As much as the term “spectacle” gets attached to undeserving events, no better word describes the two-part Season 3 premiere and accompanying streams of episodes 3 and 4 of “Twin Peaks: The Return.” The weeks leading up to it increased sales in cherry pies and brought a vocal resurgence of the fanbase, cryptic cast interviews, mysterious teasers, and, from me, cynicism that director David Lynch, who had distanced himself from filmmaking since 2006’s “Inland Empire,” could actually produce 18 hours of content that was anywhere near the quality of the original cult classic from 26 years ago. What resulted was a polarizing, baffling, primarily visual collage pulling from all of Lynch’s past works.
Lynch’s first foray into television, the original run of “Twin Peaks,” borrowed from some of the foremost genres of the medium — soap opera, murder mystery, high school drama — prior to and during the time period of its airing to create an entirely unique, eclectic pastiche straddling the line between irony and sincerity.
“Twin Peaks: The Return” revives this ambiguous tone, though it may not be initially apparent. Accounting for lost time, Lynch updates the “Twin Peaks” universe to parody and/or pay homage to some of the most popular tropes that have surfaced in television since the original series’ finale. These tropes are the gory horror foregrounded in shows like “American Horror Story,” the technological jargon resorted to in shows like “NCIS,” and the broader geographical scope utilized by shows like “Heroes.”
Episode 3’s closing scene features FBI agents Gordon Cole (David Lynch) and Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) discussing the significance of the code-phrase “blue rose,” all while subject to extreme color correction reminiscent of the recent trend of blue camera filters in cop dramas such as “CSI.” In an amusing act of subtle meta-commentary, Cole remarks, “It doesn’t get any bluer.”
However, moments like this have evoked debate inside and outside of the fanbase over Lynch’s intention: are the claims of irony valid or merely desperate rationalizations from an overly-apologetic fanbase? Comically-intended scenes such as a woman’s obliviousness accidentally impeding police activity and Michael Cera’s appearance as a James Hurley-esque biker whose legitimacy wavers increasingly the more he talks convinced me of “The Return”’s self-awareness. Prior familiarity with Lynch’s sense of humor (see: his appearance in Louie, the awkward family dinner in Eraserhead) reinforced this effect.
Nevertheless, more questionable segments like an almost self-indulgently lengthy depiction of eccentric psychiatrist Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) spray painting shovels cast doubt on the coherence of Lynch’s vision. Several other self-referential clues, however, such as the naming of the “Silver Mustang Casino,” numerical iconography, and multiple shots closely resembling Lynch’s own paintings published on his website reveal an attention to detail that is to be admired regardless of artistic significance.
Also present are choices that hover in a strange middle-ground between these two polarities, where perhaps the ironic self-awareness is not enough to justify its inclusion. One such scene, set to Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” depicts Cooper, who is unknowingly playing the part of Dougie Jones, going about his morning routine in an askew manner. This sequence may be cutely conscious of its own ridiculousness, but it does extend to the point of boredom, and Dougie Jones’ son’s reactions are all the while cloying. Other jokes, while unambiguous in intention, fall flat anyway.
The acting throughout is also subject to an ambiguity of tone. While new cast members Madeline Zima (Tracey Barberato) and Ben Rosenfield (Sam Colby) showcase an impressive penchant for surreal humor in a doomed relationship parodying “Netflix and chill” culture, Nafessa Williams (Jade) delivers an incredibly stilted performance, both in dialogue and movement, that perplexes in regards to aim. Even returners Richard Beymer (Benjamin Horne) and David Patrick Kelly (Jerry Horne) show hints of confusion over their respective characters’ off-screen evolution. Meanwhile, Kyle MacLachlan (Dale Cooper, Dougie Jones) and Miguel Ferrer reprise their roles with grace while convincingly adapting to whatever the context requires.
Of course, much as in the original series, there are sequences of clear authenticity. These are the moments that confuse not in intention, but in content; the moments of pure, unadulterated, signature Lynchian weirdness. In the original run, this sincere strangeness arose in scenes like The Giant’s apparition at the Bang Bang Bar, Cooper’s zen-influenced method for crime-solving, and anything featuring the Black Lodge.
Frequency of this tone did increase dramatically in the post-series film “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me,” but “The Return” now embraces it wholeheartedly. Such moments are not surprisingly taxing when attempting to piece together a cohesive plot, but again moments of self-awareness toward the absurdity (Gordon Cole’s declarations of, “What the hell?” and “I don’t understand this situation at all”; humanoid vessel Dougie Jones’ concerned yet nonchalant remark of, “That’s weird,” as he shrinks into a ball) add an element of rewarding empathy.
Although Lynch’s four-hour return to directing was certainly a visual exhibition, one cannot ignore the reunion of his partnership with Angelo Badalamenti. Badalamenti, who famously scored the original series as well as multiple Lynch films, returns for Season 3 with a supply of dauntingly droning ambience. Unlike the original series, however, music is employed much more sparingly, and rather than juxtaposing against cheesy, albeit well-written, motifs, Badalamenti’s ominous punctuations are present only in the stead of silence. Such an effect substantiates dreamlike sequences while adding a sort of realism to the actual world that was absent in the fantastical coziness of the original “Twin Peaks.”
Perhaps to compensate for the sparsity of original composition, each episode ends with a Julee Cruise-style pseudo-live performance by a real-life artist in the Bang Bang Bar. These performances, however, necessitate a small degree of formulaic structure that may not counterbalance the moderate to high quality of the music.
Despite the occasional ambiguity of stylistic choices, “Twin Peaks: The Return” is a wholly intriguing modernization of the original series that manages to escape the pattern of most hollow television show revivals. Whether it’s enjoyable is entirely subjective, and convincing arguments exist on either end, but what is indisputable is the sheer uniqueness and novelty that Lynch has brought to television with the first four episodes.