Today I concluded a long, long journey:
That’s right, I finally finished watching Twin Peaks!
You’d think it wouldn’t be a long trip. It’s only 48 episodes. Three seasons of varying lengths. Soap operas get that much in a year. Game shows do it in a few months. We’re not talking The Simpsons here (629 episodes) or my old friend Doctor Who (826) or even Breaking Bad (62). Go without sleep, and you could binge this series in two days. I’ve been working on it off and on since 2014, and that’s not counting any episodes I might have caught as an eleven-year-old back in 1990. Why so long, I hear you ask?
The answer is that Twin Peaks is not your average television series. That’s a bold claim in today’s entertainment world; but I’d argue that David Lynch’s Twin Peaks has a level of complexity that is usually reserved for science fiction, coupled with a level of pure, bizarre trippiness that is usually reserved for…well, for David Lynch’s films, actually. What can I say, the man has a type.
A quick recap, for those unfamiliar with this classic: The story begins with the mysterious murder of high school senior Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks, Washington. When Laura’s body is found, the oddities begin to add up, until Sheriff Harry S. Truman (yes, really) calls in the FBI. The bureau sends one Special Agent Dale Cooper to Twin Peaks. Cooper, in the midst of lavishing praise on the town’s coffee and pie selections, quickly finds a connection between Laura’s murder and a series of other murders which he has investigated. As more and more townspeople are found to be connected to the crime, a supernatural connection is revealed: an evil being called BOB, from a supernatural location called the Black Lodge, is revealed to be the ultimate source of the terrible happenings in town. In the end, Cooper is drawn into the Black Lodge in an attempt to stop Bob…and he fails, spectacularly. When Cooper returns at the end of season two, it’s not the real Cooper; it’s a strange and evil doppelganger, inhabited by BOB’s spirit.
That’s where things stood, for a quarter century. Cue the current decade, in which everything is new again; I blame Battlestar Galactica, whose highly successful adaptation last decade proved that remakes can be extremely successful and lucrative. Those remakes quickly transformed into revivals, in which the new seasons aren’t a reboot of the original, but a continuation, many years removed. Curiously, Twin Peaks seemed to have planned for this a long time ago; in the final episode, Laura Palmer’s spirit tells Dale Cooper that she “will see you again in twenty-five years”. That would be 2016; but one year off ain’t so bad, my friends. After all, in 1992, a revival series would have been a laughable thought.
So, in 2017, we got Twin Peaks: The Return, or alternately just Twin Peaks. This eighteen-episode event was produced by Showtime; and to save you the suspense, I’ll go ahead and say it: This series is an absolute train wreck. If the classic seasons were trippy, the revival is an overdose. The best metaphor I can think of is a rope that is fraying at the end: all the same threads are there, but they become more disconnected as we progress. The classic series was sometimes hard to follow; by the end of the revival, I was obligated to watch with the wiki at hand, just to keep track.
Where did we go wrong? I’d argue that the first and greatest problem is that no clear resolution was given in the original series; but that ship sailed so long ago that it’s tough to blame it for what’s happening now. I considered trying to review the current series as it stands, but I’m sure I couldn’t put it together in any coherent manner (considering that the show itself doesn’t manage that). Therefore, I’ll give you my thoughts on how to save Twin Peaks: The Return in five easy steps.
I. Give the series a narrative goal.
Just what are we getting at here? What do we want to accomplish in this series? I don’t know. You don’t know. Special Agent Dale Cooper doesn’t know. David Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost probably don’t know. Or perhaps they do know; they want to accomplish EVERYTHING! (More on that in the next step.) But you can’t accomplish everything. In that case, you need to accomplish one thing and accomplish it well.
My suggestion: This season had a lot of plot lines, but only one was truly compelling: The story of Cooper’s doppelganger. Focus on that plot–namely, Cooper’s quest to return the doppelganger to the Black Lodge, and escape the Black Lodge himself. We don’t get to see what the doppelganger has been up to for the past quarter century–although we get some hints–and that’s just as well; very little of it matters. Suffice it to say he’s been sowing chaos like a good villain. However, we learn very early that he will be automatically summoned back to the Black Lodge on a certain date, and we get to see his preparations for thwarting that event. From Buckhorn, South Dakota, to Las Vegas, to Twin Peaks itself, it’s a wild and bloody ride; let it take center stage. However, that isn’t what happens; although we cover that ground, it’s only one thread in the series.
