In 1990-1, the
question of who killed Laura Palmer caught the television audience
by storm. The answer was to be found in a bizarre, other dimensional
Sheryl Lee was almost destined to play the dead lead actress twice:
she was the face of the murdered popular schoolgirl Laura Palmer,
largely an acting role limited to playing a dead corpse or a photo
on a mantelpiece, until she was given the lead role in “Fire
Walk With Me”, a movie prequel to the series Twin Peaks.
In the unaired pilot of Desperate Housewives, she played the dead
Mary Alice Young, but as Mary Alice would also be the narrator
throughout the series, Lee was replaced for a voice that expressed
more comic qualities, which the show demanded. In the end, Sheryl
Lee is mostly remembered for Twin Peaks, a series that has a lot
in common with the surreal setting of the series Lost, which was
described as “the next Twin Peaks”. Part of the comparison
is apt if only because like Twin Peaks more than a decade before,
Lost set new standards in cinematography for a television series.
Twin Peaks also foreshadowed some of the serial killer cinema
successes of the 1990s, such as Se7en and the Hannibal Lector
series, with the initial examination of Laura’s body revealing
a tiny typed letter ‘R’ inserted under her fingernail;
a calling card of a serial killer. Finally, Twin Peaks can be
seen as being largely responsible for the birth of the most defining
television series of the 1990s: The X Files.
But let us focus on where it began: Twin Peaks. It was a television
series created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, set in the fictional
town of Twin Peaks, in northeast Washington. The concept of “twin
peaks” comes from sacred geography and it was but one aspect
of the otherworldly events that occurred in the town – a
“secret history”. The series was set in 1989, with
each episode normally representing a single day in the chronology
of the town. In total, thirty episodes were produced and the series
ran for two seasons, airing in the United States from April 8,
1990 to June 10, 1991. It mapped the murder enquiry of local schoolgirl
Laura Palmer by Agent Dale Cooper (played by Kyle MacLachlan).
Cooper’s quirks and predisposition towards the paranormal
would soon be brought alive in another FBI agent in another American
television series: Fox Mulder, starring in The X Files –
with David Duchovny and Kyle MacLachlan sharing some physical
resemblances – but then perhaps they just “match”
the FBI corporate image.
Housewives would uncover the grave secrets (involving a strange
suicide of a popular neighbour) that a tranquil street in suburbia
can conceal, Twin Peaks follows the murder investigation of a
popular school girl with no obvious motives for the crime. Gradually,
while each Twin Peaks resident is exposed to police scrutiny,
a disturbing dark side to the lives of many of its inhabitants
is revealed – even though most often, these secrets turn
out to be unrelated to the murder. The same applies to the various
secrets Laura Palmer herself kept, each of which could have resulted
in her murder at the hands of so many potential killers, but in
the end is found to have become the victim of a supernatural killer.
So, in short, with so many potential assassins, the obvious assassin
is an otherworldly being. Slightly surreal? Well, David Lynch
is known for his surreal approaches, which in some of his movies
have left the audience often utterly confused. In Twin Peaks,
specifically the first series, Lynch tried to keep the surrealistic
invasion to a minimum, but by the time of the movie, such control
was clearly no longer applied – thus leaving his audiences
once again on occasion utterly confused.
after the cliff hanger ending of the first season, the show’s
popularity reached fever pitch and “Peaksmania” was
born. Suddenly, everybody knew about Twin Peaks and it began to
seep into mainstream popular culture, very much like what “The
X Files” would accomplish in years to come. The success
of the first series meant that ABC ordered a second series. ABC
pressured Lynch to reveal the killer of Laura Palmer in the new
season, which was at odds with Lynch’s own preferences,
as he wanted to keep the murderer’s identity a secret forever.
Though the studio got the identity of the killer, many fans of
the show felt let down with its resolution, as the show’s
previously hinted at ethereal and “weird” side now
came fully to the forefront – and became the main focus
of what would be next. But the audience did not like the obscure
surrealism; the public at large primarily saw this is a murder
enquiry in a spooky town, not the Twilight Zone gone surreal.
Hence, ABC decided to place the show on an “indefinite hiatus”,
which is surrealistic newspeak for “cancellation”.
