The 10 stages of watching ‘Twin Peaks’
Allie Tollaksen | Monday, October 13, 2014
If you haven’t heard of Dale Cooper, now is the perfect time to give yourself the present of watching “Twin Peaks.” Last week, director and co-creator David Lynch announced the return of the cult-favorite television show, which will air Showtime in 2016, 25 years after the show’s premiere.
“Twin Peaks” follows the investigation of the murder of Laura Palmer, a homecoming queen in the small, fictional town of Twin Peaks, Washington. Lead by FBI agent Dale Cooper, an outsider in “Twin Peaks,” the investigation sheds light on the strange and seedy lives of the town’s residents.
Combining Frost’s supernatural style and Lynch’s affinity for surrealism, the show’s two-season run was a bizarre trip combining horror, mystery and soap opera-style melodrama. Now, 14 years later, both seasons are available on Netflix for instant streaming, and with a third season on its way, it is the perfect time to check out the campy cult hit.
But be warned, the act of taking in two seasons of “Twin Peaks” is no walk in the park. It’s much more turbulent journey — a long process with several junctures and as many emotional twists and turns for the viewer as the bizarre plot itself. Luckily for you, I did it first and mapped out the stages of watching “Twin Peaks” all at once. Consider yourself warned.
Stage 1: Disbelief
The pilot of “Twin Peaks” is debatably its best and boldest episode. Clocking in at an hour and a half, the lengthy pilot is nothing short of an ambitious undertaking. But the episode isn’t just impressively ambitious in its length; it is almost unbelievably intrepid the moment it begins. Its opening credits are five minutes of wonderfully weird soap-operatic theme music and bright green text over a montage of saws (yes, saws) cutting through wood.
I sat in complete and utter disbelief over how something like this could have run on ABC, imagining early-90s families sitting in front of their early-90s, DVR-less televisions for the series premiere and exchanging awkward glances as the opening credits push their limits and set the stage for the weirdness to follow.
Stage 2: Horror
Another thing that took me by surprise in the pilot was the goriness of “Twin Peaks” from its very beginning. While so many murder mystery or crime shows euphemistically allude to gruesome crimes or turn their eye on the darkest and most uncomfortable acts that drive the plot, Lynch and Frost keep an unwavering gaze on the violence of the show. Neither the dialogue nor the camera shy away from the terror of Laura’s murder and its repercussions, which is impressive, but also gruesome and difficult at times.
Stage 3: Amusement
Though the first episode is movie-length, it still functions as any other pilot, laying he groundwork for the mystery surrounding Laura’s murder. But “Twin Peaks” isn’t just a crime show — it’s a twisted take on the overdone soap opera drama and, in classic Lynch fashion, a grisly unveiling of small town secrets. But what’s weirdest about “Twin Peaks,” perhaps, is that it’s funny.
“Twin Peaks” accomplishes this by taking its inspirations and genres and takes them to an absurd extreme: While most mystery series start out with a few suspects, a secret romance or two and a subplot to run parallel the murder investigation, “Twin Peaks” turns the dial up on all of these elements. The ridiculousness of the amount of drama is made even better by the cast of characters itself. There’s the woman who carries around and talks to a log, another woman inexplicably obsessed with making silent drape runners and a lot (I mean a lot) of characters who dance alone in empty rooms.
Stage 4: Bemusement
As mentioned above, the pilot introduces an enormous cast, and splintered subplots and seemingly unrelated affairs abound. You quickly learn that virtually everyone in the town is leading a double life, and these stories only get more tangled and confusing as the season progresses. Many times throughout the show’s first season, I found myself wanting to reach for a pen a paper to draw some sort of diagram, a way to keep track of the tangled web of characters. You will be confused. Maybe even the whole time.
Stage 5: Fear
Here’s something no one warned me about when I began the series, but I’ll tell you right away because I’m a nice person: “Twin Peaks” is scary. Though I knew of Lynch and Frost’s work coming into the series and am not one to get jumpy or anxious watching thrillers, I had a few moments of unadulterated terror during my “Twin Peaks” binge. Things get weird. People pop out from behind chairs. There’s a lot of screaming and breakdowns and people sneaking up on each other. It’s scary, okay? Just trust me here.
Stage 6: Adoration
As the double-lives of Laura Palmer and the Twin Peaks residents are revealed, so is another doubling: “Twin Peaks” is simultaneously a humorous parody of serial dramas and yet a captivating, beautifully shot and directed serial drama in itself. From the start, you’re entertained in part by its absurdity but also intrigued enough to subject yourself to subsequent episodes that give far more questions than answers. To resonate on these two levels and enrapture an audience is nothing short of amazing.
Stage 7: Impatience
After giving yourself time to sit back in awe at the show’s accomplishments, you’ll find the more-questions-than-answers thing can get a little old. Season One’s eight cerebral episodes are fantastically bizarre but appear to never want to answer the show’s own tagline, “Who killed Laura Palmer?”
You aren’t alone in this feeling of frustration and stagnancy. In fact, it became a point of conflict between Frost, Lynch and ABC as viewership declined steadily. According to a 1990 interview in “Entertainment Weekly,” it was decided — against Lynch’s wishes — that the killer be revealed in the show’s second season.
Stage 8: Regret
Though Stage 7 may feel agonizing, impatience turns to regret as the second season goes from chaotic and thrilling (finally, things are happening!) to forced and troubled when the killer is finally revealed. It turns out the only thing worse than not knowing “Who killed Laura Palmer” is seeing the show come to a reluctant end. Whether the big reveal or the second season as a whole are unsatisfying is up for some seriously intense debate, but regardless of your position on the cracking of the case, ending “Twin Peaks” at only two seasons feels like a crime itself.
Stage 9: Reverence
Regardless of your feelings about the story’s end, you can’t really help look back at “Twin Peaks” with at least a hint of awe and wonder. Yes, that just happened.
Stage 10: Hope
The beauty of finishing both seasons of “Twin Peaks” now is the promise of a third season just a few years away. There is still debate about how the new episodes will be structured (let’s just hope Lynch and Frost stay away from the “Arrested Development” model), but reports from The Guardian say the creators will bring back the show for a present-day look at the surreal small town, 25 years later. Until then, treat yourself to “Twin Peaks” over a cup of good coffee.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.