Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Twin Peaks At The Midpoint: "The Return Part 9"

The Good: Good performances, Moments when the plot moves forward
The Bad: The episode itself has very little actual plot, No thematic development, Continues to prioritize mood over sensible story and character development.
The Basics: "The Return Part 9" moves characters within Twin Peaks toward understanding what happened to Major Briggs and Agent Cooper . . . even if very little actually occurs within the episode.

One of the tough aspects of considering something that is considered a cult classic is that the overall body of work often overshadows the blemishes, speedbumps and absolute dogs of a work. To wit, Twin Peaks has a somewhat legendary status in the annals of modern television, but objectively viewed, the second season of the show (reviewed here!) had a long stretch between the identity of Laura Palmer's killer being revealed and the final arc with the Black Lodge filled with episodes that were just turds. There are few people who would stand in defense of the plotline surrounding Nadine getting amnesia or Lucy having the relationship with the pretentious jagweed who came to town. The whole Miss Twin Peaks contest was a long trainwreck up until the actual event, which became the important pretext for Earl Windham to abduct Anne and put him on a collision course with Agent Cooper. My point is that Twin Peaks had some real dogs and it is hard to go back to Twin Peaks after enduring one of the terrible episodes. "The Return Part 8" was a horrible episode and it made it very hard to want to sit down to "The Return Part 9."

"The Return Part 9" picks up after the one concrete plot element of "The Return Part 8" (reviewed here!), which was the newly-escaped Dale Cooper driving away from the jail with Ray, then getting shot by Ray. After that, the episode descended into a surreal nightmare that seemed to vaguely explain how Bob was manifested on Earth and how Laura Palmer was (possibly) divinely conceived. "The Return Part 9" is a lot more literal than its predecessor.

Cooper wanders down the dirt road away from where he was almost killed the night before while Gordon Cole and his team fly back toward Philadelphia. Cole learns about Buckhorn, South Dakota and the case involving Major Garland Briggs. Rerouting the plane to meet with Lieutenant Knox in Buckhorn, Cole learns that Cooper has escaped the prison. Cooper restocks his arsenal and tasks Gary and Chantel with killing Warden Murphy. In Las Vegas, the police interrogate Dougie's boss before Dougie and Janey leave and the police are stymied to find that prior to 1997, Dougie Jones does not appear to have any records at all. They assume that Jones is a part of Witness Protection, but Detective Fusco (D. Fusco, as it turns out, all the Detectives are named Fusco) uses Dougie's obsession with coffee as a chance to get a set of prints and attempt to get a DNA sample.

The police capture Ike and arrest him for attempted murder. Meanwhile in Twin Peaks, Hawk, Truman and Briggs visit Garland Briggs's widow, who informs them of a message from Garland. The Sheriffs are given an artifact from Betty. At the morgue in Buckhorn, Cole, Albert, and Preston investigate the headless corpse that is supposed to be Major Briggs. After the coroner shows the trio a ring found in Briggs's stomach, Cole insists on speaking to William Hastings - the man accused of beheading Briggs. In Twin Peaks, Bobby shows the sheriffs how to open the device left by Garland and inside it is a map and directions and times. Preston learns from Hastings that Hastings went to an alternate dimension where he met with Major Briggs and she is surprised when Hastings correctly identifies Briggs from a photo array.

Despite being generally more straightforward than "The Return Part 8," "The Return Part 9" feels very much like Twin Peaks as it stops the primary narrative in its tracks to include a scene that features Lucy and Andy arguing about which chair they are going to buy for their house. And David Lynch includes a scene where Dougie simply stares at a wall and the American flag for about a minute. Fans will understand that the angles of the stripes and the red of the woman's shoes when she walks by are reminding Agent Cooper in Dougie's body of the Black Lodge, but within the episode that is not at all clear.

"The Return Part 9" is nice in that the characters people recognize from Twin Peaks actually begin to progress . . . even if some of the direction is very much the result of exposition. Bobby Briggs is told that his father saw him becoming a Deputy, even though he was nowhere near that place when Twin Peaks ended twenty-five years ago. Johnny Horne pops back up for random screaming and running into a wall and Jerry shows up long enough to fight with his own foot, but the idea that people are tuned into the alternate realities that exist in Twin Peaks is refreshing to see. In fact, "The Return Part 9" might be the most time in an episode spent to date featuring law enforcement officials actually investigating Agent Cooper and Major Briggs's disappearances. Briggs foresaw events and managed to leave messages that only Bobby would understand, which is pretty cool. Finally, viewers are being rewarded with the idea that someone knew when and where to be to try to rescue Agent Cooper from the Black Lodge.

The new characters begin to get some additional layers as well. Diane got a text message from Cooper and Agent Preston is clearly very intimidated by Diane. Chrysta Bell has a weird role so far in Twin Peaks, but "The Return Part 9" gives her a chance to shine as Preston. After playing the role with very uncomfortable body language, Bell is given the chance to play very serious when Preston interrogates Hastings. It is in "The Return Part 9" that Bell is given a satisfactory opportunity to make Preston seem like a credible FBI agent in a way that she simply was not given enough opportunity before.

"The Return Part 9" is another star-studded episode of Twin Peaks that manages to get big actors for comparatively minor roles. Tim Roth has a brief appearance as Gary, an employee of Cooper's in his illegal dealings. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Chantel and Lynch keeps the camera at such a distance that she is barely able to be recognized! Ashley Judd returns to the narrative as Beverly Paige for pretty much a "blink and you miss it" role. Matthew Lillard returns finally as William Hastings and Lillard is actually wonderfully credible playing Hastings as a sad sack.

"The Return Part 9" finally starts to shift the burden in Twin Peaks from re-establishing the characters and settings (which the first several episodes did very poorly) to trying to tie it all together better. So, Benjamin Horne has a scene that feels remarkably soap operatic, but given that there are now firm times and places in Twin Peaks where actions are about to happen - thanks to Garland's note - the viewer is left with the reasonable assumption that the sound Horne and Paige hear at the Great Northern Lodge is somehow tied to what is coming. Unlike the original run of Twin Peaks, the revival does not seem to be developing several storylines - there is not, for example, the contrived plots involving ownership of the saw mill that had nothing to do with Laura Palmer's murder. Instead, there are extremely disparate locations, but everything seems to be building toward one plot surrounding Agent Cooper and his exodus from the Black Lodge.

Ultimately, "The Return Part 9" does what it can to redeem the mess that was the prior episode, but it feels very much like interstitial tissue. Very little actually happens and there is truly nothing about the episode that stands out. When considering "The Return Part 9," I realized for the first time how much the new season of Twin Peaks is hinging on the pay-off. Twin Peaks Season 3 is building toward something. One assumes that Bob's arc is to maintain control of Dale Cooper's body and Dale Cooper's arc will culminate in some attempt to fully escape the Black Lodge and return to life; the long process of getting the two main characters to a resolution will turn on how effectively those character's journies come to a head. But it is in "The Return Part 9" that viewers are likely to feel like the process is slow-going and not compelling enough to fully justify the emotional investment viewers are making. Despite being far better than the prior episode and satisfying in that the pieces are moved on the board, "The Return Part 9" feels very much like what it actually is: a tiny fragment of a story, as opposed to a complete work in and of itself.

For other works with Tim Roth, please visit my reviews of:
The Incredible Hulk
Dark Water
Pulp Fiction
Reservoir Dogs

[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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