Twin Peaks’ Fourth Episode Is an Absurdist Joy

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Damn fine coffee. Photo: Showtime

Warning: There are many spoilers ahead about part four of the new Twin Peaks. For the love of God, don’t read this article until you’ve watched the episode.

The first three episodes of Twin Peaks are fascinating, but also wacko, disturbing, and potentially challenging to digest, even for those who admire the original series and/or the films of David Lynch. But part four — which, along with the truly freaky third installment, is accessible on-demand and via the Showtime streaming app ahead of its broadcast this Sunday night — is a brilliant, absurdist delight that effectively evokes the spirit of the original Twin Peaks, while continuing to establish this iteration as its own cuckoo-bananas organism.

“The owls are not what they seem” may be something random that the Giant once said to Agent Cooper, but in a lot of ways it’s the guiding principle of Twin Peaks. With its continued fixation on dual identities and secret realms, the new Twin Peaks is still covering the same thematic territory, but ties it to the concept of nostalgia and memory — a choice that feels very relevant to the act of watching Twin Peaks again after a 26-year absence. For us, and for the characters, many people and moments may trigger recollections of the town of Twin Peaks circa the early 1990s. But, frequently and jarringly, we and they are reminded that what we recall from back then has morphed into something else. Case in point from part four: the scene that reunites Cooper — or one version of him, anyway — and his old boss Gordon Cole, for the first time in more than two decades.

“It’s very good to see you again, old friend,” says the evil, long-haired version of Cooper to Lynch’s Gordon when they meet at a South Dakota prison where Cooper is in custody.

“It’s very, very good to see you again, old friend,” Gordon responds.

For the audience, it actually is good to see these two guys onscreen again in a Twin Peaks context. But obviously something is off — both because we’re watching a different TV show now, and within the story itself. This isn’t the real Dale Cooper, and Gordon can tell. “Something is very wrong,” Gordon tells Albert, adding: “I hate to admit this, but I don’t understand this situation at all.”

He’s disconcerted, just as we are disconcerted to see all these characters we remember from way back when either looking older, wearing different guises (Bobby Briggs is now a cop?), or being molded into entirely new human beings. (Sheriff Harry S. Truman still exists off-camera, but the Sheriff Truman who works in Twin Peaks now is Frank Truman, Harry’s brother, played by Robert Forster. Twin Peaks: It has never met a doppelgänger opportunity it didn’t embrace.)

What’s truly great about this episode is that these discrepancies evoke joy as often as sadness, especially in the scenes involving the actual Dale Cooper. Having broken out of that glass box situation and reentered the real world, Cooper has slipped into the body of a real estate agent named Dougie Jones — yet another doppelgänger — who lives with his wife, Janey-E Jones (Naomi Watts) and their son, Sonny Jim Jones. (Hey, if you’re going to give a kid a name that makes him sound like a cult leader who poisoned hundreds of people, at least put a happy-sounding word at the front of it.)

Impaired by his various transitions between astral planes, Dougie/Dale has to relearn basic tasks: talking, using the toilet, wearing a tie. Again, just like Twin Peaks viewers, he has been thrust into situations that ring familiar but also feel alien, forcing him to rediscover everything. Gloriously, that even includes coffee.

When Dougie’s wife serves him a mug of piping hot liquid caffeine, we aren’t merely treated to the sight of Agent Cooper sipping coffee again on our TVs. We get to essentially watch him do it for the first time in his life, making the moment both a warm reference to the old show and something totally fresh. The eyes of Kyle MacLachlan, who is great in this scene, light up as soon as he sees that mug, which clearly sparks buried memories of caffeinated bliss. “Coffee,” he manages to mutter. But you can tell what he really wants to say is: “It’s very, very good to see you again, old friend.” In another wonderful callback, just as Cooper does in the season-one episode “Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer,” he takes a sip and spits it out. But instead of an obligatory, wink-wink inside joke, the moment feels earned — organic both to that scene and as a link to the Peaks we knew and loved.

There are many other things to appreciate in this episode, including: the reveal that there are two sheriff’s departments in Twin Peaks, the old-school one that Lucy thinks she’s managing, and a whole other office with high-tech equipment and a long list of crimes to investigate; Cooper reacquainting himself with his signature thumbs-up gesture; Bobby breaking down at the sight of Laura Palmer’s high-school photo; the reemergence of David Duchovny’s Denise; and the hilarious, dismissive line uttered by Log Lady skeptic Deputy Chad Broxford: “I’m going to go have a word with my pinecone.”

But the most sublimely ridiculous thing in part four — the moment that cemented this as one of my favorite episodes of television so far this year — is the introduction of Wally Brando, the grown son of Lucy and Andy who dresses exactly like Johnny Strabler, Marlon Brando’s rebellious motorcyclist from The Wild One, and is played by an actor who has never once reminded anyone of Marlon Brando: Michael Cera.

Everything about this encounter is nonsensical: the totally undangerous embroidered “Wally” on Brando’s jacket; the references to the actual Brando’s other roles (Wally notes that he came back to town to pay respects to the supposedly ailing Harry Truman, Wally’s “godfather”); and the fact that Cera commits so fully to a deliberately dodgy Brando impersonation.

“My shadow is always with me,” he says, with an air of intense mystery. “Sometimes ahead. Sometimes behind. Sometimes to the left. Sometimes to the right. Except on cloudy days. Or at night.” The scene goes on like this for five minutes. It is totally unnecessary — by which I mean it is totally necessary. Until this episode, I thought my favorite new Twin Peaks character was the arm tree. Wally Brando proved me wrong.

The original Twin Peaks evoked teen movie stars of the ‘50s, most notably through the James Deanish James Hurley and the Elizabeth Tayloresque Audrey Horne. Wally Brando is the 2017 Twin Peaks homage to that trope, and a wry acknowledgment of how disastrous it would be to do everything exactly the same way it was done on Twin Peaks over two decades ago. Like the rest of the episode, it’s also a reminder that Twin Peaks still has the ability to give us what we’ve always wanted most from it, then and now: the element of totally bonkers, out-of-nowhere surprise.

Twin Peaks’ Fourth Episode Is an Absurdist Joy