Twin Peaks is Over, Absolutely Over
Posted September 5th, 2017 at 7:36pm by Dan Birlew in Television. No Comments on Twin Peaks is Over, Absolutely Over
David Lynch is an artist. He studied art in school, and he is an artist first. His interest in film-making is purely as an artistic medium. That’s why every documentary about David Lynch has ultimately focused primarily upon his art. For example, watch David Lynch: The Art Life now on Amazon Prime or rental.
I know it can be confusing to think of Lynch as anything but a film director or filmmaker. After all, following the unprecedented success of his art house project, Eraserhead, Lynch embraced the offers Hollywood rolled out to him to become a film director, taking on commercial big studio projects like Elephant Man and Dune. But he quickly lost his taste for it, following the creative control he lost on Dune. I could cite more sources about Lynch’s problems with Hollywood, but he also spoke about these issues when he took part in a panel I attended at CineVegas 2004, which I refer to as the “Blue Velvet Reunion”: hosted by Dennis Hopper, with David Lynch and Dean Stockwell. It was a day I’ll remember for the rest of my life, and I remember Lynch’s apparent disdain (or just hesitance, maybe) to discuss the entire issue of Dune. I do remember he gave credit to Dino De Laurentiis for “doing what he thought necessary to save the film”, but it was still a box office failure and it wasn’t the entire film as David Lynch envisioned. You can find extended versions of Dune online, but the additional footage is not at all edited the same as the rest of the film and doesn’t speak entirely to what Lynch intended.
The failure and disappointment of Dune is the primordial material from which Lynch’s next film effort, Blue Velvet, was born. Blue Velvet was not only a box office and critical success, but it proved that allowing Lynch the majority of creative control could be a good thing. The film mixes naively innocent characters and violent psychopaths, and presents material both hokey and sublime while at the same time bubbling below the surface are corruption, shocking violence and explicit gore. Blue Velvet introduced us to Lynch’s “strange world,” which we’ve seen evolve ever since.
Twin Peaks, in my opinion, was originally conceived as “Blue Velvet on TV,” or the logical continuance of Lynch’s “strange world.” While Lynch exerted a good amount of creative control over the pilot and the initial seven episodes of the first season, he started to lose that control when the show became a hit and was renewed for a much longer second season, and by allowing other directors and writers to take over. The one thing he was clear about the show was that the mystery of Laura Palmer’s murder should never be solved. However, this resulted in a battle with the ABC network and co-creator Mark Frost that he lost. Just seven episodes into the second season, the show revealed that Laura Palmer (Cheryl Lee) was killed by her own father, who was possessed by a malevolent spirit called “Bob.” Following this revelation the show fell into a discernible lull as ancillary storylines were tied off. New stock soap opera plots were rolled out, but eventually a new core mystery was developed regarding the “Black Lodge” from where Bob had supposedly originated. But after Laura Palmer’s murderer was revealed, the show just wasn’t the same. The ratings tanked, and the network put Twin Peaks on indefinite hiatus. David Lynch wrote and directed the final episode, which concluded with a series of cliffhangers typical of a prime time network soap opera like “Dallas” or “Falcon Crest.” Although the show had already been cancelled before the finale aired, Twin Peaks ending with mysteries unsolved was—in a way—a satisfying experience. The mystery was never supposed to be uncovered, in the first place.
Following all that, to receive new episodes of Twin Peaks 27 years later should be considered a small miracle. Even prior to the new series’ debut, I was already anticipating a completely different experience. A prequel film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, came out a year after the show went off. An entirely different experience than the show, the story follows the life of Laura Palmer in the days before her murder. Consequently, a majority of the plot is no surprise to anyone who watched the show. The depiction of a young woman suffering horribly provides a somewhat grim viewing experience. The goofy side-characters of Twin Peaks were also absent from the film, and frankly, were sorely missed. But Fire Walk With Me was a completely different experience than the show, and in my opinion its unique vision is reflected in dozens of major American horror films, released since then.
Lynch then went on to make some of his more artistically controversial films, including the surprisingly ultra-macho Lost Highway and the uniquely feminine Mulholland Drive (which, incidentally, was originally shot as a TV pilot that never aired). He also made unprecedented forays into Chekhovian ultra-realism, such as The Straight Story and the nearly incomprehensible, 3-hour long Inland Empire. Ultimately every movie he’s made since Twin Peaks has been a box office flop, although Mulholland Drive was universally acclaimed by critics and considered to be his best film, and also listed as one of the best films of the 21st century. Artistic expression has triumphed commercial appeal in Lynch’s work.
