More Questions than Answers, ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’
By Andrew Becker
“Through the darkness of future past, the magician longs to see, one chance out between two worlds, fire walk with me.”
Many moons ago, these words traveled through electricity and imbedded themselves in the psyche of America’s entertainment junkies, and after 25 years, the body of art that uttered them is being resumed; the investigation into the death of Laura Palmer, homecoming queen, continues with “Twin Peaks: The Return”, directed by the enigmatic, ever psychological and surreal, genre-bending master of both television and film, David Lynch.
Though his career has been marked by an output of incredibly challenging films, such as the earlier surrealist film, “Eraserhead”, the more commercially successful “Blue Velvet”, “The Elephant Man”, and “Wild at Heart”, – for which Lynch was awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes – to his excruciatingly difficult “Inland Empire” Lynch has also been known to have severe setbacks when it comes to his relationship with studios and developers, people who often want to see the money at the end of the movie more than the movie itself.
One famous example of studio interference was during Lynch’s adaption of Frank Herbert’s Sci-fi classic “Dune” – by all accounts a tremendous failure as a result (I could never finish the film myself). Another is the unwanted pilot that would then become the film which would win Lynch the prix de la mise en scène at Cannes, my favorite, “Mulholland Drive”.
And back in 1992, before our current binge-watch culture, the television show, “Twin Peaks,” created by Lynch and Mark Frost, was cancelled by studios who feared a ratings dip. Back then, television was simple: plots resolved in thirty minutes (well, 20 if you factor in time for all the life-insurance, sleeping medications, and Blockbuster video advertisements); the protagonists would have some problem or face some new or familiar antagonist, and by the end of one or two episodes, the problem was solved, evil had been defeated, and everything continued as if nothing bad had happened. It was like watching shadows of a fire on the walls of a cave, the irony of an endless dream turned into nightmare, and it was time for us to wake up.
Somewhere in that dark depth, within the mind of pop-culture, came something new, feeding on cop dramas and soap operas, to shake us from this doomed, inauthentic mediocrity. Like most things done by Lynch, “Twin Peaks” was in many ways unlike anything that had ever come before. It refused to adhere to a single genre—seamlessly blending crime, drama mystery, psychological and supernatural horror, and surrealism, with comedy and fresh, warm, light-hearted slices of Americana served a la mode. At its heart, the show confronted its audience with a murder mystery that they couldn’t easily disentangle. Unlike other shows at the time, “Twin Peaks” withheld the identity of the killer, so that the audience had to think about and obsess over the homicide, one without easy answers, perhaps one without any answer at all.
Unfortunately, audiences were not ready, and too many became discouraged in suspense. Studios grew concerned, and the show was cancelled on a cliffhanger note after just two seasons. This, of course, upset the show’s cult fan base who demanded to know more about the inhabitants of Twin Peaks. Fans were appeased, however, with the prequel film, “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me” – though, in true Lynchian fashion, this film only raised more questions than it answered.
But now, finally, it’s back. And this time, Lynch has complete directorial control. “Twin Peaks: The Return” aired earlier this year on the Showtime network, bringing back much of the original cast and proving once again that Lynch is ahead of his time.
Aside from the Kardashians, “Twin Peaks: the Return” is the most bizarre thing on television today. What started as an investigation into the death of a young woman twenty-seven years ago has turned into a gutsy, cosmic and Kafkaesque tale, full of benevolent and evil doppelgangers, atomic bombs, portals, ghosts, characters listed in the credits as only a series of question marks, mysterious orbs of unknown origin, “Nine Inch Nails”, Michael Cera as Wally on a motorcycle, and a million other quirky, little oddities that make this show so unlike anything on television today. Maybe the best way to explain the show is to quote the series’ character Gordon Cole, played by the director himself, Lynch, who asks, “What the hell?”
Like all things Lynch, this show is bizarre in the greatest, most imaginable fashion; entirely out of the bounds of mainstream television, “Twin Peaks: the Return” seems almost as much a detective story as it does a highly experimental arthouse film. From the start it strikes a deeply-rooted psychological and surrealist nerve that both stimulates and disorients. Some sequences throughout the series are so colorful and abstract that they recall the end sequences of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Many are puzzling and horrifying, while others are filled with delightful humor and a genuine sense of humanity. You can’t help but smile at times and be glad that you’re lucky enough to be alive in this strange universe.
And that’s what the show wants us to do in the end: we may not understand everything that occurs in our world, but we need to pay close attention to our lives; watch, listen, be aware, and enjoy while you can, especially since the end is a terrifying unknown, and we literally know almost nothing about it (though several theories exist on the internet).
Sleep well, sweet dreams. And remember: “this is the water, this is the well, drink full and descend; the horse is the white of the eyes and dark within.”