Sunday, May 21, 2017

My Secret History of Twin Peaks

The sound of wind through the trees. The pine needles sway and rustle against each other. Saws buzz in the lumber mill, the smokestacks piercing the sky. A lumber truck rolls past a small diner. The call of an owl. A telephone rings. The telephone on the table by the red chair. A lonesome foghorn blows. A dead girl, on the beach, wrapped in plastic.

Premiering in 1990, Twin Peaks was a true cultural phenomenon. More than just Must Watch TV, Twin Peaks hit the television landscape like a freight train, forever altering the way we watch. Across the country weekly viewing parties were held, complete with drinking games (with coffee, of course), cherry pie, and lots and lots of donuts. The cast graced the cover of nearly every publication you could think of. Parodies, homages, and subconscious emulations flooded the airwaves, while Twin Peaks references littered the monologues of late show hosts. Books both official and unofficial were rushed to market. 1-900 numbers were set up for viewers to catch up on pertinent details related to them by cast members. T-shirts, coffee mugs, posters, trading cards, and board games filled the shelves, and everyone everywhere was asking the same question: Who Killed Laura Palmer?

That bubble did not last long. After the first season ignited the public's consciousness with only seven episodes (discounting the pilot), the second season failed to create the same spark, and the show was cancelled in 1991, with ABC burning off the remaining episodes unceremoniously. Thirty episodes were produced in total, along with a theatrical prequel chronicling the final week of Laura Palmer's life. The show would remain a cult hit, as fans carried the torch for the show in the form of fanzines and festivals. Eventually, slowly, this led to an 18-episode revival on Showtime. Somehow, improbably, Twin Peaks will be returning tonight with the first new episodes in over a quarter of a century.

I missed the show when it first aired. I was twelve at the time, and was certainly aware of its impact, but didn't hear about the show until it had been on the air for awhile. The show was absolutely everywhere, and I felt I needed to join the conversation, but I was too late, and too lost with the single episode I managed to catch. It would be years before I would return, and I finally watched the series in 1997 after discovering David Lynch as a filmmaker. I had seen Dune by this point, but what really grabbed my attention was his then-upcoming film Lost Highway, which featured the involvement of Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor. To prepare for the film, which I was reading about for months before its release, I rented every Lynch film I could find. I managed to find a VHS copy of the Twin Peaks pilot in the bargain bin at Fred Meyer, and immediately fell in love with it.

Later that year, after having seen Lost Highway each night during the week it ran in Anchorage, Alaska, I stuffed my Christmas money into my wallet, headed over to the Dimond Center, walked into Suncoast, and bought the entire series (minus the pilot, which was sold separately by Warner Bros.) on VHS. I began watching it that night, and by the end of that weekend I had finished my first viewing of what had already become my favorite show.

The mystery of Twin Peaks was somewhat spoiled by my having been impatient earlier in the year, when I rented the prequel Fire Walk With Me. I actually think this worked out in my favor, as knowing the answer to that popular question allowed me to experience the show in a manner pretty close to how Lynch had intended. Lynch, probably naively, had never wanted to solve Laura Palmer's murder, instead wanted the show to become about the lives and mysteries within Twin Peaks itself. Public impatience with solving the murder, falling ratings, and skittish network execs prompted the reveal of Laura Palmer's killer in season two, and is most commonly regarded as the impetus for the show's eventual cancellation. But I, as a first time viewer already aware of the killer's identity, focused instead on the other stories, the other characters, and the amazing town itself. By the time Laura Palmer's killer was revealed, I was ready to stick with the show for whatever they wanted to do. I just loved spending time in that world.

A voice on a telephone, distant and far away, a sound like wind on the line. The clouds hang low along the mountain. A flashlight moves among the trees, nothing visible but for the circle of light. A traffic light swings over a road, deserted in the darkness, cycling through its commands for no one to see. There are owls in the roadhouse. They are not what they seem. A needle on a record that has ended but continues to spin. A white horse. Premonitions of an evil deed. I'm so sorry. It is happening again.

