I was a pre-teen when I watched Twin Peaks on TV. I watched each episode although I was confused and scared by the paranormal scenes. 20 years later I read an article about the series and decided to re-discover it!
The small town of Twin Peaks, Washington is shaken when the dead body of a popular high school girl, Laura Palmer, is discovered on a riverbank, wrapped in plastic. FBI agent Cooper is called by Sheriff Truman to help with the investigation. Laura's death sets off a chain reaction of events, and Cooper soon discovers that in Twin Peaks, nothing is at it seems, and nobody is innocent.
|Laura Palmer wrapped in plastic|
The feature-length pilot episode starts slowly, with the first 30 minutes showing the discovery of Laura's body, and following the spread of the news and the townsfolk's reaction. The quiet town's residents are introduced, and it's immediately apparent that they're not what you'd typically expect. The double lives and secrets of some of them are exposed. FBI agent Cooper is given a great introduction recording a message for Diane while driving towards Twin Peaks. The pilot ends with the first supernatural vision and cliffhanger. Besides the main mystery, the pilot creates a lot of intrigue in Twin Peaks and it's quirky residents.
Contractually Lynch and Frost had to create a closed alternate ending for the pilot episode, so if the series was not picked up, the studio could screen it as a movie internationally, thus helping offset any financial cost. This ending was unscripted, so they shot some footage and tacked it on at the end of the US pilot. The supernatural open ending was removed, and instead we are shown how a witness who saw a suspicious man and a snitch help catch the killer. Lynch liked some of this improvised footage so much he ended up using it in the series.
This stand alone movie is unsatisfying as we are introduced to the town of Twin Peaks and not given enough time to explore it. The ending is unsatisfying too, as the killer is caught more by luck than through the investigations going on during the earlier part of the movie.
|Sheriff Harry S. Truman and FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper|
A year passed between the filming of the pilot episode and the first episode of Season 1, and this can be noticed in the cast's hairstyles. Season 1 goes smoothly as we follow Agent Cooper and Sheriff Truman investigating Laura Palmer's murder. We get to know Twin Peaks's bizarre residents and some of their secrets and machinations. Season 1 has a great blend of mystery and quirky comedy, with a sprinkle of paranormal.
Frost and Lynch weren't sure the studio would pick up a second season of Twin Peaks, so during the season finale they put all the characters' lives in danger, and ended with a nail biting cliffhanger.
Season 2's premier episode starts with a tease. We're taken straight to Season 1's main cliffhanger but it takes several suspenseful minutes before something starts moving again. The supernatural element and the townsfolk's weirdness are turned up several notches in this episode. Cooper has his first vision of the Giant.
After the first episode the series goes back to it's usual tone and atmosphere. Episode 2 mentions that Windom Earle, who will become the main villain once Laura's killer is caught, has escaped from an insane asylum. There is very little left to reveal of the characters' double lives and secrets, so the next few episodes introduce us to several new storylines, but unfortunately these aren't half as interesting as the previous ones.
|Double R Diner|
At the start of Season 2 the studio started pressing Lynch and Frost to reveal Laura's killer. Considering how abruptly they were forced to change their plan for the season, the revealing of Laura's killer's identity goes very smoothly. In Episode 7 the supernatural element is turned up to new levels as the Giant tells Cooper "it's happening again" and we're shown the killer at work in a horrific scene. Now the audience knows who Laura's killer is, the mystery changes to suspense.
|David Duchovny as DEA Agent Dennis "Denise" Bryson|
At the end of Episode 9 Cooper discovers the killer's identity, and suddenly all the supernatural clues make sense. The killer talks with Cooper and Truman and in a touching scene gives a full confession and explanation. If the series had ended here I'd be happy, because by this time I didn't care much for the other storylines. The only storylines worth finishing were ☠ Spoiler Alert » Jean Renault; who shot Agent Cooper; Leo waking up (obvious it would happen, but fun to watch); and Cooper and Audrey's relationship. « Spoiler Alert ☠
Once the killer was out of the way, Audrey and Cooper's relationship was supposed to take centre stage, together with the Windom Earle storyline. Unfortunately Kyle MacLachlan refused to develop that storyline further, because he believed the morally uptight Cooper wouldn't date an underage girl (although Audrey is over the age of consent), so the writers had to abruptly change and add several second season story lines. Cooper is given a relatively decent love interest, although the viewer doesn't have enough time to bond with her by the season finale cliffhanger. On the other hand Audrey's new love interest is plain boring.
