Twin Peaks: The magic of stories without spoilers
Ivan Radford | On 22, May 2017
It is happening again. That TV show you like is back in style. Yes, Twin Peaks is back on our TV screens for the first time in a quarter of a century, and fans are over the moon about the chance to go back to David Lynch’s strange, surreal town.
The show is one of the most influential pieces of television ever made, the kind of auteur-led, confidently complex, long-running mystery that we lap up by the dozen in 2017. Binge-watching everything from The Leftovers to Fargo, we’re in a golden age of TV – and it’s all too fitting that Lynch’s reality-warping masterpiece should feel like it teleported from the modern world back into the early 1990s, when it first frazzled viewers’ minds. Back then, such imaginative, ambiguous programming was unheard of on the small screen.
“If you look at TV drama since its inception, shows would tell the audience what they were going to see, show it to them and then tell them what they’ve seen,” David Chase of The Sopranos told TIME in a recent interview. “Nobody was ever puzzled by what was going on. With Twin Peaks, Lynch and Frost show it to you and leave you thinking, “What did I just see?” That was revolutionary, and it still is.”
Today, of course, that’s become the norm for so many of the small screen’s big hitters. Damon Lindelof, co-creator of Lost and The Leftovers, added that there was “no show in television history that had more impact” on him than Twin Peaks. “My father and I would record episodes and re-watch them multiple times, pausing for conversation and debate over Agent Cooper’s throwing technique as he hurled rocks at a glass bottle in order to rule out suspects,” he said.
The Internet has only made such mysterious storytelling even more popular, as fans rush to social media or Reddit to discuss the latest plot developments and come up with absurd – sometimes absurdly correct – theories. Westworld, last year, was a masterclass in seeding hints of foreshadows in its early episode. It doesn’t always work: Mr. Robot’s second season was a little too eager to tease its eventual twists that audiences ultimately worked out where thing were headed.
For Twin Peaks, that fanatic theorising helped to keep the Pacific Northwest community alive for two decades, with David Lynch’s feature-length follow-up, Fire Walk with Me, only providing more questions and defiantly refusing to give answers. While things have changed since Twin Peaks’ premiere, that attitude has remained the same.
“The more you know, the more it takes away from that full experience,” Lynch told The Hollywood Reporter of the new season. That was about as much detail as he would go into. Even the trailers staunchly refused to divulge information about the plot, except for the fact that Kyle MacLachlan’s Agent Dale Cooper (and a sprinkling of other familiar characters) would be returning. With an ensemble of reprised roles and guest cameos in the hundreds, though, even then it was anybody’s guess how big a role any of them would play.
What would be the result of Season 2’s head-splitting cliffhanger? What did Season 1’s third episode mean, when Laura appeared to an older version of Cooper in a dream and prophetically told him he would see her again in 25 years? And just what is in that coffee that makes it so damn fine? Lynch’s message was simple: you wouldn’t find out the answer unless you watched the show.
“It comes from my own personal desire to not know anything before I see a film,” Lynch explained. “I want to experience it in a pure way and be taken into a world, letting it go where it takes you.”
Twin Peaks remains groundbreaking in the way it blended cinema and TV to create something gloriously unsettling. But it’s that tight-lipped approach that makes it so wonderfully unique in the modern age of entertainment. While hyper-speculation online has bred a growing hunger for any scrap of information available, film marketing has only fed that appetite, with trailers that seem to give away plot spoilers now increasingly commonplace.
Compare, as a random example from the many available, the trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (unless you haven’t seen the film), which features at least two reveals about the film’s third act…
… with the adverts for Twin Peaks Season 3, which reveals nothing whatsoever:
The promotional campaign over the last year has been stubbornly backward-looking, always focusing on the legacy of the past over teases of the future. It comes from an era when streaming video and uploading to YouTube was the stuff of science fiction – fittingly, as if the whole thing had teleported from 25 years ago to the present. The result is one of the most anticipated events in TV history, not just because of the show’s lengthy time off-air, or the wealth of unanswered questions, but because Twin Peaks reminds us of the power of TV without spoilers.
Almost as a cheeky form of insurance, meanwhile, there’s the underlying knowledge that Lynch has one more secret up his sleeve: his and Mark Frost’s creation remains far too surreal to be spoiled. Twin Peaks’ magic lies not in its explanation of Laura Palmer’s death, but it in its ability to create atmosphere and dread without logic or explanation. In 2017, it is happening again. Just don’t ask anyone to tell you what’s happening. You probably wouldn’t understand it anyway.
The first four episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return are available on-demand exclusively on Sky Atlantic, with new episodes simulcast every Monday at 2am, then repeated at 9pm on Tuesdays. Don’t have Sky? You can stream the whole thing legally, live and on-demand, on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription, with no contract.