Twenty-five years after the original series and Fire Walk With Me prequel film, David Lynch, Mark Frost and many of the original cast returned to Twin Peaks. Was it worth the wait? Did it live up to the original? Our man Simon Tucker has his say.
“What the fuck just happened?”
This one sentence, uttered by a Texan character in Season 3 of Twin Peaks, (if David Lynch isn’t referring to it as “The Return” then neither shall I) managed to sum up my entire feelings about the return of this seminal show. After the final credits had rolled, with Laura Palmer whispering in the ear of our hero Dale Cooper I was left in a state of gleeful bewilderment, all shook up, scrambling to put the pieces together in my mind. What indeed just happened?
Since 1992’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me fans of the show have been left wondering what would happen to the characters in this bizarre slice of Americana. As a thirteen year old I didn’t even try to make sense of it all, shit I couldn’t even make sense of myself at that age let alone this work of avant-noir that spun me around and made me feel uneasy. The announcement that Lynch and Frost were returning with a new eighteen part series was met with both excitement as well as an equal slice of trepidation. The fear that it would not be able to live up to the original series and film was strong so I decided to binge-watch the entire original two series’ again to refresh the mind and after this, my trepidation vanished. Why? Well, for starters the original series was indeed a revolution in TV drama. A bold and refreshing twist on the detective story. However, for the largest part of the second series, it was also quite poor. Watching again and it is even more apparent that when Lynch jumped ship early in the second series thanks to those above forcing them to reveal the murderer of Laura Palmer early in the series, the show took a dive in quality. It still remained an original work but the fire seemed to have been snuffed out. When Lynch returns near the end of the series the quality returns and we are left with one of the most head-scratching and disturbing ends to a popular series ever created.
The second reason my trepidation vanished was the fact that Lynch himself has created so much more remarkable work over his career and you just knew that himself and Frost would not return unless they had full creative control. So, every Monday night with the lights turned off, the sound turned up and a steaming cup of tea (coffee? I’m Welsh) I settled in and awaited the comedy and horror to commence.
Season Three for me was a physical and emotional experience which managed to incorporate screwball comedy with European horror sensibilities. It was a trip into a world that I was wanting to enter but always wary of what I was about to find. I became especially wary of the violence in the show. The violence in this season of Twin Peaks was not “Hollywood” violence. It was grim and it was nasty. It was the pure evil that lives in the world. Lynch and Frost refused to sugar-coat anything. Right from the opening episodes slashing of young lovers by a force unknown through to brutality of a woman being beaten half to death in her trailer, the sickening impact of violence on our lives was displayed throughout. The most horrific scene of violence throughout the scene was the hit-and-run by a speeding truck on a young boy. Lynch decided to hold the camera on the impact itself and not cut away so we got to witness the full horror. A few seconds later the boy is lying dead in his screaming mother’s arms and we see his spirit float away. Out of everything this season threw at me this was the one scene that shook me the most. As the father of a small boy Lynch had placed my worst fear right in front of my eyes and that night I cried myself to sleep as the image of that child being hit rolled on a loop in my thoughts but instead of a TV character my mind was replacing him with the face of my own son. In a time of media overload and constant images of violence and trauma on TV and all over social media it is easy to be desensitised to it all but this one scene had the exact same impact on myself as the photo of tragic Alan Kurdi. Images that never leave your mind…
Death was a theme that ran throughout as it has done since the original pilot, but in this series, there was one death that had the biggest impact. The death of Margaret Lanterman (The Log Lady) was one of the most emotional scenes I have ever witnessed. Throughout the show it is clear from her appearance that she is unwell and when she phones Hawk for a final time saying that her log had “turned to gold”and as we see the light go out in the cabin we have not only just witnessed one of the most beautiful endings to a character ever committed to screen but also one of the bravest pieces of acting as the actress who played her, Catherine E. Coulson was terminally ill in real life and sadly passed away in September 2015. The knowledge of this before the series was aired made every scene Coulson was in particularly poignant and I felt the whole arc of her story and passing was handled beautifully by Lynch and Frost.
