Digital Polyphony

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A Look at Twin Peaks

Posted on February 9, 2011 at 1:58 AM

A Look at Twin Peaks

Weird, strange, bizarre, perhaps headache-inducing with twists, turns and all sorts of things you don't expect...welcome to the world of David Lynch. In the late 1980s he had an idea and with Mark Frost molded it into what has become one of the, if not the, biggest cult-following for a TV series to date. Not "biggest following" - that would still go to the likes of Star Trek or The X-Files, but as one of those come-and-go television shows that has a dedicated and faithful fanbase.

I recently ordered from Amazon and soon watched the show in its entirety. Simply put: if you love David Lynch movies as I do, this is the television version of that. It's not quite as "normal" as a Blue Velvet - more in line with Lost Highway or Mulholland Drive. Dreams and desires, secretes and mysteries, demons and a giant. It's random but is random with purpose, if that makes any sense. So I thought I'd write up a kind-of review and look back at Twin Peaks. This isn't something I'm "Nostalgic" for, so I didn't feel an article was suitable, just a really big blog.

Now the easiest way to approach Twin Peaks is that it had only two seasons. A short first season and a longer second one. Then the show was canceled, though Lynch planned three movies afterwards to complete the saga. Sadly that never happened, and we only got a prequel movie in Fire Walk With Me, a phrase used repeatedly in the show. Season One is pretty much flawless. It's tightly written and overall brilliant, leaving with a great cliffhanger into the second Season. Season Two had some amazing moments, but stumbles with too many characters and too many subplots to deal with and a lot of things that just don't really go anywhere or seem that important. It's not as tightly woven or focused, and yes even randomness in the Lynch world needs focus to work. Still though, it leaves you wanting more.

A Perfect Season

Season One introduces us to all the main players, and those players are really what Twin Peaks is about. You will come to love and know all of them, even if their sub-plots sometimes detract from the main plot at hand. The big characters are Kyle MacLaughlin's  Special Agent Dale Cooper (a precursor to a couple of other special agents from the FBI that will arrive on television in a few of which appears as a transexual in Season Two of this show) and Michael Ontkean as Twin Peaks Sheriff Harry S. Truman. Yes, that's his name.

It's a partnership brought together to solve a local murder of Laura Palmer, and when these two are in scenes, it's just fantastic. They slowly create a friendship as Truman is the down-to-earth local sheriff and Cooper is...well...Copper has interesting ways of solving things, such as thinking really hard when holding a rock of a suspect, throwing said rock, and if it breaks a bottle that's the person to go after. He also has odd dreams and visions, though Season Two expands on that far, far more (to a fault). MacLaughlin absolutely is his role. He was Lynch's guy for many years and in the DVD extras, they discuss that relationship and how he came to get involved (and love) working on Twin Peaks even though he feared for being kind of typecast. He manages to just create a great character.

Then you have one character that just owns every scene, and that is Ray Wise as Leland Palmer, father of the deceased. He. Is. Nuts. But I won't say why, you just have to see and enjoy the scenes he's in. Also he cries a lot. Outside of that, you have some great actors that I won't spend forever talking about, but everyone really suits their roles - usually for comedic relief in many cases, which helps take the weight off the seriousness of the rest of the show for a good balance.

The plot of the first season is just that, too: balanced. It is a strange blend of romance, comedy, drama, surrealism and strangeness all warped into a thriller. Every episode of the first season feels important and poignant to the plot, and the characters you realize you don't want to say goodbye to even for a moment.

On to Season Two

Then along comes Season Two. This is a season that shows a show doing two things: first jumping the shark, then not sure what to do after said jump. It can feel direction-less, mainly because it was because Frost and Lynch didn't agree on where to take the show (Lynch notes that the success of season one was a total surprise, so I'm thinking they didn't really plan this out) and it shows. Things are revealed far too soon, Lynch himself noting they revealed a major plot event far, far too early, but there's not enough plot leading up to that reveal and then leading to the season finale after to really draw you in. The characters repeat arcs from the first season, the usage of dreams and visions becomes a crutch and though Cooper is still great, Truman's character takes a serious nose-dive about mid-way through the season as he first becomes irrelevant, then drops off entirely.

The mystery still holds, thus it holds you. But nothing is contributed plot wise by the supporting cast either. An amnesia story? A potential maniac with brain damage that is never brought closure (that whole subplot goes on for way too long)? A love interest killed off (in fact, some of the best characters in the show killed off?) It just doesn't work entirely. Sub plots don't go anywhere, and characters come and go with no purpose or reason. That future special agent that's a transexual? He is in maybe three epsidoes then never seen or heard from again - leaving as randomly as he appeared. That's about how season two treats its characters.

