I’ve probably mentioned this before, but when it comes to movies and television, I get spoiled for everything. It’s partially my own fault: I read entertainment sites and top ten lists for fun, but even without that, I really do have a knack for stumbling over spoilers in the most ridiculous and unlikely of places. To give you an idea, here’s a list of some of the things I’ve been spoiled for — some of which were completely understandable, and some of which were TOTALLY NOT OKAY: Battlestar Galactica, Dollhouse, Citizen Kane, The Prestige, Skyfall, The Others, Vertigo, The Brothers Bloom, Don’t Look Now, Sleepaway Camp, Frailty, etc.
But recently I realized that somehow, despite this, I’d gone my entire life without being spoiled for Twin Peaks. At the tender age of 27, I still had no idea who had killed Laura Palmer, despite the fact that the show had aired over twenty years ago. So when I saw that the entire series was up on Netflix Instant, I was like, “Mek, we’ve gotta watch that shit, and we gotta watch it now.”
So we did. And as a result, not only do I now know who killed Laura Palmer, I am completely and utterly obsessed with Twin Peaks.
DISCLAIMER: The non-spoiler section of this . . . review or retrospective or whatever . . . will likely be very brief. In fact, all I’m really going to do is talk a little about my extremely limited experiences with David Lynch’s work and then write an intentionally vague list of the crazy-hilarious things this show has going for it. Everything else will be spoiler-heavy and appropriately marked as such. Also, while I watched Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me — the prequel released in theaters a year after the show’s demise — I found it mostly worthless and will probably spend little to no time discussing it in this particular post. Which is sad because Kiefer Sutherland AND David Bowie? I desperately wanted that movie to be awesome.
It was not.
So, David Lynch.
Prior to watching Twin Peaks, I’d only seen two Lynch films: Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive. I don’t actually remember Mulholland Drive well enough to tell you how I felt about it, and my impressions of Blue Velvet were . . . mixed. Probably tipping more to negative than positive, being honest, although I might give it a second chance at some point. I’m interested in seeing more of Lynch’s work, actually, but I suspect that the greater majority of it wouldn’t actually appeal to me, due to what seems like some fundamentally different ideas in how to approach storytelling.
Surprisingly, however, this doesn’t seem to include Twin Peaks. Which isn’t to say I don’t have problems with the show — cause, wow, do I — but despite the many things I think don’t work, all the stuff that does work, all the ridiculous, beautiful, what-the-fuckery? It’s amazing.
Which leads us to my super-vague list of crazy-hilarious, none of which will mean a damn thing to you if you haven’t watched the show, but could maybe interest you enough to give it a try:
1. One of my favorite protagonists ever — Special Agent Dale Cooper
4. The best character you never actually meet
5. How Nadine lost her eye
7. The Log Lady
8. A hilariously over-the-top chess metaphor
9. A funeral scene that made me laugh so hard I cried
10. A pre X-Files David Duchovny
11. Dreams and visions
12. Invitation to Love
14. A damn fine cup of coffee, and . . .
15. A sudden bout of temporary insanity leading a character to believe that he is a general in the Confederate Army
Oh, Twin Peaks. You were batshit crazy, and I kind of adored you for it. There’s so much about you to discuss.
Let’s get started, shall we?
First, before anything else, I feel the need to tell you that I will almost certainly call Twin Peaks “Twin Pines” at least once in this review. I’m just going to apologize for that ahead of time, since I doubt I’ll catch every instance of it, even when I proofread this entry twelve freaking times.
Now. I have so much I want to say about this show that I’m actually having a little trouble organizing my thoughts. Where, oh where, to start?
Well, let’s try beginning with this guy:
I didn’t know very much about Twin Peaks when Mek and I started watching the show. I knew a high schooler named Laura Palmer died, and I knew Kyle MacLachlan played an FBI agent investigating her murder. And from watching Psych’s homage episode “Dual Spires” — and also a bit of common sense — I knew that Twin Peaks was a very, very strange little town. Since MacLachlan was playing the outsider, I automatically assumed he would be the straight man for some reason.
