In “The Return, Part 3,” exasperated as Lucy and Andy get sidetracked by seemingly irrelevant evidence, Hawk blurts out, “It’s not about the bunny!” After a beat, he second-guesses himself, asking “… is it about the bunny? No! It’s not about the bunny.” The conference room’s adorable doughnut disturb sign notwithstanding, this show was never about the bunnies, the doughnuts, the cute stuff. Twin Peaks embraces the cute stuff, and it also stealthily employs the cute stuff, the cozy stuff, the comfortable stuff. Maybe deploys is a better word, because those softer elements are used knowingly, sometimes viciously, as a counterpoint to its cruelest moments.
Be warned, anyone who hasn’t seen all of the original series: There will be no further spoiler warnings for the previous two seasons in these reviews. I assume you know the show, and I’ll talk about it accordingly, starting with an enormous reveal in the next paragraph.
In its first incarnation, Twin Peaks was joyously full of chocolate bunnies, of cozy cups of coffee and excellent water pressure and singing Icelanders and the reminder to give yourself a present every day, once a day. Those bright spots and cheerful absurdities make it easier to stomach the brutality of the underlying story even as the contrast highlights its horrors. Under all the cherry pie and doughnuts, the original Twin Peaks is the story of a man who routinely raped his own daughter, and finally murdered her. It’s a story of evil winging its way from a distant plane into the very heart of the home—and it’s a story that unflinchingly reminds us that that is where evil really is. It’s not relegated to some abstract other world. It flourishes here, in our hearts, in our homes. In us.
“The Return, Part 3” and “The Return, Part 4”—especially “Part 4”—bring back some of those metaphorical chocolate bunnies. These two episodes continue the patient surrealism of the premiere, complete with the rich, ominous hum that fills its pauses. But they also drive us right back into the heart of Twin Peaks, both the town and series, by revisiting the minutiae that represent it in popular memory. These two episodes give us enough of that nostalgic Twin Peaks quirkiness to choke on.
This is not a complaint.
Lucy and Andy, always meandering in manner, have become downright dotty. From her very first appearance, Lucy Moran (now Brennan) is preoccupied with the particulars of transferring a call. But in “The Return, Part 4,” she’s gone from rambling but pertinent details about which phone to pick up—“the phone on the table by the red chair, the red chair against the wall, the little table with lamp on it. The lamp we moved from the corner? The black phone, not the brown phone”—to shocked (and shocking) ignorance of the common abilities of cell phones.
Andy’s always been klutzy and goofy and weepy; his obvious sorrow over corpses has always seemed to me a sweet quality, if one that the grim realities of police work would knock out of most people. But in these episodes, he’s regressed from sweet if slow to determinedly dimwitted, constantly fluttering around his equally silly wife. Lucy and Andy were always a little flighty and dawdling, but they were never cartoonishly stupid or ignorant of the practicalities of life.
Maybe parenthood has dulled their (never viciously sharp) wit. A few decades with Wally Brando (Michael Cera) could do that to anyone. Wally’s ’50s persona is a play on the nostalgia, both earnest and subverted, that haunts Lynch’s work. He’s also a caricature of a type seen in Twin Peaks’ original run: the biker with a heart of gold but a chip on his shoulder. Wally is an exaggerated, long-winded version of James Hurley, that much-maligned good boy (we know he’s good because other characters keep saying it) with the bad history.
This whole schtick—the Wild One costuming, the Godfather references—is overblown, flamboyantly quirky, and tedious. But it serves a purpose. As Mike might say, it was manufactured for a purpose, and these scenes of Lucy, Andy, and Wally all seem deliberately, crudely manufactured. This heavy-handed whimsy mimics the reductive view of Twin Peaks as a determinedly quirky little town (or a determinedly quirky little show) full of, gosh!, just the darnedest eccentrics!
These laborious, self-conscious scenes are deliberately mired in eccentricity. Unlike the emotional depth of the premiere’s conversations between Hawk and Margaret, or its heartwarming glimpses of Shelly and James—unlike even the curious scene in “Part 3” of Lawrence Jacoby spray-painting shovels gold using his elaborate pedal-operated mechanism, which is sober and contemplative, if silently humorous, rather than a lampoon—these scenes deliver the expected nostalgia, and they deliver it by the shovelful.
Between the vaudevillian broadness of Lucy and Andy, the Brando pastiche of Wally, and the nervous comedy as Cooper overtakes the manufactured life of Dougie Jones, “Part 3” and “Part 4” pack a wallop of camp and slapstick that’s potently at odds with the building dread of the plot and the disorientation of the most experimental sequences.
