Ever since watching Mulholland Drive, I have been keen to watch some more of Lynch’s stuff, which I have now done. I started this off with Twin Peaks, and it has quickly become one of my favorite TV shows of all time. A great blend of humor, mystery, melodrama, and surrealism, Twin Peaks turned out to be a very captivating show.
Though the show focuses on the death of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) and subsequent investigation thereof, it actually has a lot more to offer than just a mystery. Pitched as being sort of a TV show version of Lynch’s previous film, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks again explores the rift between idealized small town American life and the dark current of passion running underneath it. Twin Peaks one ups Blue Velvet in this respect: it is able to take a deeper look into the evil that lurks behind the small town veneer, rather than just stating that the discrepancy exists.
The show starts with local man Pete Martell (Jack Nance) discovering Laura Palmer’s body. The local Sheriff, Harry S Truman (Michael Ontkeen), is notified and it becomes clear that Laura’s death greatly resembles the death of another young woman, Theresa Banks. This brings the attention of the FBI, in the form of Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), to Twin Peaks, and the formerly hidden evil to the surface.
As the investigation begins, we get to see just how weird the inhabitants of Twin Peaks are. The cast of characters is (in my opinion) the main thing that any TV show has going for it, because the viewer will have to spend a lot more time with the characters on a TV show than the characters in just about any movie. If you don’t like them or they aren’t interesting, then you’re probably not going to keep watching the show, at least that’s how I usually decide whether to watch a series or not. There is a gigantic cast of characters here, each more colorful than the last.
Cooper, as the main character, is great. There’s really not another way to say it. He’s pretty adorable, seeming really super nice and friendly but also a very competent FBI agent. He solves crimes using dream logic and Tibetan philosophy. He really finds a home in Twin Peaks, something that his forensics colleague Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) can’t say, who is “lacking in some of the social niceties.” He offers a great sarcastic counterpoint to Agent Cooper, even if he’s not on the show that much. On the Twin Peaks side of the law enforcement, you have Sheriff Truman, who’s a pretty solid guy and stands behind Cooper even when he wants to solve crimes using his unorthodox methods. Hawk (Michael Horse) offers a lot of mythical guidance as one of the deputies. The other deputy, Andy (Harry Goaz), is a tall goofy guy who cries at most of the crime scenes, and is involved with the station’s secretary, Lucy Moran (Kimmy Robertson).
Helping and not helping with the investigation are several of the townspeople. One of the most memorable is Margaret, aka The Log Lady (Catherine E Coulson), a mysterious woman who is always accompanied by an equally mysterious log. She is one of my favorites on the show because she perfectly combines the strangeness and humor of the show; it’s funny that she’s carrying this log around everywhere but it’s also a little creepy. Nadine (Wendy Robie) and Big Ed Hurley (Everett McGill) are a local couple who have a pretty uninteresting subplot in the grand scheme of things, but is also pretty funny and insane. You also have Laura’s high school friends Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle), Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), her secret boyfriend James Hurley (James Marshall), and her public boyfriend Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) who’s secretly dating Shelly Johnson (Madchen Amick) who’s publicly married to Leo Johnson (Eric DaRe). Practically everybody in this town is having an affair and if they’re not having an affair than they have some other secret, maybe both.
Laura, for her part, turns out to have been a drug addict and generally very wild, while most thought she was a model citizen. In fact, many of the characters eventually are either revealed to be the opposite of what they first seemed, or actually transform into their opposites (without giving too much away, I’ll leave it at that). I really like this in a show because it gives the characters a chance to change rather than just being static the whole time, which is what happens in a lot of the more episodic TV shows.
Episodic this show is not. You really have to watch all of the episodes in order, because everything builds on the previous episode. It’s entirely a continuous story. While the “main plot” is designed to find out who killed Laura Palmer, there are tons of subplots that lighten things up. The show is probably darker in tone compared to other TV shows at the time, but compared to the stuff we have now it’s relatively light.
I have yet to find another person (if you’re reading this, please identify yourself) who doesn’t see a drop off in season two. Without saying who it is, I will say they do reveal Laura’s killer a few episodes into the show. It is widely believed that after they revealed Laura’s killer, the show lost its focus and momentum, and just vaguely drifted and dropped in the ratings until it was finally cancelled. I disagree. Focusing on Laura’s killer for too long would have dragged the show down in my opinion, though admittedly I wasn’t really watching it to find out who killed her. I just love the characters and the weird inexplicable stuff that happens. Lynch wanted to keep the killer’s identity a mystery, which I also think would have been fine, as long as the plot continued to move along. Lynch takes us into some pretty weird stuff, with these two other dimensional realms that represent good and evil. This moves way past a matter of just being “who killed Laura Palmer” and goes straight into the nature of evil, how impenetrable, unfathomable, and invincible it is. The way things work out, they still could have done this without revealing Laura’s killer, because the human identity of Laura’s killer turns out not to matter as much. He or she is basically just a tool of greater forces that we cannot possibly hope to comprehend. The show does try, and that’s what makes it interesting.
It gets sort of SPOILERY in the next paragraph.
I do agree that there are some subplots towards the end that didn’t need to be there. That’s true of the whole show really, but some of them I found entertaining and others I didn’t. The whole thing where James gets super angsty and runs away was pretty stupid and unnecessary, and overall just annoying. It does show that it’s not just Twin Peaks that’s completely insane though, maybe just that general area of the northwest. Cooper’s romance felt a bit forced, but MacLachlan sold it as best he could and if he’d had a better actress playing opposite him I think it would have worked. Also, for the record, I approve of the crazy and superfluous subplots with Nadine thinking she’s a teenager and Ben Horne (Audrey’s father and owner of the local hotel, played by Richard Beymer) thinking he’s a confederate general. Hilarious.
Both of the seasons end on terrible cliffhangers, and the second one gets semi-resolved in the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me which is an interesting film but looses much of the humor of the original series. Also of note is the character Gordon Cole, Coop’s boss at the FBI, played excellently by Lynch himself. I always love it when directors are in their own stuff (I even appreciated Tarantino’s cameo in Django Unchained), but aside from that Cole is still a great character and he works great with Cooper. All around, it’s just a great series and I can’t recommend it enough. If you’re put off by Lynch, just know that he only directed a few of the episodes, and it’s network TV in the 90s so he can’t get too weird. It’s probably the most mainstream thing he’s ever done, and it’s not any worse because of that.
“Damn fine coffee!”
Though the series really has to be watched in its glorious entirety, here is my selection of ten episodes that are the most important for the plot/I liked the most:
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot” (obviously)
Season 1, Episode 3: “Zen, Or the Skill to Catch a Killer”
Season 1, Episodes 8: “The Last Evening” (finale)
Season 2, Episode 1: “May the Giant Be With You”
Season 2, Episode 7: “Lonely Souls”
Season 2, Episode 9: “Arbitrary Law”
Season 2, Episode 15: “Slaves and Masters”
Season 2, Episode 16: “The Condemned Woman”
Season 2, Episode 21: “Miss Twin Peaks”
Season 2, Episode 22: “Beyond Life and Death” (series finale)
For Further Reading: