Before watching the third part of the new, hardly-Twin Peaks Twin Peaks: The Return, I wondered whether after a hypnotically rambling 2-hour premiere, this new episode might restore the zippier, tongue-in-cheekier tone of the original. Perhaps, I thought, that first episode had served as a sort of landing pad back into the world people thought we’d return to. Turns out, that wasn’t the case at all. And it also turns out that’s a blessing: because thus far, the best scenes have been the ones that take place far, far away from the woodland kitschy horror-charm of Twin Peaks & Twin Peaks, and within a much colder, vaster American wasteland. In fact, it’s almost glorious knowing what a dearth of throwback-y material there is for super-fans to squee at and quote nostalgically; the show continues to have little interest in recapturing the quaintness and adolescent melodrama of yore, and one scene in Episode 4 speaks directly to that fact, as it revives then quickly stifles the soap opera-spoofing vibe of the 26-year-old series that centered around a group of beautifully sad teens surrounded by logs, demons, and pies.
In large parts of the new season — those set in South Dakota and outside Las Vegas — and particularly when you see Dale Cooper’s BOB-doppelgänger driving free in the Great Plains, occasionally stopping into a motel or home to shoot someone in the head, you get something akin to No Country for Old Men by way of Mulholland Drive. It’s a kind of callous horror that the original always paired (successfully, wonderfully) with a tapestry of cuteness. Here, on the rare occasion when the cute elements resurface, they seem flattened, out of place, and rightfully like nothing but relics. In fact, this season has mostly followed now-older and middle-aged characters — and evokes some of the disorientation of existing within a transforming world that your generation no longer innovates. (Unless you’re David Lynch, apparently.)
Episode 3 seeks to plunge Dale Cooper from the liminal world in which he’s been stuck — a world that’s clearly emptied him over the years, as he’s endured lectures by an inexplicably demonic tree and a stoic dead woman. But it turns out that even after he leaves the world of the Black Lodge, there’s still a lot of adjusting to the new world to be done; when Dale Cooper finally rejoins our world midway through the episode, after the series’ longest bout of unadulterated surrealism to date, he’s wordless, helpless, and infantilized.
The episode begins with Cooper being flushed out of his red velvet hell and into…a different, purple purgatory. Here, an eyeless woman who moves in bursts and glitches guides him into a celestial abyss, where he sees the floating head of Major Briggs, who, before evanescing into space, utters the Fire Walk With Me-referencing words, “Blue Rose”; this you’ll recall refers to the code name for a particular type of investigation… though what that type is we never exactly learned. (The Lara Palmer case was a “blue rose” case, so if that’s any indication, I guess it could be any case involving a “dead teenager”… or “a room that looks like an evil talkshow set where demons eat creamed corn when they’re not out in the tangible realm committing serial murders.” Who knows?!) Cooper returns to the chamber, where instead of the eyeless woman, an “American Girl” — per the credits — or Ronette Pulaski sits by the fire, then points him towards an archaic switchboard, saying in weird Twin Peaks backward voice, “When you get there, you will already be there” — referring, presumably, to Mr. C, aka the BOB version of Cooper, who’s murdering his way through South Dakota.
This trip out of the Black Lodge also begins and ends our introduction to “Dougie,” a Vegas-area realtor and another Dale Cooper look-alike (who happens to own one a ring like that which Laura Palmer was instructed not to wear in Fire Walk With Me). As Cooper prepares to be sucked out of the Black Lodge realm, Dougie (who’s currently with a very concerned sex worker, Jade) and Mr. C both begin experiencing lapses in their reality. Dougie ends up in the black lodge, where he’s told by Mike that he was manufactured for a purpose, then his hand duly begins shrinking, and he manages to say “that’s weird,” before his head explodes into black smoke, leaving nothing but a metal bead in its place. Meanwhile, Dale Cooper flies out of an outlet in the wall and replaces Dougie — and Jade assumes it’s the same person she saw a few minutes ago — just with a very quick haircut and clearly impeccable weight loss regime. She drives him to a casino (and on the way they’re briefly pursued by hit men), while, in the meantime, Mr. C begins having a violent reaction to the fabric of spacetime’s Dale Cooper switcheroo, and vomits creamed corn. (Garmonbozia, aka the substance of “pain and sorrow” that the members of the black lodge feed on.) At the casino, Dale — who, by the way, forgets how to talk and shuffles around wide-eyed like a zombie puppy — starts seeing little strips of black lodge hovering over certain slot machines at the casino; he inserts quarters into these machines and proceeds to hit every mega-jackpot, earning the grudging title “Mr. Jackpots” among the casino staff. It should be said that Kyle MacLachlan is stupendous thus far this season: he surely has gotten some of the weirdest acting notes anyone’s ever received (how do you tell someone to act like they’re being pulled through an outlet?), and he pulls it all off.
We return to Twin Peaks, unfortunately to spend some time with Lucy and Andy, who are now 26 years more absurd than the last time we saw them. Again, however, where they particularly worked as cute foils for the darkness of the original series, there’s something about them here that makes them seem fascinatingly like sad shells. The scenes with Andy and Lucy no longer read as effectively cute, but rather their cuteness now just contributes to the uneasy flatness and disorientation of this whole new iteration of the show. Again, part of it has thematically to do with age: Lucy gets to deliver a blood-curdling scream in the fourth episode — but it turns out she’s just screaming at a misunderstanding about how cell phones work. Lucy is a stand in for nostalgia itself — placed in a totally morphed present day, and thus failing to function.
