Critical Distance: TWIN PEAKS, Please Don't Stop Your Sobbing

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, USA (@peteramartin)
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Critical Distance: TWIN PEAKS, Please Don't Stop Your Sobbing

Minor chords always kill me.

On Sunday evening, April 8, 1990, I sat down to watch a highly-anticipated show, alone in my tiny room in Brooklyn. I watched my tiny television until 9:15 p.m. or so, Eastern Standard Time. And then I began to cry, slowly at first and then uncontrollably.

This was my introduction to Twin Peaks. The ominous opening musical theme, composed by Angelo Badalamenti, was certainly quite chilling, though the discovery of Laura Palmer ... well, I knew about that already; it happens only a few minutes after the show begins. It was also, as I recall, part of the advance publicity by the ABC television network that was impossible to ignore, even if, like me, you didn't watch much television or read many newspapers, our two most likely sources of information at the time.

What gripped me immediately was David Lynch's command of the medium. Oh, sure, I'd been impressed by the touching poignancy of The Elephant Man when I saw it years before, as well as the beauty of the black-and-white presentation. But I missed Dune in theaters and then could only see the chopped-up versions on TV, which were an abomination, and I skipped Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart, which both sounded far too perverse for my taste at the time.

Yet the idea of that perverse filmmaker creating something that could air on network television was delightful! So I made sure to be home in time to watch the first episode, and once my initial wave of sobbing had subsided, I found myself very much attracted to the cool fashions, Northwest U.S. scenery (where I'd never visited at that point), and the oddball characters.

In that first episode, the characters ranged from endearing to puzzling to off-putting to fascinating to downright reckless and dangerous. In other words, I was hooked long before the end credits rolled.

I was a faithful viewer that first, eight-episode season, even though there was a big drop in quality from the first to the second episode. Who killed Laura Palmer was the big mystery that supposedly drew the public's attention, like "Who shot J.R.?" had been for Dallas years before. But I was less interested in the identity of the killer and more fascinated by the atmosphere and the characters.

The following season, which began in September 1990, kept me on the edge of my seat through its first six episodes, when Laura's killer is unveiled. Lynch directed three of those episodes, and the quality was quite high, but the show had trouble keeping its footing after that.

As the season dragged on, my interest waned in favor of personal relationships. My friends and their family members suddenly seemed far more deserving of my time that a television show which had already run its course.

After skipping a number of episodes, I returned to watch the last two episodes, which were broadcast on June 10, 1991, though they made little sense without having seen everything that led up to them. And that was that. I certainly was not interested in watching Lynch's followup movie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, especially since it recast certain familiar characters.

Time heals all wounds and eventually I found myself rewatching the episodes from the first season that I'd taped on VHS. Lynch's Mulholland Drive opened my eyes to the filmmaker's disturbing visions, and my appetite for his work was once again ignited.

When the so-called "Definitive Gold Box Edition" was released on DVD in 2007, my love for Twin Peaks was reawakened. I soaked in every episode thoroughly, watched the entire series in sequence, and absorbed all the special features. The show entered into my bloodstream. I even watched Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which was fascinating, if not as gripping as I had hoped it would be.

Now it's five years since I reluctantly sold the gold box edition so I could pay my rent, and two years since a revival of the show was announced. Last night I subscribed to the Showtime premium cable service so I could watch the new version, which debuts on Sunday.

Then I watched the first episode again, and this time I started crying when I heard the first notes of the theme song, and cried throughout the first 15 minutes, and then I had to pause for a few minutes to gather my emotions and watch the rest of the episode.

Twin Peaks is the only television show that's ever made me cry. I think it's a combination of the minor-chord music, the progression of the theme, maybe the way that the episode depicts grief, and perhaps how the characters know instinctively that something horrible has happened; they don't need to be told, they can sense it from what's happening around them.

When it comes to grief and loss, that feels very authentic in my personal experience, so that may be why I relate so strongly to its presentation, and also why I've avoided rewatching the show for the past six or seven years.

Now that I've made it through that first brilliant episode, I can't wait to revisit every single episode, and also to see what Lynch and company have cooked up for the new season.

I want cherry pie and some damn good coffee.

Critical Distance is a column that appears occasionally.

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David LynchMark FrostTwin Peaks

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  • Ard Vijn

    The first season is still, in my mind, one of the greatest achievements on television ever. I've seen it in its entirety three times now and even writing about it makes me want to go for round four.

  • bricriu .

    The Wire made me cry. Game of Thrones made me cry. Breaking Bad made me cry.

    The grief in Twin Peaks is purposefully saccharine. I do not understand you, sir.

  • Peter Martin

    So you found the grief to be "excessively sweet or sentimental," as one dictionary defines saccharine? For the record, neither THE WIRE nor GAME OF THRONES nor BREAKING BAD have ever made me cry. So, yes, I guess I need a little sentiment, a little fellow feeling or empathy, to make me cry. Ah, well. Everyone is different.

  • wabalicious

    "Saccharine" can be used in that context and frequently is, to describe something that's an obviously artificial attempt at showing emotion.

  • bricriu .

    perhaps saccharine isnt the best choice of words. not sure even how to put my finger on it honestly. twin peaks has a sort of detached kabuki feel to it. as if the characters are mannequins playing at people. either way i certainly make no personal judgments. just excited to see its revival tonight!

  • Kurt

    What I love about Lynch is that he can be simultaneously satirical and earnest. Mulholland Dr. and Twin Peaks are the best examples, but it is embedded in all his work, from Eraserhead to Dune to Blue Velvet to Inland Empire. I cannot think of too many filmmakers that can get away with this balance so exquisitely

  • Peter Martin

    Very good observation, Kurt. I've been rewatching the series again, and this combination of earnest and satirical really comes alive in the episodes that he directed and/or co-wrote.

  • bricriu .

    I will say, in retrospect that the scene when Leland goes after Maddy is absolutely gut-wrenching.

    I guess when I think of "grief" on Twin Peaks I instantly think of James Hurley's wincing face and it makes me cringe.

  • Peter Martin

    Yes, James is definitely a student in posed agony, which is the persona that he's adapted as a high school senior. (Though, admittedly, none of the "high school students" act their teenage years; they're all old souls in young bodies.)

  • Kurt

    Jack Nance however, is always deeply, humanly, convincing. He collaborated with Lynch a lot (and is the lead in ERASERHEAD), but never did he do finer work than in Twin Peaks. "She is dead, wrapped in plastic.")

  • Peter Martin

    What I love about Jack Nance is that he always seems like he is genuinely reacting to the life that surrounds him. I imagine that it takes a great deal of talent to not look like you're "acting" all the time, but he pulls it off in scene after scene.

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