Twin Peaks, decoded for novices and obsessives alike

What is Twin Peaks?

In its first life, Twin Peaks was a murder mystery primetime soap from the minds of Mark Frost and David Lynch that aired on ABC for two seasons, from 1990 to 1991. It dove full force into a small-town whodunit: Murder victim Laura Palmer was (naturally) the town’s most prized blonde teen, and she (naturally) turned out to be hiding some terrible secrets.

From there, things got a whole lot less typical. Special Agent Dale Cooper (the best Kyle MacLachlan there is) investigated the murder with Eagle Scout levels of enthusiasm and dedication that only felt more incongruous the darker Twin Peaks got (and whew, did it get dark). The deeper he and the show got into the mystery, the stranger Twin Peaks revealed itself to be.

The series was full of actors who have since gone on to long-ranging careers — from MacLachlan to Ray Wise to Madchen Amick — and has inspired a fiercely devoted cult of fan followers who have made a sport of dissecting every shot for the potential secrets therein.

Isn’t Twin Peaks super weird?

Well … yeah. There was really no other way for Twin Peaks to go, given that it’s the product of Lynch — a notoriously surrealist director — funneling his sensibilities through a broadcast network filter. (Or trying to, anyway.)

The world of Twin Peaks is as lush as it is stark, its inhabitants prone to talking in clipped monosyllables, tossed-off non sequiturs, or tangents whose points don’t reveal themselves until their very end, if at all. There’s some lady who walks around town holding a log for seemingly no reason; fans know her, fittingly enough, as “Log Lady.” There are hallucinations that may or may not be hallucinations, an infamous red room in which the dead come back to life (or DO THEY?), and even, eventually, literal demons.

But focusing on the “weird” of Twin Peaks ignores much of what the show actually is: a sardonic twist on the usual murder mystery procedural with a real sense of humor, besides. MacLachlan is a pure delight as Agent Cooper, the Type A FBI agent whose greatest loves are a cup of damn good and/or fine coffee and a fervent dedication to his job. The Twin Peaks locals cover a vast range, from femme fatale Audrey (who usually enters a scene to her own slinky theme music) to lovable doof Officer Andy. The humor is sharp and specific, not to mention integral to Twin Peaks’ success. Without it, the show would’ve careened over the edge much sooner into frantically strange melodrama.

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