing “Just you and I” into a chunky mic while two young brunettes croon backup. And Dale Cooper is having his first taste in 26 years of the pie-and-coffee that was once his signature, served up by a chipper waitress in an old-fashioned uniform.
When the man everyone knows as Dougie takes that first sip of coffee from a heavy stoneware cup—from the kind of cup an FBI agent might drink from in thousands of diners coast to coast—his face lights up. And not just with the beaming surprise this addled, stunted form of Dale Cooper has shown over every taste of coffee since his return. There’s pleasure in his face, yes, but there’s more: a glimmer of that familiar old intelligence, a fleeting piercing glance. There’s more of Special Agent Cooper in his expression than ever before.
Kyle MacLachlan deserves special recognition for his role in lending power to Twin Peaks’ revival. Really, that should be “his roles,” because so far he’s played so many parts, each one with so many levels. As the spirit of Dale Cooper, trapped in the Red Room for interminable years or exploring the unknown spaces and voids of other planes, he’s been sorrowful, curious, dogged, and peaceful, all at once. As the actual Dougie Jones, he’s been ploddingly incurious and bluntly comic. As the shell of Dale Cooper, fumbling through a long-forgotten world, he’s touchingly (and sometimes infuriatingly) helpless, easily distracted, and weirdly affecting—in part because he’s so vulnerable, in part because he’s so easily delighted. A potato chip, a bite of cake, a lamp that turns on and off at a clap: All these small things please him utterly, and that ready joy is infectious.
More important to this performance, though, is the innocence in his eyes. A lesser actor might tip that look over into sappiness. MacLachlan manages to give this incarnation of Dale Cooper, the man stumbling through Dougie Jones’ life, both a childlike simplicity and an air of dignity. That’s no small feat when he spends his days walking straight into glass doors or becoming fascinated with the dandruff flakes on a colleague’s shoulders. There’s a fundamental innocence to this Dale Cooper, and MacLachlan conveys it with little more than his expression, his posture, and a few echoed words.
The Dale Cooper who was taken from Twin Peaks decades ago wasn’t innocent. He had seen far too much to be innocent. But Dale Cooper was incorruptible. That’s what makes MacLachlan’s other performance, as Dark Coop, so compelling. He’s a foul thing walking around in the form of perhaps the most principled, upright character ever to grace network television, and again MacLachlan communicates that with few gestures and fewer words. It radiates from the grim set of his jaw, from his slightly unnatural posture, from the depths of his coal-dark eyes. Those hard eyes pierce everyone who comes in contact with Dark Coop, and they pierce the screen, too, as MacLachlan shoots his impassive gaze straight at the camera.
The criminals who greet Dark Coop at The Farm in Montana, where Ray’s retreated, don’t have the sense to see what those eyes promise, including Renzo (Derek Mears). They think he’s a little man making big talk as he greets their proposition of an arm-wrestling contest with “What is this, kindergarten? Nursery school?”
It’s a childish retort, but astute. The challenge, which with some tonal shifts could be a centerpiece in an action movie, is schoolyard nonsense. Leadership of a crime syndicate isn’t handed over to the person who can arm wrestle the best. Hoods and gunmen don’t pledge their fealty based on a feat of strength. And the attempt to intimidate Dark Coop into turning tail and running away from the challenge (or taunt him into accepting) is schoolyard nonsense, too, because no matter what, they’re planning to hand him over to Ray. This isn’t a strategy. It isn’t even a contest. It’s a game.
What follows is a pitch-perfect parody of the theatrics in a certain species of grubby, illogical action film. And, like Mulholland Drive’s hitman sequence, the arm-wrestling scene manages to be both ugly and hilarious. Dark Coop’s entrance and exit are bookended with crowds of criminals (including, at the end, Richard Horne) watching him on a big-screen TV, enhancing the feeling that this is an action movie reduced to its simplest, silliest possible elements. As it did in the premiere, Twin Peaks is again ostentatiously drawing attention to the act of watching a narrative unfold on a screen—because it’s not just the characters who are returning to starting positions. The show is, too.
