Thursday, May 25, 2017

REVIEW: 'Twin Peaks' - The Mystery Continues in Twin Peaks and Elsewhere in 'The Return, Parts 1 & 2'

Showtime's Twin Peaks - Episode 1.01 "The Return, Parts 1 & 2"

The stars turn and a time presents itself.

Twin Peaks was a classic show that completely changed the television medium. It's influences are felt in so many shows currently on the air. It was the show that allowed weird stories and auteur-driven storytelling into the medium. Watching the series now for the first tine, it may not feel that important or special. But it is because it was the first show that did these things and proved that it could be a hit for mass audiences. It was inherently David Lynch - for both good and bad. It's legacy may be tainted by the awfulness of most of the second season due to the pressure from ABC. But the "Who killed Laura Palmer?" mystery was so fantastic and revolutionary to watch. Plus, it could function as so many different shows at once. It was a police procedural, a small town USA soap opera, a character study and an over-the-top supernatural thriller. It subverted all of these genres and blended them together in a way that was really unique. Even when it wasn't functioning at the top of its game, it was still producing stories that were so strange and peculiar that you simply had to see in order to believe.

Of course, the original series ended on a big cliffhanger. For decades, that's all there was to this show. The audience got resolution on the Laura Palmer mystery but nothing satisfying regarding the Black Lodge and what happened to Special Agent Dale Cooper there. And now, Showtime has brought the show back as a limited series to provide that closure. How much of what happened in the end will be important in the new episodes? These questions are important. What happened to Annie? Who survived the bank explosion? Did James ever return to Twin Peaks and Donna? Is Ben Horne really Donna's father? Is Killer Bob now residing inside Cooper? Some of these cliffhangers were probably going to be more important than others. But how will the passing of time change things? Twin Peaks was a unique show in 1990. In 2017, it probably won't be the weirdest thing to air on TV. How does Twin Peaks compare to FX's Legion, HBO's The Leftovers or Starz's American Gods? It could be very problematic if the show tries to top itself. So, this revival could all go horribly awry. No story details were released ahead of time. So, it's all just building the anticipation for tonight's premiere.

Plus, the recent trend of reviving old shows has been very problematic for the television industry. So many networks are now relying on familiar programming in order to build hits and buzz. Things have gotten so fragmented and competitive that they believe they need these old shows back because they were hits before. And yet, the passage of time has really been cruel. Most shows are a part of specific point in time. They exist in it and have a specific shelf life. Not everything can easily make the transition to today's world. Picking up on a show again after 10 or 20 years may actually just be terrible. The stories are no longer what they used to be. The legacy of the show would then be ruined as a result. However, the networks keep ordering more revivals. They all come with that risk. Twin Peaks carries that as well. Does David Lynch still have it in him even though his last big film was released eleven years ago? Does he have the ability to helm all 18 hours of this limited series? Will we get the show at its best? Or will we be stuck in Season 2 madness and question why we wanted the series to return at all?

And now, we finally have some answers. Twin Peaks returned on Sunday night. It was just as strange and alienating as it has always been. The show was always polarizing. I loved it watching it for the first time ahead of this limited series revival. But it's a very specific tone that has to appeal to the audience. These new episodes may be even more perplexing and disorienting to the audience. Lynch and Mark Frost are currently asking a lot of the audience in these opening episodes. The pacing is slow and deliberate. There really is no rhythm to the way scenes cut from one place to the next. It's all much more chaotic. And yet, it's still a compelling story. It's strange and weird but still entertaining. It works because of the consistency and mastery of the tone. Even though the action doesn't take place in Twin Peaks a whole lot or focus on the many memorable characters who live there, it still feels like Twin Peaks. Sure, the scope may be too big. These episodes jump back-and-forth from a number of locations - including the Black Lodge, Twin Peaks, New York City, Las Vegas and Buckhorn, South Dakota. It almost plays as Lynch and Frost wondering how much the audience will put up with before they really explain what's going on. It's also a test for much the viewer remembers what happened on the original show. It's probably not a good entry point for anyone completely new to the franchise. And thus, that makes it a very specific thing for Lynch to do.

The most important character of course is Special Agent Dale Cooper. The revival reveals that Killer Bob and Cooper's doppelganger did escape from the Black Lodge and have been living in the real world for the past 25 years. Meanwhile, the real Cooper is still trapped there occasionally having weird and cryptic conversations with people instructing him on what to do. The Black Lodge environment is still so creepy and perplexing. The backwards speaking detail is still so alarming - as is the reverse blinking. Meanwhile, Laura Palmer still has the ability to be truly terrifying with a scream and a shake of the camera. Cooper is still largely just reacting to all of this. It's weird and he only asks a small amount of questions. The urgency to escape is higher than it has been for awhile. The Black Lodge is calling for Bob to return. Only then will Cooper be able to escape. His doppelganger needs to take his place. And that gives the show the foundation of its story. Bob has been out in the real world having relaxed into his killer ways. When he was in control of Leland, Bob only came out in brief moments of excitement that truly devastated the Palmer family. But now, he's in control of Cooper all the time and has made a comfortable life for himself. He's plotting and scheming to stay in this world. But he's also just as mischievous and destructive as before. Kyle MacLachlan was always the best actor on this show because he worked in almost all of the stories and with most of the characters. And now, his role has only increased as the Cooper in the Black Lodge and the Cooper in South Dakota are such vastly different people right now.

