'Twin Peaks' Returns And Is More Exhilarating & Mysterious Than Ever
25 years later. (Showtime)
This is where we begin again: Agent Dale Cooper is sitting in a luxurious chair inside some mysterious part of the Red Room. Or at least, at first, that's where I thought he was. Now I'm not so sure. It's hard to tell, because those normally-lush, blood red curtains, along with everything else on the screen, have been washed of all color. Maybe he is sitting inside a giant monochrome tree. Who can say! But I know who he's talking to: it's The Giant from season two of Twin Peaks... only he's not actually called The Giant anymore. He's billed in the credits as "???????". Don't ask me how to pronounce that.
But at least I can recall what they talked about. I mean, I have no idea what the words meant, but I know for a fact it was English (albeit, spoken backwards then played forward, in classic Red Room style): "Agent Cooper. Listen to the sounds," ??????? instructs Cooper, as the camera leans toward a gramophone, teetering on the edge of quoting the famous Blue Velvet shot of the severed ear. "It is in our house now."
Like Cooper, I'm wondering whether I should be asking questions or just absorbing what's happening. "It all cannot be said aloud now," ??????? continues. "Remember 430. Richard and Linda. Two birds with one stone." Cooper says he understands, which is more than anyone else listening into their conversation could say up to now.
Although, I will hasten to point out that ??????? (back when he was still known as The Giant) previously told Cooper, "Don't search for all the answers at once. A path is formed by laying one stone at a time." Looking back on it, it was as if David Lynch was reaching through the screen and knocking everyone on their heads for getting obsessed with "figuring out" the mystery instead of enjoying the mystery. ("Stop and smell the roses" just sounds that much more meaningful when it's intoned by a giant talking backwards.)
That DOES seem highly relevant, doesn't it? Or maybe it isn't. Especially since it's time for Cooper to fade from this place, wherever it is, flickering like a TV being turned off: "You are far away." And we're off...
Except that isn't really how we begin. This is how: with a replay of a clip from the infamous and harrowing season two finale, the one in which Cooper got trapped inside the Red Room by BOB, and Laura Palmer told him, "I'll see you again in 25 years. Meanwhile." Technically speaking, it's been 26 years, but that slight discrepancy makes perfect sense in a universe where giants are re-named after punctuation marks. Meanwhile, this is how we are welcomed back to the world of Twin Peaks, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
SPOILERS FOR THE SEASON PREMIERE OF 'TWIN PEAKS' BELOW
I was on the edge of my seat from the very start of last night's season premiere, after a sweet tingle of familiarity crept over me when the first notes of Angelo Badalamenti's perfect theme song began to play. In less than five minutes, I was already sucked in: Lynch has this innate ability to make every line reading seem meaningful, regardless of whether it's supposed to be a joke or a tone poem. With just a few opaque sentences, I felt like that dizzying camera swoop over the iconic zig-zag Red Room floor that appears in the new opening credits.
The premiere was better than I could have hoped for. It masterfully zig-zagged between setting up new plot lines with new characters, checking in on old Twin Peaks residents, and whetting our appetite for the supernatural Cooper/BOB material. It captured that fundamental balance of the original show while throwing in a few new shades: there were nods to the soapy plots (think the episode-ending bar bash with James, Shelly and the rest), humorous one-off scenes (Dr. Jacoby's sunglasses entrance was especially great), moments of sheer horror (the demon that gruesomely attacks the glass box people) and moments of magically grotesque surrealism (the evolution of the arm!!!).
And while it has its fair share of confusing scenes, the story is not as hard to follow as I feared. Sure, there are some scenes that clearly won't be payed off until much farther down the line (like the very brief stop in Las Vegas), but the sprawling cross-country, and cross-dimensional, journey is already awash with those unmistakable Lynchian vibes, the place where the intuitive melds with the uncanny. The best thing I can say is that when I finished the first episodes, I immediately wanted to jump right into the next two (Showtime has made episodes three and four available to subscribers now).
Dr. Jacoby aside, the best entrance given to any character was that of Evil Cooper. Ominous, pounding, industrial-like music is our soundtrack as we follow the headlights of a car on a darkened road. Out walks Kyle MacLachlan, dressed like a Michael Madsen impersonator who was just been given a gift certificate to a leather emporium. If the hair didn't give it away immediately, it becomes clear quickly that BOB has been living as our dear old Agent Cooper for the past 25 years in Twin Peaks time, and "Mr. C," as he's called, has been making some moves to ensure he won't have to go back to the Black Lodge anytime soon.
