The return of Twin Peaks is a lot to process. After each episode, Uproxx‘s Alan Sepinwall and Keith Phipps attempt to hash out what we all just watched.
Keith: Alan, I did a quick scan of my Twitter timeline after this episode of Twin Peaks ended and I can safely report that everyone hates Dougie. Except, that is, for everyone who loves Dougie. We’re now one third of the way into Twin Peaks: The Return and if there’s one element of this revival that’s become a lightning rod for strong opinions, it’s Dougie, the childlike Coop doppelgänger who loves coffee, badges, and clapper-equipped lamps and whose strange drawings in his insurance company’s case files mean something to his boss that we can’t yet comprehend, if we ever will.
There’s a lot to talk about this week, but we may as well start with Dougie, whose antics I mostly enjoy even if I won’t really miss them when (if?) they’re over. For a moment I thought we were going to get an hour of Dougie doodling. We didn’t but that possibility seems like the whole Dougie experience in miniature: This show knows we want the old Cooper back and it’s willing to test our patience. At this point, I think we might have to at least consider the possibility that the Agent Cooper we know might not be making an appearance for many episodes to come, if ever. Can you deal?
Alan: Keith, there’s a moment late in last night’s episode that felt like the most meta thing David Lynch has ever written. Good Coop/Dougie has turned in a stack of paperwork — all, notably case files involving Tom Sizemore’s character — covered in pencil drawings of ladders, staircases, and more abstract scribbling, which understandably leave his boss, Bushnell Mullins, baffled and annoyed. But then Mullins keeps looking at the drawings, and looking at them some more — at a pace that threatens to rival the Lawrence of Arabia-length scene where we watched Dougie make them — until understanding dawns on his face, and he thanks Dougie, admitting, “You’ve certainly given me a lot to think about.”
Is this Lynch admitting that no matter how slow, impenetrable, self-indulgent or outright incoherent his work may be, there will always be critics and fans willing to stare at it long enough until they decide that there’s a method to the gibberish? Is the Mullins scene the closest he’ll come to saying, “Yes, I’m the emperor, but sometimes I’m just naked, and it’s okay for us all to admit it when it happens?”
Whether that scene was meant to be self-aware or not, I will say that the Dougie scenes of these last three episodes have accomplished the impossible: they’ve made me want less of Kyle MacLachlan in a version of Twin Peaks. Whatever novelty and comic charm Dougie had at first has long since vanished, and we’re at the point where I outright cringe when we cut away from some other locale and back to Las Vegas, because it means we’ll be treated to another interminable scene of Good Coop shuffling around as Dougie, ignoring the one-armed man’s pleas to wake up already, everyone else acting like this behavior is par for the course with the real Dougie. (Janey-E says as much to the cops who bring him home from work, which has me wondering exactly how Dougie was able to function well enough for all these years to hold down a job, get married, father a son, etc.)
Somehow, I’m finding myself far more engaged with moments involving characters we’d barely seen before (Harry Dean Stanton’s Carl, from Fire Walk With Me, comforting the stunned, grieving mother of the boy run over by Richard Horne, Balthazar Getty’s Red freaking out Richard with a coin trick). But the show is devoting so much time to Good Coop as Dougie that the rest of the series feels badly underfed. At first, the stillness and slowness of the storytelling felt bracing, but these last few episodes have lived down to every fear I had about the kind of padding that comes with Lynch’s insistence that The Return is an “18-hour movie,” which is not a thing and should not be a thing.
Are you getting more than amusement out of the Dougie scenes, Keith? If not, do you think it’s a good use of time — as you note, we’re a third of the way through the whole endeavor now, and very little has happened — to linger so much on this goofball? And how did you feel about the confirmation of everyone’s theory that Laura Dern would be playing Diane?
Keith: I am, at episode six, officially fine with Dougie. Dougie still amuses me. Maybe not as much as Dougie amuses Lynch and MacLachlan, but when I probably could have watched that getting-off-the-elevator scene at twice the length. He may not be my favorite element of the Twin Peaks revival but I have no Dougie issues. If he’s still around at episode 12, that might be a different story. And I like your reading of the Mullins scene, but I think I’m ultimately more aligned with Mullins than any other character in that scenario. I’ve stared at this weird show long enough that either it’s started to make sense or I don’t care that it doesn’t or I’m not sure there’s any difference. It’s given me a lot to think about.
Speaking of a lot to think about, it seems like the years between Fire Walk With Me and the revival have made Harry Dean Stanton’s Carl more mournful than peevish and that whatever he’s experienced in the meantime has made him the only person who’s willing to try to comfort that grieving mother after that brutal crosswalk death. That scene was rough, Alan. Lynch has never shied away from portraying good and evil in broad strokes, but apart from a Wild At Heart-style appearance from Glinda the Good Witch I’m not sure he’s ever had such a stark contrast as a coked-up Richard mowing down a little boy because he didn’t want to wait in traffic. I’m curious as to how that scene played for you. I found it shocking, then maybe a bit too-over-the-top, but by the end it had looped around to being weirdly moving.
As for the big reveal of Laura Dern as Diane (called in advance by others, including a loyal reader), what a moment. In retrospect, who else but Dern — probably the only actor as closely associated with Lynch as MacLachlan, factoring out the late Jack Nance — could have played her? I didn’t necessarily expect her to turn up looking like an elegant, icy, Hitchcock blonde, but then I’m not sure I had ever really imagined what Diane did look like. (For a while, I was convinced that was simply Cooper’s name for his tape recorder.) I hope she turns out to be a character fascinating enough to live up to decades of speculation. And, as others have pointed out, this revival’s been a little short of complex female characters. As my friend Rachel Handler put it on Twitter, “would just really appreciate 1 new female character that wasn’t 1) headless 2) naggy AF 3) naked 4) naked & headless.” (She might have added, “Or strung out on heroin shouting numbers.”) I can see where she’s coming from. I’ll defend Dougie, but I’m not sure Janey-E makes the best use of Naomi Watts. Has that occurred to you as well? I want to take the long view, as there are characters who haven’t had much screen time and it’s quite possible that Janey-E and Mrs. Truman will reveal layers in future episodes. We are, again, only one third of the way in.