Twin Peaks - Season 1 & 2 Review
December 07, 2016

When you think of Twin Peaks, the first image that comes to mind is probably that of a backwards-talking dwarf dancing in a red-curtained room. That is certainly one of its most famous scenes, but there is more to this show than simply the bizarre dream sequences and cryptic imagery that director David Lynch is famous for.

At its core, Twin Peaks is simply a murder mystery, focusing on the slaying of local teen queen Laura Palmer and the devastating effects that her death has had on the small, innocuous town of Twin Peaks. And like any good whodunnit, it needs an interesting cast of suspects and plenty of secrets to discover. Was she killed by her biker boyfriend, whom she had a breakup with on the night of her death? Was it the psychotic trucker, who was involved in making porn films of her? Was it the lascivious blackjack dealer, who works at the shady brothel? Or was it the rich, scheming businessman with whom she was having an affair?

It becomes quickly apparent that Laura was no angel. Yet, on the surface, she was a happy, energetic and compassionate girl who was a pillar of strength in the community. She was the homecoming queen, she helped tutor the mentally challenged, and she provided Meals on Wheels to the elderly. But beneath it all, she had a cocaine habit, deviant sexual desires, and an inner torment that she could never share with anyone. This is a girl who not only had a diary, but a secret diary where she could bury her deepest dirt just in case her regular diary was ever found. How can such a dichotomy exist within a single person?

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Themes of dual identities are prevalent in Twin Peaks, and there is constant friction between society and the self, truth and lies, appearances and true natures within its characters. Even the town itself seems to have a dual personality. On its surface, it is a friendly, simple community known only for its tourism and logging, but beneath lies an undercurrent of drugs, extortion, violence, and prostitution. Everybody in Twin Peaks seems to have a secret. Some of these turn out to be deep and dark, while others are merely strange, sad or bittersweet. Very few of the characters are exactly what they appear to be. Many of the "good guys" turn out to be devious double-crossers, while many of the villains have sympathetic human sides to their personalities.

One of the best examples of this is the character of Josie Packard, a Chinese-born widow who, by all appearances, is simply hard done by after the tragic loss of her American husband. She appears to be making the best of her bad situation by continuing to run the sawmill that she has inherited, but things are much stickier underneath the surface. In fact, she is involved in a dangerous and far-reaching conspiracy involving murder, shady land dealings, arson and insurance fraud. She is one of the most duplicitous characters in the entire series, and yet has the misfortune of falling in love with the local sheriff who is probably one of the most honest people in town. You can imagine that things do not go well for them.

And if that example is the macrocosm, it is also present within the microcosm of Twin Peaks' less-ambitious characters, such as Ed, the mechanic, and Norma, the diner owner. They are in love with each other, but are unfortunately married to other people. Society and appearances will not permit them to be together, but since they are good people, they refuse to hurt anyone else by acting on their desires. So, they continue to live out their respective lies whilst longing for each other from afar. Keeping such a secret takes it toll, however, as internal suffering is still suffering any way you slice it, and the longer a secret is kept, the more it festers.

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Enter the white knight of the show, FBI special agent Dale Cooper, who has been assigned to Laura's case. He approaches the dark business of detective work with panache and aplomb, smiling brightly as he uncovers each morbid clue. He is a man who loves his job and instills joy into every aspect of his life. He marvels at Twin Peaks' untouched natural beauty, he takes the time to learn the names of its native flora and fauna, and he even decides to whittle a flute in his spare time. He is a bright light in the darkness surrounding Laura's murder.

Such a character might seem naive or foolish, but the opposite is true. Cooper is vastly intelligent, perceptive, and nobody's fool. He is also highly spiritual. He follows the guidance of dreams, visions and intuition to solve his cases. He meditates. He studies Buddhism. He is a man who is learning to master his darkness and use it to his advantage. He is the protagonist of the show precisely because he is so well-balanced and lacks the duality seen in most of the other characters; he is like a Zen master in training. Most of his colleagues think he's crazy half the time, but he nevertheless remains calm and focused like the still waters of a pond. The FBI are uncomfortable with his methods, but they tolerate them because he get results. To me, he was a welcome divergence from the rigid, concrete-thinking patriarchal templates that you generally see in cop shows.

