It’s not unusual for a television show to return from the dead in order to finish old business and propose new, in the form of a TV movie (“Gilligan’s Island,” “Mary and Rhoda”) or new series (“Still the Beaver,” “Fuller House”), or a series of TV movies (“Perry Mason,” “The Rockford Files”), or a fold into another series altogether (the “Seinfeld” stealth return, folded into a season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), or the very same series, just after a long break (“Doctor Who”).
So it is with “Twin Peaks,” a Pacific Northwest hallucinatory soap opera that lived for two seasons on ABC from 1990-91, and came back to life on Showtime Sunday night. It is a splendid, focused and wholly assured resurrection whose coming had oddly been predicted at the end of the second season, when Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), or rather her posthumous “doppelganger,” told FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) that they would meet again after 25 years. That conversation is replayed at the opening of the long-belated, long-awaited new season.
Eighteen episodes deep, it is very much the third season of a TV series (and also the first full-scale dramatic work in more than a decade by Lynch, who has directed and co-written the whole thing with series co-creator Mark Frost). I suppose you could start here and get something out of it, but I would recommend going back to the beginning, because much that happens here is rooted there — you will nod approvingly, then, at the mention of coffee and doughnuts and pie — and time and age are built into its bones. (There is also the 1992 movie prequel, “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me,” if you want to come to it completely prepared.)
There are mysteries, which can have solutions, and mystery, which, by definition does not. The trick of “Twin Peaks” was to imbue the first sort of stories with the qualities of the latter, to take what was set forth as a whodunit (“Who Killed Laura Palmer?” billboards asked) and fill it with poetry and wonder, joy and dread, dreams and visions.
When the central mystery was resolved, about a third of the way into the second season, much of the energy went out of the show as well, and it stumbled, for a while, into mere eccentricity and scattered its cast into unproductive subplots. By the time it began to right itself, at the end of the second season, with a Lynch-directed finale that answered little, the network had lost interest and many viewers had too. Now the mystery is back.
Nevertheless, the second season concluded with multiple cliffhangers, including Cooper’s possession by Bob, the murderous spirit that had earlier driven Leland Palmer (Ray Wise, back again) to kill his daughter Laura (among others); an explosion in a bank vault where Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn, expected back, which is not necessarily to say she’s alive) had chained herself in protest. Frost and Lynch left the portal open.
MacLachlan, whose Dale Cooper remains transformed by the events of the Season 2 finale, spent a lot of time onscreen in Sunday’s two-hour opener. Many other old characters, living and dead, were seen only briefly, or from afar; some had no lines, many have gone gray. Who knows how much we’ll see any of them in the remaining episodes? (Indeed, much of the opening two hours are set not in Twin Peaks, but in New York City and South Dakota instead.) Still, with few exceptions and one quasi-substitution (Robert Forster as Sheriff Frank Truman, brother of the absent Michael Ontkean’s Sheriff Harry S. Truman), the main and recurring cast will be back, including some who have passed away since the filming (Miguel Ferrer as FBI pathologist Albert Rosenfield and “Log Lady” Catherine E. Coulson, possibly among others).
In some respects this is a show that has clearly been made in a world that has seen “The Sopranos” and everything “The Sopranos” made bankable. Yet it remains very much a David Lynch film; and if it doesn’t aim to replicate the mood of the original — the stylistic cribs from 1950s big-screen romances and B-grade thrillers that animated the original series have been tamped down — it is more like that “Twin Peaks” than like anything else on television.
The tone this time out, at least in the beginning, is largely subdued and dark, often literally dark, and drawn out even by Lynch’s own impressive standards. (Few directors would dare or care to focus on a doorknob as long as Lynch does here.) But there is as much intensity in his stillness as in his violence, which comes up suddenly and is always awful and difficult to watch. And yet, where much modern television drama wants to tell you about the evil that lurks in the hearts of men, Lynch has long argued that true goodness lives there too.
There are some glimmers of the series’ old humor — an original, often childlike humor, devoid of irony. Lynch is a “sincerist,” if such a figure may be allowed, someone whose fictions play with reality but never tell a lie. Tragedy and farce are inextricable here. “Twin Peaks” did its work by an excess of emotion; there has never been a series with as many tears, so many kisses, so many lingering, intimate close-ups of beautiful faces, glamorously lit, having complicated thoughts and feelings, so potent a use of nature — so much ecstasy. It’s amazing it was made at the time, and exciting to have it back now. May it make us all a little crazy.
‘Twin Peaks: The Return’
When: 9 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)