However, nothing could’ve been further from the truth, which I’m entirely grateful for, because without Agent Dale Cooper and his endearing oddness, there is no show. Honestly, if I didn’t like Cooper as much as I do, I’d never have stuck around long enough to figure out who killed Laura. He’s not like other FBI agents, you see. He’s absurdly meticulous and amiably enthusiastic about just almost everything, which should make him hugely annoying. Instead, his enthusiasm is weirdly adorable. To get a taste of this, here’s our introduction to Agent Cooper:
First, that music? That weird kind of . . . I don’t know, comical jazz? That’s pretty prevalent throughout the series, and it always makes me smile. The other music, unfortunately, is more like the horrible theme song — which I purchased on iTunes just so I could torment my sister. I love you, Mek.
Now, the woman he’s talking to, Diane? Next to Cooper, Diane is totally my favorite character, which is quite a feat considering she never shows up. We never see her, never even hear her voice. No one else ever mentions her at all. In fact, the only proof that she’s even real — because I definitely assumed she was dead for a good long while — is a pair of earplugs Cooper asks her for and receives the very next episode.
A brief aside: my sister and I have been talking about having an Obscure Characters costume party for years. At the moment, I want to dress up in some horrible, early 90’s women’s black skirt suit with a dictaphone in one hand and a name tag that says Diane. That would be awesome.
But back to our protagonist: Agent Cooper does not solve things by traditional means, or rather, not only by traditional means. He also has crazy dreams and visions and uses Tibetan-influenced intuition, as seen here:
This happens pretty early in the series — before we get into full on Black Lodge/White Lodge insanity — so I was unprepared for the murder investigation to lead into a lecture about Tibet. This, I believe, was my first uncontrollable giggling fit. My second? When Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) wails as he leaps onto his daughter’s coffin as its being lowered into the ground . . . and then it continues to go up and down, up and down, while he’s still lying on top of it.
Twin Peaks is an intentionally funny melodrama, which is . . . rare, to say the least. But unfortunately, the melodrama works for it as well as against it, especially in the second season.
See, David Lynch and his co-creator, Mark Frost, envisioned Twin Peaks as a night soap — the mystery of Laura Palmer’s murder was only a MacGuffin, to draw audiences in. The real show was about the townspeople and their multiple relationship problems and secret affairs. (As well as bouts of, oh, superstrength and whatnot. Don’t worry. I’m getting there.) It’s not a terrible notion, exactly, but there are some serious problems with it:
1. I’ve read that David Lynch never wanted to reveal who killed Laura Palmer, that the network pressured him into doing so and that he blamed the show’s cancellation, at least in part, on this decision. And first off — I have absolutely no sympathy for the Moonlighting defense, whether it’s about a romantic relationship or the identity of a murderer: plots and relationships need to evolve, and if your show can’t do that, then it’s not a strong enough show, period. Second: I know you’re probably never supposed to side with the networks because they’re money-grubbing, soul-sucking demons or whatever, but on this one, I think they’re 100% right. You can use a murder mystery to draw in viewers, sure, but you don’t just get to refuse to solve that mystery entirely.
When I was up at Clarion West, Connie Willis talked a lot about how writers and readers have a sort of contract, that — to a degree — you know what kind of story you’re getting into when you begin a book or movie, and that the author/director is bound to fulfill certain promises by the end of it. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that story creators should be boring and predictable and never do anything that could go against expectation, but it does mean if you’re luring people in with a certain premise, you’re obligated to make good on that premise or else you’re just lying to them. Like when a movie trailer deliberately misleads you into thinking you’re going to watch one type of movie when they’re actually giving you something else entirely (read: Adventureland), not to avoid spoilers or anything like that, but just to draw in more money. If Twin Peaks HAD ended without ever solving the mystery of Laura Palmer’s murder, I would definitely have considered that breaking that contract, and I would have been pissed.
