Review: Showtime’s Twin Peaks Part 1 through Part 4
For anyone who’s fallen for the allure of Twin Peaks, its return feels like a series of different sky high expectations stacked on top of each other. The show marks the resurrection of one of the most influential shows ever made, a program whose (many) flaws were made up for by its singular, off-kilter mood. It also marks the comeback of the show’s co-creator David Lynch, who hasn’t made a film since 2006’s Inland Empire, now returning to direct all 18 hour-long episodes of the new season. And it’s a promise of what fans of the show have always wanted: a “pure” form of the series, untouched by the same forces of business that birthed the circumstances leading to its demise in the 1990s. Put all of these together, and anticipation levels for the show go from astronomical to interdimensional.
Luckily, Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost have been there to keep expectations in check (or, more accurately, in the dark). Aside from cryptic teasers showing brief snippets of footage, nothing was known about what exactly Twin Peaks would comprise of. And given Lynch’s penchant for doing whatever the hell he wants, along with Showtime CEO David Nevins describing the new season as a “pure heroin” version of Lynch, the new season could turn out to be another redefining moment for TV or an incomprehensible mess. What these first four episodes signify is the best of both of those worlds: an exhilarating experience of watching the closest thing we have to an avant-garde TV show.
Of course, expecting this new season to have the same impact as the original Twin Peaks would be foolish. Back in 1991 it was one of only 89 shows on television, a much smaller number compared to today’s output both on cable and online. The world has changed, but so has Lynch. The original run of Twin Peaks tended to play with narrative conventions, but over the years Lynch’s filmography has increasingly lost interest in treating narrative as a priority. Instead, this new Twin Peaks plays with formal conventions, and in the realm of television the show feels alien in its pacing. A conversation in an episode might play out through a typical shot reverse shot, but each sentence will contain a lengthy pause between each other. The camera cuts back and forth repeatedly, but each cut lingers, and Lynch lets the emptiness sit there. You can feel the urge to expect someone to start spouting out lines with each cut, but instead you just sit there, watching people stare at each other for extended periods of time, and start to realize just how much the “peak artistry” of TV today caters to audiences.
But narratively speaking, Twin Peaks is surprisingly not too difficult to comprehend. There are plenty of detours, subplots, and sections without any connective tissue to the main storyline, but these four episodes comprise less than a quarter of the entire season, so it might be a matter of time before their context gets revealed. This gets reflected structurally, as the show hops between locations like New York City, South Dakota, and Las Vegas, following characters both new and old as they hopefully begin converging towards the eponymous town. Whether or not that even happens remains to be seen, but it’s obvious that there’s a story to be told here.
And with 18 hours to tell that story, Lynch has taken full advantage to do what he wants. The first hour opens with a brief scene where The Giant implores Agent Cooper to “listen to the sounds” of a squawking record player, the discordant sounds foreshadowing the various unrelated vignettes that make up the episode. The second hour starts to feel like a more direct continuation of the series, with more familiar faces showing up and a clearer sense of what lies ahead for Cooper. But it’s in the third episode, which Showtime has made available on its online streaming service along with episode four, where the full potential of the series’ promise comes to fruition. The episode boils down to three key sequences, the first of which amounts to an astounding 20 minute avant-garde short whose creation and funding by a CBS-owned network feels like a miracle in itself. The other two, taking place in the town of Twin Peaks and at a Las Vegas casino, are as funny as they are lengthy, and a relieving sign that the original show’s sense of humour hasn’t been swallowed up by the mythological elements.
If anything, these four hours of Twin Peaks reveal that the new season represents more of an evolution than a return to the way things were. The elements and (most of the) characters we love are still there, just operating within more radical parameters. The fact that one of America’s greatest filmmakers has returned with 18 hours of new material is a blessing in itself, and that he managed to get bankrolled by a major network on mainstream television without sacrificing any creative control feels like watching someone get away with a crime. We can talk about the unpredictability of Twin Peaks, try to describe the indescribable events that happen within each episode, or try to delve into the fool’s game of figuring out whatever hints and symbols Lynch throws our way, but it might be better to just cherish this rare gift. It’s been 27 years since Twin Peaks provided a one of a kind experience that still resonates to this day; now it is happening again, and we’re all the better for it.