Twin Peaks is back, baby — and it’s fully prepared to mess with the head of any superfan who dares take it too seriously.
A quarter-century after David Lynch’s cult hit was canceled in the wake of its uneven second season, the famously quirky director has relaunched it on Showtime. In a bizarre release schedule, four hour-long episodes arrived all at once Sunday — which, given that the plot barely advanced a few inches, really amounts to an anti-infodump.
There was a whole lot of mystery, though. And a whole lot of stuff that masqueraded as clues to that mystery: bizarre lines of backwards-spoken dialogue in the Red Room; the alternate dimension where FBI Agent Cooper (Kyle McLachlan) has apparently been trapped all this time; enigmatic pronouncements from the Log Lady; a weird translucent box that murders people; a tree with a pulsating brain.
If you’re new to Twin Peaks, and if you’re the kind of person who lives for fan theories, you may be tempted to go full Sherlock on this show. "Remember 4-3-0," Cooper is told by a dream creature known only as The Giant. Then Cooper has a vision in a purple room involving an eyeless purple woman and a box on the wall marked simply "3." And the horny youngsters who got killed by the thing in the box had "7" written on their lattes — 4 + 3. Woah.
It’s got to mean something, right? Just like the numbers that kept recurring in Lost? Fans managed to untangle the mysteries of Game of Thrones and Westworld before they were confirmed on air. Maybe Twin Peaks is like the boss level for TV’s amateur sleuths. Quick, everyone, to Reddit!
Well, that’s one possibility. Here’s another: David Lynch is the world’s biggest troll.
Finally understand why David Lynch rebooted #TwinPeaks. It’s a honey trap for fan theorists. They’ll never get out of this show alive
— Chris Taylor (@FutureBoy) May 22, 2017
Oh, it’s enormously creative trolling, to be sure. Lynch, himself, would likely not employ the word. But it’s trolling, regardless, as those of us who tried to suss out the secrets of the original series can confirm.
The most important point about the original series, as our colleagues at Cinefix point out, is that Lynch never intended it to be sold as a police procedural about the murder of Laura Palmer. He certainly didn’t expect, in the original pilot/TV movie, to ever have to provide the answer of who killed her.
Twin Peaks was intended as a mood piece, smooth and hypnotic as its omnipresent jazz soundtrack. It had something dark and funny to say about the liminal edges of frontier America in the late 20th century. It stood in for subconscious urges, existential angst and everything in life we try to suppress. It was designed to provoke unusual feelings, to subvert the conventions of soap opera and sitcom — even to make fun of the language of advertising. Damn fine coffee!
It was certainly not designed to come to any sort of conclusion. It was a David Lynch joint. You were supposed to sit back and let the feeling of being in a surreal, hilarious, sexy, ominous, and briefly horrific coma wash over you.
"How about a truckload of valium?" One of Lynch’s FBI agents offers another the perfect accompaniment to watching #twinpeaks
— Chris Taylor (@FutureBoy) May 22, 2017
But this was the bad old pre-Sopranos era of TV drama, and you couldn’t just do that sort of thing even if your name was David Lynch. The network insisted that the show reveal the killer sooner rather than never.
And in a world before ubiquitous entertainment journalism, the average viewer had no idea that the show they were being sold was not one where the mystery actually means anything.
So we, my fellow Peaks-obsessed teenagers and I, from the very moment the first clue was pulled out of Laura Palmer’s — well, you know the thing you’ve been doing for years with who are Jon Snow’s parents or Is Rey a Skywalker? We did that. All of it.
We were young. We were foolish. Listen up, kids, and don’t make our mistake. All that glorious sound and fury doesn’t have to mean anything, trust me.
Twin Peaks was the first fandom of the nascent World Wide Web. We puzzled over every line right down to "Diane, I’m holding in my hand a box of chocolate bunnies." When the Dream Man danced and spewed pure beat poetry to Cooper, we went nuts. What gum does he like? How is gum coming back in style a clue to the tangled teenage life of Laura Palmer?
In short, we thought we were watching an incredibly weird, cool daddy-o version of the "Who shot JR" mystery on Dallas that had riveted the nation a decade earlier — or at least something closer to the "Who Shot Mr. Burns" pastiche later that decade on The Simpsons.
So when Lynch and co. just sort of half-heartedly revealed halfway through season 2 that Laura’s killer was (25-year old spoiler alert) her dad, Leland — except her dad was actually sort of possessed by an evil, sexually abusive being called Bob who turned his hair white — we scratched our heads. How were we supposed to have Sherlocked this case? This show wasn’t playing the game right!
But of course the show was just subverting the conventions of the murder-mystery narrative that had been thrust upon it, which is what makes Lynch such a deadpan troll. (Probably his ultimate act of trolling: to personally play a half-deaf FBI agent who literally shouts plot points at the viewer.)
Dear Twitter Friends: That gum you like is going to come back in style! #damngoodcoffee
— David Lynch (@DAVID_LYNCH) October 3, 2014
Now it’s happening again. The gum you like is coming back in style. Lynch filled the first four episodes with so many echoes of the original that he couldn’t have done a better job if he were trying to lure a new generation into a bottomless rabbit hole of fan theories. (Which he certainly isn’t! *Ahem.*)
So when you watch the premiere and see the fortysomething Red Room ghost of Laura Palmer say, "I feel like I know her, but sometimes my arms bend backwards," I beg you, please resist the urge to file it away as a meaningful line.
We didn’t. We paid the price in disappointment.