How the Twin Peaks revival weaponized our longing for homecoming
David Lynch gave viewers something both utterly familiar and totally strange
Nostalgia, as a concept, originates from the ancient Greek for "homecoming" and "pain" — the exquisite agony of longing for a place, a person, a feeling, that simultaneously exists with stunning clarity in our hearts and minds and is already gone, sometimes long gone. The revival of Twin Peaks, which will air its final two episodes this Sunday, has been steeped in nostalgia ever since it was announced via a cheekily cryptic tweet: "That gum you like is going to come back in style."
Well, yes and no.
In Twin Peaks: The Return, David Lynch has given fans a kind of homecoming, in our careworn favorites like Big Ed and Norma finally getting their happy ending; or Bobby Briggs, still handsome as ever, still moon-eyed over Laura Palmer. But Lynch knows that nostalgia is a union between sentiment and time, and time contains multitudes of cruelty: That cruelty is borne out in the cancer ravaging Margaret Lanterman (aka "the Log Lady"), whose late-night calls with Deputy Hawk may enrich and reflect the series' much-loved internal mythology — but they are, at their core, about a dying woman seeking comfort in an old friend. In Twin Peaks, like life itself, time holds everything we love even while carrying us further away from it.
The greatest meta-mystery accompanying the revival was arguably how it would contend with time — with actors aging, retiring, and dying over two-plus decades; with the ascension of the broody and brainy Prestige TV™ that it inspired; and with the ballyhoo it built into its own narrative DNA with Laura Palmer's promise to Special Agent Dale Cooper: "I'll see you again in 25 years." Though that 25-year gap sometimes sanitized our cultural remembrance of the original Twin Peaks, turning it into an adorably inscrutable romp on the kitschy side (an interpretation that, admittedly, certain arcs — like Nadine the middle-aged high school wrestling champ or the Miss Twin Peaks pageant — have facilitated), this new season emerged, like the monster in the clear glass box, in a whir of fang and claw: It cleaved far more brutally, and honestly, into the fundamental strangeness of the human condition, specifically, the pain of growing older, growing up (or, sadly, growing older without growing up); of being unmade, and then remade, by trauma; of knowing that the world is a dark garden spreading tendrils of nuclear evil — but it also blooms with a redemptive warmth and kindness.
Even though the entire Twin Peaks enterprise, including the series and its much-maligned prequel film, Fire Walk with Me, are animated by the prolonged sexual torture and murder of a teenage girl, the revival has felt impossibly more brutish: Small children are run over by speeding trucks, their bloodied corpses cradled by screaming mothers; pie-loving schoolteachers are bludgeoned in the head; and grandmothers are robbed and menaced (and this is only the damage wrought by one character, the malignant son-of-BOB, Richard Horne). Our cherished favorites return to us in extremis: Major Briggs is a headless corpse. Shelly remains on the same sad path of bad boys and desperate love, even though her daughter now follows her. Audrey Horne is locked in an astral hellscape masquerading as a domestic farce.
Lynch has weaponized our longing to come home to the Twin Peaks we remembered. As Jeff Wilser writes in Vulture, "In some ways the question of 'Where's Twin Peaks?' has replaced the original question of 'Who Killed Laura Palmer?' … Lynch is fully aware of our hunger for the show's original charm and is leveraging our appetite as the season's dramatic engine." There's pain in an empty belly, and that emptiness can't be quelled with donuts and cherry pie — it's filled by the bitter herbs of truth, and the sweet bread of redemption. The bruised beauty of this revival is that there is no one way to love it, or understand it: You can craft dissertation-length posts dissecting the series' internal logic and symbiology, or you can process it in a purely emotional, intuitive way that defies conventional analysis (or even words).
The revival ripens the series' existing preoccupation with the concept of the double, the doppelganger, the self that is simultaneously us but not us, that (quite literally) embodies the darkest impulses, the deep and gnashing pain, or even the secret desires, we'd never dare express in polite society (or even to ourselves). This trope is most directly expressed in Mr. C, a chilling inverse of Cooper's do-gooding, who reminds us that, even in the nicest of the nice guys, there is a force that, free from social and legal constraints, can leave a path of finely wrought carnage. But it is more poignantly portrayed in the Dougie Jones arc, which may have exasperated fans who wanted their old gumshoe to come back in fine style — even though no one, no matter how pure of heart, could emerge from 25 years of captivity (let alone captivity in the Black Lodge) without being shell-shocked, inchoate, and numb. Dougie's waking state of somnambulance is a kind of chrysalis for Cooper as he recovers from the mind-warp of accumulated trauma. Sure, Lynch teases our hero's inevitable return in Dougie's child-like discovery (or, rather, rediscovery) of coffee and pie, sex and sleuthing, a perfect punch and a lawman's shiny badge, but it's so much more than a riddle-me-this. It's about a lost man finding himself again. So, when Cooper does emerge, wholly himself, it's a different sort of homecoming — one that fulfills our desire to see him again while acknowledging the pains of his imprisonment, and the strain of the years.
