Twin Peaks Week: Season One
The pilot of Twin Peaks was an introduction to a new world. The ending of the episode (whether it was the regular vision of Sarah Palmer, or the unofficial introduction to Bob) was the first of many "what the hell" responses you had with the series. If we only knew it was only going to get stranger.
But season one wasn't about being too wacky right off the bat. We started the series with semblance, and we're going to experience some more for a little while. We are beginning to see why certain people stick out. Special Agent Dale Cooper is a loving professional. He has enough time to indulge in the finest aspects of the town of Twin Peaks while on assignment (cherry pies and Douglas firs). He never slips up on his actual work, though. There's the complicated Audrey Horne: the next-in-line of the Great Northern Hotel's hierarchy that is way too irresponsible to be given the keys just yet. She starts the series in unforgivable fashions (the demise of the Norwegian deal still hurts nearly three decades later), yet we grow to love her because her true complexities rise. She is stuck, under appreciated, and ignored. She finds something admirable in Agent Cooper: a hard worker that still has the time to acknowledge that people exist. Her father, Ben Horne, has eyes on other women.
With the central hotel comes the two drastic clones. First is One Eyed Jack’s: a casino and brothel that operates by night, and by many notable Twin Peaks residents (Ben Horne being a prime suspect). Then there is the Black Lodge: a parallel dimension that only the unlucky few can access. Cooper first discovers it in a dream. The Great Northern Hotel lets you stay as long as you want. You only stay at One Eyed Jack’s for a few hours. You may be trapped in the Black Lodge for eternity. The notion of visiting is so important in Twin Peaks. We have the luxury of tuning in to the show whenever we want, a la Great Northern's stipulations. The characters live on screen only for a short bit, like we came across them at One Eyed Jack’s. When the program has wrapped and the television set (or computer) is off, the screen is black. These characters are stuck for an indefinite amount of time. This is their torture, and we have no clue that it even exists.
As season one continues, Twin Peaks asks on a meta level what television characters are. Are they a fixed set of people found in the literal story? Are they figures that have staying power in our subconscious? Twin Peaks begs us to consider both. One thing I have always loved is that the series never calls the Black Lodge a new world, a new dimension, hell, or anything else. It just exists. We label the unusual aspects ourselves. That's why we can't truly label Twin Peaks a science fiction or horror show, despite its familiar elements. Nothing is set in stone as such. We fill in the blanks ourselves. We make it a part of us. Since this is the case, the characters begin to inhabit our minds. Season one doesn't do too much to their visit in our subconscious (we will get to this more with season two and The Return).
For now, most things make some lick of sense. We are discovering a plethora of love triangles (almost everyone is guilty of having two partners). We understand the police force a little bit better. On that note, the pairing of Cooper and sheriff Harry Truman is a brilliant metaphor for how the show was created. Truman is the straight-headed head honcho that does his job just as it should be (but rarely with attitude or a lack of pleasantry). Cooper is the outsider that arrives to solve an unusual case, but we get exposed to a whole new world of oddities the longer he stays. This is clearly Mark Frost's expertise on police procedurals marrying David Lynch's obsession with the unknown. This yin and yang power duo is an early reason why you should keep watching once stuff gets a bit loopy. The fondness Cooper has for Truman, and the respect Truman has for Cooper is a beacon at the start of the series; it is a light that keeps all of the other darkness at bay.
There are so many characters and subplots that we could go into. Bobby Briggs being the entitled jackass that he is. Dr. Jacoby being a lunatic, yet the trusted town psychiatrist. The diner workers and their abusive men (a former generation unable to prevent the same outcome to the upcoming youth). All of the students and their various affiliations with Laura Palmer (friends, lovers). Things are a little soap-opera here. Like Lynch loved murdering the John Hughes high school rom com with Blue Velvet, he's doing the same with daily soaps here. However, in both cases, he sympathizes with both. The citizens of Twin Peaks, despite living their own take of this television trope, compulsively watch the soap opera Invitation to Love, as if they cannot find the drama they seek staring right at them.
The romances are typical, yet that is a deceptive reason as to why we get hooked. This is an avant garde experiment disguised as a guilty pleasure disguised as a crime drama. Twin Peaks is obsessed with embodiments, mainly because it is one itself. You have agreed to take part in Lynch's test: can television be broken? In season one, the test was only a little bit invested. Season two rebelled out of anger (more on that in our next article), and The Return utilized its powers to break the mold completely. Season one is all about familiarity, though. How much do we see of ourselves in the too-familiar (the stereotypical), and the unknown (the experimental).
Season one is a favourite for many, because the blurred line kept both opposing sides quite close together. Everything was just weird enough. You could follow along, and get lost in some of the oddities on the way. Or you just get invested in the stories that resonated with the citizens of this quaint town. The Packard Mill is tied up in financial schemes. The Great Northern Hotel has many hidden rooms, too (and not just the ones available for guests). The Bookhouse Boys are a secret society. The Black Lodge might be the most obvious back-avenue, but every location and collective has an alternative existence. Discovering all of that for the first time is the ticket. We see all of the activities Laura Palmer took part in when she was alive. We gain access to all of these different galaxies. Season one was the establishment. As we get into season two tomorrow, we will begin to witness the destruction of these foundations.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.