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: Since Twin Peaks: The Return began, there have been few moments as highly anticipated as the return of Audrey Horne, whose absence has raised a host of questions. Earlier in the season, we learned she wound up in the ICU after her explosive fate at the end of Twin Peaks‘ long-ago second season, and that the Bad Cooper visited there, but little else. She’s maybe Richard Horne’s mother if only because no one else seems plausible, but we’ve got no proof of this. So where is she, we’ve been left to wonder? And what has she been doing?
Tonight Sherilyn Fenn returned as Audrey and instead of answers we got a lot more questions. Who’s this Charlie she’s married to? And what about Tina? And Chuck? And Billy? And is that stolen truck the same stolen truck involved in Richard’s hit-and-run? And if so, why don’t the names match up?
Her scene with Charlie is endless and impenetrable and that seems very much by design, as if the show was intentionally trying to frustrate us. That it ends with Audrey being frustrated that Charlie won’t tell her what shocking news he’s learned while on the phone with Tina. It’s almost as if, after an episode in which so many strands started to come together in an opening scene this week that laid out the origins of the Blue Rose Squad in plain detail, Frost and Lynch felt the need to pile on the mystery (an instinct echoed in the final roadhouse scene that introduces yet another bunch of new characters and their complicated love lives.) For every question answered, two more get raised. Sometimes we get to be the Blue Rose Squad putting the clues together and making progress on the case. Mostly we get to be Audrey waiting to find out what Tina said, yet again.
But for all we still don’t know about what happened to Audrey, it’s still possible to put together a bit of what’s become of her. Always a vulnerable romantic beneath her bad girl exterior back in the original series, she now seems frustrated and tired. She’s coarse where she was once coy. In short, life doesn’t seem to have worked out as she’d planned. Part of what’s made The Return bittersweet at times is seeing what the passing of time has done to what was the town’s younger generation in the original series. Shelly keeps making the same mistakes. Bobby’s become a better person, but also a man haunted by regret. James is… well, I guess he hurt his head. We haven’t seen him in a while, have we? And now Audrey seems like she’s drifted further away from the person she once was than anyone else. Alan, is this what you expected of her return?
Alan: Keith, the Audrey scene felt like Lynch and Frost punishing us for wanting to see her return in the first place. It’s not just that, as you say, she’s coarse and bitter and very far removed from the lovestruck girl who wanted to join the FBI to be like — or be with — Agent Cooper. It’s that it was an endless scene of a character we hadn’t seen in 25 years, and had no context as to her current circumstances, talking with a character we’d never met before, talking about a bunch of other characters we’d also never met. Between that and the roadhouse scene — also featuring wholly-new characters talking about various off-screen characters we’d never met — our creators have either temporarily forgotten anything they ever knew or cared about basic narrative structure, or (far more likely) they’re taking deep pleasure in frustrating and confusing the audience. That was just brutal to sit through — as baffling in its own way as, say, Josie turning into a drawer knob back in the day, but without most of the weird magic that made even that scene memorable and unquestionably Twin Peaks in some way. I’ve been waiting months for Audrey’s return — on top of the years since the end of the original series — and to have it happen in this inscrutably prolonged fashion was not fun, but also not strange enough to compensate for how little we were being told — which has already inspired Peaks fan theorists to attempt to fill in the enormous blanks by suggesting that Charlie is Audrey’s therapist rather than her husband, and this is a ritual he goes through with her as part of her treatment. That feels more of a puzzle box approach than Lynch generally takes (I’d more easily buy it if this was Westworld or Mr. Robot), but the scene itself offered so little, I can’t blame anyone who wants to project more meaning on it than may have been there.
(Conversely, Bérénice Marlohe’s Lawrence of Arabia-length exit from Gordon’s hotel room was amusing in its protraction, and also a nice set-up for Gordon’s show of deep concern for Albert — which doubled poignantly as Lynch in turn expressing the same for the ailing Miguel Ferrer.)
As for the roadhouse customers, what do you make of the fact that multiple episodes have featured groups of young women at the bar, with problems and history suggesting they might become significant parts of the story, only for most of them to never appear again and be replaced by some new random group? At first, it felt like we were being slowly introduced to the new generation of Laura/Audrey/Shelly/Donna/etc., but at a certain point, it’s begun to feel like a lot of these new characters — not just the various Bang Bang Bar randos, but Beverly’s husband, Becky and Steve, Red, and more — are half-formed ideas that Lynch and Frost threw in, then lost interest in, but couldn’t be bothered to take them out of the finished product. There are only five episodes left. It’s certainly possible that there’s some brilliant master plan where everybody — even Donna’s little sister who’s now sleeping with Steve! — will wind up playing a significant role at the end of this “18-hour movie,” but I would tend to doubt it, especially since the writers keep introducing or reintroducing people at this late hour, like Carl’s concerned chat with Kriscol the blood-seller.
