Cliffhangers are the worst. You wait, and you wait, and you wait all week, wondering how your favourite characters will escape from certain death. Sometimes, if the writers are evil, you have to wait longer: a whole summer, maybe even a year. Over 25 years ago when the last episode of Twin Peaks aired, David Lynch left us hanging on the ultimate cliff. This weekend, Showtime released the first four episodes of the new series. At very long last, it is happening again.
I was too young to see Twin Peaks when it originally aired. I first watched it almost a decade later when visiting my husband-to-be in university. We rented the pilot, watched it, and immediately returned to the video-store to get the next few episodes. By the end of the day we were scavenging couches and pulling apart a board-game we had made that used pennies as counters, trying to scramble together enough money to rent just one more.
So a couple of years ago when David Lynch tweeted “That gum you like is going to come back in style” I was elated. Since then my husband and I have devoured all of the hype. We watched the trailers, and the interviews, and the mini-documentaries, and listened to The Secret History of Twin Peaks, and prepared for the event by buying expensive coffee and making cherry pie.
What I loved about the original series was that it combined a rich, quirky and actually unique cast of characters with a genuinely terrifying vision of the supernatural. Normally I’m not a fan of the demonic possession genre. I find that almost all portrayals of possession are downright cheesy. Even in the best attempts, The Exorcist and The Conjuring for example, the demons seem a little too paint-by-numbers. They come across as kind of generic manifestations of a Satanic will rather than as particular malevolent entities with a distinctive, and distinctly unsettling, personality. And they always follow a fairly predictable storyline where an innocent person (usually a child) accidentally lets the demon in and then the demon wreaks havoc until expelled.
Lynch’s portrayal is nothing like that. At first, you don’t even have a sense that there is anything supernatural going on: a girl has been murdered. The FBI is brought in to investigate. It looks like the show is going to be a standard but lovable police procedural. Until suddenly, out of nowhere, the pilot ends with a demonic entity named Bob performing a satanic ritual in the basement of the hospital and a dwarf with strangely distorted speech dancing in a disorienting environment hung with red curtains.
Throughout the series, Lynch manages two feats which nobody else, to my knowledge, has achieved since Hieronymus Bosch: he makes the demonic genuinely alien, and truly unsettling. There is no formula. You can’t see it coming, or even say why it is that all of the different demonic entities in Twin Peaks belong in the same set — though they obviously do.
Moreover, the evil is actually just straight-up evil. It’s not sexy. It’s not strangely alluring. It’s not badass. It’s not attractive. At all. While it’s not uncommon for someone to watch a vampire flick and think “Mmm…blood,” if you’ve just seen the garmonbozia scene from Fire Walk With Me, the last thing you want to do is go and eat creamed corn. Like ever. Again.
Yet, in spite of offering a seriously frightening and often deeply distressing glimpse into a choatic world of pure evil, Twin Peaks was also oddly uplifting. The good guys were really, convincingly good. There were plenty of ordinary flawed human beings who you loved even when you were cringing at their reckless stupidity. There were plenty of ordinary villains engaging in banal forms of evil, as humans will. The show was often funny, and even though it left you with a buzzing, lingering feeling of having stepped partway into a haunted world (on first viewing this feeling lasted about a week), it also communicated a deep sympathy and love for humanity.
So this is what I was looking for when I sat down with the new series. As I watched the first two episodes, I found myself repeatedly wondering whether I was willing to give the show my trust. A lot of it felt more like Blue Velvet or Lost Highway than like Twin Peaks. There were cameos of the familiar characters, but most of the action didn’t even take place anywhere near the town. The portrayal of the Black Lodge (the supernatural realm where the demons live) was still unsettling, but you had the impression that Lynch was milking every last drop of creepiness out of an old inspiration rather than breaking new ground. Occasionally it even resorted to such schlock horror tropes as “young people have sex in a creepy location and get violently mutilated by an out-of-focus monster.”
It was still recognizably Lynch, it still had that creepy buzz that you get off of a Lynch film. It wasn’t horrible and unwatchable, like the parts of the latter half of the original series that were written after Lynch had moved on to other projects. It just didn’t really seem like Twin Peaks.
Which is why I’m very glad that Showtime decided to make episodes three and four available as well. Part three opens with Agent Cooper falling into a visually stunning otherworld location every bit as fresh and inspired as the red room was 25 years ago. Lynch creates a sense of nightmarish disorientation reminiscent of the best of Eraserhead, and carries it just to the point where it’s on the verge of becoming unpleasant before dropping you softly back into panoramic beauty.
Not only do you get gorgeous new phantasmagoria, you also get more Twin Peaks-y goodness. Most of the lame characters and plots from the first episodes seem to have just been dropped, while the elements that build on the original series are given increasingly more and more screen-time as episodes three and four progress. The humour is back. The characters are back. It’s not just a rehash, but it’s definitely, recognizably Twin Peaks, happening again.
Fortunately, you almost don’t even need to watch the first two episodes to follow the story. (Though you do definitely need to have seen the core episodes of the original.) Three starts strong enough, and establishes the situation well enough that you can just start it there and you won’t have missed out on much.
All you really need to know is: [Spoiler alert, if you’re planning to watch episodes one and two]
- There is an evil doppleganger of Coop who is involved in very normal villainous type activities involving drugs and killing people.
- He is supposed to go back to the Black Lodge and Coop is supposed to be let out — but the evil Coop has a plan to avoid going back.
- Hawk has been told by the Log that he missed something when Agent Cooper disappeared 25 years ago, and that the answer has something to do with his [Hawk’s] heritage.
- If you haven’t seen Fire Walk With Me (which is kind of a mess, and I don’t recommend), the blue rose is code for cases that have to do with the supernatural.
That’s all. Have fun!
Image credit: pixabay
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