Viewer's Discretion: Two shows return with challenging seasons
Editor's note: As cooler weather sets in, more of us will be snuggled up to watch some television. We welcome resident streaming expert John Seven's new weekly column reviewing what's new on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and occasionally network television — telling us if it's indeed binge-worthy.
Top of the Lake: China Girl (Hulu)
With the return of "Top of the Lake" on the Sundance Channel, Elizabeth Moss brings her inward-looking, awkward police detective Robin Griffin back from her home in New Zealand to the center of her adult life in Australia. In New Zealand, there was plenty of moody examination of secrets and traumas, and in Australia, we find that what haunts you is not tied to a location at all — it nestles inside you like a parasite to bear down on you wherever you might run.
This season is slightly more of a police procedural, but not by much. The body of a dead woman is found in a suitcase, washed ashore on a beach, and Robin heads the investigation. Under the guidance of director/writer Jane Campion, the plot winds through an examination of the psychology of women, particularly in context of motherhood and questions of what a mother is, and what a womb means. In story terms, this takes several paths, including Robin's own story of coming to terms with the child she put up for adoption, a child conceived in a rape, and also the moral and psychological questions brought up by surrogacy. As with the previous series, masculine toxicity is a constant subtext.
Moss continues to be one of the most interesting actors around, but the real revelation is Gwendoline Christie as her police partner. If you only know the 6 3 actress from "Game Of Thrones," you'll marvel at the extra dimensions she is allowed here, from haughty to goofy.
Twin Peaks: The Return (Showtime)
If the mystery at the center of the original "Twin Peaks" was "Who killed Laura Palmer?" this revival's might be "What is the plot?" That's its strength actually. In the original, the town of Twin Peaks functioned as a microcosm, examining the evils that men do. This new show's scope is immensely more expansive regarding geography and characters, a scattered presentation that offers something more like a puzzle being slowly pieced together than a standard television drama.
It's impossible to lay out a tidy plot, but much like the original series, "Twin Peaks: The Return" revolves around FBI Agent Dale Cooper, played here in several incarnations by Kyle McLachlan, for whom this series provides a showcase for evoking the darkest darkness and the most fumbling innocence. He's the major thread in director David Lynch's diffused tapestry, unfolding with the most experimental narrative structure I've seen on television with alternating aesthetics of neorealism and surrealism, creating something that is very much its own thing.
One caution — the puzzle, once completed, may not give you a crystal-clear image you expect, but that's to the show's advantage. Deliberately mysterious from start to finish, this is television like you've never encountered it. It doesn't end in your mind once the last alarming scene unfolds and it is made clear the completed puzzle was never meant to hold a tangible image anyhow. Figuring out what puzzle you've completed is another part of this process.
If this all feels like Lynch's epic swan song, I think that's deliberate. "Twin Peaks: The Return" stands as a singular artistic and philosophical statement from a true American iconoclast. It's also an outstretched hand — Lynch wants you, the viewer, to do some work with him. It's not always easy, but if you take his hand, you will be rewarded.
John Seven is a writer in North Adams who has never been satisfied by movies and television that are easy to come by. He likes to do some digging. Find him online at johnseven.me