Twin Peaks: The Return (DVD) [2017]

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Undoubtedly one of the television highlights of 2017, the return of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks has also been one of the most divisive. It’s appeared on both ‘best of’ and ‘worst of’ lists of the year in roughly equal measure, and it’s easy to see why.

Attempts to recap this mini-series in any detail is doomed to failure; there are single scenes that would defy any worthwhile coherent synopsis in the space of one post, so I’ll keep things simple: the new series (written by Lynch with original collaborator Mark Frost) starts off at pretty much exactly the same point that the original run left off in 1991. FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) remains trapped in the supernatural realm known as the Black Lodge with its impressive red drapes and white-and-black zigzag flooring, while his evil doppelgänger is loose in the real world. Cooper does eventually manage to escape, but his mind is shattered in the process. He finds himself living a life as a downtrodden insurance agent in Las Vegas married to Janey-E (Naomi Watts).

The new series offers up explanations for many things left unresolved at the end of the original 29-episode run and the 1992 prequel movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me which followed. There’s even an origins story of sorts for the Black Lodge and the iconic evil BOB (the late Frank Silva). We also meet up again with Cooper’s old FBI colleagues, including Lynch himself as the hard-of-hearing Director Gordon Cole, who are investigating a grisly murder in Buckhorn, South Dakota. And of course there is a return to the north-western lumber town of Twin Peaks itself to check in on how the residents have fared in the 25 years since we saw them last. There is plenty else going on as well, including a bizarre experiment in a New York loft. On top of this, each episode also features a lengthy musical performance that often runs under the end credits. Ostensibly taking place at the local Twin Peaks bar called the Roadhouse, we also get to eavesdrop on a number of conversations among the assorted patrons, many of which ultimately prove entirely irrelevant to the main narrative. The diverse music, however, is genuinely and consistently excellent.

[If you do want a more detailed synopsis of the plot, then I can commend Frank Collin’s excellent episode-by-episode reviews of Twin Peaks: The Return which have been posted at FrameRated.co.uk. Not only did they point out all sorts of things that initially went right over my head at the time, they also reassured me that I was not alone during the many times I was hopelessly lost and confused!]

All in all, that’s Lynch for you: Twin Peaks is stuffed full of characters, dialogue and plots that go absolutely no where, come to a sudden end or which are forgotten about altogether without a hint of apology. MacLachlan is the only actor to appear in every episode (and even then, one instalment sees his entire contribution limited to failing to catch a baseball.) Most of the surviving cast from Twin Peaks is reunited – even David Duchovney briefly appears in his role as FBI Chief of Staff Denise Bryson – with the notable exceptions of Michael Ontkean as Sheriff Harry Truman (he’s replaced rather excellently by Robert Forster as his brother Frank), Michael J Anderson (as The Man From Another Place, replaced by a CGI tree – don’t ask) and Lara Flynn Boyle as Donna, former best friend of the late Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). Several actors who had passed away in the interim – including Silva and Jack Nance – are represented by archive footage, with the late Don S Davis’ Major Garland Briggs having a surprisingly pivotal role in the proceedings. They’re given ‘in memory of’ citations in a succession of rather melancholy end credits.

David Bowie is another of the fallen. He was asked to reprise his role of FBI agent Phillip Jeffries from the prequel, but was already too ill to participate. He’s represented instead by archive footage from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and a bizarre new physical manifestation voiced by Nathan Frizzell.

Perhaps even more tragically, there are several performers who died after filming their appearances in Twin Peaks. They include the wonderful and much-missed Miguel Ferrer who reprises his role as FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield, and Harry Dean Stanton as trailer park manager Carl Rodd. A clearly frail Warren Frost makes a one-scene cameo over Skype as Dr Will Hayward. But perhaps the one that will hit hardest for Twin Peaks fans is Catherine E Coulson, who played the inimitable role of the Log Lady: she was suffering from terminal cancer when she filmed her scenes for the revival, and died four days later; the show gives her character a deserved, emotional farewell.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. There’s plenty of new blood on board, with a large number of big name stars keen to work for Lynch including Jim Belushi, Robert Knepper, Tim Roth, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Matthew Lillard, Monica Bellucci, Richard Chamberlain, Don Murray, Ernie Hudson, Ashley Judd, Alicia Witt, Michael Cera, Balthazar Getty and Amanda Seyfried. Long time Lynch collaborator Laura Dern (currently on the big screen in Star Wars: The Last Jedi) has a particularly significant role, especially as far as long-time Twin Peaks fans will be concerned.

