The Twin Peaks Piece
When an inexplicable concept or element is thrust into a child’s life, it can sear itself into their shallow, thirsty conscience, especially when the encounter is not intended for them.
Seven years old and walking home from elementary school, a teen from the high school hands over a crumpled, black and white, computer printout of pornography.
Eight years old and ushered into a neighbor’s house when some parents on the block get into a drunken brawl. While inside, one of the aggressor’s children says, “you’re a ‘fucker’” with their middle finger in the air.
Nine years old and camping in the woods. At dusk one of the older boy scouts tells a ghost story involving torture, murder, and a séance to explain the terrible carvings on the swing-set pillars.
Everything that will inform your whole self is like a jigsaw puzzle, and even at a young age, you’ve put together a sizable amount of it. Maybe a corner or two is completed and you’ve lined up a few edge pieces, but these strange middle ones seem like little islands unto themselves. How will these fit in later? None of it makes much sense, but you spend hours, days, turning them over, trying to plant these little secrets into the cavities of your mind. You are building yourself, slowly but surely. Some parents will attempt to control it – but the good ones know it was never entirely in their hands. At one point or another innocence will be lost. It is part of growing up.
Then there is what you watch on television. “Don’t worry mom, I know all about cannibalism, I saw it on TV,” Danny Torrance assures his mother on the foreboding journey to the Overlook Hotel in Kubrick’s The Shining. “It’s okay, he saw it on the television,” dull boy Jack spits in sarcastic affirmation of his son to his wife not long before he tries to murder them both. When I was too young to remember the context, and nearly too young to remember at all, I watched this scene on the television while sitting cross-legged in my parent’s living room:
Whatever translates to four-year-old-comprehension as, “What in all holy fuck was that!?” was basically my response. Something like a decade later, I brought the memory up to my parents. “Oh, Twin Peaks!” said my mother, clearly the bigger fan between the two of them, “I can’t believe you remember that.”
I consumed the entirety of the series immediately, reacting in the same way I imagine many fans did: Captivated by the insular charm, immersion, and tonal specificity. There is a sense that the town of Twin Peaks could operate entirely on its own, just endlessly swirling into its strange brand of hell and interpersonal drama. While a number of television shows certainly manage a similar feat, Twin Peaks’ darkly experimental edge, self-awareness by way of leaning into camp, and tonal contrasts allow it to stand not only as an anomaly for its time (for which it was far ahead), but one of the most expertly executed television “worlds” ever depicted. For as many loose plot points and exhausting secondary narratives that strung across the series’ second season, Lynch managed to integrate Twin Peaksisms that would go on to influence how directors and production companies would approach similarly abstract works for years to come. And the best part is, he knew exactly what he was doing: a surreal murder mystery infused with cheesy, interconnected romances where everyone cheats on everyone else while a virtuous detective talks about coffee functions more as the plot of a write-it, shoot-it, ship-it-out daytime soap opera than a primetime drama. But here, surrealism infests every scene, gruesome and intense violence cuts through the quirk, mourning resembles true human grief (consider Sarah Palmer’s response to her daughter’s death), and while a number of elements certainly maintain their kitsch, we frequently return to show-within-the-show, “Invitation to Love”, which directly parodies the active plot point. Twin Peaks is a soap opera satire that manages to take itself incredibly seriously while not at all. And it is an absolute trip.
To add fuel to the fire, Angelo Badalamenti’s score quietly hangs over every scene like the ever-watchful eye of Killer Bob. It’s the darkness in the woods and the fog shrouded mountains. His compositions are certainly gorgeous, but again, frequently retain an irony in their cloyingly dramatic swells. On first impression, that opening theme atop shots of a waterfall, a bird, and the sawing of wood may come across as aggressively out of step, but as you continue on and downward, it becomes yet another trick up Lynch’s sleeve: murder, demons, doppelgangers, omens, and next week we’ll open with that waterfall again! And when Badalamenti isn’t underlining the drama, Lynch’s moody ambient tones are on full display:
But beneath these novelties, there is a massive, beating, human heart to Twin Peaks. Displays of truly authentic love manage to reflect reality while the death of a young girl shakes a town to its core. In the isolated town, a sense of empathy strings the community together because, as nearly-perfect-human-soul Special Agent Dale Cooper puts it, “life has meaning here”. This is a quality that provides the series with stakes, a sense that there is something worth protecting. Even in the darkest moments, someone is looking to provide you light. And no one needs reminding of this comfort more than the kids in Twin Peaks who, like everyone else, are actually taken seriously in the narrative. They grow, they change, they regress, and they lose their innocence. In the first episode of the series, we watch a classroom of students react to the death of Laura Palmer, their principal hardly able to announce the news over the loudspeaker. Students clutch each other tight as if the world might fall from beneath them - it is visceral.
I began to restart the series with a new air of surrealism in mind; that Twin Peaks will be returning after a quarter of a century this Sunday. For all of the nostalgia mining of our media, this one seems different, at least on a personal level. Twin Peaks first aired on television in 1990, and was cancelled in 1991, the year I was born. My mother set down her Stephen King novels to tune into the show each week, one form of escape into another as she worked through postpartum depression. “There was nothing else good and it was the only thing on TV like it” she explained as we watched the pilot episode together. And now, I totally get why she was drawn to it. There are horrifying, mysterious, and certainly confusing elements riddled throughout Twin Peaks that serve as clear metaphors and embellishments of our actual lives. It’s a soap opera, one that has managed to retain its perfectly-packaged mess of an essence over these long, ever-warping years due to its blessing in disguise of a cancellation. Because of this near-untarnished state (Fire Walk With Me), it is a world many want to protect. But it is coming back for a third season and the resulting work could be anything. The reincarnation could attempt to pander, an entirely antithetical approach given the roots of the series, but one that could ultimately satisfy the bottom-line (hell, you can already picture the opening shot of Dale Cooper, smiling with his cherry pie as a cup of coffee is set in front of him), or it could be Twin Peaks. It could lead us further down this dark and twisted rabbit hole while subverting the societal structures of today. It could continue.
I am now 25 years old and have completed a great deal of the puzzle, but there are still all of these open spaces everywhere; here’s one for the move across the country this summer, another for overcoming insecurities, a number of pockets I won’t define until after the whole is glaringly clear. And maybe it never is – at this point it’s hard to tell. I’ve found that as time goes on I have grown increasingly comfortable with the discomfort, the total lack of answers, the dismissal of expectations, the mysterious qualities. In fact, I’d say that those elements are the biggest draw.