Twin Peaks: A Retrospective

Despite all of the great shows that have been released recently from HBO, Netflix, Showtime, Starz, Hulu, and some other other networks, there is one show that still sits above them all in my mind, Twin Peaks. We live in a new golden era of television, where the seasons are shorter, and the stories progress from episode to episode without any need for a repetitive weekly mystery to solve. None of this would have been possible, without Twin Peaks. A series ahead of its time that was ended too early, Twin Peaks laid a lot of the ground work for television as we know it today. After 26 years, creators David Lynch and Mark Frost will finally be able to bring closure to the story that has compelled so many people (and still manages to find new fans thanks to streaming services) with the upcoming revival series which airs on Showtime on May 21. Before I continue, I have to note that it would be wrong to give this one show sole credit for the shape of the television landscape as we know it today, but it’s not difficult to imagine how different the landscape would be if Twin Peaks had not introduced some new concepts into the world of creating television.

The biggest and most important thing that Twin Peaks did for television was avoiding the episodic nature that many shows in the early 1990’s featured. At the time many shows had individual resolving stories within each episode. Some shows would have story arcs that would flow through entire seasons or even through a handful of episodes, but nothing came close to the unresolved narrative that flowed through the entirety of Twin Peaks. In almost every episode of the show, a new clue or element to the central mystery would be found that only opens up another door of possibilities. By the time the first season of Twin Peaks ends, audiences are no where closer to discovering the identity of who killed Laura Palmer than they were when the first episode started playing. David Lynch has even been quoted saying that he had no intention of ever resolving that central mystery in the show. Instead, he wanted to use that mystery to introduce other mysteries and ask more questions that would be resolved in due time, which would have kept the show compelling and satisfied audiences need for resolution. This same idea can be seen in the somewhat recent show Lost in which more and more mysteries and questions are asked, but very few of them are ever resolved or answered. The only thing lacking in Lost is a central mystery to drive the plot forward. Instead, Lost using the desire of the characters to get off the island as a central driving plot in which the mysteries can branch off of. Another show that is noticeably influenced by Twin Peaks is True Detective, especially the first season. This one, perhaps, takes more influence from Twin Peaks in its inclusion of supernatural elements to a fairly standard crime drama. Both Lost and True Detective feature stories that take place over the entirety of a season without any need to resolve a single story within an episode. These are only two of the many shows that feature a story heavily inspired by Twin Peaks.

Twin Peaks also introduced a more cinematic styling and language to television. Most shows at this time featured cameras that were fairly stationary, with a few close ups to focus on character interaction, and more emotive acting. Camera movements were kept to a minimum. The sets were meant to be viewed from only a handful of angles in order to fake a fully formed space. There was a certain level of belief that needed to be suspended. With Twin Peaks the camera actually moves around the space as if its a character in its own right. All of the sets feel like fully realized places that could actually exist. The camera would move dramatically with the characters as events happen. Some of the angles would be used to create an uneasy or ominous feeling that carried on throughout the show. The ominous feeling is also created by the inclusion of shots featuring “empty space.” For example, all of the scenes focusing on the town of Twin Peaks at night, whether it be the stop lights changing or the wind rustling through the trees, all help to create the feeling that danger is looming over the town. Some of the scenes with Sarah Palmer in the Palmer home show her working, but focus mostly on the emptiness that now fills the home. It’s hard to not watch the show and feel like Twin Peaks is a real place in Washington.

The show also managed to blur the lines between genres. Sometimes the show was a straight crime drama, other times there was a supernatural element included, some times it was funny, and other times it was downright funny. All of these elements, according to Mark Frost, are parts of every day life. It only makes sense to include them in Twin Peaks in order to give the town and its inhabitants a well rounded, existence. Combined with the cinematic camera work, and the ominous nature of the show, Twin Peaks manages to reflect one of David Lynch’s other works, Blue Velvet. A similar story about the seedier aspects of a small town. As the viewer slowly comes to understand and know each of the characters in Twin Peaks, they start to understand how this seemingly wholesome logging town has an entire grave of secrets waiting for people to dig up like affairs, murder, prostitution, and a fairly elaborate drug running scheme. One aspect that sets Twin Peaks apart from modern day shows is the inclusion of elements of the soap opera; something David Lynch playfully satirizes with the inclusion of the show Invitation to Love that many of the Twin Peaks inhabitants watch. It’s this inclusion of the soap opera genre that gives the show an over-dramatic feeling, that adds a fine layer of camp and humor to the series but still manages to make everything so compelling. I think the darker elements, the cinematic stylings, and the central mystery are what keeps people enamored with the show.

It’s unfortunate that Twin Peaks never had the opportunity to continue with the vision that David Lynch and Mark Frost intended from the beginning. As most people know by now, that in season 2 of the show ABC stepped in and forced the two show creators to solve the central mystery that brought so many viewers to the show. Halfway through season 2 Laura Palmer’s killer is revealed, and the show loses a lot of what kept it compelling. David Lynch even left the show for a short period, only to come back and direct the final episode of the series. Even though it ended on a pretty frustrating cliffhanger, the show was still canceled by ABC since the show lost a significant portion of its viewers after the killer was revealed and the show struggled to find something new to drive the series forward. By the time the show did manage to find something to make the story interesting again, it was too late to save Twin Peaks. It’s undeniable that the first season, and part of the second season have a completely different feeling and tone from the second half of the second season. I think too many people wanted to emulate the “weirdness” that David Lynch brought to the show, without a full understanding of what made the show inherently Lynchian. But, where the show lost a lot of its crime drama influences, it started to emphasize a lot of the supernatural aspects that were only hinted at during the investigation of Laura Palmer’s murder. This opened up an entirely new world that had yet to be explored in the town, and after a few episodes of struggle, managed to give the show something compelling to potentially bring viewers back. This world is explored shortly in the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, but is still primarily mysterious.

This supernatural world that is hidden from the surface world of Twin Peaks is the epitome of unresolved mysterious that had made Twin Peaks so groundbreaking from the beginning. Now with the revival series only a few weeks away, we can only hope and wonder what David Lynch and Mark Frost have in store for longtime, and new fans. Since this new series is going to take place in real time after the events of season 2, there are over 25 years of potential story lines the show can examine. Maybe we will finally learn what happened to Dale Cooper in the Black Lodge. Or, perhaps Lynch and Frost will tantalize us with an entirely new mystery that we can only speculate at. A majority of the footage seen from the new series (see the trailer above) is cryptic in nature and gives us no insight as to what could happen. All we know is that Lynch and Frost are finally going to have the complete creative control they desired from the beginning, and because of that I am both excited and terrified.


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