Though he’s undoubtedly the protagonist, Twin Peaks was never solely about Agent Dale Cooper. Its ensemble cast has always been one of its best aspects. With the revival series subtitled The Return, creators David Lynch and Mark Frost go against the reboot grain. Rather than resurrect the characters just as we remember them and parade them around as nostalgia fodder, the show uses its returning cast to tell a story about how people change and don’t change as time marches on and passes them by. It’s also got a stellar new cast, full of characters who instantly entered the Twin Peaks canon.
The majority of the returning characters are found exactly where we left them 25 years ago. Hawk, Andy, and Lucy all have the same jobs at the sheriff’s station. Ben still owns the Great Northern Hotel, though he’s trying to leave his days of philandering behind him. His brother Jerry is now a marijuana farmer and enjoyer, though this feels like more or less a natural outgrowth of his character. James is a security guard suffering from the side effects of a motorcycle crash, but he still plays “Just You,” and he’s still drawn towards people and things he knows he can never have. Shelly still works for Norma at the RR Diner, and she’s still got an unhealthy attraction to edgy guys in leather jackets. Ed and Nadine are still unhappily together, and although Nadine now owns a business, it’s still related to her old silent drapes fixation (it’s called Run Silent, Run Drapes, which is like Lynch and Frost’s version of a Simpsons sight gag.) Carl Rodd has moved the Fat Trout Trailer Park to Twin Peaks, but he’s still owns and operates it, and he still keeps the same hours. Sarah still lives in the same house, albeit by herself now. For people of their age in a town like Twin Peaks, you don’t have a whole lot of places to go. And even outside the town, Gordon and Albert are still doing the same job, pursuing the same mystery that’s eluded their grasp and stolen their friends.
The only returning adult who’s undergone a major transformation is Dr. Lawrence Jacoby. He’s the first Twin Peaks resident we see in The Return, and in fact the first person we see in the real world. In the original series, he was a hippie psychiatrist, the victim of both the audience’s overwhelming suspicion and a really fucked-up prank by Donna and James. In The Return, he’s transformed into an Alex Jones-esque vlogger. He takes on the person of Dr. Amp and screams into a webcam about government conspiracies and corrupt politicians. While he clearly believes what he’s saying, he’s also using the frenzy of his viewers to sell gold-painted shovels, with which they can “shovel themselves out of the shit.” The build-up to Dr. Amp’s reveal in “Part 5,” prior to which we only saw lengthy scenes of Jacoby receiving a shipment of shovels and dutifully spray-painting them, is one of The Return’s best jokes. It’s funny not just because of the long setup, but also because Jacoby is the only resident we’ve seen thus far who’s embraced the modern world. Everyone else is letting it pass them by.
The most radical shift undergone by any character is Bobby’s, who is revealed as a cop in a tracking shot where his back is turned to the camera before dramatically turning around. Bobby was always the town’s resident bad boy. Now he’s gone straight. He’s set up cameras around all the trails trafficked by drug mules, the same ones he used to traffic himself. I couldn’t help but wonder if his fellow officers knew about the time he murdered a drug dealer and buried him in the woods. He’s fulfilled his father’s vision of him, and most of the season sees him chasing clues left behind by the late Garland Briggs. One of the most moving scenes comes in “Part 9,” when Bobby’s mother tells him that his dad “saw this life for you. Somehow he knew that it would all turn out okay.” But even Bobby can’t outrun his demons. In one of his first scenes in The Return, he walks into the sheriff’s office conference room to see a picture of Laura laid out among other evidence from her case. He’s frozen in his tracks, and he immediately bursts into tears. Much like Laura herself in the final scene of the season, he’s overcome with a tidal wave of emotions he thought he had buried. The past is a living thing in Twin Peaks. It’s a monster that only the dead can escape. You can try to outrun it, or you can submit yourself to it. But it always wins.
The strangest returning character is, of course, Audrey. Her subplot enraged fans for its seeming pointlessness and aggressive refusal of closure. She doesn’t show up until “Part 12,” in a hilariously infuriating scene full of roundabout dialogue about characters we’ve never met. This scene gets repeated a couple more times, each inching her closer and closer to leaving her house, but also slowly revealing that something sinister is at play. Is her husband Charlie exerting some sick power over her? Is she suffering mental illness as a result of the bank explosion from the end of season 2? In fact, could she still be comatose? Her final scene implies a sort of induced dream-state related to the Black Lodge. The white space in which she appears doesn’t resemble any supernatural location we’ve seen, but the buzzing sound of electricity is unmistakable. The fact that Frank goes to Ben about Richard’s crimes and not Audrey is also revealing. Given that Richard is the child of her and Mr. C, it’s possible that he trapped her here for whatever reason. This is The Return’s most baffling thread by far. It’s unclear what Lynch and Frost are trying to say here. Perhaps she’s symbolic of the town as a whole, trapped in routines and unknowingly subject to evil.
