We come to another Friday, and with it the second installment in Reruns From the Crypt…and I couldn’t have asked for better timing.
For those who haven’t heard: earlier this week, David Lynch and Mark Frost confirmed that – after all this time – Twin Peaks will be returning for a nine- episode run on Showtime.
Not a moment too soon, because until revisiting this season I forgot just how much it needs that closure.
As I said last week, Twin Peaks is one of those shows that’s fascinating to watch nowadays, if only to realize that many of what it did at the time that were seen as different are now fairly common place in the modern television landscape. As season two shows us, the lessons it teaches are both for good and ill.
The big hurdle of the second season reveals the ultimate Achilles’ Heel of its premise: if you’re going to make a murder investigation the focal point of your series, sooner or later you’re going to have to solve it. It’s actually not that bad to start with. In fact, the first half of this season that resolves the Laura Palmer mystery is a great David Lynch mystery with some supernatural elements. The problem comes after Laura’s killer is revealed around halfway into the season.
Despite what many people thought, Lynch and Frost hadn’t actually worked out a plan for where this show would be going. They were making the plot as they went along. Which, where the Palmer murder is concerned, is a credit to them as showrunners.
As unusual as some of the elements got (most notably the supernatural entity known simply as Bob), the show’s internal logic actually holds up – particularly when it comes to Agent Cooper’s Sherlock Holmes style reveal, where they actually managed to make all of the surreal dream sequences over the past season and a half have meaning and purpose to the plot. I was actually pleasantly surprised at just how well it all came together.
…then comes the aftermath. Watching the episode Arbitrary Law, one can see how it would have served as a season/series finale. While the lives of the general folk of Twin Peaks go on, the main storyline is all wrapped up and the cast has their sense of closure. Then the show keeps going…and things get weird for a while.
Probably the biggest problem the back end of this season has is the fact that, once the murder is off the table, there’s something of a scramble to find a new main hook to work with. The show needs an excuse to keep Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks. The rest of the cast can all keep going on their various unusual stories, many of which unfold this season in a way that feels like Lynch decided his show-within-a-show soap opera parody of the first season wasn’t riffing on the various ‘twist of the week’ style soap storylines enough.
In this season, just about everyone doubles down on the insanity – faked deaths, honest-to-god insanity, identity crises, all of which fly fast and furious, especially in the lulled mid-season. It’s a good thing this show had such a strong cast, since they’re able to sustain the bizarre stories where a lesser group would have made this show a flaming car wreck.
After a while, they do manage to find a decent direction for the rest of the season, though I admit I’m a bit mixed on it. I realize they couldn’t sustain Jean Renault (Michael Parks) as a recurring threat for long after Bob, so they needed something to up the ante. At the same time, something about Dale’s old partner, Windom Earle (Kenneth Walsh) feels out of place with the first arc of the series.
Much of the dreamlike quality of the first half falls by the way side in a sort of cat and mouse game with Earle, who plays like a comic book villain a lot of the time. There’s a game attempt to bring it all back around by tying Earle’s efforts to a supernatural concept of two sources of power, the mythical White Lodge and Black Lodge, but by the time it rolls around, the feeling that the show is just spitballing is more apparent.
Still – I didn’t necessarily dislike the back half of this season. It’s definitely nowhere near as strong as the first part, but between the cast, their characters, and the show’s bizarre style, it’s all still extremely watchable. For as much as it loses steam, I’m not sure I could bring myself to change a thing when it comes down to it. The show’s freeform insanity is one its biggest strengths, and sometimes you’ve gotta take the downsides with the upsides.
Thankfully the overall quality aside from the story is maintained. The middle arc as the show tries to justify keeping Cooper local is kind of clumsy in its treading water, benching him with a drug charge before they finally hit on the Earle case to run with, but despite the lack of story focus, there’s enough of the appropriate levels of Lynch quirk to go around.
Even the other FBI agents (including returning actor Miguel Ferrer and new arrivals like Lynch himself and a very surprising David Duchovny) prove that, despite the initial sense we got in season one, this whole world is a little bit different, it’s not just a mix of local flavor and Cooper finding his niche. In a weird way, there’s something comforting to that. Meanwhile, said local color also sees some new standouts in the cast, including a few familiar genre faces, such as David Warner, Tony Jay, and Daniel O’Herlihy (that’s right, the president of Omnicorp has connections in Twin Peaks).
All in all, this season is a mixed bag. I would still strongly recommend watching the first half of the season if nothing else. Not even for closure, though that does help. Rather, it’s just interesting to see how they bring everything around. The second half is still fascinating, and it attempts to expand on the mythos regarding Bob- just understand, it doesn’t have quite the same focus. I’d still say it’s worth sticking with since, besides still being fairly watchable, the series finale is actually one of the high points of the season.
Yes, it’s got the infamous cliffhanger (that we may or may not see addressed in this followup; it IS Lynch after all) but it’s also just a really great hour of television in general with Lynch taking to the director’s chair once again. And oh, is he welcome back. I’m not sure anyone else could have done the scenes in the Black Lodge as well as he does.
So overall, this is a pretty wild ride. It’s not the most satisfying season of anything ever, but if you’re already on board with the show by now, it won’t let you down too badly here. It’s a lot longer than the first season, so have some more coffee ready, but it’s a ride worth seeing to the end.
Suffice it to say, I’m pumped for the followup season. To that end, I’ll likely be covering Fire Walk With Me here sometime in the future after this project. But in the meantime, that brings this series to its extended rest.
Next Friday I’ll have another series lined up for ya.
(and P.S. – Just so it’s clear, my ranking for this season is technically a split ballot. I wound up giving the front and back-end different scores and averaging/rounding. For anyone who really cares, the front-end was a 4.5 and the back- end was a 3.0)
-Laura Palmer mystery gets a great conclusion
-Cast are still all on their A-game, even when the story gets weird
-Middle section of the season flails a bit trying to find a new story to run with
-Windom Earle is an interesting antagonist, just not quite up to the same level as Bob was