Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Agent Dale Cooper's Horrific Version Of The Odyssey: How David Lynch Thrilled And Disappointed Twin Peaks Fans!

The Good: Most of the acting, A lot of good direction, Moments of engaging plot, Basic concept
The Bad: The end (seriously, way to piss on your legacy, David Lynch!), Drifts and tangents that go nowhere, More information undermines the strong concept . . .
The Basics: Twin Peaks returns for a long-awaited third season to bore, confuse, delight and ultimately infuriate the fans of the beloved, surreal series.

I admire an ambitious concept. I truly do. And it is hard to argue anything other than the idea that David Lynch is one of the reigning masters of ambitious concepts. David Lynch has a long history of making television shows and movies that demand attentive, engaged viewers. So, when David Lynch publicly confirmed that Twin Peaks would be returning to television for a third season - after being off the air for more than twenty-five years, the reactions of the die-hard fans was more of an indifferent, "we know; you told us it would be back around this time in the last episode!" than the enthusiasm some might have anticipated.

The third season of Twin Peaks, somewhat commonly known as Twin Peaks: The Return because all of the episodes were called "The Return Part X," was an ambitious concept and David Lynch met a number of serious challenges in executing the season that he had more than twenty years to conceive and tinker with. At its core, Lynch described the new season of Twin Peaks as The Odyssey for Agent Dale Cooper and it was widely reported before even the first episode aired that Lynch wrote the entire series as one massive script and then broke the story up into the episodes. That is an ambitious idea . . . and it shows in the execution of Twin Peaks Season Three. In fact, the episodes themselves often hold up much poorer as individual episodes than the season holds up; the sheer volume of detail and callbacks throughout the eighteen-episode third season of Twin Peaks virtually begs for a single binge viewing by an audience that is alert, engaged, and able to handle a lot of screaming.

Conceptually, David Lynch had a Herculean task in creating a third season of Twin Peaks. Since the very end of the original Twin Peaks (reviewed here!), viewers who invested in the concept of the show had plenty of time to accept the sad reality of the show's protagonist. Agent Dale Cooper was trapped within the ethereal abode of evil known as The Black Lodge, while a doppelganger of him - possessed by the ultimate evil entity Bob - was free on Earth. Within (what used to be) the series finale, Agent Dale Cooper was told that he would be trapped in the Black Lodge for twenty-five years. The thing is, for all of its faults, the second season of Twin Peaks was constructed pretty solidly in terms of its lore about the Black Lodge and some of the concepts pertaining to it. The Black Lodge was not, in the original Twin Peaks simply a place; it was a place that existed in physical reality only in specific times. So, right off the bat, David Lynch was somewhat hamstrung by his own concept; given all of the established information of the original Twin Peaks, saving F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper should have been a matter of his doppelganger being returned to the right place and time to push him back into the Black Lodge and Agent Cooper escaping at that time.

There is, alas, not much of a television show in that. So, David Lynch threw out his own book; in the new rendition of Twin Peaks portals are all over the fucking place. In fact, from the moment Agent Dale Cooper manages to escape the Black Lodge through one of the many, many other exits that manifest, the attentive viewer has to ask, "Why the hell did Dale Cooper wait twenty-five years to leave through one of these other exits?!"

Twin Peaks Season Three picks up with Agent Dale Cooper right where Season Two left off. Dale Cooper is in the Black Lodge and the twenty-five years have passed and he has aged. He encounters Phillip Gerard (the one armed man) and The Arm, who encourage him to take an alternate route out of the Black Lodge, noting that Dale Cooper's doppelganger did not return to the Black Lodge. Bob, still in Cooper, has become a crime lord who is doing everything he can to avoid returning to the Black Lodge and he has managed to avoid his old friends from the F.B.I. by using a laptop from a long-missing agent. When Agent Cooper manages to make it to our plane of existence, Cooper is in a car accident and incarcerated, which puts him on the radar of F.B.I. Deputy Director Gordon Cole, Agent Albert Rosenfield and their protege, Agent Tammy Preston.

Dale Cooper, however, has not managed to simply return to our plane of existence. He is insensate in the body of Dougie Jones, who has a wife, son, prostitute and gambling problem. In Jones's body, Cooper is deposited at a casino in Las Vegas where he wins a lot of money by following stimuli from the Black Lodge. While Dougie's wife, Jane, strong-arms Doug's debtors, Dougie is sent back to work at an insurance company where Dale Cooper manages to point out insurance irregularities to his boss and get on surprisingly good terms with the mobsters who run the casino. While Dougie is hunted by assassins hired by Cooper, Cooper manages to get released from prison, survive one of his compatriots attempting to assassinate him and avoid other attempts to get dragged back into the Black Lodge using technology from that place and ethereal beings who heal him whenever he is mortally wounded.

