NB: There are NO major spoilers in the below guide, so read on confidently.
Everybody has that insufferable friend who repeatedly asks if you’ve seen this or that series and then is shocked and disappointed when you say, inevitably, "No… it’s on my list though." I know because I am that friend. Is this a public apology? Maybe. Not.
But in my defence it’s justified – my show is Twin Peaks. And since the new season was announced in 2014 I’ve been badgering just about everyone I know to FINALLY WATCH TWIN PEAKS. Sadly this strategy of aggressively force feeding people my favorite series hasn’t worked all that well. I admit it.
So I began sharing the obscure and atmospheric trailers for the upcoming season. The one of Lynch eating a donut comes to mind… as well as Lynch’s interview of the Palmer family, two of whom are "dead" during the interview. I think I received a net like-count of 17 on these posts. Damn.
So here it is, my final effort. If you’ve never watched the show and want to know what all the fuss is about, read on.
Where is Twin Peaks?
Nestled in the Rocky Mountains of the Pacific Northwest, Twin Peaks is (so happy to use the present tense) located about five miles south of the Canadian border. It’s a quiet little town populated by a sometimes quirky, sometimes strange, sometimes disturbing bunch of characters.
It is small town America. Or at least, small town America from American television. But it’s also small town America from American television filtered through the mind of David Lynch. What does this mean?
Although Lynch didn’t direct or write every episode, he developed a matrix of weirdness that allowed all the contributors to push his original vision in unexpected ways. To give you just a few of the more memorable examples: there’s a woman who speaks in riddles and carries around a talking log; there’s a sheriff’s deputy who breaks down in tears at crime scenes; there’s a one-eyed woman obsessed with silent sliding drapes, who develops super human strength and believes she’s a senior in high school; there’s a hardened manslaughterer who inexplicably, yet nonetheless menacingly, sucks on a single domino; there’s a woman who, after a spontaneous and unexplained death, ends up trapped in the knob of a dresser drawer.
Can we just say that Twin Peaks would never need the slogan “Keep Twin Peaks Weird”?
However, Twin Peaks is special in part because of the mysterious things that happen in its surrounding forests. As Sheriff Harry Truman makes clear to Agent Cooper: “Twin Peaks is different. A long way from the world, you’ve noticed that. And that’s exactly the way we like it. But there’s a back end to it that’s kinda different too. Maybe that’s the price we pay for all the good things. There’s a sort of evil out there. Something very, very strange in these old woods.”
Yes, there’s definitely something in those woods. And just like Agent Cooper, we can quite easily be told that the magnificent local trees are called Douglas firs. But that’s just the beginning of it.
Who killed Laura Palmer?
Well, I’m not going to tell you if you don’t want to find out for yourself. And aside from the fact that David Lynch himself publicly stated that he never wanted to reveal who the killer was, it was kind of besides the point anyway.
Instead, the idea was to begin with Laura Palmer’s death as a central mystery. Then through the ensuing police investigation, to open up more and more mysteries buried just beneath the surface of the quaint little town. As the central story would unfold, the individual stories of each character would become increasingly entangled in an ever expanding fractal-like pattern.
All this can be summed up in a very simple question. Just ask any fan who is the main character of Twin Peaks.
“Who is the main character?”
“How is that possible though? Isn’t she dead. DIDN’T YOU LITERALLY JUST FINISH TELLING ME SHE’S DEAD? What’s happening to reality?!”
So here’s how it works: When Laura Palmer is found naked, dead and wrapped in plastic on a rocky beach, an investigation is launched by the local sheriff, Harry Truman. But when another young woman comes staggering over state lines back to Twin Peaks, nearly naked, suffering shock and exposure, no longer able to form coherent sentences, the FBI is called in. The special agent sent to investigate is named Dale Cooper.
Cooper is a hyper-rational special agent with a firm belief that the occult worlds of dreams and mysticism cannot be separated from the everyday world of crime, cherry pie and coffee taken “black as midnight on a moonless night.” His unorthodox pursuit of clues that seem purely coincidental at first glance lead him and the very trusting Sheriff Truman on spiralling paths toward dead ends that always reveal the unexpected.
