Thoughts on “Twin Peaks”

So as I’ve commented before, I had picked up the Definitive Gold Box edition of the original “Twin Peaks” series some time back and, with my new schedule for the year, scheduled it to be watched. I had watched at least part of it when it was first out, but eventually they moved it against hockey on Saturday nights and so while my parents still watched it, for the most part I watched hockey instead. Which means that I remembered more things from the first season than from the second, but in reality I really remembered two things: the theme song (I also bought the soundtrack and, after watching the show, was disappointed that “Forever in Love” wasn’t on it, as that song is just, as Chester Cheetah might say, “Dangerously Cheesy!” and also has the interesting note that the female back-up part seems to be written for two women for him to be forever in love with), and the scene where Maddy dresses up like Laura Palmer to distract the psychologist.

Anyway, “Twin Peaks” made a huge stir when it first came out, but eventually petered out in the second season, and didn’t get a third. It’s declared to be a genre-breaker by combining multiple genres — including the supernatural elements — but in reality it’s pretty much just a soap opera. How can I say that? Because all of its elements, even the quirky and supernatural ones, had been done in daytime soaps before this point. “Days of Our Lives” had already done psychic powers, odd characters, and supernaturally-enfused murders before that point, and of course “Dark Shadows” had done things like that long before. What “Twin Peaks” did was bring that sort of idea to prime time television, which hadn’t been done before, and admittedly probably made it seem reasonable that you could bring those sorts of things to mainstream television, paving the way for shows like “The X-Files” and “Charmed”, which would have a stronger focus on the supernatural elements, as in “Twin Peaks” they played a much less prominent role (although still more prominent than other shows at the time did). So I don’t think that the odd elements ended up killing the show, but more on that later.

The show essentially had a main plot of a murder in a small town — that of Laura Palmer — and then had an FBI agent come to the town to investigate it. While from the outside the town might seem peaceful and serene, there were a whole host of complications hidden beneath the surface, that we explore starting from a seamy underside to Laura Palmer’s seemingly good girl life to various plots and complications among the townspeople, from love triangles to business plots to underhanded maneuvering along with more than a few murder plots. Still, though, this is standard soap opera fare. But it works most of the time because the characters are interesting and we have some characters that we can like to balance out the characters that are more plotting and conniving and so less sympathetic. Moreover, the chemistry between Kyle MacLachlan’s Agent Cooper and Michael Ontkean’s Sheriff Harry S. Truman is incredible, which works since they’re the main focus characters for, at least, the investigation parts. The office also included the Native American character “Hawk” — who would have been a good model for Chakotay on Voyager, as Hawk was clearly Native American but they didn’t feel the need to thrust that at the audience in the pandering ways Voyager did — as well as the sympathetic dullards Lucy and Deputy Brennan, who were nice and interesting characters thrown into a really poorly done plot (pregnancy and love triangle with an absolutely uninteresting third).

There’s also a semi-love triangle involved with James Hurley, who reminds me so much of Corey Hart that it’s not at all funny. First, he seemed to be involved in one with Laura with his competition being the extremely annoying Bobby Briggs (who is also involved with Shelly Johnson which is not something her husband Leo would approve of). After Laura’s death, he quite quickly moves on to a relationship with Donna, although she at least seemed to have a huge crush on him before that. This also moves towards a love triangle when Maddy — Laura’s cousin who looks a lot like her (and is played by the same actress) — comes to town for the funeral and stays to help investigate Laura’s death, although that plot ultimately goes nowhere as she ends up being killed off in the second season.

Let me comment on that plot note here: I strongly disliked that move. Other than the fact that I did really like the character, her death seemed pointless. She is killed as she is planning to return home by the killer, in a scene that only accomplishes killing her off and revealing who killed Laura Palmer to the audience. But it doesn’t do anything else narratively. At the time, Ben Horn was being held for the murder, and if the new killing while he was in prison had then been used as a way to make it clear to the investigators that Horn wasn’t the killer it would have had a purpose. But we already knew that Horn’s alibi was actually alive and willing to exonerate him if he signed over the mill to her, so that could easily have played that role. And revealing it this way to us makes the later scene where Cooper sets up a typical mystery “Gather everyone together and reveal the murderer” scene pointless for the audience, as Cooper implies that Horn will be proven to be the murderer to allow him to set-up the real killer, but we of course know who the real killer is and so have to believe that either there is a trick going on here or that Cooper is an idiot. Since we don’t think the latter, we lean towards the former.