About two thirds through, though, the season really finds some ground. It suddenly has a direction. it builds it great, the last few episodes just perfect. Then it rises and rises to an amazing cliffhanger then...

....nothing. There was no Season Three.

Not Meant to Be

I would venture to bet that if Twin Peaks were made today, it would be given a better chance by the viewing public. I think there's a better audience out there for shows like this today. Twin Peaks was arguably ahead of its time, and considering I felt it hadn't aged a day when watching it (save for some very 80s/early 90s melodrama acting) I feel pretty confident in saying that. Shows such as Supernatural, The X-Files (also influenced by Kolchak, another show I'm planning to write about), Lost and so on. It had a richness and depth to its world, dealt with a number of philosophical and mythological themes and ideas about dreams, the soul and existence and doesn't use those ideas in some shallow form of "naming something so people think it has meaning behind it." It actually does something with it.

Of course, Twin Peaks was one of those shows that was moved around all over the schedule by the network, and if there's anything we know...people don't like shit moved around. So a muddled second season combined with network scheduling as aimless as the season itself pretty much killed the show.

A Slice of Lynch

As much as I could just write up a general "here's the good/bad" things about Twin Peaks, I thought a little deeper analysis of the series is in order. As I said in my Blue Velvet video, Lynch carries a lot of themes across his works. They are often dealing with the human soul, dreams, desires (often sexual), hidden lives and wearing masks that hide our true selves. Twin Peaks explores all those, but in particular the ideas of the soul and the mysteries of dreams. Agent Cooper is the mouthpiece for those ideas, open minded and bringing his odd beliefs (and behaviors) to a community that is secluded and in its own norm of existence. That community is us, the "normal" people. It is full of characters with secrets and masks. Agent Cooper turns it all on its head when brought to the town to solve a crime that those so used to their normal lives can't grasp and have to look elsewhere for answers.

Of course this is Lynch. His answer is that there aren't really answers at all, must different ways to seek them and whatever is given is never quite as it seems.

This theme of normalcy versus oddity is what defines Lynch's career and the strength of that definition is found throughout the show, even in the often stumbling Season Two. There's a richness and depth here that two seasons seem to only scratch the surface of. From Jungian theory of shared consciousness to the absurdities of small town life and the parody the show brings in observing the parallels of what is real and what is just melodrama (shown wonderfully by occasionally glancing to a television soap opera called Invitation to Love...apparently the only show on television).

It's this depth, where you not only rewatch the show because of great characters and drama but to discover its meanings, that made Twin Peaks one of the most heralded shows of its time. Despite that acclaim, it just didn't stick. Nobody really watched. Yet it is still thought of fondly my a majority of people, and people still know it by name. It had that much of an impression on the culture and the following now is impressive. People still want to watch this show. From the creepy and unforgettable opening credits and music to the acting to the fantastic sense of atmosphere. It's a show that will hook you even if you aren't a Lynch fan. All that's left now is to put this baby on streaming, Netflix or Hulu, and let more and more people watch and come to appreciate it. Like I said, that audience is here now...twenty years later.

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Reply toosmartforbond2
5:30 PM on March 6, 2011 
Twin Peaks is almost at the top of my list for ?Best TV Shows of all time.? I loved it so excruciatingly. I agree, Season 2, after they Killed the Golden Goose (as David Lynch puts it), it got less interesting. But still, Coop and that entire town is something I fell for quite readily. The music ? the acting ? it was all superb.

The show and its ensemble had the potential to be another truly epic ?evening soap? type drama, in the style of the Big 80?s once. It dwarfed most TV in the early 90?s. I wonder a lot what would have been had they not been canceled ? would The X-Files be what it is?

If you haven?t done so, I recommend playing Alan Wake. There are some strong, strong correlations, references, and homages in that game to Twin Peaks. One of the Trophies is called ?Damn Fine Cup of Coffee? which is about as explicit as it gets. After going through that game, I wanted to re-watch the epic television event all over again!

Thank you once again for being so delightfully eccentric in your tastes ^_^
Reply J. Conrady
8:00 PM on March 6, 2011 
I did play some Alan Wake and I love the inspired Twin Peaks homages everywhere. There's really something weird and creepy about the Northwest and a lot of that stems from when Twin Peaks made it all weird and creepy. I hope they make the second one better (if there is one, I think I read there was). The first had the atmosphere right but needed more variety.

Also, Netflix is streaming Twin Peaks soon, I think in a week or so if not already.