Small-Town Noir

Twin Peaks: The Return

a television series created by Mark Frost and David Lynch
Suzanne Tenner/Showtime
Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, and David Lynch in Twin Peaks: The Return

1.

The first season of Twin Peaks aired in 1990. My parents considered its suburban noir too disturbing for my suburban childhood, so I never watched it. At my high school, lurid rumors of its plot would surface in conversations, the way Athenians might have once mentioned fragments of the Mysteries. Its tender title sequence, however, didn’t hint at the horrors within. “Welcome to Twin Peaks,” said a sign at a bend in the road, its sunlit painting of twin snowcapped mountains mimicking the more imprecise, misty mountains in the background. “Population 51,201.” There were images of a wren, smoking factory chimneys, machines, and waterfalls, over which drifted Angelo Badalamenti’s dreamy synthesizer score.

The sequence is so hypnotic that it’s a shock when, in the first episode, a dead girl is found washed up on the shore of a lake, her body wrapped in plastic. Her name is Laura Palmer, the homecoming queen, and what follows seems to be a police procedural, an investigation into the deceptively bland small town by FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, played with dashingly seductive innocence by Kyle MacLachlan, except that this investigation grows more and more warped as the series progresses.

“IN A TOWN LIKE TWIN PEAKS NO ONE IS INNOCENT,” said the poster for Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the film prequel that followed the original series. By then, the emphasis seemed a little unnecessary. Laura, the audience had discovered, was “full of secrets”—the most shocking of which was that she had been murdered by her abusive father, Leland Palmer, after he had repeatedly raped her for years. But Leland may really only have been acting while possessed by Bob, a spirit of evil who is part of a gradually revealed, imperfectly understood network of spirits who enter this world via a White Lodge and a Black Lodge, which seem to be accessed through a Red Room that emerges from a sycamore grove in the forest: a salon of red velvet curtains, like an old-time cinema, where the usual rules of time or space no longer apply.

Twin Peaks, which exposed the peach and beige interiors of soap opera to terrible forces, was an event in the history of television and in the history of David Lynch, its cocreator and lead director. His first film, Eraserhead (1977), was a midnight movie classic. He had most recently made Blue Velvet (1986), in which MacLachlan and Laura Dern investigate the nature of evil, as personified by Dennis Hopper’s Frank, in the Americana town of Lumberton (just as Twin Peaks is a lumber town). Twin Peaks was Lynch’s first TV series. In 1990 he also made the film Wild at Heart, and followed it with Fire Walk With Me (1992).

After a short hiatus, Lynch then emerged with three…


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