‘Where Is Twin Peaks?’ Is the New ‘Who Killed Laura Palmer?’

Heellllooooo from the other side. Photo: Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME

I don’t have any answers. I don’t have any crackpot theories for why Dr. Jacoby is spray-painting shovels, or how Dougie is manufactured, or why the Black Lodge seems to invoke something of a tiebreaker, an ancient rule that says: If there are two doppelgängers in the real world, the winner is the one who can go the longest without vomiting their creamy corn. For that matter, I don’t even have a theory on how Gordon Cole thinks he can attend a meeting in South Dakota at “9 a.m., sharp!” if he begins his morning in Philadelphia.

Yet I do have a theory about the overall direction of the show, and, potentially, for Lynch’s endgame. The theory involves us, the viewers — it pivots on our reaction to the show. While the critics have tepidly gushed, a more common reaction seems to be, Okay, this is … interesting” … but where’s the Twin Peaks I know and love? Where are the donuts, cherry pie, and a damn fine cup of coffee? That’s the crucial question: Where’s Twin Peaks? Showtime would never use it as a tagline, but in some ways the question of “Where’s Twin Peaks?” has replaced the original question of “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” My premise: Lynch is fully aware of our hunger for the show’s original charm, and he is leveraging our appetite as the season’s dramatic engine. And over the course of 18 hours he will gradually, bit by bit, sprinkle in the whimsy and the magic.

The biggest clue? It’s already happening.

We see this most clearly with the music. Angelo Badalamenti’s score is jarringly absent, and the impact is hard to overstate. In the show’s original run, the score was practically the main character, dialed to a ten in every scene. The score set the tone. Funny scenes had funny music; scary scenes had scary music. Now? Lynch dials it from a ten to a zero. It’s icy. It feels off. (Imagine if in The Force Awakens, Rey closes her eyes, uses the Force, extends her hand for the lightsaber, only instead of the Force theme we hear … silence. It might look like Star Wars, but it wouldn’t feel like Star Wars.)

Yet the music isn’t completely absent; it’s used sparingly. Lynch made these choices for a reason. To try and decode the mystery, and because I have no life, on a second binge of the first four episodes, I tracked every use of the original score:

Episode One: Excluding the title sequence, zero instances.

Episode Two: Two instances. In the establishing shot of Vegas, for just a sliver of a second, we can hear the jazzy percussions that were once deployed for the “fun” scenes with Lucy or Andy or (god help us) Nadine’s amnesia. Now, in Vegas, it amounts to an audio flicker, just the wisp of a cameo. Why is it here? It doesn’t set a mood. It doesn’t evoke an emotion. My hunch is that it’s a hint of what’s to come. It almost feels like Badalamenti himself is trapped in his own Black Lodge, muffled, and can only manage the occasional gasp. The episode’s second use of original music: Hawk searches for Cooper in the woods, at night, lighting his way with a flashlight. Spooky music fuels the tension. It’s the exact same music, in fact, that’s used in the season-two finale, when Truman shines his flashlight on the exact same Douglas firs. The shots are identical. Hawk is searching for Cooper, and as he gets closer, he gets a jolt of the original Twin Peaks.

Episode Three: Just once. And again it’s just a nanosecond of the old jaunty percussion, this time as Cole is about to meet Denise. Once again it feels like the score is muzzled, choked off, and unable to do what it wants to do.

(Stay with me here.)

Episode Four: Lynch brings in the cavalry. The most obvious example, of course, is the full-throated return of “Laura’s Theme.” Yet the next few moments are more telling. Even after the crescendo of “Laura’s Theme,” and as the cops talk about Cooper and Major Briggs, a slice of music that’s essentially the “mystery score” — ominous notes of intrigue, used prominently in season one — purrs in the background. It feels right. Now this feels like Twin Peaks. And then, just like that, the score vanishes. We’re not there yet. We get teases and drips and drabs, just like how, way back when, Lynch peppered the first seasons with clues and teases on who killed Laura Palmer. Where’s Twin Peaks? He’s not ready to give it up. We haven’t earned it.

So, to recap: zero bits of score in episode one, just a few teases in episodes two and three, and then the fireworks in episode four. The trend line suggests we’ll be getting more Badalamenti.

Now let’s consider the title sequence. There’s a long pause between the opening shot and when the music kicks in, enough time for us to squirm in eerie silence. The delay lasts a full 12 seconds.

Lynch is a man of details; this can’t be an accident. It feels like another version of the same message: You’ll get what you want … but wait for it. This elongated pause, this uncomfortable stretch of stillness, is one of the trustiest tools in the Lynch toolbox. Lynch uses stillness like Game of Thrones uses sex. Long pauses. Lingering shots of doorknobs. Establishing shots that do more than establish. (As Matt Zoller Seitz points out, the stillness even has a way of rewiring our brains, making the show feel different than anything on TV.) With carte blanche from Showtime, this unsettling sense of Where’s Twin Peaks? feels like Lynchian stillness on the grandest scale we’ve ever seen. Yet here’s the thing: The stillness is usually rewarded. In the season-two premiere, sure, it took approximately 97 minutes for the butler to bring a dying Cooper his glass of milk, but in the end we did, in fact, get a tidy resolution to that cliffhanger — Coop wore a bulletproof vest. If we give Lynch patience, he’ll give us a payoff. (Except for when he doesn’t.)

Where’s Twin Peaks? Besides the music, with each episode we’re getting more of the old humor, the old characters, and the old trappings. Episodes three and four make Twin Peaks a dark horse candidate as the funniest show on TV. (The next time you hit a casino, will you be able to play a slot machine without yelling out, “Helllooooooo!”?) And our old friends are back. Lucy, Andy, Cole, Albert, and of course Coop — they’re given more screen time with every episode, suggesting a swinging of the pendulum. The coffee and donuts? Back in the sheriff’s office, just where they belong.

Then there’s the title itself: The Return. When we first saw the ads and posters for Twin Peaks: The Return, it felt like a straightforward nod to the show’s comeback. It’s now a smidge clearer — not that anything is clear — that it also refers to Cooper’s return to Twin Peaks, and it could also, for that matter, speak to Evil Cooper’s return to the Black Lodge. But what if “The Return” is actually our entire 18-hour odyssey that will culminate, in the third act, with a return to the tone, warmth, and magic of Twin Peaks?

And really, how else could Lynch toy with our expectations? Back in 1990, when a “multi-episode story arc” meant a two-parter of Cheers, we lacked the palate to handle a season(s)-long hunt for a killer. Lynch knew that we wanted something — the resolution of a killer — and he delayed that gratification until ABC put a gun to his head. Now? We are totally fine chewing on a mystery for five episodes or five seasons. The old tricks won’t cut it. So if Lynch wants Peaks TV to disrupt Peak TV, he needs to up the ante.

He knows we want Twin Peaks, and he’ll make us wait, and wait, and wait, and wait, and wait, and wait, and wait … and then make us do some more goddamn waiting. But I have faith that he’ll deliver the goods. In other words, that Twin Peaks vibe you like is coming back in style …

Jeff Wilser is the author of Alexander Hamilton’s Guide to Life.

‘Where Is Twin Peaks?’ Is the New ‘Who Killed Laura Palmer?’