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Sheryl Lee

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The Return.

“[A]s the giant once foretold: It is happening again. Twin Peaks: The Return — the Showtime reboot of the Lynch series — didn’t just exceed its progenitor’s what-the-fuck quotient right out of the gate; as it meanders through a series of daringly protected, often mysterious scenes, the show seems determined to destroy any preconceptions we had about what another Twin Peaks would look like, or even what post–Twin Peaks television could aspire to be. What Lynch and Frost are doing feels so new to TV that even showrunners whose triumphs are built on Lynchian foundations are in awe of it.” — Matt Zoller Seitz, “The Best Show on TV is Twin Peaks: The Return.

The 2016 movie list may finally be done and the 2017 list is right around the corner. And there are a lot of great TV shows on these days — Legion, Bojack Horseman, Halt and Catch Fire, Preacher, Fargo, the waning-but-still-entertaining Game of Thrones. But it’s safe to say that I’m not going to see a movie or TV this year, or for awhile thereafter, that I love as unabashedly as Twin Peaks: The Return. 27 years ago, before there was a GitM or even all that much of an Internet, I was just a high school sophomore in Florence, South Carolina who couldn’t wait for the weekend to bring the next installment of Twin Peaks. For 16 Sundays this summer, as soon as the classic theme kicked in, that 1990-91 experience came viscerally roaring back.

If, like me, you still find yourself dwelling on the deeply melancholy final episode — and with the caveat that the real Judy/Jiao Dai is apparently “to explain” — here’s the best and most in-depth fan explanation going around, at least until Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier comes out on Halloween. As someone notes in the comments, this theory makes a good deal of sense, but still doesn’t quite feel right. Whatever else was going on from Odessa to “Alice Tremond’s” house, it was emotionally clear that Coop hadn’t (yet) saved the day, and Laura was still — and may forever be — haunted by forces vast and cool and unsympathetic. [Update: It’s since come out that this theory was written up by one of Milo Yiannopoulos’s media pen pals, so the author’s sense of judgment should be considered even further suspect.]

In its mournful finale, and in its curtain calls for so many beloved original cast members who have left us — Catherine Coulson, Miguel Ferrer, Don Davis, Jack Nance, Frank Silva, David Bowie, now Harry Dean Stanton — the new Twin Peaks also made clear that, however much you may want to, you can’t really turn back the clock, at least not in the way you ever expected. As The Ringer‘s Alison Herman put it, “it was immediately obvious upon The Return’s premiere in late May that this was not going to be the Twin Peaks of the ’90s, with its soap opera shape, good-natured quirk, and Angelo Badalamenti’s steadying compositions. What was not obvious, however, was just how aware Lynch and Frost were of our yearning for the original Twin Peaks, or how they would capitalize upon it to maximize the uncanny horror and visceral sadness of The Return.”

Twin Peaks came back to us completely transformed in 2017, and yet, in its own way, still as captivating and chimerical, inspiring and visionary, funny and true as it was a quarter-century ago. In these cynical, Trumpian times, what a gift it was to have this show back again — still expanding the boundaries of what is possible on TV, still serving up damn fine cups of coffee (and musical numbers), still pushing us to rail against the darkness and malevolence in our midst.

It is Happening Again.

“To quote Agent Cooper, ‘I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.'” It is happening again: In far and away the biggest culture news this past month I’ve been away, after 25 years (as promised), Twin Peaks is returning to TV(!!) “According to a press release from Showtime, “Twin Peaks” will be a limited series of nine episodes. Lynch and Frost will write and produce each one and Lynch will direct all nine.” (More details here.)

Now this here is big doings, and no mistake. (And, whatever else may be depressing about life in the so-called space age, how great is it that we live in a world that provides MOAR Twin Peaks, MOAR Arrested Development, MOAR Doctor Who, MOAR Farscape, MOAR Han-Luke-Leia Star Wars outings? Let’s get cracking on Deadwood‘s return already!)

Since this announcement, I’ve been rewatching Twin Peaks again while packing up boxes and — while I’m only into early Season 2 — been delighted to find that it totally holds up. Like many folks around my age, the show was a staple of my early high school years, and watching it is as much of an instant time capsule to the early 1990’s as the 120 Minutes archive. Finally actually finding out what happened to Dale after the Black Lodge? Now that is something I did not expect. Can’t wait.

Gone Daddy Gone.

Well, admittedly, I’m probably much more of a City Mouse these days than I was back during my Carolina youth, so take that for what it’s worth. And I will fess up to having grim flashbacks to the stultifying experience of Sweetgrass in the “realistically”-portrayed opening moments of this film, so that didn’t help either. Still, I have to say, I just did not cotton to Debra Granik’s gritty Ozark noir Winter’s Bone like it seems a majority of critics did. (Some have even called it the “best American film of the year.” I reckon I’d seen a better American film not 24 hours beforehand.)