Crew members later revealed that MacLachlan was pressured into the decision by his then-girlfriend, Lara Flynn Boyle (who played Donna Hayward). She didn't want her boyfriend sharing love scenes with Sherilyn Fenn, with whom Boyle did not get along on set.
The next 8 episodes are painful to watch. Most of the new storylines are boring and silly, while the better ones are executed in a goofy manner. There are plenty of plot holes and nonsensical things. The atmosphere changes to goofy comedy with a sprinkle of horror. My biggest gripe is the ruination of the character of Ben Horne. ☠ Spoiler Alert » He's changed from a believable ruthless and despicable businessman to an insane idiot, and finally to a do gooder. « Spoiler Alert ☠
Some reasons given for the decline in the episodes' quality (besides the early reveal of Laura's killer and cancellation of Cooper and Audrey's relationship) are: an overworked cast and crew; the network continuously changing the show's time slot; and the viewers' interest in the 1st Gulf War. Lynch and Frost also neglected the series while they filmed Wild at Heart and Storyville respectively.
Starting from Episode 18, the quality of the episodes improves again. They're not as good as the ones in Season 1, but they're decent. Windom Earle and the Black Lodge are the main storylines.
Lynch returned to direct the Season 2 finale. The script had several cliffhangers, but as he was fearful the network would cancel the series he added several new cliffhangers at the last minute. At this point in the series I had lost interest in most of the characters except for Annie and Cooper.
☠ Spoiler Alert » After Cooper and Annie escape the Black Lodge (or is it the waiting room of the Lodges?) Cooper wakes up in his hotel room and is told Annie is in hospital. We are not told in what condition, but she is alive. So that's not much of a cliffhanger. Cooper on the other hand is possessed by Killer BOB, and while that is a very interesting cliffhanger, it also works well as an open ending. « Spoiler Alert ☠
|Man From Another Place|
After the series was canceled, Lynch wasn't ready to leave the world of Twin Peaks, so he made a movie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me which serves as both a prequel, and a coda to Cooper's story.
Ray Wise in the part of Leland Palmer deserves a special mention, through the series he cries, laughs, sings and dances and gives a performance out of this world!
I don't usually have a section for sounds, but in Twin Peaks they deserve a special mention. The haunting music, Julee Cruise's singing, cool jazz, wind in the trees, weird dialect during some dream sequences, and whispers, all play a big part in creating the series' atmosphere.
During Season 2's low point, most of the great score is replaced by 1950's music which wasn't as effective at creating atmosphere.
|One Eyed Jack's|
Artistically the series was revolutionary for television at the time, and geared toward reaching the standards of movies. The small town of Twin Peaks and it's forest surroundings are beautiful, and Snoqualmie Falls are truly spectacular.
|Great Northern Hotel|
The real show stopper are the internal shots, especially the shots of the Great Northern Hotel with it's all wood interiors and disturbing stuffed animals and fish. Twin Peaks is a haunting and mesmerising place, or as Cooper would put it "both wonderful and strange".
Steampunk Factor ★☆☆☆☆
The series is influenced primarily by film noir and the 1950's, but there are some scenes with people in American Civil War costumes. In another scene Major Briggs is dressed up as an aviator.
Final Verdict ★★★★☆
Twin Peaks is still unique twenty years after it originally aired. The atmosphere it evokes is inimitable. Not even the disastrous episodes in Season 2 can stop this cultural phenomenon. Highly recommended.
Part II of this article series - Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
Part III of this article series - The World of Twin Peaks: By Design or by Chance?
|Laura Palmer's portrait|