Tuesday, August 28, 2007
As a consummate David Lynch fan, watching Twin Peaks for the first time is like watching the birth of genius. I’m about half way through the 2nd season, so if you’ve seen it all, don’t spoil it for me. That said, if you’ve never seen it, leave the computer immediately, subscribe to a Netflix account, and order it. Now. Do it. Why are you still reading this? I’m serious. Ok, read this. But then watch it! (No spoilers, I promise).
The mystery of who killed Laura Palmer is a cliff notes explanation of the basic narrative. Of course, it isn’t that simple. Immediately we’re aligned with Special Agent Detective Dale Cooper (played by a devastatingly young and attractive Kyle MacLachlan), who comes to Twin Peaks from the FBI to investigate Laura’s murder. Like Coop, we’re drawn into the maze of people and secrets that make Twin Peaks unique—at times, Laura’s murder seems inconsequential in comparison to the plethora of subplots on the series.
Laura arrives on the scene “dead, wrapped in plastic,” and soon we discover that the town’s little princess kept her dark side under wraps as well—a predilection for drugs and sex with dangerous men is revealed by the discovery of her diary (and a cache of cocaine). The bipolarity of Laura’s face haunts us constantly through the first season: her blue, frosty death mask is juxtaposed with her parents’ homecoming queen portrait. In Twin Peaks, the cheeriness of the superficial world is highlighted by its deathly, demented undercurrents.
If you’ve seen any of David Lynch’s other work, you know one of the many things that makes him so indescribably smart (and also so frustratingly indecipherable) is his dialogue. While Twin Peaks is certainly less abstract than say, Mulholland Drive, its writing is no less engaging. These characters get under our skin immediately through their language—especially Detective Cooper, who has his own little vernacular of sayings and quips that make us scrunch up our brow, crack a smile, and ask, “what?” His excitement over life’s little pleasures and attention to detail—“This is, excuse me, a DAMN fine cup of coffee”—endear him to us instantly.
The murder of a young girl in a very small town certainly calls for drama, and Twin Peaks , in deep contrast to other shows who have followed in its wake, is not afraid to key into the melodrama of Laura’s demise. The characters’ revelations are soliloquized with practical sincerity—almost as if we were watching a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy unfold. The character of Donna, played by a very young, swan-like Lara Flynn Boyle, is Lynch’s mouthpiece on the tragedy. Early in the series, she explains to her mother her conflicting feelings over her grief at the loss of Laura, her best friend, and the burgeoning romance with James, who was Laura’s boyfriend: “Mom, it's so strange. I know I should be sad, and I am, part of me is. But it's like . . . it's like I'm having the most beautiful dream . . . and the most terrible nightmare, all at once.” All of this melodramatic pining is of course fortified by Angelo Badalamenti, Lynch’s composer, and his synthesized music which is the perfect combination of both fear and sadness. Laura’s theme, which also happens to be the opening theme, has almost a Pavlovian effect on us, as if to cue the show’s most complex and intimate moments.
Lynch’s relationship in his work to women is, for me, one of the most interesting aspects of his auteur. Many feminist critics jump to the conclusion that Lynch is a misogynist—many of the female characters in his oeuvre are perhaps too decorative, and ultimately we’re surprised when they reveal themselves to be highly capable, intelligent beings. Of course the message here could be “appearances are deceiving.” However, many critics distrust Lynch’s emphasis on sex, and sexuality—Laura’s innocence is purely a façade, but also inextricable from her downfall. The lovely Audrey Horne (another of Laura’s high school classmates), played by the gorgeous Sherilyn Fenn, oozes sexuality from every pore, tempting even Agent Cooper from his focus on the case. Ultimately, Lynch’s women hark back to a very old-world idea of feminine sexuality: these women are still heavily reliant on their feminine wiles to get what they want. However, they remain just as complex and intelligent as their male counterparts (if not more so). The argument can also be made that Lynch gives power to women by mainly concerning himself with their struggles in his work. He has always been interested in the idea of “a woman in trouble,” as made evident by his films Mulholland Drive, and more recently, Inland Empire, and it is Laura (although we are compelled by Coop) who remains the tragic hero of the series.
But of course what Lynch is mainly concerned with in Twin Peaks is the battle of good and evil, the struggle between impulse and reason. BOB is the manifestation of the evil impulse. Lynch adds the element of magic and fantasy when he gives BOB an actual body and simultaneously paves the way for further series (i.e. The X-Files ) when our greatest fears, which usually swim somewhere beneath the surface of our subconscious, are fully realized, in the flesh, in our homes. BOB is frightening not only because of his evil, but because of his ordinary, simplistic demeanor. He’s the man in the gas station you don’t make eye contact with. He’s the man at the end of lane in the trailer home. He could just be strange—but you don’t stick around to find out. BOB is a different sort of criminal. He isn’t a sociopath. He’s a pure-blooded psychopath and there’s no explanation for his evil, other than its existence.
Twin Peaks is, I believe, the most elegant and complex television series in television history, even at its brief two seasons. Lynch went on to pursue the story in Fire Walk With Me , a prequel film which chronicles Laura’s bad behavior and last days on earth. I have yet to see it, but I hear conflicting reports on its merit. While it’s easy (and practical) to conclude that Twin Peaks’ success is largely based on its quirkiness and cult status, I hesitate fall back on such an oversimplification of the series. The denizens of Twin Peaks have much to say on who we really are, and how people function in a community—ultimately Twin Peaks is really about history, and the inherent hypocrisy of fate. While Laura’s murder and the subsequent murders thereafter, strike a dark chord, the buoyant optimism and goodness of Detective Cooper and his ilk, notably Sheriff Truman, Andy, Hawk, and Lucy, reminds us that while the existence of God may be questionable, the determination of humanity is undeniable.