Earlier this year, whilst promoting David Lynch and Mark Frost’s revival of their classic series Twin Peaks, Kyle MacLachlan dubbed the show as ‘something like you’ve never, ever seen before on television’. It was a striking claim, and one that in all honesty made me feel more nervous than anything else. The original Twin Peaks had long been one of my TV obsessions, and possibly my favourite show. But the idea it could reinvent the wheel twice over, and revolutionise narrative television in the same way it did in its heyday, seemed almost impossible. Modern TV from The Sopranos to this year’s comic book sci-fi Legion had taken its box of tricks and thoroughly unpacked it. It seemed impossible for the show to have the same redefining impact it had in its day. And yet, it managed to achieve just that, by opening up a brand new box of tricks.
“Elusive, sometimes frustrating, but always fascinating”
Season Three is a piece of television that completely does away with traditional notions of narrative. With a plot that sprawls across America, covering the eponymous Twin Peaks, Las Vegas, and New York to name a few cities, flitting between at first unconnected events, watching the show is akin to being dropped into another disorientating world (and that’s not even mentioning the strange other dimension of the Black Lodge). It is more like a puzzle box; elusive, sometimes frustrating, but always fascinating.
The show can go on a whim from sequences of narrative significance, such as Dale Cooper navigating his way out of a dark netherworld, to moments of pure atmosphere that have no bearing on greater events, such as a touching, extended scene of the late Harry Dean Stanton playing guitar in a trailer park. It is the blend of these sequences that makes it feel much more like we are viewing another reality go about its day to day business, rather than a constructed narrative, though it miraculously manages to hold together its arc too, primarily through Kyle MacLachlan’s stunning performances as multiple versions of one man.
The show’s approach to music is also just as idiosyncratic, using musical performances set within Twin Peaks’ local bar, The Roadhouse, as punctuation to the narrative; moments of atmosphere to either guide the viewer out of the show’s world during the credits, or brace them for the journey about to come. These sequences, again, are usually not connected to the main events of episodes on a literal level, but thematically are an important backbone running through the entire season. Cutting to Nine Inch Nails’ dark, violent performance of ‘She’s Gone Away’ before the chaotic nightmare of Part Eight’s flashback begins is one of the most inspired uses of music I’ve ever seen in television.
This disregard for structural convention and the subsequent sense of anarchy is reminiscent of how Monty Python’s Flying Circus reshaped notions of comedy in the 1960s. Last year I remember wondering if it was even possible to approach drama in a similar way – how the Pythons would desert a sketch without giving a punchline because it was funny in of itself, or go off on random, prolonged tangents just for the sake of a laugh. I found it difficult to imagine this system working for dramatic beats, but was sure there must be a way. Lynch and Frost have masterfully proved it can be done; fragmented, self-contained scenes are some of the highlights of the season – Michael Cera’s brilliantly bizarre cameo comes to mind.
“The gift of a mystery that goes right down to its structural mechanics”
Season Three truly is something to treasure and live with for years to come. Where it stubbornly refuses to give definitive answers, it gives atmosphere and ideas in abundance. Where it refuses to stick to linear narrative, it gives an emotional journey of epic proportion. And where it refuses to be television as we know it, we get presented with something new, exciting and unknown. Twin Peaks has always been associated with the word ‘mystery’, and this season has given the gift of a mystery that goes right down to its structural mechanics. Truly, as Kyle MacLachlan predicted, it is something like I have never, ever seen before on television, and it’s a thing of beauty.