After all, it's just a ride….

Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)

TPIf there was a glimmer of joy in what will go down in history as one of the most shameful, scandal drenched periods of the moving image industry it was of course David Lynch and Mark Frost’s  triumphant return to our screens with Twin Peaks, a mere twenty four years,  6 months and 21 days since the domestic release of Fire Walk With Me.  Spectacularly unburdened from any creative molestation from the  studio suits and granted an impossible to believe complete freedom of expression it is pure, unadulterated Lynch, bookending his incredible career with another epochal upending of the traditions of formal visual storytelling , as well as serving as simultaneous celebration and summation of his entire forty year career. Can we now speak of an expanded Lynchian Universe™, as per the current vogue for entire franchise landscapes populated by small and large screen spigots which suckle nourishing material for the parched fans of the DCU, Marvel, Star Wars or J.K. Rowlingverse? Perhaps not, but as a parade of his greatest collaborators over the past four decades (Badalamenti, McLachlan, Dern, Coulson, Watts, Stanton, editor Duwayne Dunham, casting director Johanna Ray and DP Peter Deming) it also served as a final cosmic stew of Lynch’s fiction fetishes, his celebration of dream logic, internal damnation and the power of ideas, of the eternal and colossal struggle between the light and dark rendered as starkly as the alternating zig-zag ziggurats slithering across the Black Lodge’s floor. A mere hour or so in its May debut I sensed just how much of this was going to explore the series mysterious interdimensional mythos, relaxing into a treat as we plunged over that Great Northern Hotel waterfall into pure Eraserhead era eugenics. I still can’t believe that something so abstract has permeated the strict hermetics of the TV formula even in this era of hundreds of channels and streaming services, but then again that’s exactly what he achieved back in 1990, only this time he’s really gone to fucking town,

For a show titled Twin Peaks we really don’t spend too much time there do we? For us Lynchophiles this was a, well, a dream, his cacophonous aesthetic which he honed with Mullholland Drive sharpened over 18 mischievous hours with final resolutions leaving more questions posed than ever answered – beware ye from going forward for here be spoilers. I loved that narrative threads and ideas are not even remotely metabolised, merely spun like a web from some crepuscular core to form a discordant yet umbilical patchwork of moods, incidents and trauma.  Just as the 1990’s incarnation operated (at least on one of numerous levels) as a satire on the contemporary soap and TV drama  format Frost and Lynch continue to toy with the core notions of narrative itself, of cause and effect within the fictitious headspace that we all conjure internally when we watch a film, read a book or even listen to a song. Like a bittersweet, slowly expiring dream fading from the purlieus of memory Twin Peaks: The Return was also riven with a sense of melancholy and tragedy, seeing Catherine Coulson (whose relationship with Lynch tracks all the way back to the early 1970’s) reprise of the Log Lady while in thrall to final stage cancer was deeply sad, not to mention the loss of both Miguel Ferrer, Bowie and Warren Frost before the series aired. Now, I loathe the entire social media tsunami outpourings of grief when a celebrity or public figure passes on, it is in no way relevant to the actual respect or affection that the figure actually engendered and is totally about the Twitter or Facebooker signalling their virtue and their self importance, but that said I am a little frustrated with myself for not remarking on the passing of Harry Dean Stanton given that he’s among my all-time favourite actors, so it was comforting to see him grace us with one final, appropriately moving swan-song;

So long HD, long may the code endure. The fact that a number of the Sight & Sound cadre of worldwide critics have selected it as among the best of the year has caused commotion, and it’s a testament to the merging of the small and silver screens, the usurping of streaming services over traditional media that  such a venerable institution now actively seeks nominations from across the moving image realm and no longer restrict the entries from just the theatrical production model. As usual, the commentary has been terrific. One reviewer remarked of this year’s Silver medal winner that ‘It’s not TV or cinema, it’s an uncanny law unto itself’. Another identified the Jacques Tati influenced antics of Dougie as he navigated the perils of both the Las Vegas housing project he found himself unceremoniously materialised within  and  the corporate landscape populated by mobsters, quivering showgirls, and backstabbing colleagues. Others have noted how the live acts at the Bang Bang! bar act as a tonal bridge between episodes, while how Lynch confidently expands scenes and sequences simply to let the series breathe as much as he nonchalantly turns his back on the conventions of entertainment constrained into the traditional 43 minute plus 17 minutes adverts hour long units of corporate mandated time. It was quite a dizzying nocturnal exercise, staying up until the early morning hours of Monday morning for the UK transmission almost every week, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t simply stream an entire series in one bloated digestion rather than anxiously await each weekly instalment.  Those first half run episodes were staggering, a truly avant-garde assault on the senses, causing me to  giggle like a sleep deprived hyena that this could pass for popular entertainment in today’s formulaic firmament – yeah, so it is reasonably clichéd at this point but I have to ask, ‘gotta light?’;

Throughout the series Lynch folds space and time like the melange addicted Navigators of Dune,  the very first scene inciting queries and compulsions which were partially revealed 5 months and plateaus of space and time later. Frequently time as a narrative construct is elongated and compressed concertina style not just over episode arcs but also in individual scenes, Sarah Palmer in particular the victim of some malevolent daemon manipulating her reality for its own, abstract amusement.  Alongside the mourning Twin Peaks also offers a mediation on the passage of time between 1990 and 2017, all the characters have aged, wizened and most have suffered some tragedy or loss, a gloomy ideology punctuated by the series final piece of dialogue when Cooper puzzledly inquires ‘What year is this?’

So you may have noticed I haven’t really delved into the story that we were presented with, the twin alignments of BadCoop evading the clutches of the lodge while being pursued by the Knights Templar of the FBI, while amnesiac reconstructed GoodCoop wrestled with his new found identity as a Being There akin Mid-Western insurance officer.  That decision is fostered by the fact that I don’t care, reason and logic sacrificed on the altar of mood and tempo. The plot was secondary to the overall experience of the show, of simply letting the images and ideas wash over you without any intellectual inspection, as it was quite clear from episode one that this was a work that operates primarily on Lynch’s instincts, occasionally steered through the turbulence of incoherence into the blue skies of logic by co-pilot scribe Mark Frost. I do have my personal favourite moments to be sure, and it was certainly fun to inspect the numerous fan theories and theorising on-line, but there are simply no definitive answers other than those that you as viewer bring to the table which for me is the function of truly great works of art. To isolate one example of hundreds in the show is it significant that the terrifying  head-crushing, zippo seeking woodsmen has a similar visage to Abraham Lincoln? Undoubtedly. Is Lynch going to explain what he means by that (and in fact does he even consciously know)? Of course not. To explain is to destroy, to evaporate the magic and diminish the audiences interpretation, forging a fixed path of cognition which serves no master;

Still eerily terrifying, no? The techniques were also a summation of the Lynchian aesthetic, yes we were subjected to the atypical strobing effects, the frankly terrifying omni-dimensional audio mix, the over and under-cranking chittering film speeds, and his utterly unique Norman Rockwell Americana perverted through the lens of 20th century European surrealism. But these techniques seemed refined and finalised in this coda defining work, concocting a witch’s brew  that left me in awe – the shift of space and place via B&W and colour photography alone is majestic.  I can’t think of many filmmakers who can oscillate through nodal points of the same themes without getting stale and repetitive, but his deployment of Doppelgängers, a binary light dark motif he has  instructed through Lost Highway, Mullholland Drive and Inland Empire remains fascinating and interesting, curdled with bouts of remorseless violence and trauma which the most legendary of horror directors can’t equal. OK, yes, I’ll admit to being a little conflicted at some of the decisions, the entire Las Vegas mobsters / GoodCoop arc didn’t entirely work for me, series primary antagonist Bob being dispatched by a Cockney armed with green washing up glove seemed somewhat anticlimactic, and the lack of resolution or indeed illustration of Audrey Horne’s story was frustrating, her suggested mental cage hinting at deeper, comatose horrors following the climax of Season 2. But we were blessed with this transcendent moment which operates as simultaneous tribute to her popular persona in the original series and a leitmotif of Lynch and his work,  a fallen angel weaving narcotically in the throes of (to steal a phrase) some sort of ‘Bunuelian limbo’;

There is a nice documentary on Dave’s early career doing the rounds by the way. I will keep my gunpowder dry for the moment on that sequence in Episode 8, the cement of an hour of intravenous information which has instantly instilled itself as among the finest hours of television ever broadcast in any period from any country, a sequence I aim to include on my final ever entry to this blog – there is a method to my madness. It is rare but sometimes you just know when watching something for the first time that you are witnessing a potential masterpiece, an immediate entry into the cultural lexicon (the last time I remember thinking this was during the Under The Skin premiere in Toronto) and its detonation is a masterstroke which evokes Stan Brakhage, Mark Rothko, and dare I say it Stanley Kubrick, the terrifying resurgence of a species threatening event which we had hoped been stunned into hibernation at the alleged conclusion of the Cold War. Similarly the last two hours of the series were among the most gripping I’ve spent in front of a screen over the past few years, literally returning to the scene of the crime to reconceptualise and reframe the entire series and its wider cultural phenomenon. As I’m sure you’ve heard the final scene was shot at the real world Palmer house location with its real, present day 2017 occupant answering to Cooper and Laura, igniting a final, horrific, howling primordial scream – guillotine cut, run muted titles & a silent whisper, then get thee to a nunnery. Was Twin Peaks: The Return a momentous statement, apt for our current oppressive and apprehensive times? You betcha, but there is always hope among the darkness, like the dream of the Robins, two souls offering  some relief, among the encroaching dark;

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