For Twin Peaks fans, new and old, 2017 was an unforgettable year. Some waited over a quarter of a century to see the cult TV show return to their screens. I didn’t wait quite that long as I watched the original series for the first time in 2015. From May to September, the conversation on social media was lively as we watched the surreal vision of David Lynch play out on a weekly basis. A year on, I wanted to share some reflections and a few personal tips for how to enjoy the experience that is Twin Peaks, a TV show both wonderful and strange…
My Welcome To Twin Peaks
It was by chance that I happened to come across the show on the Amazon streaming service in 2015. I almost gave up on my first watch of the pilot but a good friend advised me to give it a second chance. On my second watch, the strength of the acting and the compelling characters drew me in and I binge watched the first two seasons. If you have never seen the series (and film), it’s rewarding viewing for seekers of original and unique programming. You can’t fault the uncanny ability of David Lynch, Mark Frost and the brilliant actors in the show to blend horror, tragedy and comedy in a dreamlike narrative that defies common conventions and tropes. I will try to summarise the plot in a spoiler free fashion.
Twin Peaks-The Plot
Series 1 & 2 (1989-1990)
On the surface, the show appears to be a murder mystery with the intrepid FBI Agent Dale Cooper as the main protagonist. SA Dale Cooper is dispatched to the quirky rural town of Twin Peaks to investigate the murder of prom queen, Laura Palmer. Cooper supports the local law enforcement efforts to solve this crime and quickly becomes enamoured with the town and it’s people in the process. In the manner of classic crime stories, a number of red herrings pop up along the way until the crime is ostensibly solved. As the story progresses, more and more of David Lynch’s dream logic invades the narrative until it takes off into a more esoteric direction. The show features numerous sub plots, often very comical ones but some very tragic ones too. The story reaches a climax on a cliffhanger that would frustrate fans for the next 28 or so years.
By the time we reach the end of season 2, a ‘bleeding’ of worlds takes place where the meta physical interferes with perceived reality. We meet a number of other worldly characters who appear to be controlling people in Twin Peaks. Certain characters such as Margaret ‘The Log Lady’ Lanterman and Major Garland Briggs appeared to be intuitive of this other worldly place and it’s denizens.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
The only Twin Peaks movie to date advanced the metaphysical elements of the story, introducing new other worldly characters and locations. Elements of time travel enter the story at this point with mysterious ambiguous characters like FBI agent Phillip Jeffries (played by the late David Bowie). The majority of the film centres around the back story behind the murder of Laura Palmer as we witness the last few days of her life. Like other characters, Laura is adversely affected by evil other worldly people who cause her to fluctuate between good and evil herself until she meets a heart breaking end. Thematically, the film is much darker than the TV show. The film critic, Mark Kermode regards ‘Fire Walk With Me’ as a horror movie, perhaps not in the typical sense of the word but maybe as a frame of reference for the overbearing sense of dread conveyed throughout the film.
Twin Peaks ‘The Return’ 2017
The third season picks up on the lives of much-loved characters approximately 25-28 years later on. Many of the ideas in Fire Walk With Me continue to evolve with the original protagonists, Dale Cooper and Laura Palmer still playing a central role. The Twin Peaks ‘universe’ expands to New York, Los Angeles, South Dakota and other locations. It would be difficult to elaborate without giving away spoilers so I will move on to what I feel is the best way to watch (and read about) Twin Peaks as a whole
Where To Start With Watching (And Reading) Twin Peaks
While not Twin Peaks, David Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’ movie comes across as a prototype of the show. The main protagonist, Jeffrey Beaumont (played by Kyle McLachlan) has a similar boyish wonder with dark exterior character to SA Dale Cooper (also played by Kyle McLachlan). The surreal suburban theme with a crime story and love triangle element all play into the expansive narrative of Twin Peaks too making it a good place to start.
Twin Peaks OS 1 & 2
Nothing will make any sense unless you start here. This is where you become acquainted with the brilliant characters (and there are so many of them) and that is by far the most important aspect of the show in my opinion. You get to know Dale Cooper, Big Ed Hurley, Audrey Horne, The Palmers and many other fan favourites. Some theorise that Twin Peaks as a story, runs in a time loop where the future and the past intertwine, others believe it is a collective dream. Either way. the first two seasons are the entry point, the central point of the time loop or even the start of the dream so start here.
