What’s it rated? NA
Where’s it available? Showtime
I was a freshman in high school when I was first introduced to the works of the surrealist painter Salvador Dalí. You probably know Dalí’s work, even you don’t recognize his name: melting clocks, burning giraffes, vague lumps of flesh covered in flies.
At the time I really had no idea what I was looking at. I knew it was weird, and I knew an artist with substantial skill and genius created it. I knew that the paintings made me feel a range of emotions from disgust to fascination, but I couldn’t have told you what any of it meant to save my life.
As an adult, I feel the exact same way about Twin Peaks: The Return, Showtime’s long awaited series revisiting the classic television show created by director and cinematic auteur David Lynch.
To try and explain the plot of the new episodes, for me, would be an exercise in futility. Suffice it to say that the planned 18-episode show is a follow-up to the wildly successful series that ran for two seasons on ABC in the early 1990s. This new season returns to many of the original characters, now much older, as they navigate a world of dark highways, violent doppelgangers, and otherwise attempt to wade through the bizarre reality that Lynch has become an expert at creating on screen.
Fans of the original show will be happy to see many of the characters they came to know and love during its first run, but they are presented in a far more skewed light than before. Kyle MacLachlan returns as agent Dale Cooper, who has somehow been split into two characters, one a violent criminal and the other a near-childlike dolt named Dougie Jones. Other characters, like the former troubled teenage football star Bobby Briggs, have returned but have new roles within the town of Twin Peaks. Briggs for instance, is now a police officer for the very department that investigated him all those years ago in connection with the death of his then-girlfriend Lara Palmer, whose mysterious murder drove the plot of the original show.
While it’s great to see so many of the original actors returning to this new season, it’s clear that Lynch, who’s bringing us this latest incarnation, is a less restrained writer/director this time around, for better or worse. While his more surreal and bizarre tendencies were softened by the restrictions of a big network during the show’s original run, it’s clear that the legendary director was given free rein with The Return. So far, the show has relied far more on stilted, almost random scenes chock-full of strange and possibly symbolic imagery and cryptic dialogue than its predecessor. The flavor of this new show has far more in common with Lynch’s later, post-Twin Peaks work like Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Like Dalí, Lynch is a skilled artist, and it is far less aggravating to simply sit back and enjoy the strange ride he’s taking you on than trying to dissect and connect every scene and line of dialogue in an attempt to figure out the show’s plot—an exercise about as easy and productive as herding cats. Like a painting of a burning giraffe, sometimes you need to just sit back and take it in.
Unfortunately, part of what you’ll have to “take in” is the show’s frequent and disturbing scenes of violence against women. In the episodes released so far, several women in the show have been beaten and murdered (usually after having sex). The sexual assault and rape of other female characters is strongly implied in many other scenes. While such treatment of female characters isn’t anything new for Lynch (see Blue Velvet), the cringe-worthy treatment of women in Twin Peaks: The Return feels more like a lazy reliance on a rote plot device that far too many cable television shows rely on to seem serious, dark, and edgy. To see someone with Lynch’s vision and talent leaning on this crutch is disappointing.
In the end, I’m sure that devoted, long-time fans of both Twin Peaks and Lynch himself will enjoy the show. But I’m not sure exactly what it has to offer new viewers who decide to stick with it and ride out all the weirdness. The best-case scenario is that it will direct them back to the original series, which still remains a far superior show. (18, 60-minute episodes.) ∆