How’s Annie? How’s Annie? How’s Annie? How’s Annie? How’s Annie? How’s Annie?
The long-awaited revival of Twin Peaks returned from its own horrific limbo in the Black Lodge earlier this month, when David Lynch announced on Twitter that he’d worked out a deal with Showtime to honor his original commitment to direct the third season—only six weeks after he’d walked away from the project in a similarly public fashion. The news was met with universal acclaim and relief, because after being told this unique show was coming back, it felt wrong that the auteur from whose mind it sprang had to be involved to usher his creation into its next stage of life. They wanted to see it so much, in fact, that the show’s original actors even took to social media to offer character-specific similes on what losing him would mean to the show.
Have you ever begged a secret out of someone? They let a tiny piece slip, and suddenly finding out the whole truth is the only thing that matters. You plead that they just tell you. You pick away at them, breaking them down, again and again until it goes on too long for either of you and you can’t take it anymore, you just need to know and they need to tell you, right now. They sigh, dramatically. They pause. They tell you truth. It isn’t at all what you expected, but now you know, you finally know. Now what?
And finally, the truth. Leave it to David Lynch and Mark Frost, though, to offer something less than comforting. The pair may have been bitter from the pressure to reveal the killer, which they never intended to do, but regardless, this is a brutal hour of television. It’s difficult to imagine that many viewers, so wrapped up in the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer, were all that satisfied with the answer once it came, not that an answer could ever have been as satisfying as the question. The truth is more horrifying than any of us could have imagined.
The dualities of Lynchian art are always interesting and always compelling in their simplicity. They reveal something, in their best moments, that is not typically talked about or openly acknowledged. Binaries are so easy to use, good versus evil, but when David Lynch manipulates them, he is uniquely capable of showing us the phoniness and feebleness of these structures.
The question of who killed Laura Palmer holds a particular and acute power. Not only did it captivate millions of people in 1990, but it has continued to have the same effect on millions more in the decades since thanks to home video and, most importantly, Netflix. When I first started watching Twin Peaks as a teenager some years ago, I wasn’t as familiar with the phenomenon, having only been told by many about how powerful the show’s legacy has become. The first season of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s series immediately gripped me, not only with that central question but (more importantly) with the remarkable world and its characters that these men had carefully crafted.
It’s interesting to consider how Twin Peaks would have been received if it aired today. The viewing culture of the 2010s is one that’s been bred for the ad infinitum dissection of television shows: episodes are picked apart in real-time on Twitter, reviewers dig for greater analysis in the days between installments, and cliffhangers and twist endings can spark wars in comment sections. One wonders how the first eight episodes of Twin Peaks—loaded with symbolism, often emotionally extreme, at times determined to frustrate the viewer—would survive in an environment made so contentious by endless discussion of its spiritual successors LOST and The Sopranos. How many interpretations of the Log Lady’s words would there be? Would Cooper’s love of coffee launch a thousand memes immediately? And would James and Donna be more loathed than Nikki and Paolo?
With the sheer breadth of stories being told on an average episode of Twin Peaks, it’s startling to take a step back and realize that each episode only covers a period of 24 hours. While not as slavishly devoted to calling attention to its timeframe in the way The Killing or 24 was, Twin Peaks is a show focused on the day-to-day of the town, beginning each episode with the prerequisite cup of coffee and ending on the wind blowing through the deserted streets and forest. The basic nature of that structure only makes it more remarkable to consider how much happens in a single day, and how good the writers are at keeping the momentum of each plot going as the season progresses.
In the first scene of “Cooper’s Dreams,” Agent Cooper complains to Diane via tape recorder that the sense of peace he found in Twin Peaks has been shattered, proving one of his oldest maxims: “Once a traveler leaves his home he loses almost 100% of his ability to control his environment.” And indeed, control is something that’s slipping away from Cooper at every turn this episode. When a rowdy gang of businessmen wake him up at 4 am, it leaves him looking worn down during a key part of the investigation. His normal sense of equipoise fails him in the presence of the Log Lady, who slaps his hand for inopportune timing. And at the end of the day, he returns to his room hoping for peace, only to find Audrey Horne naked in his bed, begging him not to send her away. So often the smartest man in the room, this episode shows Cooper being pushed by circumstances, rather than the other way around.
When the viewer enters the world of Twin Peaks, they do it at close to the exact same time Laura Palmer leaves it. Whoever she was is gone entirely, departed off to heaven, hell, the darkness in the woods, the strange red room in Cooper’s dream, or perhaps to nowhere at all. Cooper and the Twin Peaks police department can overturn every stone in town until they find the killer, but nothing they do is going to bring her back. The only thing that’s left behind is a body growing colder by the minute, and the memories of a town that loved her without truly understanding anything about her.
Throughout his career, David Lynch has always paid tribute to the role of dreams in his art and storytelling. He once described his appreciation of the form as such: “Waking dreams are the ones that are important, the ones that come when I’m quietly sitting in a chair, letting my mind wander. When you sleep, you don’t control your dream. I like to dive into a dream world that I’ve made or discovered; a world I choose … right there is the power of cinema.” Lynch’s best works are the pieces that exist perfectly in an elusive feeling, where you’re unsure if you’re awake or still dreaming. Blue Velvet is a walking nightmare for poor Jeffrey Beaumont that shows him the worst of life, while Mulholland Drive’s narrative defies categorization on what is reality and what is a dream.
After the tour de force performance that was the pilot of Twin Peaks, the most important of the many questions raised was how on earth this would be able to sustain a weekly series. Its vision was so unique and its oddness so carefully calibrated that it was easy to understand why so many of the critics who first reviewed it and loved it gave it zero chance of mainstream success, even while you could also understand why ABC would take a chance on its vision.
In the nearly 25 years since Twin Peaks debuted on ABC, the show has achieved an almost mythic status in the canon of television. Not only has it influenced a legion of other shows, but its various elements and images have become indelible parts of pop culture. Appreciation of cherry pie and damn good coffee. A lady with a log that she treats like a beloved pet. A dwarf dancing in a room with red curtains and a zig-zag carpet. When people think of Twin Peaks, they think of its oddities, and with good reason: the surreality is so distinct that it lingers long after the details surrounding it have faded.
Last week, the television world received a fairly earth-shattering piece of news, with the announcement that Twin Peaks would return to television in 2016 with a nine-episode limited series run on Showtime. Long hoped for and speculated about by fans, the news is about as promising as could be hoped for: All nine episodes will be written by show creators David Lynch and Mark Frost, and directed by Lynch in his first time directing for television in over two decades. In multiple interviews since the reveal, Frost has been coy about any specifics, but the general tone of the conversation is that the two feel the time is right and that they genuinely want to tell a story in this world again.