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Television Review

‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ is dazzling, confounding

Kyle MacLachlan in “Twin Peaks: The Return.”Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME

Writing about the first two hours of “Twin Peaks: The Return,” which aired Sunday night on Showtime, I’m not too concerned about spoilers. You’d have to be a psychic, David Lynch’s therapist, or a PhD in “Twin Peaks” with a preternatural memory of every morsel of imagery and meaning from the original to make full sense of most of what I report here.

In this reboot, as in the original’s second season in 1990-91, coherence — or at least short-term coherence — is not key. If you thought the cryptic plots hatched by Lynch and Mark Frost would seem ordinary in this time of Peak TV, when surrealism has become a de rigueur narrative device, you were wrong. “Twin Peaks” is as confounding and far out as ever. It’s still a dazzling but stubbornly withholding and obtuse piece of storytelling. Lynch and Frost haven’t watered down their weirdness a whit in order to draw more mainstream viewers.


For example, there is an electrified bare branch topped with a blob of talking flesh — like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree with a brain-like bulkie roll blabbing non sequiturs at Kyle MacLachlan’s Agent Cooper: “I am the arm,” it says. “And I sound like this. Do you remember your doppelganger?”

What the what?

In another of a long string of oddities, a young man sits in a Manhattan building staring at a large glass box that has cameras aimed at it. It’s a secret job whose point even he doesn’t understand. At times, as he patiently sits watching, I thought of the hatch in “Lost,” where poor Desmond had to enter a computer code every 108 minutes or else. Once the young man and a girlfriend start having sex in front of the “Twin Peaks” box, a nasty spirit appears and seems to murder them. The significance of the box? Unclear, unless it’s simply a Lynchian metaphor for the medium that the original “Twin Peaks” changed forever.


Once again, “Twin Peaks” has me wondering about what is mystery and what is willful evasion masquerading as mystery? What is a mythology and what is just a dump of psychological and supernatural questions that will never be sufficiently answered? Why do I feel the need to have solid answers? Can’t I just go along with the flow of compelling, if inscrutable twists, enjoying the slow pace and the visual complexities? Am I permanently scarred by PLDS — post-“Lost” disappointment syndrome?

In other words, I found the premiere of “Twin Peaks: The Return” to be frustrating, if piquant enough to keep me watching for now. The mumbo-jumbo about Agent Cooper — the guy originally brought in to solve the Laura Palmer murder — and his doppelganger is particularly uninteresting to me, as it goes on and on from one warp to another without having more symbolic resonance than merely good vs. evil.

We get two Coopers. One is still where we left him 26 years ago, in the Black Lodge dimension where everyone talks backward-ese. When the series opens, we see a flashback to the original show with Sheryl Lee’s Laura Palmer telling Cooper she’ll see him in 25 years. Is she coming back? Will Cooper ever return to this mortal plain — since we later see him in the box in New York?

The other Cooper is a sneering bad guy living in the real world who is possessed by the demon known as BOB. He has long hair, a little like that of Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh from “No Country for Old Men,” and he is a killing machine with a crew of people who help him survive.


The show — which features the brief return of the Log Lady and a new character who could be the Dog Lady — is interspersed with a more coherent murder plot set in Buckhorn, S.D. A woman has been murdered, and her head is discovered in her bed with a male body below it. Was it the local school principal, played by Matthew Lillard? It’s a very “Fargo”-like scenario. This whodunit could be the one story line in the new “Twin Peaks” that, like the Laura Palmer case in first two seasons, anchors the action in something more conventional and accessible. It may the more grounded plot strand that speaks loudest both to newcomers to the acid trip known as “Twin Peaks” — and to me.


On Showtime, Sunday at 9 p.m.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.