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May 22, 2017

Did Anyone Watch the Twin Peaks Return?

The show was not what I thought it would be, at all.

I thought the show would be what is now called a "soft reboot." I thought they would continue the storyline, but they would introduce a young FBI agent to track the whereabouts of the missing Special Agent Dale Cooper. That agent would then go to Twin Peaks -- where Cooper was last seen, and where he had been working a couple of major cases before disappearing -- and there the agent would meet the locals, and get a sense of the strange darkness that lurks in the woods of the area.

I was pretty sure they would do something like this because most people have not seen Twin Peaks, and most people who have seen it have forgotten most of it except for catchphrases ("Damn fine cup of Joe!"), and most people who have seen it haven't really even seen it -- most people who saw the show actually stopped watching after the first season, and those who persisted through that stopped watching after the killer was kinda sorta revealed in season 2 episode 8.

And even people who've seen the whole thing -- a group which could not possibly constitute more than 1% of the population -- still need a refresher.

How many people actually know that Dale Cooper was imprisoned in the nightmarish alternate-plane-of-existence called "The Black Lodge" (or, the Red Room in the Black Lodge), and replaced on earth by an evil doppleganger possessed by the eternal (?) spirit of murder called "BOB" in the last shot of the show?

Hell, how many people even know about the White Lodge/Black Lodge mythology the show developed in the last six or so episodes after the show had been cancelled because no one was watching any longer?

I only know about that for one reason-- after the Psych parody/homage "Dual Spires," I looked up a list of references made to Twin Peaks, one of which was Sean calling Gus "Lodge Blackman." Which an internet site told me was (of course!) a reference to the Black Lodge, which I'd never heard of.

It so happened that Twin Peaks was available on Netflix or something at that time, so I watched most of the second season.

So I'm hip.

But how many other people know that?

Instead of bringing old viewers, occasional viewers, and non-viewers along slowly, the show assumes you're not only familiar with the weird alien/American Indian hybrid mythology the show came up with at the very end of its run, and furthermore assumes you're not only cool with that, but ready to see that merge right into the end chapter of a Cthulhu story, right out of the (planar) gate.

Even knowing that stuff, I still felt the show was rushing to get to places I would have preferred to get to by the scenic route.

Rather than do a slow build up of omens and portents suggesting dark forces, the show drops supernatural MOABs in the opening half hour, and then gets crazy with planar travel in the third episode.

Now it's all kind of interesting and the supernatural stuff was great, but I still feel it would have had more impact if they had build up to those sequences, rather than just started the show with them.

And for anyone just joining -- or people who have vague memories of Twin Peaks season 1 and maybe the first few episodes of season 2 -- it has to have been alienating. Anyone who tuned out before the finale probably doesn't know that Twin Peaks wasn't just hinting about the supernatural at the end, it was full-on about some extra-dimensional evils invading the world, and might be wondering "What the hell does this have to do with who killed Laura Palmer?"

The "Return" therefore doesn't offer the same experience as the original show, with notions about the hidden paranormal reality underlying our own being suggested slowly (and in a they-can't-be-serious kind of way); it goes X-Files Season 9 right out of the (weird, glass) box.

Also: I think the original show was rightly criticized for having too much silly, inconsequential soap opera (and arch soap opera parody) with too many inconsequential characters, when people really just wanted to focus on the cops, the suspects, and the weird darkness that might or might be invading Twin Peaks.

I remember being very annoyed by the silly nonsense on the side, and, when I sort of re-watched Twin Peaks three years ago, I deployed the fast forward function liberally to skip over anything that I knew wasn't core to the mystery or the supernatural elements. (With the second half of the second season I was seeing for the first time, I didn't know what stuff didn't matter, but I could guess, and I fast forwarded through anything that seemed like it was throwaway nonsense).

The new version seems to, at least for the beginning of it, taken that advice to heart, and most of the early-going is a very dark and gory police procedural without the lightness and distancing element of soap-opera parody and weird-to-be-weird archness of the original.

And to be honest, I think now I was wrong to discount those sillier moments: When you see too much of this really macabre stuff back-to-back, you do kind of want some throwaway moments of levity in between.

The stuff with Matthew Lillard in "Buckhorn, South Dakota" is absolutely horrifying. (And he's doing a really great job of acting -- he seems to be a confused and terrified guy who, while mentally innocent of murder, is in fact physically guilty of a whole lot of murders.)

The glass box was riveting -- surprised as heck to see it paid off so soon.

The David Lynchian semi-humor -- just absurd stuff that is played straight which I guess he thinks is funny, but really isn't funny, it's just weird -- is of course here. Even the trippy parts, which could have been haunting masterpieces, are spoiled a little by Lynch's impulse to subvert himself with gonzo goofiness.

One cameo I won't spoil was great.

I don't know where the show is going, but I desperately want Dale Cooper back. Dale Cooper was such a singular character -- the show's Fonzie. He was the ultimate square -- an upright, uptight, professional lawman, polite and always optimistic and contented -- and yet at the same time weirdly Hippy-bent with his notions of Zen techniques to tap into what the Jungian unconscious might know but keeps hidden from the conscious.

And of course his eager embrace of omens and clues gathered in dreams.

His absolute Lawful Good happiness was a huge reason the dark tones of the original were much more bearable than they otherwise would have been.

And his absence is makes this new version feel a lot darker than I'd like it to feel.

Anyway, have you seen it? What do you guys think?

I like the show and I would like to see it succeed -- which is why I'm more bothered than maybe I should be that I don't think it did nearly enough to bring anyone along on the trip besides people who actually run Twin Peaks Fan Archives sites, and James Roday.

By the Way: Below, some of the Black Lodge scenes from the show, including stuff from the last episode, which featured a lot of time in the parallel dimension of the Black Lodge.

As you can see, if anyone isn't familiar with that, and thus expecting the show to (eventually) go batshit bananas in its new iteration, is going to be pretty bewildered by the full-fledged Astral Travel sequences.

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posted by Ace at 03:51 PM

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