Two and a half decades since the chilling final episode of Twin Peaks screened, David Lynch’s peculiar masterpiece returns. This is big news for devoted fans, especially those that remember Laura Palmer’s words to Agent Cooper in the fateful last episode: “I’ll see you again in 25 years.” Was this the plan all along? Do we even care? No sir. #TwinPeaks is coming and that’s what matters. So, as I brace myself for the magical, terrifying outlandishness that is to come, I reflect on the series that started it all.
When Twin Peaks first aired in 1990, there had never been anything like it. It was, as Telegraph writer Sarah Compton notes, “the show that brought weirdness to TV.” The story follows the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer in the small logging town of Twin Peaks, Washington. A popular, seemingly innocent girl, Laura’s death greatly affects the residents of the sleepy town. When FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper is sent in to assist the local sheriff department in solving the case, Laura’s secrets and the twisted, dark underbelly of Twin Peaks itself are slowly revealed. It’s a wonderfully uneasy blend of supernatural horror, crime, romance and comedy that will have you nervous-laughing in no time. The show is bizarre, unique and at times deeply unsettling. But that’s not all.
Twin Peaks was revolutionary because it expanded the possibilities of what TV could do. It presented TV as a multifaceted artifact of popular culture, capable of blurring boundaries between genres and breaking racial and gender stereotypes. But it’s not just that David Duchovny plays a transvestite DEA agent (simply scandalous in the early ’90s), or that despite the lead being male, the cast has almost equal male to female numbers, or that in said cast a Chinese American woman and Native American man have large recurring roles — it’s more than that.
Twin Peaks refuses to be labelled under one specific genre. You can’t give it a singular classification as you would other TV shows from the ’80s and ’90s — Friends, comedy; The X-Files, science fiction. Et cetera. Twin Peaks isn’t just a crime series, or a drama series. It’s an amalgam of about five different genres, which is precisely why it’s so different and so groundbreaking — it defies categorization. If I were to even attempt to "define" Twin Peaks, I would probably just call it "alternative" or "weird." Very apt.
The show also highlighted the cinematographic potential of TV. With sweeping shots, beautiful lighting and clever camera angles, Twin Peaks proved for the first time that the cinematic quality of TV could equal that of film. Step aside, big screen. Your smaller counterpart will give you a run for yerr money.
Time to get onto the specifics. When I think of Twin Peaks, the first thing that comes to mind is Special Agent Dale Cooper (who I will refer to as Cooper from hereon because, lazy). What a wizard of a character. Played by a young and dapper Kyle MacLachlan, Cooper is a straight-laced, slightly OCD thirty-something with a passion for black coffee — “black as midnight on a moonless night,” to be specific. His coffee obsession is the one of the show’s trademark features, the famous line “DAMN fine coffee” quickly becoming a fan-favorite.
Cooper also likes pie, specifically the cherry variety served at Twin Peak’s Double R Diner. “They got a cherry pie here that’ll kill you,” he states at one point. (Sidenote: You can visit the diner used in the show, which is located in North Bend, Washington. A huge sign outside advertises "Home of Twin Peaks' Cherry Pie," and the interior is decorated with images from the show. I went and it was magical.)
Cooper is meticulous about detail and very specific about what he wants. He calculates his mileage and records meals into his Dictaphone, whose tapes are sent to his never-present secretary, Diane. Despite his precise side, Cooper is constantly fascinated by things around him, especially the wilderness of Twin Peaks. On first meeting Sheriff Harry Truman, he asks him,
“Sheriff, what kind of fantastic trees have you got growing here? Big, majestic.”
The Sheriff responds, “Douglas Firs.”
“Douglas Firs…” Cooper marvels.
It’s the little interactions like these that affirm the show’s strangeness. Was that dialogue necessary? Not at all, but it’s these unnecessary correspondences and moments that make Twin Peaks so great.
Twin Peak's Badass Women
Agent Cooper may be the show’s protagonist, but he’d be nothing without the cast of mismatch, wacky characters. Firstly, I want to talk about the women. There are some seriously badass female characters in Twin Peaks. My personal favorite (and quite possibly everyone’s) is Audrey Horne, the sexy, alluring 18-year-old daughter of Great Northern Hotel owner Ben Horne. Played by Sherilyn Fenn, Audrey is intelligent, sassy and very good at getting what she wants. She instantly falls for Agent Cooper, and the romance between the two — which never quite comes to fruition — is one of the highlights of the show. She also plays a big role in the investigation of Laura Palmer, showing her bravery as she risks her safety to help Cooper. Favorite Audrey line? “You know, sometimes I get so flushed, it’s interesting. Do your palms ever itch?” Say whaaat?
Following hot on Audrey’s tail in the "badass women of Twin Peaks" list is Shelly Johnson, played by the beautiful Madchen Amick. Shelly left high school to marry Leo Johnson, who turned out to be a violent dictator who simply “wanted a maid he didn’t have to pay for.” Miserable at home, Shelly began having an affair with Laura Palmer’s boyfriend, Bobby Briggs, a high school jock with one shockingly bad haircut. After Leo beats Shelly badly, she musters the courage to retaliate and shoots him. Shelly is a sweet and funny character we can empathize with and really care for.
As well as Audrey and Shelly, the other women of Twin Peaks are notable. Double R Diner owner Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton) is charming and kind, while Jose Packard (Joan Chen) is fiery and determined. Veteran actress Piper Laurie plays the angry, controlling Catherine Martell perfectly. You really come to loathe her. Then there’s the high-pitched, slightly immature Lucy Moran (Kimmy Robertson), who generates so many laffs. There’s also Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle), who personally I found annoying most of the time but does play the part well.
