Do we really want answers to Twin Peaks’ original questions?
Back in 1991, when David Lynch and Mark Frost’s groundbreaking TV melodrama Twin Peaks was cancelled, it left viewers with a lot of unanswered questions. Some of them were central to the series’ dreamy, surreal mysteries. Others were more immediate, and were deliberately left dramatically hanging in the series finale, which left so many characters apparently dead, and protagonist Dale Cooper possessed or outright replaced by an evil spirit. Fans hoped to see Cooper’s story resolved in the subsequent movie, 1992’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, but that film turned out to be a prequel that left the series largely unaddressed.
So speculation is high over how Lynch and Frost’s new Twin Peaks will take up the threads of the original TV show. The 18-episode limited series, which begins with a two-hour premiere on Showtime this Sunday, May 21, is expressly intended as a sequel that takes up the action of the original 1990s run, 25 years later. But that doesn’t mean it’ll answer fans’ longstanding questions. Lynch has always been an oblique storyteller who’s more interested in symbolism and mood than in laying out clear, linear stories. Given the series’ casting, it’s pretty clear that we’re going to find out certain characters aren’t dead — for instance, Sherilyn Fenn, whose character was last seen trapped in a bank next to a bomb going off, is returning in her role. But it’s certainly worth wondering whether the new show will clear up any of the mysteries that have stuck with us.
Tasha: I first watched Twin Peaks back when it originally aired in the early 1990s, back when there was nothing else like it on TV. Back then, long-arc storytelling hadn’t become standard for American TV. It was before every genre-leaning show had a dedicated internet fandom standing by to pick apart its mysteries, and before showrunners designed series to keep those fandoms guessing and wondering. So the show’s mysteries, which stretched out over an entire season, seemed like an entirely new approach to storytelling in prime time. But Lynch and his team weren’t particularly interested in answering the questions they raised — Lynch famously didn’t even want to reveal the answer to the central murder-case question that defined the show, “Who killed homecoming queen Laura Palmer?” ABC pushed him to solve that case onscreen, but there were plenty of other surreal show elements that were introduced over the course of its two-season run. And when I say certain plot elements have bugged me over the years, I’m literally talking about things I’ve sat with for 25 years now, wondering if they’d ever be resolved.
The number one question is the fate of the soul of Agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan. The original series’ final episode has him entering the Black Lodge, “a place of almost unimaginable power, chock full of dark forces and vicious secrets,” where evil spirits might “offer up a power so vast that its bearer might reorder the Earth itself to his liking.” Fans have spent decades debating the exact meaning of everything that happens to Cooper in the Lodge in that last episode, but what’s undisputable is that something comes out of the Lodge wearing his face, and not acting much like him at all. So what I want first and foremost out of a new Twin Peaks story is an understanding of what went on in the Lodge, how it changed Coop, and what that means about the state of the war between good, evil, and the possibly non-aligned spiritual forces haunting the town of Twin Peaks. What most matters for you guys? What are you hoping to learn from the new show, or failing that, what do you want out of it in general?
Lizzie: The first thing that always comes to mind when people talk about Twin Peaks making zero sense is "The owls are not what they seem." This is what The Giant says when he visits Coop in his hotel room, and it's probably one of Twin Peaks' most recognizable quotes. But what does it actually mean? Are all the owls in the woods just pleasant decoration? Or are they a symbol? A metaphor? A hint that this revival was always going to come? Presumably Lynch has had to hire some new owl actors this time around, but maybe their role will be less opaque now.
There’s always the possibility I don’t really want this revival to give me any answers at all; I just want it to make me feel like I did in 2011. Except I would like someone to solve the mystery of James’ singing voice.
Kwame: The thing that always stuck out to me was Killer Bob. I’m intentionally using the word “thing,” because what is he? As someone who never made it through the second season’s endless digressions, I’ve only watched a handful of episodes here and there up to Agent Cooper’s visit to the Black Lodge. But Bob still gets me. Not just because he’s so creepy and demonic, because that’s obvious. I just think it’s fascinating that this otherworldly evil is embodied by this long-haired dude wearing a lot of denim. What does that say about Lynch’s cosmology? Is Hell populated by random guys in jean jackets, sneering into the ether? And if so, what do the other spirits and beings look like? We’re so used to angels and demons looking a certain way, as beautiful or terrifying, but ultimately conventional. In that framework, I’d imagine Bob being this blob-monster with tentacles. But Lynch, who has never hidden his deep belief in the spiritual, is doing something completely different. My question, then, is what the hell does Lynch think evil looks like in the world of Twin Peaks? Does he believe there’s something Lovecraftian in the ordinary? In a way, that’s probably scarier than Cthulhu, right?
Bryan: I’m going to strike a contrary tone here and say that there actually aren’t any specific plot questions for Twin Peaks that I’m concerned about going into the new season. (Well, I have always wondered what was going on with Josie and the drawer knob, but that’s pretty standard-issue.)
Twin Peaks as a plot-driven show more or less ended for me when Laura Palmer’s murder was solved. After that, few specifics left an impression. I actually didn’t realize how little had stuck with me until I recently rewatched the entire series (and Fire Walk With Me) last month. It honestly felt like I was watching the second season for the first time — that’s how little of an impact the machinations and weird developments had. What I did remember was the tone. That strange dreamy mix Lynch excels at, mixing the familiar with the surreal to create the outright terrifying.
