A Place Both Wonderful and Strange: The Return of Twin Peaks by Donald McCarthy

" I waited for you.” – The Man from Another Place

“I’ll see you again in twenty-five years. Meanwhile…” – Laura Palmer

 

A little over a year ago, I wrote an article for this very site on Twin Peaks. In it, I wrote this about the show’s end:

“So for the show to go out on such a high point and in a way that expressed all of its positive qualities is stellar, even if we are left with a nasty, downbeat ending. There’s no way what happened next would match the beauty and horror of the second season finale. When Lynch went on to make the Twin Peaks film he was hit with a lot of flak for not continuing the storyline and instead doing a prequel (although he did touch on elements of the finale and gave something of a conclusion). I think Lynch made the right choice and I think the Twin Peaks film is all the stronger for it.”

Allow me to eat those words, or at least walk them back somewhat.

The much publicized return of Twin Peaks has put me in a very good mood despite what I wrote a little over a year ago. Hearing it would return on Showtime, written by original creators David Lynch and Mark Frost, and directed entirely by David Lynch, well, it was like someone had delivered a present with just me in mind.

Some might be questioning just how effective a return will be and if it will inevitable disappoint. I doubt it will. The fact that it’s been 25 years since the show originally aired is not a problem; it’s actually a boon. When Twin Peaks left the air, it had just finished a strange second season. The first half of the season was stellar, but ABC forced Lynch and Frost to solve the mystery of Laura Palmer’s murder and this resulted in the show becoming unmoored for a while, until it came back strong for the disturbing finale. The shorter run on Showtime (9 episodes) will help to prevent the show from going off track and because it is on cable, Lynch and Frost are less likely to run into network interference (Lynch faced network interference again in the late 1990s when he was developing a TV series that would eventually become Mulholland Drive- suffice to say, Lynch would not start a new project without some promise of noninterference).

Lynch and Frost are now free to execute their vision in a way they never have been before. Frost has said in interviews that he and Lynch decided on how many episodes the show would have for its return season and they will decide whether or not they want to continue after this season (ratings permitting, of course, but I don’t think they’ll be a problem).

What I find most interesting is that Twin Peaks is returning in an environment it helped create. Cable television is primarily, and fairly, said to have been created by The Sopranos. However, The Sopranos’ creator, David Chase, has credited Lynch’s direction and writing, both on Twin Peaks and in film, as one of his main inspirations. A recent documentary on PBS, Primetime in America, ably covered Twin Peaks’ influence, with many showrunners, including David Chase, Diablo Cody, and Matthew Weiner, speaking about its influence (and it features some fun monologues by Lynch on televisions in your head). How Twin Peaks will fit in the current landscape will be interesting. Will it be seen as a curiosity and a throwback or will it be seen as a heavy hitter, challenging other current dramas?

That Twin Peaks was a success, for however short a time, when it originally aired is remarkable. I doubt any basic network would take a chance on a surrealist drama today, especially one whose tone could change so rapidly; one moment Agent Cooper is praising a “damn fine cup of coffee” and the next moment he’s sitting in a red room where the Man from Another Place tells him “that gum you like is coming back in style.”

Even a modern cable network would be taking a risk broadcasting something like Twin Peaks. Had it not already aired and become a cult hit, I wonder if Showtime would’ve snatched something like it up. While there are moments from many other cable dramas (and a couple of network dramas, like LOST) that have the feel of Twin Peaks, I can’t think of any that were so aggressively weird and funny and tragic without warning and care so early on (later seasons of The Sopranos would feature this, although not quite to the degree of Twin Peaks). The most recent drama to go towards Twin Peakslevels of surrealism and philosophy was True Detective, which, like Twin Peaks, fast became a hit, but also quickly proved polarizing. But True Detective was set in a more realistic world than Twin PeaksTrue Detective would often make you feel like you were viewing something from a nightmare, but Twin Peaks would actually put you in the nightmare.

The years since Twin Peaks aired have not just seen an evolution in television. The creators of the drama have also continued to develop some varied careers.

David Lynch’s career has taken some odd twists and turns since the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. He directed a few more films, Lost Highway, The Straight Story, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire, but he’s also branched out into music, with two albums, and painting, with a recent art exhibit in Philadelphia. He even helped to design a club in France, naming it after the club Silencio from Mulholland Drive.

Mark Frost has also been busy. He has written a number of books on sports, including The Greatest Game Ever Played, which became a 2005 movie with the same title and Frost wrote the screenplay for it. Frost also wrote and directed Storyville just as Twin Peaks was ending and more recently wrote the script for the two Fantastic Four movies. He has also been working on novels, all well received, with six out and another on the way.

Dabbling in other artistic areas definitely changes you as a writer. My own fiction has evolved drastically since I started delving into non-fiction and criticism. How Lynch and Frost’s other endeavors will affect the new season of Twin Peaks is unknown, but they will definitely have an effect of some sort. This is for the best. Twin Peaks should not return as if it is the third season of the exact same show from the early 1990s. Times have changed, actors have aged, and television style has evolved. Twin Peaks can no doubt find a perfect balance between the old and the new, and perhaps pave new ground going forward, just like it did so many years ago.

On a personal note, the news of Twin Peaks’ return filled me with joy, like a close friend was returning. I am far from the only person to feel a deep emotional connection with the show. The world and worldview of Twin Peaks is not for everyone, but when it clicks with someone, as it did for me and many others I know, it clicks in a way that few other shows do. There are plenty of television dramas that I’ve enjoyed a lot: The WireThe West WingFringeThe Shield, and more. But Twin PeaksTwin Peaks is on a completely different level. It’s one of the few times I’ve experienced a piece of art that I not only completely got right off the bat, but one where I also felt so immersed in that it was as if it was made specifically for me. You can put all different labels on Twin Peaks, although you can never pin it with just one, but no one can deny that it isn’t a show fully satisfied with executing its own vision, the rules of other dramas be damned.

I have a pretty heavy suspicion that it’ll return with that attitude intact.


Donald McCarthy is a teacher and writer. His fiction has appeared with KZine, Cover of Darkness, and The Washington Pastime. His non-fiction has been featured in The Progressive Populist, Screen Spy, and AOL Patch News. And here, too, but that was probably obvious. His twitter is @donaldtmccarthy and his website is donaldmccarthy.com.