So, to me, her death seemed mean-spirited, and audiences tend to dislike plot events that seem mean-spirited (unless the show being mean-spirited is the consistent point of the show). It coming right after she was almost killed — or was at least threatened with injury — helping Donna get Laura’s diary makes it all the worse. Her character was often put in danger helping others out and she didn’t really get any reward for it. Even her leaving came because of the clash with Donna over James, and so was a bit of a downer in and of itself. To then be killed off for no reason seemed to be treating that character quite badly again, and thus seemed mean-spirited towards that character, which is one that a lot of people would have liked and so reacted badly to. I think it’s the same sort of thing as the reaction of people to main characters being killed off to prove the situation is serious and that anyone can die, as if we like the character seeing them die just to satisfy a stylistic point is annoying. I read a comment from a critic that the death reminded us of how dark things really were, but before this point we had a character almost burn to death and a character that I also liked — Audrey Horn — get kidnapped and drugged with the villains planning to kill her with an overdose, and Maddy and Donna getting threatened by someone with a knife. We didn’t need reminding that there were real threats out there, and having the character actually die didn’t do much to remind us that people could actually die. So, again, it served no purpose, and only removed an interesting character in a rather pointless way.

One issue behind the scenes was whether or not to reveal who killed Laura Palmer, which was the big question that audiences were hanging on. Lynch didn’t want to ever reveal it, and the network insisted that he do reveal. It ended up being revealed in the middle of season 2, which was a big problem for the series for reasons I’ll get into in a moment. But I can’t believe that the network wanted him to reveal it in the middle of the season, especially the way it was revealed (with the death of Maddy). That set-up is ideal for an end of season cliffhanger, and in general that’s what a network would be pushing for with a revelation of that magnitude on a plot thread of that significance.

Still, I’m on the side of the network here, at least for having it be revealed. The problem with it is that it was such a huge plot thread for the show that it overshadowed by its very nature everything else. Because of this, you couldn’t really get Cooper doing anything else, even things for fun or to advance romantic plots — he got two, one with Audrey and one with a new character, Annie, right at the end (I think they should have just kept Audrey despite the age difference thing) — because the audience would start to wonder why he wasn’t taking that huge town-changing event more seriously. Rescuing Audrey worked because it was desperate, immediate, and he was being dragged into it for other reasons, but too much of that sort of thing would seem like a distraction from the main plot (which that subplot did kinda feel like). From the start, everything either tied into Laura Palmer’s murder or was an aside to it, so leaving that unresolved would just leave anything else they tried to do feeling like an aside. It was too big a deal to ignore and leaving it simmering in the background would make it the elephant in the room that the show would need us to ignore. Moreover, dragging it out too long would make us feel like the investigators were incompetent, which would hurt their characters. So it did need to be resolved eventually.

I think the major issue — besides Lynch’s distaste for the idea — is that they didn’t quite have the soap opera format down properly and so botched the transition (which not planning for one wouldn’t help). In soap operas, what you generally have is one main plot that dominates and all sorts of serious and less serious subplots going on in the background. Twin Peaks definitely does that. But when a main plot has been dragging on too long and it’s time to resolve it, soap operas resolve it but then have the next main plot pretty much ready to go, as they’ve been developing it in the background. If it needs some time to ramp up, soap operas tend to distract us with little storylines with the more popular and likable characters, most of which are feel-good stories or the resolution of small plots that have also been going on for too long, so that we don’t get bored waiting for the next main plot to develop.

