With the season premiere of Game of Thrones on Sunday night, some viewers faced a new quandary: which show to watch first, Thrones or Twin Peaks? Both shows have a strong presence on social media, which means as a fan you must take precautions to avoid discussions and spoilers for whichever show you don’t watch in real time. Both shows are prone to “Wait — what just happened?” moments. (In GoT’s case, it’s most likely sudden deaths, but then there’s also stuff like Ed Sheeran. For Peaks, it’s… well, every other scene.)
True, Peaks has a much smaller audience than Thrones. In fact, I’m glad Showtime committed to airing all 18 hours of David Lynch’s it’s-all-one-movie before it premiered, because otherwise I’d fear the channel might pull it due to baffled cult interest. But this brings me to my point: I realized about a month ago that Twin Peaks was giving me as much pleasure as anything else on television right now. Thus the return of Game of Thrones was going to pose a challenge.
GoT is the rare pop-cultural phenomenon that keeps on justifying its popularity. The show proved once again on Sunday evening that it is one of the most beautifully produced series on TV, and a marvel of literary adaptation. What co-producer-writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have accomplished in bringing George R.R. Martin’s books to the small screen is truly impressive. With such a large cast and multiple, often overlapping, subplots, GoT might easily have become mired in its own thick narrative muck. Instead, at its best, it soars like one of Danys’s dragons: huge, yet graceful. The season premiere had a lot of table-setting storytelling — at once self-recapping the saga and pointing it toward its future — but it did so with a satisfying forthrightness. Lannisters, sister and brother, defending the throne and setting up their “din-asty”; Sansa, proving to be a stronger tactician than Jon Snow; Sam the bedpan-emptying librarian; Daenerys and her crew coming home to roost. All of this was accomplished with as much efficiency as you’d want from a show that gets much of its satisfaction from its voluptuous spectacle.
By contrast, Twin Peaks is a confounding puzzle, part thriller, part sitcom, part hallucination. This week’s installment, the tenth episode, found Naomi Watts’s Janey-E Jones finally vibing on what the rest of us have been noticing: that Kyle MacLachlan’s Cooper is one buff middle-aged dude, and that, as Dougie Jones, it’s possible to look past his presentation as a thick-headed fellow and see him as an object of desire. The Jones’ sexual release was at once very funny and very liberating for this subplot.
One of the things I enjoy most about Peaks is that you don’t have to understand exactly what’s going on at any given moment, that the show yields up its greatest rewards when you just go with its flow, surrendering to the idea that you are experiencing David Lynch’s vision, not imposing your own. This is in total opposition to Game of Thrones, a show whose full enjoyment requires that you know precisely who’s-who, who’s-where, and why at any given moment of its wizardly, 3D-chess storytelling.
To put it more simply: Game of Thrones is a triumph of plotting (“plot” in the sense of what-happens-next and “plot” in the sense of characters scheming against other characters), whereas Twin Peaks exists as a rebuke to plot, in beautiful resistance to the era of TV recapping, in which every dot must be connected to another dot, every scene decoded and explained. Honey, if you get bogged down in trying to explain what the Woodsmen are or what that sound is that Ben Horne and Beverly Paige are trying to identify, you are going to get lost or bored fast.
Me, I’m entranced. Yes, this Sunday’s Peaks served certain narrative functions. It further connected the Dougie-dots to the Mitchum brothers in Vegas and to “Ike the Spike.” And it reminded us of the primacy of Laura Palmer in these proceedings, as she appeared in a brief vision to Lynch’s Gordon. But what was the moment that stood out most for you? For me, it was the long, gorgeous closing sequence at the Bang Bang Bar, with Rebekah Del Rio singing “No Stars,” a dreamy ballad co-written by Lynch. Lynch has been using these musical sequences to close out episodes, but none, I think, has received as much screen time as this one. You may have noticed Moby making a cameo on guitar — a less obtrusive cameo than Ed Sheeran’s sore-thumb appearance on Game of Thrones. But the primary focus as Peaks closed up for the evening was the hypnotic melancholy of Del Rio’s voice, the languid pull of her phrasing. Del Rio — she appeared in that other Lynch/Naomi Watts project, Mulholland Drive — drew us back into that atmosphere in which Twin Peaks thrives: the urgent unknowable. And so I freely I admit it: I watch Game of Thrones more out of critic’s-duty than pleasure. Twin Peaks I watch for pure enjoyment.
Twin Peaks: The Return airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Showtime. Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.