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New Twin Peaks Is Like Nothing I’ve Ever Seen And I’m OK With That

May 29, 2017

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Twin Peaks is back! It’s really back, you guys. I have seen four episodes, and somewhere around episode two I thought ‘I would really like to write down some of the thoughts I’m having about watching this new series of Twin Peaks.’ And here we are.

I enjoyed simply writing a list of things I did and didn’t like about Alien: Covenant. I’m going to do that again. Here, though, there are more things I do like, and many more besides I am not sure what to think about.

My overall thoughts on new Twin Peaks are that it doesn’t really feel like old Twin Peaks – season one, or the gradual quality slide of season two – or like Fire Walk With Me, though it shares some of the fractured, abstract structuring of the prequel film. It is, as we probably ought to have expected, something else entirely, packed with the familiar faces and features in new arrangements and atmospheres. It is, though, what I had hoped for the most – finally, more David Lynch, a substantial new thing from someone I wasn’t sure would make another new thing at all.

I like the slowness. At one point the new series was going to be 9 episodes long, until Lynch hardballed Showtime up to 18 and a bigger budget. On the evidence of the first few episodes, this extra time is being used to hold the camera on people and places, constructing lingering patterns of repeated close-ups and medium shots, triangles of space and tension that force us to consider and reconsider what is happening (or, in the case of a heavily observed box hanging in the New York sky, what isn’t happening). Sometimes the effect is a low-burn thrill – as in the New York sequence, a growing sense of expectation at the raw possibility of the space – and sometimes, as with Cooper stumbling through the world like an idiot for ages, it’s in service to goofing around and nothing in particular. But even so – TV isn’t made like this. More than anything it’s fascinating to ponder how we arrived here, at a place where demand for Twin Peaks and the unique state of the television industry means Lynch has been waved through to make 18 hours of whatever the fuck he wants, arranged in a way even I, as someone very familiar with all of Twin Peaks, barely fucking understand at all. It’s beautiful.

The box in New York. I love the box in New York. One of the things I’m really enjoying about this series is that it pulls in various pieces from Lynch’s other work. Balthazar Getty was in episode one – I have no idea if he’s coming back – and Naomi Watts arrived a little later, drawing lines of connection with both Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr (and, as both actors played characters who metamorphosed into other people, who’s to say these aren’t further iterations of whoever they were – this feels more than ever like a shared Lynch universe). The slap-in-the-face goofiness of Michael Cera as Wally Brando, or Cooper’s empty-vesseled doddering, might come as a surprise to anyone who hasn’t seen Lynch’s humour in full, mad flow in On The Air. And I enjoyed seeing Robert Forster, who was nearly in the original Twin Peaks, and then would have had a recurring role in the show Mulholland Dr. was initially planned to be, and now gets to sort of do both at once.

None of which is what I wanted to say about the box. The idea seems to me a familiar one – a space in the air, an allotted place, waiting for something. It’s a wonderful abstraction, and one that Lynch explored before in an earlier series for Showtime called Hotel Room. Lynch’s own voice over from the opening credits goes like this:

“For a millennium the space for the hotel room existed, undefined. Mankind captured it and gave it shape and passed through. And sometimes when passing through, they found themselves brushing up against the secret names of truth.”

Which is a line I have always loved – more than the show itself, which was only OK – and which always made me think of our ability to pull space from the sky and exist inside it, and about the basic mystery of locked doors and the things that happen on the other side of them. The New York sequence has all of this – a point is made of the door being locked, the room a place of secrets – and it doubles down on Hotel Room’s idea of rooms as closed, performative spaces by filling this one with lights and cameras. The box is a prison and a stage.

I liked Matthew Lillard’s scenes, more and more as I watched them. One of the things I struggle with about current Twin Peaks is that the supernatural elements are so firmly established that the uncanny mystery of those first wonderful episodes of season one can never be recaptured. The joy of the early period of the show is seeing soft-focus small-town America coming to a slow realisation about the hidden truth of things. There’s something of that realisation in Lillard’s scenes, and Lynch still captures the dreadful dream-logic slide into guilt and shame and the impossible becoming real.

I had no idea what to think about Michael Cera as Wally Brando. Honestly, if this had been any other show it seems unlikely I’d have watched past that point. More than anything I think putting Cera in disrupted the tone of the show in a way I’ve convinced myself is interesting – where Peaks normally coaxes soapy melodrama from its comic scenes, here’s a real comedian hitting the lines to a totally different (and more conventional) rhythm, and making them funny in a way that’s disruptive and unexpected.

Lastly for now, because I could write indefinitely with diminishing purpose about all of this, I really like that new Twin Peaks is about a group of middle-aged and old people. This is partly a measure of necessity, because bringing characters and actors back is one of the primary reasons for the show existing and now they are all 25 years older. But if the first iteration of Twin Peaks was about the confusing burst of life that happens to the young as they emerge into adulthood, this one is about how life carries on and takes us to other places. I like, too, that this carries on a cycle from the first series, which is full of faces that would have been familiar to audiences my age and older at the time – Piper Laurie, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn – although here we are watching a group of 50-somethings mostly famous for having once been the youthful face of the show itself.

I’m not sure it signifies anything in particular, except another break from conventional TV – which would surely have recruited a new cast to replicate the glowing appeal of Sherylin Fenn, Mädchen Amick and the others – and the feeling that this is a return to familiar and loved things, people and places. This is perhaps my favourite thing of all about the new Twin Peaks – that even while it tells an inscrutable story of demons and parallel realities, it is marked above all else by affection, on the part of Lynch for his old collaborators and the things they create together, and on the part of a fanbase for this thing that seemed lost and has now been given back.

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