Monday, May 29, 2017

Day 2015 - Twin Peaks

Ahhh. "Twin Peaks".  Along with "The Simpsons" (at least the first 8 to 10 seasons) it's my favorite television show of all time.  I remember being caught up in the hype when it first aired, and I couldn't get enough of it.  My initial reaction to the first season was that it was funny, scary, surreal, and a gorgeous spoof of prime time soap operas.  Anchored by an absolutely amazing Kyle MacLachlan as Special Agent Dale Cooper, I was transported to the Pacific Northwest and drawn into the mystery of "Who Killed Laura Palmer." 

Season Two started in the fall of 1990.  That was my first year at Ohio University.  At O.U. we were surrounded by mountains, and unless you had cable (and no dorm room had cable) the only chance you had to watch the show was to find a dorm lobby that was showing it.  I lived in an all-guys dorm, and pretty much the only thing that played on that TV was sports 24/7.  I remember heading over to the girls' dorm and they had it on. 

There were two things I specifically remember about the viewing that night.  The first was that there was a commercial about halfway through advertising the new Coen Brothers' movie, Miller's Crossing.  What was interesting about the trailer was that it was about three minutes long and looked absolutely amazing.  When I finally saw it later that year, it really was.  The second thing I remember is the pace of the episode.  It was slow.  The previous season ended with a cliffhanger, as Cooper went back to his hotel room and was shot.  The premiere episode picked up right where the previous one left off.  However, instead of finding out who did the shooting, we watched as Cooper lay on the floor, bleeding out.  Occasionally, a very deaf and old bellboy (bellman?) would walk into the room and ask if Cooper needed anything oblivious to the fact that there was a dying man on the floor in front of him.  Oh, and Cooper would be visited by a giant. 

I am absolutely convinced this was the turning point in the series for everyone who was watching it up until now.  Within this two hour episode we were given no answers at all.  We still didn't know who killed Laura Palmer, nor did we find out who shot Agent Cooper.  I feel that people were either all in after this episode, or they realized they weren't going to get any answers and they checked out.  I was all in.  I realized that David Lynch and Mark Frost didn't really care about the central conceit of the show ("Who killed Laura Palmer"), but, instead, wanted to explore themes like good vs. evil, mysticism, what secrets does a small town hold, and how do those secrets affect everybody. 

I spent the following weeks bouncing from dorm to dorm watching all the rest of the episodes, until I missed a few.  Luckily I have wonderful parents, and they were recording every episode for for me.  The final episode aired on June 10th, 1991.  I was back at home and watching it upstairs in my bedroom.  The last hour of the series is almost completely set in a dream world called the Red Room where Cooper fights to save both the girl and his soul.  The last scene of the series had me get up out of my chair and scream, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"  I knew the series was over.  It wasn't coming back.  I was stunned.  And I immediately knew that I had seen one of the most heartbreaking and amazing things ever.

But there was still hope.  David Lynch announced a follow-up film.  Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me hit the theaters more than a year later.  After a staggering and amazing opening half hour (Chris Isaak as Special Agent Chet Desmond is one of my favorite characters ever), the movie is punctuated by both brilliance and, sadly, tedium.  I knew we really weren't going to get answers to what happened at the end of the series, but I still held out hope.

Fast forward to 2017.  David Lynch and Mark Frost have brought "Twin Peaks" back to the airwaves.  Showtime has given them the money to produce 18 episodes and it takes place 25 years after the series originally ended.  In the years between the original series and this year, Lynch has directed four feature films and a number of short films.  His last feature film was Inland Empire.  It's not a very good movie, but there's no denying that it's a David Lynch film.  Mark Frost has written the two mediocre Fantastic Four movies, adapted his novel, The Greatest Game Ever Played, and done a couple other things.  Honestly, there was no real reason to believe that this new "Twin Peaks" would be any good other than blind optimism.

I've watched the first four episodes.

I have loved the first four episodes.

This is not a series for someone who has never seen the original show.  It is filled with characters that a random viewer will scratch their head at, and wonder, "What the heck?"  Even long-time viewers might have that same reaction.  But I'm also convinced that if you stuck it out through the original series than this is can't miss television.  The first 15 minutes of the new series is pure, undiluted David Lynch.  It contains a mere three scenes, all of which seem to go on forever, and none of them seeming to give any clue as to where the show is going.  It's here where the Inland Empire influence is at its greatest.  But slowly, the layers of the show start to reveal themselves.  Characters from the previous series start to make appearances (Miguel Ferrer's Albert Rosenthal is just shattering in light of his recent passing).  New characters and situations start to come up (is that really Matthew Lillard?).  And it was about the third episode that I came to a realization.  Lynch and Frost really are playing the long game.  They are using these 18 episodes to very slowly and methodically tell the story that they want to tell.  We are just along for the ride.  Whether we want to get on board with them or not is of no consequence.  But there does really seem to be a plan.  And by the end of episode 4, when Cooper is given a cup of coffee, it was one of the most edge of your seat scenes that you can imagine.  And it's just a cup of coffee! 

I was afraid that, because the series is now airing on Showtime, our undiluted David Lynch might be too graphic.  But four episodes in, I have been happily surprised.  Yes, there have been some scenes of shocking violence, but it hasn't yet seemed gratuitous an any way.  What's more interesting is that Lynch seems to be able to let his imagination go wild in this unfettered landscape.  I can't imagine a network channel letting him replace the "Man From Another Place" with a leafless tree that seems to have a doll head and is covered with Christmas lights, yet in this series it doesn't really seem out of place.

Four episodes in, this is the series I have been waiting for.  The fate of Special Agent Dale Cooper has been on my mind for the last 25 (26) years, and while I may end up being frustrated with the destination (always possible), the journey so far has been dazzling.  It's been as surreal as I hoped.  It's been as funny as I hoped (yes, you are supposed to laugh at a lot of this).  It has been as unsettling as I remember the first series being.  It's simply been good.  And if you enjoyed the original series, but gave up on this one after one or two episodes, then I think you're doing yourself a disservice.  It's good to be back in Twin Peaks.