While Agent Cooper slowly asserts himself and Cooper cuts a swath of carnage across the U.S., Rosenfield and Cole enlist Diane to help them figure out just who Cooper is. And in Twin Peaks, Margaret (the Log Lady) sets Deputy Chief Hawk on a search that clues him into the idea that there are two Coopers and that the case of the long-missing F.B.I. agent is soon to be resolved!

The third season of Twin Peaks has its highs and lows, but for the most part it does tell one long, somewhat absurd, story with a bunch of nostalgia-driven tangents thrown in. One of the greatest limitations of the third season of Twin Peaks was that David Lynch had to tailor the story around the actors who were still alive, still acting, and still interested in participating. To his credit, Lynch got actor Everett McGill to come out of retirement to play Big Ed Hurley again. It's nice, it's very Twin Peaks and, sadly, it is entirely unnecessary.

Unfortunately, Michael Ontkean could not be persuaded to return to Twin Peaks for the revival. Within the narrative of the third season of Twin Peaks, Ontkean's absence as Sheriff Harry Truman is explained and not prohibitively conspicuous (there is a lot going on in the season!), but for fans of Twin Peaks, Lynch pushing the project along without his participation becomes a tonal unforgivable sin. One need not rewatch much of the original Twin Peaks at all to see that the lifeblood relationship of the series was the one between Agent Dale Cooper and Sheriff Harry S. Truman. They had a relationship built on mutual respect, professionalism and a shared desire for the truth that made them bond quickly. Twin Peaks had tons of relationships that were, essentially, soap operatic connections between the characters, but Truman and Cooper had a bromance long before the term was ever coined!

Within the third season of Twin Peaks Sheriff Harry S. Truman's absence is glossed over with medical excuses delivered by his brother, Sheriff Frank Truman, who has taken over the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Department. Frank Truman is played quite well by Robert Forster, who manages to be the least-obtrusive new addition to the Twin Peaks cast (for those keeping score, Chrysta Bell breaks out in Twin Peaks Season 3 as Agent Tammy Preston, but David Lynch uses her frequently for window dressing and there are several scenes where Bell seems to be trying desperately not to look like she is a supermodel playing an F.B.I. Agent . . .).

The third season of Twin Peaks is fundamentally two narrative streams - the story of Agent Dale Cooper, Cooper (Bob) and the law enforcement officers that are figuring out the long-cold case of the missing F.B.I. agent (Chief Hawk and Agent Cooper's former F.B.I. colleagues) and a series of nostalgia-driven scenes that pertain to Twin Peaks. Indeed, most of Cooper and Agent Cooper's narrative occurs well outside the Washington state town of Twin Peaks . . . and much of the drama within Twin Peaks has absolutely nothing to do with the dual-Coopers' narrative.

The second narrative track includes scenes with Norma Jennings (who is franchising the RR Diner), Shelly (who is still working at the RR Diner and has a troubled daughter), (former) Dr. Jacoby doing a podcast, Nadine Hurley listening to that podcast, and (eventually) Audrey Horne popping up to indicate that she suffered a psychotic break. There is a high nostalgia aspect to the Twin Peaks scenes involving the cast from the original - Norma Jennings has an opportunity, she changes her mind, she and Big Ed get a delightful happy ending, it's cute to see and it offers some minor catharsis for two characters who did not spend a lot of time at the narrative forefront of the original Twin Peaks. Similarly cute is the lone appearance of Andy and Lucy's son, who was named after the bird who witnessed Laura Palmer's murder and provided the sheriff's clues. The scene with Wally is dull as hell, but hardcore fans will find it cute that Lucy and Andy named their kid after the bird. Ironically, Jerry Horne being lost in the woods plays into the main narrative more directly than almost all of the other tangent storylines.

And the nostalgia storylines are not all thrilling or happy. Shelly and Bobby had a relationship, it burnt out, and they now have a cocaine-abusing daughter who shoots up a door. Shelly and Bobby's daughter is a distant tangent storyline that gets dropped mid-season as it appears part of Cooper's agenda is keeping drugs flowing into Twin Peaks High School, but that fizzles out after Cooper is captured in South Dakota. Those who love Audrey Horne will be excited when she eventually pops up in the narrative . . . until they follow the clues back and realize that after leaving the Black Lodge, Cooper raped Audrey while she was in a coma following the bank explosion and the ass hole hellion who has been running around killing people and beating up others, Richard Horne, is her son and she likely went crazy as a result of that abuse.

