MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
In the end, Twin Peaks: The Return is all about time. Arriving after Laura Palmer’s prophesied twenty-five-year interval, it embraces the fact that the world is different now. The Black Lodge has spread its influence, Lucy has to cope with mobile phones, and we’ve all grown older – except Peggy Lipton, obviously. Seeing Ed and Norma get together has more emotional impact than hearing Steven kill himself, not because the latter is a bad scene – it isn’t, and Alicia Witt’s reactions are very upsetting – but because we’ve been waiting for the former scene nearly thirty years.
Those decades are engraved on Everett McGill’s wonderful Mount Rushmore face. They’re what Nadine is trying clumsily to express when she blurts out that she’s been a “bitch” to him. Ed corrects her, because she hasn’t, really. They just weren’t suited to each other. They made a mistake a long time ago, and if it gets put right now, well, better late than never. All this, set to a swooning song by a long-dead singer that, thanks to the miracle of recording technology, still sounds as though we’re listening to him play it live. Is it future, or is it past?
The passing of time brings sadness as well as relief, of course. This is the episode where the Log Lady dies, a scene given even greater weight by the fact that Catherine Coulson was visibly dying as she recorded her scenes. Just as the last episode featured a ‘real’ person – Monica Bellucci – in the fictional world of Twin Peaks, this one has a dedication to a ‘fictional’ person – Margaret Lanterman – in its end credits. This, along with the scene where Cooper watches Sunset Boulevard (the film which inspired Lynch to name his own character Gordon Cole), seems like a subtle preparation for a massive break in the fabric of the show’s reality coming up very soon.
Coulson had been a friend of Lynch’s since she worked on Eraserhead. That film is set in a universe even more discrete and specific than Twin Peaks, and it took five years to make. Ordinarily such delays in production would ruin a project that relied on a specific atmosphere, but Lynch seems to thrive off these things. They allow his ideas time to develop and mutate. He’s said in the past that a large part of the reason why he made Twin Peaks was so he could make a story that continued and changed in the same way that his production schedules often do.
The most famous anecdote about Twin Peaks’s improvisatory creative process concerns the first appearance of BOB, but another one from the pilot episode is equally significant. The flickering light in the scene where Cooper first examines Laura’s body was an actual electrical malfunction that Lynch liked and decided to keep. Without that, would electricity be the dominant motif of The Return? Maybe – the similarly charged Ronnie Rocket predates the whole Twin Peaks project. But so many scenes from this episode – Cooper and the fork, the power at the Roadhouse briefly cutting out when Freddie uses his glove, the stuttering fluorescent light in Jeffries’s room, even the glitching editing as the convenience store disappears – are the children of that one creative accident.
Of the scene with Phillip Jeffries, now the shock of David Bowie being a big kettle has worn off, I was pleased to see it backs up my theory that the Jeffries impostor is, in fact, Jeffries. Note how averse he is to directly answering any of Mr. C’s questions. When asked if he spoke to Mr. C after Darya died, all Jeffries can say is that he doesn’t have his number. Which may be true – but Mr. C called Jeffries. Perhaps, in all the chaos, Mr. C has forgotten this. It was a long time ago.
Episode 15 of The Return is so heavy with reminders of time passing that when a scene doesn’t involve that theme, you have to assume it means something. Audrey and Charlie still seem stuck in the same evening, having the same row, “on the threshold”, as Charlie says. He also wonders whether Audrey is trying to kill him with all her delays, a line which comes off as particularly glib straight after we’ve seen the Sheriff’s Department mourning Margaret. It helps underline the strange affectlessness of the Audrey scenes, and sets up next week, when Audrey and Cooper finally manage to kill the Charlies holding them back.