So it seems that Twin Peaks is gunning for being the comedy sensation of 2017.
Wild, right? It's funny to think about how just two weeks ago, a mainline dose of co-creator/director David Lynch's most abstract and brutal work in years made the goofball charms of Peaks 1.0 seem a million miles away – for three or so episodes, anyway. But then Dale Cooper reentered the real world in the guise of one Dougie Jones, a Vegas-area insurance agent with bad habits and worse jackets, and hilarity ensued. So now, we can spend the bulk of The Return's fifth chapter following Dale/Dougie around as he tries to figure out cars, coffee cups, elevators, statues, conference rooms, etc. – and just laugh our asses off at it. Ok, then.
Speaking of comedy gold, how about the gilded shovels being sold by Dr. Jacoby – now an Alex Jones–style snake-oil salesman hawking "Dr. Amp's Gold Shit-Digging Shovels" to an audience of stoners (Jerry Horne) and weirdos (Nadine Hurley, making her T.P. 3.0 eyepatch-wearing debut) as a method of extracting oneself from the global corporate conspiracy? Or how about Nadine's one-time star-crossed teenage lover Mike – now an upstanding member of the town's community, chewing out some dirtbag named Steve for handing in a resume so bad it's almost a personal insult. Or Sheriff Frank Truman's wife Doris, who chews him out over a million different things and then tells him "You're impossible!" ... despite the fact that he's barely gotten a word in edgewise? If you fondly remember the original series' sillier moments, this delivered in spades. No pun intended.
If you're in the market to be frightened, however, Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost have you covered as well. As Dale's evil doppelganger, for example, Kyle MacLachlan just gets creepier and creepier. This week's climactic scene sees him hack his prison's entire electrical grid with a phone call to a mysterious room in Buenos Aires – a demonstration of raw power designed to do nothing other than terrify his captors. Fortunately for them, they weren't privy to an earlier scene, in which his face began to morph in his jail-cell mirror to that of Bob, the evil entity from the Black Lodge with whom he co-exists in a sinister partnership. Watching the line of his mouth slowly expand across his face into the familiar grinning rictus of the demon who killed Laura Palmer is all but unbearable to watch.
Some evils, naturally, hit closer to home. The episode features a brilliant subplot in which the young son of the junkie who lives across the street from Dougie's sexual-liason getaway notices the device planted under his car by would-be assassins; some would-be thieves then fall victim to that very same bomb. Meanwhile, back in Twin Peaks, a local bad boy who appears to be the inheritor of Bobby Briggs' edgy mojo reveals himself to be something much worse – he responds to a girl's request for a light by assaulting her. Still other scenes bridge the two tonal poles: Jane Adams' forensic examiner Constance Talbot, for example, fires off some Austin Powers–level puns about decapitation when she presents her findings to the local constabulary, while one of the season's goriest images to date – the cavernous incision in the dead man's torso – lies there in front of her.
But the shot that hits hardest is neither comedy nor horror, but pure pleasure. It's a close-up on the face of Becky (Amanda Seyfried!), Shelly's troubled daughter, staring up at the sunlit sky as she rides around in her boyfriend's car. In this moment of literal wide-eyed wonder, the show captures the joy of being alive. But more than that, it acknowledges that this joy really couldn't give a shit if it comes from the bump of coke you did in your good-for-nothing boyfriend's beater. You take your happiness where you can get it, and Becky gets it riding through town with the top down and her seatbelt off, while the Paris Sisters croon "I Love How You Love Me" on the radio.
Looking back at the show's original two seasons and the prequel film Fire Walk With Me, it's striking how many islands of bliss and contentment its screwed-up characters carve out for themselves amid all the murder and magic and mayhem. Think about how happy Shelly and Bobby were together, despite the ever-present menace presence of her Leo. Think about Coop, delighting in everything from the camaraderie of his friends in the Bureau and the Sheriff's Department to the simple pleasures of coffee and pie. Think about Laura Palmer herself, dancing around with her best friend Donna at a picnic just weeks before her death, her life of addiction and abuse momentarily forgotten.
And this big-hearted optimism is not just limited to Twin Peaks within Lynch's oeuvre, for that matter. The shot of Seyfried's Becky completely blissing out is a clear echo of the opening of Mulholland Drive, in which new cast member Naomi Watts beams so brightly about the Hollywood dreams she believes are about to come true for her. If you focus solely on the filmmaker's use of terrifying supernatural entities, or his ironic weaponization of Americana, or his treatment of sexual violence, you could come away wrongfully believing he's a sadist (or simply a nihilist). But moments like Becky's car ride show that he believes happiness is possible despite our fucked-up surroundings. As good as it is to have the comedy, the tragedy and the horror of this show back on the small screen, it's even better to have that beautiful beating heart back as well.
Previously: Keeping Up With the Joneses