I find myself grasping for the appropriate words to convey what is occurring here, this phenomenon of television history. You need no more words from me on the reputation and cultural legacy of the series. You’ve already read what I’ve to say, and then some. Instead, we’ll address the Giant in the room, the ghost with the rattling chains, the killer among us. Have the expectations become so high, thus to the point of becoming a wall to enclose on the show? After all that has been said, and done, can this new season meet the anticipations? In this day and age, it’s easy to think of a revival as a reboot, of which we have plenty. It was not so with this case; after 25 years, we have a continuation proper to the cliffhanger. Time can make for a cult following just as much as for a gallows.
It pleases, and disturbs, me to say that yes… it was worth it. The Season Three Premier did not just meet the expectations; it annihilated them. Possible slight spoilers ahead, read at your own risk. I won’t be talking about this one the same way as I do with my rewatches and rereads. This is happening now.
Hello, Agent Cooper
As a means of a prologue, we see the scene shot more than 25 years ago in the Black Lodge. Laura Palmer’s promise rings ominous, knowing Season 2’s finale and the events of Fire Walk With Me. The screen silently fades to black. Us viewers are treated to some of the familiar sights from the show’s opening, as somewhat of a dusting to our senses. But even this experience feels somewhat odd. The town is shrouded in fog and the places we’ve come to love, such as the Mill and the High School, feel alien by now. We get one more soundless look at Laura’s homecoming picture before an old friend comes to rescue us from the haunting silence.
Angelo Badalamenti, we’ve dearly missed you. I must confess that hearing the show’s theme stole my breath for a second and sent shivers down my spine. I think it highly plausible it could have touched somebody to tears. The new introduction features now a montage of waterfalls and the Black Lodge as the credits appear. To the comfort of the knowing, David Lynch and Mark Frost are at the helm. But beware, this time, the show feels considerably more Lynchean. The very first sign is the scene unfolding in what is most likely the Black Lodge, shot entirely with a dreary ambience of black and white. Eraserhead vibes seep in soon enough. Ever the voice of wisdom, the Giant advises Coop to remember 403, Richard and Linda.
We must note that Cooper’s voice is not distorted in the peculiar Black Lodge fashion. In fact, he doesn’t seem to be quite there, in the same place as the Giant. In terms of facial expression, our large friend looks despondent and hopeless, whereas Coop’s appears somewhat resolute. Our Agent, aged and all, is still our Agent.
Film connoisseurs (not me, je suis un singe) have probably noticed this in the ‘Black Lodge’, but the camerawork is slightly different now. It’s clearer, but the lighting gives a colour palette not too dissimilar from the days of old. The greens and sunlight in the woods are a clear indication of it. Out in this ‘mundane’ world, our second fond re-encounter is with Dr. Jacoby. Although he still wears his signature 3-D shades, the camerawork and distant audio strips all familiarity from the scene. It’s like seeing somebody we’ve fondly missed, only to find that they haven’t missed us back that much. This feeling of wrongness extends to the fact that he’s purchased shovels out in the woods. We don’t get to see much further on the subject because the show takes us far out of the town now, to New York City.
Here, we meet our first new face, Sam (Ben Rosenfield). At this point, his occupation is pretty hard to figure out. All we know is that it involves cameras and a strange humming glass chamber. It’s probably important, since no outsiders are allowed in, not even his girlfriend Tracey (Madeline Zima). Because of the ambiguous purpose (Top Secret) of the place and the interactions between he and Tracey, we get a feel for an important Lynchpin. Doubt and a strange, vaguely aggressive awkwardness. The scene ends as we go back to Twin Peaks, to the Great Northern Hotel. You know what that means, the Horne Brothers. Ben has a new secretary, Beverly (Ashley Judd) and Jerry has taken to consuming marijuana, as you do. Turns out they sell the product on the side now, legally.
In much a similar way as with Dr. Jacoby, the interactions between Ben and Jerry is not quite the same as it used to be. This is an indication of the mood for the original cast. They have moved with the times, without the necessity to reprise old quirks. It’s a plausible means of character development, but still rather sad to see. However, some characters only aged, but didn’t grow old. Of course, I mean Lucy, whom we love. She is still a bubbly as we remember, judging from her interactions with a stranger who has come looking for Sheriff Truman. These bits of quirk feel like music so far, and speaking of music…
Restless Sounds in the Night
There isn’t much around. Apart from the show’s theme, the scenes have unfolded in relative silence. This means there isn’t music, which feels to an old viewer like a hollow that needs filling. Not to fear, though, as a remix of “American Woman”, played by Muddy Magnolias plays in the background as we see a vehicle driving around the woods at night. As opposed to the slightly melodramatic, very often cathartic feel, of Badalamenti’s score, the silence and the particular music selection imbue the episode’s feel with oppressiveness. And that is a very fitting introduction to the man at the wheel. The physical form of Cooper, a sinister-looking man up to no good is looking for Ray and Darya. This appearance is a stark reminder that Kyle MacLachlan can get nasty, really far from Coop or the Mayor in Portlandia.
Back in NY, we return to Sam. Through a small opportunity Tracey has to enter the room with Sam, we sort of learn what is this about. He is to watch the glass box, along with the cameras, to see if anything appears inside. The possibility that somebody may have done so hints at the ‘Blue Rose’ bits that were featured in late Season 2 and the film. The weird awkwardness of their first scene gives way to some fucking on the job. The sultriness of the act, being slightly explicit, is undermined by the humming silence of the glass chamber. As per the horror-genre convention, this is an invitation to misfortune. During their session, a strange entity materialises inside of the glass box. The shape and movement of it is rather reminiscing of Jacob’s Ladder‘s unearthly aesthetics.
