A retrospective review before ‘Twin Peaks’ 2017 revival

'Twin Peaks: The Return' premiered Sunday night, 25 years after the cancellation of the original series.

by Sebastian Wurzrainer | 5/23/17 1:05am

Diane, 11:30 a.m., May 21. In a few hours “Twin Peaks” will debut a third season after a 25-year absence, now as “Twin Peaks: The Return.” It would be an understatement to say that I am tense with anticipation.

At moments like this, one is drawn to reflect: What was it about “Twin Peaks” that made it so special? Why is it that, of all of David Lynch’s bizarre projects, this was the one that managed to capture the imagination of the general public? Although Lynch has always had a dedicated fan base, “Twin Peaks” is really the only work of his that has had broad appeal outside of that fan base. Which is odd, because it’s far from the most conventional or palatable work of his that I’ve seen. Yet somehow millions of viewers were captivated by this surreal show for two all-too-brief seasons.

For the uninitiated, “Twin Peaks” is set in the titular town, a sleepy little alcove in Washington, and follows the investigation into the murder of duplicitous homecoming queen, Laura Palmer. Although this mystery hangs over each episode like a thundercloud, it doesn’t take the audience long to realize that Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost are less interested in solving puzzles than they are in exploring the unconventional lives of Twin Peaks’ residents.

Since the show was taken off the air, fans and critics have endlessly theorized why it was initially so appealing and why it slowly fell apart in Season 2 before its cancellation. Many, for example, have praised the cinema-level cinematography, the endless riddles and Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting score. While all of these elements are exceptional, I think the biggest allure was the uncompromising nature of Lynch and Frost’s vision. In 1990, no one had ever seen anything quite like “Twin Peaks,” and to this day it’s still one of a kind.

For one thing, it combines just about every genre and tone on the face of the planet. It’s a murder-mystery, romance, melodrama, dark comedy, science fiction, fantasy and horror show all rolled into one. Likewise, a single episode can bounce between scenes of slapstick humor, heartbreaking tragedy and genuine eeriness. In its best moments, “Twin Peaks” is trademark Lynch with subplots involving visions, demonic spirits, aliens, extradimensional spaces and a touch of magic.

Of course, none of this would work if it weren’t for the phenomenal cast of characters who manage to anchor some of Lynch’s more absurd decisions. Indeed, what I’m most looking forward to in a few hours is revisiting everyone — it’ll be like seeing old friends. Sheriff Truman, Audrey Horne, Pete Martell, Albert Rosenfield, Denise Bryson — so many names, so many characters who have left an indelible impression on me. The show is an ensemble piece, which is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. At any given moment there are approximately 20 major characters, so unsurprisingly some storylines are more engaging than others depending upon who you gravitate toward. On the other hand, with so many characters it’s almost inevitable that you’ll find at least a few to latch onto and love.

Speaking of things to love, let’s talk about the protagonist and one of my favorite characters of all time: FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper. Without Cooper, “Twin Peaks” wouldn’t work. He’s a brilliant detective with a childlike fascination of the world. He loves a slice of cherry pie and a “damn fine cup of coffee” and whittles just because he can. He genuinely worries about the Dalai Lama and Tibet and relies heavily on dreams and intuition rather than logic and reason. And, of course, he always carries around his trusty tape recorder so he can create daily messages for the mysterious Diane. Cooper is one of those rare instances where the writing and the performance are inseparable ­— the dialogue wouldn’t work without Kyle MacLachlan’s brilliant, affectionate and quirky performance, and MacLachlan’s acting wouldn’t work without the dialogue to affirm his choices. Part of what makes the character brilliant vis-a-vis the rest of the show is that, at first, he appears to be the strange one, and everyone else seems normal. But soon you realize that the residents of Twin Peaks all have dirty secrets and that Cooper, for all his eccentricity, is the only innocent character. Incidentally, as a Washingtonian I can confirm that we are all as crazy as this show makes us out to be.

I noted above that “Twin Peaks” began to collapse during its second season, concluding with one of the most aggravating finales in TV history. The story was continued in the film “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me,” but many fans, myself included, remember it none too fondly. The biggest problem with the second season came halfway through when Laura’s killer was revealed, something that Lynch and Frost had never planned to do.

After “Episode 16 — Arbitrary Law,” the show quickly lost momentum and was forced to focus more heavily on the tedious subplots of supporting characters for the sake of filling the runtime. Admittedly, things picked up again in “Episode 20 — Checkmate” with the introduction of Cooper’s polar-opposite arch-nemesis and former partner, Windom Earle. Sadly, that plotline, which carried the rest of the show, felt like a huge missed opportunity largely because Earle’s characterization was so disappointingly cartoonish.

Despite its later decline, for a season and a half “Twin Peaks” was something to behold. Like its hero, the show never really made sense, but we implicitly trusted it nevertheless. In a moment of sage wisdom, Cooper commented, “I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present.” I can only hope that “Twin Peaks: The Return” will be my present for today.

Of course, by the time this article is published I will already know if the third season has succeeded in recapturing the charm of the first. At the moment, however, I’m in the dark. So, Diane, I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Rating: Season 1 : 10/10, Season 2: 6/10

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