But as the investigations open up increasingly convoluted mysteries, reality transforms into an out of focus kaleidoscope. And yet through it all it is Laura Palmer who comes into greater and greater focus. In her ever increasing absence she becomes all the more present in Twin Peaks. And as we the viewers learn more and more about her, it becomes apparent that her friends and colleagues actually knew much less about her than they thought.
What’s with this whole 25 year thing?
Okay so we have a dead woman, two investigators and a small rural town surrounded by some mysterious trees. But why should you care about the series returning after 25 years? Is this just another crappy TV remake intended to make bank on its retro value? With a resounding “NO” let me explain…
It has to do with the very mysterious and never quite explained Black Lodge. A lot of the series involves an investigation of the Black Lodge. As I’ve tried to make clear, the police investigations have much more to do with an investigation of reality than with actually discovering who killed Laura Palmer. And as far as we can tell, the reality (read: weirdness) of Twin Peaks is structured largely by the Black Lodge. But more than that, the Black Lodge seems to be beyond the "normal" ideas of time and space.
Without delving into the details and spoiling what is to become your new favorite show for you, there is a scene in which Cooper meets Laura Palmer (or is it her double?) and in typical Twin Peaks fashion she speaks in code: “I’ll see you again in 25 years. Meanwhile.”
It is thought that this “meanwhile” is meant to show that time in the Black Lodge doesn’t work in the same way as our own time. Where we keep going forward in time, the spirits in the Lodge do not. They can interact with multiple timelines simultaneously. They can change the nature of reality.
One really cool example is in the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (yes 100% recommended too, don’t mind the rabble) when a character from the end of Season 2 suddenly shows up in one of Laura Palmer’s visions, warning her about what is going to happen at the end of Season 2, long after Laura herself will be dead. Yes, Fire Walk With Me is a prequel and takes place in the Twin Peaks universe during the week leading up to Laura’s death, however you should view it after you've watched both seasons. Try to make sense of that.
Why is it so dramatic though?
Pretty much every time I’ve recommended Twin Peaks to a friend and they’ve actually, finally, watched it, their first comment is: “This is so weird. Why is it so dramatic? What’s with the music? And why is everyone either kissing or crying or screaming all the time?”
Yes it’s weird and dramatic. That’s part of the point. David Lynch and Mark Frost basically took a whole bunch of tropes from American soap operas and police procedurals, crammed them all together and pushed our belief in them to the limits. They force the viewer to examine their own expectations of those tropes ironically. But with a surprise twist they also push a kind of sincerity in it all. We end up falling in love with the tropes all over again, accidentally.
You can expect sunset kisses and sociopathic truck drivers. There’s a sensitive biker boy obsessed with being mysterious and a pair of scheming entrepreneurs. There are cheating husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends. There are tough big city cops and down to earth mill workers. There’s an illegal casino and brothel, and a kitschy rural diner.
And while you’re congratulating yourself on recognizing the irony in these tropes, and the limits of your own suspended disbelief, the music will draw you in. And let it. All the while keeping in mind Audrey Horne dancing to one of the central themes of the show, when she exclaims about it: “God I love this music. Isn’t it too dreamy?”
While you’re at it, check out the below video.
And when is the new season going to air?
So, you understand the basics of Twin Peaks. Enough to get you started anyways. Now you have until this Sunday to watch both seasons and Fire Walk With Me. Errrr. Well time is still on your side as each episode will be released weekly, so even if you binge in the next week or two (and trust me, you will) you'll only be a couple of episodes behind.
If you don’t do it for yourself, at least do it for your friends. They’re good people.
And don’t forget Fire Walk With Me! Honestly though, don’t. Even though it was not well received at its release doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. If Twin Peaks is about the absence of Laura Palmer in a quaint little town that gets uglier and more violent as the layers come off, then Fire Walk With Me is about the horror of Laura Palmer’s life right before her murder. And as she’s spiralling out of control, there’s nothing cute or quirky about it. But it packs in a whole lot of new information, Lynchian weirdness, horror and redemption.
So take your time. Don’t rush it. Fall into it at your own pace.
As Cooper says: “Harry, I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.”
If you're into things that are a little weird on top, check out these 10 sci-fi films you've probably never seen.