Twin Peaks: The Return: The Rewatch – My Log Has a Message for You
MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Why talk about Twin Peaks: The Return now? Well, for one thing, it’s one of the few modern American prestige dramas whose reputation hasn’t settled now it’s off the air. After Breaking Bad’s last episode aired, everyone agreed that they had seen an all-time TV triumph. After Twin Peaks: The Return finished, nobody could agree on what it was, let alone whether or not it was good. The Observer didn’t include it in their run-down of the ten best TV series of the year, but Sight & Sound placed it at number two in their list of 2017’s best movies.
On the surface of it, the idea that Twin Peaks: The Return is a film is ridiculous. Nobody argues that the first and second seasons of Twin Peaks are secretly films, so why claim cinematic status for season three? The most obvious argument would be its auteur identity, with every single episode directed by David Lynch from an enormous single script by Lynch and Mark Frost. But similar things have been done recently on the small screen by Steven Soderbergh and Sam Esmail.
Rewatching Twin Peaks: The Return, it’s surprising how this sole directorial credit actually allows it to feel more varied than most shows. On a first watch, it all feels like David Lynch – the sheer Lynchiness is overwhelming. The first half of episode one, though, is actually a smorgasbord of styles. The archive footage from the first series – sometimes radically slowed-down, as though trying to match the narcotic new material – is very different to the pin-sharp black-and-white of the scene where the Fireman talks to Cooper, which in turn is very different to the hi-tech noir of the New York scenes. In between those last two strands, there’s a documentary-style insert of Dr. Jacoby buying some shovels. None of these scenes feel like they exist in the same universe, let alone the same TV show.
Of course, the Fireman and Cooper literally aren’t in our universe. Like the original series, Twin Peaks: The Return exists on two different narrative levels – the mechanical and the metaphysical – and it’s unavoidable that the initial response focused more on the former. The mechanical plot of Episode 1 concerns Mr. C, an evil doppleganger of Agent Cooper, meeting some criminal associates, a strange message from the Log Lady to Deputy Hawk, and a kindly local teacher arrested on suspicion of murder in Buckhorn, South Dakota.
There is plenty to talk about here. Matthew Lillard, as the ill-fated teacher, gives a heartbreaking performance that immediately grounds his subplot after a farcical opening involving a shifty maintenance man and a scatterbrained witness. Jane Adams’s Constance Talbot immediately announces herself as a future fan favourite character. There is also a segment involving a man paid to watch an empty glass box, which is a good metaphor for how a lot of TV recappers felt waiting for a plot they could write about to emerge from here.
This is because the real meat of the show – the metaphysical side – is harder to write about in the week-by-week immediate reaction format that modern TV criticism favours. Other than the pre-existing mythology of Twin Peaks, there isn’t really a sourcebook that will help you make a guess at what – for example – The Fireman means when he tells Cooper “It is in our house now”. Watching the series again, we know this means Judy. We also see what a perfectly Lynchian metaphor that is; an ancient deity of evil crossing between dimensions is “in our house”. And what a perfect marriage it makes with the final, terrible domestic scene of The Return.
It’s this rare completeness, this sense of a complete architecture spanning eighteen episodes, the unusual emphasis on visual grammar over plot twists and dialogue, that makes Twin Peaks: The Return feel like a film. But it’s also a television series that’s in some way about television. It is in our house now. It asks us to stare at a glass box, and it might just rip our brains out.