Following that initial viewing, spaced out over about four days, I became a bit of an evangelist for Twin Peaks. I organized group viewings and lent the series out to anyone I thought would enjoy it (and some I wasn't too sure). One intrepid group of friends came with me as we tried to watch the entire series, and the movie, in one sitting. I'm not normally a coffee drinker, but cold, day-old coffee proved pretty helpful when we came around that 24-hour mark. Everyone I shared the show with liked it, but none of them seemed to love it the way I did, and so I turned to the internet. I became pretty active on a particular message board dedicated to David Lynch, with a heavy leaning towards Twin Peaks. I got deep into the rabbit hole of looking for clues and and coming up with theories for even the most minor characters or scenes. I spent a large chunk of my free time online with fellow Twin Peaks fans from all over the world, all united in our love for a fictional one. And even this wasn't enough. I had the soundtracks, I had the books both official and unofficial, I had a global community of likeminded people that I belonged to, and still it could go to another level. With that in mind, I boarded a plane in 1999 for Seattle, Washington, and then on to Poulsbo, for my first Twin Peaks festival.

The Twin Peaks festival was started in 1992, and has happened every year since in and around Snoqualmie and North Bend, Washington. While the fest has expanded since I went, the years I was there included some general mingling activities, a few cast members, a screening night with selected works of David Lynch, trivia and costume contests, and tours of several filming locations. I arrived in town early, and with no real place to stay. My plan had been to camp in Kitsap Memorial State Park, which was nearby and had public campgrounds. I met the fest organizer early that day, and after hours of walking he was kind enough to let me crash on his hotel room's couch while he prepared ID badges and attended to other administrative duties. This would be indicative of the general mood of the fest, where I met a large number of open, friendly, odd individuals (some of them I knew from conversing online) all extremely jazzed to be among their chosen tribe, in the locations that were so familiar to them.

A quick aside. I did camp a few days, and while I was setting my tent up on the first day I heard a rustling in the woods behind me. I turned around just in time to see a large cow emerge from the trees and into my campsite. I was in the middle of a vast national forest, and there was a cow standing there staring at me. The cow stopped, considered me for a moment, and then turned disinterestedly back to walk through the brush. I followed it to see where it had come from, and came upon a clearing where I could see more cows further off. Apparently I had set up camp near a farm, and yet the moment had such a Lynchian feel about it that I knew I had chosen correctly.

I went back to the festival in 2000, but poor planning and bad timing on my part meant I missed out on most of the major events. Many of the friends I had met the previous year did not return. I had also flown into Washington directly from a couple months in London, which I was already missing. In general it was a less fun year for me. If my first festival had been Twin Peaks the series, quirky, fun, at times spooky, then my second trip was like Fire Walk With Me, a darker version of everything that had come before. All in all it was a much lonelier experience, shaded by my emotional state at the time. Still, I would have liked to return, but for several reasons I never made the return trip. The following year I had to grow up and get a real job, and had no money for the fest. I went for awhile without a computer and, during that time, lost touch with my online friends when the Twin Peaks message board became defunct, and I realized I had very few direct email addresses for the people with whom I had been speaking.

Over the years my continued enjoyment of Twin Peaks became more insular; more of a personal thing. I still had viewings of the show for interested friends or loved ones. I subjected my wife to the show while we were still dating, and to my great relief she loved it. I bought the DVD of the first season, still missing the pilot episode, when it came out. I bought the second season after waiting way too long for it. Eventually the Gold Box came out and I was able to watch the pilot in its original version for only the second time (the 2000 Twin Peaks Fest had a screening of it), and then the Entire Mystery was released on blu-ray, and I could watch the fabled deleted scenes we had spent so much time discussing back on the message boards.

