Twin Peaks the Return: the Nerfed Llamas Review – My Log has a Message for You…
Fewer things surprised me more than when I heard in 2014 that David Lynch and Mark Frost were bringing their bizarre baby Twin Peaks back to the small screen. I quite enjoyed the original series back in the early 90’s, as well as the prequel film “Fire Walk With Me,” so a revival series that answered the lingering question of “what happens next?” was a welcome prospect. I didn’t know exactly what to expect (hopefully some original cast members to return and a decent measure of closure for Agent Cooper), but regardless I was on board for whatever Lynch and Frost had in store for me… and boy did they have a lot in store for the audience. Twin Peaks the Return, an 18 part event series on Showtime, was equal parts amazing and frustrating. It is unlike anything you have ever seen, and certainly nothing like the original Twin Peaks series. It’s an odd bird that exists outside of the norm, and has been a polarizing view for some of the people that tuned in to each episode. It’s a hard show to watch, because it doesn’t play out like anything that you are used to on TV, and as such it an experience that is uniquely bizarre when compared to its contemporaries. The question of “is it good?” is not something that can really be answered with a simple yes or no. Twin Peaks the Return is a lot of things, easy to peg is not one of them.
DISCLAIMER: I won’t be going deep into spoiler territory for this review as I believe that Twin Peaks the Return should be experienced as it was intended. Because of the nature of the show, specific details about the plot should be discussed after the reader has seen it (if they so choose to) and not in this review.
Much like the show itself, this will not be a conventional review: It’s hard to put into words how I feel about the 18 hour odyssey that is Twin Peaks the Return, which is exactly how I think Lynch and Frost wanted it to be.
From the very first episode you are explicitly shown that this continuation of Twin Peaks was not going to tell even a remotely conventional story. This break from the norm is a point of contention with a sizable group of viewers. As stated above, this continuation of Twin Peaks is quite polarizing and not much like the original show. If you are hoping for a show that jumps back whole hog into the quirky world of the small town of Twin Peaks, you will likely be disappointed, especially in the first few episodes. Much of the story is told in starkly different ways, some as scenes that drive the story, some as short vignettes for the ever-growing list of characters, some as events from a different period of time, some as defining character moments, many of them not occurring in the town of Twin Peaks at all, and even others as esoteric sequences that are as much about a sense of feeling as they are about actually meaning anything concrete. The new season of Twin Peaks is an odder beast than ever, and certainly a show that is hard to put into solid context. There are immediate benefits to this type of storytelling. First and foremost it keeps your audience constantly on their toes. Never once, not even after the credits rolled at the ending of the 18th hour, did I stop wondering “what in the hell is going on?” Twin Peaks the Return kept me guessing. Every. Single. Episode. For better or worse, as there were numerous sequences that were really challenging to watch and comprehend. At least once I questioned why I was even still watching the show (I’m looking at you Part 12 and your nearly hour long abstruse audio nightmare nuclear explosion drug trip). The answer of course being that I absolutely had to know how the story ended and how it was going to affect the characters that I had grown to love over the years. Second, this type of storytelling allowed Lynch and Frost the flexibility to tell the various characters stories, unrelated though many of them may have been to the central plot, on their own terms. They could pepper in bits about the characters from the original run of Twin Peaks to show the dedicated viewers what is going on in their life 25 years later. They also could fold in interesting segments about the many new characters with ease as well. Essentially, they could effectively tell the story however they wanted to, which is precisely what they did.
Be advised: Twin Peaks the Return can be exceptionally hard to watch at times. In terms of crafting a long form TV narrative, I imagine this unconventional style of storytelling offered Lynch and Frost exactly what they wanted. However, for the audience it can make for some pretty challenging viewing. Most narrative driven TV shows follow a fairly linear path, and they lay their snakes out straight by the end of the season. This was not the case with Twin Peaks the Return. Many questions go purposefully unanswered. Even more ideas are thrown into the show with no context or easily understood frame of reference, leaving nearly all of the comprehension aspect up to the viewer. For many (in some cases, myself included), this makes viewing Twin Peaks the Return difficult to digest and comprehend. The viewer wants the show to make sense, and sometimes it just absolutely does not. Not even a little bit. I have read many theories as to how it all links up, and how it all “makes sense”, but I’ve found most of these theories to be the ramblings of fans that seem like they are grasping at straws. Your enjoyment of this show, depends in large part on your level of patience and appreciation for the more complex, avant-garde, and unorthodox parts of Twin Peaks the Return. To put things into perspective, I love the bizarrely nonsensical world of Richard Kelly’s obscure film “Southland Tales,” and even I had a hard time watching parts of Twin Peaks the Return, or justifying their existence as a viewer.
