David Lynch has always been an interesting director. His films are well-noted for creating weird and unsettling versions of our own reality be it 1880’s London in The Elephant Man or the nice suburban town with a gritty secret in Blue Velvet. But never did I think his twisted and surreal nature would transition well to television with a cult TV show him and his collaborator Mark Frost worked on called “Twin Peaks.” The series lasted for only 30 episodes and over a span of two seasons. But regardless of how short-lived it became, the series has made a lasting impact among viewers and fans who enjoy its strange and other worldly tone. And I’m surprised to say I’m part of the crowd that loves a good mystery and its a shame this ended too early as I would have loved to see just how far it could go.
I will try to keep everything under a spoiler free minimum but I can’t guarantee much seeing some elements need to be explained. Most notably the huge change in tone during its second season. But even during the first seven episodes, a bizarre supernatural tone was already hinted at with the concept of dreams and ideal police methods. So I will try to keep certain things under wraps but I can’t say everything will be kept a mystery from you.
The show takes off big during the first 20 minutes of its pilot as the body of a young teenager named Laura Palmer is discovered and suddenly, the whole town is shaken up over the death of one girl that curiously meant so much to many people. This is the strongest moment of the pilot as it not only establishes characters like Laura’s parents and a few friends that knew her, but I was surprised to see how David Lynch was able to capture the emotion and feeling when a small community gets tragic news like this. Moments like where the principal of her school announcing her death to the faculty and Laura’s parents, Leland and Sarah, reacting to the unfortunate news is executed so well you can feel the amount of trauma and shock as one person at a time is saddened to hear this news.
Its not long till someone has to be brought in to figure out who killed her as FBI agent Dale Cooper (Lynch film vetren Kyle MacLachlan) arrives to investigate the case. In his first scene alone, we immediately start to like him. The hip 1960’s attitude he carries, his big but yet lovable ego, the fact that he shows concern for another’s care and safety, the fact he documents actions into a tape recorder for someone named “Diane,” his open mind to the possible directions of suspects and clues, that slick back hair and so forth. Easily, he is the glue that holds the show together. As he moves from one clue to the next, Cooper gets so invested in trying to solve the crime that we too feel his excitement. Whenever he discovers a weapon or even a piece of paper linked to the killer, you can’t help but share the same amount of feeling he has knowing Cooper is one step closer.
Aside from Cooper, Twin Peaks carries a heavy amount of amazing characters that it would be difficult to go down the line and talk about each one. Of course, each character has a quirk they live by but the unique thing is how it all gets changed during the show’s run. A good example is Ben Horne who owns a hotel suite where Laura worked at. Ben’s story-line is very unique considering the multitude of changes his characters goes through in the course of the show. He goes from acting like a conglomerate that is close to Micheal Esiner but then gets set-up and has a Howard Hughes-style break down and then tries to act nicer and take part in doing things like saving the environment even if it all blows up in his face. You start to appreciate the comeuppance he gets but then you start to see a humane side in him. In a way, his story arch has an Ebeneezer Scrooge vibe with the difference being you get see the negative reactions of his “good deeds.”
Other inhabitants of this laid back but strange place include a cast of high school teenagers that almost feel like characters from American Graffiti if developed by soap opera writers. On paper, it sounds like the average melodrama one find in things like All My Children or General Hospital but yet the beauty of it all is how well-developed these people are and you can almost relate to these kids. Audrey is the snoop/activist, James is the biker with a heart of gold, Bobby is the man you love to hate with his crazy schemes blowing up in his face and so forth. In a way, they feel like left-overs from a 1960’s melodrama but in some way it feels like a satire of the typical cliches. Yes, the show goes that route with the love triangle and even they pull a “who’s the father to my baby” plot line. But what makes these enjoyable is how much you enjoy and care for these characters. Your curious to see what direction their choice will go into wither it be predictable or surprising.
And that’s the key word here; surprising. During the show’s run, we get a slow revelation that the nice little town is not as charming as we think. Most notable are wide range of plots that go from the attempted destruction of the saw mill to a psychiatrist trying to get over his obsession with the late Laura Palmer seeing she was a recurring client. You don’t know what direction the show will go into and every cliffhanger keeps you wanting to progress on. I can’t think of a time when I saw an episode and wished it would end. You get so invested in this odd world and its people, that you want to know more about them and less of Laura’s killer.
In fact, the original intention of the series was to leave out who killed Laura and just let it slide into the background. It would have been an interesting idea had the ABC executives request the reveal during the second season. I can’t say I was disappointed when they made the revelation but I will admit, its a very shocking and disturbing reveal that will leave you breathless. After solving that case, once can imagine how hard it was to live up to the Laura Palmer story line. They tried in the second season but I feel mixed about it. For a good three to four episodes, we get nothing but filler that feels like desperation to hold the viewer’s attention. There are some nice concepts like an older women getting amnesia and thinking she’s a high school cheerleader. But then there’s stuff like Cooper getting docked down for multiple violations, a secretary that is trying to figure whose the father to her unborn child, an elderly man that accuses his late brother’s wife for killing him during making love (which caused a heart attack seeing the two were in this senior years) but they just go nowhere.
The only thing that does work is an old nemesis of Cooper’s that appears halfway in season two that is like if Sherlock Holmes’ Moriarty but plays his plans like a chess game. Its clever and well-developed but at this point, I feel the damage has been done. It was hard to try and follow up what made the first season so good and it shows. I can’t say the second season is skippable seeing I did enjoy some plot lines and ideas while doing some clever character changes. Even a lot of the town becomes more curious when you start to dig into its supernatural roots. But I can’t say its a satisfying season seeing it does have its flaws. Like I said, some storylines feel like they are going in a certain direction but they will either end in a weak way, get entirely abandoned or just go nowhere like I said. But even when Twin Peaks was showing its lumps, it still held together.
A good example is the final episode where we start to really question just what kind of town is this. Is it one that exists in reality or is there something more to it? I wish I could go in-depth but I fear it would ruin it. The final 20 minutes leads to a nail-biting climax as Cooper questions a form of reality he enters that I personally think is one of the best I’ve seen, even for a strange series likes this. And I’m sure many will be left asking for more by the end and wishing there was a third season. And that was the genius of Twin Peaks. It kept you coming back for more even when it ended on either a climatic note or an intense turning point. Its the series that left you wanting to know more about these people and they place they are in rather than the conflict they are attached to and I believe that is where David Lynch and Mark Frost’s show was at its high point. It knew at the right time when to give answers and when to leave us hanging. Though I’m sure many will be bothered by how the show ends…but that is why a movie exists….yet that is another story for another time.