Spending the first two episodes on a prologue was a bold move by Star Trek: Discovery, committing itself to establishing the foundations of the larger story to come rather than filling it in with exposition and flashbacks. We met Michael Burnham as a capable and respected officer, so her fall from grace in this episode makes an impact.
The finale of Twin Peaks is so audaciously impenetrable that forming conclusions at this early stage feels foolish. In the final 80 minutes of the series, David Lynch presents a sequence of events that not only defies comprehension, it is so untethered from our understanding of the series to date that he forces us to rely only on feelings and intuition. The more we try to solve the puzzle rationally, the less relevant it seems. We are asked to make peace with that, although the merits of that approach on a TV series bearing the name Twin Peaks are debatable.
Parts 15 and 16 of season three continue delivering terrific sequences, but we’re still building to something unknown. A clearer sense of larger events beneath the surface still hasn’t emerged as I hoped last week, but the final scene of Part 16 might upend everything for next week’s two-hour finale. Unless it doesn’t.
In Part 14, Lynch and Frost narrow their focus. Mr C and the Las Vegas story are left out entirely while the Twin Peaks characters are thrust into the centre of the maelstrom in two tremendous sequences that suggest events will soon converge on the town, as they always had to.
David Lynch is such an esoteric filmmaker that when he diverts into strange new ways of expressing himself, he needs the benefit of the doubt. His sensibility is not only unique but has evolved throughout his career. What may seem ineffective at first may reveal its true purpose at the end or on second viewing.
This is easy to accommodate in a two-hour film. For an 18-hour one, keeping such an open mind is much harder. Hour after hour in the new Twin Peaks, Lynch has doubled down on the same baffling choices. The existing characters in the town of Twin Peaks have barely featured, their stories given little time to gain momentum, while the Dougie/Las Vegas story is exhaustively surveyed. Given it essentially features none of the characters we know from the old show, it’s hard not to resent the huge amount of Dougie-related material as an indulgent distraction.
What did we witness on Twin Peaks this week?
Part 8 is unlike anything that has ever aired on television. Even calling it an installment of a TV show feels reductive: this hour will cast such a long shadow on the surrounding ones that it qualifies as a distinct work. Fortunately, it was also a stunning, satisfying, and – for a surreal Lynchian fantasia – surprisingly cogent experience. Unpacking and comprehending what we just saw will take time, but we certainly experienced something significant.
When you anticipate the return of a TV show as intensely as I did that of Twin Peaks, the experience of finally watching it is dizzying. Trying to assess it on its own merits while preconceptions dominate your thoughts is bewildering. The more the final product diverges from those expectations, the less trustworthy any reservations seem. And David Lynch and Mark Frost’s choices are certainly surprising.
Here at the end of part seven, Twin Peaks is manifesting momentum and purpose. But for the previous few hours, the show threatened to be a meandering mood piece, toggling between absurd comedy, glacial character drama, and sudden violence. Lynch’s execution of the script he co-wrote with Frost is rife with jarring ideas that seem debatable at this point in the journey. Some sequences and moments are unambiguously successful: off-beat but thrillingly so. Others are so self-consciously atonal or naff that their appeal will be much narrower.
After a year of anticipation, we finally get to see Peter Capaldi in action as the Doctor, and the contrast with Matt Smith is so striking, the script goes out of its way to acknowledge it and reassure us that everything’s okay.
I was watching Apocalypse Now last night. Each time I see it, I forget how impressionistic and surreal the Kurtz sequence is. We’re carried along by sense and emotion. You can detect a reservoir of meaning beneath, so it doesn’t matter that you don’t initially get why the tribespeople turn Willard upside down in the mud, or why Kurtz is reading out T.S. Eliot. You can tell that these jarring and seemingly arbitrary moments are in service of an artistic vision, and they resonate without being consciously decrypted.
In lesser hands, inexplicable images and moments aren’t instinctively loaded with meaning. They form a lazy attempt to convince the viewer that a text has meaning because it’s easier than doing the legwork of generating actual meaning that feels smart and honest. But it’s usually blatantly obvious and the creators don’t realise it, their slapdash profundity falling flat.
Under the Dome is now guilty of this, with a finale that thinks we’ll overlook how barren with significance it is by throwing some supposedly awe-inspiring supernatural moments at us. It even has the gall to turn them into a cliffhanger, as if we won’t realise we’ve been given no reason to care what they mean. The sequence perfectly symbolises how empty and pointless this show is, and I’m confident many viewers won’t bother to return for season two.
Under the Dome‘s plotlines converge in the penultimate episode, and it’s quite an effective hour. Unfortunately, enough characters behave idiotically or transform into supervillains that investing in the stakes is almost impossible.
One hackneyed storyline comes to a close in this episode, only to precipitate another. And the dome mystery, although fairly slight because it doesn’t get enough attention, continues to be the drawcard.
The challenge for any mainstream genre show is to make its real-world drama as compelling as its supernatural or otherwise offbeat mysteries. Most balance the two to appeal to a broad audience, rather than taking the Star Trek route where everything is infused with science fiction or fantasy. Lost managed this pretty well by probing its characters deeply and carefully rather than rapidly walking them through clichéd scenarios. Under the Dome does the latter, seemingly content to dredge up old-hat storylines and nudge the characters sleepily through them. Consequently, the dome mysteries are far more appealing than they would otherwise be in a superior show by pure virtue of contrast. The latest dull storyline to distract us from the good stuff? Max sets up a fight club bar to take advantage of how bored everyone is, although that doesn’t help us much.
I was wondering when Chester’s Mill would get its first Gilligans’ Island-style castaway, and the time has come. Despite the town being sealed in a dome, that won’t stop a new recurring anatagonist from showing up to cover for the show’s failure to establish enough conflict between the existing characters. Given the characters’s relative lack of surprise at this development, we should no longer be under any illusions that we’re watching a primetime soap with a dash of supernatural mystery. New plot contrivances can walk in against all odds without anyone batting an eye. Les Moonves was right: this is Dallas.
Damn, I have three episodes of Under the Dome to catch up on. After the ending of “Imperfect Circles” actually stirred some emotions in my dead/discerning heart, I had cause for cautious optimism. “Thicker than Water” doesn’t keep up the momentum, but the episode’s not a train wreck either.