I was a huge fan of the original Twin Peaks run — which I admit I have not seen since it originally aired — right up until Agent Cooper solved Laura Palmer’s murder. Everything subsequent to that — including that heinous movie prequel, Fire Walk with Me — was crap. But that first season was gold, and probably where I first developed my obsession with yarn walls. Network television in the 1990s was an almost paradoxically perfect venue for David Lynch. Forced to abide by the conventions of broadcast television, Twin Peaks felt like a subversion of the traditional detective series with a lot of Lynchian quirks that gave it a sense of off-kilter fun.
Showtime’s Twin Peaks reboot flips that dynamic: It’s a lot of Lynchian quirks with a murder mystery hidden somewhere inside (at least, I think there’s a murder mystery). The first two chapters of this 18-part reboot are inscrutable, often tedious, stubbornly inaccessible, and weirdly, wildly compelling. Showtime has given Lynch the freedom to go full Eraserhead and he doesn’t hold back. That’s either good or bad, depending on your tolerance for David Lynch. I loved Blue Velvet and Eraserhead, but 18 hours of this feels like a huge commitment to something this impenetrable, especially something that may never pay off. I could be very wrong, but I don’t think it’s going to become part of the national zeitgeist again; my guess is that, over the course of three months, it will shed viewers along the way until only the most hardcore David Lynch fans remain. I am not yet sure if I fit into that category.
For now, when Twin Peaks is not being a total asshole to the viewer, it’s still a scream if you can tear away the layers. There is a story somewhere buried underneath. It sees Agent Dale Cooper 25 years later, still trapped in the Black Lodge netherworld (I don’t remember much about the second season of Twin Peaks, but the imagery of the Black Lodge netherworld still burns). Agent Cooper’s doppelgänger — who looks like Kyle MacLachlan crossed with a well-fed Iggy Pop — is on a killing spree. In order to get out of the Black Lodge, Cooper has to trade places with his doppelgänger, who is trying to devise a plan to avoid the netherworld, a plan that includes Ray and Daria, only Daria is now dead because doppelgänger Cooper killed her.
Meanwhile, there’s a mysterious box in NYC that a guy is paid to watch, up and until that mysterious box produces a terrifying Lynchian boogeyman that mauls the guy and his girlfriend to death while they’re having sex (that boogeyman may or may not be some form of Agent Cooper). Matthew Lillard also plays a high school principal in South Dakota who brutally murdered a woman in a dream. Or he brutally murdered her, but thinks it’s a dream. Who knows? What we do know is that the Agent Cooper doppelgänger killed the principal’s cheating wife for reasons that remain unclear.
Sheryl Lee, now 50, is also back as Laura Palmer, also 50, and also dead. And yet, she “lives,” only she speaks backwards, like all the other denizens of the Black Lodge netherworld. Her role remains unclear, as does the role of her mother. Watching Laura Palmer’s mother drink and smoke a cigarette while hypnotically watching a nature documentary about panthers mauling a bull may be the most heebies-inducing scene in the first two hours.
Some of the old cast is back, too, and yet more still have yet to be introduced. The Log Lady returns, as do Shelly and James, along with the Bang Bang Bar. Jennifer Jason Leigh is here, too, as the doppelgänger’s partner-companion (“Oh. You’re nice and wet.”) Mike’s left arm has returned as a fleshy orb on top of a tree. Lynch is gotta Lynch. Meanwhile, Ben Horne and his food-and-now-pot obsessed brother Jerry are, so far, the most welcome re-visitors (Ben has a new assistant played by Ashley Judd. Don’t ask, because I couldn’t tell you.)
How Lynch connects Twin Peaks Returns to the original run doesn’t make a lot of sense yet, and it may never. It doesn’t have to. David Lynch doesn’t have to worry about continuity, because Twin Peaks is a combination of Lynch’s dreams and nightmares: A creepy, disturbing, delightful, and nonsensical hellscape. It’s confusing, but almost reassuringly so. It’s what we want from Twin Peaks, I think. But I do wonder if it’s too much? How much patience will we have for this new run? Showtime has already made episodes 3 and 4 available, but after the first two hours, I feel like I need to wait a few more days before I can wade back into the madness. It’s a great show to think about, but to do so, we must first endure watching it.