Tinkering with the basic building blocks of serialized television has always been a key component of David Lynch’s approach to Twin Peaks, particularly when it concerns tone and timing. The protracted opening segment of “May the Giant Be With You,” for example, demonstrates Lynch’s longstanding penchant for deliberately confounding viewer expectations. And you’d doubtless be in the triple digits by now if you were keeping a running count of the scenes sprinkled throughout the new series that linger lovingly over seemingly inconsequential details. But last night’s installment of Twin Peaks: The Return takes the concept of delayed gratification to whole new levels of perversity—and even apologists for deep-seated perversity are going to have a tough time justifying long stretches of this one.
Throughout, supposedly major plot “reveals” prove to be less than revelatory. Diane (Laura Dern) discovers that the coordinates scribbled on the arm of Ruth Davenport’s corpse point directly to Twin Peaks, surprising absolutely no one who’s still watching the show at this point. Then there’s the agonizingly slow repetition of information that viewers are already keenly aware of, which then, more often than not, is parceled out in turn to yet another character—as when Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) conveys to Beverly Paige (Ashley Judd) almost verbatim the news that Sheriff Truman (Robert Forster) has just told him regarding his grandson Richard’s latest malfeasance.
The blue ribbon for worst of these literal showstoppers goes to the reintroduction of Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn). The scene links to the preceding one, fittingly enough, via a hard cut on a bit of dialogue about the ninth circle of hell. Audrey’s histrionic belaboring of her husband, Charlie (Clark Middleton), over the whereabouts of an absent lover plays like bargain-basement Edward Albee, a sad state of affairs bolstered not at all by the fact that the actors don’t even appear to be in the same room at the same time. With all its cockeyed faults, this sequence—from Audrey’s “c’mon already” gesture of impatience, to Charlie’s stone-faced refusal to relate seemingly important information—does successfully encapsulate the entire episode.
What’s more, the scene exudes a miasma of stasis and inertia that pervades much of “Part 12.” Diane’s gung-ho delivery of the iconic line “Let’s rock”—a phrase spoken by the Man from Another Place in the original series, and glimpsed scrawled across a missing F.B.I. agent’s windshield in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me—should be taken with a pinch of irony, as it turns out. Stumbling blocks like these would be easier to excuse in an (at least theoretically) open-ended series. They become less so in a miniseries or prestige event (or whatever this thing is) that’s doled out weekly for a fixed number of installments, and which its creators insist shouldn’t even be considered a television series to begin with.
Which isn’t to suggest that “Part 12” lacks for grace notes. Quite literally so, in the case of two scenes that center around Grace Zabriskie’s Sarah Palmer, last seen savoring some Animal Planet carnage back in “Part 2.” Zabriskie is the quintessential Lynch actor, the strange geometry of her expressive face capable of registering sudden seismic shifts in mood from aphasic muddle to shrieking madness. Her freak-out at a supermarket’s check-out line in this episode should henceforth be gone over in acting classes like the Zapruder film. And it’s hard not to take her line “Things can happen!” as emblematic of Lynch’s disarmingly offhand approach to narrative delivery.
We get about 30 seconds’ worth of Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) in “Part 12,” a hilariously deadpan bit that finds him playing backyard catch with Sonny Jim Jones (Pierce Gagnon). Or sort of, anyway. It’s more of a non-event. Consider it Zen and the Art of Baseball. The moment also seems to ironically echo the game of catch that opened “Part 11.” Finally, there’s the sequence in which Gordon Cole’s (Lynch) prospective paramour (Berenice Marlohe) takes a full two minutes of screen time to not-so-discreetly exit his hotel room. Not since the Wally Brando riff in “Part 4” has a gag cycled from hilarious to tedious and back to riotous with such surefooted aplomb. Of course, as with much else encountered throughout Twin Peaks: The Return, individual mileage may vary.
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