Reboots and nostalgia berries have been fueling creativity for the last few years. The generation that weaned itself on Star Wars, Gilmore Girls and Arrested Development is finally in power and using that power to breathe new life into old shows rather than coming up with new ideas. But do these old characters need to be revisited? Is it possible to replicate masterpieces, to capture a time, place and moment and go back to it and replay it in a way that feels whole?
In short, no.
But the thing is, David Lynch and his resurrection of Twin Peaks, the ‘90s cult-classic which captivated and mystified audiences, isn’t here to do fan service. We learned that with Fire Walk With Me, Lynch’s feature film Twin Peaks prequel. Instead of answering questions raised by the series finale (how is Annie?), he did just what he wanted. Nope, Lynch isn’t here to allow us to cheer when Laura Palmer shows up on screen or someone alludes to “wrapped in plastic.” He expands the world, adding characters that inhabit cliche so deeply and knowingly that they subvert it.
So why would David Lynch choose to revisit his most commercially successful work now? The man hasn’t made a film since Inland Empire, a bizarre meditation on fame and celluloid. David Lynch tells uniquely American stories that uncover the violence and strangeness just beneath our veneer of civility. (In fact, when Lynch’s subject strays too far afield, his filmmaking suffers — Dune, anyone?) So Lynch returns to investigate an America in flux, one that sees even the formerly recognizable become uncanny. That practice of seeing something we’ve seen before reimagined as both quaint and unsettling requires patience. Patience from David Lynch, who wouldn’t release a product he couldn’t entirely cosign, and patience from the viewer.
The new Twin Peaks could not be considered a reboot or revival. No, this doesn’t retcon or reestablish the death of Laura Palmer or the mystery of Agent Dale Cooper. Lynch isn’t as interested in the nostalgia for his show as he is the nostalgia for a good bit of coffee and a slice of pie. Instead, Lynch takes his own world and makes it far more than passing strange. Sure, it has some familiar faces but Lynch expands his lens beyond the rural areas of Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me, to New York, South Dakota and Nevada. These are the lenses through which Lynch wants us to see America, with the casinos, meth, prostitution and housing developments that entails.
Twin Peaks, in our collective unconsciousness, was a quirky, bizarre, colorful story of small town America. It had its thrills, its dancing little people, its mysterious prom queen — but it also had endless scenes of hallways, of slow pans on stucco, reminding the viewer, through minutes-long scenes, that there was something horrifying just around the corner.
We may have forgotten about the menace of the original series but Lynch most definitely has not. In the new season premiere, there’s a scene with a boy on a box with a couch. We see the box. Then the boy. Then the couch. Then back to the boy. Then the corner of the box. Then under the box. No sound, just ambient noise and slow, deliberate shots. David Fincher had Brad Pitt scream the question. Lynch nudges us until we whisper it: What’s in the box?
In the same episode, Lynch includes one of the most hackneyed images of film: The New York skyline. Under his care, New York seems flat and upsetting, and he eschews any soundtrack for empty noise, showing a quiet, stifled, menacing city with an unfamiliar glaze. If we have the patience for it — in this world of live tweeting, binge-watching and Red Weddings — there is much to be had.
Twin Peaks, and the man who created it, seem both obsessed and disdainful of modernity. Lynch eschews special effects or anything resembling CG, giving the lushly-shot show a bit of a cheap sheen — one that may be intentionally harkening back its nineties roots. But the sounds of electricity crackling, of wires pulsing between places, of cameras and TV screens, suggests a great evil lurking at the heart of Twin Peaks. (Any good fan of Fire Walk With Me knows that garmonbozia — the psychic energy of pain and suffering — is closely connected to electricity.) Twin Peaks is not built for a 2017 world, one with Reddit forums and amateur sleuths solving what the mysterious maze or the parentage of Jon Snow might be. If there is a definite answer, which there may not be, you can bet that the answer isn’t the entire point of the show. That, for the most part, might be a good thing. It might be worth it to try to consider a mystery that cannot be solved.
(See, even Homer gets how to watch Twin Peaks)
In its original incarnation, Twin Peaks is a darkly whimsical noir, complete with a detective stalking the murderer of a classic girl next door. This new iteration draws more from latter day Lynch, under bright lights, pre-fab houses and grimacing faces. There are no dreamy dance sequences. Instead, it’s like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, looking for a friendly Disney rabbit but finding only the jagged Švankmajer version.
We’ve seen Lynch as a director like this before but not Twin Peaks as a world. In this way, Lynch’s genius defies modern ways of writing about television: Recappers frantically uncovering the symbols within the show to come to a conclusion about Laura Palmer’s death are missing the point. Palmer’s death is just the hook into this strange world. The line and sinker are entirely experiential and purposefully defiant of summarization. In this way, the 2017 version of the Twin Peaks project is a success. Let’s hope the modern search for answers, structures and neatly wrapped spoilers doesn’t undo the weird, peculiar descent into David Lynch’s depiction of the America festering just below the surface.