As the series progressed an increase in chatter online and in reviews was occurring mainly focused on the fact that no answers were forthcoming and more questions were being added wrapping us in a ball of confusion. There also seemed a growing dislike for “sleeping” Cooper trapped in the shell of Dougie Jones. I get it, I do, we all wanted the sharp-suited and forever chirpy Coop back solving this new riddle but with everything Lynch does you have to have patience. Lynch and Frost are a strong pair of hands and both great writers. You think they were doing this just to tease us? Well maybe some part of them wanted to test the patience of the audience and why not? They’ve earned that right. You want answers to questions straight away? Go watch Catchphrase. The slowness of these segments and the off-the-wall humour that they provided made the more visceral and disturbing elements of the show even more heightened. They were also (looking back now after a second viewing) as dreamlike as any other part of the Twin Peaks world with the trio of girls acting like breathing mannequins and long, drawn-out conversations and extended silences. You also have to admit that when Cooper finally reemerged and uttered the phrase “I AM the F.B.I.” you were so happy that it became one of the highlights of the entire season thus making the wait to get there all the more worth it.
“Sound and Vision”
For the new season, Lynch decided to sound design the entire series himself. This was a masterstroke as ever since his first full-length feature Eraserhead, Lynch has been a master of twisting sounds into something new, creating menace in noises we hear every day. Throughout Season Three the sound design set a new benchmark in what can be achieved on the small screen. A constant thrum hung in the background. Gears were grinding, voices pierced the ears (the character of Naido being a prime example), steam hissed and blew. The sound design was as unsettling as anything Lynch has ever created and when he threw in more well known non-original pieces (Moonlight Sonata, The Platters’ My Prayer) he managed to infuse the very essence of Twin peaks into them making them sound at once familiar yet alien. One element that was surprising at first was how little of Angelo Badalamenti’s original compositions were included but as the series progressed you got a sense of why this was. In the original series, Badalamenti’s cues were used to emphasise plot points in a more industry standard way. Well, this new series was anything but industry standard. Also, when his work was used it was even more effective as it signposted that we were seeing actual links to the Twin Peaks of old and were returning properly to that world.
Every week there would be a guest appearance by modern musicians on the show playing at the Twin Peaks hang-out joint, The Roadhouse. Nine Inch Nails & Atticus Ross, Eddie Vedder, Chromatics, Au Revoir Simone plus more all played us out of each episode (NIN & AR actually played near the beginning but that was Episode 8 and that was no normal episode) and it was great seeing modern artists in such a setting adding a realism to the dreamlike.
Episode 8: “Got a Light?”
This was it. The big one. The episode that tipped Season Three over from being great to truly transcendent. No one episode of a television show has left me reeling like this one did. A tour-de-force of imagery and sound with so much to pick out and dissect I am still not sure I have completely absorbed after three viewings. This is where, on prime-time television, we were sent into European art-house cinema. This is where Lynch/Frost told you that they were the ones in control. This episode was disturbing to the core. It left me struggling for breath.
Episode 8 was symphonic and pointed. The idea that “Bob” was released by man’s own desire for power and destruction was very apt for the times we are living in. We have brought this evil onto ourselves by our own greed and lust. The Woodsmen are our demons telling us to have that drink, take that drug, hop off the wagon. Dark things can seep into our soul when we are not paying attention. Good versus evil will always be around. There is no winning this war just winning the odd battle. We reap what we sow. Penderecki-like sound twists our inner thoughts. Seriously, the return of Twin Peaks could have been just this one episode and it would have set the world on flames.
So it ends, not with a whimper but with a blood-curdling scream. With one hand showing you the answers and a neat ending before the other snatches that thought away before leaving us with confused minds and thankful hearts. It cannot be overstated how important this was. The fact that something so brave, bold, confusing, funny, and daring being shown on prime-time TV and actually getting the finances to make it and for Lynch/Frost to be given complete creative control is astonishing. This was Naked Lunch on screen, it was Coil, it was the work of Captain Beefheart, someone who also took traditional American forms, added some European flavour and created works so dense and progressive we are still trying to work out what it all meant (the constant use of the word “electricity” throughout the finale also helped link Twin Peaks to the good Captain). This was a fever dream where you are in and out of sleep with random images appearing in your mind sometimes forming a loose narrative thread before that thread is snapped. This was the most spectacular of magic tricks. An illusion that left you breathless and feeling childlike again. People wanted answers but why spoil the trick? Magic is there to invoke feelings of shock, awe, fear, and joy in us and as soon as you know how the trick is done all that disappears so why dig for the secret? Let it hang in your thoughts. Let it baffle and amaze you.
Thank you, Mr Lynch, Mr Frost, Showtime, and the entire cast and crew. You have made a thirty-eight-year-old feel like a child again. If this is to be the last we see of this world then I am glad I was here to witness it.