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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > TV on DVD Reviews > Twin Peaks - The First Season

 

Twin Peaks

The First Season (1990) (Lion's Gate-2002)

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Copyright ©2004   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: October 13, 2004.

At the dawning of the last decade before the new millennium, and before television would enter its own new age, we were offered the highly unusual Twin Peaks. This series, like a brief eruption of flame, fascinated, stunned and confused us. It was hot to the touch. Then, it was gone, and life on television seemed to change. During its brief reign as an example of how good TV could be, and before it literally lost the plot and was mercifully cancelled, it became one of the most influential shows ever.

Twin Peaks is one of the few programs – maybe the only one – to mirror life in all its mystery. Like life itself, the series is similar to that of a soap opera, with no logical end seemingly in sight. It twists and turns in unexpected directions, demands your attention and tests your endurance. Everything that we think is isn’t; any object that seems to have significance does not.

The characters think they are living in the real world – theirs being the misty macabre beauty of the Pacific Northwest; however, the real action takes place internally. Mysteries are solved not through circumstantial evidence and police procedures, but through dream interpretation and double meanings. In the end, according to the dogma of Twin Peaks, there is no meaning. We’ve been fooled and distracted. We all lose.

The underlying plot of the series, and the source of the nation’s obsession in 1990, is: who killed Laura Palmer? However, with each passing episode, we slowly realize that who killed her is not the point. As the Log Lady (literally a lady carrying a log, and the virgin mother of all convention-attending nerds everywhere), states directly to us: “Behind all things are reasons. Reasons can even explain the absurd.” Yet the cruel joke in life is this: we never get the reasons.

That was only the beginning. The absurdity would mount to an overwhelming crescendo, confound us and fuck with us. We have been conditioned from our first TV experiences to follow a plot line – what we get instead is tone, and lots of it. The series was produced and packaged by real filmmakers, headed by the brilliant David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Eraserhead), who took his vivid visions to television to see what he could get away with, and for how long. Amazingly, America bit – at least for a while.

The town of Twin Peaks, where young cheerleader Laura Palmer is brutally murdered, is so hyper-All-American, so serene and pastoral, that it becomes dangerous and frightening. Lynch is asking us, “What is home?” And home can be so homey that it can lull us into a false sense of security and smother us.

He gives us a Peyton Place of dark secrets, unexpressed sexuality and unspoken emotion, in scenes that purposely ramble on too long and subplots that laugh at us when we ultimately realize that they are going nowhere. In fact, time stands still here. Like life, the further along you think you are, the more you stay in the same place.

Of course, because Lynch is playing with every literary and melodramatic convention that we expect from a thousand TV shows, everybody in the town becomes a murder suspect, even her devastated parents. The youth of the town are “troubled,” to say the least; the boys express a James Dean style of angst and the girls stew patiently in their own sexual innocence. And Laura, it turns out, isn’t the homecoming queen she initially seemed to be.

The adults are stranger by far. Though expected to be authority figures and symbols of stability, the grownups are over the top, out of their minds and barely able to grip their sanity. Laura’s parents are bereaved to the point of satire, Peggy Lipton plays the wholesome beauty who should have married well and settled down, but owns the town diner and toils in it. And Russ Tamblyn plays the local psychiatrist who has severe mental problems of his own. This short list does not include Killer Bob, who may or may not have murdered Laura, but appears to people in horrifying visions.

FBI Agent Cooper (Kyle McLaughlin) is a detective right out of a thirties’ comic book; a straight arrow Dick Tracy who seems to be fascinated with everything. He is solving Laura’s murder psychically, saying, “My dream is a code waiting to be broken. Break the code. Solve the crime.” And what a dream it is – one of the creepiest and most infamous vision quests in the history of television. In it, Laura Palmer (or is it?) sits in a red room, while a little person dances to the coolest jazz music ever. He says, “Where we’re from, the birds sing a pretty song, and there’s always music in the air.” Go chew on that for a while. America once did.

Cooper’s sexual attraction to the teenaged Audrey Horn (Sherilyn Fenn) is more than risqué both now and then. When she places a cherry stem in her cherry-like mouth and causes it to twist into a knot, we know we are not experiencing any TV déjà vu. Audrey, for all of her youth and beauty, is peculiar and commanding.

With a determinedly fifties-retro feel down to the fetishistic gazebo, saddle shoes, tight sweaters and cherry pie, we are asked to look at our cultural past with uneasiness now. Even the television soap opera that the residents of Twin Peaks obsess on, with the cliché-ridden title of Invitation To Love, appears to vaguely mirror the goings-on in the town and the characters’ turbulent lives in that corny way that most soaps do, but more surrealistically so.

The symbolism is used as a distraction – everything from a golf ball to a llama to Hawaiian art to a convention of odd people from Iceland. Even at Laura’s funeral, one of the teenaged boys confounds us further by screaming at the mourners, “Everybody knows she was in trouble, but we didn’t do a thing! All you good people! You want to know who killed Laura Palmer? You did!” Of course, this rant sounds clichéd on purpose; it doesn’t help matters at all, and continues to throw us off course.

Sadly, by the second season, the series had lost its mojo and overstayed its welcome. America, now mired in the Persian Gulf War, was back to reality. Soon series like Seinfeld and The Simpsons would take the place of Twin Peaks as a source of bended reality. However, the show would inspire a genre of similar odd vibes served with a less heavy hand (Northern Exposure, The X Files, Picket Fences, Ed, and even Roswell).

Ironically, Twin Peaks and its slow, deliberate style seems to be long forgotten. This DVD will help us remember and keep the shattered memory of Laura Palmer – and what she may or may not have stood for – alive.

Ronald Sklar

Copyright ©2004   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: October 13, 2004.