Archive for Twin Peaks

‘I’ll See You Again in 25 Years’: Twin Peaks, Return, and Reflection,

Posted in criticism, literature, television with tags , , , , , , , on August 23, 2017 by drayfish

twin peaks dale cooper

(Spoilers, obviously…)

When the original run of Twin Peaks was cancelled in 1991 the show’s creators Mark Frost and David Lynch chose to conclude their narrative with one of the most controversial final images in television history.  The hero of their series, Dale Cooper, had returned from a brief journey into a surreal nether-realm inhabited by demonic spirits, but it was clear he had come back a profoundly changed man.  In the last seconds of the series, Cooper, now possessed by an evil spirit known as ‘Bob’, smashed his head into a bathroom mirror and stared through at his cracked reflection, letting out a maniacal, mocking laugh.

It was a gruesome ending – a cruel ending – one that seemed designed to hurt the show’s most loyal fans, leaving them in an unresolved state of shock.  But with the continuation of the Frost and Lynch’s story in Twin Peaks: The Return (currently screening on Showtime in a limited series) this ending has been thoroughly recontextualised, remaking the shape and theme of the entire series.

In its original form Twin Peaks was a reaction to the conventions of 1980s television.  Suffused with the tropes and stylistic devices of programming institutions like Dallas and St. Elsewhere, Twin Peaks presented a familiar tableau of impossibly beautiful people embroiled in all manner of schemes and illicit affairs.  Its characters swooned in mopey romantic melodrama (see the entire relationship of Donna and James) or connived to incriminate or murder one another (plots twists that were often echoed in the satirical play-within-a-play daytime soap opera Invitation to Love, seen playing on televisions within the Twin Peaks universe).

Underneath these familiar conventions, however, a roiling surrealistic horror story gradually clawed its way out of the pretty façade.  As the townspeople of Twin Peaks investigated the death of Laura Palmer, aided by FBI investigator Dale Cooper, each episode gradually unfolded more physical and psychological trauma in the form of incest, rape, emotional abuse, multiple personality disorder, and violent psychosis.  Like his film Blue Velvet before it, Lynch explored the corruption that can lurk, unspoken, behind the fantasy of suburban Americana; although in Twin Peaks he went even further, eventually embroiling his characters in a gothic tale of murderous possessing spirits lurking in the wilderness of the Jungian communal unconscious.

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IMAGE: Twin Peaks (ABC)

Over two seasons the mystery of Laura Palmer’s death was solved, but that pursuit – as the final, shocking image of the series declared – left agent Cooper possessed and its audience adrift.  Frost and Lynch appeared to be saying that evil had triumphed; that the most virtuous of men had been corrupted, lost in his quest to comprehend the darkness that lurks beneath society’s veneer of normality.  It was an audacious, haunting statement, one that took the conceit of the entire series – the allure of exploring the subconscious unknown – and revealed it a fool’s errand.  The price of seeking to confront the darkness inside ourselves was seemingly only more death and carnage.

Even when the series briefly returned as a cinematic event one year later as Fire Walk With Me, the narrative did not continue on from that endpoint, but rather presented a prequel to the original series.  Whereas the show had concentrated upon the aftermath of the death of Laura Palmer, drawing a portrait of a young, troubled woman by tracing around the negative space of her absence with the myriad perspectives of the friends and family who knew her, the film depicted Palmer as a trapped, traumatised victim in the days immediately leading up to her murder.  Unlike the series’ more palatable blend of absurdism and horror, Fire Walk With Me plays more as a surrealist snuff film.  It was a claustrophobic experience, concentrating upon the incestuous sexual abuse and psychological torment Palmer suffers until she is literally strangled to death by evil.

Although the film alludes to possible future events in the form of dream, in narrative terms it continued to leave the viewer, like Palmer, trapped without resolution.  And for two and a half decades, that was how the story remained, until the release of Twin Peaks: The Return.

With Twin Peaks’ return to television screens, the series is no longer subverting the soap opera stylings of the late 80s, but rather responding to the prestige serialised format that it once initiated.  Having been a clear inspiration for genre defining programs as diverse as Sopranos, The X-Files, Breaking Bad, Fargo, and Lost, having been endlessly parodied and shown deference by shows like Gravity Falls, Saturday Night Live, Northern Exposure and The Simpsons, Twin Peaks was able to steer even further into its idiosyncratic Lynchian collision of surrealist dreamscapes and absurdist personality quirks without network television restrictions, but it was also now compelled to grapple with its own legacy.

