“Nothing will die. The stream flows, the wind blows, the cloud fleets, the heart beats. Nothing will die.” — John Merrick’s Mother, quoting Tennyson, at the end of The Elephant Man (1980)
Was Twin Peaks: The Return a movie or a TV show?
As I sit here on January 9th, 2018, that’s a question that’s still on my mind. There are many critics who insist that Twin Peaks: The Return should be viewed as being a 16-hour movie. It’s a claim that I, myself, have made several times. In order to support this argument, we point out that David Lynch and Mark Frost didn’t sit down and write 16 different scripts. Instead, they wrote one 900-page script which they then filmed and subsequently divided into 16 different “chapters.” It’s really not that much different from what Quentin Tarantino did with Kill Bill or what Peter Jackson did with both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. As well, Twin Peaks: The Return was such a monumental artistic achievement that calling it a TV show just seems somehow diminishing.
And yet, the fact of the matter is that Twin Peaks: The Return did air on television. It aired in 16 different episodes, which were aired on a weekly basis. To many, that fact alone makes Twin Peaks: The Return a television show.
It may all seem like a silly question to some readers. However, for those of us who like to make best-of lists at the start of the new year, it is a legitimate issue. Should I include Twin Peaks: The Return at the top of my list of the best 26 films of 2017 or should I rave about it in my list of good things I saw on television in 2017?
My solution is to do neither. Twin Peaks: The Return was such a monumental achievement that it deserves a best-of entry of its very own.
(Of course, not everyone is going to agree. For everyone who loved Twin Peaks: The Return, there was someone else who hated it with just as much of a passion.)
Months after the show ended, Twin Peaks: The Return continues to haunt many viewers. As the Man From Another Place once told Agent Cooper, “She is full of secrets.” When the show ended, many of the show’s mysteries were left unsolved. Really, we shouldn’t have been surprised. As a filmmaker, David Lynch has always been most interested in mysteries than solutions. What happened to Audrey? Why did Laura/Carrie scream? At the end of the show, was Dale trapped in another world or another time? Was BOB really destroyed?
Interestingly, David Lynch actually provided viewers with two endings. The first ending, which occurred halfway through Part 17, was an ending that would have been perfect for a television show. Dale Cooper, back to normal, defeated the bad guys and was reunited with all of his friends. The second ending — also known as Part 18— was a much more Lynchian ending as two strangers took a road trip to nowhere. Part 17 gave us hope for the future. Part 18 ended with a dark reminder that the past cannot be changed, no matter how much we obsess over it. For me, Part 18 was the most important chapter of Twin Peaks: The Return. Part 8, of course, is the chapter that got and continues to get all the attention. And Part 8 was probably one of the greatest stand-alone episodes in television history. But, when considering the reoccurring themes of Twin Peaks: The Return and all of Lynch’s work, Part 18 was far more important.
What’s interesting is that, while the show ended on a dark note, Twin Peaks: The Return was often Lynch at his most optimistic. For all the terrible things that happened, the show also featured a reoccurring theme of redemption. Two of the original show’s most villainous characters — Dana Ashbrook’s Bobby Briggs and Richard Beymer’s Ben Horne — were reintroduced as two of the most sympathetic characters to be found in The Return. Agent Cooper finally escaped from the Black Lodge and not only got a chance to redeem himself by destroying Bob but he also destroyed his evil Double. He even got a chance to turn Dougie Jones into a good husband, father, and employee.
In the end, it would appear that Cooper’s only mistake was thinking that he could change the past. He may have saved Laura but, in doing so, he just transformed her into Carrie, an unbalanced woman living in a house with a dead body on the couch. As her final scream confirmed, he could save her life but he couldn’t erase her pain. The past is the past but the future can always be better.
Of course, it wasn’t just the characters on the show who won redemption. The cast of Twin Peaks: The Return was truly amazing and, by the time the show ended, my opinion of several performers had changed forever. Who would ever have guessed that Jim Belushi would end up being one of my favorite characters? Or that Michael Cera would turn Wally Brando into a minor cult hero? Or that David Lynch would prove to be as good an actor as he is a director? Or that Balthazar Getty would get a chane to redeem his less than impressive work in Lost Highway with a chilling performance as the newest face of Twin Peaks corruption? Even the returnees from the original show — Dana Ashbrook, Wendy Robie, Sheryl Lee, Harry Goaz, Kimmy Robertson, Russ Tamblyn, Everett McGill, Peggy Lipton, Grace Zabriskie, James Marshall, Madchen Amick, and others — were given a chance to reveal new depths of character. Veterans like Robert Forster, Ashley Judd, Laura Dern, Don Murray, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Naomi Watts and Tim Roth shared the stage with newcomers like Chrysta Bell and Eamon Farren and they all came together to create an unforgettable world.
You could even argue that Twin Peaks: The Return was a comeback of sorts for Kyle MacLachlan. Hollywood has never seemed to really understand how to best use this appealing but quirky actor. Twin Peaks: The Return provided him with a chance to show what he can do, giving him not just one but three characters to play.
Twin Peaks: The Return gave us one final chance to appreciate some talented people who are no longer with us. Harry Dean Stanton was the face of old-fashioned decency. Miguel Ferrer provided snarky commentary, letting the audience know that the show understood how strange it was. Warren Frost returned briefly, still as reliable as ever as Doc Hayward. And Catherine E. Coulson, who was so often Lynch’s muse, got to play the role one more time.
(Jack Nance, Don S. Davis, Frank Silva, and David Bowie all made appearances as well, a reminder that they may no longer be with us but they will never be gone.)
In the end, it seems appropriate to end this post with a picture of Ed and Norma, finally together. The world of Twin Peaks: The Return was frequently a dark one but sometimes, love won.
Tomorrow, my look back at 2017 continues with my picks for my favorite songs of 2017.
Previous entries in the TSL’s Look Back at 2017:
- 2017 in Review: Top Ten Single Issues by Ryan C
- 2017 in Review: Top Ten Series by Ryan C
- 2017 In Review: Top Ten Collected Edition (Contemporary) by Ryan C
- 2017 In Review: Top Ten Collected Editions (Vintage) by Ryan C
- 2017 in Review: Top Ten Graphic Novels By Ryan C
- 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I saw in 2017 by Valerie Troutman
- My Top 15 Albums of 2017 by Necromoonyeti
- 2017 In Review: Lisa Marie’s Picks For the 16 Worst Films of 2017