Ok, David overdid it. To put it mildly, he could not refrain from messing it up in the last “seconds”, aesthetically. His fire, burning and flickering through the whole new third season of TWIN PEAKS called “The Return” from 2017, seems full of smoke, a lot less bright and disturbing after finishing the anticipated Episode 17 and the “grand” final 18 of his attempted reboot. It is an interesting reboot, from an audience`point of view, but it still makes me feel sort of upset. Nevertheless I enjoyed the slow other 16 episodes a lot building up to it. Being judgemental with the grand master may seem a bit pretentious, but let’s take it like walking into an art installation and blurting out what you like or dislike, perhaps to the disdain of the galerist. The artist usually is not present for inquiry, so we blurp on. According to studies visitors tend to look at a masterpiece of any provenience in between 10-40 seconds before moving on. Let’s consider observing these ~18h hours of Lynch in a passionate and compassionate gaze of the initated.
“Fans, too, are eagerly awaiting the conclusion, in the hopes it puts a proper cap on a long-beloved show.”
Ashley Rodriguz for Quartz.com https://qz.com/1049101/david-lynchs-twin-peaks-had-one-job-to-do-for-showtime-and-it-accomplished-it-brilliantly/
After the first two seasons conclusions were unlikely, but it still took him 25 years to make something in that direction happen. Laura Palmer promised to see Cooper again 25 years in the end of the iconic seasons and Lynch basically maybe have been getting tempted and teased a lot to deliver the same again or boldly reinvent himself since 1991. He did the latter, but somehow that seems now his trademark, not following expectations and dumbfound his audience even familiar with his universe of artistic choices and accustomed to his style of being the “weird filmmaker no. 1 cradled by Hollywood”. In the aftermath of being such an acclaimed inspiration and paving the way for a lot of wanna-be filmmakers allowing themselves to be “Lynchian” he somehow may have also prevented anybody else living up to that benchmark, professionally. He created a brand, a style which acts as a stand-in for the weird, illogical, bold, mystic and unconventional way of telling stories – so that there seems not much space next to his corona. Anything weird is easily dismissed as “too much like Lynch”.
Who else may have survived as a solitary “surreal” voice? David Cronenberg, Terry Gilliam coms to mind – who are from the same generation –, one still active the latter shunned by producers because of his aura of not keeping budgets, maybe the younger Gulliermo del Toro, Darren Aronofsky, the brutal French Gaspar Noé, or proto-horror shocker Andrzej Zulawski (who never did grow to major fame), a little bit the Italian Dario Argento, maybe partly Lars von Trier (who still feels like a different beast, digesting some of the aesthetics of Lynch in a Danish, more European, personal and one might say, distructive way). Polanski may be a candidate, but it rather seems that he inspired Lynch than the other way around. Of course there are the surrealists to be mentioned, iron-father Luis Buñuel, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Alain Resnais who stem from the 20ies and Alejandro Jodorowsky who may have prepared the tastes and expectations in cinematographic adventures to take a leak on the wild side, if you dare. The godfather of Dune and surreal esoteric Western has terrified studios for decades with his grand ideas, but the all just exploited aesthetic details and concepts without letting him steer major cinematic vehicle again. Some people get shot if they step out of the car of conventionalism. Studio bosses and serious producers may just call you nuts and send you home in a coffin presenting them “incoherent nonsense” suggesting that you are sugarcoating it with the label “artistic”. Well, a lot a people could be a fan of that in the end – but an uncomfortable dream is not easy to forge – let alone a series of nightmares.
Twin Peaks is not a nightmare. [SPOILER ALERT from here on]. It feels like wading through a pond of sluggish, black raw oil, where on one end a blackfaced homeless tries to light it up in slow motion while you are in the middle of it and on the other side a golden angel choir of spheres chant “holy mother mary” for Laura Palmer descending from Buñuel heaven to save us from Bob, or David from Bob – or us from Lynch. Who knows? That is the good part. The Woodmen with charcoaled faces, the inhabitants of the burned out gas station are indeed scary and itch in the head like the spell being sent over the radio scratching at our cerebellum. Their presence is never explained also not their fate – but who expects that? In other instances the director`s choices to visually explain the roots of the Twin Peaks canon open up the gates to for half an episode of long atomic flashes of abstract flurry imagery, showing the birth of Judy, Bob and the bad bad bomb testing of the 40ies and 50ies spawing them as a rupture of dimensions. That is glorious and great – he ties the mysterious presence of negative forces back to our own human curiosity and experimentation and breaks all rules of TV storytelling in turning parts of The Return into a feast of art video experimentation.
A lot of tropes and styles of the last 100 years of experimental filmmaking get revisited – or exploited – tickling the taste for art installations and equally non-narrative artistic video projections, maybe in hope to mellow their attitude towards the unknown. Tony Oursler´s heads say hello as well. Equally eerie is the Lynchian use for patched up eyes, a litte lit of gore, doppelgaengers, black lenses and talking in reverse, a classic trope from the Black Lodge. filling the scenes with gorgeous women, hand-selected by the director himself who seemingly flew Monica Bellucci in to have a coffee in Paris just because his character Gordon Cole in the series dreamed of her. Yes, as Monica Bellucci herself. Noami Watts delivers a formidable performance and acts like a fine etched carving in the slug of a story David throws at us. She looks aged, but that is not important, her portrayal of the spineless American housewife, ignorant and opportunistic, but nevertheless loving and resolute, is formidable.
To tamper with our expectation to just continue the pace and action of the iconic Twin Peaks and leading us on another plane, that is the genius of the brand Lynch. He can and choose to and who are you to be bored or shaking your head watching scenes with lobotomised Dale Cooper aka Dougie Jones unfold like a complicated origami figurine back into a square piece of paper, and all you can do is slowly tracing the folding lines. Great cinema, only possible n TV. Iconic also a short scene with Mulder aka David Duchovny in women´s clothes reprising his role as Cooper´s transsexual FBI colleague Denise. The slow pace and meandering style is a bliss, once you get habituated to it. He pushed open a new door in recreating a new Twin Peaks on the rotten moss of the past, not caring for entertainment or action but for atmosphere. The universe gets greatly expanded and we see stranger things happen in New York, Las Vegas and even Odessa.
All that giving space and time is a fantastic vehicle to get you out of hurried interpretations and lets the viewer marvel at things unseen on TV so far. We get beaten tolerant with a cudgel carved from a electric tree sprouting in the Black Lodge, just one of several access points into another dimension. Twin Peaks is reduced to be just one of them, neatly opening the horror in broad daylight in the middle of the woods or in an apartment in New York, a living room or a street. As fast David Lynch is cruising since the very coherent and elliptical Lost Highway where he did not loose his way, the aesthetic body of Twin Peaks: The Return does not connect back elliptically (a now almost conservative and classic way to conclude a story) but drones on with long silent drives and the neverending American roads leading nowhere – or always back to Rome, ahm, Twin Peaks.
Actually he does not drive, like in Mulholland, he lulls himself and us somehow in the pace of walking – which in the end is as mad as walking through L.A. or trying to tiptoe down the Interstate 1 on your own feet and not on iron horseback. By the way, this gives the opportunity to diverge into the wonderful score by The Sound Defects sporting the iron horse – one of the music choices not being proudly presented by the series’, but I feel nonetheless a very close relative in spirit:
Specially because in some parts Lynch appears to have been infected by a grain of salt of the Tarantino type, which breaks the rhythm here and there, but actually freshens things up, too. The diner scene in Ep 18 may be the best part of the last half hour bewildering us not with closing some aesthetic loops, but opening a new death bag. Sigh. Do you want to stall another 20 years for a fourth season so badly, David?
The music parts are outstanding and inserting a lot of his musical choices as full songs performed in the Roadhouse / Bang Bang Club live underline the “proudly presented by David Lynch (and David Frost)” character of the show. It has evolved into a platform which spins the yarn of the story but rather offers screen time for all the other characters and actors and musicians David likes. Trent Reznor and the Nine Inch Nails, the weird Chromatics, the extra re-assembled Au Revoir Simone beauties, the dark witchery sound of The Veils, the eager and screamy Cowgirl Lissie, or Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam “live”…– if David calls, they all come forth and perform. Enviable magic.