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IMAGE: Twin Peaks (ABC)

Twin Peaks – as its very name has always implied – is ultimately about duality.  About the duality of good and evil in every soul; of the symbiotic nature of family man Leland Palmer and the abusive spirit ‘Bob’ that possessed him; of the disparity between the angelic image of Laura Palmer that her hometown embraced and the unhinged, emotionally damaged person that she was in her private life; of the idyllic Americana town and the seedy, violent underbelly lurking beneath its bright smiles and cherry pie.  And now the series is able to explore this yin and yang in its own structure.

With the return of Twin Peaks, the image with which the original series concluded – a cracked mirror and the twisted visage of Bob-Cooper – now presents a different thesis statement for the entire narrative.  No longer the end but instead the midpoint of the tale, this portrait of two faces confronting each other through a shattered screen becomes the pivot for a re-examination of both text and audience.

As the return series has played out it is clear that it now operates as a twisted reflection of its first iteration, with even their narratives, and the principle character Dale Cooper, playing this out.  In the original series the plot begins as a straightforward murder mystery, only gradually, over the course of several episodes, revealing its true nature as a gothic nightmare of mysticism and prophesies.  It ends in a penetration of the metaphysical as Cooper enters the Black Lodge spirit world, a space heretofore only glimpsed in dream.  In contrast, the new series begins already in that mystical space, taking several episodes to seemingly return to the world of relative normality.

Similarly, in the original Twin Peaks, Cooper begins his journey as an upright, impartial agent of the law and devout believer in Tibetan Buddhism.  Over the course of the series, however, his legal and spiritual detachment becomes steadily compromised.  He develops a brief attraction to schoolgirl Audrey Horne; becomes fixated on the manifest evil of Bob; pursues revenge against Windom Earle; is haunted by his relationship with a previous lover, and is tempted by his attraction to another.  The once stoic Cooper eventually loses himself entirely, drawn by his attachments to the world into the Black Lodge where he is overtaken by Bob.*

The new series reveals that Cooper has spent the past twenty five years trapped in a metaphysical spirit world, divorced entirely from those distractions of the flesh that once damned him.  In his return to Earth, he is deposited into the life of a doppelganger, Dougie Jones, but for the majority of the season has remained a bewildered figure, capable only of mirroring back what others say – his parrot speech mistakenly intuited by others as meaningful.

Pointedly, as he tries to reclaim himself through a fog, Dougie-Cooper becomes an audience surrogate for the experience of watching the new season – no doubt to the frustration of many members of the audience.  While Cooper shuffles awkwardly through the life of the man he now inhabits, a stranger to himself in his reborn state, he is sustained by the iconography of his previous existence.  The symbolism of a lawman drawing his gun; the shimmer of a police badge; the sound of the American national anthem; the taste of ‘damn fine’ coffee and cherry pie; the feel of a tight black suit across his shoulders; each episode tantalises both Dale-as-Dougie and the viewer with remembrances of the show that once was.

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IMAGE: Twin Peaks: The Return (Showtime)

Looking at this glacial return of the Cooper character unfavourably (as of this writing, 11 episodes into the 18, he remains adrift), one might be inclined to argue that Lynch and Frost are mocking their fans, reflecting their audience’s longings back at them as a criticism.  For any fans who longed for the return of the series to be little more than a reprisal of old memes – red curtains and black coffee and a young girl wrapped in plastic – Dougie-Cooper shuffling mindlessly through the iconography of the original text appears to be representative of the creative stagnation such a constrained revival would present.  If the show were merely to operate as a wellspring of nostalgic signifiers, then raising it from the grave would be redundant.  Looked upon more favourably, however, Dougie-Cooper’s journey mirrors the tenacity of the show’s fans, who for two and a half decades, while their series lay suspended, could do little more than celebrate what they remembered of their show, while always hoping for something new.  From such a perspective, Dougie-Cooper drinks deep of the familiar, encouraged onward by glimpsed dreams of one-armed, backward talking spirits, in order to sustain his return to a thoroughly unfamiliar world.

Because return – and the implications of returning to a place that has changed in your absence – is at the heart of this new series.  It’s so integral to the theme that it is actually in the title.  This is not just Twin Peaks, or Twin Peaks part 2, it is Twin Peaks: The Return.  It is about the nature of return itself.  Of returning to a place.  Returning to memories of what was once familiar.  Returning to the person one was long ago.