As silly as the premise of this scene is, it’s chilling to watch Dark Coop command every move of the game with empty, emotionless certainty. Even as he describes how it hurts to have his arm bent backwards (sometimes my arms bend back), his face betrays no pain, no worry, no feeling at all. Blandly, Dark Coop announces over and over that they’ll return to starting positions, because “Starting position is more comfortable.” Only after Renzo realizes he’s in trouble does Dark Coop let the slightest human inflection—a brow-furrowing mockery of concern—color his indifference.
“Starting position is more comfortable.” Plenty of people clamoring for the return of the old Twin Peaks, or what they imagined the old Twin Peaks to be, would agree with that. But like Dark Coop revealing his invulnerability to Renzo’s reputation and Renzo’s strength, the Twin Peaks revival demonstrates that nostalgia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. On Twin Peaks, starting position isn’t comfortable. It never was.
Seeing Big Ed companionably sharing a booth with Norma is comfortable, and so was the momentary illusion that they’d finally found their way back to each other. But that illusion is shattered in mere seconds; as Ed tells Bobby, there’s “nothing happening here.” Seeing Shelly and Bobby paired up should be comfortable, but instead we see Shelly mooning over another violent criminal and their daughter following in her footsteps, and Bobby trying oh-so-casually to run into her.
James Hurley’s roadhouse performance of “Just You” (a reprise of a scene from “Episode 9” that’s sweet, corny, maudlin, or unintentionally comic, depending on who you ask—and sometimes all four) is met with applause both before and after, and the two young brunette women who croon backup are a little nod the series makes to Donna and Maddie without trying to ape their presence or appearance. It’s sentimental, it’s sweet, and it’s a little bit silly. But it’s both haunting and reassuring to see young James Hurley’s smile peek out of James Marshall’s weathered face at the end. James might be the only original character who’s truly comfortable going back to starting position, and who is truly comfortable to watch.
Audrey is worse than uncomfortable. Her conversation with Charlie, continued from “Part 12,” has progressed from vicious bickering to world-shaking uncertainty. “I feel like I’m somewhere else,” she says. “Like I’m somewhere else and like I’m somebody else.” Her tone, her body language, her dislocation in space—and Charlie’s response—suggest this is more than mere panic or even dissociation. At first, he dismisses her, but then Charlie asks, “Now, are you going to stop playing games or do I have to end your story, too?” It’s not clear what starting position was for Audrey and Charlie—how they got together, how they stayed together, what those papers she mentioned last week might be—but whatever it was, it’s far from comfortable.
It almost feels futile to assign letter grades to these reviews—partly because having Twin Peaks back is such a gift, it feels churlish to rank the episodes so baldly, and partly because, more than most television, each episode will evoke a different response from different viewers. But whether you revel in the revival, find it tedious, or even feel pangs of pain watching it, “The Return, Part 13” demonstrates once again that Frost and Lynch are completely in control of this exercise. As Muddy (Frank Collison) tells Dark Coop, “So you decide. You stay and play the game, it’s your choice.”
- “Norma, you’re a real artist. But love doesn’t always turn a profit,” Walter (Grant Goodeve) tells Norma in a spiel that could easily be lifted straight from a network executive’s patter about adapting a beloved old series for a new run. “It’s just about tweaking the formula to insure consistency and profitability.”
- Renzo’s underlings honor his promise to the letter, throwing their loyalty to Dark Coop the second he defeats (and brutally kills) their boss. But my favorite of this disreputable bunch is “The Farm Accountant” (Christopher Durbin), who hangs around silently after his tougher colleagues have fled, waiting to be acknowledged before he asks, “Do you need any money?”
- The Las Vegas detectives are back to starting position. They uncovered the unbelievable truth about Douglas Jones and then threw it into the trash.
- What is that scrap of paper Big Ed burns as the end credits roll? And is there anything lonelier than the sight of a 70-year-old man eating soup alone?
- There is. It’s Sarah Palmer sitting in the dark, drinking her bottle dry and watching the same 25 seconds of an old boxing match on a loop.