The City of Absurdity TWIN PEAKS

Tweaking the Peaks

by Andrew Goodwin,
East Bay Express, November 16, 1990
with many thanks to John M. Troyer

Can you remember the last time you were so scared by a television program that you needed to pour a drink during each commercial break? Did you stick to coffee and donuts last Saturday evening, when Twin Peaks revealed the identity of BOB? Or did you need something a little stiffer? Have you noticed that the show has abandoned much of its irony, taking its tongue out of its cheek, and adopted the codes of the fantastic, the fabulous, and the horrific? In doing so, hasn't it shifted from being a clever joke about soap opera and cranked itself up several emotional gears? And isn't it true that its science-fiction-cum slasher-movie aesthetic has now moved Twin Peaks beyond the cerebral and started hitting you in the guts, with all the violent force of Laura Palmer's killer?

Do you like to be teased and toyed with? Was Roland Barthes correct to compare narrative with striptease? Were you hoping that all the garments would come off on Saturday night? Or is it more fun seeing the text partially clothed in slinky red herrings and enigmatic clues? Did you _really_ want to find out who killed Laura Palmer? Didn't you think it pathetic that so many TV critics were braying for some resolution, accusing Twin Peaks of being a cheat, a fake, and a con for stringing us along for so long? Wasn't that the _point_? When Benjamin Horne was almost revealed as the killer halfway through Saturday night's episode, didn't you secretly want _not_ to find out, just yet? If he'd been transformed into BOB as he was being arrested, wouldn't that have been a letdown? Aren't stories like sex? And didn't you want to delay the climax for just a little longer? The Saturday evening slot is helping to murder this show in the ratings, but there is some poetry in the scheduling – after all, Saturday night is when the married couples who stay in to watch TV Do It, isn't it?

So how did you fare this Saturday? Did you guess weeks ago that Tojamura (the stereotyped Asian gentleman who asserted: "I find adherence to fantasy troubling and unreasonable") was a woman? Did you suspect he was Catherine? Or did you think he was Laura? And where is Josie? Has she really left town, or is she also present, in disguise? Does it bother you that we care? Are you upset that television viewers invest themselves in fiction? Do you think we should all be doing something more "serious"? Do you find adherence to fantasy troubling and unreasonable?

Did you shiver, scream, or cry out when Laura's father Leland adjusted his tie in the living room mirror . . . and looking back was the ghastly face of BOB? Did you need someone to hold on to? Do we know that he killed Laura? Maybe it was Madeleine? Meaning that on Saturday he attacked the real Laura? And is she (Madeleine/Laura) dead? Or will the telepathic Log Lady alert Agent Cooper to the murder in time for him to reach the scene of the crime and perhaps save Madeleine/Laura, or at least hear some dying works? If Madeleine is really Laura, is that why she saw him as BOB? Or do we assume that Madeleine (like Laura's mother Sarah and her friend Ronnette) can also see BOB?

BOB is scary, isn't he? Why? Because BOB is real? Is it this which makes the second season of Twin Peaks compelling? Where does it hurt? Do you know? Do we really know who or what BOB is? Was last Saturday's image of the mother (Sarah Palmer) comatose, immobile, looking on at the father's abuse of her family, _metaphorical_? In a nation concerned about child abuse, will David Lynch dare to joke around with this stuff? Or will he grow up?

Could a television serial ever survive mid-season narrative resolution? Was it a coincidence that last Saturday's nail-biter occurred during sweeps month? (Aren't some questions too dumb even to be asked?) If Twin Peaks resolves itself, will it become a dead soap opera? A victim of murder by narrative resolution? A televisual corpse with no outstanding questions for life support? Are we watching a soap opera that continues forever, or a very, very long miniseries? If this is a soap opera with an ending, then isn't – Twin Peaks a serial killer?

