If one were to go through all the known laws of physics, one would probably eventually stumble upon the one which states that all television tends towards a state of pure rat-brained stupidity. But as with entropy, it merely describes a tendency, one which can occasionally run in unexpected directions. For a brief period of time in the early '90s, such an anomaly was observed to occur.
Twin Peaks was born from the collaborative efforts of Mark Frost and David Lynch, and centered upon the events surrounding a murdered prom queen in the eponymous northwestern town. Even those who never watched any of the series probably will give a twitch of remembrance at the name Laura Palmer, ostensible centerpiece of a story that began after she was already dead. Inspired at least in part by Otto Preminger's 1944 film Laura, which featured a twisty mystery on the murder of the titular character, whose framed portrait enthralls the out-of-town detective sent to unravel the mystery, Twin Peaks used the initial crime as a jumping-off point to explore the convoluted lives of the townsfolk, most of which were touched by Laura's own life in one way or another. Clues invariably led to deeper or secondary, tangential mysteries, which spread outwards in an ever-widening circle week after week. Into this fray of leads and stratagems comes Kyle MacLachlan in his career-making role of Special Agent Dale Cooper, apparently of the F.B.I.'s Special Crazy Magic Division, who attempts to divine (in a most literal way) the identity of Laura's killer. Largely eschewing traditional crime detection techniques, Cooper employs startling new approaches such as analysing his own dreams and throwing rocks at glass bottles while thinking of a suspect's name, and strongly suspects that the murder may have something to do with a dancing dwarf.
He is, of course, correct.
The Lynch-Frost duo understood, quite rightly, that the mystery itself was much more fascinating than the solution, and Lynch in particular has never had any qualms about refusing to let the dull constraints of reality get in the way of convolving a good yarn. Consequently, as the story unfolded, it became less and less anchored to anything like logic, embracing magic in its ever-weirdening plot machinations, and for a time, the American public was more than willing to go along with it. The show had a lot going for it: an intriguing ensemble cast, a heretofore unseen degree of direction and cinematography in a TV series, and enough cryptic plot strands to net a bull elephant on reds. I find it interesting to consider that the primary factor behind the show's much-noted weirdness was due to its pairing of a modern setting with our modern sensibilities. Had such a story been written in past times when superstition was even stronger than it is today, or had the story been set in such a time, its more irrational aspects would've seemed less distinguishing.
Had Lynch had his way, the identity of the killer might have never been revealed, but by the end of the seven-episode first season, the public was already clamoring for an answer. The unfortunate fact was that these same "gimmie gimmie gimmie" types were doubtlessly the same viewers that tuned out once the mystery had been solved, or rather, at least once a suspect had been fingered. Laura's murderer was in the ground before the second season's primary plot arc had really revved into high gear, and the show meandered for a bit on shorter, more isolated plot arcs before getting firmly back on its feet again with the meatier parts of the Windom Earle story. The series' final episode was quite possibly the most bizarre thing ever crafted for television, and the longstanding pattern of resolving old plot threads by creating new ones left a whole kitten kaboodle of cliffhangers mewing in the laps of the show's faithful followers, who saw the birth of what might have been the most startling plot development yet a scant few seconds before the end credits rolled for what was to be the final time.
Still, despite a broad cast of characters that were truly lovable-even the evil ones-and consistently good screenwriting, nothing else in Twin Peaks was quite so captivating as the Laura Palmer storyline. The series took an almost voyeuristic delight in prying open the mystery of her life through her diaries, her taped confessionals to her hippy psychiatrist, and the emerging facts of her hidden, less-than-angelic nature. Not only do we see her slowly coalesce before our own eyes, but we see her through the eyes of her friends and family, who gradually realize that they didn't really know her, either. Laura's corrupted life lays bare the lies, betrayals and violence that lie beneath the veneer of "small town values," a facade that the small-town-born Lynch had previously torn aside in the beautiful and intensely disturbing Blue Velvet. Lynch's theatrical follow-up to the series, the prequel film Fire Walk With Me, went even deeper into her world as it depicted the last week of her life, though even die-hard fans of the show dismissed the film as too obtuse and affrontive on its initial release. Subsequent years have been kinder to Fire Walk With Me than its first audiences were, but it's unfortunate that the film's failure closed the door forever on future ventures into the Twin Peaks world. It is a masterfully crafted piece of art, with more and more details waiting to be discovered on each viewing, but it also gives away the identity of Laura's killer, and relies heavily upon knowledge of the series to be understood, so the curious are advised not to start with it.
Like many other pioneering works, Twin Peaks was unleashed upon a world that perhaps wasn't quite ready for it, but though it may have been destined to fail in the long run, its thirty episodes contained more ideas than one might ever hope to encounter in the average TV series: Cooper's infamous "Red Room" dream, the mysterious one-armed man (an homage to The Fugitive,) a myna bird as a material witness, the Log Lady and her, well, you know, log, the numerous meditations on duality (the name of the town and show being no small accident,) strange portents about owls, Windom Earle's murderous chess game, Thomas Eckhart's key...and BOB. Hell, the sheer believable terror of Mr. and Mrs. Palmer's simultaneous realization of their daughter's fate in the pilot episode strikes more of an emotional connection than the entire run of Friends. If you somehow manage not to be entertained by this story, its characters and its love of mystery, then I seriously beg to wonder what would entertain you.
Perhaps something with Rob Schneider.
-review by Matt Murray