As we rapidly approach the much-anticipated finale of Twin Peaks: The Return this Sunday, it’s amazing to look back on a season that has been full of jaw-dropping surprises. It feels like, 16 episodes in, we really have seen it all: evil box monsters, Agent Cooper in space, sky vortexes, tulpas, face-removal, a talky tree, head-crushing, terrifying woodsmen (#gotalight?), a superhuman gardening glove, the inside of an atom bomb, teapot David Bowie, too much vomit, an eyeless woman, and — oh yes — bands out the wazoo.
If there has been any flaw at all in this magnificent and mind-bending return to one of the ’90s’ greatest TV shows, it absolutely has to be the jarring insertion of a musical guest into almost every episode. It’s not that the bands have been bad. On the contrary, across the board, the artistry on display has been incredible and very well curated. The problem isn’t the music itself; the problem is how it’s being dropped into the show.
In the original seasons of Twin Peaks, music was a dominant force, thanks to Angelo Badalamenti’s extraordinary score. Prominent though it was, the soundtrack was weaved seamlessly into each episode; a character in and of itself, the score was as memorable as the Log Lady and as essential as Agent Cooper. In addition, when Julee Cruise performed, it was within a context that made sense to the storyline.
Not so in Twin Peaks: The Return. The Bang Bang Bar itself has played almost no role at all in this series, save for James Hurley’s fight, Audrey Horne’s (amazing) dance, and some peripheral character introductions, and yet, up it pops most weeks (episodes 1, 7, and 11 being exceptions) totally out of the blue, forcing us to sit through a band that bears no relevance to actual plot or proceedings. (The other exception to the rule here is James Hurley’s performance of “Just You” in episode 13, though that did carry a whiff of David Lynch trolling the viewer because of how much that song was mocked the first time around.)
The forced musical outros started in episode 2, but The Chromatics’ appearance that time wasn’t quite so jarring, because Shelly and James were present and conversation partially took place over the music. A similar set up helped Trouble and Au Revoir Simone in episodes 5 and 9 respectively. In fact, Trouble, performing the sleazy, retro, instrumental “Snake Eyes,” while Richard Horne assaults an unsuspecting young woman, is the only time a live performance has felt truly appropriate all season.
For the most part, the segues between plot points and musical breaks can feel all kinds of awkward. In episode 3, for example, we see Gordon Cole get the news that Cooper has finally emerged, only for the viewer to get needlessly launched in the direction of The Cactus Blossoms. Episode 10 ends with one of the Log Lady’s deep and cryptic messages to Hawk, but rather than giving the viewer a minute to digest and analyze, we go straight to Rebekah del Rio on stage instead.
What this means is, each time that flashing red neon Bang Bang Bar sign appears, it’s a jolt signifying “The End” to the viewer. And most consistently, instead of being able to enjoy the performances, most of them have felt little more than tacked on. Which is why, every time the sign for the Bang Bang Bar pops up on my TV screen now, I feel like doing this:
And also this:
To make matters worse, the bookings at that tiny rural venue are one of the least plausible elements of the entire show, which, given that Twin Peaks has been consistently, unfailingly batshit crazy forever, is saying an awful lot.
As the “Welcome to Twin Peaks” sign at the beginning of Season 1 and 2 notes, this is a town with a population of little more than 50,000 people. The Bang Bang Bar is a venue for a couple of hundred patrons. And yet in the last few weeks, it has had visits from both Nine Inch Nails and Eddie Vedder, as if driving into obscure towns in the mountains to perform for not many people is something that massive rock stars do all the time.
In fact, the worst offender of all the musical interludes was undoubtedly the appearance of “The Nine Inch Nails” that occurred partway through episode 8. Sticking a disembodied performance in the middle of any episode would be bad enough, but to do it in the middle of this one — which just happened to be the most breathtaking hour of surrealist television in history — was criminal. I like Trent Reznor as much as the next guy, but cutting away from this incredibly important episode (the origins of Bob!) for a full five minutes wasn’t just annoying, it felt totally gratuitous.
Season 3 of Twin Peaks has certainly demonstrated that David Lynch has excellent taste in music, but the truth is, all of these bands could have been featured on the soundtrack without the need for a cut to a live performance. Perhaps Lynch would be better served creating a film or series that’s specifically about music than trying to insert it into a show with a tone this specific and unique.
Most of the live sets in Twin Peaks: The Return simply don’t fit, in what has been an otherwise fantastic season. And that, unfortunately, doesn’t do justice to either Twin Peaks or the musicians involved.