Old ’90s Weirdness, Revisited

Since I read last month in the Wall Street Journal about the return of “Twin Peaks,” I’ve re-watched the original two-season series on Netflix. I didn’t even want to glance at the new one until I’d spent the time to remind myself what happened back in the early 1990s. Back then, I was catching the show in fits and snatches – and re-runs – since I was in high school and seldom at home in the evenings, but I remember being enthralled by the show— mostly by the weirdness.

“Twin Peaks” was one part soap opera, one part murder mystery, one part psychopathic horror-fantasy, one part 1950s kitsch, and one part quirky humor, all of which are enhanced by some seriously good character acting, an array of ironic stereotyping, and a dash of noir here and there. The show’s multiple interwoven plot lines, which are laced with backstabbing and double-crossing, carry the viewer first through the search for who killed Laura Palmer, a teenage beauty queen whose dark side led her into an underworld of drugs and kinky sex, then through the aftermath of what her death exposed. To the casual tourist or fisherman passing through, the remote town of Twin Peaks in Washington State was a simple place near the Canadian border, where Big Ed’s Gas Farm, the RR Diner, and the Great Northern hotel made for good places to stop. However, the town’s grotesque underbelly was uglier than ugly could be, chock-full of extramarital affairs, shady business dealings, secret government projects, and above all . . . a long-haired demonic psycho-killer named Bob.

The twenty-six years since the series originally aired have apparently dulled my memory a bit. I had remembered Special Agent Dale Cooper’s warm-milk-at-bedtime sensibility and Deputy Hawk’s unsmiling omnipresence and the midget dancing in the red room, but not Emory Battis’ role in sending perfume-counter girls to One Eyed Jack’s or Windom Earle’s obsession with chess. Bobby Briggs was just as much of a self-righteous, scattered little prick as I remembered, though his friend Mike’s affair with the delusional 35-year-old cheerleader Nadine, which I had forgotten, was downright funny this go-round.  Somehow I hadn’t remembered Leo Johnson at all, though he plays a significant role in the plot, and this time I knew enough about David Lynch to get his loud-talking supervisor character. Simply put, this 21st-century thing called Netflix enables a whole new kind of viewing – and comprehension – that weekly episodes on ABC didn’t allow. Back then, if you missed it, you just did. Today, you can watch and re-watch.

And re-watch I did: all eight episodes from season one and all twenty-two from season two, as the simpleton Sheriff Harry S. Truman, full of wide-eyed goodwill, tries to keep up with a string of crimes and odd occurrences that would dizzy any normal law man; as old weird Pete ambles along behind his wife Catherine; as Ben Horne melds from a diabolical businessman to a bumbling Civil War obsessive to a possibly reformed environmental activist with no idea how to be good; as Lucy bounces back and forth between the aw-shucks deputy Andy and the charlatan clothing salesman Dick Tremaine; as first one then another character assumes the evil spirit of Bob: the one-armed man, Leland Palmer . . . and eventually Agent Cooper himself, left banging his head against the mirror and howling with laughter.

Though I enjoyed re-watching the show, a few things bothered me this time. The main one: James Hurley The teenage biker just left. James was a major player of most of the plot, then after he had his affair with the wealthy seductress – a plot twist that didn’t go anywhere – he got on his Harley and that was that. I also found the recording session in Donna’s living room completely out of place in the story. Beyond that, in the first few episodes, the high school figured prominently into the introduction of the story – since Laura, Donna, James, Audrey, Bobby, Mike, et al. – went to small-town school together and that’s how they knew each other. But within a few episodes, the fact that these characters were in high school all but disappeared.

However, for any storytelling flaws, the final episode revealed something to me that I never could have remembered: when the black-clad, blue-eyed, screaming-demon version of Laura Palmer proclaims in the red-curtained Black Lodge to Agent Cooper: “I’ll see you in 25 years.” That was then . . . and this is now. Twenty-five years later, and “Twin Peaks” is being resurrected!

For anyone who has never seen the series, it makes a lot more sense if you watch the film “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” first. Though, even that has its own David Lynch twist: the series ran in 1990 and 1991, and its movie-length prequel came out in 1992. I remember finding the movie in the video store in Normandale Mall, watching it, and going, Ooooooooh, so that’s what was happening. Watching “Fire Walk With Me” is like getting to see how the magic trick is done after it wowed you.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, I was enthralled by David Lynch’s work. I can’t even remember how I came across it – video-rental stores, probably, since I doubt if any of Lynch’s movies came on TV  – but “Wild at Heart” became one of my favorite films of all time. “Wild at Heart” seemed to go where Lynch couldn’t in “Twin Peaks,” working for ABC, since that film had many of the same actors and themes: double-crossing love affairs, a strange sexual underworld, and extreme caricatures of American coolness. Later, “Lost Highway” re-exploited Lynch’s penchant for double-identities by connecting a distraught LA jazz saxophonist to a teenage car mechanic via a creepy little guy in black clothes. Though, by the time of “Mulholland Drive,” in 2001, I’d grown a little weary of his double-identity/possession motif. I don’t know whether my tastes had changed with age or whether I had just seen what David Lynch would do, but after “Mulholland Drive” I lost my enthusiasm for him. (I never did watch his collection of short films.)

I’m looking forward to seeing what season three of “Twins Peaks” holds. I can’t imagine where Lynch will go with the story, since he left us with Agent Cooper with possessed by Bob. Maybe a middle-aged James Hurley will come back and sing another 1950s loves song in that girly overdubbed voice. Maybe the Audrey will own the Great Northern and her daughter will spy on her by removing the slat in the wall. Maybe Leo will still be holding that string in his mouth . . .

With David Lynch, one never knows. He has had twenty-five years to plan this out.

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2 thoughts on “Old ’90s Weirdness, Revisited

  1. I never really got into Twin Peaks, but you might be interested to know that a distant relative of yours was in one episode. Actress Jay W. MacIntosh (born Janet Tallulah Jewell) played Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in one episode. Jay (who is my aunt) was named after her grandmother, Mary Tallulah Dickson.

    Liked by 1 person

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