“Twin Peaks”: A Weird Escape From Our Even Weirder Trump Politics

The world of FBI Agent Dale Cooper has nothing on James Comey’s.
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In its 1990-1991 run on ABC, Twin Peaks broke new ground with its sinister, stylish paranormal soap opera in a small Washington town. Now, the third season is weirder, darker, more artsy.

Photo courtesy of Suzanne Tenner / SHOWTIME.

Somewhere in the bizarre first hour of the new Twin Peaks–you could be forgiven for losing track of time–this happens:

A young man and woman (Ben Rosenfield, Madeline Zima) sit in a room staring at a large, empty glass cube. Nothing happens. They watch.

Cube. Couple. Nothing. Uncomfortably looooong takes. In most contemporary shows, cuts are rapid and cameras are usually in motion. Cube… couple… nothing.

Director and co-writer David Lynch didn’t care about our attention span, our expectations for the iconic show’s return.

I turned to the friend I was watching it with and said, “Hey, I think that’s us.”

Director and co-writer David Lynch didn’t care about our attention span, our expectations for the iconic show’s return after more than a quarter-century, or anything but giving life to these unhinged ideas. Not a show that seems focus-grouped.

Then something terrible happens to the two people watching the formerly empty cube. And that’s when I settled in for the ride. We were back in good hands. The new Twin Peaks isn’t so much comfort food as discomfort food, arriving at the perfect time–an uncompromising artistic nightmare amid a chaotic and cruel Dunning-Kruger effect nightmare in the real world. FBI Agent Dale Cooper’s world is a respite from FBI Director James Comey’s world. That is, ex-FBI director. That is, Donald Trump’s world. A respite in the Black Lodge from the White House.

There’s no way to quantify it, but the anticipation for The Return seemed like more than nostalgia or the desire to wrap up loose ends. (The original series ended with the jolting image of Kyle MacLachlan’s Cooper possessed by the killer BOB spirit.) Call it Cooper-esque intuition combined with a career of tracking pop culture, but this didn’t feel like a new season of The Walking Dead.

We’ve been a presidential tweet or two away from nuclear war with North Korea.

Settling in for the ride: Stephen King and others have compared the horror genre to riding a carnival roller coaster. You get scares and catharsis, then you hop off the ride you knew was safe the whole time. We can’t do that with the ride Trump’s taking us on, and reports of Trump-related stress and anxiety are widespread. On Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcast, I just heard Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century author Timothy Snyder talk about a cancer patient who decided to stop treatments after Trump’s election, and died. That’s one way off that ride.

Since a 2016 election surreal even by Lynch standards, we’ve been in uncharted terror-tory with a cartoonishly dishonest and ignorant carny who appealed to the worst in people, possessing about a fifth of the population like a BOB more into racism and misogyny than murder.

Russia likely messed with our election, and President BOB’s campaign may have colluded with them.

We’ve been a presidential tweet or two away from nuclear war with North Korea.

Both the GOP budget and plan to replace Obamacare are unthinkably cruel efforts to perpetrate massive suffering and death to further line the pockets of the rich.

And with actual scientists warning us that we’re at or near a catastrophic climate change tipping point, Trump and his nihilistic minions are just punching the gas pedal.

So you could also be forgiven for feeling a more powerful than normal surge of emotion at the opening twang of Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks theme. It signals escape from the world of a dangerous maniac to that of a relatively benign one.

The third season is weirder, darker, more artsy.

In its 1990-1991 run on ABC, Twin Peaks broke new ground with its sinister, stylish paranormal soap opera in a small Washington town where high school homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is found dead and wrapped in plastic. Cooper, a quirky, intuitive boy scout of a G-man with a black suit as immaculate as his slicked hair, arrives to work the case, becoming enamored of the local pie, coffee and oddball locals with unsavory secrets.

A pop culture phenomenon, it ran out of steam after network bigwigs mandated Palmer’s murder solved, and got canceled. In the final episode, she tells Cooper, in the dream-dimension Black Lodge, “I’ll see you again in 25 years.”

And here we are.

The third season is weirder, darker, more artsy. Showtime boss David Nevins called it “the pure heroin of David Lynch,” and forgot to mention the mushrooms. Lynch co-created and co-wrote Twin Peaks with Mark Frost and directed just a few original episodes. But he auteured the living garmonbozia out of all 18 new ones. You don’t need a blacklight to see his eccentric DNA everywhere. This is Twin Peaks by way of Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive (Lynch’s intended Peaks TV follow-up salvaged as a feature), as well as the messed-up prequel film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. (Initially a bomb, it’s getting the re-evaluation it deserves.) All of which can be summed up by the image of Cooper’s body being extruded from an electrical outlet.

We’re faced with a new scandal, outrage, or terror from the President BOB administration each day.

I’d have to be able to describe the plot to spoil it. But a semi-catatonic version of Cooper is trapped in the Black Lodge, while a long-haired doppelganger of him called “Mr. C” runs amok in the real world, and an overweight, gold-jacketed one named Dougie cavorts with a hooker. The dancing dwarf known as The Man from Another Place has been replaced by a talking tree with a brain on top. Add helpings of creamed corn soul vomit (see: “garmonbozia,” above).

And then it starts getting strange. (See: “electrical outlet.”)

Lynch doesn’t indulge in much overt commentary. However, as hard-of-hearing Deputy Director Gordon Cole in the fourth episode, Lynch shouts at David Duchovny’s transgender FBI chief of staff Denise Bryson, “When you became Denise, I told all of your colleagues, those clown comics, to fix their hearts or die!” A cheer-out-loud moment, in light of the Republican brainpower expended on what bathrooms trans people should use.

We’re faced with a new scandal, outrage, or terror from the President BOB administration each day. He’s just returned from his International Embarrassment Tour of Europe and the Middle East, facing a widening Russia investigation, and tweeting about “negative press covfefe.” Oh, god, is that his garmonbozia?

With 14 episodes to go, the Black Lodge might feel more and more like a safe space.