The long-awaited revival of the influential cult classic was worth the 25-year wait.
The long-awaited return of Twin Peaks begins, appropriately enough, with a reminder of the serendipitous moment that brought us here. In a clip from the original series, Laura Palmer tells FBI Agent Dale Cooper that she’ll see him in 25 years.
She snaps her fingers—and bam, here we are in 2017, 25 years later, like it was all that easy. The confidence with which Twin Peaks makes this transition belies the incredibly improbable circumstances that brought this series back to life. A cult classic with a famously uneven second season, from a brilliant but mercurial creative mind, has returned under the only situation that it could have returned: a TV landscape so rich with creative potential (and hungry for prestige content with a built-in fanbase) that a network like Showtime will give David Lynch and Mark Frost carte blanche to tell any Twin Peaks stories they want to tell for 18 goddamn hours.
So that’s how we got here. But how do you begin to sum up what they did with all that unparalleled creative freedom? Let’s start with the obvious: Twin Peaks itself. If you’re looking for it, the fan service Twin Peaks devotees have been dying for is definitely there—including the welcome reprise of one of the greatest TV theme songs in history and a very pointed reference to the need for doughnuts and coffee.
The fan service Twin Peaks devotees have been dying for is definitely there.
And we get the chance to catch up on a number of fan-favorite characters along the way. Lucy Moran, still working at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department, is now Lucy Brennan, with dopey Andy in tow. Ben and Jerry Horne have a weird conversation in a very familiar-looking office at the Great Northern. Lawrence Jacoby—stripped of his medical license, per Mark Frost’s canonical novel—is living in a trailer in the woods. James Hurley and Shelly Johnson still live in Twin Peaks, and still frequent The Bang! Bang! Bar. In a heartbreaking posthumous role—one of several that Twin Peaks will feature—Catherine Coulson appears one last time as the Log Lady, sending Hawk to rendezvous with Agent Cooper at Glastonberry Grove. Even Jacques Renault, who was murdered by Leland Palmer at the end of Twin Peaks’ first season, appears in the background at the bar. It seems inexplicable until the closing credits, which reveal that Walter Olkewicz is playing yet another Renault. (The Renault family seems to be the criminal, Canadian equivalent of a hydra monster; kill one, and two more will pop up to take his place.)
These new details will be a feast for Twin Peaks fans, who have spent the better part of three decades in the famine of the original show’s now-legendary cliffhanger. It is happening again, says the ubiquitous promotional quote that heralded Twin Peaks’ return after 25 years. And at times, that’s exactly what these first two hours feel like: the continuation of a story that was never quite resolved in the first place. The only meaningful difference from any other TV drama is that the next chapter took not a week, but 25 years to arrive.
But apart from those moments, what struck me most about this premiere is how different it feels from the original series. Part of it comes with the move from ABC to Showtime, which gives Twin Peaks the license to tell this story with explicit violence and nudity (and which, like the prequel movie Fire Walk With Me, David Lynch chooses to use liberally).
Most of it comes from Lynch and Frost’s eagerness to depart from the Twin Peaks template, and thwart the expectations that may have been percolating. We don’t spend any time with Audrey Horne, Bobby Briggs, or Gordon Cole, who is played by Lynch himself. We don’t meet a number of high-profile, already-announced Twin Peaks newbies, like Laura Dern, Naomi Watts, and Michael Cera. And the new characters we do meet—like Matthew Lillard, playing an adulterous South Dakotan framed for a particularly horrifying murder—don’t have any obvious connection to the world of Twin Peaks until the episode’s closing moments.
And then there’s the geographical scope of the premiere—much, much vaster than the original series, which never ventured beyond the Canadian border. Would anyone have predicted that Twin Peaks would return with an extended detour in New York City—perhaps the most non-Twin Peaksian city in the United States? Or that the New York subplot in question would include a young couple getting their faces shredded off by some kind of cosmic monster?
