Sunday, May 28, 2017

REVIEW: 'Twin Peaks' - A Strange Series of Events Finally Frees Cooper in 'The Return: Parts 3 & 4'

Showtime's Twin Peaks - Episode 3.03 "The Return: Parts 3 & 4"

...brings back some memories.

One of my biggest fears heading into the debut of new episodes of Twin Peaks was that the audience would treat it as some big mystery that needs to be solved. Over the past few years, crowdsourcing has frequently figured out mysteries on shows long before they are actually revealed. As such, the big shocking moments of reveal aren't as surprising because the audience figured it out long ago. Twin Peaks does have mystery elements to it. And yet, the need for everything to have a rational explanation is just silly. If that's what the audience is hoping for, they are simply watching this show incorrectly. Instead, Twin Peaks provides the audience with certain feelings, emotions and reactions. It's a show about moments and how they reverberate throughout the cast of characters as well as the audience. Not everything needs to make sense. My only big expectation of these new episodes was that they be so delightful weird and marvelous to watch. They don't need to explain the Black Lodge or the existence of other supernatural forces. All it needs to do is give me powerful sequences to watch that are so strong because of how audacious and weird they are to behold. Yes, some mysteries can have answers. But the experience of the show should be much more than that.

And thus, the opening of "Part 3" really is strong confirmation that David Lynch and company still know how to produce a sequence so strange and alienating but also extremely bold and profound. Nothing about it is easy to understand. The second episode ended with Cooper in static limbo. He's not in the Black Lodge but not in the real world either. He's in a new place altogether. It's essentially a box that is both shrouded by water and space. Inside is a woman with her eyes cut out and accompanied by direction that is jumpily edited together. It's disorienting. It means the audience has to pay close attention to what's going on. There are jumps and cuts that are strange and foreign. It's all building to this woman leading Cooper away from a pounding at the door to a lever on the roof that electrocutes whomever pulls it. Cooper then returns to the box below. It's there where he is given the opportunity to return to the real world. He just has to go through an electrical socket and come out on the other side when his doppelganger vomits. That's the actual story beats of this sequence. But it's so much more than understanding what is happening. It's a visual experience. There isn't a whole lot of dialogue to it. Cooper is still just reacting to the strangeness around him and having to go along with all of it. He sees it all firsthand. He doesn't know what it all means. This is just the latest obstacle he has to go through in order to escape the prison he's been in for the past 25 years. It's ridiculously over-the-top. There is so much vomit with the characters on the other side. But it's so thrilling and intense too. It shows that David Lynch still has it after all of these years. That really isn't surprising. But this is such a bold and provocative sequence so early in the new season.

Plus, this entire sequence reveals that Bob and Cooper's doppelganger somehow created another doppelganger of Cooper to exist in the real world. It doesn't matter how they were able to do so. They just did. He's a simple man living in over-sized clothing in Las Vegas and cheating on his wife with a prostitute. He goes by the name of Dougie Jones. That's the life that Cooper ultimately replaces when he escapes the Black Lodge. When he emerges from the electrical socket, it's clear right away that things haven't gone according to plan. When the doppelganger shows up in the Black Lodge, the One-Armed Man is there to see that they have all been fooled. That just sets up a very engaging premise for the show this season. The premiere established that Cooper could only escape the Black Lodge if his doppelganger and Bob returned to it. And now, the narrative has found a way around that. So now, Cooper finds himself in Las Vegas while Bob is still in South Dakota getting into lots of trouble. It's all just setting up a clash between these two people who share the same face. It will likely lead to one final battle for survival in Twin Peaks. That's just a really engaging storyline this early in the new season.

The more important detail about Cooper emerging from the Black Lodge for the first time in 25 years is that he now has amnesia. He has no idea how to do anything. He has no memory of how to walk or talk. He's simply reacting to the world around him. With that world being Las Vegas, it certainly leads to a lot of memorable moments. It's also a noteworthy sequence because it includes one of the few women of color in a David Lynch production. As a storyteller, he frequently favors white characters. When people of color show up, it's not always in great professions. Jade is a prostitute. And yet, she's a very straight-forward character in a very over-the-top and quirky world. She's simply reacting to everything that the amnesic Cooper is doing. She helps him on this journey. She's mystified but helpful even though she just drives him to a casino instead of a hospital for the help he clearly needs. But that's perfectly fine as well. Again, the show probably doesn't need to explain how Cooper is able to get so many jackpots on the machines in this place. It's just delightful that he does and picks up the mannerisms of the people around him. Kyle MacLachlan can be a very gifted comedic actor. This sequence shows that remarkably well and leads to the strongest hour of the revival so far.

However, it's a little curious why Showtime decided to air these two episodes together. It makes sense that the network did two episodes for the premiere night. It wanted to give the audience as much of this story upfront to really satisfy the viewer who hasn't seen this universe in over two decades. Releasing the next two episodes online ahead of time seemed smart as well because it would only add to the buzz over the new season. Plus, with this being Memorial Day weekend, it's a way to workaround what will likely be a low viewing couple of days. And yet, "Part 3" exemplifies everything that works and is so special about this show. Meanwhile, "Part 4" drags more than any of the previous episodes. It kinda feels like streaming drift. It's the show expanding its story for as long as possible. The network only ordered 9 or 10 episodes when the revival was first announced. Then, Lynch decided how many hours there would actually be once he was in the editing hour. The final total will be 18 episodes. That's a long run - especially for a cable show where the orders have gotten shorter and shorter. It means more Twin Peaks for the viewers who've been craving more of this story. But this hour didn't quite work. It was still enjoyable. It has more humor than the preceding three hours. Lynch's comedic sensibilities work for me as well. It just felt like everything was going on for a couple minutes too long.