An exceptionally valid reason to watch Twin Peaks the Return is the awe inspiring acting of Kyle MacLachlan as Mr C, Dougie Jones, and Agent Cooper. MacLachlan’s tremendous performances throughout the entire third season cannot be understated, as he played all three roles to perfection. I may not have loved this new season of Twin Peaks, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that Kyle MacLachlan deserves every single acting award that he is eligible for these performances. Each character is uniquely different from the other, and each has an amazing on screen presence. Mr. C is cold, severe, frightening, and calculating. Dougie Jones is goofy, silent, and has a toddler like wonder about him. Agent Cooper is energetic, determined, smart, and of course in need of a damn good cup of coffee. Seeing all of these characters come to life over the course of the 18 parts of the series is like watching a master course in acting. This is the good stuff folks, and well worth watching the series for.
The nostalgia factor is strong with Twin Peaks the Return, but don’t expect it to be as central to the main story as it was in the original series. Many of the original cast return and we get to see glimpses of their lives, but for the most part that is all they are… glimpses. Of course Laura Palmer returns and is a huge part of the story that unfolds in Twin Peaks the Return. Shelly has a daughter that is just as bad at choosing men as she was at that age. Ed is still pining after Norma, but still shackled to Nadine. Dr. Jacoby is now the shock jock Dr. Amp. Ben Horne is still running the Lodge, and his brother Jerry is still as wacky as ever. Audrey is… well who the hell knows what Audrey is up to or where she’s at, but she shows up in some capacity too. Hawk, Andy, and Lucy are still working at the police station. And Margaret’s Log still has a message for you. Many others return for cameos throughout the new season as well. Again, this is mostly as window dressing. Fan service if you will. There is some resolution here, and even some revelations, but by and large they are there to help the show feel at least some semblance like the original series. In some ways, this is a show that is Twin Peaks in spirit mainly, but not as much so in the final product. Again, if you are looking for the old Twin Peaks, you are not likely going to find what you are looking for here. A lot of the show is tied up in the mystery of Dougie Jones and Mr. C, almost all of which happens outside of the town of Twin Peaks. Even the portions of the story that follow Deputy Director Gordon Cole and Agent Albert Rosenfield happen primarily outside of Twin Peaks. There is a nice sub plot in Twin Peaks that unfolds at the police station with Sheriff Truman, Hawk, Andy, and Bobby which gives off some of the much needed nostalgic vibes, but that’s about as close as we get. In many regards this continuation of Twin Peaks is broader in scope than the original series, and their are many new characters that are added in to make that work.
The new characters are quite entertaining to watch and help add to the charm of the Twin Peaks the Return. Naomi Watts as Janey-E, Dougie Jones’ headstrong and whip-smart wife is amazing to watch. Robert Knepper and Jim Belushi are lovably goofy casino gangsters that have you laughing every time they are on screen. Sara Paxton puts in a hell of a performance as the bizarre Vegas gal Candy. Tim Roth and Jennifer Jason Leigh are a riot as the Hutchen family assassins. Laura Dern finally shows us who the mysterious Diane is, and boy is she a doozy! Christa Bell tackles the roll of Agent Tammy Preston and does an admirable job of keeping up with Gordon and Albert. Robert Forster steps in as the rugged but level headed Sheriff Truman, the brother of the original Sheriff Truman. All in all, the expanded cast bring a lot of variety and charisma to the show. With so much happening in so many different locations, Lynch and Frost do an extraordinary job of bringing these additional characters to life and making you love them as much as you do the original cast.
There were some aspects to Twin Peaks the Return that I did not care for at all. As much as I wanted this to be the perfect return to the beloved series, for me it was not. The “MTV” like music videos that were tacked on to each episode were a drag to watch, and felt like they only existed to pad out the run time as they were always allowed to play the entire song. There were bizarre one off scenes with characters that you never see again that added nothing to the story nor to the overall show experience. For Pete’s sake, there’s a 2+ minute shot of a guy sweeping the floor! No dialogue, just a guy sweeping the floor. Some will tell you this was art, I will say that it was David Lynch playing mind games with the audience. the sound design, especially during the more abstract sequences, was so loud and droning that I had to turn the sound down to continue watching. The special effects were not great, with many of them looking like something out of 80’s or 90’s era TV show. Tonally, this show was all over the place emotionally, visually, and narratively which was jarring to try and keep up with. Characters and plot threads disappear for multiple episodes, and some disappear without any resolution at all. There are a ton of red herrings baked into the show, and whereas some of them are fine as they are, others are frustrating because you know they are going absolutely nowhere as you watch the scene unfold. Part in parcel with the core mystery of the show is the return of Agent Cooper, and I felt that it took way too long for him to return to normal, and by the time he did we didn’t even get to enjoy his warm and witty banter with the rest of the original cast because the ending moved so quickly that there just wasn’t any time for it.
Perhaps my biggest disappointment with Twin Peaks the Return is what I perceived to be missed opportunities. There was a lot of things I would have liked to have seen in the final product, but they just never happened. What happened to Annie? What is going on with Sarah Palmer and why is she supernaturally weird now? Where actually is Audrey Horne and what happened to her after the bank explosion in season 2? Why didn’t Gordon Cole get to see Shelly one more time, that would have been magical! Why didn’t Harry Truman show up (I know that the actor is retired, but even still why not one appearance), even if for just one on screen cameo? What happened to Josie Packard? Did Ben Horne successfully save the pine weasel? Why did a talking tree replace the man from another place? There are many other little details that I think would have greatly benefited the overall package of Twin Peaks the Return, but unfortunately for whatever reason never made it in, which makes the aforementioned music videos and one off scenes with non essential cast members all that much more frustrating to think about after the fact. Also, and I won’t go into specifics on this, but I did not love the ending to the series. It was, at least for me, unsatisfying and a major missed opportunity. There is a reasonable measure of resolution that I was hoping for (I’m good with keeping an air of mystery to the conclusion and leaving some loose ends open), and this show came nowhere near close to delivering even a quarter of what I thought it might. It goes left in the third act, in a massive way. I have been reading critical and viewer reactions to the finale and it would appear that many really dug this pivot at the end, I unfortunately did not as I felt that it was a poor man’s attempt at turning Twin Peaks into something like Christopher Nolan’s Inception. I may be selling the ending short, but unless the blu-ray set comes with an audio commentary by Lynch and Frost that explains a lot of the information gaps (which is highly unlikely), I don’t see my opinion changing on the ending any time soon. Just be advised: in regards to your feelings on the ending, your mileage may vary.
Bottom Line: Twin Peaks the Return is not a show that can be given a general stock review, it is a show that you have to experience for yourself (if you feel inclined to do so) and draw your own conclusions. It is a polarizing experience and there is no easy way or discernible metric by which to adequately gauge it by. Lynch and Frost have served us a dense, bizarre, complex, humorous, twisted, dark, and deeply metaphysical show that is in a class of its own. At the very least, Twin Peaks the Return is important TV because of how absolutely unique it is. Literally, you have never seen anything like Twin Peaks the Return. Again, this is for better or worse, as I found it to be exceptionally hit or miss from scene to scene, and episode to episode. A great deal of the show landed well enough for me (even the far out weird esoteric stuff), which made the parts that didn’t land for me at least a little easier to swallow. I think it is good for the TV/film industry for a show like this to exist, but I am less certain that a lot of shows created with the same mentality would be a good thing. This is not a style of storytelling that will likely ever equal good viewership ratings. For all of its up and downs, the aspect of Twin Peaks the Return that truly frustrates me the most is how unsatisfying I found the overall ending to be. I’m great with an ending being open ended, as well as there being mysteries left unexplained, but in the end hardly anything is explained and nearly everything is open expressly to viewer interpretation. In fact, I believe the entire point of this new season of Twin Peaks was to push the needle on how little you could tell the audience in a long form TV series to see how far the viewer’s brain would go to fill in the blanks. It’s just like I said earlier, the show keeps you guessing even well past the last moments of the final part. No words can put into context what the whole 18 hours of Twin Peaks the Return is or what it’s lasting value to the medium will be. I’m not even sure that I will feel the same way I do about the show today upon a second viewing, should I choose to ever watch it again. The best I can tell you is that if you are curious about Twin Peaks the Return, then you need to see it for yourself and form your own opinion. It’s a helluva bumpy ride, with some great moments that got shuffled in with some less than stellar ones. Rarely, if ever, have I watched a show with as many high peaks and low valleys as this show has. Truly, you have to experience Twin Peaks the Return for yourself, because in my conversations with other people that have watched it everyone’s opinion on the show is widely different. In my estimation Twin Peaks the Return is neither a great show nor a terrible one, it simply exists as its own un-categorizable polarizing entity. It can’t be purely given a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” style review, it has to be experienced to be appreciated for what it is to you and what it isn’t.
Nearly a week after the finale of Twin Peaks the Return, and this is how I feel when I think about the show…