Posts Tagged ‘Laura Palmer’

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In the first part of this series, I described how the first season of Twin Peaks was fundamentally a soap opera, a lovingly ironic take on popular prime-time soaps like Dynasty and Dallas. That version of the program, sultry and cool, reached its peak on 23 May 1990, in a cliffhanger-packed finale.

Four months later, Twin Peaks returned for a second season. But it wouldn’t be the same. Over the following twenty-two episodes, the show’s soap operatic qualities faded away—quite literally. The soap-within-a-soap, Invitation to Love, disappeared, no longer playing on anyone’s TVs. It’s heard but once in the second season, in the background, briefly—an afterthought.

What took its place? While it would be going too far to claim that Twin Peaks turned into a sitcom, it must be said that the show’s second season is much goofier than the first, littered with five-dollar words, camera mugging, and canted angles. Oddity replaced elegant aloofness, as Twin Peaks switched from running cool to hot. Many characters turned wacky, weird for weirdness’ sake, wrapped up in cornball scenarios. This is especially evident in the character of Deputy Andy Brennan. In the first season, Andy’s green, dropping his pistol during a raid, and vomiting and crying when exposed to violence and death. But in the first season finale, Andy mans up, saving Cooper from Jacques Renault, then summoning the courage to ask Lucy why she’s been giving him the cold shoulder (which leads to her telling him she’s pregnant). The start of the second season sees that progress wiped clean as Andy regresses, becoming a clown who steps on loose floorboards and knocks himself out, and who wraps his own fingers up with Scotch tape while trying to hang up sketches of BOB—a fitting image for the series’ new direction.

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Andy’s joined in his buffoonery by Nadine, who emerges from her coma transformed into an immensely-strong amnesiac who thinks she’s still in high school, as well as Ben Horne, who goes from villainous to vaudeville, chomping on celery stalks in lieu of cigars as he comically re-stages the Civil War. Amplifying these antics is a cavalcade of guest stars, including Ian Buchanan as the aptly-named Dick, a cartoonishly smarmy cad, and David LanderLaverne and Shirley’s Squiggy—who turns up three times in what could almost be three separate parts. This Twin Peaks, the more comedic Twin Peaks, the slapstick Twin Peaks, crescendos when, late in the second season, a weasel runs amok in the Great Northern Lodge after biting Dick.

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Compounding this zaniness is the fact that, behind the scenes, the powers that be at ABC forced Lynch and Frost to reveal who’d murdered Laura Palmer, which hamstrung the show. TV is always all about stalling, but presumably some of the show’s more comedic plot lines were never intended to drag on for so long. But Lynch and company needed something to pass the time while they struggled to figure out some reason for Agent Cooper to stay in town, as well as a larger, overarching storyline—another mystery to replace Laura Palmer’s murder.

But Laura was one of a kind, irreplaceable. Late in the second season, we’re introduced to Lana Budding Milford, who’s meant to recall Laura: Dr. Jacoby attests to her prodigal sexual prowess, and every man who sees her is instantly smitten. Just like Laura, Lana has the talent of making fellows feel special, the sole object of her affections.

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But unlike Laura, Lana’s a cartoon—the sitcom Laura, the Looney Tunes Laura. Lacking is Laura Palmer’s duality, her mystery.

With Laura gone, and its soap opera missing, Twin Peaks looked elsewhere for a mystery, for a new animating spirit. It found it by taking a turn toward the supernatural, reorienting itself around “the evil in the woods.”


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Before it was anything else, Twin Peaks was a soap opera, a prime-time melodrama about murders, love affairs, drugs, double crosses, nefarious schemes, and dark secrets—to borrow the tagline for David Lynch’s aborted follow-up series, Mulholland Drive, it was about “good people in trouble.” Set in a cozy backwater town in the Pacific Northwest, five miles south of the Canada–US border, Twin Peaks was at heart voyeuristic, making its viewers feel as though they were spying on their neighbors. More than once, Audrey Horne, inspired to play detective by her new crush, Special Agent Dale Cooper, spies on men—her father, then one of her father’s underlings—recalling how Jeffrey Beaumont, in Blue Velvet, peered at Dorothy Vallens through the slats of her bedroom closet. Indeed, Lynch started work on Twin Peaks when his agent asked him to expand Blue Velvet into a TV series.


