The Beginning: Twin Peaks
A red curtained room suspended in time and space, a cautionary giant and a dancing dwarf, a lady with a log, the murder of an enchanting high schooler and “damn good coffee”; this is the world of Twin Peaks, a town in which no one is quite innocent, everyone is eccentric and the whole world is just a bit off kilter. It’s enthralling, lush, sexy, utterly baffling and just plain weird, but completely irresistible.
David Lynch dreamed up Twin Peaks in the late eighties with Mark Frost and the writer-producer-director team brought their surreal world to the small screen for two seasons between 1990 and 1991. Part murder-mystery, part small town drama with supernatural
and comedic elements woven in, it is cinematic in its scope and Lynch and Frost were able to bring a theatrical production to television which developed a devoted cult following. It begins with the murder of Laura Palmer and it is made clear early on that she was involved in risky behavior, setting up several characters as likely suspects. But nothing in Twin Peaks is predictable or as it seems and the show quickly veers to a very different and disturbing conclusion. The case, with the help of idiosyncratic FBI agent Dale Cooper and the ineffective Twin Peaks police, is solved quickly, leaving the “who killed Laura Palmer” tagline stale and half a season still to fill.
In the way of plot, Twin Peaks feels like a show that wasn’t meant to stretch past a few episodes, if even a pilot. Its whole premise is built around a murder which once solved is left without a satisfying conclusion and clear direction of where to go next. The second half of season two is filled with immaterial subplots, some of which are boring and most of which never get proper resolutions. Much of Peaks feels haphazard, poorly thought out and pointless, just shadowy bits of dreams woven together to make a barely cohesive story which, in all honestly, is just was it was after Lynch left to work on other projects. For what it is, however, in all its aesthetic glory, Twin Peaks is a work of art, a masterpiece even. Once you relinquish any hope of answers, conclusions or sense, and just take it in stride for what it is, it becomes magical.
What is so great about Twin Peaks is that it’s a show based heavily on the physical atmosphere of its world and the peculiarities of the characters who inhabit it. It doesn’t need good plot, any plot at all in fact, to be entertaining.
It strolls along at its own pace, pausing along the way to scare or intrigue with its bizarre and zany images. Such is the production design, that Twin Peaks would still be watchable with the volume off (though Angelo Badalamenti’s score is a constant and crucial hallmark of the Twin Peaks brand). The deep reds, whimsical designs, rich lighting and concise camera angles create a tone that is so undeniably Twin Peaks that “Twin Peaks” becomes an adjective in itself.
It is the great attention paid to small nuances and quirks that keeps the show afloat when the plot strays. There is no reason, for example, to have a horse appear in the middle of the Palmer’s living room or for Benjamin Horne to become obsessed with re-enacting the Civil War, for a llama to be in the waiting room, for Leland’s singing and dancing bout, for a party thrown in celebration of Leo Johnson losing all brain function or for a lady who talks to a log (to name just a fraction of the many dreamlike sequences). But it is these nonsensical oddities and character eccentricities which further develop the enthralling world of Twin Peaks and make the show the cult landmark it is.
Prequel: Fire Walk With Me
During the first two seasons, audiences are enthralled with Laura Palmer and though they stare at her prom picture as the credits roll after every episode, we never really get to meet or know Laura and her death is still an enigma even after her killer is revealed. A year after Twin Peaks ended with declining ratings, Fire Walk With Me was released as a prequel and managed to tie up all the loose ends completely, even if it does provide more disturbing details than necessary.
Fire Walk With Me gets off to a slow start but once you get through the mandatory set up, it details every moment of Laura’s last night in terrifying detail that takes the signature eeriness of the original show to another
dimension. There’s more supernatural, more gore and less dry humor but with Lynch once again in the writer and director’s seat, Fire Walk is a seamless extension of Twin Peaks and still exhibits the dark quirkiness of the original show. While the series is a more meandering look at the town’s characters, the film gets down to business in a more necessary way because it was almost an obligatory film to make. Out of context of course, the film makes no more sense out of anything than the show did; it doesn’t explain what the Red Room, Bob or anything else actually is. Even so, Fire Walk is an immensely satisfying film which provides a certain degree of closure to Laura’s death and true to the original show, feels almost art-house in visual design.
The Return: Season Three
In the final episode of Twin Peaks, the Red Room version of Laura Palmer cryptically tells Cooper, “I’ll see you again in 25 years.” She wasn’t far off, as tonight, when TV is once again graced by the presence of Twin Peaks, it will have been 26 years since that final episode aired. It’s hard to know what to expect from the eighteen episode revival; put simply it might be amazing and worth every minute of the quarter century wait, or it could fail miserably. The original Twin Peaks would be nearly impossible to recreate, but the only thing that season three truly needs to succeed, at least with devoted fans, are the strange quirks, extreme character personalities and haunting atmosphere that were so novel in 1990. Many are no doubt expecting answers to the countless riddles in the original series but the only way it can truly succeed is to create only more mystery and for Lynch to once again achieve the brilliantly strange aura that gave Twin Peaks its name. What glued audiences 26 years ago was the utter nonsense and absurdity of the town and its population. Revealing answers, pulling back the curtain, would ruin the mystique that gives Twin Peaks its appeal. It is the thrill of the mystery, the taboo of answers and the warped reality that made Twin Peaks what it is and it is that which will glue audiences once again.