Monday, September 4, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return

I want to say that the finale of Twin Peaks: The Return was flawless. In fact, I've been saying that throughout the show's much belated but (nearly) right-on-schedule Season 3. 

Nostalgia is a blinding lie, and that theme could not have been made more apparent in the 18 Parts written by David Lynch and Mark Frost. Delivering on nostalgia's expectations is also furiously obnoxious. How many reboots, revivals, and continuations have come and gone to much ballyhoo, only to be immediately forgotten? The X-Files jumps to mind. 

Whether Lynch and Frost delivered anything approaching perfection, only history will say. It's knee-jerk for critics to applaud the austere, especially when it's incomprehensible. It's not that they don't want to look stupid for admitting they don't understand what they see, nearly all of them did just that. But in getting caught up in the excitement of something so strange and new, it's easy to ignore or forgive the glaring possibility that Twin Peaks: The Return simply might not have been that great.

There are easily as many forgettable award winners as their are poorly crafted revivals; still, regardless of what The Return turns out to be, it was nonetheless utterly unforgettable.

What The Return certainly got right was its eschewing of nostalgia and our fondness for the past, but also its pointed commentary on modern technology's intrusion on our lives. In the latter's regard, Lynch lays out a contradiction: his own fondness for the past. Throughout Season 3, we see it everywhere. Complex machinery, exaggerated and superfluous, has so infiltrated the FBI's hotel room that paintings have been removed and haphazardly propped along the floor. The Palmer house, once meticulously groomed in 80s era pastels has been invaded by a bloated flatscreen television. Sarah stares into it, unable to turn away, just like the young couple mercilessly devoured by their own siren the moment they turn away. 

Nowhere in Season 3 is our frustration with 21st Century trappings more literal than outside the Double R Diner where a middle aged woman fumes in fit of road rage, entirely unconcerned with the violence she's just seen. If we're not staring at a screen, we simply don't know how to behave. The young lovers were decapitated for ignoring their's, the lady in Twin Peaks was vomited on by a zombie child when her evening failed to meet her expectations. 

The go-go-go lifestyle of today is debilitatingly fast, but also ironically slows us down by forcing us into a void of ones and zeros. Reconciling that juxtaposition is maddening. David Lynch clearly wants us to be as pissed off about this as he is, and honestly I am, and for that I did like The Return.

Despite David Lynch's aversion to fan service and the nostalgia of the Twin Peaks we grew up on, he has a fondness for a simpler time and place, and looks to embrace times unfettered by distractions. It's hard to imagine someone so prolific wouldn't recognize this disconnect. More likely, he's angry, and wants us to be angry about the same things. Lynch has always had an odd relationship with technology. Electricity is the root of so much he does, and it's as much his vehicle as it is his blame. Some have even suggested he hates technology (even though he seems to have embraced CGI in The Return.) Why wouldn't a Montana boy who found his footing in cinema by being thrust into the grimy streets of Philadelphia in the late 1960s? The post industrial wasteland of his one-time neighborhood echoes in everything that he does.

But beyond what was right about Season 3, are the many wrongs we've overlooked. Waiting for 27 years, being teased along the way, always hoping but never knowing if the story of Twin Peaks would be concluded, we've ignored a lot of the story's fatal flaws. Namely, that this wasn't a conclusion to Twin Peaks.

If The Return had ended with the climactic moment Sarah violently smashed her daughter's portrait with a magnum bottle, we'd be left bewildered, but with a spat between two characters central to the story, two characters from Twin Peaks. Closing the series with Dale Cooper and someone who looks like Laura Palmer would seem like the logical way to close the book, but in the end, neither of them seemed like Dale or Laura. They were strangers trapped in a time loop, begging us to wonder if Dale sent his tulpla to console with Diane and find Laura, while his real self went to live happily ever with the Jones' in a blissful suburban dream, where Janey-E still uses a rotary phone. 

What is Rancho Rosa if not today's Twin Peaks, replete with its recession-era isolation and emptiness? There's even great cherry pie downtown.

Part 18 went long, not unusual in a show where a French stranger spent three full minutes leaving the room. But it went long in a way uncharacteristic of Twin Peaks, even this telling of it. It turned into The Dale and Diane Story, or perhaps the new story of Richard and Linda. When the two drove across the threshold, another story began, and we entered Lost Highway. Laura Dern is an amazing actress, and her character Diane - both Dianes - was fleshed out, established, and dynamic. But Diane was never more than a tape recorder. 

27 years ago, there was no indication that Dale and Diane had any sort of romantic relationship, or even tensions. Many of us imagined her a stereotypical secretary, someone who probably looked a lot like Mrs. Poole. Others assumed "Diane" was just a name for Cooper's recorded diary, the doppleganger to Laura's written one. 

Laura Dern's Diane, smashing as she was as a standalone character, was an unnecessary excuse for Lynch to employ one of his many muses, one ABC couldn't have afforded back in 1990. When the blinders were removed from Naido's face, why didn't she have the face of Nae Yuuki, the Japanese actress who played her so prophetically? As Cooper's own secretary, it's entirely possible that Gordon, Albert, and Tammy had never seen her face. How amazing would it have been to see their reactions when they found out that the stoic Diane they'd come to know and mildly hate was someone else entirely?

But Dern - along with other Lynch favorites - overshadowed the characters that made Twin Peaks what it was, and the very actors responsible for Twin Peaks ever returning, many of whom are among the most unappreciated in Hollywood. Like so many of them, Yuuki would have been a welcome unknown had we ever seen her eyes.

It's upsetting to see actors like Madchen Amick, Sherilyn Fenn, Sheryl Lee, Harry Goaz, Dana Ashbrook, Kimmy Robertson, and other veterans gushing on social media about what an honor it was to be reunited with the cast of Twin Peaks, and David Lynch, again. Meanwhile actors like Laura Dern and Naomi Watts have commented so little, as if Twin Peaks wasn't so much an experience as it was a paycheck. Yet it's those former celebrities, some who came out of retirement to reprise their roles for the sake of the story, who are responsible for Season 3 ever seeing the light of day. David Lynch may have been in the director's chair, but even as an artist he had a human obligation to those who originally made the show a memorable one. 

Throughout Season 3, two television shows seemed to be taking place, and somewhere around the halfway mark we began to expect them to eventually converge. This didn't happen until Part 17, and that's when The Gordon and Albert Show turned into a story about the apparent unrequited love between Cooper and his secretary, making all of those scenes between the townspeople of Twin Peaks, even the Bookhouse Boys, seem shoehorned in for the sake of the nostalgic fan-service Lynch was obviously so bent on avoiding. 

Maybe Lynch's ultimate message to his audience was in Diane's unexpectedly cold demeanor: "Fuck you." As a director who reluctantly entered the world of television only to have it frustratingly meet his expectations, one who had been ardently vocal about never wanting to return to Twin Peaks; maybe The Return was all just a middle finger to those who pushed him back into the small screen, even the actors, leaving us with the story he really wants to tell, the story of Richard and Linda.

I'll say what I said when "Laura" screamed and the lights went out, "Fuck you, David Lynch. I love you."

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