Mark Frost and David Lynch's reboot of Twin Peaks airs on Showtime. I have now seen the first four hours of the program. I have no idea whether these episodes are representative -- indeed, all evidence suggests that they are not since the show is bafflingly unpredictable and wildly disparate in its emotional valence and tone. Although generally darker than its predecessor, Lynch veers wildly between horrific imagery and broad comedy. Although the show revives many of the characters famous from the iconic episodes first broadcast in the early nineties, Twin Peaks: the Return is provocatively different from its earlier incarnation -- I use the word "provocatively" with literal intent: Lynch seems to set about to shock his fans by transforming the already weird and wildly discursive subject matter in the nineties' series into something even more peculiar, disturbing, and bizarre.
Consider, for instance, Lynch's nods toward the bucolic and quirky village of Twin Peaks, one of the most widely imitated and admired aspects of the earlier series. In the new program, only about 15 or 20 % of the show happens in Twin Peaks. And what we see of the town and its inhabitants is very different from the way Lynch visualized the place in the earlier series. In the first Twin Peaks, the town consisted of the sheriff's station, generally shown in a stock shot as a building with a sign announcing its meaning, the great Northern Lodge, a huge redwood chateau next to a foaming waterfall, the high school, the diner that famously served the best coffee and berry pies in the Northwest, and the roadhouse on the edge of town. In the first four hours of this series, we see the Great Northern, the primary set for the earlier show, for only about two or three minutes; the sheriff's station looks the same from outside but is often filmed with picturesque lighting effects caused by sunshine diffusing through the trees behind the place -- the interior of the sheriff's department seems much larger now, a maze of corridors and hallways with rooms filled up with odd-looking electronic and computer gear. Hawk, Deputy Andy, and Lucy occupy the station, although in the third or fourth episode we also get a glimpse of Sheriff Harry Truman, played by someone different from Michael Ontkean, the actor in the first show. The other locations in town haven't featured yet in the show except for the Roadhouse, now larger with a better stage for the dreamy, retrograde crooning that Lynch favors. (The director seems to have adopted a pattern of ending each episode with one of his trademark and hallucinatory song sequences -- a group of somnambulant musicians keening weird but tuneful songs while the crowd slow-dances.)
The most alarming aspect of the new show is the way Lynch treats his familiar (and much loved) characters. Kyle McLaughlin, Agent Cooper in the first series, here has morphed into, at least, three separate characters. It's as if the show occupies some kind of quantum reality in which multiple but divergent universes eerily intersect. Fans of the first series will recall that Cooper ended the show in 1992 trapped in the monstrously evil Black Lodge, a system of rooms with a hypnotically tiled floor and draped in red velvet. Some version of Cooper emerged from the Black Lodge, but this figure was possessed by the demonic Bob, an embodiment of sheer, bestial evil. This avatar of Cooper, now wearing shoulder length black hair and horribly gone to seed is wandering the world, seducing and, then, murdering teenage girls and leading some kind of gang of mutant criminals. Cooper, previously a knight of impeccable honor and goodness, has now become a monster with jet black puppy-dog eyes -- his eyes seem to have no white in them at all. Kyle McLaughlin is effective in this role, but it is unsettling to see him playing the part. Another version of Cooper remains trapped in the Black Lodge, although apparently he is ejected somehow, ending up in a nightmare fortification, something that looks like one of Hitler's bunkers along the Atlantic ocean. In the fortification, there is a woman with a resemblance Josey Packard from the first show, but with her eyes sewn shut. Another unseen monster is banging on the door of her prison and Cooper ultimately gets sucked into some kind of machine that transforms him into a cloud of ions only to reemerge in a foreclosed-upon suburb near Las Vegas. There someone named Dougie, who looks like a fat version of Cooper, is a paying black prostitute for her services in a foreclosed and vacant home. Cooper in his black FBI suit and tie appears just as the Dougie, creeping across the floor seems to vomit out his heart. Dougie vanishes and Cooper takes his place. As it happens, assassins are plotting to kill Dougie but he avoids their attack by accident -- when the gunman trains his highpowered rifle on Cooper, our hero is bending over in the prostitute's car to pick up a key to the Great Northern that he has found in his pocket. (This sequence is a model for the show's bizarre and digressive narrative style -- the prostitute seems to think Cooper is the same as Dougie, although he looks very different, and doesn't trouble herself much about the fact that the man she was just servicing has suddenly changed clothing, sports a totally different haircut, and is lying, shoeless -- Cooper's shoes didn't ionize -- next to heap of puke the size of a rotisserie chicken. Lynch's world is so strange that people don't really register things that are totally wrong and out of place. After the assassin is thwarted, one of his accomplices places a bomb -- or maybe just a tracking device on Dougie's SUV. We see this occurring through the window of one of the few houses in the foreclosed neighborhood that is occupied. In that house, there is a bedraggled woman with absolutely psychotic-looking eyes who is contemplating taking a single enigmatic pill with a shot of whiskey. The woman looks like a meth addict in the last throes of her affliction. In the room with the woman, there is a little boy who is playing on the couch and who looks out the window to see the assassin rigging the bomb on Dougie's vehicle. The woman cries out mechanically "1-9-9" -- meaning, I suppose, "danger" and getting the 911 number wrong. This tiny sequence is invested with a great sense of peril -- we are fearful for the woman and, even, more fearful that something will happen to the little boy. But we don't who these people are or why they are shown. It's vaguely similar to the old granny with her eerily self-composed grandson, a seven-year-old made up to look like a miniature David Lynch, in the first series. But here the effect is more disturbing -- something very bad is happening in that house and a child is at risk. But, at this point, Lynch simply shows us this as a materialization or embodiment of the free-floating anxiety that characterizes the show's tone.) Dougie goes to a casino where an apparition, something like a floating red ice-cream cone, shows him how to win at slot machines -- he breaks the bank with 28 or so consecutive jackpots. This part of the show features Cooper as suffering from echolalia -- he mutters autistically like a berserk "rain man" in the casino and doesn't know who he is.
