Concerns that David Lynch and Mark Frost's trip back to the Pacific Northwest and the titular town of Twin Peaks would be a rehash of the original series or a succession of nostalgic callbacks were largely laid to rest during the third season's two-hour premiere last week. The lengthy, digressive, and perhaps even self-indulgent episodes were largely devoid the quaint antics of the town that, superficially anyway, time seemingly forgot. There was no pie, Double R Diner, or Audrey Horne's saddle shoes. Largely absent, too, was the quirky sensibilities of the series' first season, and in its place was instead an opaque sense of foreboding.
In the first two hours, Lynch reintroduced audiences to the world of Twin Peaks without spending much time there at all. Instead, he chose to turn a high-definition aerial shot of the Manhattan skyline into something dreadful, and to occupy a loft space with an empty glass box first to be filled with a monster made of smoke and light, and then the real Dale Cooper, on his way out of the Black Lodge after spending 25 years there as Laura Palmer promised in the series' then confounding (and now strangely rich) finale. In other words, Lynch and Frost weren't too interested in reconnecting with past glories or to play to the evocative nature of nostalgia. This revival of Twin Peaks isn't devoid the potent tug of sentimentality, however. It's there in the way the characters have all aged. Just look at Andy's mid-life belly, Hawk's brilliantly white hair, or how the series extols the ravages of time in the presence of actors who managed to be a part of the series before passing away.
But in those first two hours, as the story – what there is of it at this point anyway – Twin Peaks takes its audience into another small town murder mystery, the aforementioned horror experiment being undertaken in New York, and a Las Vegas-set… something. In other words, the show has ventured as much outside the confines of Twin Peaks as it has the rules of television storytelling, and its creators are plainly eager to go even further, eschewing the vibe of the original series for something that is much more in tune with Lynch's present-day filmmaking sensibilities.
Before Parts 3 and 4 get underway, there's a sense that this Peaks has undergone a considerable shift. That the darkness of the Black Lodge that was set loose a quarter century ago has infected everything around it, and even though Dark Dale's time in the show's reality is seemingly nearing an end, there's no similarly easy fix for the now permanently disturbed and unbalanced nature of world. That's probably lending more explanation to the first few hours of Twin Peaks season 3 than it's admittedly thin narrative can likely sustain, but it leads into a discussion of what's most striking about the new series: the manner in which it presents itself as disturbing horror that's more in keeping with the dark tone of Fire Walk With Me than the jazz-filled unconventionality of the original series – at least initially.
Such a shift is present nearly everywhere in the first two hours, helping the invasively creepy atmosphere to materialize like the apparition in the glass box. After the digressive nature of the premiere, however, 'Part 3' begins to shift even further away from typical rules of storytelling into a much more experimental mode that sees Lynch create some captivating sequences that will nonetheless leave some viewers maddened by the bald-faced refusal to offer explanation or embrace lucidity. The irregular structure of the first few episodes further lends to the magnetism of both series and filmmaker, and yet the manner in which it unfolds still requires considerable investment on behalf of the viewer as Lynch goes full in.
The long strange trip of Dale Cooper began last week and it's no surprise that the circumstances of his journey away from the Black Lodge would be equally unusual. In Part 3, Lynch implements several long, nearly silent sequences where Cooper finds himself falling through space before being helped (?) by two women, as an ominous pounding off screen threatens to derail what little understandable conversation they're having. The scene itself is already unnerving, which adds to the anxiety over Cooper's physical state as well as his state of mind, but Lynch augments the otherworldliness of the encounter via a stuttering technique that alters the look of the image and its movements, making the viewer hyper aware that what they're watching has been and continues to be manipulated.
That tacit awareness of Lynch as an unseen architect of the world of Twin Peaks carries through as it is made apparent Cooper's exodus from the Black Lodge is beholden to a set of rules. Those rules mean that for Cooper to leave Dark Dale must return, something he's none too eager to do. Though Dark Dale doesn't fair too well – that sure is a lot of yellow and black goo coming out of him – what's left of stays in the reality Cooper's attempting to get back to. That means an unwitting third doppelganger must be pulled back into the Black Lodge. The doomed Dougie is enjoying a little time with a working girl when the call of the Black Lodge's Red Room has him leaving his breakfast on the floor before he leaves the plane of existence entirely.
What transpires in the Red Room is enticingly full of hints at something larger going on. Dougie is told he's produced for a purpose before he turns into a Ray Harryhausen-esque black mass and then reduced to a gold ball. In the aftermath of Dougie's demise, Lynch's camera lingers teasingly on a familiar ring that viewers of Fire Walk With Me will recognize, again hinting at a larger narrative at play. The effect of 'Part 3', then, isn't just to get Cooper back into the real world, but to further establish the abstraction that is Twin Peaks. The hour reduces Cooper to an almost blank state, capable only of repeating the simplest of phrases directed at him. It's not too much of a stretch to think the audience is experiencing something similar.
'Part 4' takes a detour from the abstraction of Cooper's return to fill in the blanks of the goings-on in Twin Peaks by steering into comedic absurdity. It's the first time the series' sense of humor and its heart is really showcased in the revival, marked primarily by Cooper's continued confusion and his Lynch-like impenetrability when it comes to answering questions. Mostly, though, the hour grants a surprising focus to the still mostly intangible narrative while also checking off an impressive number of the series' reportedly very lengthy list of guest stars. 'Part 4' alone welcomes, Robert Forster, Naomi Watts, David Duchovny (who returns as Denise), Brett Gelman, Ethan Suplee, and, in what may be a series high-water mark in terms of its ability to turn into outright comedy, Michael Cera as Wally, the son of Andy and Lucy.
'Part 4' dangles some enticing threads with hints of David Bowie's Agent Phillip Jeffries and Blue Rose, as well as a conflict between Cooper and Dark Dale that may yield interesting results. In all, though, Twin Peaks is just four episodes in to this new season, and although it is decades removed from the original airing on broadcast television, it would seem, the series has only gotten better with time.
Twin Peaks continues next Sunday @9pm on Showtime.
Photos: Patrick Wymore/SHOWTIME