Agent Cooper's back in the two-hour premiere of Twin Peaks: The Return

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May 22, 2017

Spoilers ahead for Parts 1 and 2 of Twin Peaks: The Return.

The short version: "The stars turn, and a time presents itself."

THE GOOD

There are many degrees of anxiety to consider when talking about the return of a show you love, especially when said show is one of the most unique pieces of storytelling in the history of the medium. My greatest fear this time was not about what would or wouldn't happen in the plot, or which characters would or wouldn't survive. My greatest fear was that the new Twin Peaks wouldn't feel like Twin Peaks.

Well, we can put that particular fear to rest.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about David Lynch and Mark Frost's return to the wonderful and strange universe they created is that it still feels very much like the coffee and Douglas fir-scented world we all remember, even when the story takes us out of the Pacific Northwest and into New York City or South Dakota. The David Lynch visual style is still there, of course, and the sparse room where Sam (Benjamin Rosenfield) is waiting and watching that glass box feels like a very specifically Lynchian creation, but Peaks has always been about more than the expected Lynch weirdness. Frost's fingerprints are all over this thing too, from the soapy dialogue ("James is still cool," Madchen Amick's Shelly Johnson tells us) to the trail that leads Deputy Chief Hawk (Michael Horse) to the entrance to the Black Lodge. Lynch may have set the tone for Peaks' strangeness, but Frost literally wrote the book on the town's weird history. The premiere feels like a wonderful marriage of both, which is as it should be.

Now, let's talk about the story, such as it is so far. As loyal fans know, Twin Peaks does have a plot. It has many plots, and will continue to, but they don't all always make sense. Sometimes we will come to these moments of inscrutable oddness and be dazzled by them. Other times we will be frustrated. It is important to remember that's all part of the ride, and even the bad stuff can turn good if you keep watching. This is not like other shows.

Disclaimer aside, there's a lot of surprisingly concrete stuff to pick at here. Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is still in the Black Lodge, and apparently has been ever since the Season 2 finale years ago. But there is hope for him, because the residents of the Lodge make on thing clear over the course of the episode: Cooper can leave, and soon, but only if his evil doppelganger -- who's been roaming our world with long hair and a leather jacket, up to no good - comes back. DoppelDale (look, I had to come up with something to distinguish the two of them in writing), as he tells us himself, has no intention of leaving, though. He's got a plan, though we don't know what that plan is. At the moment, he's scheming with a group of rough characters in South Dakota, and he's somehow behind a pair of murders in the city of Buckhorn. Those crimes have just put a local high school principal (Matthew Lillard) behind bars, but if he committed the crimes, he has no memory of them. DoppelDale, for his part, wants to cover his tracks, and by the end of these two hours he's murdered three people in service of that very cause. It's a hard plot to follow because so much is still unrevealed to us, but as long as you pay attention it's thrilling to actually see this Dale in action, 26 years after the show first revealed him to us in one of TV's most infamous cliffhangers.

Meanwhile, in New York, Sam is watching a glass box, carefully logging memory cards from the various cameras set up around it while Tracey (Madeline Zima) keeps trying to get him to notice her. Their exchange when she finally sees the box, thanks to the absence of a security guard (Did someone plan that, we wonder?), is kind of a beautiful summation of much of the Twin Peaks viewing experience:

Tracey: What is that thing?

Sam: A glass box.

Tracey: Yeah, but what's it for?

Sam: I really don't know.

The box, in time, reveals to us that it's some kind of spirit trap, pulling in Agent Cooper when he apparently leaves the Lodge and whatever twitching, pale thing broke free to seemingly murder both Sam and Tracey in the premiere's most memorable and horrifying sequence. Cooper does not appear to be present for these deaths, nor does he seem to witness them, but the implication is that his emergence and the killer creature's are connected. What becomes of Cooper after this, we don't know.

The residents of Twin Peaks don't seem to know either, but both Hawk and the Log Lady (Catherine Coulson) know something is coming. She calls him to send a message about Cooper from the Log, and tells him whatever's about to happen has something to do with Hawk's Native American heritage. This heritage has been tied to various events on the show before (Owl Cave, for example), so that's not surprising. What's more interesting is watching Hawk, Andy (Harry Goaz) and Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) pull out the old files related to Agent Cooper. It's the most nostalgia-heavy of all the storylines, but that actually works in its favor. It anchors us in the familiar even as so many new things are going on.

