Against Explanations: How to Watch the Return of ‘Twin Peaks’

twin peaks

There’s no wrong way to watch season 3 of ‘Twin Peaks’ but here’s the best way…

If surreal times require surreal comic art, then David Lynch is the auteur we need right now. And the third season of Twin Peaks, returning 25 years after its initial run, is nowhere better synchronized with our sociopolitical meltdown as in this mashup tweet from co-creator Mark Frost:

Twin Peaks

At almost halfway through the new season of Twin Peaks, it seems a good time to pause and take stock of this sometimes bewildering, occasionally frustrating, yet deeply affecting fever-dream of televised art. But don’t expect an “explainer,” because as many critics have noted, there is no way to fit much of what happens on-screen into any formal, logical framework. The eyeless woman in the glitchy red room does not signify anything — she is simply what she is. Just as our personal dreams provide us with potent signifiers that seem meaningless upon awakening, so this descent into the psyches of Lynch and Frost is immune to rational dissection. If you’re reading this in hopes of finding the skeleton key to what it all means, you’re better off camping out with the minutiae-obsessives at Reddit.

I do think, however, we can learn how to watch the show. Lynch and Frost, by immersing us in the explosion of surrealism and metaphysics of Twin Peaks, are teaching us a new way to see.

This Is Not Your Parents’ Television

Lynch has suggested that the new Twin Peaks season was envisioned as an 18-hour movie, and when I watched all the available episodes back-to-back in one marathon setting, it was a stunningly different experience. The sometimes glacial pacing of the dialogue, scenes and plot lines disappears into the organic flow and rhythm of the larger whole. It becomes clear this is exactly how it was envisioned.

Twin Peaks

Deputy Jesse Holcomb (John Pirruccello) and Deputy Chad Broxford (James Grixoni). Via Showtime

Imagine, as a comparison, how unsatisfying it would be to watch a half-hour sitcom diced into five-minute chunks spread out over seven weeks. That’s what I believe many are experiencing when they find themselves agonizing over, for example, the Cooper/Dougie story line — an understandable frustration at how long it seems to be taking Cooper to wake up to his true self (shades of Plato’s anamnesis). But in the context of a very long film, without the wait between episodes, the arc of that awakening turns out to be not at all frustrating, but pitch perfect.

One also notices fragments of the overarching story, sometimes single scenes that are easily forgotten in the wait between episodes, clicking into place in the larger narrative. In fact, I wouldn’t put it past some canny arthouse programmers to schedule marathon viewings of the full Twin Peaks season three once it is complete — because that’s the way it is meant to be seen.

Twin Peaks

Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) with Sonny Jim Jones (Pierce Gagnon) and the owl cookie jar. Via Showtime

And kudos to Lynch and Frost for letting their story and its characters breathe, forcing us to slow down and observe and listen. We resist and resent it, because Hollywood has trained our hyperactive brains to crave the stimulation of rapid edits and zippy scene changes. But what happens when a director forces you to slow down, breathe and just look and listen? We study the characters’ faces. They get to act. We notice the owl cookie jar in Dougie Jones’ kitchen and the omnipresent red balloons (and please don’t ask what they mean, okay?). We aren’t being spoon-fed, which is what we’re used to — we are being asked to participate.

And when things slow down, the sound comes to the forefront. Angelo Badalamenti’s music gets well-deserved praise, but the bulk of the series is free of traditional music. Turn up the volume and listen on the best sound system you have available, and the importance of the ambient score becomes obvious. When Mr. C (aka Evil Cooper, in a tight leather jacket reminiscent of Blue Velvet’s Frank Booth) visits Buella’s trailer in the first episode, for example, the cricket chirping in the background is subtly altered and psychedelically modulated — a detail that only emerges when you pay attention, but one that enhances the otherworldly dread. And no one does the grating of metal against metal, the chewing of food or (as the subtitles note) “[very soft swooshing]” with as much artistry as sound designer Lynch.

Lynch and Frost, 25 years after changing serial TV forever, aren’t just breaking new narrative ground. They’re teaching us a completely new way to experience cinematic art. So set aside a few hours, or an evening, turn out the lights, turn up the sound and follow their lead.

Twin Peaks

Dr. Lawrence Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn). Via Showtime

And Now for Some Random Musings (Spoilers Ahead!)

The Black Lodge in the original Twin Peaks series is to the ’90s what Kubrick’s monolith/bedroom scene was to the ’60s.

How many characters will be one-offs? My money is on Wally and James having only one scene. Wally was a singular moment of absurd brilliance, and we learned from Shelly that “James is still cool.” Isn’t that a great nod and sendoff to a character we’d rather not tag along with on another extended subplot on his motorcycle?

Cooper’s key to room 315 at the Great Northern mirrors the numbers on the electric socket (3 and 15) through which he escapes the Black Lodge. And, yes, I’m sure that has already been discussed to death somewhere.

The nebulous creature that comes through the glass box is, hands-down, the most terrifying cinematic monster I’ve seen in a very long time. Most horror films don’t generate as much terror in 90 minutes as Lynch does in one scene.

Twin Peaks

Via Showtime

Mark Frost provides the bones. Lynch layers on the flesh.

Aren’t old-school special effects so refreshing?

Diane. Just Diane. Do callbacks get any better than that? end

 

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