One thing about Twin Peaks has remained consistent: In the end, it all comes down to Dale Cooper. Both Dale Coopers. The real Dale—or the good Dale, as Annie Blackburn called him in Fire Walk With Me—has been trapped in the Black Lodge for 25 years, having cryptic conversations with the Giant, Mike, a talking electrical flesh tree, et al. (The absence of The Man From Another Place, who essentially served as the face of the Black Lodge in the original series, is both distracting and inexplicable.) Like the dream sequence in the original series, these Black Lodge sequences will undoubtedly be pored over by armchair sleuths looking for clues to unlock the grander mystery of the series.
But for narrative purposes, there’s one big moment that matters: Cooper’s nightmarish (but ultimately successful) escape from the Black Lodge. Cooper’s original dream of the Black Lodge is repeated, more or less verbatim, with a spectral woman who both is and isn’t Laura Palmer. After wanderings the red-curtained hallways—and encountering Leland Palmer, who begs him to look for Laura once he breaks free—Cooper reenters the normal world via the mysterious glass box in that New York skyscraper. When he gets back down to the ground, he’ll have a lot of catching up to do.
Would anyone have predicted that Twin Peaks would return with an extended detour in New York City—perhaps the most non-Twin Peaksian city in the United States?
Of course, that’s only half of the story, because Kyle MacLachlan is also tasked with playing Cooper’s doppelgänger, who has been gleefully spreading pain and suffering around the country over the preceding 25 years. MacLachlan has said one of his greatest regrets about the cancellation of Twin Peaks was that it meant he never really got the chance to play this dark mirror of Cooper, and he certainly doesn’t waste the opportunity here. The original Twin Peaks finale ended with the Cooper doppelgänger looking in the mirror and seeing Bob. 25 years later, the true nature of the doppelgänger has manifested physically; with his long hair, deep tan, and penchant for wearing cheap jackets, the doppelgänger is basically just Bob with a Cooper mask on.
And where Twin Peaks originally ended with Cooper losing his place in the world to the doppelgänger, the conflict is about to play out in reverse. Some ironclad rule of the Black Lodge insists that the 25 years is a kind of time limit, and the doppelgänger is supposed to go back inside. But he’s in no rush to return. In a conversation with the Black Lodge resident occupying the body of Phillip Jeffries—who you might remember better as “the dude David Bowie played in that crazy Fire Walk With Me scene”—the dead-eyed, casually lethal doppelgänger makes it clear that his reign of terror is far from over (even as a mysterious adversary drops $500,000 on hitmen tasked with hunting him down).
If the new Twin Peaks has any arc that seems likely to play out over the full season, it’s the conflict between Cooper and his doppelgänger. Cooper will undoubtedly be horrified at the countless crimes committed by the man that’s been wearing his face for so many years.
But that’s only my best guess. There’s no reason the battle between the two versions of Cooper couldn’t be swiftly resolved—in, say, next week’s extra-long episode—so Twin Peaks could launch some totally new mystery. “Is it future, or is it past?” asks Mike while Cooper bides his time in the Black Lodge. Like so many things about Twin Peaks, it’s impossible to be sure. Is Cooper’s dreamlike encounter with Laura Palmer—which is nearly verbatim from the last time he had a dreamlike encounter with Laura Palmer—a reminder of the trap that landed him in the Black Lodge in the first place? Or is it a warning that he’s still trapped in an inescapable cycle—a premonition of the loop that might force him back into the Black Lodge once again?
I am truly delighted to say that your guess is as good as mine. Even the best shows tend to fall into rhythms; once they’ve established what they’re about, they never stop being about it. But Twin Peaks has never colored within the lines, and it trained audiences to understand that. Over its original run, the show was so outsized and elastic that even its strangest and least successful flourishes—Ben Horne reenacting the Civil War, Nadine mentally regressing back to high school, Josie getting stuck in a drawer pull—felt like they could all exist under the same grand umbrella. Now, despite 25 years of rampant fan speculation, Twin Peaks remains as fascinatingly unpredictable as ever. Isn’t it great?