Throughout the show, Lynch alarms us repeatedly by the simplest of all expedients -- he shows us how the iconic figures in the first series have now aged: the log lady is on oxygen and cancer has denuded her skull -- she is mostly bald. (Indeed, the woman playing the log lady died a couple days after these scenes were shot.) Miguel Ferrer, playing Albert, the sardonic forensic specialist at the FBI (he's like Jack Webb on Dragnet at his most surly) was also sick and died during production. When he walks, he seems to lurch unsteadily. Deputy Andy's weird male-pattern baldness is even more strange in this show and Hawk, still handsome, has grey hair. The nymphets who were an important part of the first show are now stout middle-aged matrons. The one-armed man seems to have had a stroke so that one of his eyes doesn't seem to focus and the giant is now elderly, strangely imposing, as he utters prophetic statements in a distorted voice. In one scene, particularly shocking for devotees of the first show, Cooper is handed a cup of coffee. He no longer knows how to drink it and burns his mouth, spitting the coffee on the floor. This is like a slap in the fact to Twin Peaks' fans who relish, and can quote by heart, some of Cooper's more eloquent encomia to the joys of drinking coffee.
As far as I can presently ascertain, the show consists of three interwoven plots. At Twin Peaks, the log lady has told Hawk that something is missing in the Laura Palmer file. This leads Hawk, Andy, and Lucy to carefully study the file with a photograph of the dead Laura Palmer prominently displayed in the center of the conference room table. This part of the program is shot deadpan with absurdist dialogue of the kind that you might expect in a play by Eugene Ionescu -- for instance, Lucy admits to having eaten one of the chocolate bunnies that were part of the evidence amassed in the Laura Palmer homicide investigation (she ate the bunny as an anti-flatulent measure). The characters debate at length whether the missing candy is what the log lady meant, first concluding that this was her message, then, deciding they are wrong and, then, after much discussion returning to their initial conclusions that perhaps Lucy's misappropriation of the chocolate bunny was the subject of log lady's gnomic phone call -- it's a characteristic Lynch device, a conversation that chases its own tail. The second strand of the show involves a very frightening murder mystery taking place in Buckhorn, S. Dakota, a place shown on the map as near Spearfish. In this case, a woman has been killed -- her body is missing but her severed head has been put atop the bloated corpse of what seems to be an old fat man (whose head is correspondingly missing). The third element of the story involves a strange instrument apparently accessing another dimension that is buried in the bowels of a billionaire's skyscraper in New York City -- some sort of monster with a body pale as a maggot has come through the tool and torn apart two young lovers while they were having intercourse. (The boy was hired to watch the instrument, a black lens, encased in a crystal box, and catalogue surveillance footage taken by a half-dozen cameras showing the infernal machine.) The FBI is involved in investigating the Buckhorn murder as well as Cooper's mysterious reappearance after being missing for 25 years -- this is the evil Cooper, the murderer of young girls, now confined in federal penitentiary in South Dakota. Finally, the FBI is also investigating the mutilation death of the young lovers ripped to shreds in the skyscraper's basement in Manhattan.
Lynch's stages all of this with fantastic gusto. The question is whether his willfully outlandish grotesquerie, astounding and profound at first, will pall into some kind of tedious whimsy. This was the fate of the other show, although primarily because Lynch was not involved in most of the second season. Generally, an experienced viewer can figure out what is meant by a director's deviation from the anticipated norm. What makes Lynch unique and, perhaps, great is that there are aspects to his work that simply can't be assimilated to any known form of reference. And, yet, these weird effects don't necessarily seem pointless or arbitrary -- instead, they are reference markers showing us that there is more in the world than can be dreamt of in our science or philosophy. They are devices that recall to us the ineffable strangeness of actual reality -- the fact that things really happen that don't make any sense at all. For instance, why is a scene between the three FBI agents, featuring a bizarrely seductive female G-man, shot in a deep blue tint? -- is it supposed to be night? Is this some kind of archaic use of day-for-night? Or are we being shown, metaphorically, that the FBI are "in the dark"? Why does the female agent swivel her hips like Marilyn Monroe when she walks, a gait that no real human being could ever accomplish? Sheriff Andy and Lucy have a child that they call Wally Brando. When we see Wally Brando we are astounded to see that he is played by Michael Cera dressed as a manikin of Marlon Brando in The Wild One -- this is like the "jelly on springs" gait of the female G-man, in the case of the woman, a shot that seems to be an allusion to Some Like it Hot. But, even, more astonishing, Cera speaks with the diction of Marlon Brando in The Godfather, mumbling and pausing idiosyncratically -- it's utterly bizarre, extremely funny, and wholly inexplicable.
At the opening of the show, we see a reprise of Agent Cooper's colloquy with Laura Palmer in the Black Lodge at the end of the last episode in 1992 or 1993. Laura Palmer says: "I will see you again in 25 years." I recall the original scene and being struck by the fact that Lynch has, in fact, waited for a quarter century to return to these characters. In the new show, Laura Palmer winks lewdly as she speaks those lines, an effect achieved, I think by CGI but an image that, nonetheless, causes your skin to crawl and that sends, inexplicably, a cold shudder up your spine.