by Francis Friel, The Projectionist
Right up front, I’ll tell you the truth. This is not really a review of Twin Peaks. I will touch on Episode 7 at the end, but my agenda here is different that usual. This is about storytelling. It’s about all the ways modern serialization fails to live up to its own standards, and how Twin Peaks: The Return is absolutely just fucking crushing it week after week.
We’re gonna talk about Lynch. We’re gonna talk about Episode 7 of Twin Peaks. But before we get to all that, let’s talk about how Disney is fucking everything up for everybody. Die-hard fans included. Die-hard fans especially.
Earlier this week it was announced that Phil Lord and Chris Miller had been fired from the set of Lucasfilm’s still-untitled Han Solo film. They were only a few weeks out from the end of their shooting schedule but, apparently, trouble had been brewing all along. It’s been speculated before that Kathleen Kennedy might be less than the gentle guiding light she presents herself as being to the public, eager to foster the creative talents of the people around her to tell the best stories possible. But is it really that surprising? We’ll take a bit of a closer work at her resume in a sec, but first let’s back up even further and talk about your boyfriend Edgar Wright.
Dude was knocked off the Ant-Man horse before it had even left the stable, revealing earlier this week (in the wake of the Lord & Miller news) that the real reason his movie didn’t happen was because he was ready to make a Marvel movie but Marvel wasn’t ready to make an Edgar Wright movie. Typical Hollywood bullshit, sure, but important. Because why even hire the guy in the first place if your backup plan was Peyton Reed? I like Peyton Reed. He doesn’t get enough respect in my opinion, but these two guys are not the same guy. You don’t easily swap one for the other. What the fuck is going on in Kevin Feige’s head?
Let’s look at the reality of modern serialized storytelling here. Yes, anyone who knows anything will agree that tv is where it’s at, that since the dawn of the HBO Golden Age of Sex and the City and The Sopranos, longform narrative plotting and pacing has been stolen from the hands of the angry Movie Gods and given to the little people, the tv people. Television has been wiping the floor with movies in the character department for almost two decades. Oh, Coppola told one of the most intense and intimate family stories ever over the course of ten hours? Luke Skywalker went from humble farm boy dreaming of a better life to savior of the galaxy in six hours? FUCK YOU. Neither story could’ve been sustained over the course of, say, twenty hours. Or sixty. Or a hundred. No. Fucking. Way.
Oh, but wait. I forgot. Why would you want those stories to take that long? Didn’t we already say all we had to say over the course of three films? Didn’t we figure out that brevity is the soul of wit, that less is more, quality over quantity? Apparently not. Because Hollywood’s solution to the tv problem was to steal it outright. But they forgot one important thing. The key to it all. They forgot to hold our attention. So we, in turn, forget to care.
From 1977 to 1983, Fox and LucasFilm told a single sustained narrative that had a built-in anticipation factor. Three years would pass between new Episodes in the Skywalker saga. You walked out of the theatre and, if the filmmakers had done their jobs, you couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. After the premiere of Star Wars, the general public had no idea there were more movies to come. So when The Empire Strikes Back was announced, people probably lost their fucking shit. Then when that film ended on one big doozy of a cliffhanger, they knew there must be at least one more episode on the way, so they went even more bananas waiting for news about that one. It was a simple, brilliant release strategy. No more semi-randomly released entries like MGM was doing with James Bond. There was a schedule. There was a plan. And there was a reason for it.
Movies take for-fucking-ever to make. It’s an old cliche, but it’s a miracle any movie ever gets made at all, and if it does get made and it’s actually good, you hit the jackpot. So you roll the dice again. Another hit! You can’t lose! Then you get cocky. And that’s how you fuck it all up and lose the house and the family business and end up living in a tent in the sporting goods store you used to own until you turned it over to the local mob boss who’ll let you live and keep all your limbs as long as you shut the fuck up and don’t cry too much about it. And what are you gonna do, blame him? YOU fucked up. He just saw an opportunity. That’s how guys like him earn a living. Gangsters have to eat, too.
So you let it sit there. You won big, but that time is over. But maybe later, say, a couple decades down the road, you feel that old itch again. And you get right back up on that horse. And this time, you make a movie, and you fuck it up so badly that everyone who ever loved you has turned their backs on you and declared that you ruined those old movies they used to love. You destroyed their childhoods. Maybe your friends are looking around going, hey, I kinda wanna make another movie like the old days, too. And THAT GUY just fucked it up. I’M a better director than HIM. I can’t fuck it up! The odds are just against it!
