In 2020 Twin Peaks celebrates 30 years of alluring weirdness.
Contemporary culture has for thirty years now been laced with aspects of Peaks iconography; from themed dining to music and concerts, clothing lines to art exhibitions. In London Twin Peaks is never far away, with the deliciously nightmarish Lynchian inspired ‘Double R Club’ regularly selling out Bethnal Green Working Men’s club.
My journey into Twin Peaks began with the appalling murder of my classmate Lynda Mann, aged fifteen. Our teacher confirmed the tragic news as all eyes turned to Lynda’s grey plastic chair, occupied only by an absence of light. With whispers of curfews and killers, our small Midlands town rapidly mottled with paranoia, suspicion and fear. Amateur sleuths got down to business as wild theories abounded and uncomfortable truths were exposed.
There amongst the dank, clinging mists of November 1983, realisation dawned in me that evil isn”t something distant or untouchable, evil is potentially resident within us all.
Suddenly no one seemed trustworthy; the brutal anguish of the tearing of a unique soul from our reality compounded by the seemingly endless lack of progress in related police investigations.
Over time, life in our little town returned to a revised version of normality, one in which any life might be stolen away without warning and those wrongly implicated in Lynda’s murder struggled to repair ragged reputations. The emergence of evil within our community proved to be an on-going conduit for self-examination and doubt. Could such evil be as a lone tree in the forest? Or was the capacity for evil dormant in the roots that held up every trunk?
In time I moved on, left school; fell in love, moved away.
A privilege in itself, for Lynda remains forever 15.
In 1990 BBC2’s ‘Late Show’ previewed a new series about the murder of a school girl. My partner remarked that it might be worth watching, but I wasn’t convinced; I still bore unprocessed Lynda Mann scar tissue. Yet we tentatively watched the Twin Peaks Pilot. I briefly considered switching channels, but the Pilot’s unprecedented, bravura portrayal of raw grief somehow enabled release of my own internalised anger, not only over the loss of a fellow student, but also of my lost optimism in human nature.
Most unexpectedly Twin Peaks served as a form of therapy.
Show creators David Lynch and Mark Frost had apparently rummaged through my case of favourite things, combining a heady brew of snow-capped mountains, slow burning mysteries, ancient woodlands, spirituality, cherry pie and a glowing Pacific Northwestern design aesthetic, before shrouding them in an alluring and timeless coffee scented aurora, enveloped with a heady, hypnotic score from Angelo Badalamenti.
Kyle MacLachlan’s FBI Agent Dale Cooper was the hero I had missed out on as a child; a damn fine blend of intuition, geekiness, bravery, humour, warmth and Buddhist like spirituality.
Most importantly for a young gay man starved of positive TV role models, Cooper displayed unequivocal acceptance in his friendships with those of a spiritual nature: Catherine Coulson’s iconic sticky pitch spitting Log Lady, his bromance with Michael Ontkean’s reliable Sheriff Harry Truman and Denise Bryson, a trans-character played by David Duchovny. Apart from a couple of missteps, this was a portrayal ahead of its time. Denise was a likeable, sympathetic and heroic human being who just happened to be Trans, although the casting of a cisgender male remains problematic.
Twin Peaks was a big deal during its original first season. I can vouch for many mornings spent analysing the town’s strange events with colleagues at the water cooler.
Lindsey Bowden (Producer of Twin Peaks UK Festival) became a fan at the age of 14. Bowden recalls forming a Twin Peaks club at school; ‘Twin Peaks drew me in straight away, there was something romantic about the show, with its mix of mystery, horror and intrigue all rolled into one. It was safe place to be on my dark days.‘
Fan Max Leonard Hitchings was drawn in by a ‘sense of enchantment;’ the sense that the show generates a romantic, magical aura is not an uncommon one, indeed despite the town’s dark deeds, my annual re-watch consistently casts a warm, enticing hue over my soul.
As Twin Peaks crept into its second series, a more supernatural tone developed and viewers Stateside tailed off, not helped by the ABC’s erratic scheduling. In the UK we benefitted from regular scheduling; thus when (in one of the most disturbing scenes ever broadcast) the murderer of Laura Palmer was revealed and Laura’s story temporarily replaced by campy ‘B’ plots, in the U.K. one could still find loyal viewers to discuss the events with. Lynch-Frost contributed to a mid second season decline by becoming entrenched in other projects, even as ‘actor politics’ resulted in certain planned key plot developments being junked at short notice.
Twin Peaks found its mojo again as it hurtled towards its final episodes, intent on reminding us why we fell in love in with it in the first place. The core raison d’etre for the show, the life and death of Laura Palmer was reframed against the shows wider mythology (cosmology?) of two (now iconic) chevron floored ‘Lodges’ (the Black and the White) through which all living things pass, encountering lost souls, parasitic ‘Dugpa’ spirits and glass eyed doppelgangers along the way.