Twin Peaks had all of these elements, but didn’t use them here. They had been developing the Windham Earle subplot for a bit, but then didn’t ramp it up quickly enough to take over as the main plot. I found myself thinking that the gap between the end of the Laura Palmer plot and the beginning of the Earle plot dragged, and I was on vacation and so watching about four episodes a day. If that was dragged out over 1 – 2 months, it would easily bore the audience. If there had been a focus on the more sympathetic and nicer characters, that could have worked, but as I recall a lot of time was spent in the less interesting characters — I remember Bobby Briggs, who annoyed me, getting a lot of airtime in that part of the show — and on plots that were mostly boring. So we didn’t have a main plot and we didn’t have very solid secondary plots that were getting resolved to fall back on, which made the series rather dull. When the Earle plot ramped up, it was interesting, but it took way too long to get there.

If Lynch et al had wanted to subvert their main plot, they needed to realize that keeping it open forever was going to work, and instead move to a plot where, ultimately, this big, huge plot ends up being unimportant, by making it merely the stepping stone into the larger and more supernatural issues. They actually had a set-up for this, as when they get into the investigation and particularly when they start wearing her sunglasses both Maddy and Donna start acting a lot more like Laura in her bad and wild phases than themselves. We also could have ended up with access to Laura’s diary. What if what all of this revealed was not a mere serial killer, but instead a strange corrupting influence on the girls? All you need is a psychologist — other than the one in Twin Peaks, who seems incompetent and potentially self-interested — to note that the progression we see in Laura’s diary doesn’t match any known psychological progression or mental illness, and note that Maddy and Donna seem to be heading the same way to turn the investigation from “Who killed Laura Palmer?” to “Who or what is corrupting these girls, and why?”. Add in a notion that people can only enter the Black Lodge if they have some corruption, and we have an answer: Bob is trying to corrupt them so that he can get them into the Black Lodge for various nefarious reasons (including dopplegangers). This would explain the importance of Annie’s wild backstory as compared to Audrey’s — Annie was already corrupted but trying to recover — and could make us wonder about how Cooper could enter and what corruption he had. This also would make Maddy’s death have some meaning, as while they give a reasonably plausible reason for why the killer wanted to kill her then there’s little reason for Bob to want that beyond a simple desire to cause pain and suffering. But if he had tried to corrupt her and she was leaving to potentially never return, and if on death she’d be trapped in the Black Lodge, then killing her now would be his only chance to get her. This would then allow the murder to even be a simple misadventure as Laura’s corruption drove her to do wilder and wilder things and in the attempt to give that to her Jacques Renault accidentally kills her, resolving that question in a way that would annoy fans except that by that point the bigger question should be driving their curiosity.

As it is, that component is dropped from the series, the murder is resolved without there being a main plot to replace it, and the show drags until the next main plot picks up.

Well, overall, what did I think of the show? I liked it. The characters tended to be interesting — except for Booby Briggs and his friend Mike — and Cooper and Truman work really well together. The show, except for the end, isn’t weird enough to turn me or most people off with how weird it is, but does add quirks and oddities that can add interest. I definitely could and probably will watch this again.

I also watched “The Return”, and will talk about that later. I also watched “Fire Walk With Me” and will comment on that later. I also bought the tie-in books — because of “The Return” — and will talk about them later, once I get them and finish reading them. So all of this, at least, got me to get heavier into “Twin Peaks” than I normally might have. And I cannot decide if that is good, or bad.

4 Responses to “Thoughts on “Twin Peaks””

  1. Thoughts on “Twin Peaks: The Return” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] after watching the original “Twin Peaks”, I looked on my streaming service and noted that it had the continuation of it, alternatively […]

  2. Twin Peaks, The Fugitive, and Other Dominant Plots | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] do so, and thus the network was actually correct in recognizing that and pushing for a resolution. I’ve already commented on why I think the shift to the post-murder show failed, but why did Laura Palmer’s murder turn out more like “Dallas” than like […]

  3. First Thoughts on “Pretty Little Liars” (End Season 1) | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] both of which I liked enough to rewatch. Or it might be a flawed conspiracy show like “Twin Peaks”, which I enjoyed. Then again, shows that I thought that I would have liked before watching them […]

  4. Final Thoughts on “Pretty Little Liars” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] dropped that entirely and simply ended it with A.D. driving away with the dolls. People who read my comments on “Twin Peaks” might protest that there I commented that it was a good idea to resolve the murder of Laura Palmer […]

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