With the summer season looking particularly moribund at cinemas this year and with the arrival of this new, long-thought-impossible third season of Twin Peaks, I’ve decided to change-up. Movie reviews will still appear, but probably with less frequency as I devote time to chronicling this latest exploration into the labyrinthine head space of David Lynch. This site isn’t named after a location in one of his films by accident. I’ve been an outspoken fan of his work for two decades now. As such, this TV ‘event’ is a big deal in these pages. So, for next three months or so, I’ll be reacting to the twists and turns of the show and giving my take on things.
I thought long and hard about how to do this, and I’ve come to the conclusion that avoiding spoilers in any real way is going to be all but impossible. Talking in vague terms will do the work a disservice. Even talking obtusely in terms of form could be deemed a spoiler, as the very nature of this revival has been kept so tightly under wraps. So there is it. You’re warned. SPOILERS WILL APPEAR THROUGHOUT.
Let’s talk about form for a moment then, as the most significant change in season 3 of Twin Peaks from the outset appears to be how it is presented. It’s been near enough 27 years since Mark Frost and David Lynch’s seminal creation changed the face of TV. That’s a long time in anyone’s life and the work that Lynch has produced since has seen him evolve and mutate his style from where we left the show. Lest we forget, the last significant exposure we had was the digital murk of 2006’s INLAND EMPIRE; an intimidating downward spiral of a film that saw Lynch trading in the warm lusciousness of his former works for something more confrontational and challenging. It remains the hardest picture in his dizzying career and he’s had a decade to build on the sensibilities exhibited in that film.
Angelo Badalamenti is on scoring duties, welcomingly, but Parts 1 and 2 of this new season are notable for the absence of music. Scenes play out in eerie quietude. Lynch himself takes the sole sound design credit, and his implementations are borderline subliminal. Twin Peaks season 3 starts by point-blank refusing the audience what they most likely wanted; a return to the cosy warmth and folksy goofiness that partway defined the show in its initial run. Duwayne Dunham’s editing is leisurely to say the least. Scenes stretch out in defiance of those eager to get right back into the action.
TV itself has evolved also since the show’s first airing. In 1990 Twin Peaks was constrained by the censors to exist within certain parameters. The rise of HBO, their competitors (including Showtime) and the renaissance of the medium means that the boundaries that surrounded Twin Peaks have been obliterated. Lest we forget, Lynch has moved outside of these borders with this material once before. 1992’s criminally underrated cinematic prequel Fire Walk With Me took full advantage of this. Lynch crafted an altogether darker, more sickly vision of the idyllic town presented on the small screen. It is perhaps with this in mind that one should consider what it is they’re expecting from season 3. If Fire Walk With Me represented this world in its purest form, Twin Peaks season 3 has the freedom to continue in this fashion.
If anything we’re being invited back to a far darker world than even Fire Walk With Me implied. I think a lot of people are going to outright hate and resent this new run of episodes, and not without justification. But I’d urge patience at this time. Lynch has described this an as 18 hour movie. It seems to be paced accordingly. As such Part 1 and 2, aired together, represent roughly 11% of the overall whole. We have no idea of the remainder. Judging the entirety of the season from this vantage point may prove foolhardy and premature. Nevertheless, this is a tough return.
The perceived promise most conspicuously reneged upon is that the show’s returning principal cast members would be the focus of season 3 from the get-go. This is not the case. Very few of the show’s original characters appear in this opening episode, and when they do appear, it tends to be to the detriment of the pacing. The show’s worst scene is easily the one between Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer) and his brother Jerry (David Patrick Kelly) at the Great Northern, playing out as redundant in the extreme. Indeed, if it has any purpose, it seems to act as a weak apology for the treatment of women that takes place elsewhere in this two-hour opener. More on that later.
Maddeningly for some (rivetingly for others), the town of Twin Peaks is rarely visited in this opening salvo. Long, quiet scenes focus instead on a guarded scientific experiment occurring in a New York high-rise. A man named Sam (Ben Rosenfield) has been hired to keep watch and record a mysterious glass box (the eerie hum on the soundtrack in these scenes is subtly stifling). He isn’t supposed to let anyone in, but wouldn’t you know it he does, as Tracey (Madeline Zima) coaxes her way in with coffee (what else) and her feminine whiles. The glass box looms over their initiated lovemaking (our first example of the TV show’s more explicit nature) before, around the 35 minute mark, Lynch unleashes one of the most utterly horrifying surprises in his oeuvre. No mean feat. Twin Peaks has been eerie and uncomfortable before, but perhaps never this terrifying. We’re most certainly not in Washington state anymore.
