The Brilliance of ‘Twin Peaks,’ Thirty Years Later

I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.

It has been thirty years since FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper and the town of Twin Peaks first appeared on televisions worldwide, and the show has been beloved and revered ever since. Showrunners David Lynch and Mark Frost captivated audiences with a product rare to the over-saturated TV medium at the time and that continues to hold up today. But what really makes the show so special?

Groundbreaking Storytelling 

David Lynch and Mark Frost developed a story particularly unique to the time as it pertained to one mystery that lasted multiple episodes: who killed Laura Palmer. Audiences obsessed over who killed the small town’s beloved homecoming queen and anxiously awaited the answer, but were instead met with further questions as each episode concluded.This proved to only enhance their investment into the show as it continued its success throughout the season.

The show was able to successfully blend various genres including soap opera, mystery, supernatural, horror, comedy, and drama. This made for meaningful subplots and individual episodic stories that the audience cared for and desired more of. The show also never shied away from odd and often absurd plot points to add volatility, increasing its unique flair. Lynch and Frost wanted their viewers to think as they presented a deeply structured show full of twists and turns in story and character development, all shrouded in the one underlying mystery.

Incredible Character Ensemble 

Twin Peaks has a truly excellent ensemble of characters, each with their own unique role in the series and memorable in their own right. The beloved main character FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle Maclachlan) is witty, eccentric, and full of his own quirks. He keeps the series grounded and drives the plot forward as he uses his detective skills to solve the show’s main mystery. Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is the beautiful homecoming queen murdered at the beginning of the series. She serves as the heart and soul of the show and the town of Twin Peaks.

High school best friends to Laura, Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle), Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), and James Hurley (James Marshall), play important supportive roles in unraveling the mystery of Palmer. The townspeople all help develop the various subplots of the show, blending other genres previously mentioned. Each character has their own elements directly related to themselves (look no further than “The Log Lady” Margaret Lanterman played by Catherine E. Coulson). There are so many characters I would touch upon but prefer not to reveal anything about them. You’ll just have to watch for yourself to learn who they are, and see for yourself what makes each so special.

“The Log Lady” Margaret Lanterman played by Catherine E. Coulson

A Setting That Matters

The town of Twin Peaks is a small industrial town in the state of Washington, United States. It is fictional but feels authentic in nature, serving as the ideal American town and the role of harmless Americana, something Lynch often touches upon in his work. It is introduced beautifully in the show’s intro sequence via the inner workings of a saw mill. Many of its locations serve a fundamental purpose in the series. The Double R Diner is the perfect place for a piece of cherry pie and a cup of black coffee and is often frequented by characters of the show. The Great Northern Hotel sits atop of a waterfall, overlooking the town and its surrounding forest area. The Roadhouse Bar is often the setting for crime and drama and serves as a prime location for multiple plot points. The town itself helps progress the plot as the audience learns that there is more to it than what initially meets the eye, and establishes the ominous mood held throughout the show. The owls are not what they seem.

Soundtrack and Innovative Cinematography

The soundtrack composed by Angelo Badalamenti, featuring vocals by Julee Cruise and lyrics by David Lynch, is one of the most remarkable soundtracks ever made. Each piece plays a pivotal role and is a shining element of the series. Individual character themes such as “Laura Palmer’s Theme” are used synonymously with their respective characters and blend wonderfully with scenes. Leitmotifs found in pieces such as “Night Life in Twin Peaks” loom over the show, setting the atmosphere and alluding to the idea that the innocent town is more than what meets the eye. The music is definitely one of those lasting components of the show that will remain with you upon completing it.

. . .

The show has often been praised for its use of innovative, established cinematography, and unique visual techniques, a rarity at the time of its airing. Lynch’s inspiration and work on the show provided unique camera angles and usage, moving away mostly from the more basic two-camera setup audiences had gotten used to. Viewers were embedded into scenes, making more for an experience rather than a basic viewing. The camera also played a key role in setting the tone of scenes, with some examples being its use of depth and framing. These style decisions solidified the show as a work of art, something television had been lacking greatly at this time.

Twin Peaks pioneered various TV elements audiences have gotten accustomed to and dared to do what no other show was doing at the time. From its fantastic quotes to a mesmerizing mystery, it has been often copied but never equaled. I have only scratched the surface of the show to remain spoiler-free and urge you to give it a chance yourself. It is an experience like no other and as Cooper would say: you will have no idea where it will lead you, but it will definitely be a place both wonderful and strange.

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