Then there's the murder investigation in Buckhorn, and how that ties into Cooper. The two only come together near the end of the premiere, and it seems right now like the characters in Buckhorn are mostly pawns in Cooper's game. What I was most struck by watching those scenes play out, though, is the familiar theme of a violent act smearing the veneer of nice Americana all over everything. Like Twin Peaks before it, Buckhorn is letting its savage underbelly show, and it's fascinating and terrifying to behold.

And finally there are all of those other little untethered moments, revealed by Lynch and Frost for a reason we still don't understand and may never will. Doctor Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) is out in the woods, wearing shades on top of shades and ordering a bunch of shovels for an unknown purpose. In the Great Northern, Ben and Jerry Horne (Richard Beymer and David Patrick Kelly) pick up right where they left off, but with weed this time. Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) hasn't stopped smoking like a chimney, and she's watching violent TV under the same mirrors where BOB first appeared.. In Las Vegas, a man named Mr. Todd is handing out a big stack of money and warning against "someone like him." And in the Bang Bang Bar (where it would seem a lost Renault relative is still working), Shelly Johnson and friends have a night out as James Hurley (James Marshall) stops in for a beer. Every one of these is a tantalizing morsel, enigmatic and frustrating.

Overall, it's not exactly satisfying as a season premiere, but that's because Lynch never attempted to structure the piece with regard to episodic TV. He and Frost are telling an 18-hour story, and it will take 18 hours to get to the end. For now the goal is to interest us enough to keep watching. In that respect, the first two hours succeed phenomenally.

THE BAD

Like I said, sometimes the frustration and confusion in Peaks is very much by design, so it's quite possible that something I complain about here will completely pay off later and I'll feel like an idiot. It's a risk I have to take.

Still, the search for a way in to Ruth's apartment to discover the crime scene took too damn long. what starts as an interesting piece of Lynchian comedy ultimately becomes infuriatingly repetitive, and by the end it also feels a bit like we might be having a laugh at the expense of someone we shouldn't be laughing at. Little detours like this are to be expected with this series, but I wanted it to be over long before it was.

Then, there's the issue of violence against women, something Lynch has caught heat for before. Look, I'm a Lynch fan and a Twin Peaks fan on the record as defending things like the level of brutality at work in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Still, we see four different women turn up dead in the span of two hours, and two of them are in various states of undress when it happens. What sets them apart from, say, Laura Palmer, is that we got to know Laura, if only in flashback. It's possible that these women will appear again in some form, and believe me I'll speak up if I'm wrong about this, but as they're presented now they feel like cannon fodder to prove how evil the forces at work on the show are. Few people will ever shoot violence as beautifully as David Lynch, but I question some of the storytelling choices made, and here's why: DoppelDale admits that he killed Jack (Steve Baker) shortly before he killed Darya (Nicole LaLibertie). We see Darya gets punched and then shot through the head, smoking bullet hole and all. Why didn't we see that with Jack? Sure, suspense is one reason, but still...something to think about.

THE OWLS

(This is the section where we'll discuss the various oddities of the show. It's named for the birds that surround Twin Peaks, who are not what they seem.)

- Two still-mysterious numbers are mentioned to Cooper in the Lodge. The Giant mentions 430, and The Arm (also known as The Man From Another Place, in a new form) mentions 253 "time and time again." Keep them in mind. The Giant also mentions "Richard and Linda."

- DoppelDale shows Darya a playing card that's been redrawn to look like what I think is an approximation of the Owl Cave symbol which was also seen on the ring in Fire Walk With Me. "This is what I want," he says. He also mentions coordinates, but offers no explanation for those.

- The homeless man that appears frozen in the jail cell in Buckhorn reminds me very much of a homeless man who appeared in Fire Walk With Me, in the room where BOB and The Arm meet.

- "I feel like I know her but sometimes my arms bend back" is the same thing Lodge Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) said to Cooper the first time he encountered her and asked if she was Laura. This time, though, she goes on to confirm that she is Laura.

- Ray (George Griffith) and DoppelDale both mention "Jeffries," and DoppelDale tries to call "Phillip Jeffries" on his little FBI suitcase kit. Phillip Jeffries is the lost FBI agent played by David Bowie in Fire Walk With Me. He appears in only one scene in that film, then vanishes again. Now it would seem he's been working with the evil version of Cooper on something, but when DoopelDale calls him, it seems someone else is on the other end of the line. "You are going back in tomorrow and I will be with Bob again," the voice says. For me, this is the most intriguing loose end in the premiere.

- Lodge Laura whispered something to Cooper that got her violently sucked out of the room. She's whispered to him before, but this is the first time that's happened.

- Coulson, as the Log Lady, saying "I'm too weak to go with you" just broke my heart.

And that's it for the premiere! Join us tomorrow for a recap of Parts 3 and 4!