And your friend fucks it up, too. Now everybody hates your friend. And now your friend hates you, too. Boy, did you ever blow it.
Obviously I’m talking about The George Lucas Problem. And his sidekick, The Spool Problem. These guys had it made, Lucas in particular. He owned the world after Star Wars and didn’t have to lift a fucking finger. People thought HE made all those other movies. All he had to do was not fuck it up. But no. Leave it to Georgie-Boy. He’s addicted. Addicted to fucking up.
So he realizes he’s had enough abuse for one lifetime and decides, well fuck it, I’ll just sell this goddammer and make a shitload of money. Money he didn’t need, remember, cause he’s already GEORGE FUCKING LUCAS. So he sells. To DISNEY, of all fucking people. But who else could even afford the THREE BILLION DOLLAR PRICE TAG he had dangling from Darth Vader’s big toe? Nobody. Only the Mouse has that kind of cheese.
So Disney looks at their brand new toy and goes, we know this thing is broken, but you slap some paint on, replace the batteries, and stick it under the tree and these kids are gonna lose their goddam shit for it all over again. Simple. We’ll just do what George did the first time. But they made one major mistake, the mistake all dumb people make: they assumed everyone else was dumber than they were.
Lucas always swore he had a plan. That there were twelve chapters, all written down somewhere. But it was total bullshit. There was no fucking plan. He had no idea what he was doing. He was winging that whole thing from start to finish. But not Disney. Disney was SMART. They had A Plan. And that plan was: fuck this thing up beyond recognition before anyone has a chance to sit back and realize, wait, I’m excited about a Star Wars Prequel Trilogy again? The fuck?
Remember, even when Lucas was knee-deep in bantha doo-doo with the backlash and outrage that accompanied each new chapter in his prequel trilogy release schedule, fans everywhere were saying to each other, well, the Next One will be good. This happened three fucking times. Then when that, let’s say, didn’t pan out, they said, well, we’ll always have the original trilogy. But wait. No you don’t. Cause Idiot Lucas destroyed the negatives to build his Special Edition trilogy prints. But the thing about it is: people were still excited. They still couldn’t wait to watch more Star Wars. Even with that “all he had to do was not fuck it up” thing in play, he STILL FUCKED IT UP and people STILL COULDN'T WAIT FOR MORE. Know why? Because they Had To Wait. Three years. There was always that three year gap between new movies. That’s enough time to forget how bad the last one was, rationalize that the next one would be better, go through every other stage of grief associated with Star Wars movies, begin releasing teasers and trailers and posters and taglines and TOYS and all the other marketing bullshit necessary to keep your project fresh in everyone’s minds, then finally release a mediocre product and start the whole thing over again. And now look where we are. People are literally “re-appraising” the prequels. “They’re actually not that bad!” I hear. But guess what? Fuck you. They’re poop. They sucked then and they suck now. Get over it. It’s sad. It’s unfortunate. But they stink.
The LucasFilm of the 21st century has completely botched this aspect of what ever made Star Wars special in the first place. It’s all Stars Wars all the time now. In 2015 we got The Force Awakens. In 2016 we got Rogue One. Six months from now we’ll get The Last Jedi, followed only five months later by whatever’s left of the Han Solo movie. By 2021 it’ll all be over. That’s six films in six years. That means everything is happening three times as fast, mistakes are harder to fix and catch, and with one very small team of people heading the entire operation, that doesn’t give you a lot of leeway to not fuck things up.
So, they fucked it up.
They say no news is good news, and right now, LucasFilm has a bad news problem. Not only did they fire Lord & Miller for making a film that didn’t fit the mold of what a Star Wars movie is supposed to be (huh?), but this isn’t the first time we’ve heard rumblings from one of their sets. Rogue One was allegedly plagued by production issues from day one. The studio was horrified at what they saw, and scrambled to fit emergency reshoots into their already absurdly tight schedule. And when we finally saw the finished film, it was a complete disaster. Yeah, sure, we might disagree on that. But for me, I walked out of that screening pretty baffled by whatever that was supposed to be. I probably won’t be revisiting it anytime soon, either, since holy shit, who has the time? I can barely keep up with the stuff I actually like.