2. If you do use a mystery to draw viewers in, your audience is probably going to care primarily about said mystery and less about all that soapy subplot stuff unless you can make the soapy subplot stuff AMAZING. And as much as I like Twin Peaks, their subplots regularly fall short of amazing. Now in Season One — which was only eight episodes — I was curious about all the characters because I was still getting a handle on their relationships to one another and how they related to the murder. By Season Two, though, I knew enough about the case to discount half the cast as suspects, and I didn’t particularly care about most of them as actual characters. Worse, Season Two was a full-length, 22 episode season, which meant that the show rammed in a dozen more mini-dramas that felt pointless at best and insufferable at worst.
Here is a list of Season Two subplots that I didn’t give a shit about, ordered from least to most objectionable:
A. The true identity of Donna’s father, which might have been more entertaining if one, I cared even a little bit about Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle), and two, if it didn’t come out of absolutely nowhere.
B. The ongoing love saga between Donna and James and Harold and Maddy, mostly because their characters are all somewhere between blah and hugely annoying, and the actors themselves are somewhere between just okay and pretty terrible. Thankfully, two of these characters die; unfortunately, they aren’t really the two I was hoping for.
C. Nadine (Wendie Robie) believes that she’s a teenager and not a middle-aged married women and goes back to high school and tries out for cheerleading and makes it on the wrestling team and has a crush on Mike the quarterback who doesn’t like her back but eventually starts dating her anyway because the sex is awesome because she has ridiculous super-strength that someone claims is just adrenaline which is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my fucking life. None of this, by the way, has anything at ALL to do with Cooper’s investigation into Laura’s murder and is only bearable because Wendie Robie throws herself entirely into the role.
D. John Justice Wheeler (Billy Zane) and his sudden, bland, and completely ill-conceived relationship with Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn).
Now, in fairness to the creators, there was a lot of backstage drama that created this whole storyline in the first place: Audrey was originally Cooper’s love interest, but Kyle MacLachlan refused to participate in the show if the writers continued to develop that relationship, either because Audrey was a high school student and it would Be Wrong, or because Lara Flynn Boyle, MacLachlan’s girlfriend at the time, didn’t like Sherilyn Fenn and demanded it. Honestly, I think MacLachlan was in the wrong no matter what his motivation was because multiple problems arose from this hasty rewrite, but maybe none so bad as stranding Audrey with absolutely nothing to do in the second season, other than occasionally helping out her total asshat of a father and loving some boring dude who comes out of nowhere and leaves just as abruptly.
E. Shelley and Bobby’s plans to steal Catatonic Leo’s insurance money. Mind you, I never actually feel sorry for Catatonic Leo because Not-Catatonic Leo was awful, but I can only spend so long watching him stare vacantly into space while his stupid wife and her even dumber boyfriend dance around before wanting to blow my brains out. This story finally ended after half a season, only to have No-Longer-Catatonic-But-Still-Clearly-Brain-Damaged Leo stumble into Windom Earle’s Cabin of Feverish and Devious Plotting, which was at least slightly more interesting, if also utterly unnecessary.
F. As a result of Maddie’s death, James leaves town and is eventually framed for murder in the most obvious setup ever. This whole plot arc has no significance of any kind to any character other than James — who, let’s face it, is kind of the weakest link in the whole show — and could easily be excised without doing any damage. In fact, this subplot is so insignificant that it doesn’t even really affect James: as soon as he’s found innocent, he continues doing exactly what he’d planned to do before, namely, taking off and never coming back.
G. The love triangle between Lucy, Andy, and Dick — and the baby daddy trauma that arises from it. These characters are much more insignificant to the plot than Donna, James, and Maddy, AND are also considerably dumber, which is kind of a feat in and of itself. Also, this love triangle leads to the worst of the worst:
H. Little Nicky, an orphaned boy that Andy and Dick wrongly believe is a demonic child who murdered his parents.
So, yes. There is a lot of stuff I don’t like, and if I were remaking this TV show, there’s a lot I would change. But there’s also so much that I do love, that feels like nothing else on television today and certainly not back in 1990-1991. I mean, some of the visuals are just spectacular. I love how things are framed — there is definitely art in this show, and art that I can appreciate, even.
