Twin Peaks' evil twin
While the original Twin Peaks was superficially adorned with robins on pine branches and picnicking teenagers, Twin Peaks: The Return reveals the naiveté of such a world existing
If you're looking for David Lynch, the locals will tell you to go to the Dairy Freeze. With its cherry-red trim and neon ice cream cone on the roof, the Freeze has barely changed in the more than 60 years since it was built in North Bend, Washington, the former one-stoplight outpost on a now-defunct arm of I-90. Even as microbreweries and trendy outdoors shops bloom around it today, the Dairy Freeze holds on, as stubborn as a weed — an idyllic relic of a version of America that perhaps never existed at all.
Just down the street from the Dairy Freeze is the site of the fictional Double R Diner, preserved so as to be immediately recognizable from Twin Peaks. Twede's Cafe belongs to the same era as the Dairy Freeze, having been built in 1941, but it has become such a tourist trap that to experience it in person is like realizing a beloved actor is six inches shorter in real life than on screen. Waitresses wear tacky Twin Peaks shirts and the World War II-era counter is covered in random, ugly paraphernalia associated with the show. Neither the cherry pie nor the coffee is particularly damn good.
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The two restaurants are as different as Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: The Return — one using the nostalgic appeal of kitschy Americana to sell French fries and shakes while the other exposes the construction of that illusion.
While the original Twin Peaks was superficially adorned with robins on pine branches and picnicking teenagers, Twin Peaks: The Return reveals the naiveté of such a world existing. Fast forward 25 years and suddenly Shelly is no longer a starry-eyed waitress but a 40-something single mother collecting tips at her diner job. Domestic violence and drug use are rampant; rundown trailer parks are witnesses to shootings and fires; a boy is randomly and senselessly killed crossing the road.
Since the original series aired on ABC over two decades ago, Lynch's vision of morality has been as literal and uncompromising as angels and demons. Laura Palmer is associated with a pure, undistilled goodness while her antithesis and torturer, Bob, is an evil as ancient and ever-present as the stars and the forests.
The conflict in The Return stems from this balance being disrupted: Evil Coop runs unchecked while his innocuous double, Dougie, is severed from the conscious of the ever-good Dale Cooper. But Twin Peaks has never been without Bob and seeing him damned back into the Black Lodge in the finale almost seems more spooky in that it couldn't possibly last. After all, Lynch proved as early as episode one that he has no interest in fan service and The Return does not exist to tie up loose ends.
So what is it doing?
The clue could be in the contrasts. Once you begin counting, the twins in Twin Peaks appear everywhere: The White Lodge, "a place of great goodness," and the Black Lodge, separated from our realm by a mere curtain, or the towering Fireman and The Man from Another Place.
Even locations are not neutral. Las Vegas, where Dougie is stranded for the first 15 episodes of The Return, is the opposite of the forested, tiny town of Twin Peaks, Washington. And on another level, what is the ultimate geographic doppelgänger if not Vegas, replete with a fake Venice, Egypt, Rome, and Paris?
The chasms between the contrasts make The Return Lynch's most political work to date: In one house, for example, an anonymous little boy with a strung-out mother tries to find ways to distract from his boredom while in another house somewhere across town, Sonny Jim is gifted a massive light-up jungle gym straight out of every 10-year-old's wildest dreams. "Every boy should have a jungle gym," one of the Mitchum brothers tells Sonny Jim, but it echoes as an unsettling reminder of how many do not get a piece of this idealized American dream.
Thankfully, Lynch is as unflinching in his portrayal of reality as in surreality. He does not gloss over conclusions with the promise that good will always win out over evil. If anything, evil is more powerful and prevalent (after all, Lynch left the series hanging for 25 years with Cooper's sarcastic snarl, How's Annie?) If Lynch is trying to tell us something about the world, it is cynical and pessimistic, a kind of garmonbozia itself.
This Sunday, 25 years after Twin Peak's original finale, Lynch has the opportunity to right that vision. By all indications, it seems almost as if he will — if The Return is the dark foil to the soapy original series, then its end must surely be positive where the other's was negative, the yin to its ultimate, upsetting yang?
But to hope for such a resolution might be simply kidding oneself. The Return serves as the "America was never great" rejoinder to a yearning to return to a glorified past. As nostalgic as it might be, the town of Twin Peaks as we know it was never without violence; it was a quainter version of America that dropped the bomb, too.
There is a final tidy metaphor here, one that might also be added to the list of twins. David Lynch plays two directors in two different worlds: FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole in the one, and the architect of Cole's universe in another. In a story with such clear blacks and whites, Cole remains a kind of ambiguous force who knows more than he lets on.
With only two hours left in his masterwork, Lynch, too, hasn't signaled his intentions. Tellingly, though, despite making Twede's Cafe central to the Twin Peaks universe, Lynch still prefers the chocolate ice cream cones down the street.
There, under the yellowy lights of the Dairy Freeze, you can still imagine a world both wonderful and strange, even as the evidence that it doesn't exist is reflected on just the other side of the windows.