Jessie Lilley
Buddy Barnett
Brad Linaweaver

November 2009     Web Edition     Issue #3

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The Mysterious Existence of

Twin Peaks

by Josh Bravo

For a television show that is bursting at the seams with secrets, it’s not a secret that Twin Peaks is one of the greatest cult television shows of all time. If you haven’t seen it, you’ve definitely heard about it. And if you have seen it, you’ve definitely talked about it.

If you fall into the “haven’t seen it” category, what are you doing here? Go watch it! Immediately! And when you come back, you can agree with mostly everyone on the importance of Twin Peaks; a show filled to the brim with mystery.

Its entire existence is a mystery in itself. The idea that something like this can exist on prime time television on a major network—not HBO or Showtime, but ABC—the same channel as Full House (let that simmer for a second.) You could be watching the Olsen twins one minute and enter The Black Lodge the next. This show was so ahead of its time; it was almost as if David Lynch could see into the future. Like the early 90s showed up at a Halloween party dressed as the mid 2000s. David Lynch and Mark Frost really cemented the type of stories that you can tell on television; a model that is just blossoming today. Years and years before Breaking Bad or Mad Men or Game of Thrones, Twin Peaks was a completely new ballpark for TV to play in.

When it was devastating, it was incredibly devastating…

The pilot episode is one of the most memorable episodes of all time. It begins with the discovery of Laura Palmer’s body. This will be the crux of the entire series; the way it slowly unfolds the mystery and darkness and sadness of Laura’s death. How it traces the impact of her death with such detail and honesty. It really is remarkable. In a world where we hear about death constantly, and where death is a commonplace in drama, to see so much time taken in just the pilot alone, it was heartbreaking as much as it was mysterious. We see her father Leland (Ray Wise), react to the news of his daughter’s passing and slowly lose his grip on reality.

One Big Happy (L-R) Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie),
Laura/Maddy (Sheryl Lee) and Leland Palmer (Ray Wise)
Separately we will see her mother Sarah (Grace Zabriskie) react and hear her dreadful screams of pain. We see the effect it has on the school, the teacher’s slow reaction, the principals, Laura’s friends, the empty seat in the classroom, the constant crying and screaming. Everything is so powerful and visceral. And given the unspeakable sadness that we’ve witnessed from real violence in the media, this tragedy impacting Twin Peaks takes on a darker empathy. It will be tough to find a pilot dealing with a tragic death with more honestly than in that first hour of Twin Peaks.

When it was funny, it was really funny…

Twin Peaks is not a comedy. I’m not even sure if it’s a dark comedy. But, it does have a lot of strange humor. Something one might call, Lynchian Lunacy. The show has moments that are so weird, you can’t help but laugh. I mentioned Leland losing his grip on reality. His behavior throughout the show would appear to go from abnormal to manically happy. Some of the best moments are him singing and dancing to the 1943 song Mairzy Doats.* A joke that becomes all the more hilarious when you realize that co-creator Mark Frost, named Leland Palmer for Leland Palmer, who happens to be a Tony Award nominated dancer, singer and actress. There’s David Lynch himself playing the role of FBI agent Gordon Cole, who has a hearing disability and screams everything he says, to a scene where the coffee gets tainted by a fish in the percolator. How does a fish even get into a percolator? A character named Nadine, who falls into a coma after attempting suicide, only to wake up thinking she’s a teenager in high school. Or one of my favorite exchanges from the entire series;

Coop: Who’s the lady with the log?
Truman: We call her the log lady.

The Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson)

It has some of the most memorable and unique characters you’ll ever see on TV…

It goes without saying that most of the pilot as well as the rest of the series, is really built on Sheryl Lee’s performance as Laura. While the character is deceased from the opening scene, we still see the many different layers of Laura Palmer through flashbacks. Sheryl plays her which such raw and natural talent. Sheryl Lee wasn’t just playing the dead girl. Whether she was portraying herself in flashbacks or playing Laura’s similar looking cousin Maddy, there was an aura around her when she was on screen; as if something important was about to be revealed. Laura’s prom photo would be on screen at the end of every episode, forcing the audience to look her in the eyes. This wasn’t melodrama for the sake of it; it was award worthy technique.

Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn)

Speaking of award worthy, meet Agent Dale Cooper, who may just be one of the most elusive and wonderful leading characters to ever grace the small screen (played by the enigmatic Kyle MacLachlan). Having previously worked with Lynch (Paul Atreides in Dune and Jeffrey Beaumont in Blue Velvet), the director and actor relationship really hits a high note here, presenting what is arguably their best collaboration. Cooper, who is the FBI agent assigned to the town of Twin Peaks to solve the murder of Laura, brings a boy scout innocence with a streak of sleuthing genius that would make Sherlock Holmes proud. Cooper displays quirky mannerisms and an abstract view on how to solve the case. These include (but are not limited to) analyzing his dreams for evidence, or a technique involving throwing a rock at bottles containing different suspect names. Putting it simply, he’s an oddball, but he makes the show.