Not all the returns to the Twin Peaks of old are exaggerated or comic. Some are grotesque; some are quietly threatening. Cooper’s abrupt return—to the wrong self, to a placeholder presumably created by Dark Coop for this purpose—finds him incapacitated. Neither speech nor movement come easily; even urinating is apparently an agony, or at least a terrible surprise, after 26 years in The Red Room. It’s no surprise that Jade (Nafessa Williams) leaves Dougie (actually Coop, aphasic and rigidly doll-like) with a few bucks and a few words of advice, or that the security guards and cashier send him on his way, or even that his friend Bill (Ethan Suplee) lets him wander off despite his wife’s concerns. The Vegas nightlife has probably seen people a lot more addled than Coop-as-Dougie.
It’s more striking that Janey-E Jones (Naomi Watts) fails to notice her husband’s doppelgänger (or, really, her doppelgänger husband’s original) tottering from step to step, failing to grasp the niceties of using the toilet or eating. Janey’s obviously preoccupied—with the life-and-death issue of paying off the people who are already hunting Dougie, with the nuts-and-bolts business of birthday parties and pancake breakfasts and packing lunches, and with the blissful relief of Coop’s casino windfall. Watts makes her anger, her relief, and especially her distraction almost plausible. Almost.
Again, this is not a complaint.
No one’s better at making drama, tension, and naked fear from situations that aren’t quite plausible, that aren’t… quite… right. It’s plausible that a child, accustomed to taking his cues from the adults around him, would giggle at his father’s blank fumbling. But it’s not quite plausible that Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon) would alternate so easily between smiling and that wary expression that flickers across his face again and again. (And who names their son Jim Jones, even if it’s preceded by Sonny?)
Even something as comfortable and welcoming as that bright red door on Lancelot Court becomes forbidding as the camera lingers on it. Anything could be behind it. Nothing could be behind it. When an angry, worried wife emerges from the door, the tension of that long hold is resolved, but the apprehension it created isn’t undercut, because it isn’t the reality of what’s behind it that’s so compelling. It’s the potential, the possibility, the impossibility of predicting what might lurk behind there.
That same hint at potential horrors, horrors that are more potent for only existing in our imaginations, gives power to the two scenes in which the newly returned Cooper echoes his mirror sequence with Bob. Once, it’s with an actual mirror, and though I was sure it was just a mirror, I held my breath as he craned closer and reached a tentative hand out to the glass. The first time—yikes, the first time—it’s with the supervisor (Brett Gelman, whose sweaty worry and phony geniality flicker into menace with terrible, wonderful ease) of the casino where Coop’s just raked in 30 mega-jackpots without pause. Nothing happens either time. I never expected anything to happen either time. And I can’t stop thinking about either sequence.
Stepping into Dougie Jones’ life, relearning the realities of the body by imitating those around him, Cooper has become a mirror, right down to the echolalia that leaves him uttering melancholy fragments of other people’s dialogue. Repeating back a word or two, Coop’s provided with the barest minimum to keep him lurching through this world, even if the people he encounters look after him with concern.
At least, the women do. Jade doesn’t get involved, but she gives him good advice (“call a doctor or something”) and a few dollars to follow it. The casino guards waste no worry on this strange parroting man, but the cashier (Meg Foster) who changes his five-dollar bill presses the cup of quarters into his hand with gentle care, and looks after him with a hand over her heart. Bill Shaker sends “Dougie” off with just enough information to get him home, but Candy Shaker (Sara Paxton) is the one who notices and repeatedly mentions that something isn’t quite right.
“Parts 1 & 2” showcase the disposability of women’s bodies. Ruth Davenport, never seen alive, is the subject of a homicide investigation without ever being a character in her own right. Phyllis Hastings (Cornelia Guest), the wife of the chief suspect in Ruth’s murder, is killed by Dark Coop with a single bullet from her lover’s gun. (Phyllis might not be a woman, or a human; Dark Coop tells her, “You follow human nature perfectly.”) He also brutally, dispassionately beats down Darya (Nicole LaLiberté) before dispatching her, too, with a single bullet from her own gun.
In “Part 3” and “Part 4,” women’s bodies are even more ostentatiously objectified. Jade, one of the few black actors in Twin Peaks, is introduced nude, the camera lingering on her body, and is little more than a vehicle for Dale Cooper to find his way into town. In the pivotal scene where Gordon Cole (David Lynch) and Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) receive news of Cooper’s supposed return, the silhouette of Agent Tamara Preston (Chrysta Bell) frames the scene. The men attend the red phone, backed by the photograph of a mushroom cloud. Later, when Gordon sends her away so he and Albert can talk privately, the camera dips down to emphasize her sinuous walk before cutting to Albert’s dry appreciation. In each scene, the men talk top-secret business; the woman is a conspicuous ornament.
