Between Peaks: Twin Peaks – ‘The Return Parts 1+2’ (Season 3)

Between being the most feverishly analysed TV series of the past three decades, and the most longed for and anticipated to return, season three of Twin Peaks had a lot to live up to. In many ways it was the first “cult” TV show – or at least in the terms that we consider now – one that spouted reams of fan forums, celebratory creations and plenty of speculation over all of the plot lines that it failed to tie up when it was cancelled after two seasons.

Years of theorising over the final episode, continued discussion – that transitioned from zines to blogs to podcasts – and a seemingly undying influence on present day pop culture breathed life into the corpse long after it had died. Many fans (including this here writer) were born after its demise, but learned to love its quirkiness of humour, uniqueness of vision and unparalleled eerie horror with just as much zeal as those that were enraptured during its original run.

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So when the ads abated, we sat nervous, tense, with an amalgamation of fear and excitement nestled in our chests. With that trepidation in our hearts, and the claim by Showtime boss David Nevins that season three would be “the pure heroin version of David Lynch” seared in our minds, on began the double whammy assault of parts 1+2. *SPOILERS AHEAD* With the eerie image of a demented Dale Cooper haunting fans for 25 years as the face of evil entity BOB leered from the bathroom mirror, it is now confirmed that it was Coop’s doppelgänger that escaped the Black Lodge and was set loose upon the real world. It’s not long before we are reintroduced to Evil Coop, actor Kyle MacLachlan being on fine form as the unnerving amalgamation of Cooper and the deceased Frank Silva, who played BOB in the first two seasons. Any semblance of the real Cooper is lost on this alternate; Evil Coop dallies in undesirable machinations and is clearly on a mission, potentially to slay us all with his greasy, slicked back mane.

What his quest entails is, as of yet, unknown, though his influence is no doubt more widespread than first assumed. For a series so deeply rooted between the pines of the titular Washington logging town, in the first episodes of season three viewers have been led across cities as far flung as New York, Las Vegas and Buckhorn; South Dakota. It is here that a mutilated body is discovered and the murder linked to a school headmaster Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard). His fingerprints are all over the room of the woman in question, though he – seemingly earnestly – maintains that he has never been there but instead saw the happenings in a dream. It transpires that there is no love lost between he and his wife Phyllis (Cornelia Guest), who quite gleefully reveals she’s having an affair with their lawyer before being shot by Evil Coop (the pair seemingly know each other) not long thereafter.

Back in New York and newbie Sam (Benjamin Rosenfeld) beholds a large glass box. Inside is a vacuum, and outside are many cameras all trained on the glass in the possibility that something should occur inside. The owner of the box is unknown, but the mass storage of SD cards suggests that this set up has been here a while. Sam isn’t privy to all of the information, all he knows is that he’s getting paid, and if that means he can get busy with his kinda girlfriend Tracy (Madeline Zima) on the job then well, why not eh? Bad choice, it seems, for as the pair are otherwise occupied the box darkens and a spindly and mysterious shape appears, coming in and out of clarity before it suddenly – and incredibly violently – makes short work of the two.

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The grotesque and surreal imagery of course makes it to the Red Room itself. It is here that we encounter Cooper, unmoved for 25 years, lined with age and a little dusty. He is woken from his reverie by Laura Palmer herself; she did, after all, promise that she would see him again in 25 years. “Are you Laura Palmer?” asks Cooper of the aged beauty. “I feel like I know her,” states actor Sheryl Lee. “But sometimes, my arms bend back.” The echo of their past encounters carries a melancholy air; both are visibly older and yet suspended in a purgatory of sporadic torment. Though there is an odd air of peace, Cooper’s lack of reaction when visited by the the other inhabitants of the Red Room and acceptance of their surreal actions reminding that he is but a respectful guest in someone else’s house. It is here that writers David Lynch and Mark Frost lay their first clue: for Cooper to leave the Black Lodge, another must return. It is a fair exchange and one that perhaps explains why Laura Palmer (if the one of the Red Room is, indeed, the real one) is trapped; her doppelgänger died on the outside, ultimately confining her to the Black Lodge. She shares a kiss and another secret with Cooper – one that makes him recoil – before flying from view.

