Why I am scared of Twin Peaks’ return to TV
This month marks the return of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s seminal TV series: Twin Peaks. Not a reboot, but a third season, albeit two and half decades later. Adam dissects his fears that this new season of Twin Peaks will not just fail but will hurt the reputation of what many consider a highwater mark of modern television.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Seasons One and Two of Twin Peaks
Twenty six years ago I sat stunned as the final moments of Twin Peaks unfolded. Agent Dale Cooper’s journey into the Black Lodge did not end as I wanted. Good did not triumph over evil. Cooper was no longer Cooper. He was Bob. The embodiment of righteousness had become the embodiment of pure evil. It was as though a western that stared Gary Cooper and Robert Mitchum as good guy and bad guy had Mitchum (the bad) winning in vicious fashion. At thirteen years old, this was not what I wanted from a show that had become a cornerstone of my young life. Though the show did not give myself, and others like me, what we wanted, it gave us what we needed: perfect story-telling.
David Lynch has always left oblique scars with his storytelling ventures in cinema. My first viewing of Mullholland Drive hurt me in an unspecified way that I cannot, even now, fully articulate. Blue Velvet left a charge and unease that as a teenager I was unable to explain. Eraserhead haunts my nightmares and oftentimes feels like a manifestation of fears in elegy. I consider The Elephant Man a masterpiece of cinema having only seen it once and never wanting to see it again. As one of the few creators of art in cinema Lynch designs his films much like dreams and in the way that Kubrick did. Their power is drawn from the unanswered.
Twin Peaks was Lynch at the height of his power in a medium and format that he, though unaccustomed to, still managed to stretch the boundaries of. Even now the show is often imitated (Veronica Mars, Wayward Pines, Riverdale), but never reproduced. The mixture of Douglas Sirk pathos, Jim Thompson hard-boiled criminals and cops, Elia Kazan teenage angst and Lynch’s own nightmarish visions of the nuclear family imploding is so unique, heady and of its time that any imitator ends up as a varnished copy of a copy.
In 1990 when this Frost and Lynch production premiered there was nothing like it and some would say there hasn’t been anything since. It was Lynch’s obsessions and Frost’s innate understanding of the TV medium that made the show an event. Both men were coming off hugely successful projects. Frost was fresh off his impressive run as a writer on Hill Street Blues, arguably the best police procedural of the 1980’s. Lynch had just directed Wild at Heart and won the Palm d’Or at Cannes that very same year. Frost and Lynch combined created the perfect Id, Ego and Superego of creativity that would give birth to Twin Peaks.
Over the last decade, we have seen a series of homecomings for TV and film. These homecomings arrived in the form of sequels and reboots of properties long dead, but not forgotten, ready to be consumed by a willing audience. A can of Crystal Pepsi and Gold Coke aged twenty five years to sour-turned-perfection. At their best they’re semi-successful interesting diversions into imitative storytelling. At their worst, they are crass regurgitations of some property as a cash-in on pop culture good will and nostalgia. Anything that holds some sort of relevance or occupied space in the 80’s or 90’s seems to be fair game for this treatment to guarantee investor money its best chance to return a profit.
This is the ground that (even with the best intentions) Twin Peaks season three (reboot) is born from. The very nature of a reboot or sequel defeats Twin Peaks and its storytelling core. The creation of this world by Frost and Lynch was inherent to the era, a closed loop if you will. When fans and critics clamored for a sequel and Lynch relented to give the audience Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, they rejected the film wholesale. Lynch gave them what they wanted to no avail.
Twin Peaks was never designed to continue after Cooper smashed his face into the mirror. It was a world created up until that point. There was to be no more. The narrative does not support any more than that final gasp. Lynch went backwards with Fire Walk with Me, giving us the events that lead to the beginning of the show. This goes along the logic of Twin Peaks’ closed loop storytelling. It should remain that Bob, our cipher for the Devil, has been unleashed into the world. This ending is at its core everything that Lynch’s work stands for; darkness in the end ultimately prevails. Changing that invalidates Lynch’s ending.
Even if the third season finds an entry point and is successful in telling a story. It should and will end as it did twenty six years ago with darkness ultimately prevailing. What would be the purpose other than attempting to cash in on nostalgia? To extend the closed loop storytelling? In doing so you run the risk of tarnishing one of the truly great TV series ever produced. We have seen how going back to the well has robbed existing TV series and films of their power. To tell a new story with these preexisting characters for a different purpose? Twin Peaks is designed to be about the power of good and evil and how they commingle. The series at a basic level is almost biblical in nature. Morality ebbs and flows like a current. There could be Old Testament/New Testament counterpoint to this season. This could work but ultimately that counter balance could also rob the original of some if not most of its power.
The mitigating factor in this is both Frost and Lynch. They are different men. They are different storytellers. Lynch has gone into more esoteric territory, becoming a fixture in the art world, eschewing most of his conventional storytelling, going for the more expressionist world of painting. Frost has never been better than he was during Twin Peaks, going back to standard conventional TV series. Can these men recreate the proverbial “lightning in a bottle”? Yes, they have gotten the entire (living) cast back. Yes, we have all seen the lip service of said cast.
Will this season be worthy of the first two seasons? More to the point: will it push Twin Peaks to new heights? Any sequel or the best sequels aim to be better than the original. It is not enough for Twin Peaks to succeed it must be better than the original. It must be The Godfather Part 2. It needs to be Mad Max: Fury Road, the original’s equal in every way but pushed to be more than the original. It’s not good enough to be “as good” as the original. It needs to be better. It needs to be more. Something that this reviewer is unsure is possible. We shall see.