Here comes my refrain: This is not a complaint. The blatant display of women’s bodies has always been prominent in Lynch’s film work, and to me it reads more as a comment on objectification than a thoughtless reiteration of it. If nothing else, Lynch is acutely aware of his own use of female bodies, female beauty, and violence against both.
The one clanging note (to me; this series is as open to differences of opinion and taste as it is open to interpretation) in all of this objectification and examination of women’s bodies is the conversation between Gordon Cole and Denise Bryson (David Duchovny). In its time, the original Twin Peaks’ Denise was remarkable, even radical, in her portrayal, but these times are not those times. I was thrilled to see Denise promoted to power, and reveling unabashedly in that power as she enters.
Instead of using that power, Denise alternates between gratitude and scolding, overflows with clichéd feminine tics, and is more concerned with another agent’s beauty than with her acumen. It’s as much a caricature as Wally Brando, and to less purpose. Denise’s casting was a product of its time, but this is not a role that would have been recast, regardless of the thriving contemporary conversation about representation in casting as well as behind the camera. But especially given The X-Files revival’s tone-deaf analogy between trans women and monsters, it’s an unpleasant surprise to have Denise, once a rounded, smart, task-oriented character, reduced to a collection of comments about gender.
Not every return feels so shallow. Sheriff Frank Truman (Robert Forster), Harry’s brother, pursues a gray-haired figure down the police-station hallway, in a split-second echo of Dale Cooper’s pursuit of himself through the curtained corridor of The Red Room. When that slim uniformed figure turns to reveal the face of Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), it’s as if time has looped around on itself in a weird inevitability. Bobby’s back in the police station, but this time he’s on the right side of the bars.
Then there’s the supposed return of Dale Cooper to the fold of the FBI. Gordon and Albert know immediately that something’s wrong, and how could they not? After his accident—and his prolonged bout of vomiting up garmonbozia, a mingled gutful of creamed corn and blood that causes the responding officers to call for gas masks—Dark Coop is even more sinister. He apes the real Cooper’s smile and thumbs-up with unsettling lethargy, and his voice is weirdly thick, as if he’s a slowed, slurred recording of himself. Like a recording, he repeats himself, telling Gordon the same story in the same stilted language, insisting, “I need to be debriefed by you.”
Cutting between these scenes of plot-building portent, comic sketches, and the imponderable experimentation of the opening, with Cooper descending into a dim room where an eyeless woman powers a clumsy vessel through a starry void, the revival of Twin Peaks is itself a series of doppelgängers. It’s building a mystery piece by piece; it’s revisiting its old self with clumsy, overwhelming enthusiasm; it’s expanding its always unknowable world to even more fathomless depths. It’s all the highest and lowest elements of Twin Peaks, cut to pieces and reassembled, heightened and broadened and amplified to the extreme. As Gordon warns Albert when his footsteps on the pavement torment Gordon’s cranked-up hearing aid, “This thing is turned up to the max!” I don’t know exactly what it is this series has buried within it, or how—or even whether—we’ll uncover it. But I know we’re digging with golden shovels.
- It is happening again: There’s not enough time and space in these reviews to detail all the returning faces and references to the original Twin Peaks. I’ll pick one or two each time, and I’m sure you’ll fill in the gaps in the comments. Today, it’s Phoebe Augustine, who plays Ronette Pulaski, as the second woman Cooper encounters in that strange vessel.
- Hi, John Ennis, I recognized you from the back of your head long before you spoke. “Hel-loooooo!”
- Aw, and I was worried we wouldn’t see Tracey and Sam again. But we do, sort of, thanks to the NYPD’s crime-scene photos.
- There’s a whole essay to be written about Lynch and phone calls and electrical impulses, but I’ve already far exceeded any reasonable limit for a two-episode review. But this A.V. Club Roundtable touches on the introduction of digital technology to the world of Twin Peaks.
- Age, death, and loss loom over this production with searing, sweet honesty. The camera makes no effort to disguise the lines on the faces of the returning cast, to conceal the frailty of some and the robust maturity of others. Many of these performers have died since filming their segments, or appear only in fragments and flashbacks. Episode after episode is dedicated to their memories: to Catherine Coulson, to Frank Silva, to Miguel Ferrer, to Don S. Davis. (Major Briggs appears here as the floating face Cooper sees against the stars.) It’s almost a shock when ”Part 4” doesn’t end with a dedication to a lost member of the cast. It’s rare to see a show embrace attrition like this, and it touches me deeply.