Why America Can’t Shake the Recurring Nightmare of ‘Twin Peaks’

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By James Donaghy | 10:06 pm, May 21, 2017

If you still need convincing that you should tune into Twin Peaks when it premieres tonight on Showtime with a two-hour season three opener, consider this little-known fact.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth stood up Paul McCartney in order to watch it when the show was first broadcast in the early nineties, according to composer Angelo Badalamenti. Yes really.

Twin Peaks is that rare show where you feel like you know it, even if you don’t. You may never have seen an episode, but every time something weird happens and someone says, “it’s all gone a bit Twin Peaks”, you know where they’re coming from.

That small town with a Bizarro World cast of characters, a deadly mystery and something about a log lady? It has become common shorthand for when the surreal bleeds into everyday life.

A decade-and-a-half into the golden age of TV, room is found for the long dormant beast that is David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. As it has stumbled blinking from its 26-year slumber back into the limelight, the reception has been warm. The pre-Internet, pre-turns out to have a rich mythology that fits in well with the connected age. People are glad to see it back even if they are not quite sure what it is.

But it’s more than just the undisputed king of addictively weird TV. It often gets overlooked that in its two-year reign of terror from 1990-1991 Twin Peaks was a masterful execution of horror.

It’s understandable enough that a show which blended mystery, suspense, comedy and soap opera like none before,  should have a few identity issues. But it remains the case though that if you came for the coffee and cherry pie you stayed, frozen rigid, for the ghostly giant and demonic possession.

At its heart, horror is about losing control and what’s more out of control than being taken over by a spirit who embodies the evil that men do?

Take the iconic character of Killer Bob. He might very easily never have happened- one of those glorious mistakes that happen from time to time to successful TV shows. David Lynch liked the menacing presence that long grey-haired crew member Frank Silva brought to the set in the early shooting. A serendipitous moment when Silva inadvertently appeared in a mirror in a scene and the die was cast. Lynch decided to throw him in front of the camera in a key role.

It was the jump-off point for a ferocious rapist killer, a seemingly indestructible malevolent spirit from another realm, someone most unlikely to be the subject of Netflix’s next “he didn’t do it!” smash.

 

In fact Bob did it all and he certainly made an impression on the show’s viewers. Nearly three decades may have passed, but he still makes it onto scariest TV character lists. He has that paralyzing charisma shared by all great monsters – you should run, but you can’t move a muscle.

He terrorizes through dreams and visions, which is scary enough, but once in possession of a host body he’ll make those dreams reality and have you praying for a quick death (SPOILER: that prayer is never answered). Once seen, his deranged cackling and manic grin, are not easily forgotten. Silva died in 1995 with Bob his sole IMDb acting entry. If you’re going to do something once, you may as well upset as many people as possible.

Dimension crossing demons were just part of Twin Peaks’ appeal. The emotional sadism that runs throughout Lynch’s horror becomes all the more stark when contrasted with the folksy manners and gorgeous landscapes of the Salmo-Priest Wilderness, WA, where the show was filmed.

Because much of the action is so quirky and funny you can be lulled into thinking you’re watching Northern Exposure. Once the opening strains of Badalamenti’s Laura Palmer’s Theme kick in though, it’s like the first rumbles of an earthquake you know will hit hard. Twin Peaks doesn’t just expose a small town’s dark underbelly – it rips it open and forces you face first into the viscera.

Twin Peaks isn’t some 90-minute horror flick rollercoaster where the jumps and lurches are contained and you walk out laughing, arm-in-arm.

It disturbs at a deeper level. Things aren’t going to be OK in the end.

The wickedness is in the woods; the owls host darkness beyond reckoning; any one of your loved ones might kill you. If you think death offers some kind of escape, you are hilariously mistaken.

You will most likely end up in the Black Lodge, an extra-dimensional hellscape where your very soul risks annihilation.  Be that as it may, check out the scenery!

Like all great traumas, its effects are still being felt. “Anybody making one-hour drama today who says he wasn’t influenced by David Lynch is lying,” says Sopranos creator David Chase, whose trippy dream sequences owe a lot to those of Twin Peaks.

Its echoes are obvious in recent horror TV whether it’s the garish grotesques of American Horror Story, the bleak otherworldliness of Les Revenants and the nightmarish Southern Gothic of True Detective season 1.

By all means, welcome back Twin Peaks. Just don’t expect to sleep easily in its presence. Wild at heart and weird on top, Lynch has devised a recurring nightmare that America just can’t seem to shake.

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