We’ve already talked about Twin Peaks – The Return for an hour on our recent podcast – but, if anything, the process of thinking and talking about the series has generated more thoughts. While watching The Return, I greatly enjoyed it, but I’ve come to realise that I’m finding it quite difficult to reconcile it with the original series. At the same time, my idea of what Twin Peaks is (or was) is a highly selective one: when I think of “that Twin Peaks feeling”, as I put it on the podcast, I think of BOB and the Little Man dancing in the Red Room; I think of Leland Palmer crying and dancing and crying again, I think of the Giant going, “It is happening again.” I think of nightmares, which The Return offered in spades – but its nightmares feel very different.
It is ironic that a series whose subtitle is (at least unofficially) The Return is about the impossibility of returning. Lynch has changed in the last 25 years, as has the medium of TV, and boy, have the characters and actors changed. We have changed. Yet when I look at The Return, what I see is a strange doppelgänger. I see something that superficially may look like Twin Peaks – and the intro sequence helps – but at times the difference is almost as big as that between Dale Cooper and Dougie Jones. Or, perhaps, the difference between BOB and Mr C.
Back when Twin Peaks ended with our Special Agent possessed by BOB, it felt like a punch in the gut. Dale Cooper was the eternal boy scout, a champion for goodness and order (just look at that hair!), though one with a decidedly weird undercurrent. BOB was a spirit of chaos whose grin still gives me shivers. When we saw Cooper look in the mirror and BOB looking back at him, it was a violation made all the worse by BOB’s obvious glee. When we catch up with possessed Coop, what we find is quite different: Mr C shares some of BOB’s external qualities, his grimy, greasy look, but he is an altogether more grim avatar of evil – and strangely, he is less scary, other than in his uncanny similarity to the FBI’s finest. He is clearly evil, but in The Return his evil seems more remote. He inhabits a world of small-time criminals, bullies and crooks, whereas the horror of BOB was that he wore the face of a loved one and he was waiting for you at home.
It is perhaps tempting to defang Lynch’s works by treating them too simply as metaphor. Eraserhead is about the anxieties of fatherhood, but its potent uncanny horror is in no small part due to the extent to which so much of it resists as simple reading in which each aspect stands for something else. The same is true for Blue Velvet and Lost Highway – and in part Mulholland Drive ended up getting under my skin to a lesser extent because I found it easier to read most of it metaphorically. Twin Peaks was never just about sexual abuse and about the horrors that wait for you in the safety of your own home, much of it resisted simple explanation, but I related to it also because some of the fears it evoked were comprehensible. Eraserhead’s Henry Spencer’s anxieties, the jealousy of Fred Madison (Lost Highway) and Diane Selwyn (Mulholland Drive), and Laura Palmer’s shame: those were relatable and provided a gateway to the inexplicable, Lynchian madness on the other side of the mirror. As much as I enjoyed the wild ride of The Return, I didn’t really have that gateway. The series surprised, excited and delighted me constantly – but at the same time I felt safe from it. My favourite Lynchian nightmares may be 99% alien – but I need 1% of familiarity so they can worm their way inside my unconscious.
I didn’t find this familiarity in the nightmares of The Return, so their appeal – and they had plenty of appeal for me – was mostly aesthetic, for want of a better word. However, there was one familiar aspect that for me constituted the heart of the series: the faces we’ve known for 25 years and more. The faces of Coop, of Andy, Lucy and Hawk, of Big Ed Hurley and Norma Jennings, Gordon Cole and Albert Rosenfield – and perhaps most of all the infinitely old, wizened, wispy face of the Log Lady, Margaret Lanterman. On the podcast I talked about what felt, at times, like Lynch’s willfulness turning into sadism, towards his characters as well as his audience, but in The Return he displayed a care and respect towards his actors and the fact that more than a quarter of a century has passed since we first read those words, “Welcome to Twin Peaks”. Lynch didn’t make The Return a shrine to Twin Peaks, and I am grateful that it isn’t; but I will remember it as a memorial to the time that has passed and the people that are gone.