by Benjamín Harguindey
A weekly review of Twin Peaks, the 2017 revival of the 1990 cult classic. Created, produced and written by Mark Frost and David Lynch. Directed by David Lynch. Spoilers.
The pilot episode opens by recapping Special Agent Dale Cooper’s (Kyle MacLachlan) final conversation with Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) within the Black Lodge. “I’ll see you again in 25 years,” she tells him. Fade to black, then immediately fade out: it’s 25 years later and the Giant, played by Carel Struycken (credited as ???????), has a new friendly warning for Cooper. “Remember: 4-3-0. Richard and Linda. Two birds with one stone“.
Next in the roll call is Dr. Lawrence Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn), retired to a backwoods cabin and still sporting his goofy 3D glasses. He has some shovels delivered at his home and that is it for him. This is the beginning of a series of vignettes, meaningless on their own, in which we see old cast members turn in for conciliatory cameos with very little pomp and circumstance. Later on we catch a glimpse of the Great Northern, where hotel owner Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) introduces his new secretary Beverly (Ashley Judd) to his brother Jerry (David Patrick Kelly). It’s nice to get some confirmation on Ben’s status, seeing as he once was one of the potentially fatal victims of the show’s cliffhanger finale. His daughter Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn), also famously MIA, has yet to turn up.
We then catch up to “Dale Cooper”, a doppelganger possessed by the evil spirit BOB. Also played by MacLachlan, this Cooper wears a black leather jacket, an imitation snake-skin shirt underneath and sports lengthy hair in frightful imitation of the late Frank Silva, who played BOB in the show. The evil Cooper turns up at a creepy cabin in what looks like Chainsaw Massacre country, beats up the guard, says hi to mom and pop and recruits henchmen Ray (George Griffith) and Darya (Nicole LaLiberte) for undisclosed purposes. Although he’s still possessed by BOB, this Cooper doesn’t bask in his mischief and seems more mirthless, methodical and goal-oriented than his impish former self.
The “Twin Peaks” pilot episode actually spends very little time in or even around the title town (population 51,201). For the most part the episode takes place in a New York high-rise, where student Sam (Ben Rosenfield) is being paid by “some anonymous millionaire” to stand guard by a huge glass box, filming the empty space and waiting for something to materialize within (either insert your own joke about Lynch’s mystery boxes here or go watch Mulholland Dr.). This “top secret” assignment catches the attention of lady caller Tracey (Madeline Zima), who regularly brings Sam coffee and wants to be let in. Sam eventually obliges, and what follows is straight out of a slasher flick. If the camerawork here screams Evil Dead II, maybe it’s because DP Peter Deming also shot that very same movie. Suffice to say in its first 40 minutes the show sets a standard for gruesomeness inconceivable by its 1990 incarnation.
The other bulk of the episode is spent on a murder mystery set in the fictional Buckhorn, South Dakota. Two police officers are called in to check on a foul-smelling apartment and engage in some routine comedy of errors with an unhelpful neighbor and a fishy handyman, all of which is very reminiscent of something out of Mulholland Dr. When they finally make it into the apartment they find the dead body of Ruth Davenport (Lynch’s missus Emily Stofle). Upon closer inspection, detectives Macklay (Brent Briscoe) and Talbot (Jane Adams) discover it’s not Ruth’s body, but Ruth’s head – propped on top of a different, headless body. A male body. Much has been said about Lynch’s inspiration in the work of Francis Bacon; here you get as good as any indicator that he’s a fan of Joel-Peter Witkin as well.
The investigation leads to high school director Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard), whose fingerprints are all over Ruth’s apartment, though the man quite convincingly claims to have nothing to do with it. Meanwhile, another investigation takes place at the behest of Margaret Lanterman, AKA the Log Lady (the late Catherine Coulson, to whose memory the episode is dedicated). She calls the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department to tell Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) that something is amiss regarding Dale Cooper, and that it has to do with Hawk’s “heritage“. He later rounds up Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) and Andy (Harry Goaz) to reopen the investigation on Coop’s whereabouts.
(Regarding Sheriff Truman’s absence, Lucy states in an earlier scene that there are two Trumans: “One is sick and the other one is fishing“. Presumably the original Truman is the one fishing – retired, like his actor Michael Ontkean – and that the sick one is the acting sheriff played by Robert Forster, as of yet unseen)
It’s a little disconcerting at first that we only catch a few glimpses of Twin Peaks, and that the story would outgrow the town itself or indeed the characters of Dale Cooper or Laura Palmer. Most of the pilot episode is spent casting a rather wide net over many, many new locales, characters and subplots. In a way, it is a credit to Frost and Lynch that they’ve successfully revived their creation while also managing to turn it into its own thing.
The show doesn’t wallow in nostalgia, doesn’t appear to be wasting its time to recapture or relive any of its ‘Great Hits’. It’s certainly foregone its soapy roots and campy sense of humor, but even then it doesn’t play all that similarly to Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), which at the time was criticized for those very same reasons.
If anything it feels like Lynch’s latter work, such as Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire (2006): the dreamlike narrative, the abrupt intercutting, the sense of restlesness and anxiety that permeates even the lightest of scenes due to their elusiveness. Whereas the original Twin Peaks felt like a clockwork town wound up long before the story started, here the whole world appears to exist one scene at a time, as if stringing a series of spontaneous emotions in a nightmare.
It’s not a perfect start – every fan probably has their version of a perfect start – but it’s an alluring and promising one. Because there isn’t even a traditional cast roll call during the intro sequence and the actors are all relegated to the ending credits, you don’t even know the extent to which each character will be important to the plot, or indeed which direction the plot will take. Kyle MacLachlan is given the sole distinction of ‘starring’ in Twin Peaks, so it’s a safe bet that the show will revolve around his character – more specifically, the plight of spiriting Dale Cooper out of the Black Lodge and back into his body.
Already it was a delight that Frost and Lynch would have one final say on that creation which was taken from them so violently once upon a time. The prospect of closure for them, their cast, their audience. The prospect of finally enjoying another work created by Lynch, who makes for a very funny character actor but is sorely missed behind the camera. That on top of this the revival would turn out to be so intriguing on its own is both a relief and a delight.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).