New ‘Twin Peaks’ episodes answer some ancient questions, pose many new ones

There is a certain humor in Twin Peaks devoting one of the first scenes of its revival to a man staring at a glass box, waiting for something, anything to appear in it. Like the audience, that man — Sam Colby (Ben Rosenfield) — stares at the box, unsure how long he must wait for something to happen. David Lynch, back in the director’s chair, takes his time with the scene, with long cuts back and forth between Sam and the box, the only sound a faint hum. The buzz of an intercom, piercing the silence, gives a greater jolt than most horror movies could hope to.

In the age of on-demand shows and binge watching, Lynch establishes that these new episodes of Twin Peaks will not provide quick satisfaction. These first two installments wander from place to place, story to story, briefly visiting old characters and introducing new ones. In New York, Sam maintains his vigil over the box. In South Dakota, police find the severed head of librarian Ruth Davenport in her bed, a scene that harkens back to Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. And back in the town of Twin Peaks, Deputy Chief Hawk (Michael Horse) looks into a cold case: The disappearance of Special Agent Dale Cooper.

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Fans who have been waiting to see the return of Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) must wait for solid developments. In the closing scene of the original series’ run, Cooper — possessed by the demonic Entity BOB — was smashing his face into a mirror. Now 25 years later, Cooper’s soul is still trapped in the otherworldly Black Lodge, while his doppelganger, rocking a leather jacket and a flowing mane, roams the world, murdering and avoiding an apparent obligation to return to the Lodge.

Lynch proves once again that he is a master of imagery. 

What ties all these threads together? For now, nothing solid. Twin Peaks: The Return so far resembles Lynch’s films more than any television show. It is a delirious walk through a world of surreal horror. Something eventually does appear in the glass box, a ghostly figure twitching, half-formed in the darkness as Sam and his girlfriend have sex.

Lynch proves once again that he is a master of imagery. When Laura Palmer — or the entity claiming to be her — howls in pain, the red curtains of the Lodge ripple like hellfire. When Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard) sits in a cell, having confessed to his wife that he killed Ruth in a dream, the camera pans to the left, revealing a dark, immobile figure who eventually fades away. Did Hastings murder Ruth of his own accord? Or was he, like Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) and Agent Cooper, under the control of some supernatural creature? The imagery hints at the latter, but as is typical of Lynch, the show offers no solid answers.

Even seemingly incongruous scenes have an emotional value. Sarah Palmer’s night on the couch, watching a nature show in which lions devour a buffalo, awash in gore, could come across as completely random. Amid the graphic violence of the episodes, however, the show takes on a suggestive meaning. As Sarah watches the screen intently, the carnage reflected in the mirrors behind her, the violence feels like an indictment of the very violence it has shown.

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Lynch’s works have always been preoccupied with symbolism and subversion of reality, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the new scenes within the Black Lodge. Cooper is among the denizens of that realm, who prefer to withhold as much as they can while guiding him. Their dialogue seems to have been spoken in reverse and then rewound, as if they were unstuck in time. Some of them take the form of characters from Cooper’s world; others, like an electric tree with a brain atop it, defy easy categorization.

Twin Peaks was never a show that was eager to provide answers, and time has only made it more miserly. Rather than providing a bombastic return, the show is slowly unfurling its new sails, teasing viewers with new mysteries piled atop the old ones. Parts One and Two of The Return show a kind of visual storytelling, like a series of paintings, that is unlike anything else in the modern television landscape.