I still loved the show, I still revisited the world on a regular basis, and I would still talk to anyone who would listen about Twin Peaks, but as more time passed I found myself actively avoiding the larger community of fans. The show, what it meant to me and how I enjoyed it, became so personal that a lot of the online discussion of the show slightly depressed me. I saw people discussing theories like I had back in the day, but the tone seemed slightly more combative. People arguing whose theories were correct, who were the real fans and who was wrong about the show. I could not care less. The show may have snagged my attention way back when with its mysteries, but over the years I had just come to accept the show as it was, and was not interested in theorizing about anything that may have happened next. And so what had begun as accidental isolation became a self imposed exile as I retreated into my own feelings about Twin Peaks.

A circle of trees, bare and sickly, surrounding a black pond. Red curtains. There is music in the air. A place both wonderful and strange. Owl Cave. The Black Lodge, the White Lodge and the Red Room. The right arm shakes uncontrollably. Premonitions of another evil deed. When you see me again, I won't be me. How's Annie?

Sometime around 2015, approaching the 25th anniversary of the show, word began popping up that Twin Peaks might return. After all, Laura had told Cooper in the red room "I'll see you again in 25 years." I didn't pay a lot of attention to it at the time. I recognized the timing would be great, but didn't think it would happen. But lo and behold it did happen. David Lynch and Mark Frost both tweeted out indications that they were embarking on a new season, which seemed pretty certain, but it wasn't quite over yet. There would be troubles getting the entire cast back together (some had died, some had retired, and some were unavailable for other reasons), and there were a particularly bad few weeks where Lynch himself dropped out of the show during contract negotiations with Showtime. Of course as we know by now, David Lynch did come back to the show, but the uproar was pretty instantaneous at the time. I should have been excited but here's the odd thing: I wasn't sure how I felt about Twin Peaks coming back.

Twin Peaks, in my mind, was this perfect artifact, and I wasn't sure if I needed or wanted any more. I didn't know if I wanted to see what the ravages of time had done to the town and citizens of Twin Peaks. I was cautiously optimistic, but a little uncertain. And then the first teaser was released, featuring only a clip from the original final episode, the words "25 Years Later" in that recognizable Twin Peaks font, and a shot of the sign welcoming people to town. As soon as the theme song came in near the end of the teaser, I actually got tears in my eyes. I hadn't realized how much I actually did want to see all of these people again, even if they weren't going to be exactly the same.

It's been a long two-year wait since then, and I've been doing my best to avoid articles and interviews and speculation about the show. I checked out the Twin Peaks subreddit and made a few comments before getting annoyed by the tunnel vision of the majority of posters, and the tendency to point out everything that features a dead girl as 'totes inspired by Twin Peaks! OMG!' A friend added me to a Twin Peaks Facebook group, and I hung around for a couple of days and again made a few comments, but quickly removed myself from the group because it all began to depress me. That and I was seeing a lot of people digging for spoilers and if there's one thing I want to appreciate unspoiled, it's Twin Peaks. That is not to say I haven't been watching the official teasers and trailers, because I have been watching them multiple times, but then they reveal next to nothing, and I convince myself that if I had been watching television, I likely would have seen spots like these anyway.

Static, like wind through the trees. The sound of breaking glass, a piercing scream. A meeting above a convenience store. Formica tables and creamed corn. We're not going to talk about Judy. The sound of electricity. This picture would look good on your wall. A green ring. An owl insignia. Another place, another girl Let's Rock.

I recently finished my 8th or 9th total watch-through of the show (I've watched the pilot episode pretty regularly, but the series itself only every couple years), and I did something different this time. In the past I had binged through the series as quickly as possible, watching as many episodes as I could get whoever I was watching it with to sit through. This year I started early and spaced it out, watching two episodes per week. I got behind a bit and had to increase the episode count for the last two weeks, but still I was making it last. It was interesting to watch the show like that, to give myself time to digest the episodes and spend the week looking forward to the next one. I found myself noticing the structure of individual episodes, how many episodes would have complimentary stories and details that lined up that I had not consciously noticed before. It's what television is so great at that movies can't quite match: the sense of time being spent with these characters. All in all, you'll spend just over one full day in Twin Peaks if you watch all of the available material, and yet when you watch it weekly on television, you'll spend several months (or over a year, if you watched it when it originally aired). That creates a familiarity and a sense of actually living with the characters and stories that you just don't get when you binge something over one weekend.