This “dark as a dungeon” Missouri folk tale is well-made, to be sure, and it includes both impressive, nuanced performances — most notably from the Zellweger-esque lead, Jennifer Lawrence — and some very likable actors (John Hawkes and Garret Dillahunt of Deadwood; Sheryl Lee, nee Laura Palmer, of Twin Peaks) shading in the margins. But, for a couple of reasons, which I’ll get into a moment, I didn’t find the main through-line of the story particularly engaging. And, in its depiction of mountain folk living on the economic razor’s edge, I can’t help feeling that the movie veered dangerously close to stereotype, if not outright Precious or Slumdog Millionaire-style poverty pr0n at times.

First, the story. After a few minutes of soaking in the three R’s of life-as-it-really-happens in an economically marginal Missouri town — ROTC training, ramshackle cabins, and (jus’) regular folk — the young woman we’ve been following around, Ree Dolly (Lawrence), is approached by the local sheriff (Dillahunt) with some very problematic news. Apparently, her daddy — who, like all-too-many men in this poverty-stricken region, is a meth cook of some renown — has skipped bail. (Paging Heisenberg!) And if Pa Dolly doesn’t show up for his scheduled hearing a fortnight or so hence, the bond he posted will be taken by the county — in the form of Ree’s house. There isn’t enough money to go around on a good day, and since Ree is already neck-deep in raising her two little siblings and caring for her ailing mother, who’s not quite right in the head, getting turned out of the only home the Dollys have would basically be tantamount to a death sentence.

And so, with only a quick mind and sheer doggedness at her disposal, Ree starts trying to ascertain the whereabouts of the prodigal father, before this deadly eviction hammer falls. Trouble is, the extended community — who are more often than not related by blood ’round these parts — take none too kindly to Ree’s asking tough questions about a central participant in the local, lucrative criminal enterprise. Even Ree’s uncle Teardrop (Hawkes), her father’s brother, tends towards the unhelpful or abusive whenever she comes by for another round for questioning. But what can she do? Ree’s back is to the wall, and the only thing she can do to save her family from certain starvation is to push forward and find her dad, with all the ugly consequences that’ll entail…

Part of the reason Winter’s Bone didn’t work for me, I think, is I felt like I’d just seen a more engaging version of this movie — a regional neo-noir with a bleached-out aesthetic, involving working-class folks in a tight-knit community dabbling in crime to get by — in Nash Edgerton’s The Square. But even that film aside, and with all due respects to the wanderings of M. Lebowski, I get a bit irritated with noir-offerings that put a puzzle before you (in this case, where is Ree’s Pop?), but then don’t really give you the tools to play along.

Put another way: For all Ree’s gumption, only in the occasional scene here — like, when she’s shown a burned-out meth lab where her dad supposedly died — does she get to put two-and-two together in a way that moves the story forward. Instead, she’s more often relegated to being a passive figure in her own tale, at which point some other character will swing by her endangered home and dole out whatever info is needed to get the plot moving again. Perhaps this is by design — one of the best scenes in the movie is when Ree tries to sign up for the Army for an infusion of much-needed cash, and is very kindly told that her options right now are even more limited than they already seemed. Still, this passive tendency makes Winter’s Bone feel like a movie where this happens, and then that happens, and this happens, rather than an engaging mystery. There’s a sense of urgency, sure — the ticking clock of impending eviction — but there’s still no narrative drive to this story.

At which point a fan of this film might say: You’re missing the point. Winter’s Bone is less about typical noir plotting than it is about character, social realism, and establishing a strong sense of place. Well, convenient straw-man fan, I’m glad you got brought this up, because this actually gets to my bigger problem with the movie. From its Welcome-to-the-Real-America opening moments, Granik’s film goes out of its way to establish its versimilitude — but that’s exactly where the movie increasingly felt off to me. And while I think it’s uncharitable to say of Winter’s Bone that it’s the tale of Cletus (or Brandine) the Slack-Jawed Yokel told as tragedy — at times it really does feel like we’re hunting possum in that same hillbilly-stereotype trailer park.

Now, I won’t profess to be any kind of expert on what a life of grinding poverty in the Ozarks looks and feels like — I’ve never been to that part of the country, although I have spent time in some very broke regions of the Carolinas, West Virginia, and the Deep South. So, maybe I’m wrong, and Winter’s Bone is actually witheringly acute in its depiction of the ways of dirt-poor rural folk here. But when there are more scenes of hootenannies and squirrel-hunting in your movie than there are of people doing “normal” things like, say, watching TV or driving to Wal-Mart, I really start to wonder. And that goes double when your characters tend to speak in a near-Milchian poetic argot about their kin and the ways of menfolk and the like.

To be clear: I wasn’t offended by this Othering of them there Mountain folk, but I didn’t really buy into it either. And so the more the film strived toward versimilitude — look at how poor (and yet noble!) poor can be! — the more Winter’s Bone just felt like a hyper-stylized, and even downright artificial, Ozark requiem by way of Cormac McCarthy to me, and the more I disengaged from it. Call me uncouth (I blame mah upbringin’), but, without feeling much of either the story or the milieu, I basically spent the majority of Winter’s Bone — even its ostensibly shocking culmination — just dutifully waiting for it to end.

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