On the other hand, casual mainstream viewers are likely to be angered, irritated and exasperated in equal measure by the baffling non sequiturs and the dead-end threads. The late arrival of Freddie Sykes (Jake Wardle) and his mighty plastic glove of strength might just be the final straw for many. However, towards the end the pace of the storytelling suddenly picks up and we get an extraordinary amount of infodumping going on. To his credit, Lynch takes on much of this burden in his capacity as a cast member, as if acknowledging that it’s his responsibility to explain things to the audience after leading them on for hours and hours. Some of it feels distinctly thrown in at the last minute to resolve leftover elements of the first series and the prequel, but for the long term viewers there’s a lot of satisfaction in the deferred pay-off. However just when you think Lynch is getting soft on us and neatly tying off all the loose ends, he intentionally drives the whole thing off the rails again at the end.

Lynch fans probably wouldn’t be happy otherwise, or have it any other way. If you have any awareness of the director’s back catalogue, you’ll probably already know how you’ll react to all this and whether it’s for you; and if you don’t have any knowledge of Lynch’s work then this almost certainly isn’t the place for you to start. To get anything out of this revival, you absolutely have to have a working knowledge of the original Twin Peaks series. In addition I would definitely recommend a fresh viewing of at least the final episode (“How’s Annie? How’s Annie?”) and the prequel film before even cracking open the boxset.

In many ways this is a career retrospective of Lynch’s work, ranging far and wide outside the expected Twin Peaks environment. There are elements of Blue Velvet, Dune, Lost Highway, Wild at Heart,, Inland Empire, Mulholland Drive and even a sunny reference to The Straight Story. Most of episode eight harks back in look and sound to Lynch’s first feature, 1977’s surreal Eraserhead. I didn’t understand that, either.

To be honest, I can’t even say I’m a die hard Lynchian. I admired Blue Velvet and to this day remain one of the few fans of his 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. I adored the first season of Twin Peaks and struggled through its difficult second season before it magnificently regained its footing – ironically, just in time for the network to cancel it. The Twin Peaks prequel film felt painfully confused and self-indulgent at the time, and indeed one of the big successes of the mini-series is in entirely redeeming Fire Walk With Me and making it indispensable. However I hated pretty much everything about Mulholland Drive., which again seeps into Twin Peaks not least due to the presence of its star Naomi Watts in a major role.

When it came to theTwin Peaks revival I wasn’t at all sure how I felt about it – or even if I wanted to watch it. I finally decided I would, in what for me was a ‘binge watch’ over the Christmas period. And by binge, I should explain that this consisted of viewing a single one of the 18 55-minute episodes per night over a period of three weeks – that’s as fast and furious as I ever get with boxsets. As it turns out, this was probably the best rate of viewing for this sort of material, as I can imagine that a week’s wait between episodes would have been unbearably infuriating. As it is, one episode a night allowed the events of one instalment to sink in while allowing me to be be ready in time for the next without forgetting a whole lot of important threads in the process. That’s especially important here where some storylines and characters were instigated, disappeared for several weeks, and then popped up again without explanation after what would have been a gap of a month or more in its original broadcast schedule.

As a result, while there were certainly parts of Twin Peaks: The Return that normally would have tested my patience beyond breaking point, I felt completely happy with the pace even during its wildest diversions. Yes, some parts did start to annoy me a little but never to the point where I thought “That’s it, I’ve had enough!” Instead it always felt intriguing, compelling and beguiling; even when I had no idea what was going on, the sense of momentum kept me wanting to know more and what was going to happen next. And while it never delivers what you’re expecting, I can’t say I was ever disappointed when we arrived at the destination. It’s a truly unique journey along the way, and I was a captive passenger for the entire ride even at its most challenging.

When it came to the end, I was actually rather bereft at the thought of knowing that there was nothing else quite like Twin Peaks in existence to move onto as my next boxset ‘binge’ view. Maybe I’ll just have to start from the beginning all over again.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Twin Peaks: The Return is available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK. The Blu-ray is a limited collectors edition and is considerably more expensive than the standard definition version, so I went for the DVD. It lacks a number of the Blu-ray’s extras, but still has plenty of special features by any normal measure. While obviously not providing the pin-sharp prevision of the HD, the picture quality is excellent and Lynch’s expressionistic sound design is captured perfectly.

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