David Lynch is an artist. To understand the work of an artist, you must follow their progression. An artist’s work changes as they age, as they develop their world view. Much the same has transpired in Lynch’s films. Twin Peaks: The Return embodied more of the cinematic style that he’s developed in the years following the original series’ end. His stories are now more centered on the dark absurdities of existence and non-existence, the conflict of desires versus payoff, and the banality of everyday tasks.
Twin Peaks: The Return took a single plot point from the show—which ABC probably would’ve demanded be resolved immediately—and made it the subject matter of an entire season. FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper’s (Kyle MacLachlan) return to the real world from the Black Lodge was drawn out into the goof-riddled tale of Dougie Jones. For several episodes I started to feel exasperated, as it seems many others did, that Cooper wasn’t regaining his senses and going after his evil doppelganger. But then I began re-watching the series about mid-way through (the show went on hiatus for a week) and I realized that in emerging from non-existence, Cooper has fallen into a cleverly conceived trap set up by his evil twin. The bad “Mr. C,” anticipating that his better self would find his way out of the Black Lodge early, created dim-witted, goofy Dougie Jones to infiltrate the Lucky 7 Insurance agency and unknowingly become the patsy for an insurance scheme involving corrupt insurance agent Anthony (Tom Sizemore) and dangerous mobsters the Mitchum Brothers (Robert Knepper and Jim Belushi). Cooper’s ability to thwart his circumstances by doodling on the insurance forms, which his boss somehow correctly interprets, is in my opinion inspired by Cooper’s love of Tibetan spirituality and rituals in combination with Lynch’s own devotion to daily meditation. According to the practice, the highest state of meditation is where the individual is divorced completely from all thought and care, lives in a perpetual state of bliss and enlightenment, and is capable of manifesting happiness in themselves and all those around them without forcing the situation in the slightest. To me, Dougie Jones is the embodiment of the enlightened state of Samadhi, and it’s rather genius for Lynch to fully personify his beliefs in the show, given the opportunity.
The Return also departed from the original series in terms of pacing and music. Throughout the ABC series, it’s obvious the music was horribly over-used. That’s hardly the case in The Return; in fact, well known music arrangements from the original series are used so rarely but in such key moments, it brought a tear to my eye more than once. With regards to the pacing, the new series didn’t mind slowing down a bit, whereas the original ABC series contrived stock soap opera plots just to get us through the next few weeks.
Lynch contrasted moments of comic absurdity with banal everyday events, such as making breakfast, doing paperwork, sweeping a bar floor (which always takes a long time), Big Ed (Everett McGill) sitting in his gas station, etc. The town of Twin Peaks is no longer the “dreamland” Lynch evoked in the original series; it has become a normal place with normal problems one finds in any other small American town, for the most part.
As for the enigmatic ending, I know very well what it meant… for myself, at least. Hopefully I’ll state in such a way that doesn’t spoil it too much for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. In my opinion, Cooper throws his universe out of balance by seeking to use alternate dimensions to undo what has been done to Laura Palmer, and accidentally ends his own existence. Identities start to slip away. Diane believes that her name is really Linda, and wanders off. Cooper begins to act more like the bad Cooper, ruthlessly taking down two cowboys in Odessa just for groping a waitress and then melting their guns in a deep fryer. Laura Palmer thinks she’s someone else entirely. And finally, Alice Treemond, the woman who answers the door at the Palmer home, also references the name Chalfont; whereas in the original series and movie, Treemond and Chalfont were the same entity. The entire sequence is much like a real dream, where the situation begins to stop making sense. This thematic dissolution is often what causes the dreamer to realize they are dreaming, and suddenly awake. This, I believe, ties back to Cole’s dream about Monica Bellucci, in which she says “We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream. But who is the dreamer?”
In my opinion we, the Twin Peaks viewers, are the dreamers. Now that the show is over, we have to wake up. I’ve had more than one dream where things were making sense and I was following along, only to reach a point where things fell apart, and I woke up. And this ending is also much like the endings of both Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, where someone emerges from a “dream” or alternate reality in which things were almost ideal. It’s a swan song moment, a Lynch-style indicator to the audience that Twin Peaks the show is well and truly over, and it’s time to wake up and get back to reality.
However, if my interpretation is not yours, that’s fine. Twin Peaks has once again concluded with a mystery unsolved, just as it was always meant to. I look forward to exploring this eternal mystery, with you, forever.
Publicity photo courtesy Showtime.