Accordingly, a later episode sees Audrey’s father, Ben, ask whether a rowdy group of investors from Iceland are on “nitrous oxide” even as his business rival, Josie, follows him and his lover, Catherine, to a motel, snapping photos from her car just like Blue Velvet’s Jeffrey.

Blue Velvet took place in Lumberton, USA, and Lynch similarly set Twin Peaks in a seemingly wholesome logging town that harbored dark secrets. But Lumberton mostly resembled an actual place, with its hardware store and its diner and tree-lined streets, even if Lynch ironized their depiction with close-ups of gleaming white picket fences, waving firefighters, and obviously fake robins. With Twin Peaks, which premiered on April 8th, 1990, Lynch pushed that irony further. There has never been a small town like Twin Peaks, and there never will be. Twin Peaks was idealist, its characters archetypes—caricatures, but no less true despite their exaggerations. We meet roughly two dozen of its inhabitants, all of them adults; even the teens at the local high school are played by twenty-somethings. They are also, one and all, impossibly attractive. As FBI Director Gordon Cole later exclaims, “The world of Twin Peaks seems to be filled with beautiful women!” The people of Twin Peaks were ridiculously gorgeous, as well as classy, glamorous, well-dressed. Uniforms abounded. Men wore suits, while women wore sweaters, skirts, dresses. And when they moved, one caught hints of stockings and garter belts.

That was a metaphor for the show: decorum on the surface, with a hint of sexuality underneath. After Laura Palmer’s death, FBI man Dale Cooper arrives in town and starts tugging at various threads, revealing the tranquil, idyllic town’s sleazy underbelly. But while the show revolved around lurid things, Twin Peaks was never lurid. There was no nudity or language, and not just because the show aired on network TV. Twin Peaks was a tease—Audrey using her mouth to tie a knot in a cherry stem. It was dreamy and romantic, elegant, a companion to the prime-time soaps like Dallas and Dynasty that had dominated television and the culture throughout the 1980s. It wasn’t until the film Fire Walk with Me—which tellingly opens with a shot of a TV set exploding—that Lynch produced an R-rated installment, in which we, like Donna Hayward, got to shadow Laura Palmer on her rebellious late-night excursions, with their nudity and foul language and graphic violence and gore, and which tragically led to her grisly death at the hands of her father, Leland, wild-eyed and frowning grotesquely as he raised his arms toward heaven, unfurling an iconic sheet of plastic.

Until then, the sordid details of Laura’s secret life and murder played out only in our heads, and Twin Peaks was escapist, fun—an adventure. As Dale Cooper put it, “I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have no doubt that it will be a place both wonderful and strange.” Today “Lynchian” is a synonym for “nightmarish,” but Twin Peaks, back in the beginning, wasn’t a nightmare. While it got strange at times, even outlandish, it remained grounded in the familiar, and we tuned in each week to watch the same characters visit the same locations. We wanted to go there, to hang out with them, to tag along with Cooper and Sheriff Truman as they visited the Double R Diner for coffee and cherry pie. Watching the series, we get the sense that time isn’t passing—that we’re caught up in the timeless nature of a remote town where entropy isn’t in effect. The plates of donuts are always full, the pots of coffee always fresh. We can eat donuts and pie and coffee all day without gaining so much as a pound. The series as a whole seems to glow, the lighting warm and soft, the tones earthy and wooden, mahogany, honeyish. At its heart, Twin Peaks was goodhearted. “Every day, once a day,” Cooper tells Sheriff Truman, “give yourself a present.” Twin Peaks was that present.


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