Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990-91) was almost prescient in its ability to indicate the future of dramatic television, but the program suffered in the ratings because it premiered a full 10 years ahead of the cultural zeitgeist and many viewers didn’t quite know what to make of it. As a series, it was the first to cast its central mysteries aside in favor of intricate character interaction and suspense—much like ABC’s Lost—and its cultish fans, initially rabid about the series, became frustrated by the lack of resolution being provided each week. This increased apathy eventually led to the series’ premature demise after 29 episodes over 2 seasons. Although the entire series has been available on grainy extended-play VHS for some time, Twin Peak: The First Season wasn’t available on DVD until 2001. After years of disheartening delays, Twin Peaks: The Second Season is finally being released on DVD this week, ending the shirt-rending anguish of its numerous admirers.
The narrative center of Twin Peaks is the murder of high school cheerleader Laura Palmer and the arrival of FBI Agent Dale Cooper who conducts the subsequent investigation. Numerous plot points are woven around this center, as the lives and secrets of the various townsfolk in this little town in northeast Washington State are exposed and explored. David Lynch created the series (he also directed and appeared in a few episodes) and this same basic theme, of the private evil that lies beneath the tranquil surface of Anytown, U.S.A., is also on display in his Oscar-nominated Blue Velvet. Although several different writers and directors worked on Twin Peaks, the series is covered in Lynchian fingerprints like haunting dream imagery, virtually incoherent symbolism, and stilted acting.
The program was brought in as a mid-season replacement, so Twin Peaks: The First Season consists of only the first 7 episodes (unfortunately, the pilot—which is essential viewing before the series can be fully understood—is not included with The First Season and can be very difficult to locate on DVD), and ends with Agent Cooper getting gut-shot in his hotel room. Twin Peaks: The Second Season begins right where the cliffhanger left off and Agent Cooper (who was wearing his bullet proof vest and manages to recover) continues his investigation until episode 17, when the murder of Laura Palmer is finally solved. Fans everywhere begged for a resolution to the mystery surrounding Laura’s murder, and once it was finally granted, ratings plummeted as the audience grew rapidly bored. Following episode 17 there are obvious attempts to rejuvenate the series as a mysterious ex-partner of Agent Cooper named Wyndom Earle appears and begins a deadly psychological game. Even Heather Graham and Billy Zane are brought in as love interests, but the show just lacks the same allure in its final 10 episodes. However, it should be noted that the final episode of Twin Peaks, directed by Lynch, is a stunner, featuring one of the most surreal and effective dream sequences ever captured on film. Twin Peaks: The Second Season is worth purchasing for this episode alone.
Even if the series sputtered to a close, it’s one of the most daring and original television programs to ever reach a network audience. With Twin Peaks: The Second Season finally getting the DVD release it deserves, this series certainly warrants a look from curious viewers previously unaccustomed to Lynch’s method of television madness.