Spoilers ahead for “Part Three” and “Part Four” of Twin Peaks, now streaming on Showtime Anytime.
Watching the opening sequence of Twin Peaks: The Return is always a little bit strange. The gentle, atmospheric theme song and the long shots of forests and waterfalls are a nostalgic trip unto themselves, one that almost lulls you into thinking that you’re watching the original series. That is until the show begins and it becomes very clear that this series has no interest in going back to normal — even the fantastically twisted version of normal that was as much about conventional soap-opera storytelling as it was about strange men eating creamed corn in dream rooms.
Thus we open on an uncompromisingly long, weird scene where Good Dale Cooper finds himself stranded in a giant metal structure that is both in outer space and also by the ocean, because dreams. There’s some sort of monster trapped there as well, pounding furiously on the other side of a locked door. The other inhabitant of the space house is a glitch-y woman with no eyes — they are missing from her face entirely, not removed — who can’t speak beyond a mumbled whisper. Much like the code-loving FBI deputy director Gordon Cole and Twin Peaks itself, the woman communicates through gestures rather than words.
She holds a finger to her lips and points toward the door while making the same gruesome shredding sounds we heard when the cube monster tore those two kids apart. The eyeless woman then climbs to the top of the space house and pulls a lever that apparently releases the monster, making it seem even more like this was the indeed the cube monster that escaped and perhaps how it escaped. Dale sees the giant floating head of Colonel Briggs drift through the stars below him saying, “blue rose,” and just in case we missed that, there’s a blue rose sitting on the table when he goes back inside the cube.
Ah yes, the enigmatic blue rose. A term used by Gordon Cole to describe a specific category of FBI cases, its precise meaning has never been revealed. But the long-running theory is that the blue rose, which does not exist in nature, refers to cases that deal with the supernatural — the X-Files of Twin Peaks, if you will. The ghostly appearance of Colonel Briggs is another clue that something otherworldly is at work. We learn that Briggs, an Air Force officer with access to classified intelligence about UFOs and knowledge of places like the Black Lodge, met up with Bad Cooper only the day before dying in a suspicious fire. What did Bad Coop want from him — or want to know?
Twin Peaks has offered many hints over the years that the strange forces at work are not just supernatural but extraterrestrial; we are, after all, watching Cooper as he sits in the middle of outer space while the disembodied head of a man who knows an awful lot about aliens floats by, whispering about the Twin Peaks version of the X-Files.
Once he returns to the space house, Dale finally — finally! — makes his way back to reality, after hearing that “when you get there you will already be there.” His return to Earth means that both Good Dale and Bad Dale now exist on the same plane, a paradox made possible by a schlubby real-estate developer (and Dale lookalike) named Dougie Jones who gets pulled into the Red Room in their place. The harsh vibes of Good Dale’s return to the mortal world also send Bad Dale careening off the road into a ditch, where he vomits a frankly unreasonable amount of creamed corn — a.k.a. garmonbozia, the manifestation of pain and suffering that serves as a food source for the inhabitants of the Black Lodge.
Turns out that 25 years spent talking to an electric tree has not been kind to Good Dale’s mind. He appears catatonic on reentry, a blank slate who can repeat what he hears but has no words of his own. He wanders into a casino and wins jackpot after jackpot by popping quarters into all the slot machines that he sees marked by floating images of the Red Room. One of the other patrons starts calling him Mr. Jackpots, which is a spectacular David S. Pumpkins sort of name, and soon he’s getting dropped off at Dougie’s home with a giant sack of cash.
The next morning, Mr. Jackpots wakes up in Dougie’s bedroom, which starts fading in and out of the Red Room for a special message from Mike, the backwards-talking, one-armed man. “You were tricked,” he says, holding up the golden bead that was once Dougie Jones. “Now one of you must die.” Whatever deception allowed Dougie to take their place in the Red Room, it can’t hold. Reality isn’t big enough for the both of them, which means that there’s a high-noon showdown in our future between the good and evil Coopers.
Maybe the funniest Twin Peaks scene ever follows: As the jazzy strains of “Take Five” play in the background, the catatonic Mr. Jackpots sits at the breakfast table with Dougie’s family, his tie wrapped around his head, trying to relearn how to eat pancakes with help from his fake son. His fake wife (Naomi Watts) hands him a cup of coffee — a minor obsession of Cooper’s in the past — in a mug that reads “I am Dougie’s Cup of Coffee,” a delightful bit of literalism in a show where nothing is what it seems. He takes one sip of joe and immediately spits it out, wild-eyed, like he has finally woken up. “Hi!!!” he says to Dougie’s wife, grinning maniacally like Jack Nicholson sticking his head through a hole in a door. Right back at you, Coop.
Cooper, you may recall, discovered who killed Laura Palmer in the third episode of the original series courtesy of the Red Room … and subsequently forgot the identity of the killer. Now, his return from a dramatically longer stay in the Red Room has caused him to forget something even more important: himself. Maybe the coffee was all he needed to get his shit together — who among us hasn’t felt that way, after all? I miss Dale Cooper pretty fiercely and watching his half-assed doppelgängers dick around for hours while the genuine article floats endlessly in various limbos is getting a little old.
Back at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department, former bad boy Bobby Briggs is now a grey-haired police officer, but don’t worry — he’s still incredibly melodramatic. Although 25 years have passed, he bursts into tears at the mere sight of Laura Palmer’s photo, while the Twin Peaks theme swells in the background. The moment is an odd little artifact of the show Twin Peaks used to be, the soapy small-town murder-mystery that the new series seems determined to subvert. If anything, the contrast highlights what the show has become: a phantasmagoria of long, dazed shots; extended silences devoid of music; and bizarre dialogue almost uniformly spoken with the slow, weighty cadence of someone trying to hint at something else. Every line feels like a clue, a gesture, a finger silently pointing in another direction.
Shortly afterwards, we meet Andy and Lucy’s son, Wally Brando, who is seriously just Michael Cera on a motorcycle doing a Marlon Brando impression. “My dharma is the road,” he lisps slightly. He came to let his parents know that they can do what they want with his childhood bedroom — that it is time to move on from the past, to put something new in the space it once occupied. Despite its occasional flashes of nostalgia, the show has done much the same.
Finally, we see the return of Gordon Cole, played as ever by David Lynch, who is busy investigating a murder whose culprit can be ascertained through a series of random clues: a pin-up picture, a pair of pliers, a photo of two women in swimsuits and another of a little boy, a gun, and a jar of — I don’t know — pumpkin seeds? “The congressman’s dilemma,” says Cole somberly. It’s a moment so flush with non sequiturs that it seems almost like Twin Peaks is making fun of itself — unless of course it’s Twin Peaks being so Twin Peaks that there’s no difference, like a surrealist demonstration of Poe’s Law.
The meeting is interrupted when Cole gets a call from a prison in South Dakota letting him know that (Bad) Cooper is back! And currently locked up because of the machine gun, drugs, and severed dog leg the local cops found in his trunk. When Gordon, Albert Rosenfield, and newcomer Tamara Preston arrive at the prison, Bad Cooper says it’s all just a misunderstanding and that he’s been working undercover with Philip Jeffries (a.k.a. the FBI agent played by David Bowie in Fire Walk With Me), but it’s pretty obvious to everyone that something is very wrong.
“I hate to admit this, but I don’t understand this situation at all,” Cole later says. Welcome to the party, man. “Blue Rose?” asks Albert, in a scene that is literally shaded blue. “It doesn’t get any bluer,” Cole responds.