Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)

Twin Peaks : The Return

ICYMI, Film Twitter has been getting itself in a bit of a tizzy over the past couple of days about David Lynch’s return to TV… film… TVfilm!TV!!FIL— you get the idea.

So, respected British film magazine Sight & Sound went and named Twin Peaks: The Return as the second best film of 2017. Except it’s a little more complicated than that, in the sense that their list is voted for (i.e. no one person or team specifically decided to place Peaks at #2) and that voters were expressly told they could include TV series, or indeed any other form of visual art (although Peaks was the only non-film to make the top ten, Sight & Sound have since tweeted a list of music videos, computer games, and other such things, that also received votes).

Some people seemed to find the very notion of counting Twin Peaks’ third season as a film to be personally offensive. It must’ve been like rubbing salt in the wound when respected French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma went and ranked it 1st on their list.

Happy times in Twin Peaks

Many digital column inches have been spun out of this, naturally. Two of the more interesting / accurate ones I’ve read are Matt Zoller Seitz’s 25-tweet thread/rant and Vadim Rizov’s kinda rebuttal at Filmmaker Magazine. For my part, it’s nine years almost to the day (just one day short!) since I wrote this piece on the TV vs. film shebang, albeit from a slightly different tack (TV movies vs. ‘real’ movies). My main point was that it’s a kinda arbitrary distinction nowadays. That’s only become more the case in the almost-decade since.

Similarly, I think most of the handwringing over Peaks’ inclusion in these lists has been stupid. As I said, Sight & Sound specifically okayed the inclusion of TV — The Return wasn’t singled out as “yeah, it’s TV, but it’s so good we’ll count it as a film”, a notion that’s been projected on this news by some commentators (mainly TV critics) so they can then take great offence at it. But if Sight & Sound’s voters had considered any other season of 2017 TV to be worthy of inclusion, it had just as much chance of making it in. I don’t know what Cahiers’ rules were, but I’m going to assume they were similar — and they’ve included TV before (of all things, the first season of 24 made their top ten back in 2002).

Personally, I’m not really sure where I come down on the issue of Twin Peaks: The Return in particular. I mean, it’s definitely a TV series, isn’t it? But it’s also virtually an 18-hour movie, isn’t it? Can it be both? Why can’t it be both? As I said, I kind of err towards the broad position of “why differentiate?” As someone put it in a comment I saw somewhere else, it’s all linear non-interactive visual media. Still, I probably won’t be including it in my own year-end best-of list, but is that because I don’t think it should be on a movie best-of list or because I wasn’t wholly convinced/entertained by it as a work?

Uncertainty

And if you were wondering what I did think of it in more detail, here are all the posts I reviewed it in while it was airing:

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The Is It Future or Is It Past Week on TV #23

What the fuck just happened?

Twin Peaks  Season 3 Episodes 17-18

Well.

Twin Peaks: The ReturnThe entirety of The Return has been a very divisive piece of television. For all the praise it’s received from certain critics and cinephiles, there are other viewers and reviewers who think it’s a case of Emperor’s New Clothes. The finale — which looks likely to also be the finale to the entire Twin Peaks universe, unless something changes — is all of that in a microcosm, with some hailing it as a perfect capstone on a masterpiece, while others berate it for being inconclusive and overly ambiguous rather than a true ending.

In my view, anyone who expected co-writer/director David Lynch to resolve and explain everything in a clear and concise manner was on a hiding to nothing. Even with the normalising influence of co-writer Mark Frost, it’s been clear throughout the season that this is more of an 18-hour David Lynch film than another season of Twin Peaks as we knew it. That said, I confess I’d hoped for more wrap-up than we got. I never expected every aspect of the series’ complex mythology to be explained — both Lynch and Frost revel in the idea that a bit of mystery is more interesting than a thorough explanation — but what we did get looks an awful lot like a cliffhanger. It’s perfectly possible to finish a story without explaining all of its mysteries, but this feels like a story unfinished.

But let’s not let the closing moments overshadow everything. There was a lot to like in the double-bill finale — and I say “double-bill” rather than “two-part” because Part 17 and Part 18 felt distinctly different from one another. Some have called Part 17 the true ending of The Return and Part 18 the start of something else. If there was another season (or a movie, or whatever) coming, I’d agree with that explanation; but there isn’t, so we have to view it all as part of the one thing.

Coop de grâcePart 17 saw most of the series’ central characters converge on the Twin Peaks Sheriff Station for a showdown with, first, the evil Mr. C, and then BOB, now in the form of a floating ball with a face. In most shows none of this would make a blind bit of sense, but in Twin Peaks it’s what amounts to clarity. Indeed, I’ve even seen some people criticise it for being too pat and obvious. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, right? But anyone who wanted a full-blown reunion between their favourite characters was in for disappointment, because almost as soon as Agent Cooper was back among both his Twin Peaks and FBI friends, he was off again — transported into the past, into the events of Fire Walk with Me, to try to save Laura Palmer. It was an effective use of old footage and new matching bits, and it suggested we may be in for some kind of conclusive end to the main storyline, especially when there were further modified flashbacks to the pilot.

But then there was a cliffhanger and Part 18… well, Part 18 had very different ideas. Even this late in the day — the last 5.5% of the season — Lynch was merrily introducing new mysteries, paying no heed to the dozens already unanswered. At the very beginning of the season, the Giant, aka the Fireman, had told Cooper, “Remember 430, Richard and Linda, two birds with one stone”. Now, we seemed to be finding out what that meant, as Cooper and Diane drove 430 miles to… something… after which they stopped at a motel, slept together, and Cooper woke up to find a note for him but addressed to Richard from Linda. O…kay…

Coop de grâceAs the episode went on, most of it seemingly filled with people driving together in silence, it became increasingly clear that we weren’t going to find out many of the things we’d been wondering about (first among them for many fans: what was going on with Audrey?), nor did it look likely we’d be getting a nice button on the main plot line of the show. That turned out to be the case, with a mysterious final scene that, as I said earlier, felt more like a cliffhanger than an ending. That happened in season two as well, of course, but then back then it wasn’t intended to be the final end — this is. You can see why some fans would be angered by that. Conversely, others revel in the open-ended-ness. Horses for courses, I guess.

Personally, I don’t know that I’d call this belated third season of Twin Peaks an unqualified success. It was certainly an experience, a journey I’m glad to have gone on, and one I expect I’ll undertake again someday — indeed, I feel more like watching it again soonish than I did season two, which I also watched for the first time this year. That said, in part that’s because season three moved at such a unique pace, and ends with so many apparently unanswered questions, that it feels more like it requires a second viewing to make sense of it; to understand it as one singular 18-hour work. And while that remains true, it still didn’t fulfil everything that I hoped it would.

I’ve already spent several hours reading articles trying to make sense of it all. I expect, in the years to come, I’ll be reading more. I guess whether it is a masterpiece or it is the Emperor’s New Season, that shows its power as a work of art.

You've been Lynched

Next month… after a busy summer, I intend to put this TV column back in its place: monthly.