Sam and Tracey meet a grisly end at the hands of this creatures after it breaks out of the box. It’s not the first time we see explicit death on the series. After all, we did see Maddy being killed by Leland and Fire Walk With Me‘s ending was fairly explicit as well. But the show has never executed death in such a manner as this before. It’s still early, but this carnage effectively makes a statement. State boundaries don’t mean a thing. Something very wrong, ineffably dangerous, is at work, far beyond the town of Twin Peaks. It might be daytime when we get to an apartment building in South Dakota, but the scene will still ring with the unease and horror of the night as we prepare for, what I’m sure, will be one of many disturbing sights to come.
A Whimper of Hope
We’re back on the woods, back on Twin Peaks. Some things have changed, and who really knows if they have for the better. But those that remain are thankfully those we can rely on. In a series where good and evil matter, as forces of their own, seeing certain faces can be most soothing. I will be talking on a meta sense for a moment here, but this caused me as much comfort as hearing the show’s theme once more. The character of the Margaret, the Log Lady has always played an important part, in spite of her relatively sparse appearances. Still, we have always known that some apparent veil of madness only concealed a deep understanding of the events unfolding. Catherine E. Coulson, the actor who portrayed this character, passed away on September 28, 2015. Seeing her now, reprising the role, emphasises the heart of the character.
Moreover, we don’t live in a world given shape and coherence by, say, Russian Formalism. Sometimes, it’s simply not plausible to look at things in a vacuum, to observe them in terms of their own contained characteristics. Factors such as tribute or fondness can also play into the dynamic of appreciating a character. Thus, we’d like to thank Catherine E. Coulson for giving us this character even now. Back to the episode.
She calls Deputy Chief Hawk, who has aged graceful. His presence is also very welcome and comforting, and much like she and Cooper, he has a mind wide open for things that we cannot fully comprehend by conventional means. Her log, whom we know contains the spirit of her late husband, has a message to say. Something is missing, which is related to his heritage and has something to do with Special Agent Dale Cooper. Interestingly, Hawk says the name as if it were something he hadn’t heard in a long time, or perhaps something which nobody has said under a favourable light for a while. Margaret delivers this message with an anguish we have rarely seen from her before. The interaction between them is actually heartwarming. The homely lighting in his office and her home certainly add to the effect.
But there is a greater payoff from this exchange. We have a brief respite from the despair and death that has dominated throughout the previous scenes. Even in silence, they feel like a sort of music for our ears. Furthermore, Andy and Lucy soon join in aid to his search. This aids the soothe even further as they seem to have been happy for all of the time that we haven’t seen them. That’s not all, as all those who remember Season 2’s finale will remember one dire concern. Just what horrendous things will ‘Coop’ do out in the world while our Cooper is trapped in the Black Lodge? It will be comforting to know that in the eyes of the people who cared for him, he simply went missing. The comfort may be small, but there is no blemish on his name, as far we know thus far.
Who Killed Ruth Davenport?
The long-sustained shots and the low, but noticeable sound of music build the atmosphere. The forgetful quirks of the tenet who called the cops don’t alleviate the thickness of the scene. In fact, the following shenanigans regarding the acquiring of a key to open a tenet’s door would be effective otherwise. Yet at this point, the episode has managed to drown out nuances of individuals in favour of sheer atmosphere. The body of local librarian, Ruth Davenport, is found. And make no mistake, this is no Laura Palmer, not even Teresa Banks. This is nasty. Forensics at the scene and Detective Dave Macklay (Brent Briscoe) find Ruth’s head on top of a man’s headless body. The choice to introduce a nightmarish tone in this part may be considered a bit clichè. For some, it may even dull the shock. One thing is for sure, the visual alone is enough.
I can see somebody wondering if this new season will follow a formula, namely a murder case to drive the plot. I am one of them somebodies, and we don’t know yet how Lynch and Frost will handle the possibility. However, Twin Peaks by now is a rather self-aware series in terms of tropes. It is after all, a show that now continues and partly runs from its link to the past. The old tools are still efficient, but their uses can still vary. The show somewhat addresses this by acknowledging the evolution in forensic technology. It’s how we get a definite conclusion, that the body belongs to a John Doe, and that a local was involved. Our new Mr. Plausibility may be local school principal Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard).
The news falls with incredulity on the local police, since Mr. Hastings is a dear member of the community. Nevertheless, he is promptly arrested, with as much discretion as possible. He denies guilt, but his alibi is not solid. Still, the information on what they suspect him for does appear to shock him. Will this man turn out to take after Leland Palmer in more ways than his apparent deed?
At the end, what can we say about this remarkable season premiere? Was it more than remarkable, which is ideally the aim for all beginnings? I would say it’s so, without a doubt. However, it’s not an opening that relies too much on pleasing the fanbase it has earned. In fact, I would dare say Twin Peaks: Season Three is, so far, reprising the same effect it had done back in the day, by subverting expectations. Given how the show has long become etched in the fabric and core of popular culture, delivering a product too similar to the show we know may even be counterproductive. This premiere had even those versed on the show’s story and mythos guessing for what could come next. In response, the Return presented some unexpected approaches in aesthetics and storytelling.
Of course, we also have plenty of questions to keep our imaginations busy for the next part. For all that the episode showed, it also hinted aplenty, inviting us viewers to follow the path further into the dark. We had thought we knew Twin Peaks, but the dynamic duo of David Lynch and Mark Frost finds ways to surprise us every time. As I watched the episode last night, I found myself thinking of the most fitting analogy for a close. In the end, I figured that the show is like our favourite donut, sweet and full. This premiere is also a donut, yet it tastes somewhat odd. Still, for the life of us, we cannot help but chew and chew. There is a phantom of the old flavour, but the new one is still so appealing.
Stay tuned, lovelies.