What About BOB?

Twin Peaks - 1990-1991
Created by David Lynch

I hadn't seen Twin Peaks since it aired, over 20 years ago, before my recent foray back into the series.  The foremost question on my mind in returning to it was also voiced by others when I told them I was watching it again; "Does it hold up?"

The answer, I found, was "Yes, but..."

YES, it holds up.  Lynch's retro-iconic predilections give the show a look that doesn't age in the same way something more au currant from 1990 would look now.  Moments of big hair effectively keep it grounded in small town America, but Audrey Horne in saddle shoes, a pencil skirt and pearls will be a thing of beauty forever.  Characters are costumed, not simply dressed according to marketing arrangement.  As evolving tastes in drama go, Peaks sets itself apart again, employing a stylized form of melodrama.  Over-the-top performances remain internally consistent to the tenor of the show.

I'd venture to say that Twin Peaks was massively influential on the kind of televised dramas that would come after it.  It viewed its story in the long term, and was aware that it had a place to go.  This wasn't a case of thinking one episode at a time with cliffhangers for the sake of cliffhangers.  It built to each reveal.  I believe that Twin Peaks made shows like X-Files, Lost and even Desperate Housewives possible.  If it were made today, it would run 7 seasons on cable.

BUT it still suffers from the same ailments that troubled it the first time around.  I had hoped that the rough spots I remembered would be buffed out by my contracted viewing schedule.  While it did strengthen the narrative continuity, it still breaks down exactly where one expects it to.  The pleasant surprise is that it recovers, albeit too late to save it from cancellation.

Season One ran a mere seven episodes and created a sensation.  Director David Lynch brought his obsession with the unsavory underbelly of small town America to television, combining a supernatural mystery with a darkly satire of a soap opera filled with mood, coated in idiosyncrasy and dunked in a hot cup of the surreal.

It opens on the riverside discovery of a dead body; the local prom queen, Laura Palmer.  This is the event that brings the secret lives of the small northwestern logging town of Twin Peaks into the cold light of day.  It also brings FBI agent Dale Cooper to town.  His eccentricities fit into the town's peculiarities like a six-fingered hand in a six-fingered glove -- not just snugly, but with great unlikelihood.

The threads of the murder extend throughout the tapestry of the town, and each thread tugged upon creates new distortions in the image they have woven for themselves.  The threads pass through the high school (which no one seems to attend after the first 3 episodes), the Double-R Cafe, the Great Northern Hotel, the Packard Saw Mill, Horne's Department Store, One-Eyed Jack's (the brothel across the border), and assorted lives in between, including the local drug trade and the town's own police department.  Everyone has secrets, most of them are having affairs, and not one relationship will come through unaffected.

Now, it's not my intention to tell you the story nor to catalogue its characters.  If you've seen it, that would be redundant, and if you haven't, I'd be robbing you of the opportunity to discover them for yourself.

The first season builds up to some major cliffhanging.  Some of those mysteries aren't resolved until late in the next season.  The murder of Laura Palmer is solved -- sort of -- about a third of the way into the second season, and that's where things break down for a while.  If Laura Palmer's death was the cluster of threads tied to so many other lives, the closing of the case is like a cigarette hole burned into the tapestry. 

To build a grand mystery, the show had wrapped itself in a large and dense cast of characters.  Absent a central story, the characters were adrift.  The show gets caught up in subplots for several episodes; few of them compelling, and some downright annoying.  Out of some of these subplots, however, develop converging elements of a new mystery, itself tied into the lingering unresolved elements of Laura's murder.  Just as this is really kicking into gear, Season Two ends with another round of cliffhangers ...and the show wasn't renewed.

Which leads us to...

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me - 1992
Written by David Lynch & Robert Engels
Directed by David Lynch

This prequel to the television series answers absolutely nothing.  It illuminates, but as it deals with events leading up to the discovery of Laura Palmer's plastic-wrapped body, it makes only the slightest nod to the mysteries of the series' end.

It backtracks to a murder only mentioned in the series; that of Theresa Banks, a girl looking much like Laura, from another Washington small town much like Twin Peaks, murdered just as Laura will be soon after.  It then shifts to Palmer herself and the situations that send her spiraling toward her own doom, finally culminating in her grisly murder and dumping in the river.  This is no spoiler.  It bleeds right into the beginning of the series, and the details are largely covered therein.

Fire Walk With Me takes advantage of its cinematic format to indulge in peculiarity even more.  It's a couple notches darker than the series and wanders even deeper into the grim and bizarre supernatural mythos of Lynch's world.  I'm not sure this is to its advantage.

I highly recommend the series.  It's rich with stories and characters one won't have seen anywhere else before.  Despite its meandering period and uncertain ending, it's still faithful to its own storytelling and adds up to more than, say (my go-to less-than-the-sum-of-its-parts series), Lost.  It's not just a show; it's an experience.

It's natural that one will want to watch the movie after the series, but one needn't feel obligated.  It repaints familiar scenery with some powerful emotional colors, but it doesn't answer the mysteries that remain, and it over-answers a mystery already solved.

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