The return of cult favorite Twin Peaks was heralded as one of the biggest television events of 2017. We were promised mind-bending new mysteries, classic David Lynch strangeness, and a whole lot of celebrity cameos. Technically, viewers have gotten all of the above from the Showtime revival, but not in the way any of us were expecting. Last night’s episode, "Part 9," officially brought Twin Peaks: The Return to its halfway mark, and the beloved Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) is completely MIA, our hero Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle McLachlan) is a bumbling man-baby named Dougie Jones, and very few scenes have anything to do with each other. Half of the time it's impossible to understand what's going on, and I don't mean that in a fun, Lynchian way. There’s but one major bright spot in all of this madness, and her name is Diane (Laura Dern).
Twin Peaks viewers have been waiting to meet Diane Evans for nearly three decades, since Agent Cooper began sending his mysterious secretary voice memos in the original series, which premiered on ABC in 1990. Endless questions circled the unseen woman: would we ever meet Diane? Where was Diane? Did Diane even exist? All of these conundrums were answered in The Return’s "Part 6," when the platinum-bobbed former FBI assistant ominously turns around in a (likely Philadelphian) bar and declares, "Hello, Albert."
The mystique of Diane continues in "Part 7" when we actually get more than five full seconds of screen-time with Coop’s ex-secretary. Diane is completely over seeing her former FBI colleagues and signals as much with a single withering glance and a flick of her cigarette. As agents Gordon Cole (creator David Lynch) and Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) try to convince Diane to see the man the world believes is Agent Cooper — whom she now despises — she doesn’t mince words, telling them both to fuck off and originally refuses them the Twin Peaks life water that is coffee. Eventually, Diane drops the iconic line, "My attitude is none of your fucking business."
Despite the woman’s protests about seeing Dale, she eventually agrees to travel with Gordon and Albert to South Dakota to verify the man known as "Dale Cooper" is actually Dale Cooper. He’s not, and she realizes as much in an emotional conversation hinting Evil Coop may have sexually assaulted Diane. In "Part 9," the "tough cookie" keeps up her winning streak mid-return flight from South Dakota when Gordon asks Diane if she’s willing to make a quick stop in Buckhorn before heading back to Philly. Dern’s character offers up another perfect line, which I will use from this day forward whenever I’m over a party. “Fuck you, Gordon, I wanna go home.” She only agrees to the spur of the moment trip to eastern South Dakota in exchange for two more airplane-sized bottles of booze. And Diane gets them without saying a single word. When the FBI group arrives in Buckhorn and Diane is told she can’t smoke in a morgue, the icy blonde screams, "It’s a fucking morgue," while defiantly brandishing her cigarette. No one has any response. Diane is a master.
Even in Diane’s quieter and softer moments, there’s an electricity and tension to her scenes that feels lacking elsewhere. Take the instance where she and Gordon share a cigarette in a random morgue vestibule. It’s clear these longtime friends have enjoyed experiences like this before and they both dearly miss them. "You want to finish it off?" she asks with a smirk, taking her cigarette back from Gordon. He can’t help but beam at her while refusing another puff. Now, compare this scene to the one that immediately follows it, where "The Zone" seeker William Hastings (Matthew Lillard AKA Shaggy from the Scooby-Doo movies) sobs about his dead mistress. It’s terrible, loud, snot-filled, and goes on for far too long, as do many other similar moments this season. At one point I had to turn on the subtitles to understand what, exactly, William was saying. Before The Return, viewers had never even heard of this man or his late girlfriend Ruth — does anyone really care about his emotional trauma right now? Sorry, Shaggy, but no.
The same problem can be said for a man fans actually do care about, Dale Cooper. The FBI agent has two divergent The Return stories between his evil doppelgänger and his very muted life as Dougie Jones. Evil Coop’s plot is filled with black contact lenses, random criminals no one can feel invested in, creepy voices, and a failing plan to kill the real Coop. Actual Dale is trapped in ill-fitting clothing as Dougie Jones, unable to remember his true, genius self. Instead, he spends far too much time scribbling on documents, mumbling, and wordlessly staring at the vestiges of his former life as a badass FBI agent. Even his poor wife Janey-E Jones (the wonderful Naomi Watts) is limited to using an impossibly breathy voice or scolding her husband and those who mean him harm. And none of this is even taking place in the eponymous town of Twin Peaks. Instead, we're stuck in the less glamorous parts of Las Vegas. Seeing Dale away from damn good coffee and pie worked for a few episodes, but now we’re halfway through The Return and he’s still silently gawking at Audrey Horne-esque red pumps and dribbling java into his mouth.
Cooper(s) may be the technical star of the show, but Diane is the one I'm tuning in to watch.
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