Just 35 minutes into the new “Twin Peaks,” the woman sitting next to me looked over and said, “Holy shit.”
We’d never met before, but I responded in kind. The two of us were far from alone: Everyone at the “Twin Peaks” world premiere had just let out a collective gasp after witnessing one of the most unsettling moments in David Lynch’s oeuvre. Considering the Winkie’s Scene in “Mulholland Drive,” the hallway phantom from “Inland Empire” and pretty much every moment of “Eraserhead,” that’s no small feat.
We were all at downtown Los Angeles’ Theatre at the Ace Hotel for the long-awaited return to “Twin Peaks,” which up until that moment I wasn’t fully onboard with. I found myself resisting the extended sequence, which takes place in New York and features characters (played by Ben Rosenfield and Madeline Zima) we’ve never met before. I kept wondering when we were going to taste some damn fine coffee and return to the Black Lodge. And then, just like that, I was putty in Lynch’s hand. For the remaining 90 minutes of the series’ first two parts, I remained utterly enthralled.
As for what actually happens in the scene, well: A young man and woman, having apparently never seen a slasher movie, start making out while he’s on duty watching a giant glass box in an industrial-looking New York room. He’s never seen anything in that enclosure, which is monitored via several cameras 24/7, but his predecessor supposedly did. The two of them are too distracted to notice what comes next: the box begins to darken, swirling with a kind of black fog; someone — or something — appears out of the ether. Pale, faceless and not here to make friends, it emerges from the box and brutally kills them both.
For the second time now, David Lynch and Mark Frost have created a TV show unlike anything that’s ever been on TV before — including the original “Twin Peaks.” Today’s fragmented media landscape makes it unlikely that this new iteration will capture the public imagination to the same extent it did in 1990, but it’s no less inscrutable now than it was way back when. And, based on moments like this one — the rapid camerawork, the extreme bloodletting — it seems poised to inspire just as much conversation, even if it’s now on Twitter rather than around the water cooler.
This is not only fun but necessary: Lynch never comments on the latent meaning behind his work, and so we, as viewers, are tasked with making sense of them in much the same manner that Coop interprets his own dreams. And while two twentysomethings staring at a box waiting for something meaningful to appear may not be as explicit a metaphor for Lynch’s thoughts on television as the exploding TV at the beginning of “Fire Walk With Me,” it still feels like both an invitation and a warning: Analyze, interpret and obsess at your own peril.