Revival unsettles, leaves more unanswered questions

“Twin Peaks” first captivated audiences in 1990, making viewers puzzled with the question “Who killed Laura Palmer?” In the 2017 revival, the question is “What the hell is going on?” / Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

What does the term “Lynchian” mean? Figures in a red room speaking backwards? A woman singing within a radiator? For all the surrealism within “Mulholland Drive” or “Blue Velvet,” David Lynch offers the humanity of “The Straight Story” or “The Elephant Man,” and then there’s “Dune.” It would be a never-ending task trying to find a repeated symbol or theme that Lynch tackles in all of his films. And yet, film critics are always describing films like “Donnie Darko” or “Being John Malkovich” with this term, Lynchian. Perhaps it’s not a repeating idea but more of a looming unsettling feeling that his work conjures up in the viewer that they wade in both during and after the film.

“Twin Peaks: The Return” is full of moments that are very stupid and esoteric at times. Throughout the 18 hours that spanned the series, I was left frustrated over Agent Cooper being confined in the catatonic body of Dougie Jones. For weeks on end, I felt like I was watching a show that was going nowhere and that Showtime had just thrown a bunch of money at David Lynch and Mark Frost for them to play around with their “soundscape” fantasy. But after the last two episodes, specifically within the finale’s last five minutes, it was like a puzzle that you knew was missing pieces but whose final picture leaves you with an overwhelming sense of astonishment.

It’s impossible to spoil what happened with this series because Lynch and Frost have created the longest and most expensive Rorschach test for their audience to interpret, debate and never fully grasp a fitting answer.

In the age of binge-watching and serialized television, it’s very rare when the process of watching a show over the span of 16 weeks feels worth it. But to consider David Lynch—a man who once made humans walking around with rabbit heads for 50 minutes fascinating—conventional or trying to satisfy the audience would be a false judgment. It feels almost quintessential for someone to watch an episode of “Twin Peaks: The Return” each week to allow the feeling to linger and the unanswered questions to ruminate in the mind.

One of the difficult aspects of writing about David Lynch and his work is that it is very hard to not come off sounding like a snob. His works inhabit an aesthetic that either makes you sound like a conspiracy theorist uncovering every and loose end or a fair-weather fan that likes Lynch because everyone else does. Lynch’s own style does not concede to the audience, though.

In her essay “Against Interpretation,” Susan Sontag condemned modern criticism for being too focused on interpreting the content and not embracing the transcendental elements a piece of art holds within. Lynch, a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation and its spiritual elements, puts into practice a television series that is very much a piece of art. He forces the audience to suffer with these loose ties until a crescendo that almost acts like a nuclear bomb unfolds in those last five minutes.

As a fan of Lynch and specifically the original “Twin Peaks” (on my backpack I parade a little “Damn fine cup of coffee” pin), it was very nice to see the old familiar faces, like Shelly Johnson, Big Ed and Doctor Jacoby, whose rants are some of the comedic highlights of the revival. This is not your reboot à la “Will & Grace” or “Gilmore Girls”; these characters have aged and suffered. In one of the truest moments of the series, Big Ed is still sitting at the same desk in his gas station from 25 years before, weathered with age and still harboring unfulfilled feelings for Norma Jennings.

Time cannot give “Twin Peaks” fans back their coffee and cherry pie as fresh as it was in 1990. It’s only too noticeable to acknowledge the members of the cast from the original series that have passed since the show was first canceled after Season 2 or “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me,” and even since the revival was filmed.

Miguel Ferrer, playing the sardonic Special Agent Albert Rosenfeld, takes on a more significant role in the revival than he did in the original series, but he passed away earlier this year. Even David Bowie gets his moment of archival footage to remind the viewer of the perfect union a fuller Lynch-Bowie collaboration could have been. But the cameos of Catherine E. Coulson as the iconic Log Lady or Harry Dean Stanton as the grumpy- but-concerned Carl Rodd are stark reminders that while these characters live on forever in the hearts of their fans, an actor’s life is ephemeral.

Lynch makes sure to include several frequent collaborators like Naomi Watts, who keeps the Dougie Jones scenes bearable as Janey-E Jones. Honestly, I could watch anything that Kyle MacLachlan does. MacLachlan was easily one of the most enjoyable actors on “Sex and the City” and “Portlandia,” but to see him return to working with the man who helped his career take off almost feels right. And don’t get me started on Laura Dern. Give her all the awards. Just every single award, please.

Even the new additions to the series fit. Michael Cera’s Brando-inspired monologue is so bizarre, and yet it could only happen in a David Lynch production. He even makes overrated actors comparable to indie mainstays. It wouldn’t take much for me to admit my hatred of Jim Belushi. How “According to Jim” lasted eight seasons I’ll never know. But with Lynch, it works.

Lynch’s focus has come full-circle with “Twin Peaks: The Return.” Just like “Eraserhead,” you might not be certain what you just saw, but there is an indescribable feeling that has risen up deep from within. The clearest example of this in an episode is “Part 8.” What happened? Who knows. But the viewer gets transported into the detonation of the atomic bomb within the bomb itself in a soundscape of concentrated astonishment. Then, a zombie-like woodsman murders people and repeatedly says, “Got a light?” What does this have to do with the beloved characters of Twin Peaks, WA, or Cooper’s doppelgänger or BOB? Nothing and everything.

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