On January 9th, 2017, Showtime ended months of speculation by announcing a date for the return of ‘Twin Peaks’. The groundbreaking TV series created by David Lynch & Mark Frost was at long last getting it’s 3rd season. New episodes will begin airing May 21st, 2017.
‘Twin Peaks’ originally premiered on April 8th, 1990. For the next seven weeks America was in the grip of “Peaks Fever”. “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” was the biggest TV whodunnit since ‘Dallas’ had the whole country wondering “Who Shot J.R.?” in 1980. Lynch – until then best known for cult movie favorites ‘Eraserhead’ and ‘Blue Velvet’ – was featured on the cover of Time magazine. Rolling Stone did a cover story. Sales of cherry pie skyrocketed. Heck, it made me into a coffee drinker.
At that year’s Emmy Awards, ‘Peaks’ was nominated in 18 categories. It won 2. For a brief time, it seemed everyone was in love with this quirky mix of detective story/soap opera.
Which I always thought was strange, since ‘Twin Peaks’ was a very, very dark show. A very, very dark show populated with some lovably oddball characters, yes. And definitely leavened with a peculiar sense of humor, but… still. Dark.
‘Twin Peaks’ never totally lost that darkness; but it did fade somewhat in the rambling, unfocused 2nd season. Lynch and Frost were both distracted for large chunks of that second year by outside projects. (Lynch with ‘Wild At Heart’ and his ballooning celebrity, Frost with the criminally underrated thriller ‘Storyville’) The popular myth is that when Lynch wasn’t around, the show suffered from less creative writers and directors attempting to come up with “Lynch-Lite” episodes. But I’d argue that the show suffered just as much from the absence of it’s “second dad” – Mark Frost.
Mark Frost is often ignored in the rush to assign credit or blame for the strange and difficult world of ‘Twin Peaks’. Frost once described his creative partnership with Lynch as “…we talk, we think… I do the typing”. This suggests a sober, workman-like Yin to Lynch’s raging oddball Yang. A veteran of the network TV trenches, Frost spent years working on shows like ‘Hill Street Blues’, ‘The Equalizer’ and ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’. Heck, the man wrote a movie about golf, for pete’s sake. (2005’s ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played’) You can’t get less Lynchian than golf, can you? Little wonder perhaps that many were quick to apportion the lion’s share of ‘Twin Peaks’ initial success in Lynch’s favor.
But Frost and Lynch both share an ineffable fascination with secrets and the unknown. Like Lynch, much of Frost’s work deals with the disconnect between the bright promise of Americana and the darkness that frequently lurks behind that promise. It has faith in institutions (the FBI, the local sheriff, the family doctor) while also admitting their ineffectiveness in an uncaring universe.
Conspiracy and secret organizations abound in Frost’s writing. His 1993 novel ‘The List Of 7′ imagines Sherlock Holmes’ creator Arthur Conan Doyle inadvertently discovering a plot to replace the King of England. His 1992 neo-noir “Storyville” casts James Spader as a New Orleans politician who uncovers some very troubling family secrets. Even ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played’ is essentially about an outsider discovering the workings of a closed-off society.
Which brings us to what might very well be Frost’s masterpiece: ‘The Secret History Of Twin Peaks‘.
Presented as the contents of a mysterious dossier, the book catalogs a series of strange phenomena occurring in and around the town of Twin Peaks. Compiled by an (at first) unknown figure identified as “The Archivist”, it ranges from Lewis & Clark’s exploration of the Northwest Passage up to ‘Twin Peaks’ final episode. There are hints of events beyond that frustrating final episode, as well as nods to the upcoming series, but this isn’t really about teasing long-time fans with insights to the new ‘Twin Peaks’. Mostly it’s Mark Frost messing with the reader’s head in wonderfully devious ways.
For starters, Frost uses historical fact to bolster this fictional history. I found myself running to the internet to check if, say, Fred Crisman was a real guy (he was), or if The Hanford Facility was fictional (it is not). I’m a fairly well-read fellow, and Frost had me jumping through hoops guessing where the exaggeration stopped and where it began. The cumulative effect is one of spreading unease; as all of this dark history is leading directly to Laura Palmer’s terrible end.
Next, it’s just a damn fine looking book; an embossed, sturdy green hardback reminiscent of old business ledgers wrapped in a half-dust jacket that conceals the image of a horned owl. Inside, facsimiles of old journal entries, newspaper clippings and magazine and book covers recreate the experience of sifting through a forgotten lock box. There’s a tradition of this kind of thing in ‘Peaks’ lore. ‘The Secret Diary Of Laura Palmer’ was published back in 1990 just prior to the season 2 premiere. Written by Jennifer Lynch (daughter of David) it recreated Laura’s diary and embellished on elements only briefly mentioned in the show.
Then there’s the fact that this book is a big puzzle box. Secret clues can be found for those with sharp eyes and alert imaginations. There are literary “easter eggs” scattered throughout the pages. It reminded me that one of the things I loved about early ‘Twin Peaks’ was the numerous references to pop culture and historical figures. Agent Cooper’s full name was mysteriously similar to D.B. Cooper – the hijacker who mysteriously disappeared over Washington State in 1971. Is there any significance to the sheriff being named Harry S. Truman? A bird named Waldo linked ‘Twin Peaks’ to the classic noir ‘Laura’ – a story of murder and mistaken identity.
Finally, ‘The Secret History Of Twin Peaks’ does give some answers to just what the hell is going on in this seemingly quiet town. Frost reveals much of this via a minor character from the original series who seemed utterly unimportant. The idea of something or someone being not what they seem is the very essence of ‘Twin Peaks’, and Frost plays that card brilliantly.
One of the criticisms leveled (not entirely unfairly, in my opinion) at ‘Twin Peaks’ was that the writers had no real idea what they were doing. This is a common complaint made against shows where a “mystery” is the essential hook and premise (‘Lost’, anyone?) With this book, Frost has given ‘Twin Peaks’ a grounding that allows it to retain that mystery yet proceed in a satisfying dramatic context. When I finished it, I found myself anticipating this new series with a renewed eagerness. Furthermore, ‘The Secret History Of Twin Peaks made me want to go back and revisit the whole story. And I think I want to do it in a vaguely chronological manner.
In short? I’m deep into the ‘Twin Peaks’ rabbit-hole, comrades. Who knows where this will land. I’ll go and put the coffee on.
*MODCON’S PROPOSED SCHEDULE FOR REVISITING TWIN PEAKS*
1: Read ‘The Secret History Of Twin Peaks’ by Mark Frost
2: Watch ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me’
3: Read ‘The Secret Diary Of Laura Palmer’ as seen by Jennifer Lynch
4: Watch ‘Twin Peaks: Season One’
*NOTE* Watch Season 1 in the following order: Pilot / Episode 1 / Episode 2 / Final 20 Minutes of ‘The International Pilot’ / Episode 3 and continue as normal to Episode 7.
5: Watch ‘Twin Peaks: Season Two’
6: Watch ‘The Missing Pieces’ from 2014 Blu-Ray set
7: May 21st, 2017: Begin ‘Twin Peaks: Season 3’ on Showtime.