Ivy Allie

Well that was a thing

Let's talk about Twin Peaks: The Return

Posted 21 Jul 2020

OK, I think it's finally time we talk about Twin Peaks: The Return. I'm a fan of David Lynch and of Twin Peaks in particular, and Lynch's previous revisiting of this subject matter in Fire Walk With Me is some of his best work. So I really want to like this. And I do like some of it. It's just... it's eighteen hours long and a lot of it isn't very good.

The runtime is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. This is the biggest canvas Lynch has ever had (since many episodes of the original weren't written or directed by him), and he takes full advantage of that fact. There are lots of scenes that are as good as anything he's ever done, and the overall effect is right up there with Eraserhead in terms of being completely inscrutable weirdness. But other parts are indulgent in less enjoyable ways, like the strange decision to end every episode with a concert at the Roadhouse. (I actually liked most of the musicians he brought in for these sequences, but as a narrative device it's just...odd.) The fact that Fire Walk With Me had enough deleted scenes to produce an entire second feature film ("The Missing Pieces") shows that Lynch knows how to cut something down to its essence, and I don't think he was done any favors by getting this much space to work with.

The other problem here is that Lynch's 18 hours of freedom came with the condition that they had to be about Twin Peaks somehow. The Return, for the most part, is very much unlike the original, which was essentially a parody of a soap opera with surrealist elements. That is absolutely not what this is. It spends much of its runtime in places other than Twin Peaks, for one thing, jetting around the country (Las Vegas! New York! South Dakota!) constantly in a way that feels completely at odds with the insularity of the original. The intricate character work of the original is not in evidence either; the new characters here are drawn in broad strokes and the cameos by the old characters are... well... generally unpleasant? Of the characters who make return appearances, most of them look to have been horrifically beat down by life in the intervening years, or at the very least have made no progress toward anything better than what they started with. Audrey is perhaps the saddest example, having gone from being a mischievous and generally upbeat teenager to being, in middle age, whiny, impotent, and possibly insane. She doesn't get a single scene in which she's not fiercely and incoherently arguing with her husband, who is a new but equally unlikable character.

And in general this series has a noticeable misogyny problem. Most of the women returning from the original are depicted with a similar lack of compassion, usually depicted as being thrown around (often literally) by the men, and reduced to complete helplessness. The few who have agency primarily use it to exasperate the men by practicing polyamory. There are multiple scenes centered around a screaming, hysterical woman arguing with a man who is completely calm and reasonable. I'm not going to claim that the original Twin Peaks didn't have its own problems in this department, but at least it didn't have a full roster of primary, secondary, and tertiary characters whose personalities could be summed up as "screeching harpy."

There's even a scene featuring a textbook example of what Julia Serano calls "trans-misogyny," the use of a trans woman character to belittle women more generally. FBI special agent Denise Bryson, depicted as a "cross-dresser" (for lack of a better term) in the original series, reappears here, now having transitioned explicitly. In that scene, Gordon Cole, tellingly played by Lynch himself, makes a point of saying that he supported Denise's transition all along, a rather gratuitous statement that seems to primarily exist to position Lynch as being on the right side of history. Fine, whatever. But the rest of the scene is largely an extended joke about how Denise is menopausal. Because... middle-aged women, amiright? Always with the hot flashes, haha! This is projecting onto trans women something that they don't, in reality, experience, and then using that projection to make fun of the women who actually do experience it. Why, David? Why?

Are there things I enjoyed in this series anyway? Sure. Some of the funniest moments in Lynch's catalog are to be found here, and some of the strangest as well. The final episode, in which the entire saga comes full circle in an unexpected and deeply unsettling way, is so satisfying that it tempted me to push this up to a full four stars. And, of course, the notorious Episode 8, which is as deeply bizarre as its reputation holds. I can't overstate how great it is to watch Kyle MacLachlan calmly take on a gangster who's an undefeated arm-wrestling champ, or to see Dr. Jacoby's new persona as "Dr. Amp," a bombastic vlogger who screams about the government from a secluded mountain cabin. And even just the overall effect of the thing; where else are you going to find eighteen episodes of "what the hell was that?"

Also, for whatever it's worth, but this series has some of the most crisp, impeccable photography I've ever seen, or at least it does on Blu-Ray. I'm guessing this is probably due to high-grade digital cameras, but seriously, I can't overstate how good this looks, better even than most films made with ostensibly similar equipment.

So... Twin Peaks: The Return. I'm really conflicted about it. It's trying to be something completely new, but with a lead weight labeled "Twin Peaks Reunion" chained to its leg. It has a lot of good scenes, but they're counterbalanced by scenes that are gratuitously mean-spirited and unpleasant. There's nothing else like it, but that's not always a positive thing. There are parts of it I like a lot. There are parts of it that I wish had never been put to film. I guess the good outweighs the bad ultimately, but the fact that I have to hedge this statement with "I guess" says a lot.