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Question Club: Should the new season of Twin Peaks even be called Twin Peaks?

On May 21st, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks returned to television, nearly 27 years after the end of its second season. About the only predictable thing about the revived show was that it was wildly unpredictable. Right at the top, audiences learned that FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper is still trapped in the mysterious Black Lodge, and that his doppelgänger — a snakeskin-wearing thug inhabited by the evil spirit Bob — is loose in the world, creating havoc and mischief. But everything from that moment onward was some sort of surprise, with aged-but-familiar faces appearing alongside new characters and settings.

The first four episodes — two were broadcast, while Showtime made episodes three and four available online — weren’t a nostalgic throwback to the quirky soap opera murder mystery that originally captivated audiences back in 1990. They were the opening arc for something different: a sprawling, sometimes obstinately paced story that evokes some familiar themes and ideas while nevertheless being its own unique piece of entertainment. And as expected, it left us with a ton of questions. The morning after our latest visit to David Lynch’s mind, we sat down to hash it all out.

Warning: Twin Peaks revival spoilers ahead.

Does this new iteration of the show feel like Twin Peaks?

Bryan: This is a pretty broad question, but I think it’s worth asking. When we discussed our expectations last week, one of the points we hit upon was the vibe and feel of the original series. Its combination of small-town soap opera, whodunnit, and batshit Black Lodge weirdness was a potent cocktail, tempering David Lynch’s more extreme sensibilities and creating something captivating in the process.

Four episodes into the show’s return, this doesn’t feel like the show we’ve known before, and it doesn’t feel like the prequel film Fire Walk With Me, either. From the early scenes of a mysterious, empty glass box being monitored in a New York loft to the painful sequence where Dr. Jacoby spray-paints shovels one… by one… by one, these episodes don’t have the rhythm and pop that made the original series work. They’re full of moments that meander, lost in the weeds, as if Lynch is daring the audience to invest while providing only minimal glimpses of interaction with the characters legacy viewers are likely tuning in to see.

The Black Lodge still looks like the Black Lodge, and Special Agent Dale Cooper still cuts a sharp profile in a black suit, but everything else seems to drift atop the expectation that of course we’ll keep watching. The original series was never this gonzo, and it always had a strong narrative thrust to keep things moving forward. That turned the bizarre detours into pleasant moments of surprise. Without a clearly defined murder mystery, though, the new season becomes about the oddities and little else — the antithesis of the original Twin Peaks.

Lizzie: During the first episode, I assumed the revival’s fidgety, meandering style was just a way to quickly familiarize audiences with new subplots and characters. But by the end of the second episode, the tangle of plot threads haven’t even really begun to sort themselves out. The original Twin Peaks also started out slowly, but we still had Dale Cooper — the real, human good guy Dale Cooper — as a lighthouse beacon. By the end of the first two episodes, the revival still hasn’t given us a living protagonist who isn’t trapped in some surreal underworld. It might be easier to handle the series’s exhaustingly glacial pace if we had someone to root for.

There’s another reason this doesn’t quite feel like Twin Peaks to me yet, and that’s because a lot of the original’s campy goofiness is gone. There’s an added weight to the new series, and not only because we still don’t know what’s happening to Cooper. Already, there’s more explicit gore, more gunshots, and more desperation to these characters. Small moments of Lynchian levity — like a cop’s broken flashlight, or a nosy neighbor with a tiny dog — don’t balance out eerie scenes like the one of Sarah Palmer sitting in the dark, silently staring as two leopards tear out a wildebeest’s guts on TV.

Tasha: I agree that this doesn’t feel like early Twin Peaks, with a chipper Cooper leading local law enforcement through a bottle-smashing experiment to determine which clues in an investigation are important or chattering away to Diane on his tape recorder or offering explosively enthusiastic praise for pie, coffee, syrup, trees, and mountain air. And it doesn’t feel like late Twin Peaks, with a frantic weasel-cam running around people’s feet, and the ridiculous Adam Sandler comedy of little orphan Nicky possibly being the devil. The early quirk is gone, and so is the late sloppiness, which Lynch himself has said he wasn’t around for, and didn’t even watch.

