No matter what you expected from the return of Twin Peaks, it probably wasn’t The Gordon And Albert Show. But for better or worse, The Gordon And Albert Show is what we’re getting, and I’m finding it strangely fascinating. The dynamic between these two longtime colleagues and friends is rock-solid, impervious to the sometimes sharp words they exchange, and deeply, affectionately respectful. In “The Return: Part 12,” they formally extend that respect to their junior colleague, letting Tammy in on the secrets that arose in the wake of Project Blue Book and inviting her to join the Blue Rose task force.

This was bound to happen, but there’s real weight in letting Albert share the news with her while Gordon sits on, the quiet, proud mentor. Albert’s speech violates the standard rule of show, don’t tell, but it’s still moderately gratifying (and a little disquieting) to think of Tammy being groomed for this position since high school. But it’s not the discussion of the Blue Rose cases that electrifies this episode’s opening. That honor goes to Diane.

Once again, the staging is designed to subtly exclude Diane even as she joins the group. They’re drinking wine (three bottles from Gordon’s cellar for three people) while Diane drinks vodka; though Albert rises to offer her a drink, he leaves her to crack the bottle open and pour it herself. As she does, Albert offers her a position as deputy investigator—“on a temporary basis,” Gordon emphasizes, “because we really need your help.” And because they need to keep an eye on her and her secret communications with Dark Coop.

But Diane’s secrets go deeper than text messages. Her entrance, passing through red velvet curtains into the chamber where Gordon, Albert, and Tammy sit, hints at the Red Room, and so does her response to their offer. As a whirring noise builds in the background, she stabs out her cigarette, the better to showcase her two-fingered salute as she channels The Man From Another Place and growls, “Let’s rock!”

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“Part 12” does let some old-school Twin Peaks action rock and roll, finally delivering some long-awaited, well-known characters, though maybe not as a nostalgic audience would wish. The appearance of Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) is anticlimactic, even a form of reverse fan service. Instead of the smart, playful, even impish young woman she was, Audrey—introduced verbally emasculating her husband Charlie (Clark Middleton) for his reluctance to spend the night searching for her missing lover—is sour and angry.

This scene could serve as a test case for how much a viewer can be manipulated into caring about characters they’ve never seen or heard of. Audrey’s worry for Billy isn’t as contagious as it could be, simply because the audience doesn’t know Billy, doesn’t know Charlie, and barely knows this vicious, carping version of Audrey. While Audrey spits invective and Charlie feebly bats it away, I found myself alarmed by how little I cared, until I put Audrey’s fears and feelings in context.

Audrey has suffered in the 26 years since we’ve seen her, if her son’s behavior to his grandmother is anything to judge by. She dreamed of Billy “bleeding from the nose and mouth,” she tells Charlie, “and dreams sometimes harken a truth.” Audrey learned the language of dream messages from Dale Cooper. She spurns Charlie’s increasingly limp excuses (his paperwork, his deadline, his sleepiness, the new moon), asking, “If you were missing, would you want people finishing their fucking homework before they went looking for you?” Audrey knows about people going missing, too: Laura Palmer and Ronette Pulaski both “went missing” while they were all in high school together, Audrey herself was held for ransom at One Eyed Jacks, and she presumably knows about Cooper’s disappearance… and possibly, to her sorrow, about his return as Dark Coop.

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Then the scene descends into a one-sided phone call between Charlie and the unseen Tina, and paradoxically becomes more suspenseful the less we know. The pointed slowness of this sequence—the rotary-dial phone, Charlie’s last glance at his address book, his half-spoken sentences and repeated attempts to wind down the call—is punctuated by Audrey’s frantic gestures and eyerolling, and the suspense is teased by Charlie’s final exclamation, “Unbelievable, what you’re telling me!” But even at the end, the audience never learns what Tina has told Charlie, because Audrey never learns it.

Grace Zabriskie (Screenshot: Twin Peaks)

Sarah Palmer, seen briefly in the premiere, makes a longer appearance in “Part 12.” Grace Zabriskie imbues Sarah’s breakdown at the market with a sensitive, painful range of feeling: creeping disquiet, fear, anger, sorrow, and an undercurrent of concern for these kids bagging up her groceries—and especially for the cashier, whose youth and blonde hair might remind her of Laura. “Your room seems different now,” Sarah almost whispers to the young woman before dissolving into panic. “Things can happen!” she warns them. “Something happened to me.”

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Then there’s a different kind of fear: fear of how she’s behaving, how she’s being seen to behave. Struggling to control her outburst, Sarah interrupts her own bellowed “I don’t feel good. I don’t feel good!” to mutter, “Sarah, Sarah, stop doing it, stop doing it, stop doing it” followed by a surprisingly sprightly “Leave this place” as she abandons her $133.70 worth of groceries (two bottles of tomato juice, the last three bottles of a sale brand of vodka, and a carton of Salems) and walks out. “Find the car key, find the car key. Get the car key. Get the goddamned car key!”