But this sudden cancellation then caused outrage with the fans,
and it was clear that ABC had no idea that the show still had
a cult following – of substantial size. The outrage forced
ABC to agree to another six episodes, to finish the season as
planned. Still, a third season never materialized, but a movie
did. In 1992, “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me”, the
Twin Peaks motion picture, was released, returning to the story
of Laura Palmer – in essence a prequel to the series. Unfortunately,
initially, both fans of the series and critics, were disappointed
by the film, for a variety of reasons, including one statement
that the movie was inaccessible to anyone who had not been familiar
with the series. Like The Da Vinci Code, Fire Walk With Me was
greeted at the Cannes Film Festival with booing from the audience
and met with almost unanimously negative reviews. However, in
recent years, the film has experienced a small resurgence in popularity
among Lynch’s fans, some of whom now see it as the director
at his best. Times change… opinions do as well.
theme of the series is that supernatural entities invade our reality,
cause havoc, resulting in the brutal murder of Laura Palmer. That
something out of this reality is amiss in Twin Peaks is implied
by mysteriously malfunctioning electrical equipment, suggesting
the Otherworld has penetrated into ours.
So, to solve a supernatural problem, you need a psychic detective.
FBI agent Dale Cooper is not only psychic, he also seems to use
various other “divining” techniques to zoom in on
the killer, one of which is baseball pitching. Above all, he experiences
a series of bizarre dreams, in which he visits a mysterious Red
Room, where he meets a diminutive “Man From Another Place”,
as well as the trapped spirit of Laura Palmer, who whispers into
his ear the name of her killer – which Cooper has forgotten
by the time he wakes up. The Red Room seems to be a reference
to Purgatory, a possibility that was also applied as to what the
mystery island in Lost could mean – Lost being another series
where producers endlessly seem to toy with the idea as to what
the meaning of the island really is. In the movie, Lynch enhanced
the profoundly surreal nature of these scenes by having the actors
recite their lines backwards – reverse speech, popularly
applied to some of the Beatles soundtracks, to find “hidden
messages”. For much of the filming, Lynch meant for some
of the film’s dialogue to be incomprehensible to the audience,
including the gargled speech of the Man from Another Place and
most of the dialogue in the loud night club scene. But then he
decided to add subtitles shortly before the film’s release,
but not in time for the subtitles to be added to the British edition.
This led to three plot points being lost on British audiences,
making it even more incomprehensible to them – but obviously
adding to the “surrealist setting”.
Cooper is not the only psychic in town. There is Sarah Palmer,
Laura’s psychic mother. There is Margaret Lanterman, the
eccentric “Log Lady”, who apparently receives psychic
messages from a log that she carries everywhere. If this is somehow
to be set against a voice of reason, in Twin Peaks, they only
have an oddball psychiatrist Dr Lawrence Jacoby. In short, in
Twin Peaks, there is no voice of reason, in which it differs from
The X Files, where the “sane debate” was paramount
in the relationship between Mulder and Scully.
The information that Cooper has gained from psychic and observed
means, including the mysterious utterances of The Log Lady, leads
him to a number of suspects, but he knows that finding Laura’s
secret diary holds the key. In the end, it is one Harold Smith,
one of Laura’s confidants, who holds this diary and it reveals
that from a very early age, Laura was abused by a character called
Bob and that her use of drugs and sex were her way to escape from
him. As Cooper delves deeper into the sordid secret life of Laura
Palmer he comes across a one armed shoe salesman, who reveals
that Bob was an old drinking buddy of his who spouted poetry and
engaged in various criminal activities. The Bob he knew, however,
is currently in a coma in the local hospital. As such, Cooper
is able to make the “logical conclusion” that Bob
is trapped in Purgatory: not in this world, neither in the other,
but in “the Red Room”. That may not explain anything
in a rational world, but it makes perfect sense in the surrealist
setting of Twin Peaks.
With this basic framework now understood, here are the rest of
the otherreal components: it turns out that The One Armed Man
himself is possessed, but in a good way: he acts as a host for
Mike, a good and supposedly reformed spirit, who in the movie
actually tries to stop Bob from killing Laura Palmer. Mike also
has access to the Red Room, as does a supernatural giant, who
helps Cooper. And, as mentioned, there is the enigmatic dwarf,
The Man From Another Place, who consumes “garmonbozia”
(pain and sorrow), and it seems almost as if this evil dwarf is
responsible for Bob’s killing spree, as Bob needs to help
the dwarf in getting him these negative emotions.
though Bob is the killer and has been abusing her since childhood,
in whose body does he reside? In the movie, Laura comes home for
dinner and her father scolds her for not washing her hands. The
scene goes from being one of typical domestic strife to something
more frightening when he starts questioning her about her necklace.
This is not the sweet Leland Palmer we know and love from the
series. The next scene shows Leland getting ready for bed with
a menacing look on his face - he is clearly possessed by something.
Then, something happens. It is like something washes over him
as his expression shifts to one of sadness and he starts to cry.
