Twin Peaks, if we are to believe the consensus, started out well and then went seriously off the rails midway through the second season, when the identity of Laura Palmer’s murderer was revealed. To accept that consensus, we have to accept the idea that Twin Peaks was essentially an extended, slightly weird version of Murder, She Wrote or such whodunnit TV shows, where the entire story was simply building to the revelation of the killer. Given the involvement of David Lynch and the trips into the dark and supernatural that the show hinted at from the first episode, this seems a naive interpretation. Certainly, the show meandered into odd areas involving supporting characters as the lengthy second season continued with Lynch taking a hands-off approach, but in truth it was never less than fascinating, and even throughout that second season, it featured some astonishing moments, leading inevitably to the stunning final episode, which inevitably left viewers hanging after an hour of bad trip imagery in the Black Lodge. The follow-up film, Fire Walk With Me, was the prequel that the mainstream fans didn’t want – a dark, unsettling and ultimately shattering masterpiece that was booed in Cannes (always a good sign) and played to empty cinemas worldwide. After that, Twin Peaks seemed dead until the welcome announcement of this revival – just in time for Laura Palmer’s claim that “I’ll see you again in 25 years” early in the first season.
This new season came with the sort of expectation that the social media age brings – hints, teases and previews building for months – no, years – until the broadcast of the first two episodes (combined as one single, feature-length show) and the release of the next two episodes for hungry fans. In a world where we can gobble up whole seasons immediately on Netflix or Amazon, this is still a teasing release – making us still wait weeks until we see episode 5 and then having to put up with an old-school week-by-week broadcast of the full 18-episode season.
And these first four episodes are pretty remarkable stuff – picking up as the show should, with Special Agent Dale Cooper still trapped in the Black Lodge while his doppelganger, controlled by killer Bob, runs rampant as a crime lord in the real world. The first four episodes are very much dominated by Cooper and his promised release from The Black Lodge, sometimes returning to the town of Twin Peaks but also spreading the story across New York, South Dakota and Las Vegas, allowing some familiar characters to make appearances (Catherine Coulson’s brief moments as the Log Lady are hauntingly fragile) but defiantly not rushing things. For all we know, Cooper’s return to reality might be the full thrust of the season, and although a couple of reappearances from old cast members feel a touch crowbarred in, it’s good to see Lynch and Mark Frost mostly not simply shoving the old cast into the first episodes without purpose. And even those crowbarred moments might turn out to be more significant than they seem here.
If you are someone who thought Twin Peaks lost its way as it became more fantastical and creepy, then this season will not be for you. This is, essentially, horror television, and is so far stripped of the soap opera elements of the original series – though the quirky humour remains, thankfully. And as the story goes on, it seems to be making more references to the film than the original show, which is both interesting and welcome.
Admirably, this is a show with no sense of compromise – it does nothing to satisfy the casual viewer and Lynch is on top form as a writer and director – not to mention sound designer – creating a world that is at once familiar to long-time viewers and yet unsettlingly weird. Watching these first four episodes, it’s hard to tell where this is going, and that’s very admirable.
I retain the right to change my mind should this season somehow fall apart as it progresses, but for now, my immediate reaction to Twin Peaks is one of relief and joy – and an immediate awareness that although TV has been heavily influenced by the style, storytelling and quirkiness of the show over the last quarter-century, nothing has quite matched what Lynch and Frost originally created. Twin Peaks is still a show alone, and still setting the standard for everyone else.