When I first heard Twin Peaks was coming back, I was overflowing with excitement. I was so ready to be pulled back into the world I loved so much, to see all my favorite characters again. When I watched the first few episodes, I fell in love, but not for the same reasons I initially thought. This wasn’t a nostalgic return to this small town I missed so much. This was a new and exciting twist on already beloved characters.
I’ve seen countless people unnerved by the vast difference between original Twin Peaks and this new season. If you go in hoping for a nostalgia filled trip, Twin Peaks: The Return can be disappointing, but if you instead go in expecting television as groundbreaking as Twin Peaks originally was in the early 90s, The Return gives you that in heaps.
If Twin Peaks came back using the same techniques that made it so groundbreaking years ago, it would feel stale against the current television lineup, which is taking inspiration from what made Twin Peaks new and exciting years ago. If David Lynch returned to television with something fueled only by nostalgia, wouldn’t we feel disappointed we were not getting Lynch at his most unique and interesting?
This season of Twin Peaks is treated not like a show, but like a film stretched across an 18 hour running time. Maybe every show wants to say it’s a long film, but Twin Peaks took this concept to its limit. Instead of just focusing on making a show with cinematic qualities like the original Twin Peaks and its modern equivalents, the return of Twin Peaks decided to set the show up with pacing matching that of a traditional film, stretching its surrealist moments, peppering them with a glimpse of the nostalgia for which audiences clamored.
The pacing of the show feels like a traditional film, split up into hour segments. One episode into the show represents what would happen in about the first 7 minutes of a two hour traditional film. This might come across as barely anything happening in the first episode, but David Lynch and Mark Frost utilize this extended film format to expand surreal moments, exploring every aspect possible. Across the first two episodes, we would be hitting the 14 minute mark. In these two episodes, we were still in the stasis, seeing our characters being slowly integrated into the story that would unfold over the future episodes.
By the time we neared the end of episode three going into episode four, a traditional film would be nearing its half hour mark. This is when the show started coming together and pushing towards a more straightforward storyline. This is when we were out of the surrealist stasis of the black lodge, hurtling toward the unknown with another doppelgänger of Dale Cooper, one created to change the story as a catalyst for the lives of both the original Cooper and his black lodge doppelgänger.
The Cooper we know is back, outside of the lodge, but in this story, the lodge acted as his stasis, it was the place he had been for the longest time. Coming outside into what we perceive as the real world is when the story leaves the stasis and gets further into the first act of a traditional film. Our main character is discovering this new world of which he has no knowledge. This is where the story picks up, leading us to more moments reminiscent of the original Twin Peaks. We start seeing more comedic elements and less free flowing moments of surreal imagery. In a way, it’s a sort of reverse of the original Twin Peaks, which became more surreal as it went along, drawing closer to the black lodge.
This section of the film focused more on characters in what we assume is the real world takes up what would take up roughly 28 minutes in a two hour film. The end of episode three and the entirety of episodes four through seven examine a less surreal take on the world of Twin Peaks, still containing moments making the audience question where everything will go, mixed especially well with the comedy we come to expect from Twin Peaks.
As we go into episode eight, we are greeted again with the surrealism of the black lodge, which took up most of the first few episodes of the season. Some complaints of the show have focused on how it somewhat abruptly leaves behind the surreal imagery for a string of four episodes. When examining the season from the structure of a two hour film, this combination of surreal imagery and more traditional filmmaking is more even than we would expect.
As I stated earlier, the episodes without as much surreal imagery would take up roughly 28 minutes of a two hour film, meaning returning to the surrealism from the first few episodes would feel fairly normal in a traditional length film. We would have about 20 minutes of surreal imagery as the stasis, followed by 28 minutes where the plot begins to come together as act one, followed by another 7 minutes or so of surreal imagery putting us roughly 55 minutes into a traditional film.
Looking at the amount of surreal imagery and more traditional scenes as it would be presented in a two hour film helps see how perfectly the two most important elements of Twin Peaks are mixed in this return. The tone of Twin Peaks comes from this mixture of surrealist elements, awkward comedy, and nostalgia. It is presented in a fairly healthy mixture, even if it comes spread across eight episodes, where some episodes are entirely surreal images, while others are entirely the unique humor we have come to expect from Twin Peaks.
This style of extended film, as interesting and new as it is, still left some audiences feeling dejected and wary of what was to come. If David Lynch made a happy, nostalgic return, not challenging your very understanding of television, storytelling, and the passage of time, maybe you would be consumed by the gloss of nostalgia for a minute, but in the end, it would not feel like the groundbreaking Twin Peaks you remember. If this return to Twin Peaks was too close to the original, it would end up feeling even more disjointed from what made Twin Peaks a show worth remembering all these years later.
We are now halfway through the season, and so far, the episodes have incorporated the blend of comedy, surrealism, nostalgia, and mystery which has always given Twin Peaks its unmistakable tone. I am looking forward to the mixture we will be greeted with in the remaining episodes of this 18 hour film, presented not only with the cinematic qualities we have come to expect from modern television, as well as the expanded cinematic structure we are being presented with throughout this television event. I am interested in how the remaining episodes further reflect this groundbreaking and unique television structure.