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‘Twin Peaks’ Is Back, and It’s Weirder Than Ever

Two hours in, David Lynch isn’t here for a nostalgia tour

(Showtime)
(Showtime)

The first glimpse we get of Twin Peaks, Washington, in a quarter-century doesn’t include Audrey Horne, or the Double R Diner, or even so much as an owl. There’s nothing nostalgic or triumphant about this scene; in fact, it’s downright unceremonious. Our entry point back into this beloved universe is, of all people, oddball psychiatrist Dr. Jacoby, doing … it’s unclear. He’s far off from the camera; his voice is muffled. And before the audience can get its bearings, the screen cuts to black. Not exactly a warm and fuzzy welcome back.

David Lynch, who directed the entire new series and cowrote the script with partner Mark Frost, hasn’t visited this corner of the Pacific Northwest since 1992, when the controversial, divinely strange, and viscerally horrifying prequel movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was savaged at Cannes. Lynch hasn’t made any narrative film in more than a decade, since 2006’s Inland Empire; he’s spent the intervening years recording albums, making a streak of Louie guest spots, and evangelizing for Transcendental Meditation (among other nonscripted pursuits). Whatever version of Twin Peaks compelled Lynch to end his hiatus, then, was never going to be a simple retread. And if his audience wasn’t entirely equipped for how radically Peaks changed in the year between the TV finale and the 1992 film, then it follows that we might not be equipped for how much it changed over multiple decades.

It changed quite a bit: The first portion of the new Twin Peaks is, in a word, bonkers. David Lynch is not trying, even a little bit, to replicate the vibe or appeal of the original ABC series, however popular it may have been. Even by Lynch standards, the events of the two-part premiere are stubbornly opaque. That’s going to make some people furious. It’s also going to make some people positively enraptured. Either way, the first two hours of 2017’s Twin Peaks confirm that Lynch isn’t here to give fan service.

As promised by Laura Palmer all those decades ago, Special Agent Dale Cooper has been trapped inside the hellish dimension known as the Black Lodge for 25 years. His doppelgänger — introduced in the original series finale years ago — is now wreaking havoc in South Dakota and has no intention of returning to the Lodge, which would set the real Cooper free. Apart from that, a shady billionaire in New York has set up an interdimensional portal and paid a 20-something kid to keep an eye out for whatever materializes, something is happening in Las Vegas, and Twin Peaks remains the wholesome refuge from modernity it always was.

If that sounds like an awfully thin spreading of plot for two hours of television, that’s because it is. Starting with how they (re)introduce themselves, Lynch and Frost aren’t playing by any recognizable rules of television plotting or pacing — or any recognizable rules, period. For all its quirks and omnipresent feeling of tragedy, the 1990 Twin Peaks pilot was just that: a pilot, with exposition and character introductions and scene-setting. Sunday night’s premiere is something else entirely: the beginning of David Lynch telling an 18-hour story at his own, unhurried pace. Freed from the confines of network television, the show is even stranger (and gorier, and sexier) than the version that upended the medium from the moment it premiered. Lynch seems to have an intuitive sense for how much violence and nudity to make explicit without disrupting the mystique, but his structural experimentation knows no bounds: We’re two hours into this and Cooper hasn’t even made it out of the Lodge. Twin Peaks 2.0 isn’t going to make acclimating easy.

In the absence of digestible narrative, then, it’s easier to catalog the differences between this rendition of the Peaks universe and the one Lynch and Frost left behind. For one thing, the atmosphere is dead quiet, which would be a trivial observation if Angelo Badalamenti’s score weren’t so essential to both the first show and its cultural footprint. This new Peaks is still, which tilts the balance further from folksy charm toward disturbia. The genre mash-up that defined the original by combining soap opera with the supernatural and contrasting sweet silliness with existential evil is there — “But the Morgans are coming for dinner,” protests a housewife when her husband is arrested for a grisly murder — but the music isn’t to guide us through the shifts by pivoting from mournful synths to upbeat jazz in a matter of seconds.

Like Fire Walk With Me, the continuation of Twin Peaks filters the same set of characters and basic facts through a different set of eyes, in part by hewing closer to the overwhelming terror of the film than the offbeat eclecticism of the original show. (As Lynch hinted it might, the premiere calls back to Fire Walk With Me literally as well as tonally: What appears to be a disembodied brain on a tree turns out to be a new incarnation of the Man From Another Place; the apparition proves its identity by directly quoting one of actor Michael J. Anderson’s lines from the film.) The 2017 Twin Peaks is clearly shot on high-definition digital (in comparison with 1990's film), or even Inland’s much earlier, much less high-quality digital photography. Twenty-seven years ago, Lynch banned the color blue, down to the props, from the Peaks set to create the town’s warm, autumnal feeling. This time, when we see Laura’s traumatized mother, Sarah, she’s watching a grisly nature documentary, practically bathed in blue light in the dark of her suburban living room.

In 2015, Lynch publicly walked away from his passion project, complaining that Showtime wouldn’t give him the hours and budget he wanted, and didn’t recommit until his demands were met. Now, we’re seeing just how expansively he’s using that canvas. This Peaks is interested in tracing weird, eerie connections out of Twin Peaks and across state lines, another one of the few details Lynch let slip in advance. Only a fraction of the action takes place in the titular town, with the rest fanning out across the country and introducing a whole cast’s worth of new Lynchian characters: small-town cops, drifters and criminals, young lovers killed in a moment of passion (pure horror) by a supernatural force composed of shadow and pulsating light (pure Lynch). It’s not quite true that Peaks has gotten bigger; the ABC show was teeming with subplots that proliferated as the episodes went on, squeezing dozens of story lines into just 45 minutes a week. It’s more accurate to say the Peaks update is so far roomier, expanding even as it slows down.

This makes it all but impossible to guess what’s going to happen in the weeks to come. It’s something audiences weren’t willing to accept all those years ago, when a lack of immediate answers and an overarching mythology caused viewership to tank in the span of a season. It is happening again: David Lynch is going to be himself, whether we’re ready or not. And we might be even less prepared than the first time around.