So it came to pass (spoilers) that on Tuesday 18th June 1991 Agent Dale Bartholomew Cooper (in a now legendary final classic episode) entered the Black Lodge with imperfect courage and was apparently split into two (possibly more) aspects, one predominantly good and one predominantly bad. with the ‘bad’ Cooper being hijacked by the predatory parasitic spirit ‘BOB.’ The final image of our apparently virtuous hero smashing his head into a bathroom mirror manically, possessed, and bleeding from the forehead was unsettling and disturbing, lingering in the subconcious unresolved for twenty five years.
Lynch/Frost left many of the other inhabitants of Twin Peaks in mortal jeopardy (a tactic also employed at the end of series one in order to facilitate network renewal) but it wasn’t going to wash with ABC; the plug was pulled. As many loyal fans (including myself) howled, with a crackling buzz of electricity and static Twin Peaks ended and faded into TV history.
Except it didn’t…
For like a sturdy Douglas Fir, Twin Peaks had taken root deep in our cultural subconscious; even if we weren’t happy with the way the second series had panned out, during random moments of our lives, we could still click our fingers along to Badalamenti’s Dance of the Dream Man and just feel that whole damn town, Twin Peaks was still very much alive in the moment. The DNA of Twin Peaks seeped out through the cracks of Agent Cooper’s broken bathroom mirror into modern televisual output, from X-Files to Lost from Broadchurch to Stranger Things.
In 1992 Twin Peaks returned in the bleaker, even more trippy form of the Lynch directed prequel/sequel Fire Walk With Me. Derided at the time for everything it was not, Fire Walk With Me is now essential pre-viewing for the contemporary Showtime series ‘The Return,’ affording us not only clues as to the possible eventual exit of the ‘Good Dale’ from the Black Lodge, but a fiercely committed performance from Sheryl Lee and one of the most beautiful endings in cinema history.
Around the world fan creatives worked valiantly to keep the show alive. A USA Twin Peaks Fest started in August 1992 whilst Lindsey Bowden ran the Twin Peaks UK Festival UK from 2010 to 2020.
By the late 2000s a renaissance was happening, partially via online chat groups, but also in mainstream music, art and fashion, related perhaps to the maturation of teenagers who had watched on first viewing or those who had shared their parents re watching or reminiscing. It became not uncommon to read positive re-appraisals of Fire Walk With Me, whilst shiny box-sets of the series meant that new viewers could join the party. Laura Palmer’s corpse was exhumed on 90s retrospective shows. Lynch too seemed to have processed the initial negativity surrounding Fire Walk With Me, finally stating ‘Twin Peaks is still there.’
These are just some who stepped up to keep the flame alive, others include Andreas Halskov author of ‘TV Peaks’ and Scott Ryan and John Thorne of The Blue Rose magazine. All of these individuals contributed to maintaining and building interest; and Showtime/Lynch/Frost should be hugely grateful to them for paving the path towards the eventual Showtime Return series.
In 2014 the ‘Twin Peaks Complete Mystery Blu-Ray’ landed in devotees living rooms, served up with a thinly veiled hint from Lynch that not only were there were more stories to be told, but he was finally ready to tell them.
On May 22nd, 2017 Twin Peaks finally returned as a new eighteen-part series for Showtime. Prior to transmission, I doubted the new series would provide complete resolution and I was proved right; against all odds Lynch/Frost served up a film for television that won awards and once again tore up the televisual storybook, whilst visciously deconstructing our penchant for nostalgia.
The Return was book-ended by two richly textured novels from Mark Frost, casting new light on the fictional origins of the town of Twin Peaks and its inhabitants, whilst filling in gaps between the original series and the Return. Rewatching the original series and Fire Walk With Me post Return/Frost novels partly reframes the now very familar original series into something greater and more cohesive; in the 2020s Twin Peaks is now truly multi-platform.
As The Return series/film series (delete as appropriate) recedes into the mists, generations of stories have been woven about the town of Twin Peaks and its inhabitants; I suspect there are many more to come. Some clamour for a definite conclusion from Lynch and Frost, yet the lack of narrative conclusion creates a space within which ongoing debate and analysis can flourish.
Like meditation, the joy of Twin Peaks is in what we bring to it as individuals and what we take away from it as individuals.
Perhaps this is why I never gave up my own residency of a town that allowed me to safely explore our potential for human evil, whilst at the same time being entertained and reminded of the joy of the remaining present with the wind in the pines, the blush of a soft pillow and the crust of a freshly cooked huckleberry pie.
Happy big 30 Twin Peaks.
See you in the trees.
First written for The Huffington Post 2016 – redrafted July 2020