Again, Cooper with amnesia is a very amusing story that makes good use out of MacLachlan's physical acting skills. Plus, Naomi Watts and Pierce Gagnon are always welcome additions to whatever projects there are in. But the domestic story of this hour just goes on and on and on. All of the stuff in the casino is still strong especially as the owner (played by Brett Gelman) is terrified by having to pay out all of this money to Cooper. But as soon as Cooper steps into the actual life of Dougie Jones, things start getting a little too boring and repetitive. It's strange to see this character in a domestic life in the suburbs. He has a put-upon wife who is frustrated by his erratic behavior. He has two goons looking for him and probably want to kill him for not giving them the money they want. Plus, he's an absentee father. That's basically all there is to this story. Yes, it's hilarious to watch as Cooper rediscovers going to go the bathroom. But the scenes in the limo and the next morning eating pancakes could have been trimmed down considerably. Also, I probably wasn't the only one hoping that Cooper drinking coffee again would be the thing to wake him up from his amnesia, right?

And yet, it's also still so terrifying to see MacLachlan as the bad version of Cooper as well. The FBI has tracked him down because he was arrested after he crashed his car. It's nice to see Lynch as FBI Director Gordon Cole again with his hearing problems and loud voice. Meanwhile, it's bittersweet to see Miguel Ferrer as Albert knowing that he died earlier this year. They are both very capable agents who head out to South Dakota to get to the bottom of what's going on with Cooper. Albert has always been a man of science and existed in the practical world he can see. So, he may not have the mind necessary to comprehend evil doppelgangers who are running around killing people. But it's up to him and Gordon to put the pieces together. They can sense that something is off with Cooper when they see him again. It's a strange and very perplexing scene. The voice modification in MacLachlan's performance is very alarming. He's saying the right things. He's giving the FBI a well planned story of working undercover with Philip Jeffries (played by David Bowie in Fire Walk With Me). In truth, he's running around killing and making sure he can stay in this world for as long as possible. Albert and Gordon know that something more nefarious is going on. But will they connect the pieces together in time? It's unclear.

And finally, the fourth episode has a number of big character debuts and returns. The simplest of which is the return of Bobby Briggs, a teenage troublemaker on the original show who is now somehow a police officer. In the original series, the various supporting characters largely stuck to their corners of this very specific world. The Laura Palmer mystery was what connected them together. But now, this reveal of Bobby's profession moves him into a different part of this story. That may be effective or it may not. It's definitely startling to see his reaction to the reopening of the Laura Palmer case box. It's a big emotional scene followed immediately by the most comedic one of the season so far. It features Michael Cera as Lucy and Andy's now adult son. In the premiere, it was established Wally shares a birthday with Marlon Brando. And now, he shows up doing a Marlon Brando impression but it being completely serious. The show is aware of all of this and that's where the humor comes from. Yes, the scene probably goes on for too long. But it's just fantastic to watch as Wally talks in this very specific and odd way. It's endearing to his parents but puzzling to the new Sheriff Truman (brother to the old Sheriff Truman). And finally, David Duchovny returns as Denise Bryson. She was a character ahead of her time on the old show. Her identity wasn't a big deal. But now, it somehow feels more important to the essence of her one scene. It's all about her being a woman and questioning Gordon's motives for bringing a young female agent with him to South Dakota. It doesn't really work and I hope it isn't Denise's only scene in this season.

"Part 3": A
"Part 4": B

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Return: Parts 3 & 4" was written by David Lynch & Mark Forst and directed by David Lynch.
  • This season has brought back actors from the original show in completely new parts for small cameos. Walter Olkewicz played a bartender at The Bang-Bang Bar while Phoebe Augustine is the woman in red at the end of the opening sequence of "Part 3." And yet, the season hasn't recast any of the old characters with new actors. At least not yet at least.
  • As such the absence of Michael Ontkean as Sheriff Truman had to be addressed sooner or later. He was a key part of the original show but won't be in the revival. Robert Forster is now essentially playing the same part. He has the same name but is actually the brother of Sheriff Truman, who is actually in declining health.
  • It's interesting to see how technology has changed the police precinct in Twin Peaks. Andy and Lucy are still operating the same as always. It's funny that Lucy can't wrap her head around cell phones. But the increasing reliance on technology has seemingly destroyed the sense of quirk and understanding of the community as well with the new officers.
  • What is going on with Dr. Jacoby and those shovels? He only makes a brief appearance here yet again. He's seen spray painting them gold. He even has a system to make the process easier on him. But what's the point? Hopefully, all will be revealed soon. 
  • Albert tells Gordon that they need to reach out to the one woman who will know if this is really Agent Cooper. He says he knows where she drinks. Then, the action cuts to The Bang-Bang Bar. And yet, it's not to reveal Audrey or some other Twin Peaks character for the first time and how she'll be important in the story. It's just another episode-ending musical moment to set the final credits to. It's just a little misleading. Also, is Albert talking about a Twin Peaks regular? Or does this mean we'll finally put a face to Diane?
  • "Part 3" is dedicated to Don S. Davis who plays General Briggs and Miguel Ferrer who plays Albert. Archival footage allows Davis to reappear briefly in the sequence at the top of the third episode. Meanwhile, it seems like Albert is going to be a major part of this season. Both characters seem connected because they both mention the phrase "blue rose."
  • The first three episodes are all dedicated to cast members who have passed away over the years. It's a nice touch at the end of each episode that shows a great respect for the actors in this massive project. And yet, it's strange that the fourth episode has no such designation.