For some reason I feared the show would tease out Cooper's existence initially, but I was overjoyed by how much time we spent with BOTH Coops. When he's not shooting compatriots in a seedy motel or hooking up with Jennifer Jason Leigh in that same seedy motel, Evil Cooper/BOB is an agent of chaos (as he tells one victim, "You did good. You followed human nature perfectly"). He's busy in Buckhorn, South Dakota setting into motion a murder plot involving a high school principal (played by Matthew Lillard, as if he were channeling Bill Pullman's role in Lost Highway) that seems directly tied to his plans to avoid the Black Lodge.
This BOB seems to have matured since the last time we saw him, when he was giggling manically after bashing his head into a mirror. BOB is still driven by his desires, as he tells one of his doomed future victims: "If there's one thing you should know about me, Ray, it's that I don't need anything. I want." But while old BOB was reckless with his wanton lust for murder and rape, new BOB seems almost careful now (and certainly focused on his leather collection).
As for the real Cooper, he has lots of meetings with familiar faces in the Red Room, including Laura Palmer (who once again gets taken away with a horrifying scream, right after she takes off her face for Coop), Leland Palmer (who asks Cooper to find Laura), the One-Armed Man and his better half, The Arm. The Arm has evolved: he/it was once The Man From Another Place (who, if we learned anything from Fire Walk With Me, is the true face of MIKE, the supernatural being who is the yin to BOB's yang—though I don't believe MIKE is explicitly mentioned in these episodes), but now is an electrified tree with a gummy brain on top. The Arm, like The Man From Another Place once did, tries to guide Cooper to defeat BOB, instructing him that his doppelgänger "must come back in before you can go out."
Shelly and Norma at the Double R. (Showtime)
Even in Fire Walk With Me, we never spent this much time in the Red Room, where many of the most intense, frantic, and experimental shots in the premiere occur. The curtains and floor shake uncontrollably as Cooper remains trapped in a Möbius strip-like purgatory ("Is it future or is it past?"), until The Arm lashes out and we learn there is a state of being worse than being trapped in the Red Room: "non-exist-ent."
That incident leads to Cooper falling through a star-like space (flying?) until he lands in NYC, inside the mysterious glass box we are introduced to earlier in the episode. That machine, which was funded by an as-yet unnamed billionaire, looks like something out of The OA. (As an aside: how does Lynch make the NYC skyline look like a glowing golden battery? It's truly remarkable.) We are introduced to the glass box when Sam Colby has one too many cups of coffee courtesy of Tracy (before we got to the Cooper reveal later on, I was planning on referring to all these scene as the "Thanks, Tracy" scenes) and ends up ripped apart by some sort of freaky creature right out of Inland Empire's nightmares.
There is heartbreak here too, though it is nowhere near as graphic as the psychological misery porn in Fire Walk With Me. Rather, it was moments like seeing Catherine Coulson's beloved Log Lady onscreen, hooked up to an oxygen tank with little hair, knowing she didn't live to see the new season air. She calls Deputy Chief Hawk to get him to find something missing related to Cooper, setting him up on a collision course with the main storyline involving Evil Cooper/BOB, telling him "the stars turn and a time presents itself." (The most aching line of the episode is when she asks him to "stop by," because she is too weak to go with him to search the woods.)
There is also the sadness of losing David Bowie before he could join the revival. Evil Cooper/BOB tries to contact his character from Fire Walk With Me, Phillip Jeffries (who, lest you forgot, previously witnessed a meeting between the various supernatural characters in the movie), which is intercepted by someone else. It's especially upsetting because of how simpatico Bowie and Lynch seemed to be in the later parts of their careers: just compare Bowie's music videos for "Where Are We Now?" or "Blackstar" with some of the more experimental images here, and try to imagine the magic these two could have conjured together again.
There are questions left to explore (Who is trying to kill Evil Cooper/BOB? Does he have to switch bodies to avoid The Black Lodge? Who is running the glass box?), and plenty of old and new friends to catch up with (Laura Dern, David Duchovny, Miguel Ferrer, Robert Forster, Harry Dean Stanton, Naomi Watts, Jim Belushi, and classic Twin Peaks characters like Audrey and Bobby). I haven't even mentioned Ashley Judd working as Ben Horne's new secretary (or Jerry Horne having a successful legal pot business), or Sarah Palmer home alone watching lions eat a bison on TV. Suffice to say, the warmth/excitement whenever a classic character appears again for the first time definitely balances out the wilfull mystery of the new story being woven.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. This is just the beginning of a summer of Twin Peaks. After yesterday, we still have 16 more episodes in which to dive deep into the proverbial gramophone—as ??????? instructed us at the very start, "It all cannot be said aloud now."