Then we have Audrey Horne (the magnificent Sherilyn Fenn), who is just effortlessly cool. With a curiosity that would kill a cat, Audrey was one of the few shining lights of hope through the series. With Laura not among the living, Audrey takes over for the strong female character; intelligent, clever and brave. (And she made smoking a cigarette look so cool.)

And then there is the character that induced the most nightmares. The horrific and terrifying antagonist and suspect in Laura’s death, Killer Bob (Frank Silva). You most definitely needed every light on when watching a scene involving this character. An evil spirit that possesses bodies to kill, Killer Bob can be found in a place called The Black Lodge, which is a realm of pure evil and only exists in another plane of reality. Inside this red room is the Man from Another Place (Michael J. Anderson); the little man who talks backwards and dances; the iconic character in the red suit that would give cryptic messages to solving Laura’s murder. Weird? I know. And that’s just scratching the surface. Speaking of weird…

When it was weird, it made you
question your own sanity…

There’s plenty of weird to go around. What starts out as an investigation into a murder turns into something much more. In a world where nothing is as it seems, any other show would hold your hand with characters that you can relate to. They would give you someone to make you feel comfortable in a setting that is very uncomfortable. But this isn’t any other show. The feelings and themes that are raised here are incredibly abstract. When did a TV show make you feel this way? And why is it making you feel this way? On the surface, Twin Peaks was a farcical soap opera. It had all the basic model features of a TV show. A lullaby of an opening song, a small town where everybody knows everyone—picket fences, breathtaking scenery and enough coffee and pie to last a lifetime. But again, this all lies on the surface. Once you begin to dig deeper, you start to realize the bizarre center waiting inside this hard candy shell. There’s a thin line between realism and surrealism and David Lynch dances along it with alacrity. The most outrageous moments aren’t eye rolling; in this town, they are reality. Everything is perfectly naturalistic until it’s time for it to not be, and you never can tell the difference.

Instead of taking a break from reality, Lynch simply broke through its boundary. In this world where dreams and reality co-exist; the mundane and often ordinary backdrops of Twin Peaks are catapulted into the void. It would seem that Lynch is saying: “reality is overrated.” It’s like the penultimate moment before sleep, as you enter your dreams but you’re still awake.

As mentioned, the reality of Twin Peaks is amazing. It perfectly changed the possibilities of television. It wasn’t afraid to be visceral. It didn’t always have to make sense and it embraced the unknown. It made it on network TV when nothing like it had done so before. The networks thought they wanted weird but when it comes down to it, they really didn’t as the series was cancelled after two seasons.

But Wait, There’s More!

After the show was canned, Lynch took the story backwards to make a prequel that became Fire Walk With Me. This is Laura’s movie, which covers the last seven days leading up to her murder. While Twin Peaks ventured into the weird and dark and funny all at the same time, Fire Walk With Me is simply a dark horror movie. While Mark Frost still had a producer credit, this was all Lynch and felt more like one of his earlier films. Before cameras even started rolling, the production had a few setbacks. Lara Flynn Boyle, who played Laura’s best friend, was gone. And the biggest blow of them all was that Kyle MacLachlan did not want to return as Agent Cooper. Twin Peaks without Coop is like a donut without a hole. He would eventually end up shooting a few scenes but his absence was felt.

Even with all the casting issues, the film managed to get most of the original cast back as well as adding David Bowie, Kiefer Sutherland and Harry Dean Stanton. Now, if Twin Peaks was dipping its toes in the darkness of Laura’s death, Fire Walk With Me dove in head first. Since the format was now a theatrical film opposed to a television show, they had a lot more freedom to show the horrific layers leading up to the beginning of Twin Peaks. It isn’t always easy to watch. It deals with molestation, murder, sex, violence and sadness in ways that Twin Peak wasn’t able to. And in a way, I don’t think audiences were ready to see the show portrayed that way. The film debuted at Cannes and was met with boos from the audience, leading up to a box office flop. Lynch wouldn’t make another film for five years, nor work with Kyle MacLachlan again. It’s an uncompromising and unrelenting film that was made when Twin Peaks was dead in the ground. A show that was met with so much success turns into a movie that is met with so much disapproval.

But, the great thing about pop culture is it always finds a way to stay relevant. And when you stay relevant, you become celebrated. It has been decades since the first episode of Twin Peaks and the show is as important as ever. Even Fire Walk With Me has found a resurgence as an important piece of the story. Though it didn’t last as long as it could have, or should have, film and TV aficionados continue to embrace it and discuss it as if it were still on the air. It is literally standing the test of time. No matter how scary and weird it might be, and who knows what places it will go in the future, the bottom line is that Twin Peaks is a masterpiece with a solid place in television history. There is enough to keep fans talking for years to come. So, do yourself a huge favor and get yourself some pie and a damn fine cup of coffee. Make sure to speak backwards and forwards and remember, the owls are not what they seem.

Twin Peaks, population 51,201.

I promise, once you enter, you can’t look back.

*Mairzy Doats was written by Milton Drake, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston and was first recorded by The Pied Pipers in 1943.