The Palmer house. (Screenshot: Twin Peaks)

By the time Hawk knocks on her door, Sarah has collected herself almost well enough to reassure him. Almost. But a clattering of glass from inside the house (though Sarah insists she’s alone) and her snarl as she blurts out, “Certainly a goddamned bad story, isn’t it, Hawk?” are enough to tip him off that something is amiss with Sarah, and almost certainly something worse than alcoholic delirium or an unbalanced mental state. After all, the ceiling fans are back on at the Palmer house, and that’s always been a harbinger of ill. Reluctantly, he leaves, after telling her with profound gentleness to call if she needs help “of any kind.”

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Like Charlie’s call to Tina, the prolonged leave-taking of Gordon’s French guest as she slips her expensive shoes back on, re-applies her lipstick, and savors a last sip of wine is a little comedy of delay. Conversely, the long silent takes of Gordon and Albert facing off with meaningful stares is an exercise in how little it takes to conjure up feeling—laughter, tension, apprehension—between known characters. Their exchange of looks is eloquent enough; it doesn’t need words. But when Gordon clasps Albert’s shoulder and tells him, “Albert, sometimes I really worry about you,” the concern of the character rings deep and true—and even deeper for viewers who know Miguel Ferrer never lived to see the revival air.

Bill O’Dell, Harry Dean Stanton (Photo: Suzanne Tenner/Showtime)

Many of the characters in Twin Peaks: The Return are sketched out rather than drawn with detail. But that isn’t necessarily an obstacle to experiencing the emotional reality of most scenes. In “Part 12,” Carl calls over a previously unseen tenant of the newly relocated Fat Trout trailer park, demands to know if he’s selling blood, asks if he’s been performing free chores around the park, and finally sends him off with a little cash and a month of free rent. There’s no apparent connection to the broader fabric of the series, but the complex emotions of the scene—Kriscol’s (Bill O’Dell) initial misgivings, his confusion, his relief, and Carl’s gruff generosity as he tells his tenant to “keep your blood”—are palpable.

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(Elizabeth Anweis, Ana de la Reguera) (Screenshot: Twin Peaks)

Like Audrey and Charlie’s fight and Charlie’s phone call, the final scene at the roadhouse tries to gin up interest in unknown, unseen characters, but with less success. Natalie (Ana De La Reguera) and Abbie (Elizabeth Anweis) talk about a love triangle between Angela, Clark, and Mary, and worry over Angela’s emotional fragility after her mother’s death, only to be interrupted by their friend Trick (Scott Coffey), who arrives still shaking from a traffic accident. One way or another, their friends are having close calls with disaster. As Sarah Palmer told her checkout clerk, and as Audrey could tell her husband, “Things can happen! Something happened to me.”

Things can un-happen, too. Events can’t be undone, but the wrongs they cause can be righted. Ben Horne seems to have turned over a new leaf as successfully as Bobby Briggs. And never forget Dale Cooper, who is slowly making his way back into the world. So slowly.

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The last words of “The Return: Part 7” are “He’s a free man again,“ “A free man,” and “Whoopie.” Make of that what you will. I’d love to say it applies to Dale Cooper, but the way he let Sonny Jim’s baseball bonk off his forehead during their game of catch, I don’t think our Special Agent is any closer to arrival than he was last week.

Stray observations

“Next stop, Wendy’s.” (Tim Roth, Jennifer Jason Leigh) (Photo: Suzanne Tenner/Showtime)

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  • Great buzz marketing: While Warden Murphy’s son wails over Daddy’s freshly bloodied corpse, Hutch tells Chantal, “Next stop, Wendy’s.”
  • What about that car Trick describes running him off the road? Is it too late to be Richard Horne leaving town? Or too early to be Dark Coop arriving? Or is it just a random near-miss, another example of how “Things can happen,” and how they will happen eventually to all of us?
  • Is there anything… um, wrong with the turkey jerky? Did I miss an apparition or an allusion? Or is that just a terribly apt example of how inexplicable and random the triggers for panic and bone-deep terror can be?
  • Sarah calls the store “the grocery,” but Keri’s Handi-Mart looks more like one of those small-town general stores that’s half food market and half, well, “I think you say convenience store.”
  • Update: In Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver’s focus on Alex Jones provides some context for Lawrence Jacoby’s paranoia-inducing tirades interspersed with testimonials for his brand of nonsensical solutions—coincidentally purported to solve the very problems he’s ranting about.

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