David Lynch appeared to take his considerable toybox and go home after the brave foray into no budget digital filmmaking and self distribution—please don’t forget that he attempted this with Inland Empire long before every Tom Dick and Harry grabbed a camera at Best Buy and broadcast themselves around the globe—resulted in mixed to poor critical reception and little by way of box office. He had his painting, his music, his American Spirits and his own brand of damn fine coffee, which is to say most fans increasingly had little to no hope he’d get busy lensing his own unique brand of fiction again. Flash forward twelve years, or for the die hards, twenty five, and a minor miracle has started to roll out before our eyes: 18 new hours of Mark Frost co-written, David Lynch directed Twin Peaks. The beyond influential show returned in May, flush in the middle of television’s so called Golden Age, a time when expectations for cinematic sweep on the small screen have never been higher. We’re six episodes in and it’s time for a reckoning: Is Twin Peaks as good as it was when it unknowingly launched so many serialized dramas? The answer to this question rests entirely on how big a fan you are of the mind and sensibility that dreamed the whole thing up.
Which is to say, Lynch managed to convince (although he almost didn’t; he famously quit the revival over a budget dispute, but the cast and fans came together online to make sure the production would continue) Showtime to fund 18 new hours of his own uncompromising, post 2000 id to sneak into our homes under a well known brand. Twin Peaks: The Return is both familiar and alien, probably close to impenetrable if you’re not steeped in the original show and its prequel, and a delight for those of us who appreciate a surprise and a challenge. Familiar faces show up with regularity, but the most familiar, that of Kyle McLachlan’s Special Agent Dale Cooper, is split into multiple roles in keeping with where he was left back in 1990 (trapped in the mystical Black Lodge, with an evil clone of himself let loose upon the world). Over the first few episodes we jump around to places as far flung as Las Vegas, New York and South Dakota, meeting new characters and finding new mysteries that, on first blush, have nothing to do with the small town in the Pacific Northwest that harbors so many secrets. Lynch cracks that toybox open and draws from everything he’s ever made, one minute staging an interdimensional breakout of our hero that feels like a mashup of Eraserhead and Inland Empire; the next, he’s channeling Blue Velvet’s horrific Frank Booth by way of Frank Silva’s Killer Bob—in the body of Kyle MacLachlan yet again. And make no mistake, this is MacLachlan’s show. He’s been given so many new notes to hit that it puts the viewer in a near-constant state of disconcertion—just the way Lynch intends, no doubt. He’s taken a career-defining role and blown it open in all sorts of new directions, so far turning it into an even better crowning achievement than the magnificent original character was.
Catching references to earlier episodes, the film, and other Lynch works is a good piece of the fun, but the proceedings are once again grounded by Mark Frost, a seasoned television writer who maintains the ability to bring his partner in crime just close enough to terra firma that we’re clearly seeing a large and well-conceived interlocking mystery slowly spreading out. We’ve had multiple murders, with a larger variety of law enforcement entities investigating them, and an increasingly large set of bad guys as well—some clearly not of this earth. Each week brings a new twist, an old friend, and quite likely a road that will lead many characters back to Twin Peaks itself. In addition to the mystery, though, there’s perhaps more humor than we’ve ever seen, dashes of the soapy drama that sucked in average viewers oh those many moons ago, and several striking moments of sentimentality that underline Lynch’s very idiosyncratic but near complete mastery of tone. This new beast can switch between comedy, horror, steamy sex and indescribable surreality, all in the space of a scene or two. In short, David Lynch is back in action, doing what he does best, and not caring one iota if you like it or not. So far it’s a bravura reimagining and expansion of what fans knew and loved, or perhaps hated, about the original. It’s clear that Lynch has keenly watched his progeny develop must-see serialized dramas like Breaking Bad and Mad Men (both of which are visually referenced throughout), mashed up the best instincts behind those shows with his extremely unique perspective and obsessions, and we the audience are all the better for it.