Since it first aired when I was but a young pup, I managed to miss David Lynch and Mark Frost‘s Twin Peaks, which was pretty much the forerunner for each drama and mystery television series now playing. By bringing a feature film director’s mentality to the small screen, story and cinematography don’t have to be rubbish! The acting, on the other hand…

So I watched the pilot and its only two seasons in episodic order, along with the prequel (and kind of sequel) film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. I’ll get into details here, so don’t be upset if I pop your pop culture spoiler bubble. Exactly what is the statute of limitations for speaking freely on a piece of media? The series finished in 1992, so it should be fair game by now.

I’ll get right into the acting. It’s campy. Very campy. You’ll likely recognize this right away since there are three characters played by actors from RoboCop. The Paul Verhoeven-esque “Invitation to Love” show-within-a-show is even a fake soap opera whose scenes reflect the occurrences in the show itself. While the story is a very dark mystery, every episode has these cheesy elements of soap operas, such as the vindictive behaviour surrounding the factory storyline where backstabbing recalls 80s shows Dynasty and Dallas. An example of this are the scenes showing local businessman Ben Horne having an affair with the aging Catherine Martell, one of his many indiscretions. I don’t think there’s anything more awkward on television than an over-the-hill character attempting to be sexual. Think Golden Girls, except they take their shoes and stockings off. 🙁

The show also has a 60s vibe of innocence in the “aw, shucks” behaviour of most characters. Kyle MacLachlan‘s character, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, cherishes every experience as if it’ll be his last. When you hear him exclaim, “damn fine coffee!”, after taking his first sip, it’s with a conviction that only an all-out, optimist caricature could have. Luckily nothing every falls into catchphrases… is he having a laugh?

Love triangles and diner pie are present at surface-level, but the show itself has an ominous tone, exploring the seedy underbelly of small northwestern American town. The murder of a prom queen brings an FBI investigator to a quiet town, where each episode the complexities of the case are drawn out serially. From his past, Lynch brings in full-length film elements, such as dream sequences whose symbolism is a manifestation of subconscious realities. Salvador Dalí used Freud’s psychoanalysis as a base to compose his famous surreal paintings, but it took over half a century for American television to catch up. Now shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica use dreams extensively to give subtle hints at mysteries in the world they’ve drawn out. How cool is Fire Walk With Me’s figurative monkey eating creamed corn aka garmonbozia?

Season one is really where the meat of the narrative is contained as characters are fleshed out and the mystery of a young girl’s death becomes more intricate than originally thought. While the small bits of comedy (mostly related to coffee and donuts) loosen tension, the backstory gets more depressing with each episode. Unfortunately due to a rights issue, the pilot episode isn’t on the American DVD so you have to go to the European release to see the necessary hour and a half. The first thing you’ll likely notice is the cinematography which is unorthodox for American television. Outdoor shots with natural lighting are used to segue scenes and place the location of each scene. There are those usual Lynchian indications of imminent danger, such as waterfalls, tree boughs whistling in the wind, and a street light turning amber to red. The pitch-black night-time first-person scenes in a local forest with only flashlights were stunning to watch. In one instance, high school athlete Bobby is meeting a drug dealer in the forest and scans the terrain with his flashlight which was one of the most suspenseful scenes I’ve seen, television or film, because I know how Lynch loves to throw sudden images on the screen.

Since the writers didn’t know if more episodes would be ordered, the season one finale has multiple huge cliffhangers, which Lost now pulls off every episode. Luckily there was enough demand caused by loose ends, although I use “luckily” lightly. Since season one was only seven hour-long episodes, only a small selection of Angelo Badalamenti-composed themes were used. The season two premier introduced more music, including a goofy piece where a clumsy deputy has a slapstick scene that goes far too long. I was rolling my eyes at how the show better not jump the shark so soon, however it did improve… but not much. As season 2 progressed, many character traits you come to love in the initial episodes disappear, turning to a serious tone, as if writers had become so cynical they don’t want the show to turn into parody. Well it does due to side-stories that stray from the main plot of Laura Palmer’s murder, even if one involves David Duchovny in drag. David Lynch had also left the series to allow other writers and directors in, and the lack of vision is pretty obvious, although Lynch did return for the final few episodes to wrap things up.

Due to pressure from CBS, the killer was finally revealed in episode nine of season two. It was a big disappointment when the killer ended up being so conventional in film/TV storytelling terms. A girl’s father possessed by an evil spirit kills his daughter because she refuses to let the spirit in. Is that all the buster you can muster? As a result, viewers brushed off the show and it was canceled after the second season was complete. While the killer “Bob” was known by characters (as revealed by an acquaintance and also by Laura’s diary), his image was represented on screen by the greasy prowler that everybody fears. When I first saw the image of killer Leland looking in the mirror at Bob’s reflection (see: his own) after he attacked his niece Maddy, I really wanted to believe that he had thought of himself as the next Bob, not that he was he himself was the killer. It’s that kind of pay-off that scares me when it comes to Lost. I don’t want to devote six seasons for thousands of entertainment hours for the castaways to be disconnected from The Matrix or for time travel to explain how Jack and Kate were the only Losties not on the beach after the crash. Heyyy…

Now the image of Bob was only shown in mirrors or the “Black Lodge” dream sequences, which are some of the most messed up scenes Lynch has done. It kind of blows me away that the abstract ideas in Cooper’s dream and the series finale were even able to air on American prime-time television. How could an exec give those the green light? A backward-talking dwarf, a bald deep-voiced giant, a one-armed man, and doppelgängers? Of course, these bits were the best parts in the whole series because they left me thinking hours later.

Fire Walk With Me

After the series, Lynch decided to wrap the storyline up with a feature film, Fire Walk With Me which takes place before the season one pilot, but also gives hints and what follows after the season two finale. The cinematography in areas is oddly lower budget than the television series and some of the acting is even more uneven, including a David Bowie cameo that comes and goes in surreal fashion before you even notice. You also get to catch Laura uttering the despair-and-I-are-one-and-the-same sample that opens El-P’s I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead album released this year. The movie does show her murder, along with the exposition from the television series acted out to show Laura’s behaviour leading up to her killing. There’s one scene where we see “Bob” going after her hidden diary that’s especially scary, if only for how it’s shot in the first-person, peaking past an open door to see the creepy dude staring at you from the corner. It’s funny how the whole look of this evil spirit was actually first captured on accident, where a grip on set was in the view of a shot but the angle happened to show his long-haired Kubrick Face, to which Lynch instead kept the shot.

For the film as a whole, it is fairly confusing, especially if you haven’t seen the series. There is a ten minute nightclub scene which is aurally overridden by music so that you have to read subtitles. I happened to watch the British cut which doesn’t include the subtitles so it was mostly people standing around boozing while girls take their tops off. I can’t complain. Hours of footage was edited out of the final cut footage, making a perusal of the shooting script necessary to know what’s up.

To conclude, I suggest watching season one and then two up until Laura’s murderer is exposed as the rest is mostly filler with a story direction that isn’t very interesting. The film should only be watched by Lynch fanboys. I am one of those.