Sunday, May 21, 2017

Twin Peaks: 25 Years Later

On June 10, 1991, a long, crazy dream came to an end… or to a pause. The relentlessly innovative, relentlessly weird series Twin Peaks sputtered to an early demise after something less than one and a half standard television seasons. During its brief run, Twin Peaks made an impression on virtually everyone in America and generated a cult following that lasted long past its series finale. So did the series' influence: the strange mixture of occult and soap opera, mystery and comedy, slapstick and horror caught on. Series directly inspired by Twin Peaks were many and outlived it by years and decades – Picket Fences, X-Files, True Detective and dozens of other shows borrowed something or other from Twin Peaks, whether that be cast, plot, directorial style, or tone.

Early in Twin Peaks, Agent Cooper says of his breakfast that there's nothing like the taste sensation when ham and maple syrup collide. That is an apt and possibly very deliberate metaphor for what Twin Peaks is. The snide, relentless competence of Albert Rosenfield and the calm, confident folksy charm of Sheriff Harry Truman are one of many collisions the show portrayed between people whose ethos – whose very way of being – were so different that it was hard to believe that the planet could contain both of them. Consider the outrageously eccentric household home to humble outdoorsman Pete Martell, his shrewish wife Catherine, and her mysterious sister-in-law from Hong Kong, Josie. Even unto themselves, these characters were full of contradictions – simpleminded Pete turning out to be a chess master, Josie hiding a romance with Sheriff Truman and a life of criminal intrigue, and Catherine posing for weeks as a Japanese businessman. Sometimes, these contradictions were developed at length, but they were found even in throwaway lines as when the Native American Deputy Hawk's refers to his former lover Diane Shapiro (PhD, Brandeis) and when Agent Cooper throws stones in a mystic ceremony for a distance of 60 feet and 6 inches (the distance from the pitcher's mound to home plate in baseball). And the very idea that a supernatural demon would be named, of all things, Bob (by convention, spelled BOB).

Twin Peaks ­– the name tells you that duality is an important theme – was ruled by these clashes between opposites, and more than any other, there were two particularly ubiquitous dualities: ordinariness vs. strangeness and purity vs. corruption. And more than in any other person, these dualities both coexisted in the central but deceased character Laura Palmer. The beautiful homecoming queen who volunteered for charity was also a drug dealing, drug addicted, prostitute – something we found out in a series of shocking revelations throughout the first season. Even more shocking, we found out in the second season (and the series' print companion – The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer – that she had long been tormented by a disembodied spirit, a demonic predatory who has possessed her own father, and who had used his body to assault and rape her until she accepted death as her only way out.

The Twin Peaks story thus far, could be broken into the following parts:

• The Pilot, a decent standalone David Lynch film in its own right, except for its pointed lack of an ending, which was supplied for the so-called European Ending (aired on European TV and available as an extra on VHS and DVD) that sped through an unsettling resolution to Laura Palmer's death in a matter of minutes. Footage from the European Ending was used in Cooper's dream sequence at the end of Episode Three.

• The rest of the first season, in which the town and Laura's murder were explored, leading to an explosive finale with numerous deaths, assaults, and destruction. At this point, the writers had not agreed upon a resolution to the murder mystery, whose query, "Who killed Laura Palmer?" became a nationally-known catchphrase.

• The book, "The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer," by Jennifer Lynch, which was published during the offseason and provided major developments/lookaheads regarding the plot, including the supernatural nature of Laura's killer, BOB.

• The first half of the second season, leading to the identity of Leland Palmer as the human host of BOB, and thus the physical body that killed Laura. This was filled with clues and red herrings, but led inexorably to a "twin peaked" conclusion in which the viewers learn first who killed Laura, and then later Cooper and the other authorities catch Leland.

• The second half of the second season, which meanders considerably, with a few mundane soap opera-ish plots as distractions from the central contest between Agent Cooper and his evil former partner, Windom Earle. The show itself battled ambiguous levels of support from its network, ABC, until its cancellation became certain and the series was given a memorable ending in which Agent Cooper returned from the Black Lodge possessed by BOB.

• A theatrical film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me that served as a prequel to the series, showing the final days of Laura Palmer's life, the FBI's unsuccessful interactions with the spirit world from which BOB hails. Some truly bizarre scenes set in the spirit world showed that its residents visit our world to feed on the emotions of pain and suffering, presented as creamed corn and dubbed garmonbozia.

Now, after 26 years, the series resumes a few hours from now, in the future time frame indicated "25 years later" in the European Ending, Cooper's dream, and some scenes in FWWM. What will the series cover? It's certain that the "ending" of the second season will be addressed somehow, which would seem to require either that Cooper was somehow exorcised of BOB at some point in the past, or perhaps he still has the demon inside him, decades later.