To the credit of David Lynch, Twin Peaks Season Three contains some explanations for the evil in the woods in the form of nightmarish, surreal divergent scenes that show how the entities from another place interacted with the Earth, seeding both Bob and Laura Palmer into the mix. Also to Lynch's credit, if he was going to break his own wheel, his cheats were pretty clever. Phillip Gerard prepared for the battle between Dale Cooper and Cooper, seeding manufactured people like Doug Jones (and another, far more spoilerific one) onto Earth to be a part of Agent Cooper's escape hatch. The second doppelganger gets explained, but the Doug Jones storyline is initially irritating, especially given that Jane Jones does not seem to stop to notice what the audience immediately observes; that Doug is simply repeating the last thing said to him. Lynch even insinuates that there is another person attempting to leave one of the alternate realities the same way that Agent Cooper is (i.e. by using a back door from The Other Place and replacing a manufactured doppelganger already on Earth), in the form of a prisoner at the Twin Peaks jail who exhibits the same repeating trait as Doug Jones. But, like so very many plots in the third season of Twin Peaks, that is not actually resolved and is unceremoniously dropped before the end of the series.

The third season of Twin Peaks is an investment for fans of Twin Peaks. So little of the third season occurs within Twin Peaks that viewers have to watch a lot of the season and take on faith that the show is going somewhere. Twin Peaks Season Three meanders, but it does return to Agent Cooper and his struggle to return to Earth after twenty-five years sitting on his ass in another dimension. The faith viewers place in David Lynch is justified in the seventeenth episode of the season . . .

. . . and then utterly shat upon in the season finale. Without any spoilers, Twin Peaks Season Three climaxes an episode before its end. The final episode of the series proves in the first few moments what most viewers will easily suspect coming out of the prior episode and then it turns the entire series upside down. And not in a good way. David Lynch had an audacious storyline for the third season of Twin Peaks, but its resolution is one of the most insanely conceived, poorly-executed finales that one immediately suspects will be one of the episodes fans of Twin Peaks watch the least. Seriously, watch up to the end of the seventeenth episode and you'll be happy. If you have a hankering to watch the final episode, go back and watch the second season episode of Twin Peaks with the "Miss Twin Peaks" Pageant. You might say, geh! This is terrible; whatever is in the eighteenth episode of the third season of Twin Peaks cannot possibly be this bad. You would be wrong. It's like David Lynch said to himself, "I hate every one of my fans and I want to not just undermine my classic Twin Peaks, I want people to think of how I end this season and make it hard for them to ever want to watch any part of the series again." Yeah, the end of the third season of Twin Peaks was enough to drag the entire season rating down by at least a point. Why? Because a season review is about how the whole story holds together and what it does and says. With one episode, David Lynch makes the viewer forget about the annoying, surreal tangents, the mysticism, the pointless added characters, the beloved classic characters, the essential struggle between good and evil, the delightful quirks of Twin Peaks and just get a sour taste in the mouth and a headache that cannot be cured by coffee and cherry pie.

All that said, Kyle MacLachlan is amazing in the third season of Twin Peaks. Straddling three roles with an effortless quality, MacLachlan makes viewers care about Agent Cooper once again and feel genuine emotions for him. When MacLachlan plays Dougie needing to go to the bathroom (having forgotten such basic things), it is painful to watch - expertly performed by the actor. Similarly, MacLachlan manages to make Cooper a stone-cold villain that raises the level of tension every time he appears on screen.

The supporting cast of Twin Peaks Season Three is good, but the highest praise should be reserved for the late Miguel Ferrer. Ferrer plays Albert Rosenfield and the magic of his performance is that Albert has mellowed considerably over the twenty-five years, but Ferrer plays him in a way that the viewer never once doubts they are watching Albert at work. Given that an acerbic quality and angry deliveries were the hallmark of Albert in the original Twin Peaks, it is no small feat to reinvent the portrayal of the character and make him feel like the same old guy!

Fans of Twin Peaks who were waiting for the event to be complete and for a final analysis before watching will want the bottom line. It is this: Binge watch the third season of Twin Peaks. Find one day you can devote to it, watch episodes one through seventeen and stop there. The event is worth it . . . up to a point and David Lynch rather politely gave a clear point where the season stops being worth watching.

For a better idea of exactly what this season entails, please check out my reviews of the specific episodes at:
"The Return Part 1"
"The Return Part 2"
"The Return Part 3"
"The Return Part 4"
"The Return Part 5"
"The Return Part 6"
"The Return Part 7"
"The Return Part 8"
"The Return Part 9"
"The Return Part 10"
"The Return Part 11"
"The Return Part 12"
"The Return Part 13"
"The Return Part 14"
"The Return Part 15"
"The Return Part 16"
"The Return Part 17"
"The Return Part 18"


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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