Fire Walk With Me
I’ve already elaborated a little on the plot of this film. Although it is more of a prequel than a sequel to the TV show, it opens up the meta physical aspects of the story surrounding Dale Cooper and Laura Palmer.
The Missing Pieces
The Missing Pieces was released in 2014 featuring scenes that didn’t make the cut in Fire Walk With Me. Had these scenes been included in the film, it would have made more sense but Lynch had no choice but to omit them so the film didn’t have too long a run time.
There are a few tie ins with Twin Peaks on Mulholland Drive. The original idea for the film was to have a Twin Peaks fan favourite, Audrey Horne as the central character. Like Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive was meant to be a TV show. The film features long time Lynch actors like Naomi Watts and Michael J Anderson (both Twin Peaks actors) and the horrifying oil covered hobo or ‘woodsman’ who first appears in Fire Walk With Me, a precursor to the ‘woodsmen’ in season 3. After watching it 3 times, I believe there is a ‘dream’ element to the film, in fact it’s hard to tell what part of the film is meant to be ‘real’ and all I’ll say is this is a major theme of Twin Peaks season 3.
The Secret History Of Twin Peaks-Mark Frost
This is the first of two books where Mark Frost fleshes out the story of Twin Peaks and its central characters. Much of the book is a strange mixture of science fiction and conspiracy theory concerning the ‘Owl Ring’ worn by various characters in the TV show and film. Where the book is at it’s best is when we learn more about the characters. Mark Frost speaks in the recognisable language of fan favourites like Deputy Tommy ‘Hawk’ Hill, The Log Lady and Major Briggs.
The closing chapter of the book is a treat for fans frustrated at the end of season 2 and aspects of the secret history factor into season 3. At the time this book was published, keen fans spotted some glaring inaccuracies concerning certain characters which have spawned various theories. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe Twin Peaks has a ‘canon’, after all, you can never be sure of how much is ‘real’ within the fictional world of Twin Peaks. To quote Agent Jeffries in season three, it’s ‘slippery.’
Season 3 or ‘The Return’
Because ‘the past dictates the future’ in Twin Peaks, it is best to watch season 3 after seasons 1,2, Fire Walk With Me and the secret history. It’s the only way you will be able to fully appreciate the story references and the long-standing characters. Even at this point, you will be left with questions, some of which will be (kind of) answered in Mark Frost’s second Twin Peaks book ‘The Final Dossier.’
The Final Dossier- Mark Frost
Like The Secret History, The Final Dossier is presented as a series of FBI files with the chief narrator being Agent Tamara Preston, a new character who features in season 3. If you’ve gotten this far and you’re scratching your head (and you will be), this book is a short but satisfying read that revisits characters from the original series and neatly puts a bow on some of the more confounding story arcs of season 3 while still leaving just enough mystery to keep you dreaming of what might be.
How To Enjoy Twin Peaks
As the presenter of the excellent ‘Hanging With Agent Cooper’ podcast says, David Lynch Tv shows and films operate on ‘dream logic’ and are best enjoyed according to this understanding. A book called ‘Fan Phenomena: Twin Peaks’ has been published on this subject. It’s a series of essays edited by Marisa C. Hayes and Franck Boulegue for University of Chicago Press. an excerpt was published on HuffPost which you can read here and I will post a short quote below:
the phrase “dream logic” is not an oxymoron. There is indeed a logic to dreaming, a logic that differs from ordinary waking thought but is neither inferior nor subservient to it—quite the opposite, perhaps. Dream logic embraces embodied instinct and cosmic self-awareness, our lowest animal desires and our highest spiritual aspirations, our darkest fears and our brightest joys. It governs a much wider range of experiences and realities than is normally recognized by waking consciousness.
Operating on this ‘dream logic’ helps the viewer to enjoy the experience of viewing and not get stuck ruminating over apparent ‘inaccuracies.’ Dreams are often nonsensical, they shift from place to place and time to time in non linear fashion, they present scenarios that seem impossible in real life. Dreams fill you with fear one second and make you laugh out load in your sleep the next.
I’m not a Lynch ‘fanboy’ but I do like some of his work and I respect him as a great artist. as for Twin Peaks, I’m sure you can guess how I feel about it! I believe there is a lot to reflect upon in the intertwining plots and sub plots of Twin Peaks, themes like mortality, human failure and success. There is a beauty to this show that sets it above the standard serialised drama. You won’t just watch Twin Peaks and forget about it, like those who have ‘lived inside the dream’, you will find yourself pondering and reflecting over its meanings long after watching.