Since the chilling finale of David Lynch’s hit series Twin Peaks in 1991, fans have rolled a phrase around in their minds: “I’ll see you again in 25 years.” The prospect of more Twin Peaks has propelled fans of the cult hit to discuss and theorize over two and a half decades while endlessly rewatching the show, the follow up prequel Fire Walk With Me, the Missing Pieces collection of deleted scenes from the movie, reading The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and The Secret History of Twin Peaks, and engaging with a plethora of fan theories and fan generated content. Finally, though, in 2016, the wish for more became a reality. And the cherry on top was that show creators Mark Frost and David Lynch would be at the helm for every episode, as opposed to the original show which had a variety of guest writers and directors.
For this reason, Twin Peaks: The Return took on the perplexing style of David Lynch more than the original run of the show ever dared. Hints of Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire were felt throughout the season. The surreal eighth episode was one of the most experimental hours of television ever broadcast. Small subplots explored themes that Lynch has toyed with throughout his career. The overarching theme of darkness within small town life hangs over the whole series, but this season broke into some more broad based philosophical questions for Lynch like the responsibility that humans took on with the advent of the atomic bomb.
For every bit of added darkness in The Return, Frost and Lynch injected an equal portion of humor. The status of Kyle MacLachlan‘s Special Agent Dale Cooper transformed into a peculiar comedy of errors causing many viewers to feel like both laughing and pulling their hair out. Lynch has always been one for humor borne out of frustration. Going back to the original series, he enjoys bringing a lightheartedness to dark moments with characters who don’t seem to fully comprehend the situation, like the old man who finds Agent Cooper after he is shot in the season 1 finale.
The Return is a complex arrangement with dozens of important characters, so singling out a few impressive performances is almost unfair. That said, it must be noted that MacLachlan was spectacular throughout, essentially playing three entirely different characters. In fact, he wasn’t the only one who had to put on a broad array of faces during the season. Laura Dern brilliantly played two diametrically opposed versions of the same character. Naomi Watt‘s lovably outspoken Janey-E was ever enjoyable to watch. Sheryl Lee‘s brief performance in the final episode was laudable as well. And a mixture of new characters and cast members from the original run popped their heads into the quirky world of Twin Peaks.
Since I have brought up the last episode, I feel the need to comment on it. Though this is a review and not an analysis (sorry to disappoint those looking for convoluted theories about time travel and alternate dimensions), I can’t in good conscience not at least make some mention of my perception of what may be the final moments in the town of Twin Peaks. This finale was divisive to say the least. Frost and Lynch refused to give their audience a boilerplate feel-good ending. The final few minutes of the season raised more questions than perhaps the entire series that preceded it. It unravelled everything that the season had lead the audience to believe and it questioned every action that had previously perceived as right and noble. It created an unanswerable puzzle that, at least until further content is offered, must simply exist as it is with hundreds of theories that only partly explain the events that transpired. Simply put, it was genius.
Though not all viewers used to the structure of a mainstream TV show will be able to stomach the surrealism of Twin Peaks: The Return, I think its mere existence is an important turning point in the future of cable TV. Perhaps it’ll open the door for major networks to offer more creative freedom to subversive artists and allow the creation of something truly compelling. It’s pace will not please everyone and certainly its ending will not satisfy everyone, but it takes risks that no other show on television would dare. Its execution makes it more than just a season of television, but a nearly flawless work of art.