What is this? Well, as you may have heard, Twin Peaks is returning to our TVs in a couple of months with a brand new series on Showtime, and we here at Nerd Bastards think it rather behooves us to look at the show from the beginning. Now here’s the true confession: I have never seen it. I know, it’s a black mark on my nerd credentials, and I had actually started watching it when three episodes in it was pulled from Canada’s Netflix a few years ago. It was a drag, but I moved on. However, with the pending premiere of Twin Peaks 2017 there’s new urgency, so let us all now take a trip back to Twin Peaks, knowing that for some of us, it’s the first time.
Twin Peaks launched in 1990 with a two-hour pilot episode. Ostensibly the series is about the murder of high school student Laura Palmer, but it’s clear from the first 90 minutes that there’s so much more going on. It struck me at first that the show didn’t even seem that interested in immediately getting into the meat of who killed Laura Palmer as the first 30 minutes is almost exclusively about the community’s reaction to the sudden and violent death of such a lovely and vivacious young woman. The scene where Laura’s peers at the high school, particularly her best friend Donna Hayward, find out she’s dead is incredibly heartbreaking. David Lynch‘s direction makes you feel like an interloper on an intensely private scene.
Eventually though, the mystery is put on the front burner with the arrival of Dale Cooper, an eccentric FBI agent constantly leaving notes for Diane on a mini-tape recorder. I’m curious if Diane is a figment of Cooper’s imagination because it seems odd to me that an FBI agent in the Pacific Northwest would have his own personal assistant, but I digress. The thing I found interesting about Cooper is that he always seems a step ahead of the plot; he knows when someone’s lying, or when there’s trouble coming like at the scene at the road house later on. We’ve seen smarter-than-thou detectives in a lot of cop shows in the years since Twin Peaks, but Cooper’s quirks still make him a refreshing sort of character.
Part of that may have to do with Cooper’s partnership with Twin Peaks’ Sheriff Harry S. Truman. This is not the usual antagonistic relationship between two cop, the old Holmes and Watson dynamic of the inquisitive eccentric and the loyal but by-the-book straightman. It’s sort of like that, but Truman definitely seems more than willing to roll with Cooper’s oddities in order to get to the bottom of the mystery. I appreciate that Truman is bemused by Cooper, but at the same time recognizes Cooper’s skills and experience as unique to solving a menacing crime in his thoroughly unmenacing community. The scene with Cooper and Truman staking out the road house is delightful despite the circumstances, and the chemistry between Kyle MacLachlan and Michael Ontkean is evident.
So let’s get to the core mystery and the death of Laura Palmer, and we soon learn that Palmer isn’t the only victim. Ronette Pulaski, a school mate of Laura’s (though it’s unclear if they were friends), is found wandering along the train tracks in a catatonic state, which leads the police to an abandoned train car in the middle of the woods were both girls were tortured and raped. How Ronette escaped and Laura was murdered is the first amongst many questions, but there’s also the type-written ‘R’ that Cooper finds under Laura’s ring finger nail. Cooper is brought in because the crime crossed state lines, but he’s also encountered a previous victim of the killer. Two victims does not a serial killer make, so what was it about the so-far nameless first victim that makes this so provocative for Cooper?
Of course, it seems that what we know about Laura is only skin deep too. The Palmer home feels like an alter to a pristine and idyllic small town homecoming queen even before Laura died, but such perfection has to be hiding something, right? A mysterious tape of Laura and Donna playing around in the woods was shot by a mysterious person Donna lies about, which reveals that Laura was not only dating football hero Bobby Briggs, who was of course two-timing her like a typical high school jock playa, but that she was also romantically involved with James Hurley, the motorcycle-riding street tough, if there is such a thing in Twin Peaks. Interestingly, it seems like James is more emotionally affected by Laura’s loss than Bobby, who presumably, were the perfect high school pair. On the outside anyway.
There’s something rather incestuous in a non-literal sense to all the romantic backstabbing. You have Bobby cheating on Laura with Shelly Johnson, who’s married to Leo Johnson who’s image is featured in the “Fleshworld” magazine that Cooper and Truman find in Laura’s safety deposit box next to an image of Ronette. The name of the magazine carries certain connotations, as does the $10,000 they find with the magazine in the bank box; “That’s a lot of Girl Scout cookies,” Cooper deadpans. James also tells Donna that the last time he talked to Laura she was so sad and so desperate, so maybe he knows something he doesn’t know. James and Laura shared matching necklaces shaped like half-a-heart, with the half belonging to Laura being found at the scene of the crime. But if James and Laura were necklace sharing lovers, what was with that kiss between him and Donna?
Another question struck me: why was Laura’s body found where it was found? It seemed pretty clear that the place Laura was killed was a ways outside of town, and kind of in the middle of no where, which means that the choice of dumping Laura’s remains outside the Packard home was particular. The Packard saw mill and its fate, with local rich man Ben Horne desperately trying to get his hands on it, was a storyline floating in the background of the pilot, as was the animosity between the Packard widow Josie and her sister-in-law Catherine Martell. It’s Catherine’s husband Pete that discovers the body as he heads out early to go fishing, perhaps a detail of Pete’s life that only another local could know. Might someone being trying to light a fire under Josie Packard to sell the mill? She’s not a local, and perhaps someone thinks that can scare her out of Twin Peaks.
So this is compelling. I had to stop myself from binging on in order to keep all the details separate on an episode-to-episode basis, but its immediately fascinating with a large cast and a finely detailed plot. I know things will get weirder the deeper we go in the show, but what’s immediately unsettling about Twin Peaks is how ordinary it feels. Looking back on it from 2017 sort of heightens that because the nostalgia augments the familiarity you feel for the small town setting and the archetypes. Twin Peaks has had to have been borrowed from and copied about a 100 times in the last 25 years, but this is still highly compelling television, and I look forward to getting more involved in the weeks to come. Just a note for the reader, I’m going to try and plow through the series before the air date of the news series at the end of May. All 30 episodes plus the prequel movie Fire Walk With Me. We’ll see how far we can get…