Someone may be trying to help Cooper escape the Black Lodge though. Hawk has picked up the investigation in Twin Peaks once more. He's guided only by clues from Margaret and her log. He returns to the forest and sees the Black Lodge through the trees again. That's significant. But the more mysterious element comes from what's going on in New York City. Those sequences are pretty powerful to watch because of how strange and disorienting they are. A man named Sam is paid to spend the night staring at a glass box that may one day have something appear in it. He's a simple guy flirting with a beautiful woman named Tracey. It's only when they start hooking up that the box darkens and a mysterious figure is seen. Sam didn't know if there was anything to this box. He just did what he was told because he needed to pay his bills. He was looking into the abyss not knowing if anything would ever appear. When something did, it quickly attacked both him and Tracey. It's a violent moment. One that takes on a whole new meaning when it's revealed to be Cooper inside that box. How all of this came to be will be a core mystery of the season as well. Cooper is trying to escape the Black Lodge. But everything just seems to be getting more and more complicated and confusing. He's now in a static limbo. Conversations with familiar faces are gone and he's stuck in a world that's even more foreign and destructive. And of course, he's a part of that destruction as well.

And finally, there does seem to be a new Laura Palmer murder mystery going on in South Dakota. The body of a school librarian is found. The school principal, William Hastings, is arrested for the crime because his fingerprints were discovered all over her apartment. And yet, there is more going on as well. Bob also happens to be in South Dakota and is intimately interested in this case. Bill is freaking out in prison as his world is spiraling. It's crashing down on him. He denies having killed this woman. And yet, he had a dream of her apartment and in this show dreams are always much more than they seem. Matthew Lillard does a phenomenal job in playing the desperation and fear of this man in this new, chaotic world. He doesn't even know that his wife is killed just after she visits him in jail. Bob shows up at their house. Phyllis even knows who he is. And he kills her with the gun of her secret lover, George, who is also the family attorney. It's all so complicated and doesn't make much sense. It's the chaos that follows Bob around everywhere he goes. He has followers now who help him with his fun. And yet, they are afraid of him too. All it takes is the whiff of betrayal for him to kill them with no remorse whatsoever. And he just has to walk to the next room over to greet his next acolyte. So, there is definitely more going on in this case than there appears on the surface. Bill may be innocent but things are going to get very bad for him very quickly this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Return, Parts 1 & 2" was written by David Lynch & Mark Frost and directed by David Lynch.
  • There is a certain amount of mugging towards the camera with the various introductions of all the characters from the original show. It's the show giving the audience these moments that have little to do with the main plot but show that these characters are still around doing the same things they've always been doing. There's a certain amount of comfort in that. Even though it's a little unnecessary too.
  • So, Dr. Jacoby is living in the woods and has a growing shovel collection, Ben Horne is still managing The Great Northern and Jerry Horne has found new success with a legal marijuana business. Those details are fun and amusing. But are very disconnected from the rest of the story too.
  • Lucy and Andy's son is named Wally and he shares a birthday with Marlon Brando. That's such a peculiar detail to introduce that character with. And yet, I can't wait to actually meet him. He's a young adult now. Will he be anything like his parents? Or will he be completely different?
  • The visual of "the evolution of the arm" is so fascinating to look at. It's a tree with a thing at the center that is talking to Cooper. It's a living creature that wants to help him on this journey while sensing that something wrong is happening elsewhere. But it's really just a perfect definition for how weird and out-there this show is capable of being.
  • Any guesses as to who the mysterious billionaire who funds the glass box project really is? It has to be someone with an intimate knowledge of the Black Lodge because the box seems connected to that. Is the purpose to help Cooper escape? Or is it just some completely unrelated scientific experiment that is going to have new relevance shortly?
  • It's odd that the second episode ends with a glimpse at The Bang-Bang Bar and what Shelly and James' lives are like right now. It's odd because Agent Cooper appearing in the glass box and then falling into static limbo seems like the perfect episode-ending sequence. But it's not. Instead, it ends on a checkin with two other characters who seemingly have nothing to do with the more supernatural elements of the story.
  • The story only cuts away to Las Vegas once. It shows a man in a high-powered job telling an underling to officially hire a new girl. But this man seems indebted to someone powerful and corrupt too. Is this another extension of Bob's life in the real world? Or is it something new altogether that will become important down the line?
  • Sheriff Truman is mentioned but not seen. The bond between Agent Cooper and Sheriff Truman really was the heart of the original show. So, it should be interesting to see how the revival addresses that considering Michael Ontkean has retired from acting. Will he just be frequently mentioned and not seen? That seems like a potentially major mistake.
  • This premiere is dedicated to Catherine Coulson who plays Margaret the log lady and Frank Silva who played Killer Bob. Coulson died early in the production of the new season from cancer. She was still able to film a few scenes for the beginning. It's nice to see her here delivering important messages to Hawk about Agent Cooper. Meanwhile, Silva became one of the most iconic villains because of this show but sadly died a few years after the original series ended.