The “thing” that seems to have taken possession of
his body has left him temporarily and “Leland” is
back in control again, but with the knowledge of how badly he
treated Laura at dinner. He goes into her room and tells her how
much he loves her. However, nothing compares to the realisation,
made by Laura, that her dad is indeed under the spell of an evil
entity, “Bob” – a frightening realisation that
is probably one of the most emotionally charged scenes of the
movie (how would you feel if you find out that your father is
actually a supernatural child molester?), in which Lynch was able
to give a supernatural angle to a topic that in our reality would
be nothing more than child abuse by their parents. But not in
series two, Sheryl Lee was finally able to make an appearance,
with the arrival of Maddie Ferguson, Laura’s twin cousin,
making it appear as if Laura has returned from the dead herself
– and a possible storyline, though never developed, that
somehow Maddie could “channel” the spirit of Laura.
Eventually, Maddie too is brutally murdered by Laura’s father,
Leland… or Bob, who is soon apprehended by Agent Cooper.
then realizes that Bob has possessed Leland – a lesson Laura
had learned too, had tried to tell Cooper in his dreams, but unsuccessfully.
Leland then smashes his own head against the wall of his cell
and in his dying moment his soul is restored – hence, he
does not end up in Purgatory, like Bob. In the movie, there is
another scene in the Red Room, where we see Leland and Bob splitting
off from each other, suggesting order to “the way things
were supposed to be” has been restored.
This, it seems, is where it should have ended, but where it did
not. Hence, Cooper stays in Twin Peaks and is actually framed
for drug trafficking, the role of a transvestite DEA agent being
played by none other than soon to be “Fox Mulder”
David Duchovny. Like Mulder would be on numerous occasions himself
later, Cooper is temporarily suspended from the FBI. After he
is cleared of the charges, his former FBI partner and mentor Windom
Earle comes to Twin Peaks to play a deadly game of chess with
Cooper. While this is going on, Cooper continues to try to track
down the origins of Bob and learns more about the mysteries of
the dark woods surrounding Twin Peaks. After all, it is clear
that this supernatural intrusion into our dimension has a cause
that extends beyond Bob – Bob is not the cause, but evidence
of something gone haywire in the fabric of local reality, for
thousands of people are in a coma, but aren’t able to take
possession of a human body to start a killing spree.
Cooper also falls in love with a new girl in town, Annie Blackburn.
When she wins the Miss Twin Peaks contest, Windom Earle kidnaps
her and takes her to the Black Lodge, the mystical extra-dimensional
place in the woods that Bob happens to inhabit and of which the
Red Room is apparently a part. Cooper follows them into the Lodge
and has a series of bizarre encounters, including meeting his
own shadow self. When the series comes to an end, it seems that
Cooper, although unknown to those around him, has become possessed
by Bob himself – hunter and hunted thus united in one brain.
It would have led to an intriguing surrealistic third season,
but, as mentioned, that never happened.
a prequel happened: Fire Walk With Me. The movie excellently illustrated
the surrealism and the otherworldly nature of the series and started
off with the murder investigation of Teresa Banks, Bob’s
first victim, about a year before Laura’s murder. The two
agents were played by Chris Isaak and a young Kiefer Sutherland.
Supernaturality hits when the two suddenly disappear in the midst
of their investigation just as a mysterious, long-gone agent (played
by David Bowie) reappears at the FBI’s Philadelphia office,
with Cooper apparently aware of what is about to happen and in
charge of documenting the paranormal event at the FBI office.
This plot itself would be worthy of at least one X Files episode,
but Lynch just throws it into the melting pot, without doing anything
further with the exceptionally intriguing story he has just created.
themes of Twin Peaks developed into other series, but some of
the actors in the series equally seemed to have become “typecast”
because of the series. Don S. Davis starred as Major Garland Briggs,
father of Bobby Briggs, the boyfriend of Laura. In The X Files,
he played Dana Scully’s father, before taking on “Stargate
SG1 Command” in that series. But in Twin Peaks, he is already
an Intelligent and Air Force officer involved in Project Blue
Book, deep space monitoring, and the woods surrounding Twin Peaks.
Twin Peaks’ success was perhaps best illustrated by its
incorporation into The Simpsons. In “Who Shot Mr. Burns?
Part Two”, Chief Wiggum has a dream that resembles Dale
Cooper’s dream, in which Lisa talks backwards to reveal
clues. The chief awakens from his dream with his hair mussed like
Cooper’s after his awakening. In the episode “Lisa’s
Sax”, a flashback to 1990 shows Homer watching the show
as Dale Cooper remarks “That’s some damn fine coffee
you got here in Twin Peaks... and damn good cherry pie.”
The Giant is then shown waltzing with a unicorn, under a tree
with a traffic light hanging from a branch. Homer’s opinion
of the show is “Brilliant!... I have absolutely no idea
what’s going on.” And that about sums Twin Peaks up.