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Twin Peaks: The Return is a reminder that TV needs its iconoclasts

Twin Peaks may have created prestige TV, but it now returns to tear it to shreds with bloody vengeance

Clarisse Loughrey
Friday 30 June 2017 13:51

I’ll be honest, I was worried when Twin Peaks: The Return was first announced. Not because I’d lost trust in David Lynch as a filmmaker or doubted the show’s eventual quality. The concern was more about what Twin Peaks had become to the world: a show now intimately steeped in a kind of Nineties nostalgic kitsch. Of doughnuts and cherry pies, red curtains and saddle shoes.

This is what Twin Peaks is, but also what it isn’t. That quaint Washington State town, as populated by loveable kooks and charming teenagers, always had the power to draw us into a state of comfort, but it was only so that, when the curtain is finally ripped back and the horrors beneath are revealed, the effect would be earth-shattering.

In the Nineties, it was entirely the opposite of what TV was meant to be. Lynch toyed with the established world of soap operas and small-town dramas, all so he could crush their core ideals to dust.

David Lynch, at the end of the day, is an iconoclast. A breeder of nightmares. An unrestrained experimentalist. He may be partially credited with having invented the idea of prestige TV, but Twin Peaks was birthed only out a sense of anarchy towards its own format. Even in mainstream cinephilia, Lynch is somewhat of an outlier; in TV, where the avant garde is even harder to find, he's a wonder child.

Twin Peaks may have shaped prestige TV, but prestige TV forgot what made Twin Peaks such a pioneer. Whatever glory days are to be found now, it's still hard to get around the fact there's a kind of uniformity to it all. TV still isn't the place for true narrative, stylistic, or structural experimentation. Hannibal had its wild visuals, but ones which worked within a fairly traditional detective-style narrative.

So, to see Lynch return to this field? As much as he seems the humble sort, Twin Peaks: The Return acts like a long-lost prince returning to his homeland to reclaim the throne, with Lynch remaining just as much of an iconoclast in 2017 as he was in 1990; part-by-part, he’s deconstructed the tropes we’ve come to absently accept about what great television should be, and reminded us once more that the rules were born to die.

A major influence the original series left behind was the innate appeal of grand, complex arc narratives, a major crux now in TV fandom; the creation of obsession, specifically, as we cling to every clue like amateur detectives, seeking out the answers as if they'll offer ultimate enlightenment.

Certainly, 2017’s Twin Peaks once more plays up to that at some level but, then again, the depth of its surrealism also means much will inevitably end up as false leads – something that simply can’t be abided by in the modern TV landscape. Is the hum we hear in episode seven in the Great Northern Hotel the spirit of Josie Packard, trapped in the wood? Will we ever know?

Indeed, what feels so subversive now about Twin Peaks is that, for all its intricacies and puzzles, their solutions matter so much less than what television has led us to believe. The true power of the Lynchian puzzle is the emotion behind it. Episode eight will stand as one of the finest ever created, but due to its intensity of feeling, not its logic.

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In one sequence of pure, nightmarish terror, Lynch brought us inside a detonated nuclear bomb full of frenzy, and noise. He delivered us a vision of the birth of evil entirely through complete abstraction. Does this offer us an explanation as to the origin of BOB? Certainly, but surely that’s not what’s important here.

That sense of interconnectedness so rife within prestige TV feels destroyed also by the irreverence with which Lynch approaches mood. All while consistency in tone has become a major building block in how shows make their mark on the scene, to offer something entirely unique to audiences.

“Gritty and dark” is certainly a popular label, and it’s funny to see Lynch almost tip his hat to what was left behind in Breaking Bad’s wake, in coldly shot desert scenes of criminal interactions. They double-cross each other. There’s blood in the sand. Yet, Lynch is just as fond of his absurdist humour, too, with episode three and four almost entirely dedicated to Dougie stumbling around the world like a drunk toddler.

Twin Peaks: It Is Happening Again trailer

Addictiveness is now a point of great pride in the era of binge watch TV. Lynch, however, is happy to deliberately test his audience’s patience on multiple occasions in order to tease a sense of playfulness out of the drama; that seems a fair explanation for why we watched a 3-minute scene of someone sweeping in episode 7, or an entire Nine Inch Nails performance in episode 8, as if Twin Peaks had suddenly turned into an episode of Conan.

And what of the show's twists? Could they really even be called twists? Lynch, incredibly, is able to send an entire TV viewing audience into hysterics simply by revealing that a character named Diane is real and that, yes, she is Laura Dern.

There’s been a lot of talk, in fact, about Twin Peaks’ various A-list actors, with star factor having taken such a hold of prestige TV. Ewan McGregor and Kirsten Dunst in Fargo. Kevin Spacey in House of Cards. 2017’s Twin Peaks is filled to the brim with recognisable faces, but their presence is often masterfully undercut by how Lynch utilises them.

Naomi Watts, as Dougie’s wife, is a delightful mess of pantomime hysteria and watery-eyed earnestness. Much would usually be made out of the fact Amanda Seyfried is playing Shelly Johnson’s daughter, but here we’ve barely met her. Michael Cera turned up for a punchline dressed like Marlon Brando. This show couldn't care less how many awards you've won, or how much you've made at the box office.

Nothing here is markedly outside of Lynch’s repertoire, sure, but what’s so ingenious about Twin Peaks: The Return is how exactly he’s moulded his usual tools to claw away at the foundations of prestige TV. Knowing Lynch’s own dreamlike mind, he may not have been attempting to make any such statement at all, but it certainly feels like it. Like Dr Frankenstein trying to kill the very creature he created.

Twin Peaks airs 2am on Mondays on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV with the Entertainment Pass, in a simulcast with the US. The episode will then be shown again at 9pm on the following day. You can catch up now on season one and two via Sky Box Sets and NOW TV.