By Caitlin Malcuit
For the return of “Twin Peaks”—sorry, “Twin Peaks: The Return”—to feel like a waking nightmare couldn’t come at a more prescient moment. Perhaps, to prepare, you buzz at the small pleasure of a slice of cherry pie and cup of black coffee at 9 p.m. But by 11, those treats all sit in the pit of your stomach, churning in an acidic swirl of red and black. It feels like the evil that seeped out of the Black Lodge, smothering more lives in more places with some insidious smog. Time and narrative don’t feel so linear or certain. What the fuck do we know about anything anymore?
The two-part premiere looks and feels like the whiplash fever dream of a David Lynch feature, but the crack-of-the-neck twists unfold in excruciating slow motion. A looming dread, twitchy apparitions, and pulsing sound design may feel more at home in “Silent Hill” or “Jacob’s Ladder” than what “Twin Peaks” fans are used to. The knowing kitsch of the former incarnation is 25 years in the past, and the present is the gritty, slow-burn of prestige drama that everyone cribbed from Lynch anyway. That’s not to say we don’t encounter aesthetic mainstays—the title theme sweeps over white water and rushing waterfalls until the Red Room bleeds into frame. And that’s where we find Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) once again.
Following the replay of Cooper’s dream, Dale and the Giant (Carel Struycken) sit in crisp black and white. The latter implores Agent Cooper to “listen to the sounds” of a scratchy, crackling phonograph. “It is in our house now,” the Giant warns. “It is?” asks Cooper. The Giant replies, “It all cannot be said aloud now. Remember 430. Richard and Linda, two birds with one stone.” I understand says Cooper, even if we don’t. Yet.
For now, the Black Lodge is where Cooper stays. BOB, possessing our beloved agent’s body, roams free to terrorize mortals, grizzled and hardened, his hair a greasy mop with an equally greasy snakeskin dress shirt and leather jacket. His is a world not of diner pies and donuts, but the seedy, steamy underbelly of South Dakota’s rolling plains. BOB machinates the breakdown of high school principal Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard), philandering with Ruth Davenport, the librarian who he’s now accused of killing. Bill’s predicament echoes that of Leland Palmer, whose poor, wretched soul we glimpse in the Lodge.
South Dakota isn’t the only new stopover we make in this return. In Las Vegas, a businessman hands over a bundle of cash and requests that his subordinate Roger “tell her she has the job.” In a New York City warehouse, a young man watches an empty glass box, seeing nothing until he sees something, all right. These new times, places, and faces channel Lynch’s creeping, anxiety-wrought approach to horror in “The Return,” punching you in the face before waltzing your numbed body around the living room.
There are some chisels taken to this darkness, however. They’re found in the familiar faces of Twin Peaks, population 51,201. The man who lifts his dark shades to show off his signature red and blue glasses? Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) is roughing it in the woods now, accepting a delivery of shovels instead of tropical tchotchkes. Andy (Harry Goaz) and Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) are still together, and their now-adult child shares a birthday with Marlon Brando. Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) is still parked behind his desk at the Great Northern Hotel, while his brother Jerry (David Patrick Kelly) is all about edibles. These moments are few and far between, and for a brief while, we feel certain again.
Staring down the uncertainty is Chief Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse), who fields a call from the Log Lady, Margaret. Played by the late Catherine E. Coulson, Margaret lets Hawk know her log has a message to share. “Something is missing, and you have to find it.” Hawk knows that he and the log are on the same page, but the poignancy isn’t in the potential that they’ll get Cooper back. No, it’s that final goodnight that Margaret bids Hawk, done in the quiet, human charm that “Twin Peaks” does so well. The heart aches to see Coulson say goodnight when she truly means goodbye.
Finally, what would “Twin Peaks” be without a stop at the roadhouse? We find Shelly (Madchen Amick) having a girls’ night out as James (James Marshall) strolls in, making flirty eye contact with one of her pals. Another friend says he’s weird (she’s right), but Shelly defends him, saying James “has always been cool” (he’s not). They all smile sweetly at one another, while a stranger (Balthazar Getty) directs a finger gun and a wink at the former Mrs. Johnson. For now, everyone is having a good time as the Chromatics sing us out with their new track “Shadows”—The Bang Bang Bar will have a host of rotating guest performances for this season. For now, it’s a welcome respite from the menace of the last two hours. It’s like having the most beautiful dream and the most terrible nightmare, all at once.