Plenty of cast members either passed away or declined to reprise their roles for The Return. The way Lynch and Frost work around these absences is incredible. Necessity is the mother of invention, and their inventions are staggeringly brilliant. Michael J. Anderson, who played the Man From Another Place, recently accused Lynch of despicable crimes, so he probably wasn’t invited back. His character instead becomes a leafless tree, crackling with electricity and speaking from a small lump of flesh. This “Evolution of the Arm” is one of the most memorable characters from The Return. David Bowie intended to cameo as his Fire Walk With Me character Phillip Jeffries, who has a prominent role in the story of The Return, but he passed away before he could shoot his scenes. Jeffries is represented as a gigantic teapot-like contraption, which “writes down” messages in smoke and steam. Other actors are represented in repurposed footage from the original series. I was especially impressed with the use of the late Frank Silva as BOB, who loses none of his menace even when confined to a black orb.
Despite this, I’m thankful that Miguel Ferrer and Catherine Coulson, as Albert and the Log Lady respectively, were able to film their scenes before passing away. Ferrer gives one of his best performances ever as the stone-faced and sarcastic FBI agent, whose misanthropic nature conceals a passion for the truth and grief for his lost friends and colleagues. The Log Lady only appears in phone calls with Hawk, her hair shaved short and an oxygen tube in her nose. Her cryptic and poetic missives have never been more heartbreaking. You can see Coulson start to break down in tears as she tells Hawk that she’s dying. You get the sense that her dialogue was written to comfort her, in the knowledge that these were her final days. “There’s some fear in letting go, but you know that death is not an end. It’s only a change.” I cried a lot during The Return, but never harder than during that scene. Each late cast member has an episode dedicated to them. The Log Lady is the only character who receives the same honor.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of The Return is how little time we spend in Twin Peaks. Though it’s the location with the most screen time, two-thirds of the season is spent elsewhere, mostly in Las Vegas and South Dakota. There are plenty of new additions to the cast, and many of them are terrific. The Mitchum brothers were a highlight for me. They’re introduced as violent and thuggish villains, brutally beating an employee because they think he conned them. Once we see more of them, though, they’re revealed as generous and caring to a fault. Jim Belushi and Robert Knepper give tremendous performances. The scene where they meet Cooper in a desert in “Part 11” is one of the funniest in The Return. Belushi explains his prophetic dream in an increasingly desperate tone, while Knepper’s frustration grows into paranoia. Another great newcomer is Jane Adams as (and this isn’t a character type you see too often) the wisecracking coroner Constance Talbot. Like Albert, she’s the type of person who can’t help but drop jokes into everyday conversation, though her wit isn’t as venomous as his.
The assassin couple Hutch and Chantal aren’t properly introduced until halfway through the season, after a brief appearance by the latter in “Part 2.” Their banter about Mormons, Wendy’s, and Mars made for consistent standout scenes. Another pair who got very little screentime but made a hell of a mark are the perpetually rage-filled Special Agent Headley and his perpetually rage-inducing subordinate Agent Wilson, played by Jay R. Ferguson and Owain Rhys-Davies. The way Ferguson robotically bangs his desk as he screams “This is what he do in the FBI!” is a scene that still makes me laugh after many a revisit. Naomi Watts kills it as Janey-E Jones, Dougie’s sharp-witted wife. She has a talent for talking herself (and more often, her husband) out of bad situations, usually by invoking faux outrage for some personal or societal ill. When asked by detectives why Dougie didn’t report his car missing, she snaps back, “There’s more to life than cars!” As dark as the finale was, I’m glad they made room for her and Sonny Jim to get their happy ending.
Of course, we can’t talk about new characters without talking about Diane! I theorized after the premiere that Laura Dern would be playing Cooper’s previously unseen secretary. Her reveal in “Part 6” was no less thrilling for that correct prediction. The characterization of Diane as resentful and standoffish was surprising at first. How could this person have had such a close relationship with the perpetually upbeat Cooper? It’s not until late in the season that we learn the reasons for her attitude—she was raped by Mr. C, and she’s not even the real Diane—but Dern sells the hell out of it throughout.
There is a prominent new character in Twin Peaks, however. Michael Ontkean’s retirement from acting meant that Sheriff Harry S. Truman, a central figure in the first two seasons, wouldn’t appear in The Return. But as I said before, necessity is the mother of invention. Lynch and Frost cast Robert Forster as his brother Frank Truman, and wrote Harry out as suffering from cancer. Forster was actually the first choice to play Harry in the original series, but he turned the role down. His presence here recalls Harry on a meta-level. More importantly, Harry looms large over Frank’s storyline. A subtle thing that I only noticed on rewatch was that Frank never spends time in the sheriff’s office if he can help it. He prefers to work in Hawk’s office or the conference room. Frank feels uncomfortable stepping into his brother’s shoes. He even holds onto the slim hope that Harry will recover and return one day. This is the sort of small character detail that can easily slip by you on this show. Lynch and Frost deserve major credit for letting some things go unsaid.
There are well over 200 speaking roles in The Return, so I can’t talk about every single one regardless of how much I love them. As much as I want to gush about one-scene wonders like Charlyne Yi as Ruby, Laura Kenny as Woman in Car, and of course Michael Cera as Wally Brando, an article should only be so long. Twin Peaks’ weirdness would be alienating without the people living in its weird world. These characters make it more than worth the trip.
Featured Image: Showtime