In Twin Peaks: The Return, David Lynch weaves the personal and political with the fluidity of a musical conductor, merging a spectrum of tones and narrative curlicues. The Return is as comfortable inhabiting the cosmic—as famously plumbed in “Part 8” of the series—as it is the Double R Diner and the gas station run by Big Ed (Everett McGill). Lynch tends to a knotty, country-spanning, time- and dimension-hopping narrative while forging hundreds of intimate moments of grace, redemption, and damnation.
Despite what critics have claimed, The Return has a plot and it does matter, particularly as a structure for loosely governing an overflowing variety of comic, tragic, absurdist, and terrifying incidents. Lynch revels in television’s penchant for anecdotal drama, which mirrors the pleasing rituals of our daily routines. Correspondingly, our efforts to process The Return’s blend of conspiracy theory, fantasy, and character study mirror our struggle to forge the desperate elements of our lives into an explicable whole. The complicated narrative informs the small moments of the series with an existential counterweight, a suggestion of a grand elusiveness—God, in other words—that translates religiosity into a pop-cultural language. Lynch gives the audience permission to remain trapped in the show, endlessly mulling its poetry.
The soap operatic, an enormous element of the original series, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, and The Return, blows small emotions up to epic size, encapsulating the ecstatic intensity of the ordinary. Lynch offers a narrative, governed by temporal loops and numerology, that’s understood to be composed of dreams nesting within dreams, encased by a reality that’s potentially nonexistent. This framework informs the characters’ (and the audience’s) loves, triumphs, and pitiful embarrassments and failures with grandeur. This grandeur—hopeful even during moments of nearly unwatchable despair—is why Lynch’s acolytes are so devotedly obsessed by his art.
Though fueled by exploitation and murder, Twin Peaks is an idealization of America that’s rooted in small businesses that magically sustain themselves, which feel like anachronisms in our corporatized present day. At times, this folksy magic is underlined as the illusion that it is, such as when Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) is revealed to have a job in name only as receptionist for the police department, which has a computer-assisted operator hidden in the back of the building. It’s poignantly impossible to believe that Big Ed could still carve out a living running a full-service gas station, and the Double R is revealed to have become a franchise, capitalizing on the nostalgia that drives Twin Peaks. The elder generations of Twin Peaks, heartbreakingly humbled by the 26 years that have passed since we last saw them, appear to have been grandfathered into a pseudo-prosperous way of life that’s associated with the economic flush that the country enjoyed after the victory of WWII. Meanwhile, the children of these characters are bitter, disenfranchised, increasingly unhinged, and are rarely seen legally employed or moneyed.
The Return has a novelistic texture that’s unusual for Lynch’s work, and the audacious scale of it eclipses anything that recently comes to mind, recalling the televised productions of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. There’s an impression of something having gone irreparably bad in Twin Peaks, paralleling the sense of wrongness that currently permeates America. The splintering of the soul of Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) suggests a shattering of the country at large. And so Cooper’s quest to corral his various selves (notably the evil Mr. C and the naïve Dougie Jones) into a nuanced whole suggests America’s efforts to reconcile its present hopelessness with its history of atrocity, so as to proffer a salvageable vision of the future.
These subtexts are expressed by structural symmetries and carefully embedded objects, such as an ancient, well-built Ford truck (a representation of an ideal past) that a millennial killer (a harbinger of an awful present) drives. Lynch also often voices his preoccupations in straightforward fashion, such as when Dougie’s wife, Janey-E (Naomi Watts), proclaims to gangsters that she and her family are members of the 99 percent, who drive terrible cars and are tired of being screwed over by those in power. Later in the series, Dougie wistfully gazes at an American flag in a police station, seemingly searching for the meaning contained within the object, and Lynch, daringly willing to push the moment to the breaking point of obviousness, allows us to softly hear “The Star-Spangled Banner” over the soundtrack.
Dimmed hopes course through the sexy metallic visual sheen that’s markedly different from the Technicolored cinematography of the original series, instead recalling the industrial aesthetic of Lost Highway. This sheen is enriched by sad, playful, empty images, which connote a loneliness that’s not always devoid of pleasure. Loneliness can overtake us and affirm us with a sense of emotional robustness, jolting our senses and prompting us to savor the quotidian textures that define our lives. Lynch understands this bittersweetness, emphasizing the importance of small actions by slowing them down. When Big Ed has soup in his gas station, obsessing over Norma (Peggy Lipton), his eating is informed with a tragic ordinariness that’s worthy of the poetry of William Carlos Williams. When Dougie offers his son a potato chip, sliding it across a bedsheet, the movements of his hand are invested with quivering uncertainty. Throughout the series, the actors explode caricatures to reveal hidden passion and terror.