But it feels to me exactly like mid-series Twin Peaks, where scenes like Cooper talking to “Señor Droolcup” after being shot dragged on endlessly, holding a single chilly, alarming mood. And more significantly, where the series doesn’t feel like Twin Peaks, it still feels like David Lynch. The sound design, with the back-masked dragging noises and the echoing, disturbing soundscapes, is so recognizably his style. So is the chilly cinematography in the outdoors scenes. So is the wacky, startling surrealism of things like The Arm, and the entire opening of episode three. This is more the Lynch of his short experimental films than of the comparatively conventional Twin Peaks pilot, but that Lynch certainly did show up in the original series, especially whenever the story moved into the Black Lodge.

 Photo by Suzanne Tenner / Showtime

Does the modern-day setting and filmmaking style work?

Bryan: Rewatching the original series recently, I was struck by just how low-fi the whole thing feels. Of course, ABC never gave Twin Peaks a massive budget, but the original series had a pleasant, handcrafted feel that matched its quirkiness. That’s changed here; Showtime has gone all-in, both with the resources the network has given the project (Lynch almost quit until he got the budget he was looking for), and the creative control it’s handed him. When the show jumps to New York, it’s full of gleaming helicopter shots of high-rises. The strange glass cube, which appears to have some connection to The Black Lodge — it’s a literal mystery box — is filmed like it’s in a high-end tech thriller rather than the story of folks in the cozy confines of Oregon.

Some of that is no doubt Lynch adapting his filmmaking style to better represent specific locations, but it turns the many different story threads — catching up with old friends like Hawk, Andy, and Lucy; following Snakeskin Cooper through seedy motels; the mystery box shenanigans — feel like discordant, random threads. It’s exacerbated by the modern-day setting. Lizzie, you mentioned the lack of goofiness earlier, and it’s true: the deadpan humor that worked so well in a small town in the ‘90s feels awkward when deployed by the security guard monitoring the mystery box, and it’s even more discomfiting when Michael Cera shows up to monologue as Andy and Lucy’s Marlon Brando-obsessed son. The original Twin Peaks was a time capsule; was that because its style could only really work at that one particular time in TV history?

Tasha: There were people online who absolutely loved Cera’s take on Marlon Brando in The Wild One (he’s wearing Brando’s costume! He’s straddling Brando’s bike! He keeps trying and failing to do Brando’s accent, especially whenever he says “godfadda”!), but I found that segment to be just incomprehensibly awful. It’s the equivalent of James in the original series moping around doing his James Dean impression, except the delivery is even more awkward and unconvincing. The writing is recognizably Lynchian — it reminded me of the Cowboy’s introductory monologue in Mulholland Drive — but Cera is just the wrong person to pull it off, in part because he’s not a nuanced actor, and in part because he’s just too familiar a face.

That aside, though, I’m enjoying some of the modern touches, including the helicopter shots of New York, the ultra-crisp digital cinematography, and the entire plotline apparently revolving around trying to scientifically capture Black Lodge-related supernatural events. Oh, and Jerry Horne shifting his gourmet obsessions over to pot-gourmet business ventures. Jerry becoming a professional stoner and edibles tycoon is easily the most plausible subplot the series has offered in the first four episodes.

 Photo by Suzanne Tenner / Showtime

Lizzie: While the revival is apparently set in modern day, the passage of time is messy, probably intentionally so. The apartment complex in South Dakota, with its cast of grouchy, flighty residents, feels like it’s stuck in another decade. Maybe it is? I actually preferred the dated-feeling scenes to the ones in New York, which stylistically felt completely unconnected to the world of Twin Peaks that we already know.

Some of the show’s special effects were also a little distracting. In the Black Lodge, The Man From Another Place, aka The Arm, has been replaced by a barren white tree that looks like a holiday sale item from Target. There’s a sack of brain stuck to the top of it, which I guess is a way to indicate that it’s somehow sentient.

Tasha: I mean, it’s basically a brain and a nervous system, crackling with visible electrical impulses. It seems pretty clear that The Arm has evolved into a higher form of being. Again, this doesn’t feel any weirder or more modern than the wailing snake-baby in Eraserhead. If anything, it looks like a product of stop-motion and puppetry, like a technological throwback to earlier Lynch days. Ditto the episode 3 opening, with its strobe lights, missing frames, and photographic tricks. That sequence easily could have been made to look exactly the same way 30 or 40 years ago. A great deal of the new Twin Peaks doesn’t feel like it’s using modern technology; there’s no attempt to make things like The Arm look slick and digital and well-integrated with its background, or to make Cooper traveling via electrical outlet look natural. The “modern filmmaking” here seems like it’s only around for contrast. It’s not the basic default.