Or do you think the 18-hour movie of it is a feint, and that this wasn’t planned as a one-time thing? At this rate, Dougie’s not going to turn back into Good Coop until the very end — if at all — and far more story ideas have been introduced than can be adequately resolved by September.
I will say this, by the way: as exasperating as much of this episode could be, the two Sarah Palmer scenes were pure Peaks, particularly in the way that Grace Zabriskie’s creaky slow drawl, coupled with just the right sound effects and repetition of the dialogue, creates the illusion of her being trapped in the Black Lodge with her husband and daughter, mere moments after all that aforementioned Blue Rose exposition took place in a room with a prominent red curtain. When these guys are off, as in Audrey and Charlie’s argument, a scene can feel like it runs on forever. And when they’re on, I feel like I want to stay in those scenes forever.
Keith: I need to watch the episode again. I felt a bit of cognitive dissonance watching that scene. On the one hand, it was torturous. On the other, I kind of appreciated the perversity of it. Maybe it will make more sense down the line. Maybe the roadhouse randos will too. But, you’re right, we are now at the 2/3 mark and much closer to the end than the beginning. I’m not going to place any bets at this point. I’m also not particularly bothered by it, either. Among other things, this 18-hour project — to use a nice, neutral term — feels like a clearinghouse for ideas and some of them are bound to fit in a little more neatly than others. See also Dr. Jacoby, another character whose personality seems to have been battered a bit in the years since we last saw him.
But the years might have been least kind to Sarah Palmer and, you’re right, Zabriskie is amazing in what are undoubtedly the episode’s two best scenes. Unless I’m misremembering, we haven’t seen Sarah since the first episode, which featured that haunting shot of her watching carnage from a nature show while sitting way too close to the television. There’s almost certainly something Black Lodge-related going on with her and Hawk is right to be unnerved by the sound of clanking bottles in what’s supposed to be an empty house, but her performance works just as well as a depiction of what happens when grief and shame are left to fester for decades.
We should probably talk about the ultimate reveal of the Blue Rose Squad and the true meaning of Project Blue Book, right? It’s a lot of information thrown out without a lot of build-up (unless, you know, you count 25+ years of the Twin Peaks that precede it.) It’s worth noting the smallness of its scope. Gordon’s involved. Diane knows about it. But its membership has remained small and has had a tendency to disappear. Nonetheless, Tammy seems happy to join and Diane is eager to assist, no matter what her endgame might be. Did the matter-of-factness of that moment surprise you?
Alan: It didn’t surprise me, in that most of The Return‘s exposition has been dumped in similar fashion. We’ll go long stretches without anything being explained at all, and then get a monologue casually laying out all the details of what we’ve seen to this point, some of them going back to the original series or, in the case of Philip Jeffries or Chester Desmond, to Fire Walk With Me. Among the many disappointing things about David Bowie’s early death is that that particular loop has to be (apparently) closed off with a speech by Albert rather than Jeffries teleporting back in. And if most of that scene was low-key, it did close with Diane making a finger gun and saying, “Let’s rock!”
A lot of this episode involved advancing various plots incrementally — Ben gives Cooper’s hotel key to Frank Truman, who seems aware that there’s more here than just a souvenir for his ailing brother; Hutch and Chantal murder the warden before heading to Vegas (presumably to try to kill Dougie); Jerry Horne finally make it out of the woods; Diane realizing that the coordinates on Ruth’s arm point to Twin Peaks — even as new threads like Audrey keep being introduced. It can be frustrating, but then we’ll hear a snippet of the original Badalamenti score (which has been mostly absent from The Return, with Lynch’s focus on creepy ambient sound taking its place), or get Sarah melting down in the grocery store, or Ben (truly reformed, it seems, given his eagerness to pay for Miriam’s medical bills) despairing over the monstrosity of his grandson, and for those fleeting moments, I can shrug off the rest of it.
BUT WHY WOULDN’T CHARLIE TELL AUDREY WHAT TINA SAID, KEITH?
Keith: We’ll find out next week. Or maybe the week after. Or maybe never. It’s Twin Peaks, Alan. Until then, I’m going to go play an awkward game of catch. [Gets hit in the head.]