Passages of tranquility and empathy alternate with moments as lurid and insane as any in the Lynch canon. The Return is preoccupied with sexual violence even by the director’s standards, with prolonged scenes in which men dominate and obliterate women, which toe a fine line between empathy and masturbation. Mr. C hurts people with the casualness that one might reserve for ordering take-out, and his abuses of women are especially emphasized, such as when he beats and kills the young and pointedly scantily clad Darya (Nicole LaLiberte). Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) is possibly revealed to have been ruined by rape, which might’ve imprisoned her either in a coma or within a dimension fashioned by insanity. Rape is so frequently referenced in The Return that it becomes a leitmotif.
The Return is a jolting exorcism of Caucasian male rage, which exists like a stagnant well under American society. Lynch displays profound feeling for the suffering of women while sexualizing many of them anyway, often so boldly as to underline the potential contradiction in purviews. His women are as identifiable by their modern noir-ish fashion and ineffability of being as the femmes of Alfred Hitchcock; and Lynch, like Hitchcock, rues male entitlement while enjoying its fruits. Lynch embraces the conflict between his erotic hungers and his compassion, refusing to resolve it for the sake of proffering a comfortably progressive social platitude, which might embrace the current trend of pretending that we don’t see people as sexual beings. This power struggle’s evoked by the director’s on-screen appearance as F.B.I. Deputy Director Gordon Cole, who’s accompanied by Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell), an F.B.I. agent who moves with a liquid sensuality that Lynch often fetishizes. Lynch later pairs himself with Monica Belluci and Bérénice Marlohe, respectively, practically daring viewers to chastise the elaborate contrivances of his self-flattery, which is proffered with a devilish wink that somehow doesn’t cheapen the many sexual psychodramas driving the series.
Much of America is split between a realm of theoretical free enterprise and timeless love, and a reality governed by anonymous strip malls and drab houses. Cooper discovers this latter real-ish world when he attempts to undo the murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), an event that’s at the center of Twin Peaks’s mythology and which is therefore pivotal to Cooper’s own existence. Cooper embarks on a hero’s quest, which, as Richard Brody observed, is not dissimilar from the one driving John Ford’s The Searchers, as both are propelled by ego and a desperation for cleansing and control, as well as a yearning to turn the clocks back to an earlier and “better” time.
The Return fulfills the dreams and nightmares that must have accumulated within Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost over the last few decades, and purposefully collapses under the weight of the expectations that it refuses to gratify. The Return’s vision of community is quashed at the end, reduced to a man and woman who’re trapped in a cycle of pursuit and regret, exchanging a secret that could contain all or none of existence.
The image is a stunning tapestry of color and detail, nimbly capturing The Return's delicate balance of pristineness and purposefully painterly vagueness. The famous Twin Peaks landscapes are impressionistically lush in color, especially the browns and greens, with a bit of softness to emphasize a sense of subjectivity. The chilly industrial landscapes, which represent the soulless modern age, are pitilessly sharp and clean, with strong blacks and a subtle medley of silver and auburn hues. The black-and-white sequences boast vibrant shadows, and micro textures—faces, clothing, household objects, and magical talismans—are painstakingly specific. The soundtrack often pushes the Lynchian sounds—electrical hums, mechanic drones, windy whistling—to the background, while Angelo Badalamenti's melancholic score usually occupies the foreground with its light, airy notes. The result is a pleasing and immersive balance of high and low pitches that abounds in aural nuances, suggesting many worlds to exist beyond ours.
"Impressions: Journey Behind the Scenes of Twin Peaks" is a five-hour exploration of The Return's filming, following David Lynch as he weathers the ups and downs of directing a massive project. Obviously this intoxicating and occasionally hallucinatory documentary—which has been split into 10 episodes, resembling a series of its own—has been managed by Lynch to cultivate his reputation as an eccentric, unconventionally sexy aesthete, though it's also a vivid portrait of filmmaking. The physical toils of directing, which requires the making of countless impromptu decisions on a daily basis, have rarely been so exactingly elucidated. Lynch scans as an articulate, empathetic and organized rascal who homes in on precise details so as to lend his vision a pleasing tactility. Lynch's rather vague with his actors, respecting the intangibilities of their own inspirations, which is remarkable given the highly controlled unity of their performances in The Return's finished form. There's also a sensuality to Lynch's kinship with his cast, particularly when he smokes with Sherilyn Fenn while explaining Audrey's attitude toward her husband. "Impressions" is a must-see for Lynch fans that renders this collection one of the supplements packages of the year. This set is rounded out by more ordinary odds and ends, such as footage of the Twin Peaks Comic-Con conference, and a photo gallery and various promos.
The thorniest nostalgia trip in the history of television has been outfitted with a gorgeous and painstaking transfer, with a documentary that revels in David Lynch's majestic intuition.