Sunday, November 18, 2007

Twin Peaks: A town I like to visit...though I wouldn't want to live there

I was a late bloomer to the Twin Peaks phenomenon. The show came out in a period of my life when I was so engrossed in my early theological studies and the development of the first musical project I was part of that I completely missed the media storm surrounding the show. My interest in it came as a result of three events Agent Cooper might have seen as synchronicity; I met a girl at college who was a big fan of the show, then read an article in the local paper about the possible connections between Old Testament theology and the symbolism of good and evil in the show, and then finally, a chance viewing of the last five minutes of the episode revealing who had killed Laura Palmer. I was shocked by the brutality of the scene, but riveted as well, unwilling to change the channel. As a result, I saw the final moments when the Giant appears to Agent Cooper in one of the show's many oneiric scenes, saying simply, "It is happening again." I didn't know what it was, but the words chilled me, connected as I suspected they were to the violence Laura's killer had just unleashed upon a new victim.

I was hooked, but this was a show already doomed for cancellation, and I only saw two or three more episodes before the now infamous shuffling of Twin Peaks' time slot on ABC. When the pilot was released to VHS, I watched it, unaware that the closed ending was not the one which had been shown on television originally. Still, the dreamlike, fantastic quality of that closed ending was the quality which most drew me to the show; the spiritual aspect, the idea that the real killer of Laura Palmer had been the demon BOB inhabiting the body of one of the townsfolk of Twin Peaks.

My next visit to the town was for the release of the prequel film, Fire Walk With Me, which I viewed in a theater which was virtually empty. The film haunted me the night I saw it, and I stayed up late into the early hours of the morning in reflection and prayer about the horror Lynch portrays in the final days of Laura Palmer's life. Something rang very true in his vision of domestic violence and the ambiguity of the connection between everyday horror and the veil of the supernatural. I told classmates at the theological school I was at by this time that I thought it was the most important film for people interested in Christian ministry, because I had never been so motivated to pray for girls in the same situation as Laura Palmer, victims of domestic abuse, victims of drug use and a sex trade which thrives upon the objectification of women. I continue to think of the film as simultaneously possessing some of the most repugnant visions ever committed to screen, as well as some of the most beautifully poignant. I was not aware of the concept of the literary sublime in those years, but it was certainly what most resonated with me from the secondary world of Twin Peaks.

I saw a few episodes when the show was picked up by Showcase, but my real immersion into the world David Lynch and Mark Frost created occurred in my first few months of marriage. Jenica and I started renting the series, but the store we rented from only carried the first seven episodes, so we purchased the full series on VHS and watched them all in the space of a few weeks, watching late into the night; Jenica, propelled by a need to know who had killed Laura Palmer, me in wanting to unravel the mysteries I had glimpsed in the few exposures I had been given to the town.

We watched it again in its entirety a year later, then again some years later with my brother-in-law and his financee. We loaned the tapes to friends, and I dabbled in the internet forums devoted to the show. Then came the DVD release of season one, which many friends banded together to gift me with for my birthday. It was wonderful to finally see the show without the muddy sound and fuzzy resolution of the VHS copies, and I hoped to see the second season on DVD within the year. Years passed, and it wasn't until the spring of 2007 that the second season was released.

By now I'd started thinking of Twin Peaks through a lens focused by the combined years of reflection on the show's elements, my theological studies, years spent as a pastor, my own shattered relationships and ruminations on the evil within myself, and finally the academic rigor of my Comparative Literature program at the University of Alberta. I wanted to enter the town again with these more mature tools, but without the pilot, it always felt incomplete.

And now, finally I have my copy of the Twin Peaks Definitive Gold Box Edition. I sold seasons one and two on Ebay to subsidize the purchase, which I know makes me a heretic in some serious Twin Peaks fans eyes; I ought to have kept the other two for the special features. But, being a comparativist, I don't really want to know what the directors thought they were doing with the show. What is clear from all the extras I've seen and web articles I've read is that no one really knew what they were doing when Twin Peaks was made. For all the accolades of genius laid at David Lynch's feet, I doubt even he had any idea what he was doing. I think it was one of those great creative acts of serendipity, a merging of many minds and hearts which resulted in something very special.

I've begun watching the series from the pilot onward, late nights on our laptop while Jenica sleeps. She's done with Twin Peaks; for some people one visit is enough. But I'm a regular visitor. I keep going back, not because I'm looking to unravel any mysteries anymore. I love the ambiguity of the show; it's ambivalence is what gives it its sense of wonder, of Todorov's definition of the fantastic where we all hesitate for a moment, wondering what to believe. And in that hesitation, that study of the fantastic, is a brilliant vision of the nature of good and evil. We all know who physically killed Laura Palmer, but the mystery doesn't end there. As the conversation between Cooper, Sheriff Truman, Major Briggs and Agent Rosenfield relates, in the wake of ostensibly solving the crime:

Truman: He was completely insane.

Cooper: Think so?

Rosenfield: But people saw Bob...People saw him in visions. Laura, Maddy, Sarah Palmer.

Briggs: Gentlemen, there's more in heaven and earth than is dreamed up in our philosophy.

Cooper: Amen.

Truman: Well I've lived in these old woods most of my life, I've seen some strange things but this is way off the map. I'm having a hard time believing.

Cooper: Is it easier to believe a man would rape and murder his own daughter? Any more comforting?

Truman: No.

Briggs: An evil that great in this beautiful world, finally, does it matter what the cause?

Cooper: Yes, because it's our job to stop it.

Rosenfield: Maybe that's all Bob is...the evil that men do. Maybe it doesn't matter what we call it.

Truman: Maybe not. But if he was real, and he was here, and we had him trapped...and he got away, where is Bob now?

It's that last question that haunts me. It's the one that keeps me going back to Twin Peaks, to look inside the fractured fairy tale of a Sleeping Beauty who will never awake because of the evil done to her, and to not point the finger, but to hold up a magic mirror, and ask the question Truman asks of us all...and to hopefully respond as Cooper does, with the unswerving goal to stop it; in myself first, but also in the world around me.

And if nothing else, to remind myself why I really got into drinking coffee.

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