It was thirty years ago tonight that the world was introduced to the small town of Twin Peaks. I was only eight years old going on nine when I sat in my living room in Smyrna, Tennessee, and watched this scary, funny, strange thing unfold before me. I couldn’t quite understand it all at the time, but I knew there was something powerful in what I was seeing. This was like watching a fairy tale, the world was somewhat familiar but also another strange place. For the next thirty years, I would find myself obsessed with the show.
When we first got the internet in my home (dial-up America Online), I stumbled across one of many Twin Peaks fan sites and read over transcripts people had hand-typed from rewatching episodes on VHS tape. This was before any sort of reasonable streaming video online, at least for the 24k speeds I could get at my house. So, I kept exploring Twin Peaks through video stills and fan writings.
It wouldn’t be until my sophomore year in college when the first season was released in a DVD boxset. I watched and rewatched those nine episodes with hunger. They brought back memories and emotions I felt as a little kid sitting in the dark of my living room, initially watching them. When I discovered the cable channel Bravo was rerunning the episodes in the middle of the night/early morning, I stayed up with one of my friends to watch through the second season. Then came the Fire Walk With Me DVD and so on and so on. I was happy with what we got, despite the terribly frustrating cliffhanger. It was all we were ever going to get.
Of course, you know that it wasn’t the end, and in 2017 Twin Peaks: The Return unfolded for 19 episodes. I’ll admit I wept when the opening credits rolled on that first episode, it was a moment I’d comfortably resigned myself to never happening. I went from an eight-year-old watching that first episode to a thirty-six-year-old seeing the story finally get a continuation. Those sorts of things are rare. David Lynch did the show right by not playing into maudlin nostalgia. We saw the people we remembered, but the story didn’t go the way we expected. Some fans of the original were turned off, but by this time, I was such a fan of Lynch and Fire Walk With Me had become my favorite piece of the series I was on board and wanted to be surprised.
What about this show draws me and so many other people in? I think everyone is drawn to mystery, and Twin Peaks offers an increasingly complicated and esoteric one. But mysteries were and are a dime a dozen on television. What makes Twin Peaks appeal to people goes beyond the quirky humor of the show and to the humanity in the characters. The grief of Sarah and Leland Palmer is palpable. It does feel bizarre, but if you’ve seen parents confronted with that type of loss, you see their reactions don’t follow logic or reason. They become pure pathos and transform into beings of grief.
David Lynch is considered a creator of the abstract and weird. Yes, that is the tone, but he is deeply humanist. Even in The Return, a show that refused to play by conventions, there is profound humanity. Contemplate the relationships between Bobby, Shelly, and their daughter. Look at Dougie Jones, Janie, and their son. These families are the heart of the revival. But they are always contrasted with dark loners, people who isolate themselves and therefore are miserable. There’s the Doppelganger and Richard Horne, people rotten to the core and seemingly unredeemable. Lynch continually reminds us that connections between us are what elevate our souls.
It doesn’t matter if Twin Peaks continues with new content. What we have is perfection, in my opinion. This is television and film that deserves to be studied for decades, peeling back layers and discovering new angles of analysis. I can’t imagine a point in my life where I won’t be eager to revisit it all, allow it to change as I change, let it inform me about my own life through its unique perspective. Happy Birthday, Twin Peaks. The world became a better place when you arrived.