It’s quite obvious that Twin Peaks had a large cultural impact. From the characters to the setting, to the filming to the music, its ingredients insured that quality mostly aside, it was going to be remembered. So how on earth do you go about discussing something that has already been dissected and used to further more recent entertainment? The simple fact is I had no idea going into the show just how much or little I had been influenced by it indirectly. As such, the only way to enjoy and appreciate it was just to watch the damn thing. So I did. Thirty episodes and a film later I’m left with my complete thoughts. I largely don’t care about its behind-the-scenes activities simply because I tried to appreciate it for what I watched. With that in mind, let’s delve into it.
Twin Peaks is categorically flawed. What starts off as a stable, intentionally directed series of events and dialogues in the enjoyable first season (8 episodes) breaks down at the beginning of season two (22 episodes) before completely unravelling somewhere around its half-way mark. Whilst it does seemingly grudgingly pick up pace in the last few episodes, as well as a memorable finale, too much stupidity occupies them to make up for the tedium and similar levels of stupidity in the preceding episodes. The follow-up film, Fire Walk With Me, then adds little to the context of the show, with only a couple of note-worthy incidents adding anything of merit to the greater understanding of the narrative or to enjoyment.
What makes it so frustrating is just how enjoyable the first season really is. It’s extremely confident and openly embraces its own absurdities in a way that makes it relatively easy to follow whilst still keeping itself grounded. Its humour, both straight and twisted, compliments the intentional melodrama and farcical happenings that a wide cast of characters inhabit. It’s a shame that many characters have few really defining characteristics, but as a huge ensemble cast they fill out sufficiently to play back-up to the small handful of characters that are, in no uncertain terms, fantastic.
The lead, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, is marvellous to watch early on. His unflappable personality is equal parts warm and professional and his appearance in a scene will easily dominate it, if not also occupied by Audrey Horne. Audrey is a mystical creature who sets herself apart from her perpetually dulled (and often utterly stupid) young peers by being both observant and then intelligent enough to mostly act on those observations in an appropriate manner. Cooper and Audrey are foils for each other insomuch as their characters are similar in terms of wanting to find out the truth, but differ in how they come about doing so. Scenes with them in together are perhaps the most powerful and it’s a joy to watch them.
Of course, even they fall foul as the show progresses with some odd characterisation and immensely stupid actions. Like the rest of the cast, they are liable to be twisted and forced to fit into the changing jig-saw puzzle that is whatever the plot thinks it is at the time. Nevertheless, there is a character for every circumstance and they easily fit into the small, quaint town aesthetic. Characters added later on though are much more open to direct negativity by making complicated plots needlessly more complicated, being love interests to characters who don’t need them and in one case, literally making every man in the room fall for her. That’s it. I suppose it’s possible to consider it a parody of similar characters elsewhere, but the joke runs for far too longer that it just ends up feeling absurd for absurd sake.
As the plot completely loses focus in season two though, so to do the characters. It’s not really their fault, they’re just getting caught in the wake. Whilst the early season two episodes just about hold it together, it eventually turns into what feels like them just making it up as it goes along. That this is actually what happened then doesn’t really come off as a surprise, but it’s a shame it was allowed to happen in the first place. What’s particularly frustrating about this all though is that there are some good ideas later on, but they’re either so badly explored or just continued off-screen that they were pointless to be included anyhow. The result is a Simpsons situation where there are more bad or mediocre episodes than good ones. It really makes it quite hard to recommend.
Perhaps the worst part of the narrative is the focus later on of supernatural elements and whilst they’re necessary to set-up the moody, highly stylistic but ultimately unfulfilling finale (as well as several scenes throughout the show) they sometimes feel overbearing, uninteresting or unintentionally hilarious given how silly it all sounds. What starts off as a curious murder investigation soon becomes a hunt for the gates of hell/heaven, or things close to. What’s particularly amusing about this is the fact that it’s shown regularly how time aware the whole show is, so this all happens in what amounts to a few weeks. Sufficed to say, this is also a problem for other plot strands too.
On the up-swing, the presentational style is great! The entire screen is used to fill in details, be it of the gorgeous local environment, knick-knacks that line a house’s shelves or amusing background activities. It’s not just the size of the screen too as characters move about totally freely and not in the sense of a balloon deflating and flying around, but in ways that help to depict that character. A tick of the head, graceful walking, sharp turns or unflinching and repulsive proximity, it’s all there. Not everyone moves the same and it’s nice to be shown that these are people who have learnt to walk their own way. Considering how sparse dialogue can be in scenes, the movement alone can make for some fantastic viewing.
Combine that with the general direction, where scenes linger for what can feel like an eternity and action can be deeply unsettling and with the show at its best it is a visual treat. Distinctive colouring helps too making it very easy to read a character as well as the situation they’re in. The Red Room, an illusory locale, is striking and utterly memorable and the best example of this point in the show. If nothing else, when the show was at its most dull or inane, it was always pleasant to look at.
Adding to this is a great audio presence. Sound effects were well done, but very much played second fiddle to the show’s score which was weird. But weird in a good way! Mostly, anyhow. There aren’t that many tracks that play over the scenes, so you start hearing the same ones over and over. At times it can feel a little bit of (self?) parody, but they are usually used well to help give a mood to a scene with their distinctive associated feelings. That most of them can segue into each other allows for a clear indication of what is going on tonally and help establish some of the best scenes in the show. They’re also damn memorable, part due to repetition and part due to them simply being effective and enjoyable to listen to. Regardless, all of the tracks felt just that little bit skewed that helps to give the show its identity.
Realistically, I’d be much more inclined to break down every facet of Twin Peaks and discuss them in significant detail, however I’m aware that’d be boring and take up a considerably larger word count than this one. Single pieces of dialogue have made me irate with how woefully they’ve handled their narrative, whilst simultaneously some sequences I’d love to pick apart and show how everything was working perfectly. It’s certainly the sign of an interesting show at the least.
But is it good? Well, I’ve already described it as ‘categorically flawed’, but that doesn’t necessarily mean something is bad, yet I find it difficult to call the show good either. It is very much its own show and little I have watched, TV or film, is comparable in a meaningful way. That said, I still find myself reflecting on the fact that I had to force myself to watch through season two and Fire Walk With Me, the latter of which I was constantly time checking. Even though season one was highly enjoyable and including season two’s best bits, I find it difficult to call it good, yet I also wouldn’t say “Don’t watch it.”
I think if you watched Twin Peaks and enjoyed it throughout, you’re a lucky person. If you watched it and gave up, I wouldn’t blame you and if you didn’t at all, I’d say you’re able to miss out on being disappointed by such initial promise.