DirectorDavid Lynch, others
Release Date(s)1990-92 (July 29, 2014)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A
Unless you were watching Twin Peaks when it first went on the air back in April of 1990, it may be difficult to appreciate both how radically different and phenomenally popular it was. Twin Peaks is arguably the most influential television series of the last few decades but even so, there still isn’t anything quite like it on network TV. Back then, it was like a seismic rift had opened. The show looked, sounded and felt unlike anything that had been seen previously. Overnight, the question of who killed Laura Palmer became a national obsession. To the amazement of everyone, the director of Eraserhead and Blue Velvet had entered the mainstream without making a single artistic compromise. To describe this turn of events as being unusual would be a vast understatement.
Created by Mark Frost and David Lynch, Twin Peaks remains a dazzling if uneven achievement. For 29 frequently brilliant episodes, we were given a glimpse into the lives of a handful of the 51,201 souls that inhabited this Pacific Northwest lumber town.
(By the way, that network-dictated population is easily the most unbelievable thing about the series. As someone who grew up in a town in the northwest whose population topped out at 30,000, I can assure you there’s no way Twin Peaks was home to that many people.)
The series hit the ground running with the two-hour pilot episode, an incredible piece of work that remains one of Lynch’s best films. The murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), a homecoming queen who harbored a great many deep, dark secrets, rattles the town to its core. The investigation into Laura’s hidden dark side threatens to expose other secrets as well, especially with the arrival of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan).
The pilot immediately establishes the mood and atmosphere of Twin Peaks from the very first shot and line of dialogue (delivered, appropriately enough, by Lynch regular Jack Nance as Pete Martell: “The lonesome foghorn blows.”) This was a total immersion into a fully-realized world unlike anything that had been seen on television before. The pace was slower, allowing for details to emerge and happy accidents to occur. The performances were vivid and unique with a sprawling cast made up of both interesting newcomers (Lara Flynn Boyle, Dana Ashbrook, Sherilyn Fenn and Madchen Amick, among others) and vets not normally associated with television (MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Richard Beymer, Piper Laurie, Russ Tamblyn and Joan Chen notable among them). In both cases, the actors contributed a look, style and attitude that set the series apart. And no consideration of Twin Peaks can neglect to mention the jazzy, dreamlike score by Angelo Badalamenti. Forget the fact that you’d never heard music like this on television before. For the most part, you’d never heard anything quite like this, period.
For the next seven episodes of its first season, Twin Peaks ranked among the most consistently enjoyable and intriguing TV shows ever produced. The mystery of who killed Laura Palmer deepened. Fascinating new characters were introduced like FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) and Laura’s cousin Maddy (also played by Sheryl Lee). And as bizarre as aspects of the first two episodes had been, nothing could have prepared us for the conclusion of episode three: Cooper’s dream involving a dancing, backwards-talking dwarf (Michael J. Anderson) in a red room. Any illusions that you were just watching a slightly quirky mystery show were shattered with this surreal sequence. It wasn’t that television hadn’t been scary before. It just had never been this fundamentally disturbing before. If you were sitting by an open window at the end of the episode, you could probably hear the entire country simultaneously ask, “What the hell was that?”
The most commonly held belief seems to be that Twin Peaks burned gloriously for one brief but spectacular season before falling completely apart in its second. This isn’t exactly true. In fact, for my money the show really hit its stride in the first half of season two. It was here that the series transitioned from the occasional detour into Lynchian curiosity into full-on gonzo weirdness. Possibly my favorite episode of the entire series is episode 15, where the identity of Laura’s killer is fully revealed as he kills again. This is one of the most frightening, intense sequences ever seen on television and it’s immediately followed by a moment of heartbreaking beauty, as the assembled characters in the roadhouse simultaneously realize something has happened while Julee Cruise sings “The World Spins”.
What is true about the second season is that following the resolution of the Laura Palmer case, the show falls into an unfortunate rut where just about every subplot that can go wrong does. Some of them are still somewhat amusing in fits and starts, like Ben Horne’s descent into Civil War-obsessed madness and David Duchovny’s appearance as DEA Agent Denise Bryson, but every one of them goes on far too long. The worst fate of all befalls James (James Marshall) and Donna. Their story had run its course entirely with the resolution of the Laura Palmer case, so James is sent off into a mundane film noir plot involving a rich woman’s scheme to frame him for the murder of her husband.
But the series regained its footing by the conclusion of the second season as Cooper’s ex-partner Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh) becomes a viable threat. At first, the Windom Earle plot feels equally forced with him simply coming after Cooper for revenge. But by the series finale, we learn that his appearance in Twin Peaks is directly related to Bob, Laura Palmer’s killer, and the red room (or, as it’s actually called, the Black Lodge). The tension is ratcheted up in these last few episodes, culminating in one last Lynch-directed hour that boasts the longest sustained stretch of uninterrupted weirdness ever seen on network television. It’s a frustrating episode for first-time viewers, leaving the audience hanging with multiple unresolved cliffhangers, but one that gets more fascinating and disturbing every time you see it.
A year after the series went off the air, Lynch got most of the band back together for the feature film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. But rather than picking up where the show left off and tying off some of those dangling threads, Lynch zagged back to the beginning, focusing on the earlier investigation into the murder of Teresa Banks and the sad last days of Laura Palmer.
