As such, it’s a challenge to summarize the actual plot of “Parts 1 & 2,” which aired Sunday night, the first two in an 18-hour series. These episodes scattered a lot of fascinating imagery, disconnected story ideas, and inter-dimensional nightmare antics in front of its audience; it’s up to viewers to try and put the pieces together, or (my preferred method) simply soak in every bizarre tableau with glee. It’s been more than 10 years since Lynch has come out with a major work (2006’s Inland Empire), and judging from what has aired so far, Twin Peaks (subtitled The Return) is a worthy new entry in his canon.
To recap: Some 25 years ago (within the timeline of the show), FBI Agent Dale Cooper journeyed to Twin Peaks, Washington, to investigate the murder of local prom queen Laura Palmer. In doing so, he both fell in love with the town and began digging into its nefarious, drug- and sex-fueled underbelly. He also encountered a mystical netherworld, the red-curtained Black Lodge, that lay at the core of Twin Peaks’ pain and suffering. In the series finale, he was trapped there while the demonic spirit “Bob” (Laura’s true murderer) took charge of his body.
In Twin Peaks: The Return, this possessed version of Dale, referred to as “Mr. C,” is tooling around the country with a lush mane of hair and inky-black eyes. He appears, in some way, to be responsible for a new gruesome murder, this time occurring in South Dakota ostensibly at the hands of a very confused, distraught school principal, Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard). Though Frank Silva, the actor who memorably played Bob on Twin Peaks, sadly died many years ago, McLachlan does a wonderful job summoning his terrifying affect; his Mr. C, who coldly dispatches more than one victim in the first two episodes, is a tour de force.
The real Dale remains trapped in the Black Lodge, speaking (at various times) to the dearly departed Laura, the helpful spirits Mike (Al Strobel) and the Giant (Carel Struycken), and the “Man From Another Place,” once played by Michael J. Anderson, who has been recast as a massive talking tree topped with a gelatin brain. That image, along with another of the first episode’s mysterious monsters (a murderous humanoid figure), seemed right out of Lynch’s earliest pieces of filmmaking—his frightening short films and his debut feature Eraserhead.
But Twin Peaks: The Return often reminded me of Mulholland Dr., Lynch’s later effort at TV storytelling (which, once it was rejected by ABC, was retooled into a 2001 feature). The early portions of that film, much of which were intended to set up a larger television narrative, were hilariously byzantine. As the protagonist Betty (Naomi Watts) tried to make her entry to Hollywood, Mulholland Dr. delved into meetings between various unknown players, be they cowboys or taciturn studio executives. Each played out in circular, stilted dialogue that seemed to amount to very little on the surface, but were still rife with unease, suggesting a dark, bureaucratic underpinning to all of the world’s nightmares.