 Suzanne Tenner / Showtime

What do you think about the way the new show is using the legacy characters?

Tasha: So far, this is really bothering me. If the first four episodes had entirely stuck with the New York tech-experiment, the Black Lodge, and wherever Dale Cooper went, I’d be antsy to check back in with the Twin Peaks characters we know and love, but I’d also assume Lynch was waiting until the story organically returned there. Instead, we keep getting these weird, disconnected glimpses of familiar settings: Andy and Lucy and Hawk fussing over a familiar conference table covered in files, Shelley and James locking eyes in a bar, the Log Lady literally phoning in her contributions. (I wasn’t aware that Catherine Coulson was able to film scenes before her death, and while I always thought the Log Lady was a pretty ridiculous, pointless character, it was still so heartwarming to see her back, and to see the concern and affection she and Hawk shared on-screen.)

The problem is that almost none of these scenes, except the ones with Hawk trying to figure out what’s missing from the Cooper files, have any connection to anything else, any relevance to a larger story or a larger world. (And if it turns out that “what’s missing from Cooper’s case” is Cooper, and that Hawk is going to find him through something “related to his heritage” because Coop was hanging out in a casino and Native Americans = casinos, I’m going to set my TV on fire.)

Currently, I’m getting the same feeling I got from Arrested Development’s fourth season. Netflix couldn’t pull the cast together because they’re all busy stars, so they shot everyone separately and tried to edit their scenes into separate stories. It just never felt like the characters were operating in the same world. It isn’t enough to just have these characters back if they don’t matter. I don’t want fan service, I want a story.

Lizzie: I agree. So far, this does feel mostly like fan service. I appreciate that, though, if only because it would be really difficult for me to get through the series without it. Right now, any time a legacy character appears, it’s just enough of a tease to keep me thinking that this is all going to pay off in the end. At the same time, it is frustrating to feel that as a viewer, I’m just being placated with glimpses of Andy and Lucy, or thoughtful, gentle conversations between Hawk and the Log Lady, while the real story is happening almost entirely outside of those moments.

Bryan: I’ve been turning this over in my mind since the first episode — how different the new show is, how it seems to have its own thematic concerns and ideas, and how it aesthetically differs at times — and I can’t help but wonder if this is just some other story Lynch has been wanting to tell, and he’s just using Twin Peaks as the vehicle to bring it into the world. The initial scene with Dr. Jacoby sums it up cleanly: he’s in frame, sure, but he’s a speck, and Lynch seems more concerned with taking in the beauty of the surrounding forest rather than what the doctor is up to. (I can barely make out his dialogue in the sequence.)

And then there’s the handling of Agent Cooper. He finds some trick backdoor through the folds of space-time to escape the Black Lodge, but then shows up as an odd mute without even basic language skills. Kyle MacLachlan’s performance as Agent Cooper is a big part of why so many people loved Twin Peaks in the first place. He’s a huge part of what brought order to the show’s chaos. I assume that keeping him out of play and unable to communicate will eventually lead to some incredibly cathartic ah-ha! moment of awakening. (Still, we can’t ever be sure with this show.) But sidelining him for even this long seems to telegraph that Lynch is not all that interested in how audiences feel about these older characters, much less what happens to them.

 Photo by Suzanne Tenner / Showtime

Is the Agent Cooper mystery enough to fuel an entire series?

Tasha: It seems like Lynch doesn’t think it will be, which may explain why we launch with the Ruth Davenport murder mystery, a grotesque CGI: Messy Victims Unit plotline involving a severed head and a hairy, pudgy mystery corpse. From the moment that plotline kicks off, it feels like a modern spin on the Laura Palmer murder mystery — a new death to define the new series. Given that Lynch famously never wanted to solve Laura Palmer’s murder, and only allowed Twin Peaks to unravel that thread because ABC relentlessly pushed him to address it directly, I can’t help but wonder whether Ruth’s death is going to be the eternally unsolved story seed he wanted Laura’s death to be. It feels like we already know who killed her, but will we ever know why? Or where her body is, or why she was left like that? Currently, though, I don’t care about any of those things. They all feel like distractions from the story I do care about — about whether Cooper will ever become a functional human being again, and whether he’s going to take an active part in removing his doppelgänger from the world.

