Theme Tuesday - Twin Peaks - Season 1
David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks is such a tremendous cultural touchstone (and huge blindspot for me) that I decided to rectify matters and take the deep dive for the month of May.
“My dream is a code waiting to be cracked.”
-Dale Cooper (David Lynch?)
Disclaimer: Many people have written far more eloquently and insightfully about Twin Peaks and David Lynch in general, so in my musings I will content myself with watching this series through relatively new eyes many years after its release.
As one of Lynch’s many, if less-impassioned, devotees, I definitely saw his quirks and trademarks come through strongly in Twin Peaks, in some episodes more than others. One thing that I have always found fascinating about Lynch is that I honestly think he’s a hair’s breadth from being just a bad director. He loves cheesy pop culture such as soap operas and super commercial pop songs from the 50’s. In fact, if you wanted to see what a garbage, low-rent version of David Lynch would look like, it would have to be crapmaster Neil Breen, notorious creator of the best worst movies of all time. He took all the wrong lessons from Lynch’s movies, basically taking the imagery and surface level quirks without any of the artistry and the meaning.
Bad acting (deliberate usually) is so rampant in Lynch’s works that it’s become basically a trope that I expect in many of his works. Often it is used brilliantly, such as Laura Dern’s performance in Blue Velvet, or Naomi Watts in Mulholland Dr. In Twin Peaks, I think some actors are more successful at pulling off this delicate balance between campy, soap opera acting and serious, committed acting. On the campy side would be actors like Piper Laurie, Richard Beymer, Ray Wise and on the more serious, committed side are Joan Chen, Dana Ashbrook, Lara Flynn Boyle, etc. I would not say all the performances worked. I found characters that were underserved by their stories such as Nadine tended not to be as good. The actors I thought struck the best balance between campy and serious (probably because they were the better written) were Sherilyn Fenn as Audrey and Kyle MacLachlan as Dale Cooper.
I will entertain the illusion that it was super insightful of me to see Cooper as a stand-in for David Lynch. David Lynch in real life comes off as a fairly unassuming even hokey kind of guy, which seems to clash dramatically with the surreal and perverse nature of his movies. Cooper waxing poetic about the quality of the cherry pie and coffee at the local diner is jarring, considering Twin Peaks’ reputation for weirdness. However, we soon find out that his methods of investigation are, to put it lightly, unconventional. Even more baffling is how everyone seems to be OK with Cooper’s dives into the bizarre, which include Tibetan rituals, meditation and dream logic, even his co-workers at the FBI.
It is this tension between the mundane and the mysterious that is at the core of the appeal of this show, at least in the first season. The first episode was overwhelming in terms of the characters and storylines it introduced, but looking back at it after having watched the first season, it was extraordinarily well-executed. As for the story’s development throughout the season, It is important to remember that this show is as much Mark Frost’s work as it is David Lynch, even though the latter’s name tends to overshadow Frost’s because most of the iconic images are Lynch’s (the red room, the dream sequences, etc.) Apparently, Lynch and Frost only worked closely together for the first two episodes and nearly the rest of the season was Frost on his own. Much of the strongest storytelling and character development happens in these episodes, and the focus on the mystery never falters. Also, it seems Frost would hear the ideas from Lynch over the phone and then he would find a way to execute it.
Frost has spoken of the resentment he felt towards Lynch and how his name overshadowed his own, and perhaps it was justified. But it was precisely because of the cachet of David Lynch’s name, that this series endured. So far, I rather like seeing Lynch having to work with another creative voice. Much of the appeal of the series at this point wasn’t necessarily from anything that I usually like about Lynch (i.e. striking imagery and inspired sequences of dread and existentialism) but it’s certainly not an inferior product.