That’s not to say we should throw out all the other characters; just that they should be here because they’re a part of that plot. And on that note…
II. Cut out the leftover subplots.
One of the strengths of classic Twin Peaks was its large ensemble cast. The town of Twin Peaks felt both real and eminently knowable. We got to see the many intrigues taking place in the lives of the inhabitants, from the Palmer family, to the love triangle of Big Ed Hurley, his mentally ill wife Nadine, and his high school sweetheart Norma, to the insanity of Leo and Shelly Johnson and Shelly’s affair with Bobby Briggs, to the mystery of Major Garland Briggs and his work with Project Blue Book. It all seemed to be leading up to something; unfortunately, we never got the payoff we needed on most of those plot threads. Perhaps we would have done so in season three, had it happened at the time; but we didn’t, and now the ship has sailed.
The 2017 season tried to pick up as many of these threads as possible; and as a result, the show meanders far more than it should. While it was fun to check up on Big Ed and Norma (who finally get their happy ending here), it felt disconnected from the rest of the series. In addition, numerous actors have passed away in the interim (or in a few cases, between filming and release!), and a few were unable to return for other reasons. This in turn led to the introduction of new plotlines, often only tangentially related, such as the sordid details of the family life of Bobby and Shelly’s daughter, Becky. As entertaining as these things could have been in their own shows, they come across as filler here.
My suggestion: Retain only those subplots which have a direct and useful connection to the main plot, that of Cooper and the doppelganger. That in no way means that the ensemble cast has to go; keep what plots you like, but tie them in. Big Ed, for example, was a member of the classic series’ Bookhouse Boys, Sheriff Truman’s clandestine group of men who kept tabs on the strange events in town. That would have been a perfect way to bring Ed back into the plot; but the Bookhouse Boys–not to mention the Bookhouse itself–aren’t even mentioned. I would suggest removing several subplots, if they can’t be tied in: Audrey Horne’s story; Richard Horne’s drug issues and the death of a child at his hands; Dr. Jacoby’s radio show; Becky’s trouble with her husband and his affair; anything involving James Hurley (who is especially out of place in the absence of Donna Hayward); and–and this may be controversial–the entire Las Vegas subplot involving Dougie Jones. On that note, it’s quite possible to make it necessary to the matter of the doppelganger; but as it stands, most of it is extraneous.
III. Cut out episode eight entirely.
Episode eight is unique among the episodes of the 2017 season. Leaving the regular cast entirely, it’s a trippy, surreal excursion into the past of the Black Lodge, BOB, and other supernatural entities–which, apparently, date back to the 1945 Trinity nuclear test explosion. The episode is structured in the same manner as the visions that various characters experience throughout the season–lots of clouds, vortexes, slow-motion speech, and smoke–and lacks any cohesive plot. It serves to introduce several plot elements that show up again in the second half of the season, such as the convenience store, the Fireman’s theater, and the Woodsmen (it won’t make much more sense even with context, so just go with it). Although the episode is hard to follow, it’s not entirely without purpose; much of its imagery will be revisited in the final episodes. The biggest issue is that it is an immersion-breaker. (Personal anecdote: this is the point at which my wife, who had stuck with me through a rewatch of everything heretofore, decided to bow out.) The episode is so starkly different from everything around it, and so apparently disconnected (at that time anyway), that it pulls the viewer out of the series completely. As well, it’s very much in the vein of telling rather than showing, by which I mean that it’s interjecting its new contributions without any substantial lead-up or context; it is what we would call, in a novel, an info-dump. That’s doubly impressive, as it is almost completely without dialogue.
My suggestion: I agree that some of the concepts here are needed, although some are unnecessary. Instead of devoting an episode to it, work it into previous episodes. Use more visions if necessary–the series hasn’t shied away from them so far, so go ahead. Overall, shorten the amount of material by cutting the filler, and then work the remaining bits in elsewhere, so that this episode can be removed entirely.
Before I go on, let me point out that there will be spoilers for the season finale from this point forward. If you haven’t yet watched, and intend to…well, I suppose I’ve already ruined a few things for you. Still, if you want the ending to remain unspoiled, turn back now!
Still with me?