Twin Peaks: The Return is about the ways that time inevitably wounds us, and returns us to some version of ourselves — even if that version is broken. Deputy Bobby Briggs matures, even if his beloved Shelly doesn't; FBI director Gordon Cole mourns his lost friends, but doggedly trains more agents to take on the Blue Rose cases; and Diane, poor oft-mentioned, never-seen Diane, literally fractures in the aftermath of being raped by Mr. C. Part of her becomes a tulpa (a being or object created via mystical, or mental, powers) — the most wounded part of her, the part of her that has been burned brittle by this most savage (and sadly, all-too-common) betrayal; she presents an ashen husk of a woman whose alcoholism and unending rage keeps her from crumpling into nothing. "I'm not me," she cries to Cole. There is no better way of describing how trauma estranges us from ourselves. Diane may have started out as one of the more benevolently kooky parts of Twin Peaks, the original series, Agent Cooper's loyal secretary, but in Twin Peaks: The Return, she is a singular presence — and when she finally confronts Mr. C behind bars, she bursts with cathartic fury.
Many critics have faulted this season for depicting women as housewives and harpies, dim-witted vixens and bitter victims. This complaint isn't entirely without merit: Too often, the camera lingers a little too long on Special Agent Tammy Preston's shapely derriere. It's painful to watch Richard Horne beat a woman half-to-death in her own home and choke out his grandmother, to watch Mr. C punch a woman in the face. And it's excruciating to see our bright, sly, inquisitive Audrey so utterly trapped and ravaged. Lynch's work has a chivalrous concern with "the woman in trouble," which may seem antiquated in today's "who-run-the-world" TV landscape, but nonetheless reflects a real world where terrible things happen to women, who often have no recourse or remedy against them. He doesn't tart up their suffering, nothing about it is titillating or slick. If anything, Richard and Mr. C serve as the toxic counterpoints to our cultural nostalgia for the nihilistic "man's man": There's nothing sexy or cool about either of them. Richard's death-by-incineration is a bona-fide fist-pump moment, and Kyle MacLaughlin's masterfully dead-eyed, dead-pan performance (and yeah, that hair) dispels any notion that we're supposed to find Mr. C at all attractive.
Lynch may turn an unflinching eye to the rot creeping up the white picket fence, but there's still a light of optimism shining in the attic of his oeuvre. We have cared about the Log Lady, Deputy Hawk, Andy and Lucy, Bobby and Shelly, Ed and Norma, Albert and Cole, Sheriff Truman, and, of course, Dale Cooper, so deeply, and over so many years because they are fundamentally good people — the kind of people we'd want to be friends with, who feel like home. And even when the revival season's study of evil takes it into the incandescent center of an atomic blast, it never forgets that light in the attic. That's why Janey-E Jones, Dougie's loyal wife and ferocious caretaker, is arguably the most compelling new character; she and her son, Sonny Jim, give Dougie/Cooper the love and protection he needs to fully recover — yet she's no pushover, intimidating a pair of thugs and enjoying a wild romp in the hay with her newly hot hubby. As the fully awakened Cooper prepares to head back to the town of Twin Peaks, a town that will be utterly familiar and totally strange to him, all at once, he tells Janey-E and Sonny Jim that they've "made my heart so full." That fullness is so present, so potent, because it grew over 18 episodes — and in Dougie/Janey-E, Lynch has created one of the most bizarre, yet genuine, love stories on television.
Twin Peaks: The Return may have spiked our desires for the "home" of the original series with painful revelations about trauma and time. Then again, the original series spiked our desires for the "home" of a small-town Americana with painful revelations about violence and greed, sickness and lust. So, maybe then, the Twin Peaks we've been nostalgic for still exists in this modern incarnation — even if it feels like it's been long gone. Twin Peaks has always shown us our imperfect courage, while still suggesting that those imperfections don't blot out the goodness, kindness, and compassion in the world — this is the essence of the show, the tiny golden seed that the revival has grown into a twisted tree with unexpectedly sweet fruit.