The Men Of Twin Peaks
Then there are the men. Twin Peaks would not be Twin Peaks with Sheriff Harry S. Truman, played by handsome Michael Ontkean. Harry is an upstanding citizen — loyal, brave, kind and caring. He also has a sense of humor and looks mighty fine in that sheriff’s uniform. He’s the whole package, really. His brotherly relationship with Agent Cooper is the backbone of the show, providing all the fuzzy feels. “I suppose you want me to follow them at a discrete distance?” He tiredly asks Cooper when tailing a suspect. “Harry, you’re alright,” his partner grins.
Deputy Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz) is another character of note. A member of Truman’s team, Andy is a gentle simpleton with a terribly receding hairline. His stupidity and relationship with Lucy just makes fab TV, people. Bobby Briggs, mentioned earlier, is also great. He’s the classic "cool guy" high school jock, but with a sweet side: He does really care about Shelly. His smart-ass attitude towards authority and juvenile ignorance are also extremely entertaining. There’s also Pete Martell (Jack Nance), a humble fisherman, and Deputy Tommy "Hawk" Hill (Michael Horse). Both men are genuine, funny and just plain great.
The people make Twin Peaks, but so does the entire mise-en-scène. The setting and set design, the music and the costumes all contribute to the overall peculiar feel of Twin Peaks. The rustic atmosphere of Twin Peaks, surrounded by forests and with a huge waterfall adds to that small-town, untouched vibe. The detail in the set design is commendable, with little things like the constant array of donuts at the sheriff’s department concreting the scene.
Twin Peaks is a worker’s town, with men dressed in practical flannel shirts and gumboots. Because of its late ’80s setting, the non-work clothing is great. Turtlenecks, slacks, checked skirts, baggy jeans and leather jackets. So good. The hairstyles (some of which have already been mentioned) are amazing. There are a lot of perms and even a couple of mullets. Audrey’s short, styled cut is definitely the most stylish, while some are just downright atrocious. Case in point: Laura Palmer’s mother, Sarah. Her hair is best described as a long mane of pube-like curls. Just Google it, alright?
The music of Twin Peaks is another highlight of the show. Composed by Angelo Badalamenti, the music is grand and highly atmospheric. In the darker scenes, it is eerie and builds suspense, while in the everyday scenes it is old fashioned and light. The theme song, "Falling," is sweeping and orchestral, creating a sense of nostalgia and longing. It’s difficult to describe just how important or affecting Twin Peaks’ music is, but after watching the first episode you’ll completely understand.
The way in which Twin Peaks’ story is told deserves mention here, because this also gives it that uniqueness and intrigue. The plot progresses more in the form of a mystery than a straight crime, as it is immediately clear there is something much bigger and darker than mere murder going on. It’s the horror aspects that need recognizing, because there are some seriously terrifying moments in Twin Peaks.
Example one: Bob, the alpha villain. As described by The One-Armed Man, a.k.a. Mike, “He is Bob, eager for fun. He wears a smile. Everybody run!” An animalistic man with long grey dirty hair, Bob is the epitome of evil. The very first time we see him, in a shudder/scream-inducing high angle close-up shot of him intently staring at the camera is pure fear. That is the only time I have ever had difficulty sleeping after watching a movie/TV.
Horror example two: When Leo wakes up. Are you afraid of clowns? Because you will be after watching this scene. In the second season, Shelly and Bobby look after Leo (who is now a vegetable) in order to receive his disability check. Throughout the season, as the two lovers taunt and tease him, there’s the nagging feeling that at some point, Leo is going to wake from his coma and resume his violent antics. In the thirteenth episode, when Shelly is home alone, he does.
First, the power begins flickering on and off — a classic horror trope. When Shelly goes to investigate, she discovers that Leo isn’t in his bed. Instead, it's a freaking CLOWN. After checking his chair and realizing he isn’t there, Shelly turns to see him standing in the corner, wearing a paper party hat with colorful cake all over his face. “Shelly," he says, and she screams. Nightmarish terror, executed perfectly.
Last but certainly not least, the wondrous weirdness of Twin Peaks needs to be explained more fully. In the show, being weird isn’t portrayed as a negative thing; it’s the opposite. Weirdness is celebrated in Twin Peaks, and there’s an unspoken message that we are all a little weird in some way. We all have quirks, strange personality traits, unusual interests of some kind. That’s what makes us interesting. Weirdness in Twin Peaks is shown in both subtle and overt ways.
There are small weirdnesses like Agent Cooper’s decision to take up whittling because “that's what you do in a town where a yellow light still means slow down, not speed up." Then there are slightly larger weirdnesses such as the completely unnecessary (but great) addition of a boy crab-walking and waving his arms in the background of a scene at Twin Peaks High. Things get full-scale weird with The Man From Another Place, a.k.a. the dancing dwarf who wears a red suit and dances. He also offers great conversation:
“I’ve got good news. That gum you like is going to come back in style.”
There’s the peaceful giant who appears to Cooper in his dreams and offers helpful advice in the form of riddles. Finally, there’s the Log Lady. “Who’s the lady with the log?” Cooper asked Harry. “We call her the Log Lady," he responds. The Log Lady carries around a log and talks to it like a pet. She’s extremely wise and rather grumpy, but one of the many beautifully bizarre characters of Twin Peaks.
One can’t really describe Twin Peaks, but there’s an attempt. It has to be seen to be understood and appreciated for the wonderful creation that it is. In an early episode, Agent Cooper epitomizes what it is to watch Twin Peaks, saying of the investigation:
"I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange."
Oh how fitting. This is Twin Peaks in a nutshell: wonderful, strange and defined by the unknown.
Watch the teaser for the new Twin Peaks below: