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Twin Peaks: The Return - Frustratingly Brilliant

05/09/2017 17:55
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This past Sunday saw the end of Twin Peaks: The Return. The latest iteration of the series finished with a two-part finale after almost 18 hours of mind-altering, beautiful and infuriating television.

The show was set to subvert expectations in just about every imaginable way. Never one to play it safe, giving David Lynch the keys to a Twin Peaks reboot seemed sure to produce unexpected results.

In the early 90s when Twin Peaks first hit screens, television was an entirely different beast. Sit-coms and soap operas dominated the landscape, and writers and directors had their creativity stymied by strict network guidelines.

David Lynch and Mark Frost did a lot to change this with his original series. Together they created a show which wasn't worried about alienating viewers, a show which refused to hold the audience's hand through difficult moments of cinematic experimentation.

Today, the original Twin Peaks can seem somewhat watered down, especially when compared to Lynch's cinematic works. While Bob, the black lodge and a whole host of other surreal oddities do serve to unsettle the viewer, the sentimental soap opera elements stop the show from descending into the deeply disturbed surrealism of his works such as Eraserhead (1977) and Blue Velvet (1986).

Twin Peaks: The Return, however, is perhaps more experimental, more subversive than anything Lynch has made previously, for cinema or for television.

What Lynch seems to have attempted in his reboot of the show is to give contemporary audiences the same feeling of awe, shock and even discomfort which audiences felt upon seeing the 1990 original for the first time. It's an attempt to redefine the scope of what television can be, just as he and Frost did 27 years ago.

One episode in particular - episode 8 - perfectly highlights Lynch's successful experimentations with the televisual form. The episode is a flashback set in the 1940s, during which an atomic bomb test takes place in New Mexico.

A decent chunk of the episode is dedicated to a heavily stylised depiction of the atomic blast; a furious cacophony of fire, noise and colour set to Krzysztof Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima: a horrifying, dissonant piece for strings, punctuating the destruction taking place.

This is exactly the sort of thing which couldn't possibly have been aired on network television in the early 90s, and remains shocking in 2017. It's a remarkable piece of experimental cinema packaged in a primetime television setting.

Unfortunately this experimentation doesn't always hit the mark. With around 18 hours of footage in total, the near endless surrealism can be frustrating, and even appear indulgent at times. The main character/chief-charmer from the first iteration Dale Cooper (MacLachlan) spends the vast majority of the series (and I do mean majority) trapped inside his doppelganger's body - an insurance salesman called Dougie. The Dougie version of Cooper is unable to form sentences or act of his own accord and spends his time being shepherded around by his wife and colleagues while phonetically repeating phrases he hears.

At first, this adds a bit of absurd comedic relief from the generally bleak tone of the show, and is even used to create some emotionally poignant moments shared with his (doppelganger's) wife and child.

Lynch often uses this kind of frustration effectively as a stylistic tool in his films. However, when repeated ad-infinitum for around 15 hour-long episodes, it can wear a bit thin at times, leading to a fairly exasperating watching experience. Whole episodes pass by without any progression of plot. As the hours tick by, it's easy to question whether or not there will be any sort of resolution whatsoever, or if the series is nothing more than experimentation entirely devoid of plot.

All this melts away, however, in the last three hours. I won't divulge the ending, but the two-part finale has a good case for being the strongest episode of the entire Twin Peaks canon.

As one might expect, we aren't presented with a tidy clear-cut ending where all the interweaving plot points are wrapped up in a neat little package. What we're given instead is possibly the most haunting episode of television ever broadcast. Those with the patience to get through the series will be rewarded with a chilling final scene which will resonate and linger in the minds of the viewers.

Realistically, I probably wouldn't recommend this show to everyone. It's a real test of patience, and some fans of the original iteration will probably find themselves disappointed. But if you're willing to invest the time, the pay-off that The Return delivers is huge. The unprecedented originality and vision of Lynch is worth the investment of 18 hours. It works perfectly as a counter-balance to the original show and will likely hold an important place in the history of the development of television.

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