Evil Coop has made steps to avert his return to the Black Lodge, which is drawing ominously near, the prospect of which is detailed to the real Coop via a mutated tree with a brain-mouth gobule known as The Arm, who abruptly ejects the real Cooper (seemingly) from the Black Lodge and on an inter-diminsional trip via the glass box. Things are beginning to move after all this time and aptly, the Log Lady knows about it. Portrayed by the late Catherine Coulson, both look and sound startlingly fragile as she rings a white haired Hawk (Michael Horse) to alert him of her log’s latest message, this one in relation to the long-gone Laura Palmer murder investigation (there’s also some much needed humour courtesy of receptionist Lucy and her officer husband Andy.) This, alongside Cooper and Laura’s interaction in the Red Room feels poignantly bittersweet, for whist the fundamentals of these relationships haven’t changed the actors and characters visibly have.

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The episode ends with an abrupt detour to the Bang Bang Bar. This old haunt still – for the most part – looks the same, though the ghost of Julee Cruise has been ushered away by Drive-famous band Chromatics. Their sonic meshing of new and old encapsulates the altogether homely yet jarring experience of new Twin Peaks; from old haunts and new blood to the ripples of Lynch’s more challenging work Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive, or the welcoming of digital and the eschewing of much of Badalamenti’s iconic score, it is clear that Lynch and Frost have revitalised the core of their most beloved work. Will it polarise fans? Of course – it is, no doubt, precisely what they want – but as Shelley (Mädchen Amick) remarks of James (James Marshall) in a simple moment that could make you weep, “James is still cool. He’s always been cool.” He doesn’t care what others think, and neither does Twin Peaks.

A love letter to Twin Peaks 

So here we are…

The time has come at last. It has been 27 years since Twin Peaks last graced our screens, and the irony is that I wasn’t even alive when the show first aired in 1990. I was but a bean in my mother’s midriff when the second season got cancelled, and for much of my life the only “Annie” I had concerns for was that of ‘Billie Jean’.

I confess, I had a late renaissance. For a good decade, I wrongly (though sincerely) believed that Twin Peaks was a romantic drama akin to that of a soap, the One Tree Hill or Gilmore Girls of its day (don’t shoot me, please!) Of course, how wrong that opinion was proved to be.

When I finally succumbed to the pilot, after one too many times of being told to, I found myself wholly baffled. The intro felt overblown and self-indulgent (it is), whilst Angelo Badalamenti’s famous score struck me as superfluously saccharine. It bristled every nerve in my body, causing me to tense in discomfort in the way of when something that you dislike is unavoidable to you, like that grating song on the radio, or the prospect of being forced to eat your most dreaded childhood food. Combine that with Audrey’s renegade posturing, Donna’s melodramatic wailing and Laura’s myriad of suitors and the only thing that made sense was the washed up body on the beach.

Dazed and very confused, I no doubt scoffed. I recall not wanting to continue, there was plenty of such drivel on present-day TV after all, so why suffer one that simple oozes overblown 80s eccentricity? Though, I confess, I am nothing if not stubborn. If Twin Peaks were so universally lauded then, by the Log Lady’s log, what was I missing? Why didn’t I get it, when so many others did? Why was I not privy to its secret? Perhaps, I was merely tasteless…

So I persevered in pure spite and somewhere along the way, to my honest surprise, I began to enjoy myself. The two minute long intro was no longer a chore but a ritual of sincere joy, Badalamenti’s music tugging at my heartstrings as every fibre of me longed for the solitude between the pines. I began to appreciate the humour in its pastiche of 1950s-1980s melodrama. Audrey’s vanity in fact hid a vulnerability that I had not anticipated, Donna’s simpering masked a recklessly jealous streak, whilst those aforementioned would be suitors only served to complicate the mystery that was Laura.

The universally adored prom queen lived a seemingly perfect existence – from the outside, yet almost immediately that ideal begins to unravel into something far more sinister in a town far more otherworldly than any of us ever expected. Perhaps it was the duality of intrigue that kept – and keeps – us all hooked, for as we can compute the concept of a young girl led down a path of crime and suffering routine abuse, can we ever hope for enlightenment if the threat is forever unfathomable?

And perhaps that is why we return now. It is the journey that compels us onwards, not the desire to reach the destination, and with the long pined-for season three may David Lynch leave us with more questions than we could ever dream of answering.

Those owls are not what they seem, after all…