On the actors/actresses’ side the fabulous grimaces of Jim Belushi, the flawless new sheriff Truman – Frank, brother of Harry – the Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy duo now in wedlock: deputy Andy & secretary Lucy, the flamboyant three gracious bonbons “saved” by the Mitchum brothers: specially the rather precise and apt performance of the only one of them who spoke: Candie, interpreted by Amy Shields, unforgettable hunter of flies and recitations on cue. Lynch is stuffing his series with old and new acquisitions of the circus, but no one can say that the ones he holds in high regard (meaning screen time) can´t act. It is a springboard to bolster a career. Tammy, close to Cole/Lnych in the succession of the mysterious events unraveling The Return, gets slowly into gear – but when she is on the move on her high heels and in a slow gait following the entourage of old men and women, she performs and even lets the brilliant Diane (Laura Dern) look a tad old in the end, never minding her “Fuck you, Tammy!”. Chrysta Bell, supposedly an “old” muse of David Lynch since 1992 is praising her mentor as often as possible and is seen with him on all sorts of public occasions. Lucky Miss Bell met Lynch when she was only 14 and recorded a song with him on their first encounter. Not being a real professional actor but a singer with her own career being chosen to deliver the 8th biggest role in Twin Peaks: The Return which is certainly boosting her audience – and it proves to be a sound choice. I wonder why many of his female muses do have a faint aura of an alien, eyes a bit wider apart, like coming in from a different plane of reality…
However, lets get back to Episode 17 and 18, where things go awry. Unluckily the choice of pace is sped up like Cooper popping out of a dream (isn´t that an accurate description?) and then moving ahead on steroids, the plot beaten into pieces by a rubber garden glove. Was the glove really necessary – and effective? It felt like a Deus ex machina twist in a Lewis Carroll story, including the British accent and mashed onto the icon of a boxer hovering like a poster boy over all those, slowly circling. Then a punch. Then time travel. Well, that part feels fine and may even resolve too much – the past changes the future, a straightforward idea like out of the storyteller´s cookbook. But after that the built-up storylines converging do become blurry again and we get led onto different paths, not knowing if we are in our out of the other realm, and what t make of an opponent which can toy with Cooper (and Diane) like that.
The basic notion could be that the eternal war of good vs. evil goes on and on and on, but it rather feels that the good side (Diane, Cooper, Sheriff Truman, Cole, Hawk etc.) are hopelessly loosing. To not stand a chance against an angry god who can create whole worlds and doppelgaengers with the blink of an unseen eye. Not talking to Laura about all that in a drive of hours, not about the dead guy or anything actually seems odd – but in an unsatisfying way. All of this (becoming Richard?) and being caught in a new nightmare cannot only culminate in a question about the date. Who cares what year it is? Cooper is loosing and maybe after all also prone to loose his mind. Lynch wants to force door open to let in the cliffhangers for another season. Let everyone despair and agonize about the sheer impossibility to cope with those overwhelming forces. I always despised the negative touch of the Lynchian dream which corners you in desperation and fear, fear of shadows, fear of yourself and – in case of The Return – of electricity, the classic negative force of negatively charged electrons. His symbolism exposes the weakness of many surrealists – they are easy to decipher and tend to over-represent the obvious.
This season could have been a “curtain call” – but he chooses to expand the universe substantially in the last two episodes and let us hang there. As if keeping doors open is more important than the story itself, the vehicle full or friends meandering on more gratifying for him than battling Judy or getting back to the events in New York – the debris and fallout more important than the atomic blast and its immediate effects. We all get burned by his visions, and one might muse that David Lynch performs a cleansing ritual with his series to rid is system of “negative energy” or if he – god forbid – represents a conduit of Judy/Bob (for real!) while infesting our dreams with his imagery…shivers down the spine. A tad of the Ring creeps out of the TV, delivered to the doorstep when all transcendental meditation fails you enshrine your nightmares in a TV series and let the world participate and suck it away.
Still, it is always enjoyable to take a walk with Lynch in the dark woods getting inspired and not fulfilled with what you know and expect. That is his big quality and not many masters, being caught in their own mastery are able to muster change and still stay close to their roots and evolve. For this, there is no other than David Lynch out there, no “tulpa” or doppelgaenger will ever come close – unless you are able to find your own trail in the woods and create your own dimensions…