Monday, May 22, 2017

The Weird Is Back: Twin Peaks Returns With "The Return Part 1"

The Good: Wonderful sense of mood, Interesting set-up of plot/characters not in Twin Peaks, Some decent (fast) answers to long-held questions
The Bad: Entirely inaccessible to new viewers, Still very off-putting, It takes a long time for anything of substance to actually occur, Virtually no character development.
The Basics: "The Return Part 1" does not feel much like Twin Peaks, despite having a handful of characters from the original appear in the new episode.

I am a fan of Twin Peaks (reviewed here!) and of many of the works of writer and director David Lynch. That said, while it is very easy to see the influence of Twin Peaks on the television landscape - for example, the surreal elements and heavily-serialized aspects of Lost (reviewed here!) would never have been developed or realized had the market not been softened up by Twin Peaks - it is hard not to go back to the original Twin Peaks and see its flaws. While the show was very successful in having (essentially) two age ranges of characters involved with often-separate plotlines and creating incredibly weird characters (Nadine's obsession with quiet curtain runners is more eccentric than characterization of a would-be inventor), the series was plagued with soap operatic elements and frequently unbelievable deliveries. Rebooting Twin Peaks for today's audiences seems like a potential recipe for disaster . . . unless David Lynch and Mark Frost manage to recreate the flavor of the original show, while raising the bar on realism as they push the envelope on surrealism. In other words, a holistic view of Twin Peaks (the entire original series) probably would not have gained its cult status if it were being made today.

And with "The Return Part 1," the revival of Twin Peaks effectively recreates the mood, but does not have as clear an initiating incident to lure viewers in.

In the final, nightmare-filled episode of Twin Peaks, FBI Agent Dale Cooper entered the source of all evil in Twin Peaks, the Black Lodge. Preparing for the debut of the pilot episode of the revival of Twin Peaks, I - like many other people - rewatched "Beyond Life And Death" (reviewed here!), which until recently was simply named "Episode 29." Just as the episode titles have gotten a facelift over the years, Twin Peaks has gotten a facelift for its renewal and revival. Reviving Twin Peaks might seem like a conceptual long-shot, save for the fact that in "Beyond Life And Death," inside the Black Lodge, Cooper is told by one of the people he sees there that he will see Cooper again in twenty-five years. So, for the revival of Twin Peaks, "The Return Part 1" has a very organic potential starting point. It also has a lot of explaining to do; after all, when last seen, the protagonist of Twin Peaks had been replaced in our world by his evil doppelganger, the latest incarnation of the evil Bob.

The twenty-five years have passed in Twin Peaks and in the trophy case, Laura Palmer's picture has faded. Inside the Black Lodge, The Giant admonishes Agent Cooper to remember 430, Richard and Linda, two birds and other clues. Out in the middle of nowhere, Dr. Jacoby is given a delivery of shovels, while in New York City, a young man is sitting watching an apparently empty box when he is told "camera 3" and he changes out the video card from that camera. The young man is visited by Tracy, who wants to come into the room and brought the man coffee, but he cannot allow her into his workplace.

Benjamin Horne is running his hotel in Twin Peaks still when his brother Jerry arrives with food. Jerry is now growing his own pot and making it into edibles that he too-frequently consumes. Dale Cooper, apparently still infected with Bob and clearly no longer an FBI Agent, arrives at the lodge where Laura Palmer and Ronette Pulaski were kept at before Palmer's murder. Cooper orders around the people in the cabin and leaves with two of them. The next night, Tracy returns to the student who is watching the glass box and, because the guard is gone, he allows her inside the room. He also tells Tracy what the job is; he is tasked with watching the box to see if anything appears in it, even though nothing ever has on his watch. While the two are making out, the box turns black, something appears in it and that thing (which is generally human in shape) breaks out and attacks Tracy and the student. Meanwhile, in Buchhorn, South Dakota, Mrs. Green calls the police because she has not seen her neighbor in days and there is a smell coming from her apartment.  Mrs. Green's neighbor is dead - her head cleanly removed from her body and what appears to be an eye eaten out.  Back in Twin Peaks, the Log Lady calls Deputy Chief Hawk to tell him that his heritage will provide him clues needed to find Dale Cooper.

Right off the bat, "The Return Part 1" establishes a sense of surrealism and mystery by including two scenes (one a recap-style flashback) set in the Black Lodge. The early scenes in the episode take their time to develop and reveal themselves, which is very typical for works of David Lynch. Lynch does not rush his shots or his character. Lynch, who directed "The Return Part 1" likes long shots of people watching nothing happen and he gets that in early in the episode. The experiment that is being monitored in New York City right away recaptures the off-putting tone of David Lynch that he popularized in Twin Peaks. Those coming to the new incarnation of Twin Peaks who have no idea what it is are likely to be left confused; it is weird for the sake of being weird.

"The Return Part 1" includes a lot of repetition, like when an insurance salesman comes to the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Department where Lucy Moran is startlingly unhelpful in connecting him with Sheriff Truman (whichever one he wants to speak to).

The superlative performance in "The Return Part 1" comes from Matthew Lillard. Lillard plays newcomer Bill Hastings, the prime suspect in the Buckhorn murder and he illustrates a dramatic range in the episode that many of his early roles in comedies did not allow.

The fun aspect of "The Return Part 1" is seeing the once-familiar characters now older and where they have ended up. David Lynch uses his distribution method (premium cable network Showtime) to amp up aspects of Twin Peaks that he could not on network television; there is some nudity as Tracy undresses for making out with the student. The murder is bloody, but not over-the-top, but the entity Lynch created for the episode certainly would have been difficult to create on film. The gore for Mrs. Green's neighbor is both graphic and dwelt upon in a way that would be hard to do on ABC.

The longer "The Return Part 1" went on, the more I realized that the only reason I was getting anything out of the episode is that I was a fan of the original and I have patience for the weird, long-deliveries of David Lynch. Had I never seen the original Twin Peaks, I am quite confident that I would have viewed "The Return Part 1" as a nonsensical exercise. The episode is a series of scenes that are not at all connected to one another and given that most of them are set outside of Twin Peaks, the episode does not even feel like Twin Peaks; it feels like ideas mashed together from other David Lynch works or that he could have used in other works, but chose this for.

The result is a very slow start to Twin Peaks and one that makes almost every scene feel like it is a mystery of its own, but not every character feels so vital.

For other television shows that have been brought back after cancellation, please check out my reviews of:
Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life
Family Guy - Season 4
Arrested Development - Season 4

[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 And Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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