'Twin Peaks', a retrospective: the show with three faces

George Gardner casts his mind back and looks at some of the issues with Twin Peaks.

George Gardner
3rd October 2019
IMBD, ABC photo archives, gettyimages
When Twin Peaks first arrived on our screens in 1990, nobody really knew what to make of it. At first, the show was a slow-paced murder mystery surrounding the death of school princess Laura Palmer, whose body is found on a river bank (“She’s dead, wrapped in plastic” drawls lumber mill owner Pete Martell). To solve this comes Agent Dale Cooper, a knight in a well-pressed suit, constantly talking to the off-screen Diane. The eccentric detective in a murder mystery normal for television drama; just as Lovejoy had his antique collecting and Columbo his wink-to-the-audience ‘One More Thing…’, so to did Cooper live in a world of cherry pie and eastern mysticism.

The first series dealt with familiar themes, but we were already seeing cracks in the façade. The show became increasingly melodramatic, drawing on soap opera clichés. In the second series, a love triangle developed between three detectives working on the case. A painfully extended six-episode arc revolved around a tangential affair between biker James Hurley and a femme fatale. The plots seemed more appropriate for Invitation to Love, the corny TV show that played throughout the series.

And, of course there was the underlying mind-bending surrealism that came to the forefront in the third 2017 series. Suddenly, the laws of television programming were rendered moot. Kyle McLachlan played three separate doppelganger versions of the same character. Arcane orbs and brain-like trees took centre stage. The villain of the piece was revealed to be a cosmic entity played by a set dresser that the director happened to rope into acting. So, that’s Twin Peaks, the show with three faces. Watch the first series for a murder mystery, the second for a soap opera, and the third if you want your brain to dribble out through your ears.

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