A glass box, a beheading, a shipment of shovels: They might be explained eventually, they might not. The first two hours of Twin Peaks: The Return forced viewers to make peace with such ambiguity. The chapters established that the project is not a revival in the truest sense of the Twin Peaks that ran from 1989 to 1991 on ABC: no coffee yet, or doughnuts, or pie. Just a mysterious glass enclosure and a hungry demon.
Four hours in, The Return feels true to director David Lynch’s stubbornly enigmatic persona, unclear and unhurried in its efforts to reveal itself. The pace is leisurely, luxuriating in the lack of commercial breaks Lynch famously loathed; the proliferation of new characters is disorienting. The premiere felt like a warning and a promise: The man behind Twin Peaks is making up for lost time and going full Lynch. Accordingly, The Return feels like a David Lynch feature that just happens to use some of the building blocks of his old TV show.
The next two hours of The Return, broadcast on Showtime this Sunday after streaming online for the past week, hint at what Lynch has in mind for the reboot. Not that Parts 3 and 4 suddenly transform the show into recognizable television; Part 3 opens with what is essentially a 20-minute near-silent film following Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) into a new corner of the Black Lodge, the evil dimension where he’s been trapped for the past 25 years. But the two episodes gather the premiere’s various strands into something approaching a coherent narrative. The Return is moving even further past the original and into a strange, continent-spanning story of shady billionaires and mistaken identity, even as it indulges in some of the callbacks and cameos the audience expects (and initially didn’t get) from a sequel.
Lynch’s brain-breaking productions resist the vocabulary of prestige-era TV. Parsing individual choices and details yields an indecipherable jumble; only by zooming out does a clearer picture emerge. There’s likely no rhyme or reason to Cooper’s shoes remaining in the Black Lodge, or the bouquet of roses sitting in the chair of an austere office as FBI Bureau Chief Gordon Cole (Lynch) waits to speak with Chief of Staff Denise Bryson (David Duchovny). Lynch, who made the Lodge’s iconic curtains red because of a vision he received while leaning on the hood of a hot car, is not big on literal clues.
There is, however, an overarching sense to the events that bring Cooper out of the Lodge and attract the Bureau’s attention. In hours three and four, we learn that Cooper has switched places with Dougie Jones (a paunchier, bewigged MacLachlan), an inveterate gambler from suburban Las Vegas — and yet another body double alongside Cooper’s leather-jacket-loving twin. The One-Armed Man clears things up, if just barely, when a baffled Dougie is recalled to the Lodge. Unbeknownst to Dougie, he was “manufactured for a purpose”: to take Cooper’s place inside the Lodge in lieu of his evil doppelgänger, who remains on Earth. The plan — who’s behind it or who’s involved — is never explained beyond that cryptic pronouncement.
This is why the term “dream logic” is so frequently applied to Lynch’s work, sometimes by Lynch himself. Reason isn’t entirely absent from Twin Peaks; it just doesn’t apply to everything in this hermetically sealed universe. (Why does Cooper’s escape seem to revolve around electrical outlets? Maybe Lynch had another vision while charging his phone.) That randomness was part of what made the original so beloved. At the micro level — character-building details like Gordon’s hearing loss or Dr. Jacoby’s multicolored glasses — inexplicable quirk was charming and immersive. At the macro level, though, it proved maddening. When Lynch’s abstraction extended to questions of mythology — if the owls weren’t what they seemed, as one of the show’s many gnomic catchphrases went, what were they? — the selectively scattershot cosmology drove closure-minded viewers insane, or just led them to tune out entirely. There is a superstructure to Twin Peaks — just not the finely wrought kind we’d later get from Lost or Westworld. When Lynch’s cocreator, Mark Frost, a TV veteran, took a crack at a framework with his book The Secret History of Twin Peaks, the results were unsurprisingly awkward. The only thing less satisfying than the gaping holes left by the show’s hasty conclusion is someone filling them in with garden-variety UFOs.
While Parts 3 and 4 bring back the loose, instinctive world-building of the original, the chapters also include more direct homages to the first Twin Peaks. And because they came after such a willfully obtuse premiere, those throwbacks don’t feel like fan service or a full relapse to ABC mode. Denise’s return, for example, is a delight: Her appearance is the sort of bone-throwing we’d expect from a sweeter, more conventional show, like the flash-forwards in the series finale of Parks and Recreation — look how well things turned out for the fan favorite! Likewise, Michael Cera’s turn as Lucy and Andy’s Brando-quoting son is both a sorely missed injection of small town wackiness and resolution for viewers who want it: After Lucy’s pregnancy provided one of the first series’ more purely comic subplots, we now see how her baby grew up. Like the best Peaks flourishes, “Wally Brando” makes both perfect sense and no sense at all.
Mostly, though, the familiar elements of The Return serve as a catalyst for the series’ amped-up sense of the uncanny. An amnesiac Cooper, unwittingly dropped into Dougie’s life right down to his awful jacket, looks on silently as bits of his past experiences bubble up like flotsam after a shipwreck. Instead of Twin Peaks–epicenter and damn-fine coffee dispensary the Double R Diner, the exurban housing development where Cooper reappears has the initials “RR.” Instead of the grove of sycamores that mark the Twin Peaks entrance to the Black Lodge, Coop drives past Sycamore Road. Instead of the owls of Owl Cave, a solitary bird flies past the house Dougie shared with his wife, played by Lynch stalwart Naomi Watts. When “Laura Palmer’s Theme” suddenly intrudes on a soundtrack that’s been conspicuously missing Angelo Badalamenti’s original score, the abruptness of the song’s return is even more disconcerting than the haunting dirge itself. Things just recur, at different times and places, without apparent rhyme or reason. Like a dream.
The Return uses these bits and pieces of the original Twin Peaks to push further away from the ABC series and deeper into the discomfiting horror of Lynch’s feature films. The throbbing, rumbling sound design comes straight from Eraserhead; the doppelgänger obsession was explored not just in the original Twin Peaks but also in Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway; Lynch players like Watts and Laura Dern have significant roles. The Return is Lynch’s first narrative work in more than a decade, and while it’s not guaranteed to be his last, it’s a striking opportunity for one of our weirdest filmmakers to make something of this scale and with this degree of autonomy. The ratings may be low, but Showtime doesn’t get take-backs: The network has this bizarre, beautiful freak show for the next 16 weeks(!). The Return isn’t a true follow-up to Twin Peaks. It’s something bigger, stranger, and far more interesting.