Trying to understand Twin Peaks as art: Hard but necessary


Twin Peaks as art is an understatement. This  means we probably aren’t meant to understand it completely. That doesn’t mean I won’t try.

I’ll admit it: I don’t feel smart enough to write about this show, much less about Twin Peaks as art and beauty.  I know enough to appreciate it, recognize its genius, and understand it has to mean something in the larger sense, but I just can’t get my arms around it enough to really dissect it like other writers. That won’t stop me from trying, though.

To be clear: I’m definitely a fan. As I sit down to write this follow-up post, I’m still in awe of the magic David Lynch has wrought. But just like a complicated poem or abstract painting, I’m struggling to make sense of it.

While the first two seasons of Twin Peaks were a cozy “whodunit” with quirky characters in an eccentric town, season 3 looks more like a horrific arthouse film wrought by a brilliant auteur that nobody can understand.

Here’s how I made sense of the art of Twin Peaks: The Return.

The Art of Pacing

Although the first two installments took their time, part 3 really slowed us down. As Cooper is dragged out of the Black Lodge into somewhere else, we are forced to linger on Cooper and the eye-less lady’s wordless exchange for an excruciatingly long time. Even as the stop-time film tricks us into thinking time is moving, the scene is wearyingly long, building up to a payoff we haven’t quite received (and might not for a really long time). Unless you count watching the eye-less Asian woman electrocute herself and then fall into space a pay off, then you’re gonna have to wait it out.

Still from Twin Peaks: A Look at Part 3 on Twin Peaks YouTube. Image via Showtime

Lynch builds tension even further as we see the third doppleganger wander through the casino, encountering one guest star after another. In his reduced state as Doug-E, Cooper’s reincarnation has reduced him to a mumbling lump, and we have to watch it all, without flinching. The same is true for Evil-Cooper’s car wreck, Lucy’s confession about the chocolate bunny, and Dr. Jacobian’s shovel painting endeavor. They take forever.

The camera doesn’t flinch or rush its subject. Lynch is forcing us to invest in these moments. We literally have no other choice, aside from turning it off. But whose going to do that, at this point? You can’t look away, lest you miss you something or be left out of this (very) slowly unfolding narrative that’s being parceled out to use bite by bite.

It’s a thing of beauty to construct something that is equal parts slow and methodical, yet tense and suspenseful.

The Art of Manipulation

Make no mistake, David Lynch is telling us how to watch this latest Twin Peaks. Whether it’s the cinematography, wardrobe, or the music, he’s manipulating our experience with these episodes. Think about how we interact with the Red Room. He delivers it to us at a slower speed, crafting how we see it, and determining how we’re meant to react to it. Lynch is micromanaging our viewing experience.

In another instance, he’s also interfering with our nostalgia for the old series, distancing himself from it. Andy’s large potbelly, Hawk’s white hair, the Log Lady’s dwindling health: these are all ways for Lynch to instruct us how to feel about the old Twin Peaks. We’re meant to see it as this old, antiquated thing, meant to be considered as an artifact.

Still from Twin Peaks: A Look at Part 3 on Twin Peaks YouTube. Image via Showtime

The “new” Twin Peaks, according to Lynch’s auteuristic direction, is the sweeping, glossy shots of the casino, the framed picture of Franz Kafka in Gordon Cole’s office, the sparse, desert landscapes they drive through. Little by little, Lynch is teaching us about a wholly different Twin Peaks, and it’s brilliant, although a little confusing.

We might not know what to make of it just yet, but he’s not being subtle with his demand to think about it, nonetheless.

The Art of Humor

As weird as the reboot has been (and it’s been weird), it’s also been a little funny. Especially when we’re revisiting the town itself, Lynch is asking us to laugh with them (or maybe at them). There is no other funnier scene than the one featuring Michael Cera as Wally Brando. Cera, dressed as a Wild One-era Marlon Brandon, musing Kerouac-style about his time on the road, is so kooky that you have to love it. If they were taking a vote, it would get mine for “best part of Twin Peaks.” See for yourself:

Bear in mind this scene happens only minutes from Deputy Bobby breaking down looking at a picture of Laura Palmer in her prom dress while “Laura’s Theme” plays plaintively and eerily in the background. The way Lynch toggles between funny and poignant takes a deft hand, and sometimes we’re still smiling from one scene while he’s bludgeoning us over the head with another.

We should also be ready for these bits of humor to translate into some sort of clue for the larger mystery. There are small deposits made along the way, in addition to Wally Brando’s monologue that, initially, illicit a chuckle, but will probably mean something big later.

For instance, Doug-E being reduced to a brass bearing in the Red Room, the discovery of a severed dog’s leg in the trunk of Evil Cooper’s Crown Vic, and Ethan Suplee’s half eaten hot dog will all probably mean something much later.

The Art of the Unknown

It feels like we know very little about what’s happening in Twin Peaks: The Return. So, everything is a revelation, everything feels like forward plot movement (sort of), and everything must be important, right?

Probably, but I still have some things I need to know:

  • Why is the only Black person in the history of this show portrayed as a sex worker?
  • What’s with all the thumbs ups?
  • Is Gordon Cole going to shout at us for the remainder of the show?
  • How the heck is Bobby still so good looking after all this time?
  • Will Doug-E always look like he’s chewing imaginary gum?
  • How long until Agent Cooper recovers from his reincarnation
  • The green ring is a call back, but what’s it mean now?
  • Can we PLEASE have more of David Duchovny as Denise? Because they better, “fix their hearts or die.”

Related Story: Twin Peaks The Return: A place both strange and wonderful, maybe

Twin Peaks: The Return airs Sundays at 9/8c on Showtime.

I’ll be here every Monday to help us sort through our feelings about Twin Peaks: The Return. We’ll be okay, if we do it together.