Written by Jahkotta Lewis
David Lynch is an artist and when he is allowed free range to play with his medium, Twin Peaks: The Return is the result. Famously known for the films Eraserhead and Dune, Lynch is notorious for being out there, with his work standing proudly on the precipice of the macabre and fantastic. Thus, it’s no surprise that his sequel to the 26-year-old Twin Peaks is just as intense as the original, albeit stranger and wilder. Sure, the original was whacky, and yes it introduced some far-out concepts, like prescient wood logs, but Return takes it up a notch, pushing the limits of the obscure in a way that is so David Lynch.
Before I get into just how weird and surreal Return is, I feel obligated to provide some background on the original series, Twin Peaks. The show aired in 1990 on ABC and followed the story of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) as he investigated the murder of popular teenage girl, Laura Palmer (actress Sheryl Lee). Her murder takes place in the fictional Washington town of Twin Peaks; a logging community characterized by its eccentric residents and logging culture. Each episode of the original series is accompanied by a sing-songy foggy musical score that pairs well with the lush, wet, and cold looking landscape of Pacific North West. In Twin Peaks, nothing is what it seems, and as the show played out, it took a wholly supernatural approach to a narrative that could have been a typical FBI drama in any other director’s hands. Only Lynch would think to use massive red curtains and truncated speech patterns to teleport viewers into a truly alien plane of existence. It was the first auteurish approach to television and would allow for shows like West World and Legion to exist. Twin Peaks was a ground-breaking series for this very reason.
The original series was two seasons long and I, being too young to have watched the actual aired episodes, caught up with them recently. The first season of Lynch’s mind child was fascinating in a Fox Mulder, lumberjack, stack of pancakes sort of way and I enjoyed it. The second season, on the other hand, was a bit much for me and I didn’t feel too bad about breaking up with the series, especially since the mystery surrounding Laura Palmer’s death was sorted out in the first season. Lynch, apparently didn’t care for the second season that much either, and only directed a few of its episodes. Anyway, when I learned that Lynch was revitalizing Twin Peaks, once again taking us into the realm of those darn dusty red velvet curtains, I was curious to see what he dreamed up 26 years after the fact. Could Lynch outdo his earlier surrealism?
The answer to this question is, yes. If Lynch was setting out to create television that requires fans to “work hard” while watching it, then yes, he has succeeded with Return. From the show’s cinematography to dialogue punctuated with real-time pauses; Return feels like The Upside Down in Stranger Things — but polished and chock-full of red velvet steroids. An acquaintance of mine asked me how I would describe the show, and I responded, “It’s an ode to Lynch’s self-confidence in himself. It doesn’t seem like he’s driven by money, but by the need to make digital abstract art. It’s as if he took a whole load of acid, put on some acid jazz, reaffirmed his belief in himself by shouting, I’m rich, b%tch! I can do what I like! and started writing down the undulations of his mind.”
Obviously, I was frazzled that day after having several Uncanny Valley reactions to the six episodes of Return that I imbibed (the new season is 18 episodes long). However, I think that being “frazzled” is exactly what Lynch wants his audience to experience. Why else would he dedicate entire scenes to meat sticks that speak in hissing steam?
Much of Return’s surrealism is achieved through a quirky storyline (Hmm…I suppose I should get to this), unconventional camera work, and the unique acting direction Lynch gives his actors. Return is shot in an unorthodox manner (I think he shakes the camera at one point to create an effect), and the gestures and speech patterns of some of its otherworldly characters are truly alien (think reverse blinking and speech that sounds like it’s spoken backward, but it’s not). In fact, much of series’ character development seems to draw from Lynch’s Eraserhead. From the utilization of space-like landscapes and the general silence of the main character, down to the geodesic designs that appear in the show and film, Eraserhead undoubtedly influenced the world building of Return.
Speaking of world building, Return explores several narratives. The first narrative focuses on what happened to Agent Cooper on the finale of Season Two of the original show. Secondary and tertiary narratives focus on the lives of the now aged Twin Peaks residents and the machinations of a top-secret experiment gone wrong. Seems straight forward enough, but believe me, it’s not. Just think electrical socket transportation and transmutation (I know this makes no sense, but that’s the point). Return is that kind of law enforcement show.
David Lynch made Return for his hard-core fans, for viewers who are lovers of the obscure and unique, and for folks that smoke lots and lots of pot. For me, though I’m a fan of Lynch, Return feels like hard work, like taking a three hundred level abstract art class when you have a load of 21 credits. The show makes my mind hurt! Yet, I find that I can’t take my eyes off the screen when it’s on. Watching Return reminds me of a saying a former German roommate dropped on me after she completed an advanced level yoga course: Pleasure und pain is sometimes the same.
David Lynch’s Return most certainly is both.
Twin Peaks: Return airs Sunday nights on SHOWTIME.