manhattan from above

Twin Peaks - Season 3, Parts 1 & 2 Review (Mild Spoilers)

If Twin Peaks’ original run taught us to expect the unexpected, the first two parts of Twin Peaks’ 3rd season have taught us to expect the unprecedented. Because that’s what the first two hours of this revival truly are: unprecedented television. You can look at this premiere and easily see fragments of Lynch’s earlier work in film (Eraserhead is evoked pretty strongly by a new haunting addition to the Black Lodge), but seeing something this bold, frightening and esoteric on Television is unprecedented and completely thrillingly new.


Seasons 1 and 2 broke new ground for television, ushering in a new era of cinematic sensibilities and long-form storytelling in the medium. To be this groundbreaking again, Season 3 could not go back and lean on nostalgia – as pleasing as that might be, it wouldn’t make the show feel vital. It had to break new ground again and that’s exactly what it does over the course of two hours. However, it would be remiss not to mention that there is some nostalgia to be had, particularly in the revisiting of familiar faces. It’s hard not to feel warmed and giddy at the site of Andy Brennan and Lucy Moran, who look almost identical 27 years on. It’s hard not to feel a well of emotions on hearing that iconic guitar twang on the opening credits. Hell, I was even delighted to see Jerry Horne again (David Patrick Kelly has always been one of my favourite recurring Peaks actors – instantly watchable and full of charisma).


But though they are revisited, there is not much space in these episodes for “Hey, remember this!” nostalgia, and instead there is a focus on new storylines, characters and most strikingly, new locations. In fact, most of the runtime of these episodes is not spent in Twin Peaks. Whether it’s the streets of Manhattan filmed gorgeously from above like they’re glowing and pulsing, or an oppressive grey jail cell that feels a bit like hell, Lynch’s mastery of set design and cinematography makes sure that every new location is bent and twisted into something unique and fitting within the show.


The storylines are all instantly engaging, thanks in part to Frost and Lynch’s enigmatic scripting and some top-notch performances. I didn’t think i’d find myself saying this, but Matthew Lillard is almost my favourite part of Twin Peaks. Really. In the screen-time he gets, he gives a performance that develops so quickly and fascinatingly that the most obvious comparison would be to Ray Wise’s Leland Palmer, in its magnetism. There are hints into where his story will fit into the other strands of the story, particularly “Mr. C's” story, which sees the Black-Lodge escaped Cooper-gänger living out in the world and wreaking havoc. It’s disturbing to say the least to see the excellent and nearly permanently likeable McLachlan in villainous mode, partly because he does it so effectively. It’s incredible that the same actor that brings such immense warmth to Cooper can play what is ostensibly a demon so effectively. There is intentionally very little going on behind his eyes and that makes it almost hard to look at him. His story brings levels of violence that might trouble lovers of the original series, but which should be no surprise to fans of the underrated prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The darkness, violence and probing explorations of these episodes make it feel like this is what Frost and Lynch had wanted to do all along. It makes you wonder how the original run would’ve turned out if they’d both had complete creative control and no network censorship, and luckily, we now get to find out.


The free reigns they have is evident in another plot strand– the most mysterious and frightening of all, which involves a New York skyscraper, a glass box and the scariest, most desperately-fumble-for-the-remote-to-turn-the-volume-down moment in Twin Peaks, or Lynch’s history. This plot, coupled with Lillard’s story, give us the meat of a gripping mystery which, though totally unlike the central Who Killed Laura Palmer, is equally as engaging and thrilling in its own bizarre way. The nightmare imagery that pervades the glass box story (i’ve got to take a second to mention the incredible sound design by Lynch in these scenes – the throbbing, droning rumbles are absolutely dread inducing. Some have complained that there wasn’t enough Badalamenti music in these episodes, and while admittedly there isn’t much of it, lets instead admire what Lynch is doing with the sound here. Incredible stuff) is dotted throughout the show, particularly in one brief jail-cell set image that comes straight from one of Lynch’s paintings and directly into your nightmares. It’s simple, inexplicable, and for me, mouth-coveringly scary.


And amongst these stories, somehow it seems to be the Black Lodge based scenes that are the most easily explained. That might have something to do with the context, and the fact that in the Black Lodge, logic is non-existent. We almost don’t need to understand what anyone in there is talking about. We can sense it instead. They are beautiful, deeply strange scenes that live up to the standard of those iconic dreams of Dale Cooper in Season 1. There might not be a dancing little man this time around, nor much dreamy jazz music, but it is just as hypnotising and gorgeously realised.


And then, just when we’re exhausted and expecting the next sucker-punch moment, we’re rewarded with a familiar, non terrifying sequence which takes us back to the bang bang bar and reunites us with some familiar faces, all while the Chromantics play their dreamy synth-pop version of a Twin Peaks song. It is almost a relief whenever we return to the town in these episodes, a brief respite to a place that, though foreboding, is at least familiar. And it’s where the heart of the show still beats. These episodes might not have the quirkiness and lightness that the original run sometimes possessed (no pun intended), but there is warmth to be felt, particularly in the interactions with The Log Lady, Margaret Lanterman, and Hawk. She has always struck me as a poignant character, one who knows too much about the human condition and human behaviour, and this seems to leave her overwhelmed and desperate to help and advise. And seeing her talk to Hawk in her soft, gentle voice, but looking so frail (actress Catherine Coulson passed away in 2015), was the closest these episodes came to choking me up. Perhaps she points the way forward as she always did, and perhaps we should remember that the beating heart and light of the show is still there, but is overwhelmed by darkness and fear.


The darkness and fear is what these new episodes are about. They seem to be set in a world where the evil has escaped from The Black Lodge and runs amok. It is hard not to think ahead and have certain hopes for the series, and it will be hard for some more casual fans to not think back and remember what the show was and wish it was still that. But I think it is still that, but a new, modified version of that. The themes are all still there only they have been presented to us in a way that lacks the comforts of the original series. But when has Lynch ever cared about comfort? And since when have we ever wanted him to?


VERDICT

Uncomfortable and unprecedented, these new episodes take Peaks in a bold new direction few expected, but those wishing for something genuinely new, challenging and yes, groundbreaking, will be delighted by it. A mixture of old, comforting faces mixed with dangerous new avenues make the show feel as vital as ever. I cannot wait to see where this story leads, and we can rejoice now that the show we like is coming back in style. And it’s absolutely brilliant.