Fire Walk With Me frustrated a lot of fans at the time, despite the fact that resolving mysteries was never what Twin Peaks was all about in the first place. The movie definitely has a few strikes against it, starting with the copious amount of footage that was deleted before release (more on that later), rendering an already difficult narrative borderline incomprehensible at times. Casting Chris Isaak, exploring the limits of his limited screen presence, in a role that takes center stage for the film’s first half hour doesn’t help matters.
But Fire Walk With Me holds up to repeated scrutiny much better than you may think. There are scenes here that rank with the most intense, terrifying visions David Lynch has ever filmed. But the key to the film’s success is the bold and breathtaking performance of Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer. She goes for broke and delivers a heartbreaking piece of acting that covers the entire spectrum of human emotion. Stick with the rough patches and you’ll find the movie gets better every time you watch it.
Twin Peaks was always one of the most gorgeous looking shows on TV, so a Blu-ray release makes a great deal of sense. Sure enough, the video quality is superb, especially on the pilot. (The pilot is presented on the first disc with both the original broadcast version and the version created for theatrical release overseas. The international version attempts to give the story some sense of closure, primarily through the use of footage from episode 2’s dream sequence although Lynch directed additional scenes exclusive to this version.) There are some minor inconsistencies in certain episodes and the series looks somewhat better than Fire Walk With Me but overall, this is an entirely satisfying presentation.
The audio is even better, expertly given a DTS-HD 7.1 remix (the original stereo version is also available, as are Spanish and French mono tracks). Angelo Badalamenti’s music has never sounded better. More importantly, the Pink Room sequence from Fire Walk With Me has been properly mixed so that Badalamenti’s music drowns out the subtitled dialogue. Lynch’s soundscapes are important and it always bugged me that New Line’s DVD didn’t get it right.
As for the bonus features, well…let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Not everything from the Gold Box Edition or the audio commentaries from the original Artisan release of Season One have been ported over. Missing extras include such odds and ends as Julee Cruise’s “Falling” music video and two sketches from the Kyle MacLachlan-hosted episode of Saturday Night Live. The good news is everything else. This is a much more comprehensive collection of old and new extras than we’ve ever had before. And we finally get The Missing Pieces, those long lost deleted scenes from Fire Walk With Me, which is reason enough to proclaim this one of the best Blu-ray releases of the year.
Much of the pleasure in The Missing Pieces comes from simply seeing such actors as Michael Ontkean, Jack Nance, Joan Chen, Everett McGill and others in these roles again. These vignettes aren’t essential but were part of the fabric that made Twin Peaks so special. The best scenes include the fully extended version of the mystifying David Bowie scene. It’d be a stretch to say it now makes sense but now it has the context and dream logic the release version lacks. There’s also value in a cut scene between Agent Cooper and Kiefer Sutherland’s Agent Sam Stanley. It helps tie the beginning of the movie to the rest of the narrative. Without it, the Teresa Banks story feels too much like it belongs in a different movie entirely.
The other features, both old and new, are spread over the course of the ten discs. Each episode of the series includes the Log Lady introductions, looking better than I’ve ever seen them before.
Disc two includes an extensive Season 1 Image Gallery, ABC sneak peeks narrated by Kimmy Robertson’s Lucy, and promos narrated by Agent Cooper.
Disc three features an extended HD version (almost a full hour) of the Gold Box featurette A Slice Of Lynch, more promos and a Season 2 Image Gallery.
Disc four includes a dozen deleted scenes and a handful of outtakes between MacLachlan and Ontkean.
Disc five features the Return To Twin Peaks featurette on the Twin Peaks Festival, the Location Guide and The Glastonbury Archives (including a piece on the Mar-T Café in North Bend, a phone interview with co-creator Mark Frost, the 1-900 Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Hotline, production documents, image galleries and more, most of which came from the Artisan DVD).
Disc six includes 20 Postcards From The Cast interviews, also from the Artisan release. The low-tech nature of the Artisan bonus features will make you really appreciate the work producer Charles de Lauzirika puts into these sets. Seriously, when did we ever find shaky camcorder interview footage acceptable?
Disc seven includes interviews with 13 cast members (arranged in an interactive grid) and 6 crew members culled from Paramount’s Season Two DVD release.
Disc eight hosts the extensive Secrets From Another Place documentary from the Gold Box.
In addition to The Missing Pieces, disc nine includes archival interviews with Ray Wise, Sheryl Lee, Moira Kelly and Mädchen Amick.
Finally, disc ten includes the new Between Two Worlds featurette with Lynch interviewing both the Palmer family and the actors who played them, a new Fire Walk With Me documentary entitled Moving Through Time, the Reflections On The Phenomenon Of Twin Peaks featurette from New Line’s FWWM DVD, trailers for the film and The Missing Pieces, a photo gallery and “Atmospherics”, a loop of the set’s 10 artfully designed menus. Phew.
Twin Peaks was one of a kind, a brilliant and bizarre series that miraculously struck a pop culture chord but was perhaps too artistically uncompromising to survive for long. Creatively, David Lynch and Mark Frost hit a home run, especially while there were still unresolved mysteries to tantalize us with. Commercially, mass audiences tend to think they want and deserve answers, so a series built on a premise that its creators really didn’t ever want to resolve was probably doomed from the start. No matter. Whether or not we’re ever treated to a return to the world of Twin Peaks, and I tend to think we won’t at this point, these 29 episodes were a watershed in American television. There was nothing like it before and there still hasn’t been anything quite the same since. It is an endlessly rewatchable series and The Entire Mystery serves it up in its very best presentation to date. The only thing missing is a slice of cherry pie and a damn fine cup of joe.
- Adam Jahnke