was brought back for a continuation season in 2017 so I thought I should watch through the original again in preparation. The original series aired on the ABC network for two seasons and was halted somewhat abruptly. I saw much of it at the time but didn't understand it. I watched it again around 2000 and watching it again now, I remembered almost none of it. I'm not sure if that's good or bad.
In the small logging town of Twin Peaks in the northeast corner of Washington State, a girl has been murdered. Laura Palmer was the prom queen and everyone thought she had a perfect life. Everyone loved her, so who would kill her? Sheriff Harry S. Truman would have a hard time since his small town doesn't see this kind of violence often. Luckily for him, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper arrives to tell him that Laura is the latest victim of a pattern killer so he will offer his expertise.
As Cooper and Truman expose Laura's life, they find a lot of darkness under the surface. While she's dating a preppie, Bobby Briggs, it turns out they were both seeing other people. It seems Laura stayed with Bobby because he's supplying her cocaine habit, and he's distributing the drugs at their high school. Bobby gets the drugs from abusive husband Leo Johnson, and Bobby is seeing Leo's wife Shelly on the side. Laura is seeing biker James Hurley on the side, but after Laura's death, James teams up with Laura's best friend Donna to figure out who killed her, and it turns out James and Donna are actually in love. One point to note is that the characters in Twin Peaks are leading soap opera lives similar to those in "Invitation to Love," a soap-within-a-soap that the charcters watch. Another is that almost everyone on the show knew Laura and they all had a close connection with at least one other character, making it a tight web of characters.
Laura worked at the local diner with Norma running a Meals on Wheels program. Norma harbors feelings for Big Ed, James' uncle. Laura is also moonlighting at One Eyed Jacks, a brothel just north of the Canadian border which is secretly owned by Ben Horne, owner of the Great Northern Hotel where Agent Cooper is staying. Horne's daughter Audrey is a classmate of Laura's and has a crush on Cooper. Laura's father Leland Palmer is also working with Horne on a deal selling land to Norwegians. It's all soap style storytelling but the subject matter is much darker, dealing in drugs and prostitution and ultimately murder.
The real key to the proceedings is Dale Cooper, a man who has seen the darkness of the world but remains positively chipper throughout. He is just excited to be in the Pacific Northwest surrounded by pine trees and local diners and homemade pie. He loves all the Native American lore and is an adherent to Tibetan spirituality. What I think doesn't work so well on a rewatch is the partnership of Cooper and Truman. I thought it would have worked better with a Mulder & Scully skeptical vibe (like X-Files). Cooper will say he saw something in a dream and that leads him to the next clue in the mystery and you would think a grounded local sheriff would say that's crazy, but Truman is always on board with every daffy thing Cooper suggests. Truman offers no counterpoint and just kind of follows Cooper around like a puppy.
The pilot episode ends with Cooper having a dream where he's in a room with red curtains and a backwards-talking dwarf telling him cryptic things and Laura Palmer is there too. In the next episode he explains his dream to Truman and says it was his subconscious mind unravelling the mystery based on the evidence he's seen. The red curtains seem to be a reference to where Laura was killed, it was either at Leo's or Jean Renault's, I think. I don't think we see the red room again until the final episode. So it's kind of weird that the mythology of the series ends up incorporating this one-off dream segment into the lore as some sort of alternate dimension or afterlife that Cooper accessed somehow and can only be entered once every 25 years during a planetary alignment. Such was the power of the imagery conjured up in that scene.
It's always pointed out that creator David Lynch had a hand in the first season (8 episodes) and part of the second (22 episodes) but drifted out towards the end. All of TV at the time was talking about "who killed Laura Palmer?" and the network pressured the creators to answer that question. I think it's episode 10 of season 2 where we get that revelation. The episodes before that did focus on human drama, people trying to escape cycles of abuse and make better lives for themselves. But I wonder if they had never answered the question of Laura's murder, and she stayed an unsolved cold case, how would that have affected the show? Certainly they would have had to answer why Agent Cooper would stay in Twin Peaks rather than move on to more important Bureau business. Lynch said after they were forced to name Laura's killer he lost interest in the show for the most part, although he was still attached and acted in a few episodes of the later batch.
The second half of the second season introduces the mythology of the White Lodge and Black Lodge, two places of power in Native American lore, and how they are lead to them by an Air Force Major working on Project Bluebook who realizes that signals from space are actually coming from Earth, near Twin Peaks. Then there are maps, an ancient cave painting, and a long running story with Cooper's ex-FBI partner Windom Earle who parades around in a succession of silly costumes and recently escaped an insane asylum, trying to enter the Lodge.
The diehard fans say the good stuff is before the killer reveal, but there was bad stuff too. Watching it again I found a lot of the actors to be mediocre at best. And maybe I'm spoiled by modern crime shows but I would think law enforcement tracking a serial killer at large would be working around the clock, obsessed with their mission. Cooper and Truman always seem to knock off at 5pm and head for the local watering hole for beers, even if they have more clues to follow. Like when they make a big showing of arresting Ben Horne during the middle of a business meeting because he's needed for questioning right away, but the next scene is Cooper and Truman at the Road House hoisting a few. They don't get to Horne until the next day.
That doesn't take away from the fact that this show's offbeat, dreamlike state with it's visuals and soundtrack created something really unique that caught the world's attention at the time and still stands as a time capsule of a world that never really quite existed, but it's unmistakeably '90s.
David Lynch came back for the final episode and left things on a cliffhanger. He was able to put together a follow-up film which fans probably expected to resolve the ending but instead he made a prequel, subverting expectations.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Instead of following the series cliffhanger ending, this movie focuses on the last days of Laura Palmer before her murder. My initial feeling was that while this was a well-made movie, it mostly showed us things we had already been told so it didn't add much. I may have underestimated it.
While it doesn't help much in explaining the bizarre lore of Twin Peaks or the motivations of the evil possessing spirits behind much of the carnage, it does go to lengths to show that Laura was somewhat aware of what was happening to her and how much trouble she goes to in trying to shield her friends and family from the darkness surrounding her. It makes her less of a victim and more of a strong character who has some control over her life.
It could be seen as exploitative. The extremely dark subject matter was somehow realized on the TV show in a PG format by merely mentioning it, never showing it. Here we see it in full detail, lots of drugs and female nudity and rape. It is disturbing but I suppose it is a more honest representation if you're going to deal with that subject matter at all.
Other than that it acts more as a reunion for the characters that we missed after the show's cancellation. It's also a great acting showcase mostly for Ray Wise (Leland Palmer) and Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer).
The movie was trimmed to about 2 hours but I guess there were some 90 minutes of deleted scenes that resurfaced on a DVD release a few years ago as The Missing Pieces. They were taken out of the movie because they didn't have anything to do with the plot, I guess, and were mostly done for Lynch's sake to work with his actors and characters again. They even went so far as to recreate the final scene of the series only to offer no new insight on the cliffhanger.
Twin Peaks is currently available to stream on Netflix and Hulu, and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is streaming on HBO Max.