A dozen episodes into Twin Peaks: The Return, Audrey Horne — master of sensual diner slow-dancing, tongue-tier of cherry-stem knots, and rogue murder investigator — finally made her reappearance in Lynchland. Unfortunately, that reappearance occurred in The Return’s most maddening scene so far. (Although, to be fair, that scene with the French woman from earlier in the same episode comes as a close second.)
Audrey — still played by Sherilyn Fenn, whose eyebrow game, more than two decades later, remains unmatched — first appears onscreen clad in all black, standing in front of a fireplace, and glaring at a man named Charlie (Clark Middleton), who we soon discover is her husband. Audrey demands that Charlie help her go look for Billy, who is apparently missing, which would probably be more upsetting if we, the viewers, actually knew who Billy was. Charlie, who has a “deadline” — “Look at all this paperwork,” he says, gesturing toward a desk filled with papers that quite possibly were produced by the same props department that gave us Donald Trump’s press conference manila folders — says he won’t go with Audrey to look for Billy, who it turns out is also Audrey’s lover. They argue about people named Tina, Paul, and especially Chuck, who is (according to Audrey) certifiable. They fight about whether Charlie is going to sign some papers (more with the papers!) that Audrey asked him to sign. They battle over jackets, and about why Charlie never called Tina like he said he would, until, finally, Charlie calls Tina and has a conversation with her in which he declares that what she’s telling him is unbelievable. Then he hangs up the phone and says nothing while Audrey screams at him for not sharing what was discussed. And — scene. Unnecessarily long, inscrutable scene.
The Audrey–Charlie interaction goes on for ten minutes and 38 frustrating seconds. That’s nearly 20 percent of the running time of this week’s episode. Perhaps there’s an artistic reason why Lynch and his collaborator Mark Frost chose to drag the scene out in this way. Maybe they’re withholding details as a commentary on how desperately audiences crave answers — a need that, perhaps, forced the original Twin Peaks to reveal Laura Palmer’s killer sooner than the show should have. Maybe they’re just straight-up messing with us. Whatever the intent, from where I sat on Sunday night — in front of my TV asking, “What in the ever-loving hell is going on, and why are they doing this to Sherilyn Fenn?” — it’s not enough to justify a scene that was awkwardly executed and lacks any sort of depth or context.
For starters, this version of Audrey Horne doesn’t jibe with what we know about her and, more disturbingly, plays into some extremely tired female stereotypes, an issue that has dogged Twin Peaks: The Return on several occasions. Obviously, people get older. They change. Present-day Audrey, like the younger Audrey, is stubborn and determined to get her way. But 1990s Audrey was subtle in her pursuit of what she wanted. She used her feminine wiles to her advantage, while projecting a strength that conveyed she was not a girl who would tolerate being used. New Audrey is on the other side of the planet from subtle. She’s a shrieking, stereotypical harpy who calls her husband names and screams until her needs are met. It’s particularly disappointing to see this woman — one of the more fascinating characters in the original Peaks — presented again through such a limited lens.
I don’t feel that Twin Peaks: The Return has an obligation to deliver the characters we fell in love with in the early 1990s, in the precise form in which we left them. In fact, the point of the show is to veer away from any expectations that the past will sync up logically with the present or future. Sheriff Truman as we now know him isn’t the original Sheriff Truman; he’s Sheriff Harry Truman’s brother. Bobby Briggs, dark-haired high-school bad boy, is now a white-haired cop who’s surprisingly mature and responsible. We never met Diane face-to-face until The Return, but when we used to picture the assistant on the receiving end of Cooper’s cassette recordings, it’s fair to say most of us probably didn’t imagine her as Laura Dern with a severe blonde bob, constantly telling her colleagues to fuck off. And with a dozen episodes in the can, we have yet to encounter Agent Dale Cooper in his truest, no-nonsense, empathetic-with-the-people-of-Tibet form. If another key to understanding Twin Peaks: The Return is realizing that some of its characters have been unable to resist the darker forces in the universe, then perhaps Audrey is another one in desperate need of light. We don’t know yet.
What I do know is that Audrey’s scene in Sunday’s episode is filled with terribly written dialogue that sounds like it came out of a hack screenwriter’s handbook. “Look, Charlie, let’s call a spade a spade,” Audrey says at one point. “You have no balls.” She says this, by the way, after calling him a “spineless, no-balls loser” mere moments earlier. “Dreams sometimes hearken a truth,” she adds later while explaining a nightmare about the mysterious Billy. She also drops the word “milquetoast” into one of her rants against Charlie. Milquetoast. People might write that word down, especially if they happen to be taking a spelling test. But who says it out loud, particularly in the middle of a furious tirade directed at their husband?
It’s possible that, in keeping with Twin Peaks tradition, this heightened, melodramatic language is an intentional riff on the soap opera, a genre that the original Peaks both spoofed and elevated. Okay, fine, I guess. But there’s also such a lack of specificity in the scene that it’s impossible to invest in what’s happening, or even follow the basic threads. I read several recaps of last night’s episode in an attempt to make sense of it, including this one from Vanity Fair, in which Laura Bradley does some serious sleuthing in an attempt to identify Billy, Tina, Chuck, and Paul. I still don’t know who they are (no one does for certain — except maybe David Lynch, and possibly not even him), and the fact that I even had to make such an effort is absurd. I can understand doing some internet digging to determine, say, the hidden meaning behind the tattoo-inspired coordinates Diane plugs into her phone, or whether the Blue Rose Task Force is based on a real thing. But I should not have to consult Reddit to understand the basics of a conversation on a TV show.
Some of the detours and weird, elongated asides in the rebooted Twin Peaks have been my favorite parts. My love for the Wally Brando monologue — another moment that got stretched far beyond the boundaries that could have contained it — has already been well-documented. And, as odd and stream-of-consciousness as episode eight was, I’m pretty sure that “This is the water/This is the well/Drink full and descend/The horse is the white of the eyes/And dark within” is a series of phrases that will ooze through my brain until I breathe my last breath on Earth.
In other words, when the experiment that is Twin Peaks: The Return is working, it’s less like watching TV and more like being hypnotized — or, this being a Lynch project, perhaps it’s more like engaging in transcendental meditation. But when the experiment fails, what might otherwise seem oddly absurd or compelling simply registers as lazily constructed and self-indulgent. I hate it when that happens on a show that’s so willing to take so many risks, but it does, in that Audrey scene. As a result, what should have been the exciting reintroduction of a character who once was central to Twin Peaks serves as an example of why even the most audacious TV can’t afford to leave too many blank spaces where its narrative details should be.