A 25-bulletpoint guide to everything you need to know.
You might have heard that this weekend David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks is returning to television after a 27-year absence. To call this a big deal is belittling to “big,” “deal,” and Twin Peaks; this is massive, mammoth, monumental. Some, myself included, consider it the resumption of the most significant narrative endeavor ever undertaken by an American filmmaker, while some are a little confused as to what the rest of us are frothing at the mouth about.
See, for all the hype and significance surrounding Twin Peaks, the fact remains that very few of you have seen the series in its entirety. First, it originally aired more than a quarter-century ago, which in a disposable culture such as ours might as well be a millennium. Second, though the show caught the attention of pretty much everyone in the beginning, by a third of the way through the second season most folks had tuned out to the extent the finale – which is widely considered the biggest cliffhanger in TV history – aired on a Saturday night in the middle of June, six weeks removed from the rest of the series after it had already been cancelled. Third, there wasn’t a DVD release of the series until the mid-2000s, meaning an entire generation of viewers didn’t have real access to it. And fourth, even if you were able to get your hands on all of it, the (unwarranted) hatred around the movie that came after it, Fire Walk With Me, which is a prequel and not the resolution everyone was hoping for, has likely convinced you that Twin Peaks is an exercise in frustration which, admittedly, until the announcement of season three, it kinda was.
But Twin Peaks is also much, much more: it is the birth of prestige television, it is the birth of “cinematic” television, it is the blueprint for every significant supernaturally-tinged series that came after it, and every televisual murder mystery, it is the best ensemble the medium’s ever known, it is the most daring network television has ever been, and last but not least it is – by his own admission – the last film David Lynch will ever make. Big deal? No, this is the biggest deal in television, ever.
So you want to watch it, you need to watch it, but maybe you’re a little intimidated (understandably so) because you haven’t seen a lick of seasons one and two, or Fire Walk With Me, and you won’t have time to before Sunday’s premiere. No worries. I’ve outlined everything you need to know in handy bulletpoint format. This isn’t everything everything, that would take much more time and space, but this is primer enough that you can watch the new season without being totally blind to what’s going on. Ready?
- Twin Peaks is a town in Washington State, just south of the Canadian Border. There are a little over 50,000 residents, but the series only focuses on a couple dozen.
- The show first hinged around the brutal murder of Laura Palmer, a pretty, popular high school student.
- Another girl, Ronette Pulaski, was with Laura when she was murdered but escaped. In her post-traumatic wandering, Ronette crossed the state line into Idaho, thus making the investigation federal.
- The man sent to investigate Laura Palmer’s murder is FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper. He has no partner, but communicates with his assistant Diane via messages he records on microcassette. Cooper is a highly spiritual and intuitive man, and as such relies on dreams, visions, and interpretation as much as he does the letter of the law.
- Owing to a letter found embedded under Laura’s fingernail, it’s determined her murder is the work of a serial offender who killed a prostitute named Teresa Banks in a nearby town the year before.
- Turns out Laura wasn’t as sweet as everyone supposed. During the course of the investigation it’s revealed she was two-timing her boyfriend Bobby with another boy, James, as well as a few of what the kids nowadays call “friends with benefits,” she was a cocaine addict, and she had dabbled in high-end prostitution at a brothel north of the border owned by a schoolmate’s father.
- There’s no shortage of suspects: both Bobby and James, as well as Leo and Jacques her older f-buddies, Ben Horne the brothel owner who’s also a paramour, Dr. Jacoby her obsessed psychiatrist, Harold Smith a self-enforced shut-in, Josie Packard the mill owner who might have had her husband killed, some long-haired guy named BOB who’s only seen in visions, a one-armed man named Mike, and of course the Great Unknown.
- But as revealed in the seventh episode of the second season, Laura was killed by her own father, Leland, who had been sexually abusing her for years. But it’s not that cut and dry.
- See, Leland wasn’t Leland in his murderous moments, he was BOB, who is a possessing spirit that feeds off fear and violence. BOB inhabited Leland most of his life, rendering the man powerless to prevent the attacks on his daughter. The long-haired guy is BOB’s true form, and what his victims see. Leland also kills Madeline, Laura’s identical but brunette cousin.
- When Leland is arrested and outed as BOB, the spirit vacates him, killing him, and returns to a metaphysical realm known as The Black Lodge, the portal to which is in the woods surrounding Twin Peaks. The interior of The Black Lodge is more commonly referred to (by we in the real world) as “the red room.”
- In the wake of Laura’s murder, Cooper is stuck in town under suspension for an unauthorized raid of the brothel, which, again, is out of jurisdiction in Canada. He is cleared of all charges, but in the interim the series’ second major plot is set in motion: the vengeful mission of Windom Earle.
- Windom Earle was Cooper’s partner and the man who taught Cooper everything he knows about being an agent. Some years before the two were assigned to care for a material witness, a woman named Caroline with whom Cooper began a love affair. Owing to this affair, he wasn’t ready when the attempt on her life was made, and as a result she was killed, he was shot, and Earle lost his mind. Why? Because Caroline was Earle’s wife. What’s worse, Cooper suspects (rightfully so) that not only did Earle kill Caroline and shoot him, he was also responsible for the original crime she witnessed.
- Earle wants revenge on Cooper for all the above, but he also wants access to the power of The Black Lodge, which he knows about because he used to be a part of Project Blue Book, the real-life Air Force Commission that monitored the skies for alien life.