Lizzie: I’m hoping that the Cooper mystery ends sooner rather than later, because I want the old Cooper back. As Tasha pointed out, we’ve already got several murders to contend with, and no one to solve them. As a viewer, I’m not very invested in those murders, but given Leland’s instructions to Coop to “Find Laura,” I don’t think Coop can be out of the game for long.

Bryan: I find it mildly hilarious that while I so cavalier about mythology during our chat last week, now I’m obsessed with the mythology of the new episodes. Matthew Lillard popping up as an adulterous high school principal suspected of Davenport’s murder seemed like a lovely parallel to Leland Palmer, but the way that entire story thread (perhaps) ended — Snakeskin Cooper killing the principal’s wife and leaving town — has me wondering if they’re going in an entirely different direction.

What is Bob’s plan here, and what is the reasoning behind the ritualistic nature of the Davenport crime scene? How did Bob know he was going to be sucked back into the Black Lodge at a given date and time? How did he create an alterna-Cooper who would take his place instead? (I’m not going to wonder why that alterna-Cooper is a real estate agent named Dougie, because some things are just too wonderfully random to be questioned.) Four episodes in, the series’s central conflict seems to be angling toward Agent Cooper vs. Snakeskin Cooper in some sort of Black Lodge battle royale — but while I’m definitely invested in that storyline, I question whether it’s enough for a full set of 18 episodes.

The beauty of the “who killed Laura Palmer?” mystery is that it was a single question that impacted an entire town. Everyone in the original series knew and was affected by Laura in some way. Her death was a window into an entire community, and this show has nothing truly analogous to that yet. The fate of Agent Cooper may drive audience interest, but it’s not going to link the various story threads in the same way Laura’s death did. (At least, not in a way we can discern yet.) There could be some larger, Dark Tower-esque mythology that interconnects everything — Cooper’s appearance in the New York mystery box seems to point in that direction — but even then, that would be a payoff, not a reason to watch in the first place.

 Photo by Suzanne Tenner / Showtime

Is this going to appeal to new viewers?

Bryan: Many were interested in the return of Twin Peaks due to good old-fashioned nostalgia, but thus far we have a show that’s more like a distant cousin of the original than a direct successor. That’s going to be frustrating for viewers hoping for more of the same, but has an upside in being even more appealing to those who have no preconceived notions.

Unfortunately, that’s a pretty narrow way of looking at this question. Thus far the new season of Twin Peaks has also been confusing, discordant, and lacking in an overall propulsive narrative drive (see “Cooper, Agent Dale” above). Other than just wanting to see the weirdest thing to be on television in quite some time, I can’t see newcomers turning on any of these episodes and being particularly enraptured. Unless they want to watch Kyle MacLachlan play slot machines. If that’s the case, they’re going to be stoked.

Lizzie: It’s gonna be a no from me. I can’t imagine having any investment in this show, or a willingness to trust that it’s going to pay off, if you don’t care about the first two seasons.

Tasha: It’s impossible for me to guess how this all looks to people who never watched the original show. If the story were linear and well-ordered, coming in on the third season would be like entering a really convoluted play for the third act, which is always a bad idea. But in this case, it’s more like joining an acid trip already in progress. I’d love to read some reactions from people coming to New Peaks cold, but I can only assume that for them, this story feels even more disjointed than it does for us. If nothing else, as Lizzie said above, the show currently lacks a protagonist viewers can comprehend or care about. If you aren’t already emotionally invested in Cooper’s recovery, watching him stumble around, parroting whatever he heard last, can’t be fun. But is the unpredictability compelling to new viewers? I imagine that depends on how patient they are, and whether they’re Lynch fans in general.

 Photo by Suzanne Tenner / Showtime

Are we going to keep watching?

Tasha: There is absolutely no question about this. I’m in it for the long haul. If we got four episodes in a row that were just test patterns and the sound of fingernails on chalk boards, I’d fast-forward through them — and then come back next week to see whether we’d moved on. I have to find out what Lynch has in mind for this world.

Lizzie: Agreed. I’m only two episodes in, and if it took 25 years to get this made, I don’t think I can give up so easily.

Bryan: Same. I may not know where this thing is going at all, but I have zero doubt that it is going somewhere. And I intend to be there when it arrives.

But please, let’s not talk about episodes full of test patterns. That could actually happen.

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