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Twin Peaks episode 7: the series brings new meaning to the idea of an “18-hour movie”

Things are starting to pick up as we enter what looks like the second act.

Twin Peaks
Evil Cooper makes some big moves.
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

In the lead-up to this season of Twin Peaks, co-creator David Lynch, who co-wrote and directed all 18 hours of the miniseries, said that it wasn’t just a season of TV. It was an 18-hour movie.

Often, when I hear a comment like this, it sets off alarm bells. TV seasons aren’t typically able to get by on just a single story for as long as they run, and even a show like Stranger Things, which had only eight hours to fill, still had to do a lot of plot stalling in the middle. TV shows that earn the “X-hour movie” label are usually ones that cleverly hide how episodic they really are, series like The Wire and Breaking Bad, where every hour of the show is a small piece of a larger puzzle but a complete piece unto itself nevertheless.

But Twin Peaks is tackling the “X-hour movie” descriptor in a very different way, which is to say that it’s basically taking the plot of a Twin Peaks movie and streeeeeeetching it ouuuuuuut over 18 hours. If you think of a typical three-act structure (and assume it neatly divides the story in thirds — which it might not), then we reached the end of act one at the end of episode six, and we’re just heading into the early portions of act two as “Part 7” begins.

And, intriguingly, the episode contains some hints of this stretched-out approach, moving with a momentum and purpose the series hasn’t always had since Cooper escaped the Black Lodge and assumed the life of Dougie Jones. Leads are pursued, questions are answered, and Evil Cooper gets out of prison.

But there’s still time for tangents, like a scene of a guy sweeping a floor to the tune of “Green Onions,” or a lengthy bit where Ben Horne and Beverly attempt to ascertain the location a strange ringing sound that’s emanating from the Great Northern. (Might it have something to do with the return of Cooper’s room key to the hotel? I think it might!) Lynch and Twin Peaks co-creator/writer Mark Frost aren’t tackling the “18-hour movie” as one long story but as many long stories, all running parallel, and you never know which one might take over the hour.

“Part 7” provides relief for those who have tired of Dougie Jones

Twin Peaks
We hope you enjoy Ben and Beverly trying to locate the source of a strange ringing noise, though!

Just as the anti-Dougie takes had reached fever pitch with last week’s episode — in which he drew ladders and staircases all over a bunch of insurance files — “Part 7” turns the story over to Twin Peaks’ other characters, whether that means checking in on the various plot threads set up in Twin Peaks or spending a lengthy amount of time with Gordon, Albert, Tammy, and Diane as they look into the case of the Evil Cooper.

Thus, when Dougie turns up, with only about 20 minutes left to go in the episode, it allows the hour to provide a more concentrated dose of the guy, which works well. In particular, it only underlines what might be the most intriguing question about him: Why does no one seem particularly concerned that he apparently has forgotten how to speak English or function as a human being?

I’m a Dougie fan, but I can also recognize him as a plot stall — a way for the series to keep the character of Dale Cooper from getting to Twin Peaks before everything else is ready for him to arrive. Yet because Dougie so directly ties into some of the themes that animate this season of the show, like the nature of identity, or how we become the people we are, I’m enjoying what he’s up to.

Still, the way the guy leaped into action when attacked by the assassin (with some help from his wife — Naomi Watts remains a scream in this), and the sudden vision he had of the talking tree from the Black Lodge while subduing said assassin, suggest that he’s much closer to snapping out of this state than you might expect.

And as goes Dougie, so goes Twin Peaks. “Part 7” was filled with characters having revelations that were either years or moments in the making. The pages Hawk found in the bathroom stall door, for instance, were confirmed as missing pages from Laura’s diary (presumably hidden there by her father), with a direct tie to the message Annie Blackburn left for Laura in Fire Walk With Me.

Similarly, Diane’s meeting with Cooper’s evil doppelganger was an eerie scene filled with teases of secrets yet to be revealed. What happened between Diane and Cooper the last time they met? We’ll find out later — and we might even find out which Cooper she had such a fateful encounter with as well. (In general, Diane is a shot in the arm for the show, if only because Laura Dern knows how to give Lynch and Frost’s dialogue the acidic bite it sometimes needs.)

All of these things together give “Part 7” the feeling of great import and great forward momentum, even as it has time for, again, scenes of people sweeping the floor. “Part 7” doesn’t speed things up that much. It just provides a few trickles of information that give the story a little nudge in a different direction.

It seems more likely than ever that the Coopers will eventually face off in Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks
And maybe Diane will be there, too!

Even as I write all of the above, I’m aware of how easily it could be construed as either a long series of complaints about or an apologia for this new season of Twin Peaks. And yet I don’t mean it as either — at this point, I’ve more or less accepted Twin Peaks: The Return for what it is, and I’ve come to love its open willingness to zig precisely when the audience is hoping it will zag.

When, say, Gordon tried to explain to Tammy why he’s so troubled about Evil Cooper saying “yrev” instead of “very” a few weeks ago, he did so by attempting to tell her about the mystical properties of her own fingers — which is the sort of glorious nonsense that sets this series apart but also the sort of thing that might leave you rolling your eyes if you’re looking for anything like an actual explanation. (Though how have you made it this far in Twin Peaks if that’s the case?)

Despite the fact that it has so many mysteries sprawling all over the place, Twin Peaks is yrev, very good at making sure you take all of it in the spirit it’s intended. I find it hard to imagine the show’s audience getting to the end of its 18th hour and erupting in fury that not everything was explained, simply because the show thumbs its nose at the idea that conventional explanations could ever be satisfying.

It leans, instead, on emotional payoffs — or at least the promise of them. Now that Evil Cooper is out of prison and Regular Cooper (still masquerading as Dougie) appears to be on the cusp of revelation about his true identity, it seems more likely than ever that the miniseries is headed toward some sort of confrontation between the two, most likely in Twin Peaks itself. But it’s building to this so deliberately that every little step toward that denouement feels like a major victory in and of itself.

For instance, with every week of the show, we spend a little more time in Twin Peaks, as the series teases out what happened to various characters we haven’t seen just yet. (We still haven’t seen Audrey, though, which is starting to feel like a deliberate withholding strategy. At least we heard her name in this episode.) This storytelling conceit also gives the growing sense that Twin Peaks itself might have been tapped into some mystical strangeness, but it was simply another tip of another iceberg in a whole world of weird.

That’s why hours like “Part 7” are necessary — they give the sense that the show is headed somewhere, even if it’s taking its time getting there. You can watch it and try to puzzle out its weird clues, or you can simply enjoy its all-pervasive atmosphere, or you can let yourself be swept along by the emotional undercurrents. But hours like this are necessary to all of those approaches, if you’re going to feel like the show has somewhere to go.

Make no mistake, however: This isn’t a suddenly plot-heavy hour of TV. It’s just plot-heavy for Twin Peaks. It’s still weird and wonderful and warped, with all sorts of strange little bits and pieces around its edges. It’s still the show where characters will have a relatively straightforward meeting — about the identity of that headless corpse found way back in the premiere — while a dark, strange figure shambles along in the background and the soundtrack burbles ominously. Twin Peaks only works if it feels like a normal TV show that’s being haunted by something hard to explain. Of all of the hours of this miniseries, “Part 7” comes the closest to achieving that ideal.