It Is Happening Again: The Damn Fine Return of Twin Peaks

Good news, friends and neighbors: Twin Peaks is back on Showtime.

For the uninitiated, Twin Peaks is a television series created by filmmaker David Lynch and writer Mark Frost. Set in a sleepy and slightly creepy Washington lumber town, the show centers around the investigation into the murder of Laura Palmer, a homecoming queen with a ton of secrets. If you aren’t old enough to remember the phenomenon that was Twin Peaks, trust me when I say “Who killed Laura Palmer?” was the question everyone was asking in 1990-91, even folks who didn’t watch the show.

The man in charge of catching Laura’s killer is one of the most fascinating characters to ever cross a television screen: FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper. Cooper is sharp and intuitive, like a kinder, more eccentric Sherlock Holmes who really loves coffee. If I were killed, wrapped in plastic, and tossed in a river like an empty beer can, Dale Cooper is the guy I’d want investigating my murder. Drawing on methods ranging from deductive reasoning and dream analysis to Zen Buddhism and mysticism, and with the help of Twin Peaks sheriff Harry Truman, Cooper moves ever closer to catching the culprit.

Eventually, although Lynch famously resisted doing so, the show revealed the identity of Laura’s killer in season two and went on to be cancelled at the end of the second season, leaving the world with one of the best-known unresolved cliffhangers in television history. A year later, Lynch returned to the town with the prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, a trippy feature film that even some diehard fans find indecipherable.

This brings me to one of the cardinal rules of David Lynch: If you approach any of his work hoping to understand everything, you’re either going to be disappointed or end up creating your own answers. In Lynch-land, all will not be revealed, and even when questions are answered, it’s going to take a while. In fact, Lynch himself has said the most important truths in his work are the ones the viewers make. For the consumer, then, coming to terms with this rule at the outset makes for a much richer watching experience. Believe me, I’ve lived it.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking there’s no meaning in Twin Peaks, though. It’s there, but it’s woven together with perplexing puzzles and surreal, often downright absurd situations. This show is simultaneously a comedy, mystery and horror story, peppered with damn fine cherry pie, black coffee, owls, weirdos, supernatural possession, donuts, and finger snapping jazz. It regularly veers off on tangents and digressions, and it’s full of the best and the worst humanity has to offer: beauty, depravity, innocence, profound moments of truth.

Bearing this in mind, Twin Peaks is probably Lynch’s most accessible work, probably because we’re able to spend so much more time with its characters, which makes it easier to connect with them. Plus, it’s habit-forming: It’s a soap opera, with all the romance, infidelity, doppelgangers, and bizarre plot twists you’d expect.

Citing Fire Walk with Me, some fans make the case that it was Frost’s restraining influence on Lynch that kept the television Twin Peaks from going full-on Lynch. I’ve always thought it also had something to do with ABC, the network that ran the show. Still, even the non-Lynch-directed episodes of the series have his fingerprints all over them.

Now, Lynch and company are back with Twin Peaks: The Return, a Showtime series that picks up where the old one left off, if not chronologically then at least philosophically. It feels a lot like the old Twin Peaks, especially the film, but parts of it also resemble some of Lynch’s other works like Wild at Heart, Mullholland Drive, and Lost Highway. It’s almost as if everything he’s done since 1992 has prepared him for this. Familiar and unfamiliar characters appear, and old and new subplots are introduced, all of them presented in Lynch’s inimitable and surreal style. The show’s ethereal score, composed and performed by longtime Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti, has also returned.

Bottom line: Twin Peaks: The Return may not be for everyone, but for fans, it’s a lot like coming back to a home where everything is a mystery, and nothing is ever what it seems to be. It’s beautiful, ugly, horrific, and hilarious, and that’s all okay.     

If you’ve never seen Twin Peaks, you should catch up before trying out the Showtime series. Otherwise, you’ll be lost, and not in a good David Lynch way. At the very least, I’d suggest watching all eight episodes of the first season, episodes one through nine plus eighteen through twenty-two of season two, and the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Mark Frost’s novel The Secret History of Twin Peaks is also a good bet. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.