Plenty of critics tend to agree with Seitz, if with less adamant verbiage, including Uproxx’s Alan Sepinwall, Variety’s Sonia Saraiya, Vox’s Todd Vanderwerff, and yours truly at IndieWire. In this regard, the series has already left its mark on the medium. Every week, there are new thoughts, new arguments, new theories, and new revelations. Anyone who thought “American Gods” was hard to follow or found “Sense8” a little too chaotic need to find new words to describe what Lynch is up to every week.
Critics have gone so far as to say Lynch declared war on recappers, but that’s not a complaint: It’s a fact. “Twin Peaks” isn’t a show that can be summed in words so much as it’s one that demands to be analyzed by emotional patterns, visceral reactions, and again we say, impact. No other TV has demanded such assessments be made, even if transcendent series like “The Leftovers,” “Mad Men,” and “The Wire” have invited and inspired unprecedented critiques. As IndieWire’s Chief Film Critic Eric Kohn writes, Lynch “draws you in, mystifies you, bores you, terrifies you…and leaves you with the sense that no matter what it all means, the experience has been meaningful.”
But there are unwavering naysayers; those who aren’t buying what Lynch is selling, even though they’re keeping up with the season. To condense these nuanced opinions to a single argument would be a disservice to their critiques, but we can learn something from a common complaint in multiple reviews: “Twin Peaks” features an expansive story that too often strays from the narrative.
In his review of the first two episodes, Time’s Daniel D’Addario writes, ‘The show, which derived its power from the aftermath of trauma in a small community, has chosen to tell a story that’s odder and bigger — so big, in fact, that it has so far choked off what made ‘Twin Peaks’ work all along. […] Lillard’s story has none of the charge of the killing of Laura Palmer; were it not airing under the ‘Twin Peaks’ banner, I wouldn’t keep watching that show.”
The comparison to the original series is notable. D’Addario, like many, saw the new “Twin Peaks” through the old “Twin Peaks'” lens; a fair jumping off point, especially for this review of the season opener, but one that’s proven useful only for spawning fan theories and tracking plot points through nine episodes — not assessing the overall Lynchian experience. THR’s Tim Goodman, however, remains unmoved through eight episodes: “Not all of what Lynch is putting on the screen is creepy and creative at the same time. Sometimes it’s just, well, weirdness as affectation. […] I’m finding Lynch’s many indulgences trying at this point but will keep watching to the end, even though it has rather aggressively been a show I find a chore to watch.”
TVLine’s Michael Ausiello also uses the word “chore” in his “Twin Peaks” review (to describe his frustration with the latter half of Season 2), but his distaste for the premiere (and presumably the rest of the episodes) goes much further. “To say I was disappointed by the revival’s indulgent, incomprehensible, taxing opening act would be a towering understatement. I won’t even attempt to break down the central storyline because, well, there is no central storyline. There are five or six narrative threads that are randomly intercut throughout the two hours featuring mostly new and uninteresting characters played by actors as wooden as the nightstand drawer pull in which Josie was trapped, and scenes that dragged on for what felt like eternity.”
Two Coopers and Two Kinds of TV Viewers
The difference in opinion seems driven by the criteria under assessment. Those who praise “Twin Peaks” tend to argue the series is an individual artistic endeavor standing out in a sea of shows too adherent to what’s come before. They’re excited by Lynch’s unpredictable vision, even when it vexes them. Other series break free in minor ways, pushing against the expected by breaking one or two rules, but “Twin Peaks” is playing an entirely different game — and to these viewers, that’s good. They’re looking to be challenged by the medium, not just the narrative within it.
That’s a different kind of expectation and appreciation than we’re used to seeing on TV. Recap reviews are based around spotting plot holes: When recapping what happened in an episode, if something doesn’t make sense, that’s bad. But if something doesn’t make sense in “Twin Peaks,” that’s often the point. Even when the original “Twin Peaks” aired, there were traditional charms that made it easier to embrace. The cast was charming, the quirks were grounded in reality, and, of course, the death of Laura Palmer needed to be solved. Only later did the otherworldly elements present themselves, and when they became too extreme, plenty of viewers bailed.
Take, for instance, the New Cooper: not the Evil Cooper, but not the Good Cooper, either — not yet. Many viewers have commonly come to refer to the real Cooper as Dougie, the name of his decoy constructed by Evil Cooper to help keep the doppelgänger from being forced to return to the Black Lodge. At this point, it’s clear he’s not Dougie, but it’s easier to refer to Cooper’s prolonged arrested development by the identity he’s been assigned and remains incapable of refuting.
Still, it’s more than an irksome shortcut; it’s a problem. If we just decided to call him Cooper that would be fine, but incorrectly calling him Dougie implies a temporary status, as in, “I know he’s not Dougie, but I’m just going to call him that until he snaps out of it.” “Dougie” has been largely mute, slow-moving, and unable to perform simple functions (like writing his name or taking himself to the bathroom). Many critics, including those who are into the new episodes and those who aren’t, have expressed frustration with “Dougie’s” ongoing presence. They want the real Cooper back. The Good Cooper.
Well, it’s been nine hours and “Dougie” is still here. He’s not snapping out of it. He may never snap out of it, but even if he does transition back to his old self next week, “Dougie” is the new version of Dale Cooper. He’s not Evil Cooper, who’s roaming through South Dakota. He’s not Good Cooper, either; he’s not the guy we remember from Season 1 who was so full of pep it was like he was on a constant caffeine high. (Wait a minute…) This “Dougie,” nay, New Cooper is the man we’ve spent half the season watching, and he’s going to be a major part of what we remember about “The Return.”
When the season began, New Cooper was reaching the end of an experience that profoundly changed him. Sitting in the Black Lodge for 25 years will do that to a guy, just like waiting 26 years for “Twin Peaks” to come back means we should expect a change in the series itself. It’s a New Cooper for a new “Twin Peaks,” and neither is going to go back to “normal” — not entirely.
All this is to say you know who you are: “The Return,” unlike the original season, isn’t trying to appease traditional TV fans or cater to expectations associated with the medium. It’s here to blow the walls off the set and make you appreciate Lynch’s vision as an indefinable art form. If that’s not for you, now’s the time to hop off.
Tomorrow, Part II in our midseason report: The Ratings and How They Define the Future
IndieWire’s Episode Reviews: Parts 1 – 9: