Assessing This Walk In The Woods
In the most recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, there are two very different assessments of Showtime’s Twin Peaks: The Return. In the major story in the TV section, there is a rave review of the series and everything about it, from Lynch’s various visions to the brilliant imagery to the ultimate description that this revival “reinvents the reboot”. And in the TV preview for the week to come, the preview of the finale says :”It’s another hour long, so you can spend that time not figuring out what the hell is going on.”
In a way, this sums up not only the revival, but almost every vision Lynch has given us for every medium, and having seen almost the entire series, I understand both points of view. Perhaps Showtime should’ve known what they were getting into. Given how brilliant the three David’s of the TV revolution were (Chase, Simon, Milch), perhaps the thing I was looking forward to the most was seeing how this David would manage working in the same limit free environment that created The Sopranos, The Wire, and Deadwood. And you have to admit, he did something extraordinary. He gathered most of the cast of the groundbreaking cult series together after a quarter of a century, along with more than 200 (!) other actors. (Samples include Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jim Belushi, Ashley Judd, Tim Roth, Naomi Watts, Michael Cera and Laura Dern in the role of Diane). Then he spent a year and a half working in collaboration with Mark Frost, creating an environment where there were no revelations of what we were going to get, not even episode titles. Even the previews of upcoming episodes are so bizarre that Showtime itself has been satirizing them the last month.
And holy crap — he’s creating something almost, but not entirely, unlike Twin Peaks. Given the eclectic nature of the series when it was on the air, that’s impressive. We’ve barely spent half the entire run in the town of Twin Peaks, and more often then not, most of the characters we’ve gotten to know have been almost cameos then anything else. Kyle MacLachlan is still there, but we’ve seen almost nothing of Agent Dale Cooper. Rather, he has spent the entire series, playing two very different personalities: Doug Jones, a married insurance agent with a Chance Gardener approach to almost everything he sees, and Mr. C, evil incarnate, closer to Cooper bent on a path on destruction. You could make the assumption that Mr. C is the BOB-infested Cooper who appeared in the original series final episode (a necessity with Frank Silva passing) but Lynch and Frost refuse to come at it directly. Even those who have come for the other pleasure that the series brought might well be disappointed — there isn’t even so much of the iconic musical score that was so much a part of the original. Perhaps there’s a reason why this series — which Showtime promoted with so much fanfare earlier in the year — is getting lower viewership than Fire Walk with Me.
But the fact remains, this is remarkable stuff. And if nothing else, its incredibly brave. Lynch and Frost, who have written and directed every single episode of the series, have done something truly incredible. They’ve created as pure a Lynchian world than we could ever have imagined. It would’ve so easy for them to do what every other TV revival has done — bring back the original characters and setting and put them through the traditional motions. But this has never been Lynch’s style, and it maybe as he reaches into his seventies, that the world of Peak TV has finally caught up with the kind of vision that he has had. This is a far more daring series than the original was, and its hard to imagine even HBO at its creative peak, allowing something like this to come alive.
And whatever you may think of it, it has elicited sterling work from the actors. MacLachlan has given two sides of the same performance so brilliant, its hard to see how he can be left out of the discussion for next year’s Emmys. But all of the cast members have delivered remarkable work, including Lynch himself as FBI director Gordon Cole, and the late Miguel Ferrer as Albert Rosenfeld and Catherine Coulson as the Log Lady, now dying herself.
Will any of this make sense to even those have faithfully watched the original series over the last twenty-five years? I’m still not sure. But critics, for the most part, have embraced this incarnation in a way that they didn’t embrace the second season of the original. And given that Fire Walk achieved cult status within a few years after being savaged by critics and fans alike, I fully expect that, regardless of the conclusion, within the end of the year, Twin Peaks: The Return shall be embraced as a crowning achievement. Maybe it wasn’t the smash that Showtime hoped it would be. But if nothing else, it has lived up to the idea trumpeted by Dale Cooper all those many years ago — this is something truly wondrous and strange. I sincerely doubt that any of the future revivals of old series that are either coming or in the works will have even a fraction of the imagination that this one has. This series proves they have something to learn from the old master.