So this won’t end well if this is a sign of things to come. First off, the solution to firing those two directors was to hire Ron Goddam Motherfucking Howard. You know, for kids! And also, audiences will always react when they think they’ve been had. They’ll call bullshit when it’s time to call bullshit. No movie and no studio and certainly no Studio Head is immune to this. It will happen. When it’s all over, if people look back on these movies and feel like the rug got pulled out from under them here, they’ll be pissed. That means no blu ray sales. That means no VOD money. That means toy sales dry up. And probably most terrifying of all, that means TOY SALES DRY UP. Toy Sales. Gone. No more toy sales. All this shit is about selling toys. Let’s not kid ourselves on this.
I had little to no interest in whatever possible story they were gonna tell with this Han Solo jawn in the first place, but I knew I’d sit my ass down in the theatre to watch it anyway, but not for the reasons LucasFilm thinks. Because for one thing, I see all my movies for free anyway. I work at a movie theatre. It has its perks. Work at movie theatres, everybody. That’s my advice to you. Secondly, I review movies so inevitably I’d be forced to watch it anyway. Third, I like Lord & Miller. They’re great. I’ve liked or loved everything I’ve seen from them so far. And lastly, and most importantly: LucasFilm has me. As much as I loathe to admit it, as much as it makes no logical sense… they have me. Here’s the weirder angle, too: I don’t even like most of them. But no matter. I will watch all the Star Wars movies. Whadyagunndo.
Okay. So. LucasFilm is broken. They had a very short window of time in which to not do that, but they went, eh, let’s do it anyway. Let’s fuck it up. But, again: short window of time. They don’t really have space to do any real, actual, long-range damage. Six films in six years. They could all be masterpieces. They could all be terrible. It doesn’t matter. It’s not like they’re making, like thirty films over thirty years, right?
Now here’s Marvel, our second stop in this atrocity exhibition. Without going into all the gory details, let’s just say they’re doing exactly what LucasFilm is doing only they went ahead and decided to maintain a decades-long streak of this shit. Movies come out, they suck, or are okay, or are good, maybe even occasionally great. But it doesn’t matter. Cause it’s all about building to The Next One. Phase One. Phase Two. Phase Three. Phase fucking seventeen, for all we know. Where’s it leading? How’s it going to end? There is No Way To End The Marvel Cinematic Universe. It will simply be abandoned. Actors are aging out or opting out or simply throwing huge parties to celebrate their contracts ending.
And let’s be clear about something else, too. When you hear the Edgar Wright story, and when you read about Lord & Miller, don’t turn around and counter with “But what about James Gunn?” Because guess what? That’s a classic defensive move on Marvel’s part. They already tried the same thing with Joss Whedon. They said, sure, whatever you want, Joss! Anything you say, JOSS. Until they stopped saying that. Until they crammed Thor into a glowy cave pool or whatever the fluff that was. And Whedon had to reckon with the fact that he’d been handed the keys to something he didn’t even want, and he bailed. Good for him. I’m sure he’s not beating himself up too much over it, though. He still took their money.
So hiring James Gunn on to oversee the larger MCU narrative is a smart and ugly move on Marvel’s part. Get the weirdest guy in the group, let him do basically whatever he wants, and fans will use him as an example of how *not* fucked the whole thing is. But call it what it is. A PR play. They own him now. The day will come when he gives a three hour podcast interview, or writes a memoir, long after he’s walked away from Disney citing “creative differences.” We’ll get the story out of him. For now, it’s an endless series of films with no end in sight and no real legs left. These films can only get more unwieldy now. After Civil War failed to kill off half the cast (the only time so far this would’ve been possible, and their only option left as far as real stakes go), it became clear this was a franchise that had no idea what it was doing. They are stringing us along. And when we come out the other side, we’ll only have ourselves to blame. In copying the television model and painting themselves into about three dozen narrative corners, they’ve accidentally proven how limited the scope of their storytelling really is.
In LucasFilm, they have a finite amount of time to cram as much down our throats as possible and hope we don’t choke before they get to the end. Marvel has the opposite problem, having no plan at all and hoping that by constantly distracting us with side quests, we won’t care that it’s all ultimately pointless.