Alright. On to number four:
IV. Give BOB a better ending.
Late in the season, we meet Freddie Sykes, played by Jake Wardle. Freddy is an oddity; a young security guard at the Great Northern Hotel, he works alongside James Hurley, and wears a green rubber glove at all times. I do mean at all times; he relates to James the story of how he was supernaturally led to put on the glove, and now can’t remove it without injury. Freddie has had supernatural direction, leading him to come to Twin Peaks from his native UK so that he can face his destiny. That destiny, as it turns out, is to destroy BOB.
The glove, you see, gives young Freddie supernatural strength, in one arm at least. He’s very good at punching, and uses that ability to devastating effect a few times in the last episodes of the season. This doesn’t sit well with the sheriff’s department, and lands him in the holding cells–which in turn allows him to be on hand when Cooper’s doppelganger meets his end. BOB, now encased in a large crystalline sphere, is released from the doppelganger’s body, and attacks Cooper. Freddie realizes that this is the destiny he was promise, and punches the sphere until it shatters, dispersing BOB once and for all–as far as we know, anyway.
Look, I like Freddie. Had he been there from the beginning, he’d be a great character. He’s affable and pleasant, and interesting. He is also the greatest deus ex machina in a series that is already flooded with them. While he doesn’t appear at the literal last minute, he’s only introduced–substantially, anyway–a few episodes earlier. He has no backstory or context within the established scope of the series. He’s there for one purpose only: to punch BOB.
This is the villain of the entire series. The murderer of Laura Palmer. The driving force behind the doppelganger. The source of years of trouble in Twin Peaks. He deserves better than to be punched out by a character from left field.
And finally–and I do mean finally:
V. Land the plane already!
I suppose I’m saying this to myself as well, as I’m up to 2150 words right now. I’ll try to make it quick.
David Lynch is a fantastic writer, director, producer, and actor. He suffers, however, from one fatal flaw: An insatiable thirst for another season. It’s a lifelong ailment; otherwise, Twin Peaks would have ended with season two, and we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I fear that the disease has progressed, in the interim, unfortunately.
Season two’s finale gave us four major threads to hold onto in anticipation of the third season (that is, the third season that never happened). We had Audrey Horne’s unresolved fate with the explosion in the bank vault; Laura’s spirit’s promise to see Cooper again in twenty-five years; the fate of Annie Blackburn, the winner of the Miss Twin Peaks contest, who was taken to the Black Lodge by Windom Earle; and Cooper’s doppelganger, last seen laughing into a bloody mirror as we see that BOB inhabits him. (I would include the fate of the real Cooper, but at the time we didn’t know that the Cooper who exited the Lodge was a doppelganger; it looked as though it was the real Cooper, now possessed as Leland Palmer had previously been.) The revival season upped the ante; the entire final episode consists of groundwork for a potential 2018 season.
All the major conflicts and plot threads are resolved in episode seventeen. Episode eighteen is forced to insert new plots, develop them, and then somehow leave the season at a cliffhanger–all in an attempt to ensure another season. Mr. Lynch, I’m saying this as your friend: It’s time to land the plane. I know this isn’t your strong suit, but bear with me.
Twin Peaks works best as an event. You know this; you billed the 2017 series as Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series when you released it to video. It doesn’t need–and never needed–to be a continuing series. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have brought it back in the first place; you and Dale Cooper had unfinished business. You didn’t know, after all, that there would never be a Season Three in the 1990s. Perhaps you planned to end it then, and were taken off guard by the cancellation. Either way, the business is finished now; BOB is gone, and Cooper is back, and Twin Peaks is at last safe and at peace.
I know Twin Peaks is your baby. It’s been a part of your life for three decades. But let’s be honest: This season should have ended with episode seventeen. Cooper should have had his reunion with his long-lost friends, and the red curtains should have come down, and the credits should have rolled. Personally, I think that should have been the end of the series, but you don’t have to agree with me on that; maybe you have more stories to tell. If that’s the case, they should be next season’s stories. They shouldn’t have had an episode at the end of this season. End well, and start fresh. Or, if you agree with me, end well, and don’t start again at all. It wouldn’t be a failure; it would be a dignified and accomplished conclusion. Go out with a bang, and do justice to your creation.
This plane has been circling for a quarter century. It’s time to come in for a landing.
And there you have it! Five easy suggestions for saving Twin Peaks. But, what do you think? This series is nothing if not complex, and there’s far more ground than I can ever cover. What would you suggest? And if you don’t have suggestions, then what did you think of the series? Your answers are always welcome! As always, thanks for reading.