And when the weird, paranormal aspects of Laura's case start coming to light, you get the sense that Cooper is the right man for the job. Certain people in Twin Peaks keep having visions of a sinister, long-haired man who apparently does not exist, yet nevertheless seems to be involved in Laura's killing somehow. A mysterious one-armed man has also been seen around town, who also seems to have some connection to the slaying. Cooper is then visited by certain higher intelligences in his dreams and visions, one of whom physically steals his ring. Topics like precognition, telepathy, and demonic possession are not off the table here, and while some of this stuff may be "too out there" for some people, this is the stuff David Lynch is interested in, and that's where the magic happens. Whatever you may think about Twin Peaks' plausibility, it still makes for some great entertainment nonetheless.

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However, having watched the entire series now, I can sort of see why it got cancelled. Most of its energy and mystery evaporates after Laura's murder is resolved, which happens about midway through season two, and the subsequent plotline involving serial killer Windom Earle is, perhaps, a little too zany and over-the-top by comparison. Earle is an interesting character, but he pushes the limits of believability a little too far. For example, he seems to have an unlimited supply of money, weapons, gadgets, and resources at his disposal by which to ply his mischief, despite the fact that he operates out of a small shack in the woods. He is also a master of disguise, utilizing a different costume every time he ventures out into town. This includes a horse costume, seemingly just for the hell of it. Where does he get all this stuff?

Also, the fact that the authorities neglect to warn the inhabitants of Twin Peaks about Earle's looming threat seems like a big oversight to me. A serial killer in a small town is kind of a big deal, and you'd think that after he had taken his first few victims that there would be some mention of him on the evening news, but no. Meanwhile, agent Cooper, who knows full well how dangerous this killer is, seems more interested in courting his new girlfriend than devoting his time to catching him. Say what?

Anyway, even if I felt that the writing became a little unfocused by the end, I still enjoyed watching Twin Peaks and I can see why it became a cult classic. It blended genres, broke moulds, blazed new territory, and was a truly original work. It went places that other shows simply didn't during the 1990s, and it was bolstered by strong performances from practically every single member of its gigantic cast.

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So why am I reviewing Twin Peaks now, twenty-five years after the fact? Well, in the age where absolutely everything needs to be rebooted, apparently a third season is in production. David Lynch is again at the helm as director and writer, which gives me high hopes for its quality. Most of the original cast will also be reprising their roles. It will be interesting to see what direction the show takes considering that the actors are now much older than they were, but I'm excited to see what they do with it nonetheless.

Curiously, there was some foreshadowing for this in the very last episode of season two, when Laura's spectre, addressing Cooper in one of his visions, tells him "I'll see you again in twenty-five years".

And here we are.

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overdrive overdrive - December 08, 2016 (04:03 PM)
I loved Twin Peaks when it was first on, but I agree with you on the end. The combination of the weirdness taking over, so the subtlety was gone (it seemed to go from the crazy stuff being confined to Cooper's visions to just being everywhere - ala Nadine becoming an amnesiac and hooking up with delinquent Bobby's delinquent buddy on the wrestling team because a middle-age woman thinking she's a high schooler and being in a relationship with a high school kid would totally be cool!) AND the show's insistence that NO ONE could actually be happy (Nadine popping out of her amnesia just when Ed and Norma are realizing they can be together).

I will say (CONTROVERSY ALERT!) that I liked the ending. The Black Lodge was portrayed as this almost Lovecraftian force, so it makes sense that no matter how perceptive and talented Cooper was, there was no way he was getting out unscathed. Overall, the show has a special spot in my heart. Today, shows with ensemble casts are pretty commonplace (particularly on networks like HBO and Showtime), but back then they were rare unless you're counting never-ending soap operas. That was the first I'd seen of that sort and the combination of every episode not necessarily having a resolution, but just leading to next week, really struck a chord as the way entertainment should go. Especially when it led to scenes like the one where we all found out just who Killer Bob was. High tension during that one!
Nightfire Nightfire - December 08, 2016 (07:49 PM)
Y'know, my take on the ending was that Cooper failed his journey through the Black Lodge because he did exactly what Hawk warned him about - he reacted with fear instead of love when meeting his shadow self. Cooper's first instinct is to run, and once his evil doppelganger catches up to him, that's the precise moment when the Black Lodge sequence ends and he's ejected back into the real world and is possessed by Bob. It was a surprising twist to me, as Cooper was ostensibly the core of goodness for the show - But it also goes to show you that anyone, even the best of us, can have a moment of weakness with dire consequences.

And obviously, it was a good launching point for Season 3, which sadly never came. But now that the show's been revived, I wonder how they're going to explain the time that was lost in the interim. Will Cooper secretly be a serial killer all this time? It'll be interesting to see...

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