Finally, we get to Lynch, and the issue of people complaining about the first handful of episodes in the Twin Peaks revival.
Audiences are bored. They’re too weirded out. They say it’s not going anywhere. Jesus fucking GOD, though, it’s eighteen hours long. We aren’t even halfway through. And after five episodes of slow-burning Lynchian world-building, he and Frost have absolutely paid it all off with Episode 7. Halfway through the episode, Lynch is literally onscreen being all “remember when this happened? Well, here’s what was up with that.” Hawk sits down with Frank and explains in detail the significance of the diary pages found in the stall door. Cooper springs back into action for one absolutely stunning sequence that not only features our Special Agent grappling with a gun-toting hitman, but the reappearance of The Evolution of the Arm screaming in his face to squeeze that mothertrucker’s hand off. A baby tree / nervous system / demon is just there, in his face, out of the fucking blue, sca-ream-ing at him. “SQUEEZE HIS HAND OFF! SQUEEZE HIS HAND OFF!” This, friends, is The Weirdest Thing David Lynch Has Ever Done. And you never saw it coming. Never in a million trillion fucking years did you consider this scene a possibility. But Lynch did. He saw it coming. He knew that it was all leading up to that moment. And he knew it was all leading up to our proper introduction to Diane, a character that most, if not all, Twin Peaks fans have taken for granted. But she’s real. She’s right there on the screen. And Laura Dern is playing her. Not only that, but Diane is so much of a complete character in her mannerisms and tics and speech, that I don’t know how she wasn’t always a piece of the show’s DNA until now. Because there are ways of making those types of things work. The way you do it is: you know your story. You know the world. You have a plan.
What Twin Peaks: The Return is doing for me right now is reminding me why serialized storytelling is so important. Long, sustained narratives have been around for as long as people have been talking to other people, but in the aftermath of the Golden Age of Television, when big Hollywood studios are stepping in and trying to do what tv can do and failing miserably at every turn, it’s nice to be reminded that there are artists out there who know how it truly works, and what it can do to and for us when they really get cooking.
Diane confronts the Doppelganger. Cole explains the significance of the backwards speech (and backwards fingerprints) to Tammy. We get vital information about the Doppelganger’s final days in the town of Twin Peaks before he dropped off of everyone’s radar, including a reference to Annie. We see that Laura did in fact write Annie’s words down in her diary. We know that Doc Hayward suspected something was off about “Cooper” after emerging from the Black Lodge. We learn for sure that everyone is aware that the Doppelganger is NOT Agent Cooper. The Renaults at the Roadhouse are still running girls up to One Eyed Jack’s. That creepy-ass burnt-up Woodsman makes a reappearance. We hear that, yes indeed, that’s Major Briggs’ corpse lying in the morgue without his head and, not only that, his body appears to be thirty years younger than it should be. Cooper’s room key is back in the Great Northern Hotel. And, more likely than not, Cooper was just interviewed by a local news crew in the wake of the attack. Someone says that Ike had a funny smell. All of this in a single episode of a show that has been endlessly attacked for “not going anywhere.”
Longform narrative can work. Lynch and Frost and Showtime are proving this every week. And I have faith that it is all leading somewhere very interesting. Because these guys have no vested interest in wasting our time. They only want to tell a story, and it’s one that no one but they know how to tell. They are doing the exact opposite of the thing that movies are doing right now. In copying the tv model, Hollywood is allowing themselves to be beaten to the punch. Because now we have a solid, concrete point of comparison. Two artists who want only to make great art, creating something thrilling, hilarious, horrifying, smart, and true of heart, and they’re doing it all right before our eyes. They’re letting us in on it, telling us up front that it’ll all be over soon. We should cherish it and feel lucky that we get to see it all unfold in real time, exactly the way they want us to experience it.
The first two seasons of Twin Peaks opened with that shot of the robin, echoing the shot at the end of Blue Velvet. I’ve missed that robin in the new season’s opening credits. But I think Lynch planted a clue for us. I think the robins are still there. “There’s always trouble til the robins come”, as Laura Dern once told us, and I feel it now more than ever. Lynch and Frost are giving us something special. The wait for a new episode is the longest seven days I’ve felt in a long time. But the robins are on the way. Let’s rock.