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May 24, 2017

It Is Happening Again. But What Is It?

Kyle McLachlan and Sheryl Lee (Showtime Networks)

Twin Peaks: The Return, Episodes 1 and 2

By Doug Strassler

Well, it's back. Twenty-seven years and several dozen lines of backward dialogue after launching on ABC and showing television viewers how cinematic mystery serial storytelling can be done, David Lynch has revisited Twin Peaks with the debut of Twin Peaks: The Return, on Showtime. The first two episodes, whose titles typically give nothing away.

And for that matter, the same could be said for the plot of either of these first two episodes.

Which doesn't make them particularly frustrating. Lynch's milieu has always been indirect and only sometimes rewarding, so I didn't expect these episodes, written by Lynch and show co-creator Mark Frost, to catch us up on the goings-on of the Pacific Northwest town's residents. And in fact, the experimental filmmaker has expanded beyond the small town full of its own dark, hidden secrets.

So we were introduced to scenes set in New York City (with a glossy bird's-eye shot courtesy of Peter Deming), where a young man played by Ben Rosenfield (perhaps a poor student looking for some easy money? I couldn't tell) had to guard an enigmatic glass box until some undescribed phenomenon occurred with it. At first I thought perhaps the girl who flirted with him and gained entry into the room with the box, Tracy (Madeline Zima, herself a '90s throwback thanks to her appearances in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle), might have had ulterior motives. But as the two of them seemed to meet a grisly end while getting it on, I quickly remembered that in Lynch's universe, one's first instinct is rarely the right one.

A lot of action also took place in South Dakota, where a new character, a high school principal named Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard) has been arrested for a murder for which he may be framed by his adulterous wife, or which he may have actually committed, or which he may have committed in a Leland Palmer-like state of possession by an other-worldly demon. Does Bob have friends out there? And is that spectral spirit we saw glistening away a few cells down from Bill one of them?

Also in South Dakota, we saw Kyle McLachlan 2.0, a leathery, long-haired murderer who just may be a physical manifestation of Bob himself, while Dale Cooper remains sequestered in limbo since we last saw him (more on that in a second). A second-episode sequence in which Bad Kyle slowly murdered a co-conspirator was the series' most earthbound, and personally, disappointing scene. It was the stuff of a snuff film, not Twin Peaks. Usually the deaths that occur do so in a way that speaks to metaphor – the show was always violent, but in a hauntingly heavy way (think of Angelo Badalamenti's musical score) that belied a mordantly matter-of-fact sense of humor. This is life, the show often said amid its deaths and betrayals. This scene said nothing. And the episode's overall misogyny reeked of stale storytelling from a bygone era.

Mostly, though, we also were treated to scenes in the otherworldly Black Lodge; where McLachlan's Cooper reemerged in the form in which we are used to seeing him (Kyle, you've barely aged a day!). Sheryl Lee's late Laura Palmer was back too, although seemingly as a red herring here and nothing more. I wonder if we will even see her again? We learn that no one has seen Cooper since the original series' final moments, and that he is trapped in the Black Lodge, though he makes an attempt to escape, busting through the show's linear timeline as he tries to get through the glass box in New York. Leland Palmer himself also resurfaced momentarily.

We saw other familiar faces back home as well: Richard Beymer's Ben Horne and his stoner brother, Jerry (David Patrick Kelly); Deputy Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz)and the secretary Lucy (Kimmy Robertson); poor, poor Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie, who plays damaged humans better than anyone); Michael Horse's Deputy Hawk. We see survivors of one of Season Two's sillier storylines, James Hurley (James Marshall) and Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick) at the Big Bang Bar, seemingly stuck in their 1950s-inflicted reverie while the Chromatics sing to the bar at large. ("James is still cool," Shelly coos to her friends. "He was just in a motorcycle accident." Which caused my friend to wonder if they were using that as an excuse for Marshall's infamously subpar acting skills.) We even see Ashley Judd in a new role.

And we also get the (teardrop!) late Catherine Coulson as Margaret, aka the Log Lady. Coulson filmed these scenes shortly before her 2015 death from cancer, and her appearance shows visible signs of her sad struggle. Was her phone call to Hawk, ostensibly to help find the missing Cooper, also a goodbye to both character and actress?

Also, still no word on whether Audrey, Ben's daughter who flirted equally with danger and men, survived the bank explosion from the end of the second season. But we do know now that there are two Sheriff Trumans in town, for what that's worth.

Do I have any idea what most of what I saw means, or where it will lead? I do not. Does it matter that some of these sequences were overlong. It does not. As good as plenty of television is, the careful telegraphing involved often means I know where it is going. With Twin Peaks: The Return, Lynch is back in the driver's seat, with a destination known only to him. And it's thrilling to just be a passenger, ready to sit back and enjoy the ride.

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