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Film and TV Critics Debate ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’: How David Lynch Has Forged New Territory With a Groundbreaking Achievement

Is "Twin Peaks" an 18-hour film or a season of TV? Does the distinction even matter? IndieWire's critics talk through Lynch's magnum opus.

Twin Peaks Season 3 Laura Dern Part 16 Episode 16

“Twin Peaks: The Return”

Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME

Eric Kohn (Chief Film Critic and Deputy Editor): When “Twin Peaks” premiered two episodes back to back at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, its mere presence there was perceived as part of a broader shift toward the acknowledgment that TV is king, even in an arena designed for the movies. However, week after week, “Twin Peaks: The Return” hasn’t served that argument so much it has torn it apart from the inside out. The show resists easy categorization. When viewers think they’re gripped by episodic storytelling, Lynch veers off on an abstract tangent, or lingers in a pregnant pause that may or may not be weighted with meaning, or cuts away to a transcendent performance at the Bang Bang Club that speaks for itself.

“Twin Peaks” isn’t TV when compared to any existing precedent, and that includes its earlier iterations; at the same time, it doesn’t operate in traditional movie terms, both in light of its delivery method and a winding set of stories that have been designed to unfold on an episodic basis. By pushing beyond these barriers, “Twin Peaks” proves that they’re irrelevant to the creation of great art.

Sherilynn Fenn, "Twin Peaks"

“Twin Peaks: The Return”

Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME

Hence, episode 16, which is a brilliant jab in the ribs to those conservative-minded viewers who just wanted Dougie to wake up, dammit! After one of the longest build-ups in TV history, Lynch delivered a delightful payoff just as wacky and energizing as every other screwy development. But he also tossed in a random suburban shootout sequence that felt like a complete rebuttal to the whole idea of narrative consistency. After such a prolonged set of expectations for a massive showdown, it comes from the most unlikeliest places — literally, nobody could’ve predicted that prickly accountant neighbor pulling up out of nowhere, much less being a character on this show, but it worked as a punchline to a scenario in which high-strung characters simply had to meet their end; more importantly, it illustrated the delightful nature of Lynch’s chaotic universe, where dark and angry characters lurk on even the sunniest sides of the street.

Everything in “Twin Peaks” plays out as an elaboration on Lynchian themes, some of which extend directly from the “Twin Peaks” EU and others that materialize out of nowhere, perhaps as the byproduct of a particularly enlightening TM session. The show is a totally uncompromising meditation on quests for answers, anxious feelings, silly obsessions and collapsing worlds. It has delighted me to no end even when nothing particularly exciting happens, because during those moments, you’re still left with the sensation that anything could. Is it TV or a movie? Call it a fucking chimp for all I care.

Even more than during its original run, “Twin Peaks” transmits Lynch’s aesthetic on a wavelength that doesn’t require profound theories to appreciate. Every theory is welcome and part of the experience, but the show’s true appeal rests with the way it toys with possibilities even as it resists precise meanings. Viewers who turned to the show hoping for a conventional genre trip on par with “Stranger Things” are keeping their standards too low. That kind of experience is satisfying for the tidiness in which it delivers on expectations. With Lynch, the possibilities are endless, and I have no doubt that the conversations about the merits of this achievement will continue long after the final credits role. Dig through it all you want or just enjoy the ride: It’s Lynch’s black lodge; we’re all just trapped in it.

Twin Peaks The Return

“Twin Peaks: The Return”

Suzanne Tenner/Showtime

Hanh Nguyen (Senior Editor): While it’s understandable that the curious chimera that is “Twin Peaks” has sparked debate over its apparent straddling of mediums, that isn’t as important as reassessing what we have thought of as television. “Twin Peaks” is an example to other creators that the boundaries of TV have been network-imposed and self-imposed. Why settle for a simple flashback when one can bend reality “Inception”-style and have Monica Bellucci in your dream to boot? Why can’t abstract concepts like evil have a face and be born from a nuclear explosion? Why not create a mood and expectation by spending three minutes watching someone sweep the floor?

On the flip side, the way we’ve been told how to watch TV changes also. It isn’t what Lynch feeds us, but rather how one decides to engage with the material. One can try to find meaning in the story with theories, lining up the clues like so many crime-solving donuts, each one sweeter than the last. Or perhaps just marvel at the genre and storytelling Cirque du Soleil. One can play “I Spy” with the color red or channel Gordon Cole to tune into the show’s aural artistry. Or one can choose to approximate the movie experience with the Labor Day Weekend marathon. Or perhaps it’s just about sitting back and allowing the many elements create an impressionist impact on our psyches. “Twin Peaks” is any and all of these at once because it pushes the viewer to be active, invigorated.

“The Return” will change how TV is made down the line. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want or need another “Twin Peaks,” and frankly, I don’t expect anyone to try and copy it. But just as the first series inspired shows like “The X-Files,” “Fringe,” and “Carnivale,” so will the revival. As with Lynch’s storytelling, the possibilities are endless. We just have to dream it and embrace the dream.

The two-part finale of “Twin Peaks: The Return” airs on Showtime on Sunday, September 3rd.

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