Less of a return to Twin Peaks, more of an experimental expansion of the world we've longed to return to for 25 years.
In 1990, David Lynch and Mark Frost teamed up to create the cultural phenomenon of Twin Peaks. The last time it was on television, we saw Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle Machlachlan) – or someone who looked a lot like him – launch his head into a mirror and begin manically asking “How’s Annie?”. Now, the prophecy of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) has been fulfilled, as she and Cooper meet again 25 years later, and we get to re-enter the place both wonderful and strange: the town of Twin Peaks.
But this is not the quiet and quirky Twin Peaks we know and love. In fact, very little of the series is set in the small American town. Instead, we explore the Twin Peaks-ness of the wider world. In New York City, a mysterious glass box is under 24 hour solitary guard; in Buckhorn, South Dakota, a woman’s head is found on the body of an unknown man; and in Las Vegas, a man is guided by hallucinations to win 28 consecutive Mega Jackpots. This man is Agent Dale Cooper, in the body of a man named Dougie Jones.
Machlachlan plays three characters, and none of them are quite the chipper, coffee-loving FBI agent from the original series. As we know from the film, Fire Walk With Me, the ‘good Cooper’ has been trapped in the Black Lodge for the past quarter of a century – his evil doppelgänger, a long-haired man inhabited by an evil spirit, having escaped. The ‘good Cooper’ has now finally found his way out, but is now trapped in the body of Jones, where he has just about as much worldly knowledge as a three year old. Lynch seems to enjoy teasing us with Agent Cooper’s return, Jones fascinated by FBI badges, case files and “damn fine coffee”, but it seems we’ll have to wait a while before he’ll fully recover from his stay in the Black Lodge.
Joining Machlachlan as not-quite-but-nearly Cooper are an old familiar crowd. This includes late actors Catherine E. Coulson and Miguel Ferrer as the prophetic Log Lady and FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield. Joining them are a host of new faces, such as such as Lynch favourites Laura Dern and Naomi Watts, as well as new stars like Amanda Seyfried and Michael Cera. All of them are welcome additions to the small town, and its old residents are a joy to return to.
Lacking the central question of ‘Who killed Laura Palmer?’ from the 90s, The Return features several loosely connected strands running through the series. And each of these strands are split, and stretched, and punctuated by sequences of nothingness. This is nothing unusual, at least for Lynch, who relishes filming traffic lights changing colour for half a minute, or someone sweeping a diner for sixty seconds. This nothingness has definitely peaked with Episode 8, which has a full five minutes of meaningless footage of the chaotic inside of the world’s first atomic bomb.
These five minutes are accompanied by Angelo Badalamenti’s violently unsettling score, similar to Mica Levi’s soundtrack to Jackie. Unlike the bluesy, noir finger clicks of the original series’ soundtrack, Badalamenti has produced a haunting soundtrack. It’s much colder and minimalist, only complemented by long periods of soft synth (part of a soundscape developed by Lynch) or, more commonly, complete and utter silence. Nonetheless, music plays a massive part in the new series. Lynch described the series before it aired as playing more like a long film than an episodic series, so the episodes don’t reach any natural conclusions. Instead, the end of (almost) each episode sees a band perform at the Roadhouse bar. So far, these have included the synth-pop Chromatics, the country Cactus Blossoms, the R&B noir Trouble (whose members include Lynch’s son, Riley), and Nine Inch Nails.
When Twin Peaks first aired, it was revolutionary. Its influence changed the nature of television, but that means that for those of us that weren’t alive for its original release, it seems almost normal to us. However, this series is just as revolutionary as the original. It completely does away with chronological narratives. It isn’t afraid to leave questions unanswered, and to leave the supernatural unexplained. Unlike recently rebooted series such as the X-Files, this isn’t a mere nostalgia trip. This is a chance to experience groundbreaking, radical television as it airs. This is Lynch at his most radical, more Mulholland Drive than original Twin Peaks, and it’s phenomenal. But I can’t help but miss the warmth, optimism, and quirk of the old Twin Peaks, and the old Agent Dale Cooper.
Twin Peaks: The Return airs on Sky Atlantic Mondays 2am, repeated at 9pm. Watch the trailer below: