“I am dead – and yet I live,” Laura Palmer says in the new Twin Peaks revival, basically speaking for David Lynch’s whole fictional world. The filmmaker’s slow-motion murder mystery chose the right moment to come back to life – it fits into 2017 much better than it fit into 1990, in the context of a Golden Age glut of ambitious TV that the original show did so much to inspire. Like astrology, Joan Didion or the smooth grooves of Steely Dan, it’s a token of boomer culture that speaks to millennials, while essentially skipping over the generation in between.
Dubbed Twin Peaks: The Return, this Showtime reboot-cum-belated-third-season has what you could loosely describe as a plot, though it plays more like a random sequence of hallucinatory images, mostly involving dead female bodies. (Lynch somehow never gets tired of looking at those.) It begins with Agent Cooper 25 years later, still stranded in the alternate universe known as the Black Lodge. Meanwhile, his evil doppelganger is out there making trouble in a leather jacket and Elvis pompadour, implicated in a string of gruesome murders: the killing of a South Dakota librarian, with her head transplanted onto a dead man’s body; and the death of a young New York City couple who get eaten by a demonic creature while having sex next to a mysterious glass box. As Cooper travels through multiple dimensions, he sees some faces from the old series – as well as new ones like Michael Cera, Naomi Watts and Jennifer Jason Leigh. And Sheryl Lee appears as the maturing ghost of Laura Palmer, the high school danger girl whose mysterious murder was the case that brought Agent Cooper out to that bucolic Norman Rockwell-esque burg in the first place.
The legend of this oddball mainstream hit-turned-immortal cult classic has grown over the years, to the point where its return is one of the most historic, eagerly anticipated TV events of the year. By turning his cinematic vision to the small screen, Lynch transformed television history, creating a rainy Pacific Northwestern portrait of Americana full of iconic characters like Kyle MacLachlan’s noble FBI Agent Dale Cooper and Sherilyn Fenn’s small-town temptress Audrey Horne. Yet by the time the show got cancelled in 1991, after just two seasons, hardly anybody cared or even remembered it was still on. Twin Peaks was out of time in the 1990s – it hit with a big bang, but faded remarkably quickly, its absurdism so mannered, its surrealism so labored, its sense of transgressive whimsy so stuck in the Eighties. Lynch’s drama already looked dated by the second season, and forgotten by the time of the 1992 film version Fire Walk With Me. But it was really just wrapped in plastic for later generations to discover.
It makes sense that the series had to wait until the 2000s to find its audience – it suits the stream-and-binge era much better than it suited old-school broadcast TV, where watching it live meant diminishing week-by-week returns. So it’s more popular than ever now – Lynch enjoys the kind of uncritical cult most artists can only dream about. For the reboot, he could have just dropped a That’s So Raven rerun dubbed into Aramaic and people would have wept for joy at the genius of it all.
But the new Twin Peaks has the all-purpose “dreaminess” of the original, with self-amused torpor punctuated by sadistic violence. Lynch directed all 18 hours of it himself, with co-writer Mark Frost returning from the original series, and there’s something touching about the way he rounds up the old gang, counting on the audience’s affection for these familiar faces: McLachlan, Fenn, Madchen Amick, or the Log Lady herself, Catherine Coulson (the actress died in 2015 shortly after filming her scenes). It also includes footage from the original series where Laura Palmer tells Agent Cooper, “I’ll see you in 25 years.” The cockiness is well earned, because her prediction came true. Twin Peaks has become the show from another place, the darkness of future past, a geist that had to travel in time to find its zeit.