Thursday, May 25, 2017

"The Return Part 4" Bears The Burden Of Making Twin Peaks Comprehensible!

The Good: Decent performances, Plot starts to develop, Moments of realism, Hints of character development
The Bad: Irksome new characters, Ridiculous, pointless, monologue from Michael Cera
The Basics: Twin Peaks actually starts to put into focus the various Dale Coopers in "The Return Part 4."

Weird is good. Weird is weird and it can be great, but when it comes to art, weird for the sake of weird has a very short shelf-life. In media, weird works where the purpose is simply to create something that is surreal as opposed to sensible - mood pieces, deliberately obscure, or mysteries where the writers have no idea how they intend to resolve the set-up (I'm looking at you J.J. Abrams!) - have low replayability. Indeed, many at some point forego the mood and the mystery to attempt to deliver concrete answers that both continue to intrigue and reward the viewers for their investment. As the original Twin Peaks (reviewed here!), went on, David Lynch had to pay off the various threads he had woven early on with answering the fundamental mystery of the show: "Who killed Laura Palmer?" After that answer was revealed, the narrative threads that were left for the second season of the show were hardly as compelling or intriguing as the original characterizations and plots suggested and the show meandered. Fortunately, it came back for a big finish as the focus turned to the epic struggle between F.B.I. Agent Dale Cooper and the villainous Windham Earl as they both hunted for the mysterious Black Lodge.

With the revival of Twin Peaks, it is hard not to get a few episodes in and feel like it is time for some put up or shut up storytelling from David Lynch and Mark Frost. The third episode of the season (reviewed here!) was annoyingly convoluted; after a long surreal opening, Agent Cooper may have managed to escape the Black Lodge, despite the fact that Cooper (his Bob-infected doppelganger for the past twenty-five years) is still in the world. Did Agent Cooper actually escape the Black Lodge and is now walking around South Dakota winning at casino slot machines without any memories? Is the new Cooper a construct of some sort? Will the police at Twin Peaks figure out that "something is missing" could mean "you're missing something?" Or will one of them figure out that Lucy only fessed up to eating one piece of chocolate, which means someone else ate the other two in the package? Will viewers keep caring long enough to get actual answers?!

That is where viewers come into "The Return Part 4." "The Return Part 4" opens with the promise that F.B.I. Agent Rosenfeld and Deputy Director Cole might actually learn about Cooper, the doppelganger, for the first time in twenty-five years and begin to piece together that something happened to Agent Cooper twenty-five years prior in Twin Peaks.

Fortunately, viewers get some answers - pretty fast - in "The Return Part 4." Almost immediately, the version of Cooper who was returned to the world is identified by other people as Dougie Jones, which suggests that Jones was someone before Agent Cooper basically possessed him by his unorthodox exodus from the Black Lodge. That idea is reinforced by Jones seeing Phillip Gerard within the Black Lodge and the one-armed man telling him that one of the Coopers must die.

Opening at the Silver Mustang Casino, Dale Cooper haplessly wins twenty-nine jackpots, much to the chagrin of the casino's owner. He is recognized by Bill and Candy Shaker as Dougie Jones and he is given his winnings by the casino owner before being sent home. Arriving home, he is accosted by his wife, Jane. Gordon visits F.B.I. Chief Of Staff Denise Bryson to get Agent Preston approved to his team to investigate the Cooper lead in South Dakota.

In Twin Peaks, Sheriff Frank Truman arrives at the Sheriff's Department where he puts Lucy in shock by using his cell phone. Truman is briefed on a drug overdose at Twin Peaks High. The personnel converge in the conference room where Deputy Briggs is visibly shaken by seeing Laura Palmer's picture on the table. Andy and Lucy's son, Wally, arrives at the station much to the delight of his parents (and the confusion of Sheriff Truman). When Dougie wakes up the next morning, his son helps him through his morning routine (while Jane just yells at him). The F.B.I. team arrives in South Dakota, where the lead homicide detective is surprised that the prints of the dead man at the apartment yeild a hit, but the identity is blocked by the military. The police in Buckhorn show the F.B.I. team what was found in Cooper's car - cocaine, a machine gun and a dog's leg - before Deputy Director Cole begins interrogating Cooper. Cooper insists he was working undercover, but he does not appear to recognize Albert and his speech pattern is erratic. Rosenfeld confesses to Cole afterward that he gave information to F.B.I. Agent Philip Jeffries that was passed on to Cooper, information that led to the death of a Colombian drug lord. Both Rosenfeld and Cole both recognize that something is very wrong with Cooper.

Fans of Twin Peaks are likely to be delighted by Bobby Briggs resurfacing in the new season. Briggs was a troubled youth back in the day and there is a delicious irony in the fact that he is now working in law enforcement.

"The Return Part 4" does a good job with getting some truly realistic aspects of supporting characters right. Candy Shaker is legitimately concerned by how Dougie Jones is acting; Bill tries to correct him when he simply repeats back words. The limo driver who takes Jones home has trouble seeing the color of doors at night and is impatient with waiting for Dougie to move toward his door.

Sadly, that realism is inconsistently executed. Michael Cera arrives in Twin Peaks as Wally and delivers a ridiculous monologue. Cera's scene in "The Return Part 4" is the Twin Peaks equivalent of the podracing scene in The Phantom Menace; "there's five minutes of my life I'll never get back." Similarly, Jane does not seem to have any idea what to do with Dougie. She talks over him and does not notice that he is only repeating words, does not even know how to dress himself or sit on his own or even know how to go to the bathroom until he is shown. While that helps to characterize Jane some, her inattentiveness is frustrating to watch and her failure to observe that he is not actually talking the night before their son picks up that Doug is out of it is infuriating.

"The Return Part 4" finally effectively blends the classic Twin Peaks characters and actors with the new recurring cast members and characters. While Michael Cera does not quite fit in, Robert Forster steps into the role of Sheriff Frank Truman well. Naomi Watts might play an oblivious character in Mrs. Jones, but she plays the part well. David Lynch, Miguel Ferrer, Michael Horse, Harry Goaz, Dana Ashbrook, and Kimmy Robertson all step with an apparent effortless quality back into their distinctive Twin Peaks roles. Even David Duchovny's cameo is not nearly as distracting or pointless as Cera's appearance.

Kyle MacLachlan once again dominates in "The Return Part 4." MacLachlan plays the dual roles of Cooper and Dougie and the two parts are so different that it is refreshing after seeing him walk around in a robotic fashion for almost the entire episode to see him deliver exposition during the interrogation scene - just to prove he has the range. MacLachlan manages to insinuate well that Dougie Jones is slowly learning and adapting to life back on our mortal plane, while Cooper is presented as far less villainous than he was in the prior three episodes.

Ultimately, "The Return Part 4" is the first episode that effectively focuses the mystery of the new season of Twin Peaks on the nature of Cooper and the (potentially) returned Cooper. The episode more effectively uses surrealism and weirdness, while telling an actual story, which is enough to remind viewers what they have been missing from Twin Peaks.

For other works with Sarah Paxton, please visit my reviews of:
Cheap Thrills
The Last House On The Left

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Twin Peaks - The Complete Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the temporally displaced season of the surreal show here!


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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