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.
Alan: The hit-and-run was both a good and bad example of the way that Lynch isn’t uncomfortable mixing wildly disparate tones and styles of acting, as we jump back and forth between Carl and Mickey’s matter-of-fact ride into town, an emasculated and coked-up Richard melting down over how much Red’s coin trick scared him, and the mother and son innocently playing tag. And then once the boy dies, we get Stanton’s utterly natural but still intense reaction to it, Lisa Coronado’s understandably huge wailing as the grieving mother, and a lot of reaction shots by extras who felt like they were people Lynch spotted at random on a location scout and gave almost no direction to. It was a mess, but a moving mess — Lynch in a nutshell, essentially — and Carl’s glimpse of the innocent boy’s soul ascending into the sky speaks to the show’s belief that there is not only good and evil, but respective rewards and punishments for those. As I talked about last week, I wish the show had devoted some time (Dougie time, preferably) to better establishing Richard — whose name still hasn’t been uttered in dialogue, even though many fans are assuming he’s Audrey’s son (possibly from her fling with John Justice Wheeler) — as a character before making him a child-killer, but Lynch gonna Lynch.
You’re right about the revival’s female characters, though there was at least warmth and sweetness to the interactions between Shelly, pie-loving Miriam, and the other Double R waitress. And for all that I roll my eyes at Doris Truman, the scene with the dispatcher telling Deputy Chad — a character we are clearly meant to despise, based on his first two major scenes here — about the suicide of Frank and Doris’s son is there as part of the series’ long-established interest in the ways grief transforms people. These aren’t great scenes, but there’s an explanation for why Doris is so difficult, and why Frank is so patient with her. And, hey, I wish Naomi Watts had a better character to play, but I did laugh watching her verbally bulldoze the two goons (one played by the always-welcome Jeremy Davies) looking to collect the money Dougie owed them. None of it’s ideal — and I want to see more of Diane before passing judgment on anything beyond the cool haircut — but Lynch and/or Frost occasionally make efforts to mitigate this stuff.
On the other hand, there is Christophe Zajac-Denek as Ike “The Spike” Stadtler, the little person hitman, who goes into an animalistic rage while killing multiple women at that office. (A TV producer who’s a Peaks fan but struggling with The Return texted me, “Is this scene more offensive to little people, women or icepicks?”) Lynch has always been fascinated by physical outliers, but has a mixed track record of treating them like actual people. (Even Miriam and the plus-sized waitress were giggly cartoon characters, just nice ones.) I’ve lost a lot of the thread in this particular area; you want to explain what it is The Spike is up to, and how you felt about that massacre sequence? And how have we made it almost 2000 words into this discussion without mentioning Albert’s feelings about Gene Kelly and the rain?
Keith: I would not begin to venture a theory as to what The Spike is up to or attempt to defend it beyond suggesting that reminding us that little people can be stone-cold assassins too could be considered kind of a progressive message. (I’m going to back away and revisit Peter Dinklage’s Living in Oblivion rant now as penance.) And that’s not just any Double R waitress, Alan. It’s Heidi, the giggling German waitress previously seen in the pilot, the season two finale, and Fire Walk With Me. I kind of love the idea that the Double R has the lowest turnover rate of any restaurant in America. But why leave? The pie is delicious.
I think it’s safe to say that the sociopathic Richard has safely joined the ranks of the series’ villains this week, if his previous sexual assault in the roadhouse wasn’t enough to put him there. But even he’s freaked out by Red, as played by Balthazar Getty. Hey, I’m pretty freaked out by Red, whose evil seems to have the power to bend time and space, at least when it comes to dimes. Getty and Lynch previously worked together memorably on Lost Highway, and he’s quite effective here, as is the idea of a petty sociopath like Richard bumping against a visitation of true evil and not knowing what to do about it. In Twin Peaks, there are those who live on the fringes of the woods and those who dwell deep in the darkest reaches of the forest.
And speaking of coins, Hawk’s found something the looks important. We should touch on that, but you’re right, we absolutely have to address Albert delivering the most Albert line ever as he steps out into the rain: “Fuck Gene Kelly, you motherfucker!” It’s moments like this that make me grateful the show came back on cable.
Alan: Yeah, I’ve complained a lot these last couple of weeks, and I still feel like there are major problems with structure and pacing, but every now and then, The Return will provide a moment like Albert’s rant, or Red’s coin trick — coupled with an unnerving physicality by Getty that reminds me of late-era Elvis Presley when The King was obsessed with karate — and then, much like Janey-E setting aside her understandable frustration with Dougie, I kiss it on the head and remember why I loved it.
(Also, if Richard is Audrey’s son, then the dime appearing in his mouth couldn’t help reminding me of Audrey’s own mouth producing a cherry stem tied into a knot with her tongue to impress the boss at One-Eyed Jacks.)
We don’t get a good look at the letter that Hawk found wedged inside the bathroom stall door at the sheriff’s station, so speculating as to its author or contents is probably fruitless. But The Return is so meandering in this stretch that we might as well. Lynch has said that watching Fire Walk With Me prior to The Return would be useful, since it chronicles the last few days in Laura Palmer’s life, and he’s also sounded unhappy that ABC made him and Frost resolve the case so early (or at all). We know Laura kept multiple diaries; is there any way she might have stashed away a letter in that bathroom, so that Lynch and Frost can reopen the case? Or would you reckon the letter is more of a spiritual descendant to Laura’s journals, perhaps written by Becky or some other second-generation character? (At the rate the show is moving, I wouldn’t be shocked if we haven’t even met the revival’s most important players yet.)
Keith: I think that diary theory could be solid, even if I have no idea how they would end up in the bathroom stall in the Twin Peaks police department. (Though that would be far from the strangest development on the show, wouldn’t it?) As with all things, I think if we wait we’ll find out. Or not. For all the ways The Return has differed from the original show, I’m not sure it’s changed that much. We’re still recognizably within Twin Peaks city limits even when we’re following Dougie in Las Vegas or Bad Coop in South Dakota or wherever else the show roams this season.
Alan: You raise a good point. Nadine was a superstrong teenager for the nearly all of Twin Peaks season two, so if Lynch intends to keep Dougie around for a long time — maybe even trolling us by not having him turn back into Good Coop until the final scene (mirroring the “How’s Annie?” moment from the series finale) — that wouldn’t be out-of-character for him or the series as a whole.
Though it would be damned annoying.