- Through a few visions, a couple petroglyphs in local geologic site Owl Cave, a primitive map of town, and working knowledge of astronomy, astrology, numerology, the occult and other such intellectual ephemera, it’s determined that the portal to The Black Lodge is in a circle of 12 sycamore trees in a clearing called Glastonbury Grove, and the only way to enter it is to be in the right place at the right celestial time with one of two emotional keys to unlock it: either overwhelming fear or overwhelming love.
- Earle enacts a plan to kidnap one of several local young women, using the Miss Twin Peaks Pageant to make the final decision. The winner of the pageant is Annie, a local waitress recently fled from a convent, and Cooper’s love interest. Earle abducts her and uses her fear to enter The Black Lodge. Cooper follows and uses his love for Annie to enter. This is when shit gets CRAZY.
- In The Black Lodge – deep breath – Coop engages Earle, BOB, and The Lodge itself. Earle is killed by BOB, and a momentary bout of fear causes Cooper’s soul to split in two, the good half (or Coop as we know him) and the bad half. Both halves then make a run for it, knowing only one of them can be out in the real world. It’s a neck-and-neck race, and we don’t see who emerges. Instead we see a Coop and Annie, both unconscious, materialize in the forest.
- In the second season’s – the series’ until a year or so ago – final scene, Cooper wakes up in bed with the town Sheriff and town Doctor standing over him. He seems fine. He asks about Annie. He’s told she’s fine. He goes to the restroom, and when he looks in the mirror, it isn’t himself staring back, it’s BOB. The bad half is the one who has escaped, and furthermore he is possessed by the same spirit Cooper came to town to thwart. It is the worst-case scenario. And it’s also the last thing we see, Cooper laughing maniacally with his reflection, mirror shattered and his head bleeding. Seriously. That’s what we were left with. For 27 years.
- Other characters: Sarah Palmer, Leland’s wife and Laura’s mother, prone to visions; Audrey, Ben Horne’s daughter and a general troublemaker; Shelly the waitress, who’s married to Leo but sleeping with Bobby; Norma, diner owner, Shelly’s boss, Annie’s sister, married to Hank and mistress to Big Ed, her high-school sweetheart; Big Ed, gas station owner, James’ uncle and married to one-eyed Nadine, a crazy woman with super strength who spends most of the second season believing she’s a high school senior and not a 35 year old woman; Mike Nelson, Donna’s ex and Nadine’s younger beau; Major Briggs, Bobby’s father and a former member of Project Blue Book, currently assigned to a classified detail studying the woods of Twin Peaks; Deputy Andy, dim-witted but lovable, and Lucy, the Sheriff’s receptionist with whom he’s having a relationship and possibly a baby; Deputy Hawk, the Native American tracker; Donna, Laura’s demure best friend who takes up with James after the murder; Doc Hayward Donna’s dad; Pete Martell, mill boss, and Catherine Martell, his wife, Josie’s sister-in-law, and Ben Horne’s mistress; Margaret the Log Lady, local sage; and Sheriff Harry S. Truman, the law in Twin Peaks who comes to be like a brother to Cooper.
- Other beings: Mike the one-armed man, another inhabiting spirit and a former killing-comrade of BOB’s who now hunts him; The Giant/elderly bellman who provides Cooper with clues in dreams and visions; The Man From Another Place, a diminutive figure in a red suit with a penchant for dancing and speaking backwards.
- Fire Walk With Me is a prequel that takes place during the last seven days of Laura Palmer’s life. It begins with what’s known as “The Deer Meadow Prologue,” or the investigation into the murder of Teresa Banks, the prostitute who was Leland/BOB’s first victim. Cooper is only in this section of the film, and only briefly. The major element to come out of this section is the Owl Cave Ring, a green-gemed piece of jewelry worn by Teresa and found on a mound of dirt after her murder on which one of the petroglyphs from Owl Cave is carved. When Agent Chet Desmond, the original investigating agent, touches the ring he vanishes.
- The other major facet of The Deer Meadow Prologue is the “Phillip Jeffries Scene,” Jeffries being played by David Bowie. He’s another agent who’s been missing on assignment for two years and who has ties to the beings of The Black Lodge, the ring, and the town of Twin Peaks. It’s a cryptic scene but it blows the mythology of The Lodge wide open, insinuating it isn’t a local but global phenomena. This may be important for the third season, which is said to take place in multiple locations throughout the US.
- Laura discovers halfway through the film that BOB is her father, and knowing she is powerless to stop him, she begins a quick, reckless, and heartbreaking descent into madness.
- In the moment of her death, Laura discovers and puts on the Owl Cave ring, which means two things: one, she has accepted her death, and two, by this acceptance her soul is spared by The White Lodge – which as it sounds is the complete opposite of The Black Lodge, a place of goodness – from consumption by BOB, and an angel comes to deliver her.
So that’s it, Twin Peaks in the tiniest of nutshells. Did I leave out a lot? Oh yeah, tons, but these broad strokes should afford you the time to chase down any leads you still need to, depending on what season three has in store. If you need any additional help, I know a guy.
The first two episodes air on Showtime this Sunday night, followed immediately by the release of episodes three and four on the network’s digital platforms. Episodes then run once a week for 14 weeks until the two-hour finale in September. 18 hours in all. It’s going to be wonderful and strange, and the very definition of peak TV.