At the sheriff’s office Lucy and Andy are puzzling the fact that “something’s missing” from old police files with Deputy Hawk — who was informed by the Log Lady that this missing something would be key. Lucy suggests that it’s a chocolate bunny that she ate — because the fact that it’s in her stomach means it’s now missing. Hawk emphatically asserts, “It’s not about the bunny,” a line that makes the escalating overdose of Lucy and Andy worthwhile. Meanwhile, over at the FBI headquarters, Gordon Cole (David Lynch) and Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) are planning on heading to South Dakota to investigate the recent murders from Part 1 and 2 and check in on the new suspect — Mr. C, who’s been arrested after having driven off the road during the corn-vomiting session. They’re also puzzling over the demon-stuffed glass box that recently killed two New Yorkers, and in which Dale Cooper happened to make a pit stop on his way back to “reality.”
Part 3 is, without exaggeration, one of the wildest episodes of television — just look back here at how ridiculous my “recap” of its “events” sounds. It truly in many ways feels like a way of spitting in the face of more palatably, decoratively weird shows that may have taken inspiration from the original Twin Peaks — and also spitting on their nostalgia. That said, within it, a clear narrative for the season does start to emerge. Now both Coopers are out in the real world — and it seems like this is amounting to a collision between Good (and currently helplessly childlike) Cooper v. Evil Cooper. And Good Cooper brought one relic with him back from the Black Lodge: a key to the Great Northern. Will this season see both him and Evil Cooper journeying back to Twin Peaks? (Thus fulfilling the “Return” subtitle for the series?)
The fourth episode may seem like the biggest plunge back into the original world of the series, but it also continues to subvert your expectations of it. We spend a lot of time within the sheriff’s office — where we also find out that Bobby Briggs is now a deputy. That, however, doesn’t mean that he’s not still prone to the soap operatic emotionalism of his teenage years: he begins weeping when he sees an image of Laura Palmer dug up from the files Andy, Lucy, and Hawk are sorting through. Here lies one of the new season’s most blatant hints of being a sort of deconstruction of the show’s former self.
When Bobby sees the photo, suddenly Angelo Badalamenti’s soapy theme from the original begins to play, before fading away. You may have already noted the comparative silence of the Twin Peaks: The Return; almost every scene of the original was scored, either by the maudlin piano soap tune, the more elliptical and ponderous theme, the jazzy detective-work music, or the ominous rumble when we’d get close to a Laura Palmer-oriented clue. The original, a deliberate soap opera parody (among so many other things), screamed “emotional texture!!” with music, while the new series, like Mulholland Drive, inverts that style — filming long scenes full of silence and pauses, withholding music cues when you expect them and giving few edits for comic timing so that even the jokes fall deliberately flat. In this moment, as the old score plays, Bobby becomes a surrogate for the nostalgic audience member, before Lynch delivers a pretty thorough “nope.” It’s fitting that, in the same episode, we also meet Wally Brando (Michael Cera), a “deep,” spiritual Marlon Brando-type biker who’s a seeming parody of the already semi-parodic character of James Hurley. Like the creamed corn characters keep vomiting, Lynch here is comically, sometimes sadly, sometimes terrifyingly presenting regurgitated versions of tropes from the original — which were already cultural references, mash-ups and parodies. The Cera bit is punishingly long, but you can sort of decide to be amused by it or to hate it, and it’ll certainly fulfill either decision.
We’re also met with David Duchovny’s Denise character, who since we last saw her has been promoted to Chief of Staff; her presence, as played by Duchovny, neither fulfills desires for the show to be as trailblazing with its trans character as it was back in the early 90s, nor does it present particular archaism. In fact, it’s just a little flat, and beyond giving an excuse for a David Duchovny cameo, I’m not sure there’s much of a purpose. It vaguely furthers the FBI plot line, as Denise discusses Cole’s and Albert’s plans to head to South Dakota. There, Cole is baffled to meet Dale Cooper again after 25 years, and equally baffled by the fact that he seems like an evil robot who may be murdering people — this bafflement that lead him and Albert to conclude that this is another “blue rose” case.
And finally, Dale Cooper. When Dale is dropped off at Dougie’s house after his big win(s) at the casino, he finds that Dougie has a wife, Janey — who happens to be Naomi Watts — and a son, hilariously named Sonny Jim Jones. Throughout the episode, he starts to learn the ins and outs of boring domestic life. (Well, it’s boring but for the fact that people wanted to kill Dougie.) The biggest Domestic Moment — and the biggest sign that we may soon be reunited with Dale Cooper as we knew him, comes from coffee. Janey prepares him a coffee and, since Dale Cooper has been reduced to a curious baby, he doesn’t exactly know what to do with it. But the old Dale Cooper’s love of coffee comes torpedoing back at him when he takes a sip, does a spit-take, and exclaims, “hi!”
The fourth episode bears a fun dose of multilayered casting, with the first appearance of Naomi Watts (who’s a master of flatly over the top Lynch acting), who formerly thrived in her own dark doppelgänger plot line in Mulholland Drive. If you can say this season of Twin Peaks centers around anything, it’s a bit of a Betty/Diane (with a hint of Harry/Voldemort) narrative for Dale Cooper. While he’s alone in Dougie’s bedroom, he starts seeing Mike in the floor. Mike tells him he was “tricked” and holds up the metal bead that floated out of Dougie’s head, then says, “now one of you must die.” Indeed, it’s not at all dissimilar to the classic Harry/Voldemort plot line of two connected beings who can only live if the other perishes. And look! We’re left with something like a very classic plot about a necessary clashing between good and evil. Of course, classically, “good” doesn’t come in the form of a lobotomized seeming ex-detective who spent 25 years in a hellish waiting room and now wears ties on his head — so there’s no danger of this seeming at all like anything else, including Twin Peaks.