“Let’s go back to starting positions. It’s really much more comfortable.”
That was the evil doppelganger of Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) on last Sunday’s episode of Twin Peaks: The Return, the 13th of the 18-hour cult classic revival. In the context of the scene, he’s talking about arm wrestling, toying with a beefy goon (Derek Mears) as he fights for the right to do as he pleases with old friend Ray (George Griffith). In a grander sense, though, he could have been talking about the state of nostalgia television as a whole.
“Bringing back that thing you love” has almost become its own TV subgenre, one that’s not going away anytime soon. Returns to Will & Grace and Roseanne are already on the way, and hits like Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life and Fuller House have each made splashy returns. Twin Peaks, though, felt different. This is David Lynch we’re talking about. Surely he wouldn’t attach his name and considerable directorial talents to a mindless cash grab aimed at selling licensed coffee mugs. And indeed he didn’t. Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost had unfinished business in the town of Twin Peaks. For 13 hours they’ve handled it with wit and brilliance. Lynch in particular has brought all of his visual powers to bear on the series. Twin Peaks: The Return is a tour de force of imagination, guts and raw storytelling power.
It’s also becoming a master class in how to go backwards to move forward.
When we returned to Twin Peaks two months ago, many of the characters were already back in starting positions. Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) was (and is) still chainsmoking on her couch. Shelly Johnson (Madchen Amick) was still manning the counter at the RR Diner. James Hurley (James Marshall) was still brooding around the Roadhouse. Hawk (Michael Horse) and Andy (Harry Goaz) were still deputies. Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) still worked the phones at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department. These are, in many cases, comforting and reassuring positions in which to find these people. They also serve to underline just how far some of the others have strayed.
The most obvious difference between old Twin Peaks and new is that, 13 hours in, we still haven’t seen the return of Agent Cooper as we remember him. There are two Coopers roaming the landscape of The Return, but neither is the one we know. There’s the evil Cooper doppelganger, long-haired and bronzed, arm wrestling for revenge and those coordinates he’s been looking for since the beginning. Then there’s “Dougie Jones,” the shell-shocked, broken real Cooper living a charmed life in Las Vegas despite a bounty on his rather empty head. Both are twisted versions of the recognizable, cruelly teasing us with the old, coffee-praising Agent Cooper we know and love. The scene we all crave, of Cooper back in the sheriff’s department talking shop with Hawk, feels as far away as ever. In a revival filled with callbacks and references to its original incarnation, Twin Peaks feels determined to hold at least a few bits of nostalgia back.
But that doesn’t mean we aren’t headed in the direction of the beginning once more.
The tagline for The Return’s marketing materials – which heavily featured old images from the show since Lynch vetoed the use of much new footage – was “It Is Happening Again,” a quote from The Giant way back in Season 2. That’s more than a simple nostalgia play.
The plot of The Return so far has been packed with characters who are surprised to find old mysteries regaining traction after 25 years. The Log Lady (Catherine Coulson) tells Hawk that it’s time to find whatever’s missing, thus reopening the Laura Palmer case files. A secret left hidden by Major Briggs (Don S. Davis) decades ago is finally revealed to the sheriff’s department. Cooper, waiting in the Red Room for a quarter century, is finally given the chance to go home, however long that road may be. Meanwhile one gets the sense that the town of Twin Peaks itself was almost frozen in time, preserved under glass until these wheels could again start to turn. Look at the old decor still on the walls of the RR Diner, then look at evil Cooper in his den of thieves. It’s a startling and effective juxtaposition of old and new.
Sunday’s “Part 13” was the latest in a long line of episodes suggesting that both old and new will converge in the weeks to come. Evil Cooper now has his coordinates, which Diane’s (Laura Dern) snooping revealed lead to the town. Gordon (Lynch) and Albert (Miguel Ferrer) have those same coordinates and aren’t likely to just sit on them. Hawk and Sheriff Truman (Robert Forster) have some coordinates of their own that lead to the mountains outside of town. The real Cooper is still trapped in the world of Dougie Jones, but he’s mainlining coffee and cherry pie like there’s no tomorrow. It’s hard to imagine he’ll go much longer without realizing who he is and where he needs to be.
Then there are all the other little clues of a return to the show’s roots: The ceiling fan in the Palmer house (which may well have been spinning non-stop for 30 years), Norma’s insistence that her new franchise restaurants make pies the old-fashioned way, James’ rendition of “Just You” on the Roadhouse stage. It’s all pointing the way to “it” really happening again. Whatever “it” is, it wouldn’t be surprising if it involved two Coopers, the sheriff’s department, BOB, the spirit of Laura Palmer and plenty of Red Room weirdness. We don’t yet know what Lynch has in store, but after the phantasmagoric wonders of “Part 8” (the best hour of television broadcast this year) it’s hard to think Twin Peaks’ final turn toward the finish line will be anything but dazzling. All roads lead once again to Twin Peaks, but Lynch and Frost have come too far to make that seem stale.
Twin Peaks: The Return airs Sundays on Showtime.