Twin Peaks, as both a narrative and text, is able to offer itself up as unique example of the difficulties such a return presents, with Lynch and Frost revealing the way in which reflection necessarily returns an altered vision back at us, our perception changed in the act of looking.  We peer into the show presuming to know what it is and what it should look like, only to receive back a cracked image that continues to frustrate our expectations.

In its original series run Twin Peaks was about the search to understand the undercurrent of psychological darkness beneath the mask of civility.  Lynch and Frost created a world of nostalgic Americana so that we, the audience, could watch Cooper descend through the comforting layers of a soap opera into the horrors that stir such narratives into being.  The series return denies the audience such a distancing objectivity.  Twin Peaks is no longer the subversive surprise upending the comforts of procedural, predictable television.  It is a product of its own mythos; of its audience’s desire to continue that journey, longing for the familiar and yet hungry for the new.  The nostalgia it seeks to erode is no longer abstract: it is part of the text itself.

The act of watching has changed both audience and text.  We stare at ourselves in the mirror of our television screens.  The darkness is in us.  And the longing to reclaim what is lost – and the revelation that this might not be possible – continues to haunt.  Whether Cooper, audience and text can defy the darkness that threatens them and reclaim the light that began the series remains to be seen.  In the coming weeks a new final image will conclude this three decades long narrative; and what it will reflect about its audience and its own legacy is the real mystery that the show was always trying to solve.

TwinPeaks posters

IMAGE: Twin Peaks: The Return (Showtime)

* Indeed, ‘Bob’, too is a perfect representation of the theme of reflection in the series: a palindrome with a void in the middle…

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Twin Peaks: Flame Wars Walk With Me

Posted in criticism, stupidity, television, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2017 by drayfish

Twin Peaks log lady

My log has something to tell you.

My log knows the ways of popular culture.  Of the fans that brighten the flame.  My log has seen television revivals come and go.  My log has a Twitter account.

Behind all memes are reasons.  Reasons can explain the absurd.

Twin Peaks will return.  It is a miracle.  But it will open a gateway.

My log knows what is to come.

Can you hear it?

I will translate.

On the first week David Lynch will be a genius.  It is wondrous, the people will cry.  Articles will scatter like dandelion seeds.  ‘THIS is why Twin Peaks had to return’, they will say.  ‘Lynch and Frost teach modern television creators how to do it.’  Much shade will be thrown at the most recent season of The Walking Dead.

On the second week, columnists and critics will agree that the show is taking its time.  But this is universe building, they will argue.  Perhaps the weirdness is not quite so quirky, some will suggest.  It is still better than everything else on television.  Listicles filled with spoilers counting the ’10 Best Things About the New Twin Peaks‘ will clog websites everywhere.  People will already tire of their workmate’s references to ‘damn fine’ black coffee.

In week three there will be disparaging chatter about some of the returning actors, and whether or not they should have come back.  Magazines will create spreads of the female cast members, rating them alongside photographs taken twenty years ago.  Copy-editors will ask who has ‘let herself go the most?’  The male cast will be referred to as ‘distinguished’.  Humanity will continue to die a little inside.

In week four conspiracy theories abound.  What does that salt shaker mean?!  Enough with the owls!  Memes will fly wildly on Twitter.  One line, taken out of context in episode two, will have become so ubiquitous and overused in daily conversation that your aunt will facebook you to ask what it means.  A Guardian newspaper columnist will list reasons why this new series is exactly what Twin Peaks was once all about.

Week five will leave viewers wondering aloud whether the long pauses and abstract dialogue are intentional.  People will haunt comments sections of articles loudly proclaiming that they ‘Don’t care!’ about this series.  That they ‘heard’ it wasn’t that good in the first place.  That they are only writing this in every comments section, on every review that they find, because they are ‘SO UNINTERESTED!  SERIOUSLY!’  Critics begin to wonder whether Twin Peaks has shown its age.  In the wake of Breaking Bad and Mad Men, does Twin Peaks still have ‘it‘ anymore?  A Guardian newspaper columnist will list reasons why this new series is the complete opposite of what Twin Peaks was once all about.

Twin Peaks Damn fine coffee

In week six the online anger will rise.  ‘Why don’t we KNOW anything yet?!  Where are the answers?!  We waited twenty years for THIS!?!?’ they will furiously type, despite having only binge-watched the series a month ago.  Reviewers cataloguing episode summaries on websites like the AV Club will wonder why the screenwriters are concentrating on the peripheral characters.  Think pieces about why they are actually important, even though they appear completely irrelevant to anything, will emerge.  Some will sound nearly convincing.  #Where’sAnnie?

