‘Twin Peaks’ Review: ‘Is It Future Or Is It Past?’

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment

Beautiful and puzzling, funny and exciting, Twin Peaks marked its return last night with the first two of its 18-episode season airing on Showtime. The pair of episodes played like a two-hour feature film, which is in keeping with co-creator and director David Lynch’s goal — he’s said he thinks of what is officially titled Twin Peaks: The Return as one 18-hour film. If he sustains the mysteries and revelations he unfurled on Sunday, this project will have no trouble in being viewed, when completed, as a creation likely to be Lynch’s longest sustained work. WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR THE FIRST TWO EPISODES OF TWIN PEAKS.

Given Lynch’s tendency to move off into deliberately confounding directions, it was a surprise how narratively straightforward so much of this initial dose of Peaks was. Right off the bat, we were treated to Kyle MacLachlan’s Agent Cooper — two versions of him. One is the Cooper we know, the straight-arrow FBI agent, back in the red room of the Black Lodge. There, as anyone who’s seen even a little of the original Twin Peaks knows, time is a variable and figures that may or may not be human speak in oblique phrases or riddles. So it was on Sunday night, as a placid giant bade Cooper to “remember 430” and “Richard and Linda.” Why that number? Who are those two people? Sorry, no explanation. (My only guess was that this is a reference to the singer-songwriters Richard and Linda Thompson, whose song “Shoot Out the Lights” would sound great on a Lynch soundtrack, but I doubt that’s who Lynch and co-creator and co-writer Mark Frost are referring to.)

The other Cooper was one we’ve never seen before: A long-haired, tanned vigilante, almost superpowered in his violence. This Cooper, bare-handed, overpowers an armed guard. He’s ruthless and remorseless; he murders easily. He says, “I don’t need anything — I want.” This Cooper could be “our” Cooper’s evil twin, an alternative-timeline Cooper… or the Cooper whose soul was, a quarter-century ago, invaded by the horror-figure BOB. (As the other Cooper is told by the one-armed man, Gerard/Mike: “Is it future or is it past?”)

There were a couple of plot lines that seemed, initially, to exist on separate, parallel tracks. In one, set in New York City, a young man is assigned to keep watch on a large glass box, one wall of which opens out into the sky. Small cameras are recording everything in the box from a variety of angles. The young man is supposed to watch and report if he sees anything appear, but, like so many Lynch-ian men, he gets distracted by a young woman. They are (his phrase) “making out,” shucking off their clothes, when — uh-oh! — some sort of spirit breaks through the glass box and comes for the naked boy and girl.

Another subplot, set in South Dakota, was a murder mystery, a thing of real, ugly beauty. The police are summoned to a woman’s apartment; entering her bedroom, they find her dead. And not just dead: decapitated, the rest of her body missing, replaced by the decapitated body of a corpulent man. Whodunnit?

It’s Cooper who, by the end of the two episodes, ties these plots together. And it’s Cooper in the red room whose presence lures the central figure of the entire Twin Peaks enterprise — Sheryl Lee’s Laura Palmer — back onto our TV screens. “I am dead, yet I live,” she says. The seconds when Laura moves close to Cooper, their faces almost touching as they’re about to kiss, and both of them cannot help but break into ecstatic grins: It’s one of the most gorgeous moments of pure pleasure Lynch has ever shown us.

Lynch has already achieved and surpassed certain goals with this new production. He’s admitted his lack of involvement in Season 2 of the original Twin Peaks resulted in muddled, often mediocre television. By contrast, new-Twin Peaks is tightly constructed. Sure, it has scenes of baffling anarchy: Say hello, for instance, to the “evolution of the arm,” a round glob of talking, viscous gunk stuck on a waving tree branch. But more often, these introductory hours set up a couple of intriguing thriller stories. As we learned from watching the 1992 feature film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, it can be a mistake to assume Lynch will follow through with coherent resolutions to such plots, but you don’t go to Lynch for coherence anyway. You watch his work because you want to experience his open-air id, his uncorked subconscious, working through a dream-logic that requires a viewer to let go and groove on whatever Lynch throws at you.

There were new characters with familiar faces (Ashley Judd, Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Bridge’s Matthew Lillard as the high school principal Bill Hastings, accused of a murder that he may have committed unwillingly). Numerous familiar Peaks faces popped up, perhaps the most striking being the Log Lady, now called Margaret, who reappeared to give some cryptic pieces of advice such as “Something is missing.” (The weakened state in which the character appeared may have been due to the real-life cancer suffered by the actor, Catherine E. Coulson, who died in 2015.) The most surprising “new” face was that of Cornelia Guest, the once-famous New York socialite and professional debutante, here doing a superb job of playing Phyllis, Bill Hastings’ cruel, unfaithful wife.

This Peaks looks great. Its images are sharp and clear, suggesting, perhaps, a bigger budget than the one Lynch had for his most recent theatrical film, the grainy-looking and excellent Inland Empire (2006). At the end of two hours — the final moments of which were set in the Bang Bang Bar and were packed with familiar faces such as Madchen Amick’s Shelly and James Marshall’s James — I was ready to watch more. (And you can now: The next two episodes are available on Showtime’s streaming and on-demand platforms.) That reaction bodes well for a show that could easily have proved an irritating nostalgia-trip. Turns out, just the opposite is true, at least in these opening moments.

Twin Peaks airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Showtime.

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