Angelo Badalamenti’s dreamy score captures you with a nostalgic mix of beauty and tragedy; it’s both warm and dark. A bird suggests something peaceful, but this image is quickly erased by the sawing of timber that dominates the intro sequence. It invites you into the sleepy logging town of Twin Peaks, a place sprawling with majestic fir trees and steaming with freshly brewed black coffee. Yet the story begins with discovery of a body – a teenage girl. Unknown then, kooky fisherman Pete Martell’s nervous declaration would quickly become a quotable nineties landmark: ‘She’s dead – wrapped in plastic.’ Television, and I, was never the same again.
I wasn’t born when Twin Peaks aired in 1990, but its cultural impact is profound; just looking at shows released after this iconic series is only a small indicator of its power. There might have been no Sopranos without Twin Peaks, which means no Mad Men, or Lost, or any of the best shows of the last twenty years. Twin Peaks opened the door for long, sweeping projects, and was the first to give full creative control to its creators David Lynch and Mark Frost. Though the studio would rush the show to a premature end, Lynch would once again take the reins for the series finale, ensuring that everyone would remember just how strange and unsettling Twin Peaks could be. Before you could scream at the television, Kyle MacLachan laughed demonically, and the credits rolled. It was over – any questions would not be answered for another twenty-five years.
Though a show about sexual abuse and murder, Twin Peaks is also about strange people and their connections, symbols, dreams, love and humour. It is an odd mix of light and dark; the light being found in its constant display of doughnuts, in Norma and Ed’s quiet romance, or Lucy’s squeaky nonsensical ramblings. Andy’s frequent mishaps are another highlight, always looking as if he is experiencing things for the first time. He’s weird – but nobody is really weird in Twin Peaks.
To be weird in Twin Peaks is to be special. Andy is always knocking things over, and it brings sniggers from the out-of-town FBI agents, but it’s Andy that solves the mysteries that the FBI can’t. Cooper may channel a subconsciousness insight into the supernatural, but Andy is the one that kicks a floorboard into his face and finds the crucial missing clue. In Twin Peaks, Andy’s clumsy foolishness is as gift. And he’s not the only one. The show’s hero is Agent Cooper, who is on the surface a clean-cut, intelligent and professional detective. But he also playful, and absolutely obsessed with coffee and cherry pie, breaking down into giddy glee whenever he drinks the stuff. He speaks to dancing dwarves and dead teenage girls that talk backwards and stages investigative experiments based entirely on dreams and values symbols over facts. This is all a huge contrast to the detectives that dominated murder mystery shows and films. Cooper doesn’t brood, doesn’t drink or smoke. He wears a boyish grin and an open heart. He’s different and being different is his best quality; it’s not his badge that solves Laura Palmer’s murder, it’s his willingness to embrace the weird.
Cooper never seems off-balanced when he encounters something unexplainable in Twin Peaks, instead seeming to light up with each bizarre discovery. When Major Briggs talks to him about the supernatural, Cooper looks like a boy hanging onto every word of a strange and wonderful story. These are the moments in Twin Peaks that delighted me. Images such as Bob’s hand reaching ominously from a veil made of literal darkness are burned into memory, along with a log that had secrets, affectionately carried everywhere by a character only known as the Log Lady. Small snippets like this was enough to keep you engaged even when the show’s bright flame began to dwindle, but crucially, never peter out.
You could always rely on Twin Peaks to deliver these weird bits, whether it was Cooper’s visits to another realm or Nadine acquiring superhuman strength after waking from a coma. Some were exhilarating, and others simply silly. It had unusual combinations of music; characters would break into impromptu dance and singing; faces would superimpose onto the screen and it would make you laugh, then cry, then scratch your head in bafflement. All too often the show that you were watching would fall away into something else entirely, and it was unpredictable, and alive. That’s what made the first watch so special.
Even when things seemed ordinary, the characters rarely did. The serious tone of a murder investigation would be undercut by an extended close up of Sheriff Truman engulfing an entire doughnut into his mouth. Leland Palmer, grieving his daughter’s death, would break out into song and then collapse into tears afterwards. Though whenever I think of my favourite Twin Peaks moments, I often settle on Lucy and Andy’s offbeat romance. Here were two perfectly suited odd balls that had fallen in love but lacked the social experience to convey it properly. Instead, they divulge into cryptic messages and childish games. Andy stumbling with his sperm cup and adult magazines in hand and Lucy’s wild-eyed sniff and huff at his misinterpreted rudeness is always delightfully funny. You could not find characters like this anywhere else on television, and their quirks made them endearing. They were the warm and sugary heart of Twin Peaks.
In that dreamy first experience of the show, I cared less about who murdered Laura Palmer, and more about the people that had made Twin Peaks their home. I wanted to spend more time with the Log Lady. I wanted to dance with that dwarf in the black lodge. A part of me even wanted to see more of Bob, but preferably not as he clambered over the sofa and crawled towards the screen. Really, I wanted to know what happened to Josie Packard, the soft-spoken femme fatale that gets trapped inside a doorknob? The story goes that David Lynch woke up one morning, called Mark Frost, and said, in that genial way of his, “I think she gets stuck in a door handle.” Frost, reluctantly, said okay. In an era where a lot of things feel and look the same, based on templates for success, churned out as quickly as they can be made, how could you not cherish something as defiantly different as Twin Peaks?
You never really knew what you were getting with each episode. Was this the one that would explain a mystery they’d been teasing for weeks, or would it be an extended dream sequence in which an old man shuffled back and forth into frame, talking about milk, and winking on his way out – a wink, no doubt, from Lynch to the audience itself. If you’ve seen it, Twin Peaks is a joke that nobody really understands, but everybody is in on it. There’s something wonderful in a show that still divides and troubles people thirty years on. Somewhere out there, somebody is still piecing it altogether in their log cabin.
I knew nothing of David Lynch when I started watching the show many years ago, but afterwards, I knew that it was okay to like weird things – and here was a director dedicating his entire career to it. It was like I’d found another home. When I think about Twin Peaks, it comes to me like a heady stream of steaming coffee. It’s as evocative as any memory. I feel like I’ve been there. It didn’t just open the door for new and bigger stories, it opened my own door. It might open yours too, if it hasn’t already. So, I like that I like weird, and I like being weird. As Cooper might put it, being weird is damn fine.
Featured image courtesy of ABC