Return to Twin Peaks, a Place Both Wonderful and Strange Part 1

PART I

Editor’s note: Part 2 will run tomorrow at 9 am CST.


I’ll see you again in 25 years.” – Laura Palmer, Episode 22.

 

FADE IN: I’ve got good news. Nearly a quarter of a century after its cancellation, that show you like is going to come back in style. Let’s rock! Not so fast, protested Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost when rumors of an NBC return of David Lynch’s series first surfaced back in January, even though Entertainment President Jennifer Salke responded at the Television Critics Association tour by confirming that NBC was unaware of any revival but thought it “a good idea.” The rumor mill churned again when Netflix’s Chief Content Officer, Ted Sarandos, went on record in May expressing interest for his company’s original programming division.

 

FLASHBACK TO 1991: Under pressure from ABC executives, Lynch and Frost wrapped up the “Who killed Laura Palmer?” storyline early in the second (and final) season, forgetting that Twin Peaks was just as much a series as it was a sleepy town “where a yellow light still means slow down, not go faster.” While the resolution to the murder was fervid, vivid, and memorable, it was also rushed, premature, and left the program scrambling for another mystery to maintain momentum and audience interest. Yet solving the mystery of the murdered Homecoming Queen was never the intention of Lynch and Frost. Palmer’s terrible murder was crafted as the inciting crisis that sent shockwaves through the bucolic town while bringing the F.B.I. to Peaks’ doorstep. Other than the criminal investigation, Peaks was envisioned as an offbeat series that would peek into the clandestine corners of an off-kilter rural town pop. 5,120.1.

 

They may have answered the question of “Who killed Laura Palmer?,” but Lynch and Frost were only just beginning to explore a vast mysterious universe, centered in a tiny town, that they created. Having lost the hook on which to hang its tales – its “Lynch-pin,” if you will – the series struggled valiantly to aright its course and sustain viewership by loading more and more mysteries onto the log pile. It may have seemed adrift, but never was it boring, its effort and imagination fully in evidence. The worst accusation to be made is that it was forced to adopt a grapeshot storytelling approach as it groped for another center stage plot that could simultaneously drive and anchor its sagging seasonal narrative.

 

Left unresolved when Peaks went off the air were all the mysteries that piled up post-Palmer: Who or what exactly is BOB? If the owls are not what they seem, what are they? Why does Agent Cooper’s name appear in a deep space transmission? Do Andrew, Pete, and Audrey survive the bank blast? Is Leo turning good? Will he die underneath Windom Earle’s cage of spiders? Did Doc Hayward kill Ben Horne? Is Josie really trapped in a doorknob forever? Will Cooper’s shadow-self make Annie the next Laura Palmer? Will the good Coop escape the Black Lodge? Was Major Garland Briggs abducted, and if so, by what? (We are ominously reminded that Major Briggs’ vanishing carries “implications that go so far beyond national security, the Cold War seems like a case of the sniffles.”) And more. In other words, those watchful owls are still not what they seem…

 

Peaks peaked early, capping off its high-concept murder mystery only under network and audience pressure in Episode 16. That left the series floundering, although as demonstrated, Lynch and Frost cannot be faulted for trying out a logjam of plotlines. It proved to be a textbook case of, “Be careful what you wish for.” Paradoxically, by caving into audience expectations for a tidily wrapped-up whodunit, Peaks lost viewers, and by catering to network frustration to solve its central crime, it plastic-sealed its own fate. The Log Lady herself offers unmistakable and sly commentary in Episode 16’s intro narration (added for syndication run on Bravo): “There is a depression after an answer is given. It was almost fun not knowing.” To keep viewers tuning in, she offers: “But there is still the question: Why? And this question will go on and on until the final answer comes.” In another episode she keeps alive the mystery by saying, “Complications set in – yes, complications. How many times have we heard, ‘It’s simple.’ … We live in a world where nothing is simple. Each day, just when we think we have a handle on things, suddenly some new element is introduced and everything is complicated once again. What is the secret?” For the remainder of its run, the secret settled upon was fallen F.B.I. agent Windom Earle’s quest for ultimate power in the Black Lodge, Agent Cooper’s efforts to stop him, and their ensuing endgame.

 

FLASHFORWARD TO THE PRESENT: The new Netflix series Hemlock Grove (nowhere near Glastonberry Grove) claims to be consciously modeled after Twin Peaks, but derivatively setting a dark drama in a spooky wooded mill town with a murdered high school girl (two here) does not build another Twin Peaks. It is doubtful that Grove’s executive producer, Eli Roth, could ever hope to capture Lynch’s secret ingredient, an inimitable sensibility opposite of Roth’s nihilistic brand of shock and schlock. Nevertheless, it is Netflix original programming such as Hemlock Grove, along with House of Cards and that series’ new direct-to-streaming business model, that is fueling renewed interest in Peaks and paving a possible return. It almost feels an unprecedented reversal of the process (sort of like talking backwards?) for cheap imitation to bring back the genuine article. And now with the successful House of Cards making history as the first Emmy-winning online drama, the time could not be riper for a return to Lynch-land by way of Netflix – experimentalism is something Netflix and Lynch could have in common.

 

With police procedurals like Top of the Lake and the Pacific Northwest-set The Killing (“Who killed Rosie Larsen?” was the series’ tagline) consciously courting comparisons to Twin Peaks, everyone seems to be getting in on the act. The same is doubly true for the Norman Bates prequel series Bates Motel. Deadline Hollywood reported that its co-executive producer, Carlton Cuse, confessed at a panel discussion, “We pretty much ripped off Twin Peaks … [co-producer] Kerry [Ehrin] and I loved that show and it only lasted 30 episodes, so we thought we would do the 70 that were missing.” The linkages are a reach since these programs are straightforward crime drama (or in the case of Bates Motel, psychological thriller) with none of the absurdism that made Peaks what it was. Another series on its way, M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of suspense writer Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines novels, has echoes of Twin Peaks right down to the evocative title. At least in this instance, Shyamalan shares Lynch’s sincerity in his depiction of classic good and evil.

 

Lynch’s unique mélange of “weird on top,” “blackest nightmare,” and “love [as] the blood of the universe” is so much his own that it cannot be duplicated. He has been roundly interpreted as exposing the darkness and hypocrisy beneath the veneer of sunny small-town America, and that is generally all his small-minded imitators take away from the personal worldview of, if ever a man deserved the title, that “Man from Another Place.” Dig deeper and you will see innocents struggling to retain or regain their innocence – “to live life in truth and beauty” – “in the face of great darkness” with all the “powerful forces of evil in the world” threatening to pull them “down into hell.” After all, “a theme in all my movies,” Lynch asserted in an old Los Angeles Times interview, is “finding love in hell.”

 

Twin Peaks, like much of Lynch’s work, is in fact a love letter to the simple townspeople and rustic types typically disparaged and caricatured as (in Agent Rosenfield’s words) “rural know-nothings,” “chowder-head yokels” and “blithering hayseeds” by the entertainment industry, the same folksy types Lynch so affectionately portrayed in his under-seen The Straight Story. The gentle laughs Lynch milks from Peaks’ townsfolk (Pete, Andy, and Lucy prominent examples) come not at their expense. They are affectionate barbs, and the cowboy-hatted Sheriff Harry S. Truman is not ironically named. Cooper’s adulatory audio diary brims with his admiration-filled observations of Twin Peaks and its locals.

Gilbert