By Noel Vera
TRUE DAVID Lynch hasn’t made a feature in 11 years — the barely categorizable Inland Empire — and if we’re talking a film with reasonably conventional narrative line (barely) then he hasn’t made one in 15. Does it show? I think so, and in my book is a good thing.
The first season of the original Twin Peaks I submit presented Lynch on the small screen in relatively audience-friendly form, a deft balance of his trademark bizarre sensibility and standard-issue soap melodrama (or sly parody thereof); the second season was practically cut adrift and substituted an interesting meta suspense narrative: can Lynch after leaving the show for other projects come back to save the show? I think he did with the very last episode (too late to save it from cancellation, alas), and with a feature film prequel (Fire Walk With Me), expanded the series’ grimmer themes.
With this third season I’d say he’s attempting several things at once: exploiting the intense nostalgia generated; expanding the show’s visual language; mining (you might say strip-mining) his past films for imagery and tone; pushing the boundaries of both his work and the definition of multi-episode television drama past already expanded limits.
Hence the lack of pies. Hence the eponymous town sharing only partial onscreen time — among others we’re following the story of a mysterious box in a Manhattan office building, closely watched by Sam and Tracey (Ben Rosenfield and Madeline Zima); the possessed Dale Cooper (Kyle McLachlan) and his attempts to avoid being sucked back into the Black Lodge; the story of school principal William Hastings (Matthew Lillard) accused of murder in Buckthorn, South Dakota; the FBI’s investigation into the New York murders and Agent Cooper’s reappearance; the real Cooper’s attempts to leave said Lodge; and a third Cooper lookalike named Dougie Jones, lying in bed with a prostitute named Jade (Nafessa Williams, gorgeous).
Many of the series’ most beloved characters are still there: multimillionaire Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer) and his brother Jerry (David Patrick Kelly); Deputy Chief Hawk (Michael Horse); Deputy Andy (Harry Goaz) and his now-wife Lucy (Kimmy Robertson). Yes, there’s still a Sheriff Truman — this time Harry’s brother Frank (Robert Foster) and, yes, Michael Ontkean’s softspoken presence is sorely missed. Yes, Andy and Lucy are silly as ever and, yes, Sheriff Truman tolerates comedy routine with practiced patience, then strides into the back room where the real police work is done: with younger deputies (though among the new faces I spotted white-haired Jodi Thelen, marvelous but rarely seen) using relatively newer tracking and communications equipment. Is this the status quo in the new Peaks: a nostalgia show out in front, sleeker more efficient activity humming away in the back? Real Cooper’s scenes in and departure from the Black Lodge allow Lynch to realize some of his most surreal work yet, involving Laura (with face pulled off); an evolved version of Mike’s arm (long story) — instead of the diminutive Michael Anderson, an electrically crackling sapling tipped with fleshy blob (brain?) — and a small encyclopedia of mostly low-tech special effects, from stop-motion animation to what look like cut-outs being shoved around the frame to primitive optical printer work, all in the spirit of Stan Brakhage and Lynch’s own early experimental shorts, particularly Eraserhead (Dougie’s own ultimate fate seems inspired by that film). What gives these effects conviction and substance is Lynch’s soundwork, which blare and bang and hum in the ambient silence.
Catherine E. Coulson makes an appearance as The Log Lady — the very symbol of Peaks’ rural eccentricity and folk mysticism if I had to pick one — and she’s near unwatchable, not because she’s bad but because she’s so intensely heartbreakingly poignant. Ms. Coulson died in 2015 but filmed her scenes beforehand; not sure if she knew she was so sick or that this would be her last hurrah, but watching her conversations with Hawk over the phone — handing out cryptic warnings like they were desperate cries for help — wipes all uncertainty from the mind.
There are other reminders of the passage of time — the greyer beards, the deeper wrinkles — but most disturbing is the cost of that passage on the possessed Dale Cooper. FBI Agent Cooper was always impeccably dressed and groomed; the possessed version’s hair hangs in greasy tresses, his face puffy and dissipated, his eyes exhausted (he only looks alive when he’s cruelly toying with the expectations of someone he’s about to kill). Lynch could have played Dale’s decades-long demonic possession in any number of ways, but showing the former agent like this — a thug near the end of his long rough life — is almost moving. It puts a human face on this evil Cooper, in a way Lynch never managed with most of his previous villains (Frank Booth who is perhaps Lynch’s most successful attempt to date has Dennis Hopper’s horrific energy, but is more brass caricature than modulated portrait).
And as for the original Cooper — most folks I hear from or read about don’t appreciate turning him into an amnesiac naif, but switching Cooper’s irrepressible Boy Scout persona off is one interesting way of changing tone and pitch of the show: no “Diane if you ever come here you must try the blueberry cobbler,” no “That’s damned good coffee!” Lynch could play it any number of ways (putting Cooper on “mute” before turning the volume back up for example) but this in my book is the clearest, loudest sign yet that Lynch refuses to play by sequel and reboot rules — that he has his own agenda and you can come along for the ride or sit this out for all he cares. Besides Cooper’s new parroty silent-film self (I’ve heard him called “Rain Man Coop”), in my opinion he more than justifies his existence in a sublimely comic sequence where he sits down to breakfast in the Dougie Jones domicile, tie hanging over head. He sips coffee — that most magical of black elixirs — and spits it out; hopefully this’ll be the turning point to his character arc to date (though I’m more than willing to admit I could be wrong).
One little detail Lynch has given out in interviews gives me reason to pause: that he shot the series as a single 18-hour film and cut accordingly, in which case we’ve seen less than a fourth of the work and are hardly qualified to judge the whole. In which case what I’ve written so far are just initial impressions and superficial suppositions: proper judgment can only be delivered at a much later date.