Twin Peaks is different, a long way from the world.
Never was this more true than with the return to Frost & Lynch’s world of donuts and lumber and damn fine coffee. Except, this isn’t that world. Or is it? It looks familiar, yet its different – older, sharper, under the harsh modern light and HD digital cinematography. And where is the music, the quirky characters with their fetishes for shoes, food and silent drape runners? Well, all that is in the past. And deliberately so.
When it first came out, Twin Peaks shook television to the core; nothing would be the same again after it. Cinematic, long form, artistically surreal, sexy, violent – in short, a medium that declared itself an art form. 27 years later, Lynch and Frost were to return to television, to Twin Peaks, and both were a very very different landscape. We are, many have said, in a golden age of television. From Breaking Bad to Mad Men to Game of Thrones, high quality, high budget, long format series’s without the restrictions of mainstream network tv, are the mainstream. While Hollywood disappears down its own rabbit hole of superhero effects fests of increasingly dumb returns, it is in tv that the real drama is being made.
And so what of Twin Peaks. What would be its place in this new terrain? Much has been made of the fandom, of their passion and commitment being behind its eventual return. But fans are a strange bunch – some might say none more so than Peakies. Fandom tends to have a craving for familiarity, while at the same time they bemoan repeats of the same things. Take, for example, the fan reaction to the new Star Wars films: the return to tropes, locations, characters and plots that are familiar was greeted with mass adoration and acclaim. So would Twin Peaks go straight back to the RR Diner, order a damn fine coffee, and dance to Angelo’s tunes again?
In short – no. Nostalgia has always been the province of danger in Lynch’s worlds. From the picket fences of Blue Velvet to the classic Hollywood dreams of Mulholland Drive, the past is a false refuge, a weakness that lets the darkness in. They were never going to simply repeat themselves. And so new Twin Peaks is a very different beast. It is, after all, 27 years later. Much has changed: television, technology, Lynch himself, the actors, the world. And so we have, from the first two hours of this much hyped “return”, an unsettlingly clear, high-definition digitally shot world of older people, strange rooms, murder scenes, roadside diners and motels, and occasionally some of the actual locations of “classic” Twin Peaks. There is much that is familiar – the real time pacing of mundane events, easily confused law enforcement officials, dirty deeds and alluring women, and the surreal other-world of the Black Lodge. But, as noted above, they appear almost ultra-realistic under HD digital cameras and plain, stark, lighting and, most noticeably, the deafening lack of Angelo Badalamenti’s famous score. Classic Twin Peaks is now remembered in the soft, warm hues of late 80s tv, with lush scores and beautiful young actors and every scene too sexy for the screen: it has become the object of nostalgia. While watching the new episodes, I could imagine many Peakies longing for its cosy quirky familiarity – imagine, a series about the abuse and murder of a high school girl by her father, while possessed by a woodland demon, has become the object of warm nostalgia. And there is, I believe, Lynch and Frost’s masterstroke, the danger and darkness inherent in nostalgia.
Other aspects contribute to this feel, too. Twin Peaks is a town, a singular location full of familiar places and soon to be familiar faces. Never did the series depart from its north-western locale. And yet new Twin Peaks barely touched on the town. Instead we see startling vistas of night-time New York and visit a strange tower with a glass cube at the top floor; we see a crime committed in a resident’s block in a town in South Dakota; there’s a luxury office in Vegas, and a dingy motel somewhere in the mid-west. There is also technology to contend with. In classic Twin Peaks, we remember tape recordings of secret diaries, Cooper’s dictaphone, clumsy video cameras and earpieces that never worked. Now we have digital cameras with memory cards connected to what appears to be massive network hubs, an internet and phone connection in a briefcase that seems able to cross time and space, bad Cooper’s digital dictaphone can tap landlines, mobiles calling to police in the depths of the woods, near-instant identification of bodies and recalling of suspect records. All of this adds to the lack of centre to this new series – a distinct lack of Twin Peaks in Twin Peaks (yes, we do go there, but in brief moments between bigger scenes). All of this combines to fuel the nostalgia for old Twin Peaks. This is Lynch’s view of today’s world – disparate, isolated, spread out across continents, connected by inexplicable technology, viewed in cold, clear HD digital images. And what we see is familiar, but dark, discombobulating, and deeply unexpected. In a word – unheimlich – the uncanny, and that is the bedrock on which Lynch has built all of his work.
So new Twin Peaks is different. We should never have expected any different, and yet it is so different as to be unexpected. In our cosy familiarity of classic Twin Peaks and the golden age of modern tv, Lynch and Frost have once again completely pulled the rug out from under us and taken tv to a completely different place. A place both wonderful and strange. And I, for one, could not get enough of it.