Also: I absolutely adore the tone of Twin Peaks. I think it’s utterly hilarious, sometimes unintentionally, sure, but often very intentionally. Another “I-can’t-stop-laughing” moment? When Albert (Miguel Ferrer), a man with no people skills or any tolerance for stupidity, barely tries to cover up his laughter during Big Ed’s tragic monologue.
Also: I really like Cooper’s developing relationship with Audrey — before it abruptly ends, of course — because the writers pleasantly surprised me a few times with how they were handling it. It didn’t go the direction I was expecting at all. (Also, the actors had much better chemistry than Sherilyn Fenn and Billy Zane did, or Kyle MacLachlan and Heather Graham did.)
Also: while I’m normally kind of a hard sell on surrealism and what-the-fuckery, I was totally into all of the craziness in this show: I loved all of Cooper’s dreams and bizarre visions and metaphysical investigation techniques. I loved the Giant (Mr. Homn!) and the Man From Another Place (that guy from Carnivale!) and the dreams of the waiting room where people — including Laura — only speak backwards. I found the lore of the Black Lodge and the White Lodge intriguing, even when I didn’t understand half of what was happening. I was caught up in the mystery of BOB, the grungy, dance-happy, killer spirit, who possesses Leland Palmer and forces him to kill his only child. This show had a secret small-town league against evil called the Bookhouse Boys AND it hinted at aliens, and I loved it.
Also: despite the fact that the chess metaphor between good and evil is heavily overused in Hollywood, I still like how they did it in Twin Peaks, at least before they dropped it altogether. First, Windom Earle promises to kill somebody for every piece he captures, so Cooper — who’s surprisingly not great at chess — enlists help from Pete to play a stalemate game. I like that Cooper’s object isn’t to win, just to stalemate. Then when Earle punishes Cooper for cheating, he does it in the absolutely hammiest way possible: he kills Ted Raimi and shoves his body in a giant pawn piece sculpture. It’s absurd. It’s magically absurd.
Also: this show is basically coffee and pie porn.
Also: I like David Duchovny’s portrayal of Denise Bryson. Okay, mostly. The limp wrist thing drives me kind of crazy, and I think they go back and forth a little on cross-dresser versus transgender, but for 1990, it seems pretty damn good, and I like Duchovny’s sass and competence. Honestly, Duchovny makes a much better looking woman that I ever would have given him credit for. Certainly better, anyway, than Kurt Russell in Tango & Cash.
So, yeah. Despite my multiple problems with it, I’m sad this show ended after only two seasons because I definitely would have kept watching had it continued. I would have HAD to, really, to deal with all the multiple cliffhangers at the series finale: first, Josie (Joan Chen) mysteriously died a few episodes before, and her body is mysteriously light because her soul might have . . . ended up in a hotel drawer? I don’t know. Then we never figure out if Donna’s dad accidentally killed Donna’s birth dad. Audrey, too, might have been killed in a bank explosion, along with Pete and the previously-thought-deceased Andrew Packard.
Finally, the biggest cliffhanger of them all: Cooper goes into the Black Lodge to rescue Love Interest and Once-A-Nun Annie (Heather Graham) from his evil ex-partner, Windom Earle. Earle is killed or destroyed or something, and Cooper gets stuck in the Lodge, while Cooper’s evil doppleganger escapes with Annie. (Or BOB’s spirit in Cooper’s body. It’s . . . complicated.) Point being, this is last scene of the show.
This is why cancellation is a cruel, cruel thing.
Cooper: “By way of explaining what we’re about to do, I am first going to tell you a little bit about the country called Tibet.”
Cooper: “Diane. I’m holding in my hand a box of small chocolate bunnies.”
Cooper: “Who’s the lady with the log?”
Truman: “We call her the Log Lady.”
Albert: “How do you feel?”
Albert: “I believe it’s customary to ask after the health of someone who’s been plugged three times.”
Cooper: “Thanks for asking.”
Albert: “Don’t get sentimental.”
