A strange dancing man in a mysterious red room, a woman who talks to a log, a queasy jazz soundtrack – you don’t have to be a Twin Peaks fan to be aware of the show’s most famous tropes (hell, you got all that if you just watched the latest edition of This Week on BBC1).
So to the casual viewer (if there is such thing when it comes to this show), the opening feature-length episode of the long-awaited third season may appear to tick all the Peaksian boxes.
In the original series, it wasn’t until the very end that we got more than brief glimpses inside the extra-dimensional haunt known as the Black Lodge, but in this week’s return it feels as if we rarely go more than a few minutes without someone speaking backwards. An aged Agent Cooper has enigmatic conversations with the Giant, with repentant demon MIKE and with Laura Palmer (although much of what she has to tell him hasn’t changed since their last chat 25 years ago), not to mention my new favourite character, The Arm, which I’m calling the Electric Tree, because its branches fizz with electricity, and because it’s a tree.
I love all that stuff. And yet, for me, that overt weirdness isn’t the only thing that makes Twin Peaks Twin Peaks. When I first watched the show I was 17 and fell for it so deeply that all I could do each week was wait for the next Tuesday to come around. Despite the dark subject matter, Twin Peaks didn’t just scare me, often it gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling. Part of that was probably that it was something new and different that I had claimed for myself. But a lot of it was to do with the fact that the town of Twin Peaks felt like a community – a strange community populated by unusual people, acting out a dreamlike melodrama, yes – but that only made me love it more.
So it was initially disappointing that not much of the two-hour intro to the new series takes place in Twin Peaks or recaptures that homely feeling. But actually, maybe that’s a good thing. If you want to relieve the original Twin Peaks, the best way is probably to go back and relive the original Twin Peaks. Trying to rekindle the magic that resulted from that cast, at that specific time, coming together with those first ideas, the chemistry and the luck, would almost certainly be doomed to failure.
The new season opener takes us into the wider world of David Lynch – it’s more like one of his films than an episode of the original series – and ranges around from New York, to South Dakota to Las Vegas (as well as checking in from time to time in Twin Peaks), introducing numerous threads that may or may not at some point be drawn together but which will no doubt provoke lots of delicious theories in the meantime and hopefully create much more of a sustainable drama than just re-doing Twin Peaks.
We’re introduced to the mysterious glass box inside a strange facility in New York City which, when you stop watching it, materialises something deadly inside. There’s the mismatched head and body found together in bed (by a neighbour whose personal idiosyncrasies could only be from Lynchland, or perhaps Fargo), and the fact that the murders are being blamed on someone who claims emphatically that he has only ever visited the apartment in a dream. And then, there’s that brief standalone scene featuring the man in the jail cell – his face, hands and clothes covered entirely in some black substance like coal dust – who flickers and fades away before his disembodied head returns, only to float out of the picture once again. Peak Lynch. If not peak Peaks.
Nevertheless, there’s still a sense that all roads may eventually lead back to Twin Peaks. Cooper momentarily ends up inside that glass box, somehow transported there from the Black Lodge. And we’re briefly but enjoyably reintroduced to some well loved characters. Ben Horne is still running the Great Northern Hotel, while his brother Jerry now looks like a down-on-his-luck trawlerman and eats space cakes for breakfast. The Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department is currently minus two Sheriff Trumans – “one’s sick, one’s fishing” – which is especially intriguing given that we know that neither of them will be played by original star Michael Ontkean. And the Log Lady is back, now inhaling from an oxygen canister and helping Chief Deputy Hawk with a mysterious investigation in the woods (where else?).
And when we finish up at the Roadhouse bar – spot a couple of familiar faces; hear a clever update of Julee Cruise’s ethereal music, courtesy of new band Chromatics – it feels like some of that old magic is back.
Things have changed a bit but, twenty-five years on, Twin Peaks is still a place I want to be.
The double episode of Twin Peaks is on Sky Atlantic at 9pm on Tuesday 23rd May. Episodes 3 and 4 are available on demand now