Twin Peaks review – David Lynch reboot will baffle and irk even hardcore fans

Twenty-six years on, the return of the trippy show that raised the game for TV is less a whodunnit, more a what the hell is it? New viewers and cult followers alike will be sorely tempted by the off switch

It is deliberately, punishingly tedious – but that’s why Twin Peaks is so beguiling

At 2am British summer time (9pm Eastern daylight time in the US), a swish of red curtains revealed a floor with a zigzag pattern. A suited man with neatly cut hair was trying to converse with people who sounded like they were using speech software accidentally set to low speed.

Hardcore fans of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks will have known immediately that what looked like the lounge of a mock-Tudor motel was the Red Room at the Black Lodge, headquarters of a purgatorial alternative universe, where the man, Special Agent Dale Cooper of the FBI, was last seen on 10 June 1991 in the final episode of the show’s original run.

Those viewers will doubtless have celebrated by drinking black coffee and eating cherry pie, the beloved refreshments back in the day of Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan, as he investigated the murder of Laura Palmer in a small logging town in the American north-west.

True believers will not have been surprised by the appearance of Cooper’s evil alter-ego, and will have raised their mugs gladly at the return of old favourites like Log Lady, a psychic who gets tip-offs from timber, and Deputy Tommy “Hawk” Hill, a law enforcement official whose Native American roots may be a clue why the woods behind Twin Peaks contain so many spirits and dimensions.

Anyone coming fresh to the cult is likely to have been utterly bewildered. But they can take comfort that, by the end of the opening two episodes, both veterans and newbies will have been huddled together in Camp Bafflement. When Cooper says, early on, “I understand”, it’s a dark in-joke from Lynch.

Filled with giants, dwarves, monsters and ghosts, Twin Peaks most resembles a modern fairytale written on LSD then heavily redacted by the CIA. But at least the original series had the viewer-friendly structure of a whodunnit to glue the peculiarities together. The start of the new run is more of a what-is-it?

True believers will cheer for the return of old favourites like Tommy ‘Hawk’ Hill and Log Lady.
True believers will cheer for the return of old favourites like Tommy ‘Hawk’ Hill and Log Lady. Photograph: Suzanne Tenner/Showtime

Visiting the title town only intermittently, the storyline focuses on three new locations. In South Dakota, police find in a bed a composite corpse consisting of a severed woman’s head and a bloated male torso. Fingerprints at the crime scene point to a high school principal, in whose car trunk a body part is found. Another mutilated young woman is discovered under her duvet in Las Vegas.

Multiple scenes take place in the basement of a New York skyscraper, said to be occupied by “some anonymous billionaire”. Although the scripts were written some time ago, many viewers will now picture something like Trump Tower. A young security guard, with another sentinel guarding him, has been paid to watch a glass cube and alert the guy up high if “something appears”. The box contains a hole through which something will surely be born.

As often in Lynch, this setup is Grimm but also biblical: things go very Adam and Eve when the young guard has sex with a woman who brings him coffee, unleashing some demon at the moment of climax.

Between these wacky fragments, the two Agent Coopers move serenely or evilly through the Black Lodge. The ghost-or-whatever of Laura Palmer takes off her face to reveal bright light behind. We finally seem to meet Diane, the unseen secretary to whom Cooper dictated memos, and spend complicating moments with The Arm, a sculpture made of human flesh and fizzing wire that may allude to the 1992 spin-off prequel movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

26 years later, we return to the town of Twin Peaks – but actually visit it only intermittently.
26 years later, we return to the town of Twin Peaks – but actually visit it only intermittently. Photograph: Suzanne Tenner/Showtime

At this point, the uncommitted may feel The Arm twitching towards the off switch at Lynch’s storytelling style. But if the brain is sometimes frustrated, eye and ear are always rewarded. Lynch is unusual among screen writer-directors in having separate and significant careers as a musician and visual artist, and his multi-skilling is ever more to the fore here. The intricate noisescape of squeaks, scratches and chords (Lynch takes a separate sole credit for sound design) could be released as an album; the images might be hung in the Museum of Modern Art. In a shot of New York at night, lit skyscrapers look like fountains flowing with gold.

The director recently made a documentary, My Beautiful Broken Brain, about a woman who had described her neurological functions after a stroke as “like being in a David Lynch movie”, and Twin Peaks continues his mission to show on screen memory, dream, hallucination, premonition – and the blurring between them – in a stream of shots that resemble the fragments of a vase beautifully painted and then shattered.

It’s to Lynch’s advantage that the growth of video games and the internet has increased the potential fanbase for multilayered, meaning-withheld narratives, which have also become a regular part of television. The surreal scenes and baffling narrative of the original Twin Peaks hit TV at a time when no one else was doing that kind of thing. Now that it’s rare to see a drama with the beginning, middle and end in that order, Lynch has remained ahead of the pack by going even further out there.

With this series, though, he must entice a new crowd while also satisfying those superfans who have spent the last 26 years drafting the show’s return in their minds. By gathering up loose ends and shaking them even looser, the first two hours seem more likely to please those already in the unknown. But this is a show that radically raised the creative ambitions of TV – we should give it time to reveal if it can be a game-changer again.

Twin Peaks is on Showtime in the US and repeated on Sky Atlantic on Tuesdays at 9pm. Episodes one to four are now available on demand on Now TV; in Australia, parts one and two will debut on Stan at 2pm on Monday 22 May, followed immediately by parts three and four.


Mark Lawson

The GuardianTramp

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