Cooper: “Who shot me, Albert?”
Albert: “My men are interrogating the hotel guests, the usual bumper crop of rural know-nothings and drunken fly-fisherman. Nothing so far, although the world’s most decrepit room service waiter remembers nothing out of the ordinary about the night in question. No surprise there: Señor Drool Cup has, shall we say, a mind that wanders.”
Cooper: “You know this is — excuse me — a damn fine cup of coffee.”
Cooper: “Bacon, super crispy. Almost burned. Cremated.”
Cooper: “Following a dream I had three years ago, I have become deeply motivated by the plight of the Tibetan people, and have been filled with a desire to help them. I also awoke from the same dream realizing I had subconsciously gained knowledge of a deductive technique, involving mind-body coordination operating hand-in-hand with the deepest level of intuition.”
Log Lady: “One day, my log will have something to say about this. My log saw something that night.”
Dr. Hayward: “Have you no compassion?”
Albert: “Oh, I’ve got compassion running out of my nose, pal! I’m the Sultan of Sentiment. Dr. Hayward, I have travelled thousands of miles and apparently several centuries to this forgotten sinkhole in order to perform a series of tests. Now, I do not ask that you understand these tests. I’m not a cruel man. I just ask you to get the hell out of my way, so that I can finish my work!”
Cooper: “He didn’t mean anything.”
Albert: “He hit me!”
Cooper: “Well, I’m sure he meant to do that.”
Hawk: “One woman can make you fly like an eagle. Another can give you the strength of a lion, but only one in the cycle of life can fill your heart with wonder and the wisdom that you have known a singular joy. I wrote that for my girlfriend.”
Cooper: “All things considered, being shot is not as bad as I always thought it might be, as long as you can keep the fear from your mind. But I guess you can say that about almost anything in life. It’s not so bad as long as you can keep the fear from your mind.”
Cooper: “Laura Palmer is dead. Jacques Renault is dead. Ronette Pulaski and Leo Johnson are in comas. Waldo the Bird is dead.”
Truman: “Jelly donuts?”
Cooper: “Harry, that goes without saying.”
Cooper: “You’re making a joke.”
Albert: “I like to think of myself as one of the happy generations.”
Albert: “You listen to me. While I will admit to a certain cynicism, the fact is that I am a naysayer and a hatchet-man in the fight against violence. I pride myself in taking a punch and will gladly take one another because I choose to live my life in the company of Gandhi and King. My concerns are global. I reject absolutely: revenge, aggression, retaliation. The foundation of such a method . . . is love. I love you, Sheriff Truman.”
Harold Smith: “There are things you can’t get anywhere, but we dream they can be found in other people.”
Audrey: “What happened? Did she die or something?”
Cooper: “As a matter of fact, she did. Wanna know how? She was a material witness to a federal crime. We were supposed to protect her, 24 hours a day, my partner and I. Windom Earle was his name. Taught me everything I know about being a special agent. And when the attempt on her life was finally made, I wasn’t ready . . . because I loved her. She died in my arms. I was badly injured, and my partner lost his mind. Need to hear any more?”
Albert: “Replacing the quiet elegance of the dark suit and tie with the casual indifference of these muted earth tones is a form of fashion suicide, but call me crazy — on you, it works.”
Bob/Cooper: “How’s Annie? How’s Annie? How’s Annie?”
The very definition of “cult show”. And I am now, officially, a cultist.
Kyle MacLachlan, no doubt. He carries the show. But I like Piper Laurie and Sherilyn Fenn a lot too.
Um. B+? I can’t really comprehensively grade this. I wanted to change so, so many things, but at the same time, this show completely ate up my life for the few weeks I was marathoning it between work and writing and eating junk food. I give up.
If you see a dancing man, kill him, because he is probably possessed by BOB.
Psychiatrists who wear glasses with two different colored lenses are not to be trusted.
Hawk is the only competent person in the whole Twin Peaks police department.
Don’t tell anyone where you keep the evidence of fraud.
Small towns are beautiful but also fucking crazy.