Frost and Lynch further delay the resolution of the mysteries that ended season 2 by opening another new can of worms in a town called Buckhorn. Here a school headmaster played by Matthew Lillard (Scream) comes under suspicion of committing the particularly grim murder of a librarian named Ruth Davenport. He is dismayed by his arrest. He claims to have been nowhere near the crime scene (which is covered in his prints) yet he may have dreamed the incident. It’s intriguing for sure, and Lillard carries the weight of this section, but for those pining for business as usual at the Double R, these newly posed questions might prove frustrating.
The second half of this two-hour opening focuses more squarely on the two Dales (both Kyle MacLachlan). Evil Dale, still possessed by the spirit of BOB one presumes, is living out his days as a small time thug of not insignificant menace. It’s fascinating watching MacLachlan play the role, especially as it most prominently rekindles his adversary from Blue Velvet; Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth. His machinations here are somewhat loosely defined, but it is established that he is trying to stay out of the Black Lodge where the Good Dale remains trapped.
It is with Evil Dale that new Twin Peaks reveals some of it’s ugliest early scenes. Evil Dale brutally kills one of his associates named Darya (Nicole LaLiberte) when he learns she has betrayed him. Her male counterpart is dispensed with off-screen, but Darya’s death is presented in painfully real terms and she is scantily clad the entire time. Combined with the disrobed mauling of Tracey in Part 1 and the blunt shooting of another woman, new Twin Peaks reveals a sour trend of remorseless violence toward its female characters. Now, underneath its kooky supernatural tendencies, the show has always been about the brutal treatment of women. The death of Laura Palmer was fundamentally a tale of incestuous rape and murder. This is what I was referring to earlier when I mentioned that the scene with Ben and Jerry felt apologetic. There’s a troubling cloud over Twin Peaks at this point. It’s style has evolved, but its treatment of women is more stomach-churning than ever. One hopes this is in service of something more meritorious down the road.
Much of the remainder of Part 2 takes place within the Black Lodge where there have been a couple of changes also. Most notably The Man From Another Place (formerly Michael J Anderson also of Carnivale) has ‘evolved’ into a dead tree sporting a quivering brain. Despite the influence Twin Peaks has had on so much television in the interim, there really is nothing like seeing Lynch unravel his subconscious without interference in this way. It’s like something out of Eraserhead. I can only imagine what newcomers will make of these sequences.
The Black Lodge featured heavily in the final episode of season two and its logical that it should feature prominently here seeing as this is where we left the Good Dale. Still, there’s a sense of diminished returns at work here, suggesting the less-is-more approach to these scenes in the show’s first season was wise. Sheryl Lee and Ray Wise appear as Laura and Leland Palmer respectively, and the rules of the Black Lodge remain as thrillingly indefinable as ever, yet one looks forward to Cooper’s escape from this nightmarish purgatory and his return to more earthly pursuits. Nevertheless, Lynch employs some radical filming techniques during these sequences which show he’s certainly not tired of liberal experimentation with the medium. To see someone wilfully playing with the expectations of television in this way is thrilling.
These two hours end at the Roadhouse with a scene which feels inconsequential, but also like something of a relief after such intense strangeness. Frost and Lynch haven’t taken the easy route here, and ending with Chromatics playing “Shadow” to a crowd of scattered familiar faces goes some way to rewarding those who’ve dared to venture into this new realm of confrontational nightmares.
As disarmingly difficult as this new season seems intent on being, the methodology used by Lynch here is incredible. Once again he has crafted something that is unlike anything else in the TV landscape, even as cluttered as it is now. There’s precious little to love here, yet the journey itself is oppressively engrossing. Tonally its jarring mainly because the existing Twin Peaks brand is so strong. This is not the show you knew. But one senses that another of Gordon Cole’s ‘blue rose’ cases is about to unfold, and this time all bets are off as to how sinister things will become.
For now detached fascination is enough, but I still hope that some of the show’s warmer magic is allowed time to express itself as we venture forward into the unknown.