People can certainly argue that the first two-thirds of Twin Peaks excelled because it combined that quality with the more traditional — read: coherent — narrative structure of TV, but as odd as the show is at times, there’s magic in how purely Lynchian it became. That probably explains my complicated relationship with the prequel movie Fire Walk With Me, which Lynch has said is integral to understanding the new show. I originally loved that film, and I was enraptured when I rewatched it. It’s gonzo and bizarre, but it plays like a more refined version of that second-season strangeness, shot through with the absolutely heartbreaking terror of Laura Palmer’s final days.
It’s a delicate mix, and one I can’t help but think Showtime executives would run from, screaming. But in a way, it’s the truest example of what Twin Peaks became as it evolved. My ultimate question going in is whether Lynch’s new Twin Peaks will be able to hit that same kind of tonal balance, using both the familiar and the bizarre to disarm the audience, and lead us into truly emotionally devastating territory. And if it can hit it, can it maintain it for 18 episodes? So much serialized TV has become focused on plotting and fan debate around story theories. I would welcome a chance to just float on the tide of Lynch’s mind.
Tasha: I understand just wanting that Twin Peaks feeling back. And I understand thinking that the exact mechanics of why Nadine has super-strength don’t matter, and that you don’t need to know whether the Log Lady’s log really houses the spirit of her dead husband, or she’s just crazy, or it’s something else entirely.
But the original Peaks was a mystery series, full of dangling plot threads and unexplained occurrences. Some of those are nonsense, apparently thrown in by a post-Lynch writing crew without a clear plan for what they were doing. Lynch himself has said he not only wasn’t involved in the second season, he stopped watching the show entirely. So while I’d love an explanation for why Josie Packard’s soul appears to be trapped in a dresser-drawer knob, I don’t expect one.
But the larger framework of the series is about human emotion, and about a great spiritual war that intersects with that emotion. And that’s where I want to understand the shape of the story. Am I the only one who wonders what the Black Lodge is plotting, and what kind of agenda the dwarf and the giant and their kind have for humanity? You aren’t left wondering about all the weird spirits and their adjacent people (like Mike, or the Tremonds, or Garland Briggs) and whether they’re on the same side or represent many different factions? Or how Annie got Theresa's ring, and what their connection means? On the soap-opera scale, don’t you care whether Big Ed feels forced to stay with Nadine now that she’s recovered her memory, or whether he finally can return to Norma now that Hank is dead? Or how (or whether) Leo Johnson got out from under that dangling cage of tarantulas? Or whether Annie is even still alive? You really don’t wonder how’s Annie?
Lizzie: Once you brought the Tremonds into this, I realized there were about 42 characters I barely remember. Like Harold Smith, the unpredictable recluse who was friends with Laura, or anyone involved in the One-Eyed Jacks scheme. Related to One-Eyed Jacks, I’d like to get some answers about Jacques Renault’s death. He was smothered with a pillow in a hospital bed by Leland Palmer. Everyone assumed Leland was seeking revenge for Laura’s death, except Coop, who suspected Leland was trying to prevent Renault from implicating him in the crime. Who’s right? And when Killer Bob has taken over someone, does that person know they are Bob? Is Leland Palmer simultaneously Leland Palmer and Bob, or does Bob take over completely?
Kwame: I’m typically an “all the pieces matter” kind of viewer, but seeing as I bowed out right around the time Lynch left the show, I tend to think his influence as a writer and not so much a creator of mood is what will bring me back. The details I care about have everything to do with the core good-vs.-evil conflict between Bob and the spirits haunting Twin Peaks, and far less to do with the townsfolk. I like Big Ed and Nadine, but they were never what got me to watch the show. It was Laura Palmer, and her place in this larger spiritual war.
And don’t forget. The limited series is taking place a full 25 years after the events of the original run. The Log Lady is long gone. (RIP Catherine Coulson, who played her on the show.) Given Coop’s vision from the first season, will Coop’s soul return and do battle with Bob? What does it mean that that might be possible? Those questions matter to me the most.
Bryan: It’s funny, if the show had ended just after the reveal that Leland Palmer killed Laura, I suspect I would have the same questions you all do. But fresh from a rewatch, those actually aren’t the questions that leap to my mind. Perhaps it’s just season two and Fire Walk With Me talking, but I don’t expect anything to come together in a traditional narrative sense — and I honestly won’t be disappointed if we learn nothing about the giant, the dwarf, or his formica table.
If anything, I think that is the version of Twin Peaks I would actually find disappointing. We’ve had plenty of wonderful procedurals since the original show, and plenty of serialized murder mysteries. But I never loved Twin Peaks because it had a tightly conceived mythology, or was a wonder of a whodunnit. I loved it because it was a waking dream that worked on emotional and visceral levels. Were the soap-opera and mystery elements part of that larger whole? Certainly. But they were threads in a larger tapestry. I’m probably putting an impossible amount of pressure on the show here, but in my wildest dreams, I want it to do what the original did: surprise me by going in directions I could never anticipate.