An hour of Twin Peaks: The Return is a strange thing to write about, mostly because I have no damn idea how to define it. Virtually every episode so far has been different. We can get anything from an abstract tone poem on the atomic birth of Bob to the latest comic escapes of our man Dougie Jones. And all the while, the details slowly creep into frame, painting a broad portrait of a diasporic world slowly culling back together in the name of decency. But the difference is always in the how, and no episode highlights the variation of this new series quite like this one.
If you told me “Part 12” would start off with a straightforward explanation of the FBI’s mystical lore, all over a fine bottle of Bordeaux from Gordon’s personal collection, well, I just wouldn’t have expected it in a billion years. And boy do we get some good lore here, whether it’s the explicit agency connection to Project Blue Book and its research into UFOs; or the explanation of FBI agent Phillip Jeffries and his team of Chet Desmond, Dale Cooper, and our man Albert Rosenfield; or Tammy Preston’s induction into the Blue Rose task force. But even when it’s all spelled out, it somehow doesn’t feel any less mystical. With David Lynch, the truth is always insane enough just to be itself.
I also would have never expected Lynch to address the “creepy grandpa” concerns of his character by turning right headlong into them. But there Gordon Cole is, lecturing an attractive French woman about history before Albert shows up, commencing one of the longest “just one moment” scenes in TV history. She puts on her shoes and poses, pantomimes, and bats her eyelashes as Gordon chimes, “Tres chic!” for long stretches on end. But from Albert’s dead-panning lack of amusement, we see how Lynch is deeply self-aware of this dynamic. Even as Gordon tries to explain it away (“The mother owns a turnip farm!”), Albert isn’t having it. They do their business keeping tabs on Diane, hence the reason why they deputized her a scene earlier, but afterward, Gordon simply looks at Albert, puts his hand on his shoulder and says, “Sometimes, I really worry about you.” I don’t know if this is Lynch’s justification for the trope of his character; all I know is that it’s an expression of who Gordon Cole is, problematic or not. He’s being portrayed as a man with a verve for life, and especially his friends.
I also would have never expected us to finally join Sarah Palmer on her weekly “Bloody Mary and cigarette shopping trip,” but that’s what we did. I was certainly glad to see it, if only because Grace Zabriskie is just such an incredible actress with those haunted, glassy eyes. It turns out the sudden appearance of a Turkey Jerky is enough to make Mama Palmer have a scary episode. (Also, note the name of brand, “Albatross,” ever the ill omen.) When Sarah shouts in terror, “Men are coming! Something happened to me! I don’t feel good!” you know she’s telling the truth. The altercation is enough to bring Hawk by her house later, and suddenly, the classic images from the show come back; the shuttering fan and the Badalamenti score practically made my hair stand on edge. Ghosts are haunting Sarah. We even hear noises from within the house, but she chides them off and gives one a knowing glance. “God damn bad story. Isn’t it, Hawk?”
The bad story hangs over everything. Sheriff Truman’s gotta give the bad news about Richard Horne’s troubles to Ben, who admits, “That boy has never been right.” It prompts Ben later to muse to Beverly about how Richard never had a father, before segueing into his own memory of how his father got him a lovely two-tone Schwinn bicycle. This Rosebud moment for our local tycoon tells us a larger story of what he believes is somehow missing in young Richard: attention, care, a free childhood. It all makes me think of the legacy of Hornes, with the way things are passed from parent to child. And so we wonder, where is Audrey in all this? Is she still in a coma? Is Richard the product of Bad Coop raping her? For 12 episodes, we have awaited the return of one of the show’s most iconic characters and tried to put the pieces together about her absence.
It’s safe to say I would have not expected to quietly cut right to Audrey, sitting silently as she has a strange spat with her new husband, Charlie. I would not have expected her to be playing the character like a broad 18-year-old, sniping and rolling her eyes. I would not have expected a scene so damn labyrinthian, with an ever-changing list of names being tossed about like they mean something, for they are talking about people we don’t know as they reveal the weirdest marriage dynamics you’ve ever seen. But the truth is that Lynch knows it will bother us. For there is no grand reveal of the great Audrey Horne, only an anti-dramatic scene that culminates in a long silence of Charlie staring back at her, getting off on withholding crucial information from her, and from us.
Yes, I can understand how this might drive a fan of the classic show nuts, but it’s also what The Return is (and in a way, what Twin Peaks has always been). It’s all perhaps best embodied by the final two scenes of this week’s episode. First, we have Diane putting in the coordinates from the dead arm, telling us where this great culling will eventually take place. The location? Of course, we zoom in on a little town known as Twin Peaks. We keep circling the drain, heading to where we all know this will go. The other is the final scene in the Bang Bang Bar. It’s with two women we do not know who are talking about two men we do not know. They’re in their 30s, but they’re talking like high-schoolers. A guy named Trick shows up and complains about getting run off the road … then the episode ends and we’re left wondering what it means. Sure, we’ve gotten a few scenes of randos in the Bang Bang before, but who are they all? Are they unwitting fuel for the grisly Reno enterprises? Will this go anywhere? The truth is I don’t know.
Likewise, sometimes the thematic throughlines of this show are evident. Sometimes it’s an abstract breakdown of society’s nuclear ills, sometimes it’s shades of abuse, but sometimes the throughline is simply that it’s Twin Peaks. And in that, it’s largely about the ways the show defies expectation. From Diane’s declaration of “let’s rock!” at the start of the episode, we might have expected something a bit more raucous. Instead, we spiraled out into more unknowable fragments. But for me, that’s exactly why I’m here.
I can’t tell you the last time I turned on the TV and had literally no idea what to expect, even from moment to moment and scene to scene. No matter what happens, I find myself falling into it every time. This week, I’m weirdly thankful for Jerry making it out of the woods, Dougie’s game of catch, and Jennifer Jason Leigh eating Cheetos as Tim Roth shoots a father to death right in front of his son. But even more than that, I find myself being most meta-ly thankful for the way Lynch showcased the quiet warmth of his good friend Harry Dean Stanton, who gives an ailing tenant 50 bucks for his help around the trailer yard. It’s unexpected, it’s undramatic, and it’s the soul of Twin Peaks.
Sometimes that’s more than enough.