Twin Peaks: The Return
Director: David Lynch
Written by: Mark Frost, David Lynch
In May 2017, it happened again. I’ve written before about the influence of David Lynch and Twin Peaks on me, Iain and our new comic The Edge Off. I’ll try not to regurgitate that here (but here it is if you’re interested). Instead, just a few lines about what for me was the television event of recent years.
“Television event” seems a derisory term. We’re used I suppose to television events being live beam-backs of sport, dull, contrived Christmas specials or more recently the kind of glitzy reality events that entertain but only by encouraging our worse possible faculty. But I use the term because Lynch and Frost took television (exactly as they had 25 years previously) and showed precisely that it could be special, it could be astonishing. It could create a genuine “event”. Lynch and Frost, now knocking on let’s face it, could have easily delivered a tepid wrap-up to a revered show that first aired almost 30 years ago, a show that was often astonishing but just as often a pedestrian plod, particularly during the over-long second season. Instead they created an 18 hour art project that showed a breadth of ambition and skill that not only showed there was plenty of life yet in these old dogs, but often surpassed even the best moments of the original show.
There has obviously been oodles written about it, and more waffled into the airwaves on podcasts too numerous to mention. Twin Peaks: The Return was the ideal show for anyone looking to discuss Lynch’s career in retrospect, to critique his themes and attitudes and to show how clever they are and how hard they listened in film theory class. And that’s all fine, there’s nothing wrong with clever people talking about art. But I tend to avoid it. For me personally, Lynch & Frost’s work is much less about what you can draw from the surface – the action, the dialogue, the mise en scene, the object itself. It’s much more about how it connects with you on a personal level, how it reaches into your subconscious and suggests a shared dream, how it haunts and tickles your mind.
Twin Peaks is numerous things modern television is not supposed to be. Obscure, indulgent, idiosyncratic, unforgiving, arty. It is a show that baffles as many as it delights. In a modern media culture that looks for fan fraternity through uniformity, Twin Peaks does exactly what art is supposed to do. It challenges, it dismays, it unsettles. It also seems to leave many people wondering why they don’t get it, inducing the attic-dwelling cousin of FOMO, a fear of (or annoyance at) not getting it.
I noticed a lot of people switching out around episode 8 of The Return (where the inception of BOB and the Woodsman take centre stage), which I personally felt was the most riveting hour of TV I’ve ever seen. I honestly think that all goes back to that subconscious connection. But it also has to do with how we typically react to television and how that differs from how we process art. On a TV show, we’re generally used to shows giving us all we need to process and understand the intentions of the creators. In art we often don’t. Twin Peaks: The Return for me, is an art project. A lot of the meaning of it isn’t necessarily scrapable, it’s personal to the creators. It’s an attempt to communicate yes, but not strictly in narrative terms. It’s a howl, looking for base recognition.
That’s not to say there isn’t a relatively conventional plot to follow because I think there is. But it’s confounding. It flits between mystery and horror motifs to offer limited traditional resolution. It builds conventionally to crescendos that climax with eccentric dream terror. It gets you comfy then suddenly starts pulling the slats out of the bed frame.
The influence of Twin Peaks on The Edge Off goes a little beyond Iain and I (Iain especially) simply being Lynch super-fans. When we conceived the comic, we wanted to take something conventional like a Statham style action/crime story and add depth to it through experimentation. God help us, we deliberately made something a little bit arty. Iain has woven in some unsettling imagery and hints that might seem like they are taking you away from what’s really going on, but wait until you reach the end of the story. That might be why a lot of the feedback we’re getting from advance readings of the comic tells us it comes over like, “Taken meets Eraserhead”.
A nice comparison and certainly one we’d strive to give some credence to. But realistically, and certainly in terms of Twin Peaks: The Return, the vividly impossible places Lynch can take us represent a standard most of us can only really hope to reach for rather than grasp. But just like Cooper trying to return Laura to Twin Peaks, we try. We try even if it inevitably leaves us scrambling on the dark echo of a street that should be familiar muttering, “What year is this?”