In week seven the ‘fans’ will become apoplectic.  A beloved character and actor from the original series that they have not thought about for a decade has been treated unfairly!  Boycotts are threatened.  #HAVETOSPEAKUPHEARINGISGONE.  Capitalising on this anger, an organised conservative moral outrage group will petition Showtime to cancel the show.  They will demand an investigation into whether something screened in a previous episode was too disturbing for broadcast.  The FCC will issue non-committal statement about looking into the matter.

On the eighth week Saturday Night Live will do a sketch claiming that Twin Peaks is actually about Donald Trump.  The White House is now the Red Room.  Jeff Sessions is the Man From Another Place.  Paul Ryan is an uptight nerd possessed by darkness.  Steve Bannon is Bob.  Ivanka, a vague beauty queen with no defined personality is ogled like a trophy to distract everyone from the evil goings on barely obscured behind the scenes.  Alec Baldwin will play Trump as a dim-witted Log in an unconvincing toupee, carried around by Vladimir Putin in a dress.

My log is not amused.

Week nine will bring with it hand-wringing think pieces.  ‘Lynch might just be a weird old man with singular antiquated beliefs’, they will suggest.  Is he celebrating, or mocking what he thinks is ‘weird’?!  Maybe Blue Velvet wasn’t that good after all.

Week ten there will be a controversy.  Perhaps Denise Bryson, the transgender character played by David Duchovny, will be presented in an arguably unflattering light.  Perhaps someone will rethink the use of the word ‘dwarf’ on national television.  A critic will write an article titled ‘Twin Peaks Is Not A Safe Space.’  It will be unclear if this is meant to be satirical.  #CancelTP

In week eleven people will have moved on to the return of Game of Thrones.  Can you believe that Khaleesi did that thing that she did?  It was about time!  Critics will praise Game of Thrones in inverse proportion to their criticism of Twin Peaks.  ‘David Lynch withholds too much!’  They will gnash their teeth.  Game of Thrones will cut a dude’s head off and show you some rude bits.  That’s how you tell a story!

In week twelve disparaging think pieces propagate.  Everyone will be reminded that before it was cool to brag to everyone about how underappreciated Twin Peaks was, it was fun to slag off the second season, while it was still screening, for not being as great as you wanted.  Endless columns will lament that Lynch is just stringing his audience along – just like before.  This is why Twin Peaks got cancelled in the first place, they will say.  #Waiting25Years

In week thirteen many clever, ironic people, who are all very popular and hip, will write disparaging comments about how Twin Peaks is still on television.  Yawn.  I forgot that was even a thing, etc.  I watched that new Archie Riverdale show and it was weirder.  Did you see Gravity Falls?  #LodgeAComplaint

In week 14 a subsection of Tumblr fans will be disheartened when it becomes clear that the romance they were shipping is never to be.  Whether this romance was between a stale box of donuts and a taxidermied deer head is obscured.  #DoughADeer

On the fifteenth week, the week before it ends, fan theories will run amuck.  Entire Wikis will flourish and fade daily.  Click-bait websites will dangle promises of ‘WHAT IT ALL MEANS’ behind several pages of single sentence paragraphs and a confetti of pop-up ads.  There will be rage from those who love the series; rage from those who ‘have never and will never watch it! Why doesn’t everyone just shut up?!’; and rage from those who believe that it is just not as good as it was when James Hurley went on that stupid road trip.

Twin-Peaks-sign

On the final week, there will be no definitive resolution.  The answers it does offer will be nebulous.  Much will remain obscure.  Articles will be written praising a work that is willing to excite, entice, and respect its audience in such a way; others will be written calling the show a fraud.  David Lynch will be labelled a scam artist; a genius; an auteur; a hack.  The show will be called exploitative; ridiculous; outdated; cutting-edge.  It will be both hip and derivative to hate on it; its defenders will be equal parts brave and gullible sheep.  It will be the greatest; it will be the worst.  Proof of the revival model; evidence of why it never works.

Twins; mirrors of one another.  The darkness in the light.  Inextricable.

#CUin25Years

The show will probably be magnificent; but none will be able to tell anymore.  The flames will rise regardless.  The smoke will blind.  From the warmth of recognition to a fandom ablaze.

In the feedback is the fire.   All that is good burns.

It happened to Arrested Development.  To The X-Files.  Even the Gilmore Girls got a working over.

All of this has happened before.

All will happen again.

All of this my log has foreseen.

And, yeah.

That Rosanne reunion sounds like a terrible idea.

Twin Peaks thumbs up

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