I have to admit, Twin Peaks at the time it blasted onto the airwaves completely bypassed me. I don’t even think I watched the first two episodes. It was something my Mom was into and being a teen at the time….watching things your parents are into is not cool.
Anyway eventually I decided to look into it because of the hype. And I liked it or at least I thought I had to like it. Because really it was not something you saw every day on TV. David Lynch was one of the first Hollywood power hitters to create a prestige TV project. The early 90’s was still a time of separation between the film and television industries. Lynch jumped the gap and started a revolution in television show content (involved story lines, better actors, great cinematography) that we reap in rewards today.
So after reading Jay Dyer’s recent analysis of the show, I decided to watch S1 again. Believe me, it was like watching it for the first time because I’ve never watched reruns nor did I buy it on home video. This was the first time I’ve watched it since it originally aired about 25 years ago.
I was amazed at how well it aged. Besides a few remnants of late 80’s/early 90’s clothing and hairstyles, Lynch mostly had his cast dress in retro clothing. All the main female teen characters wore sweaters, kilts, saddle shoes and bobby sox. The guys looked like a mix between 50’s greasers and 90’s grunge. Yet, it was not a nostalgia show. It was aggressively contemporary and a commentary on contemporary American society obsession with materialism.
Also the general look of the show was both within the paradigm of other TV shows of the time and yet different. Lynch is known for strange editing and cinematography. Re-watching it, I kept expecting to see those film touches that we saw in Wild At Heart, Blue Velvet and Lost Highway. But those stylistic touches are mostly not present. It seems Lynch decided to play within the look of ho-hum television. Almost to the point of parody. I’m not joking when I say Twin Peaks could pass as an episode of Matlock. Indeed, many times it strikes me as Matlock in the weird zone. The camera is mostly locked down like daytime serial television. The coloration of the regular scenes is flat, bright and non-threatening. This allowed Lynch to go really wild and slick when the characters are in the “Lodge” or the Outer Darkness.
So now, I’m not going to go into a blow by blow of the story. I’m just going to write my impressions of what I saw in the series the second time around.
Twin Peaks is Haunted!
The ghost of Laura Palmer really is a hidden hand in Twin Peaks. She is the one who leads Special Agent Cooper to her home town. We see subtle evidence of this with ghostly winds shaking trees, flickering lights and mysterious written messages.
Lynch also prominently displays Northwestern Native American art. The Horne hotel “The Great Northern” is covered with paintings of Athabaskan gods. We also see evidence of Native art in other locations, in people’s homes, businesses etc. Now, I don’t believe these signs are supposed to be angry, vengeful or even evil. In fact I see them as a sign of protection. Twin Peaks is the home of these gods and they watch over the town even if the residents are blind to their presence. Maybe they are even helping Laura.
What are the Native gods fighting?
Secret Societies and Dark Gods
Bob, the evil one, is present from the pilot on. Although his true significance is masked. But even so, his presence is not happenstance. He was evoked. But by whom and how is a mystery. Or is it?
Big Ed Hurley’s gas station is an odd place. He has an odd sign. His gas station sign is that of the Eye of Providence. Now why would a gas station owner need the all seeing eye on his establishment?
The Grand Master and The Indian Giver
Now the first time we see Big Ed doing anything really questionable is not his extra marital affair but when he picks up his nephew James from the police station.
The Sheriff is named Harry S. Truman. A former US president seems a strange person to reference in a popular TV show. But somehow I don’t think his wartime record is what Lynch is referencing. I think Lynch was making note that Truman was a Freemason Grand Master. I’ll have to watch if Sheriff Truman makes any hand signals to Big Ed.
But Deputy “Hawk” definitely makes a sign that he is down with Big Ed. When the Deputy releases James to Ed, Ed makes a sign. Ed and Hawk stand in a mirror formation or the point of a triangle. Ed runs his right pointer finger down his right ear. In answer, Hawk runs his left pointer finger down his left eye. I can’t find any information on these signs as of yet. But if anyone in Twin Peaks has the ire of the Gods, it has to be Hawk.
Whatever these “Masons” are up to, they invited a bad, bad thing into their town.
Twin Peaks is a Purgatory of Abuse
Practically every family in Twin Peaks is full of abuse and abusers. The men in Twin Peaks are especially debauched. Adultery is rather minor compared to physical abuse and ultimately rape.
I’m not spoiling anything by saying what happened to Laura wasn’t a big surprise. That it was a family abuser who destroyed her. But at the time of the show’s release, I’m surprised how baffled all of us were about the identity of the killer. Lynch tips his hand in a big way to indicate that WHO isn’t important but the whole group of male adults in town bear the blame. Even the adult women who turn their eyes away from their suffering children bear blame.
Both Laura and Donna date abusive boys. Donna is even threatened several times in public by her popular jock boyfriend, Mike. Bobby, one of Laura’s beaus, is smacked around by his father. His mother just sits and meekly watches it. Is it any wonder that Bobby continues the cycle? High
School drop out and diner waitress Shelly is also one of Bobby’s conquests. She finds his behavior mild compared to her husband Leo. Leo who beats her regularly with a sock of soap if she doesn’t wash his clothing properly.
But the abuse isn’t always male against female or child. The abuse is also female against male, female against female. Big Ed is married to Nadine. She keeps him tied to her due to a hunting “accident”. Which allows her to run his life. Catherine Martell hates her sister-in-law and plots to force her to sell the family timber mill.
As we can see, Laura’s murder is just the symptom of a greater societal problem in Twin Peaks town. Lynch and crowd were really interested in character studies not a murder mystery.
It’s a Sherlock Holmes Tribute!
Sheriff Truman jokes about being Watson to Agent Cooper’s Holmes. That was when it struck me that Twin Peaks is a Lynch tribute to the great detective. Agent Cooper is Sherlock Holmes. He is brilliant, awkward, manic, reclusive, sarcastic and obsessively driven to solve mysteries. While he lacks a dangerous drug addiction, he makes up for it by swilling coffee by the buckets, stuffing himself with sugary treats and dabbling in forbidden occult knowledge.
Ultimately this successful series stumbled badly due to it’s overarching ambitions and backstage backstabbing. Lynch wanted to keep Laura’s murderer a mystery until the series end. But he was forced by ABC to give an answer. By doing so, the show lost it’s anchor and exploring the characters inside Twin Peaks lost its allure. Lynch and partner Frost decided that they would create a new focus by exploring the prickly relationship of Audrey Horne and Agent Cooper. This would capitalize on the chemistry between the two leads and make the show’s fanbase extremely happy. It just so happens that Kyle MacLachlan (Cooper) was dating Lara Flynn Boyle (Donna) at the time. According to many stories Boyle was extremely jealous of Sherilyn Fenn. It seems that Boyle thought her character Donna was going to be the lead Teen. When she was hired she was the only teen character with the main story line. Sheryl Lee (Laura) was only used for her image and a few flashback scenes. The character Audrey Horne was a late addition. It was fickle fate that turned the charismatic Sherilyn Fenn into the iconic face of Twin Peaks. Apparently Boyle couldn’t stand being side lined and convinced MacLachlan to bow out of the Audrey/Cooper endgame. He did. Lynch was disappointed in the early solving of Laura’s murder plus the death of a main plot development, left the show mid season to direct Wild at Heart. Subsequently the show crashed and burned with WTF story lines that were hastily picked out of thin air to cover up the lack of Audrey/Cooper romance. Truly the only other show that I’ve seen fail so disastrously due to backstage jealousy was HBO’s True Blood.
Now that we are getting season 3, 25 years later, maybe Audrey will have her day with Cooper. We shall see.