The belated return of David Lynch’s iconic TV show, during President Trump’s first year in office, seemed to offer audiences a chance to bask in early ’90s nostalgia: an era synonymous with irony, playfulness, and the neoliberal “end of history.” Instead, viewers were confronted with a profoundly unsettling neo-horror text that is deeply “Trumpian” on many levels: narratively obstinate, emotionally capricious, tonally uneven, and often violently perverse. To this end, there was always something dubiously amnesiac about 21st-century sentimentality for Twin Peaks (1990–1991), a show from the Reagan-Bush era whose idiosyncratic storylines were organised around the brutal murder of a young woman with a history of incestuous sexual abuse. Further complicating matters, Twin Peaks re-emerged within a complex, fractious cultural moment that seems more ideologically schizophrenic than that which hosted the original series.
This chapter suggests that Twin Peaks: The Return is best understood as an acutely redolent “return of the repressed.” Arguing that the series’ Gothic abstractions deliberately resist any comforting escape from the socio-political realities of the American present, examples of Trump-era resonance abound. Engaging with cutting-edge scholarly work on both Twin Peaks and the phenomenon of Trumpism, the essay engages with key critical issues – counter-nostalgia; American presidencies and the Žižekean “obscene father”; post-2008 neoliberal crisis; repetition and the Freudian uncanny – which loop inexorably towards the final episode’s evocation of the nightmarish mise en abyme at the heart of contemporary American culture.