I also fully submerged myself into the world of Twin Peaks with this latest rewatch. I watched all of the Log Lady intros, all of the recaps and 'next time on' spots, all of the various advertisements that aired during the show's initial run. I pulled out all of the books I had and read them in between episodes, largely keeping to when they would have been set. I read the Twin Peaks Access Guide between seasons one and two, listened to Agent Cooper's Diane tapes shortly after the second season premiere, read the Secret Diary of Laura Palmer after poor Harold committed suicide, and blazed through The Secret History of Twin Peaks in order to get up to speed with what happened after the finale. I discovered something that surprised me: I liked seeing Twin Peaks back in the public eye. I had been worried about the Hot Topic-ification of the show, with kids walking around with Who Killed Laura Palmer? shirts without having the faintest idea of who she was or who actually did kill her. And yet that fear disappeared once I started seeing the cast on magazines again, once the bus I came home from work in had a Twin Peaks advertisement plastered on it. I like looking around and seeing Twin Peaks everywhere again.

You may be asking yourself, after all of this: why Twin Peaks? Why is this the show that has grabbed my attention so tightly? And I'm afraid I don't have a complete answer to that. I just enjoy the characters, even the ones you're supposed to hate. I love the subplots, even the ones nobody likes (except for that one, you know which one I mean). I love the geography of the town, the sound of the wind through the trees, the owls flying overhead, the music in the air. I love it all. The common consensus is that Twin Peaks went off the rails once Laura Palmer's murder was solved, and the central pillar of the show was taken away. Most people feel that most of what follows is aimless and silly and somehow worse than what had come before. I used to say that I could recognize that as subjectively true, but that I still liked the cheesy subplots.  But with this latest rewatch, I realized that isn't quite true. I don't recognize that those plots are bad; I love them just as much as I love everything else about the show. I sometimes joke about skipping James' scenes once he leaves the town of Twin Peaks, but you know what? I never do. I watch them every single time. Nadine gets amnesia, thinks she's 18 again, goes back to high school, joins the wrestling team, and starts sleeping with Donna's ex-boyfriend? Love it. Andy Brennan and Dick Tremayne start mentoring an orphan who they come to believe is the devil? Perfect, It doesn't matter what you think of the show at this point in its run; I love it.

People have asked me repeatedly what I'll do if the new season sucks, and the true answer is; it won't. I don't mean that it will be perfect, or that it'll be what people want, or that it will answer all of those lingering questions, I mean that I will enjoy, no question about. I am fully prepared for the town to be changed, for the characters to be different, for some mysteries to be unresolved. I am simply excited to visit the town again, and to see what David Lynch and Mark Frost have in store. It's their world, I'm only visiting it.

The show premieres tonight, and I am ready. I've got a dozen donuts, my Showtime subscription, and I'm picking up food on the way home so I don't have to delay my viewing by making dinner. To be honest, my mood has been a bit odd. After finishing my latest rewatch, an odd depression fell over me. There are new episodes of Twin Peaks so close I can taste it, but for the first time in all my viewings I felt a finality to the finale. Twin Peaks will no longer be this perfect artifact; it's about to change, for the first time in a long time. It suddenly hit me that Cooper would be older, probably not as sunny as he is in the first series. Harry won't be there at all. Lucy and Andy? I worry about what became of them. This thing that I had been holding in my mind for decades is about to evolve. That is undoubtedly exciting, and I can't wait, yet it also holds an uncertainty, and a sadness for what has passed.

There's a line James has near the end of the second season (or at least near the end of his time on the show), a line that is oft-mocked by fans, like most things that come out of James' mouth: "it's not really a place it's a feeling." And that is it, right there. Twin Peaks is a feeling, and all I really know is that it's a good one.

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