It’s perfectly possible that I’ll be proven wrong—Twin Peaks has been confounding enough so far that I wouldn’t be stunned if Dougie Jones got side-swiped by a car next week and never mentioned again. But Lynch, for all his inscrutable imagery and disinterest in traditional storytelling mechanisms, usually has fairly elemental themes at the root of his projects, be it “a woman in trouble” or our inherent, shared humanity. On one side of Twin Peaks: The Return is Dougie, a long-dormant simulacrum of Dale Cooper who is slowly regaining his personality. On the other is “Evil Coop” (also MacLachlan), who’s living in Dale’s actual body, which has long been possessed by the demonic spirit Bob.
In interviews, Lynch has referred to Twin Peaks: The Return as an 18-hour movie; if that’s true, we’re now at the end of its first act, and the seventh episode contained a surprising amount of information and backstory after weeks of meandering. The Twin Peaks police discovered Laura Palmer’s diary, a crucial part of the 1992 film Fire Walk With Me, which contains details on Dale’s possession. Dale finally came close to snapping out of his reverie as Dougie when an assassin tried to kill him, karate-chopping his assailant with all the practiced skill of an FBI agent. And Diane (Laura Dern), Dale’s longtime assistant, came face-to-face with his doppelganger and was horrified by what she saw.
That scene, so expertly played by Dern (one of Lynch’s greatest collaborators), felt like the emotional crux of a show that has traded on a lot of nostalgia up until now. I have been more delighted by Twin Peaks: The Return than most, far more ready to forgive its meandering moments than I would be with other prestige TV shows that take too long to get to their ultimate point. Lynch is such a singular artist that I still take pleasure in his strange digressions, be it Dougie scribbling ladders and staircases all over his important case files, or the addled Doctor Lawrence Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) recording a highly political YouTube show in which he hawks golden shovels to viewers.
The reveal of Diane, which happened in the previous week’s episode, initially felt like a similar piece of digressive nostalgia mining. Throughout Twin Peaks’ initial run, Dale would monologue into a tape recorder, addressing an unseen assistant called Diane; casting Dern in that role all these years later was like a cute wink to the audience, bonding one Lynch favorite to another. But in Sunday’s episode, she met Dale’s evil twin, the ink-eyed nightmare person being held in prison, and Dern’s reaction felt like a definitive TV moment of the year.
Suddenly, all the time Lynch has invested in evil Dale’s horrendous crimes (including the particularly wrenching murder of a woman in the second episode) felt crucial to the stakes of the show. The same goes for Dougie’s slapstick antics, in which he parrots back every word that’s said to him, stumbles from work to home and back again with the help of confused onlookers, and struggles to understand the simplest tasks, like getting in an elevator or going to the bathroom. Lynch wants us to connect to this man’s innocence, just as he wants us to soak up his rival’s monstrousness.