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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Miss Twin Peaks

In the very last brand new episode of Twin Peaks ever televised, Agent Dale Cooper was told by Laura Palmer (or her doppelganger or something that looked like her) that she would see him again in 25 years.

So there are only six more years to go, since the original air date of that episode was in June of 1991. Or maybe we have already seen that promised reunion. In a first-season episode of the series, Agent Cooper meets Laura in a dream in which he seems visibly aged. And at the end of the 1992 feature film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, the two have a meeting that appears to be the promised quarter-century-hence reunion.

That’s the thing about Twin Peaks. Even after you’ve watched it, you still don’t know for sure what you’ve seen exactly. You can’t really spoil it for someone else who hasn’t seen it because there is never any resolution. Anyway, Laura and Dale might have had another reunion at the beginning of this month, but Dale didn’t show up. But several other members of the old Twin Peaks cast did, including Sheryl Lee who played Laura, on the USA Network series Psych, in an episode called “Dual Spires.” Yes, it was a tribute to the David Lynch series.

I recently relived the series myself. When the Missus made the mistake of mentioning that she had never seen it, I introduced it to our nightly rotation of television viewing. I have had the entire TV series on videotape for years, thanks to the generosity of my friend Dayle. Not long ago it was re-released on DVD, but who needs that new-fangled technology? Watching it on tape, slightly distorted by the conversion from NCTS to PAL video format, approximates the sensation of seeing it via terrestrial waves and generally adds to the weirdness and slightly out-of-joint sensation of the experience. Who needs crystal clear digital quality when you’re being transported to the strange, perverted world of David Lynch.

Incidentally, even though I and many others tend to speak of Twin Peaks as a David Lynch creation and oeuvre, it is worth remembering that many people have argued convincingly that, creatively, it may be more accurate to consider TP as much or more the work of series co-creator Mark Frost, whose talent for the weird and quirky was previously on display as a writer for the seminal cop show Hill Street Blues.

As people old enough remember, Twin Peaks was something of sensation when it debuted in April of 1990. It was not quite like anything that had been on primetime TV before. It was hip and ironic and post-modern and defiantly inscrutable, bringing art house cinema sensibility to our living rooms. Within fourteen months, however, the public fascination had faded. The writers’ penchant for piling up way more loose ends than they resolved finally took its toll on the masses of viewers. People complained when they dragged out the Laura Palmer murder mystery too long and then got bored after it was resolved.

Those of us who lived in the Pacific Northwest, where the series was set and the pilot movie and some of the series locations were filmed, felt a special bond to the show. And I contend that those of us who were blow-ins, like Kyle MacLachlan’s FBI agent, took it especially to heart. Frankly, there is something a bit dark and spooky about that part of America. Maybe it’s the Native American heritage, maybe it’s the landscapes or just all those trees and the dark winters. But there is just some kind of weirdness to the place, and by luck or design Lynch somehow caught a form of it.

Seeing the series again after all these years was a strange experience. Somehow my memory of it seemed to stop after the cliff-hanger eighth episode that closed the first season. So much was packed in those nine hours, that was nearly enough. But the series went on for 22 more episodes. The explanation for what happened to Laura, such as it was, was only the starting point for the writers’ metaphysical/supernatural musings. The second season built to another cliffhanger, and then the series just stopped, and all the loose ends just hung there dangling. Did Doc Hayward actually kill Ben Horne? Is Ben really Donna’s father? Would Leo get out of the precarious predicament in which he was left by the insanely criminal Windom Earle? Did and Andrew and Pete survive the explosion in the savings & loan? And what about Audrey, who was chained to the entrance of the vault? What happened after Nadine recovered her memory? Did Annie get out of the Black Lodge okay? And, most importantly, what was to become of Agent Cooper and everyone else now that he is seemingly possessed by evil Bob?

The multiple characters-in-jeopardy cliffhanger of the first season had been so over the top that one suspects that Lynch didn’t expect the series to be renewed and he was simply having fun with the soap opera genre. But maybe he was so annoyed at having to work out resolutions for all those hanging threads that he came up an even harder-to-resolve finale for the second season, confident that this time the chaos would stick.

Maybe Lynch’s feature film two years later was his way of answering some of the dangling questions, as cryptically as ever, but it sure didn’t feel like it. At the time, there was talk of a whole series of Twin Peaks movies, mainly because the series was so popular in Japan that the studio honchos thought that audience would pay for them. But there were no more sequels. The closest we got was Lynch’s 2001 film Mulholland Drive, which began life as another TV series but wound up being a one-off. Filled with many of the same familiar themes and tics as Twin Peaks, it was nearly like a remake but set in Los Angeles instead of a small Northwest town.

What is particularly interesting about re-watching Twin Peaks now is that it drives home how much it influenced primetime drama. Weirdness and post-modernism became de rigueur for any smart, trendy TV series. Perhaps the best current example is Marc Cherry’s Desperate Housewives. It arguably does for suburbia what TP did for isolated towns. The Lynchian influence is clear. The original pilot had Sheryl Lee as the deceased narrator, although she was ultimately replaced by Brenda Strong, another TP alumna. (She played David Warner’s assistant who tried to kill a slumbering Michael Ontkean.) DH clearly echoes TP with its blend of sprawling cast, tried-and-true soap opera plots, violent murders and dark comedy. The link became entirely un-missable when Kyle MacLachlan showed up as a member of the cast.

Twin Peaks always had a high hipness quotient. Much of this has to do with Lynch’s direction of key episodes but also with the eclectic roster of other directors who helmed as well. These included Lesli Linka Glatter (who went on to work on Gilmore Girls, The West Wing, ER and Mad Men), cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, Tim Hunter (River’s Edge) and Todd Holland (who went on to The Larry Sanders Show and Malcolm in the Middle).

Is Twin Peaks now an artifact of its time? Has it aged well? In the end, the question is irrelevant. Twin Peaks was always outside of its time, never mind every other time. The clothing, hairstyles and mannerisms were always more evocative of some parallel universe 1950s than the 1990s we were living in at the time. Twin Peaks was so deliberately square that it is was hip. At least for a while. And while its look and style were strangely timeless, the novelty was ephemeral. All but a cult core of viewers lost interest and, in the grand scheme of things, fairly fast. But for those of us who cannot quite forget the series, a visit back is like visiting the town of Twin Peaks itself. Time there seems to have stopped a long time ago, and it’s easy to enough to get caught up in its weirdness all over again.

-S.L., 9 December 2010

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