I had planned to write about something else tonight, but last night I watched the last two episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return, and for the moment am obsessed with it. I can't remember whether anyone who comments here besides Rob G is a fan and would care, and I know he's seen it, but I'll avoid spoilers for the new series, just in case there are readers I don't know about who might not want to encounter them. I'll assume that anyone who's interested has seen the original. If you have no interest in the series at all, this is going to be somewhat cryptic; if you really have no interest you may not want to bother reading the rest.
A bit of orientation for those who have seen the old series, but not the new: in case you don't remember, the original ends with Agent Cooper trapped in the Black Lodge, and the demon Bob loose in the world in the form of a doppelganger Cooper. In a Red Room scene in that series Laura Palmer tells Cooper that she'll see him in twenty-five years (warning: this clip ends on a scary note):
The new series takes place at that twenty-five-years-later point.
My three-word overall verdict: fascinating, but disappointing. Or maybe I should say disappointing, but fascinating. Fascinating enough that I want to see it again, preferably sooner rather than later. But there are some things that the original had which are lacking here. And some things here which were not in the original, and the inclusion of which is for the worse.
Things I missed: well, in general it just doesn't have the charm of the original, which is in large part a sort of eccentric campiness. Another aspect was the weird bent American nostalgia which has been present in a lot of Lynch's work, and which I think may strike baby-boomers more than others. The music is a good instance: the Badalamenti/Lynch/Cruise soundtrack of the original, which takes certain elements of '50s pop and gives them a melancholy, uneasy, mysterious ambience. Some of that music is still present in the new one--the introductory title sequence, for instance, with the big reverb-y guitar. But whereas the original series spent a lot of time on teenagers and teenage romances which carried some of the same nostalgic vibe, the world of the new one is colder and contains more and deeper evil than that of the original. So that music doesn't fit it as well, and isn't used as much. Ominous static-filled drones and rumbles are more often present. In a nice but somewhat incongruous touch, almost every episode ends with a band playing at the Roadhouse, and most of these do have the old vibe. But they seem disconnected from what's going on.
I find less humor in the new one than the old. It's not lacking in the new one, but, again, this series is on the whole darker. I don't think I'll be giving away too much if I mention that Agent Cooper, as we knew him in the old series, is absent for much of this one. His corny but noble character is one of the delights of the original. His evil doppelganger is far more prominent in this one, and he's not in the least funny.
The love stories that were so important to the original are much less prominent here. Some of them are resumed, but in a way that seemed somewhat perfunctory to me. And for that matter some of the best-loved original characters are either missing or considerably less prominent. I really wanted, for instance, to know what might have happened between James and Donna in the intervening years. But the actress who played Donna turned down the new series, or so I read somewhere. And although James is here he's on the sidelines. I should mention, though, that most of the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Department is still here and still engaging, though unfortunately Sheriff Harry S. Truman has been replaced by his brother, the actor who played Harry having declined to participate.
The biggest single disappointment for me, I think, was Audrey. She was a key character in the original, and in so many ways a very appealing and sympathetic one. It wasn't clear at the end of the original whether she was still alive or not (you remember the bank explosion?). Well, she is, but her role in the new series is slight and uninteresting. No, not just uninteresting, disappointing, as the person she is now seems to be uninteresting and indeed unpleasant, a far cry from the Audrey we knew. There is a twist that suggests that this is not the whole story, and is one of several things that very strongly suggest that the door has been left open for another series. But as far as I know there are no definite plans for that.
I have to admit that the somewhat dull and/or disappointing futures which have been the lot of some of these characters is all too true to life; vivid and exciting youth generally does not lead to the vivid and exciting future that it seems to promise.
Less present in the old series, but much more present in the new, and not for the better, are elements which can be summed up in one word: violence. Gruesome violence. There was some in the original, and maybe if it hadn't been done for network TV there would have been more of it, but for whatever reason there is more of it here. Some of it is quite sudden and shocking. Much of it is dwelt on more lingeringly than need be. Lynch has apparently always had this desire to shock, and he does it pretty freely here. There's also a certain amount of semi-explicit sex, relatively tame by current standards, but not nearly as much sex as violence.
I deliberately avoided reading much about the new series before watching it, but I stumbled across a few observations, and one that seems to be common is that it's both slow-moving and confusing. It is indeed, both. I am a vocal complainer about the frantic pace, the fast cutting, of much TV and movie drama (e.g. Doctor Who and Sherlock). So in many cases the long lingering camera shots in the new series were appealing. But they're sometimes too long even for me. There are long periods where nothing much happens and nothing is said. Sometimes this is effective in heightening the atmosphere, sometimes not, though reactions to that will naturally vary. If I was impatient in some of these it's a tribute to the power of the narrative: I wanted to get on with it, and I didn't want a lot of time to be wasted out of the typical fifty-minute running time of each episode.
Which brings me to the story itself. I guess you ought to expect to be frustrated by a David Lynch story. It isn't only David Lynch's, it's also his collaborator Mark Frost's, and Frost is a much more straightforward storyteller. So perhaps we can thank him that TP:TR is as intelligible as it is. There is, at least, one over-arching story: the release of Cooper from the Black Lodge, and the effort to put doppelganger Cooper back into it. But there are a lot of sub-plots, some of which hardly even rise to that level, just bits of story that appear and disappear and don't seem to have any connection to anything else, or for that matter even make sense (what is that black box in Buenos Aires, anyway?!). In some of those cases a good deal of time is spent on them, and you end up wondering why. And the overall effect is of a very complicated and sometimes nearly-unintelligible narrative. And there are things that I just thought weren't all that effective: the frustrating situation of "Dougie," for instance, seemed to go on way too long.
I should qualify my complaint about the difficulty of following the story by mentioning that I watched the series one Netflix DVD at a time. There are eighteen episodes, usually two episodes per disk, and I only got one at a time. So with at least three or four days of turnaround time between disks it took me over six weeks to see the whole series, and of course I forgot a lot of details along the way. So it's probable that I missed some connections. I discovered earlier today, for instance, that an important event in the last episode is prefigured in the first ("Richard and Linda", if you've seen it).
And it's the story, and the mysterious worlds in which it takes place, that are fascinating. I say "worlds" because even more (I think) of this story than the original takes place in some sort of world-other-than-ours. Should I call it the spiritual world? I suppose. It's not a very appealing place--it's mostly monochrome, and has a cold and empty feel--but it is certainly other, and powerfully communicates a sense that reality is far more complex and mysterious than we can perceive.
If I had leisure, I think I'd start with the "prequel" movie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and watch it, the old series, and the new one again, as soon and as quickly as possible. For all its sensationalism and sometimes craziness, there is a very strong moral vision present in the thing as a whole, a vision which takes very seriously the struggle of good against evil, and is willing to risk depicting that struggle as both a natural and a supernatural one. As with what I know of Lynch's other work, the evil is depicted more powerfully. But that's a common problem with art.
I also discovered today that there is another Mark Frost book, Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, which apparently clears up and fills out a lot of things, or at least some things. I didn't find that his previous book, Twin Peaks: The Secret History, which was written in advance of The Return, shed as much light on the new series as I'd expected. Maybe I'll re-read it, too.
By the way, have I ever mentioned that at the time I first watched the original series (not that long ago), we had two dogs named Lucy and Andy? I thought that was pretty funny.
Views of the median on I-65, taken last weekend while at a standstill in a miles-long traffic backup between Montgomery and Birmingham.
If you think the color looks manipulated, you're right. But the original images were so washed-out, so far from what I actually saw, that jacking up the saturation was the only way to get anywhere near it.