Doesn't television sometimes have an emotional power unmatched by cinema, because of its serial form and its simultaneous transmission? Because the serial invades the fabric of our lives, and begins, in this case, to structure our Saturday nights – to become, indeed, its climax? And because we are all watching it _together_ – if not as a nation, then at least as a time-zone-united-in-horror – doesn't that lend television greater impact, the ability to constitute a simultaneous mass media event that thereby thrills its participants in a way that cinema never can?

And so: Have you thought about the further possibilities for narrative arousal? Of course you have, haven't you? Leland is the killer – but what accounts for his actions, since we know that the letters-under-the-fingernail imply a serial killer, not a crime of parental passion? And is his wife Sarah dead, dying, drugged, or simply insane? If Leland is BOB, why did the One-Armed Man collapse in the presence of Benjamin Horne? Why were pages torn from Laura Palmer's secret diary? We know (if we've read it) that Laura didn't tear them out – so who did? Did Harold Smith really kill himself? Or was he murdered? If so, by whom? Is Leo Johnson really catatonic? Or is he pretending? At what point will he spark into life and unleash his sadistic madness upon Bobby and Shelley? What is the relation between the extraterrestrial Giant and the dithering, ancient butler? Are they the same person? Is Diane really a tape recorder, as the sleeve for the Twin Peaks album suggests? If not, how and when will she appear? What does "the owls are not what they seem" mean? And where _is_ Agent Cooper's ring?

Have you noticed that the "Invitation to Love" soap-within-a-soap that appeared during the first season has now gone? Isn't this significant? Doesn't its disappearance signify the transformation of Twin Peaks from a show _about_ soap opera into something more interesting – a soap opera? Hasn't the clever-clever Twin Peaks been slowly corrupted by its form, the _serial_? Is this perhaps not so much David Lynch's triumph over television, but television's triumph over Lynch?

Can soap opera deal with parallel (nonrealist) realities? (If your answer is No, what about Pam Ewing's dream?) Isn't the crypto- feminist critique of Twin Peaks for its images of violence against women a mistake, since we are no longer distanced from them through intertextual joking, but instead required to feel? Isn't this identification (the triumph of soap, of the serial, of the TV audience) important precisely because identifying with the horror of violence and abuse is the first step towards educating people about it? Are we so dumb as to believe that all representations endorse what they show? And if – as some critics have suggested – soap narratives are gendered through the link between their multiple climaxes and female sexuality, don't we also think that constant reiteration and discovery of _questions_ might have something to do with how women talk, not through bold statements, but through tentative inquiry?

Do we still run the risk of discovering that Twin Peaks will be yet another David Lynch exercise in playfulness? Like Wild at Heart, couldn't Twin Peaks still turn out to be gross yet superficial? Excessive but pointless? How important is Mark Frost (the cocreator of the series) and his influence in providing a counterbalance to Lynch's tendency to spoil his on work with banality posing as Art? Did you read all those interviews with Lynch last month and find a single interesting statement in any of them? Or did you groan at the vapidity of these exchanges? Does it matter what Lynch thinks? Wouldn't it be more interesting to interview the TV audience?

What is the meaning of symmetry in Twin Peaks? Have you noticed how often we find ourselves peeking at twins? Which of these parallels is significant? Madeleine and Laura? The Giant and the Butler? The One-Armed Man the the One-Eyed Woman (Nadine)? The One-Eyed Woman and One-Eyed Jacks?

Did you hear Benjamin Horne call out "what's the meaning of this?" when the One-Armed Man collapsed in his hotel lobby? Is Agent Cooper suffering from hypoglycemia? Was the whipped cream that exploded all over the newly adolescent Nadine in the Double R Coffee Shop sexual? Can you hear a waitress offer someone pie in a coffee shop without laughing?

Remember the Little Man From Another Place who appeared in Agent Cooper's dreams last season? Wasn't he supposed to be important? Remember how Cooper subsequently announced: "I know who killed Laura Palmer"? if he meant, as we must assume, that his unconscious mind knew the answers, where are the clues in his dream? We now know who BOB is; but are we watching a conventional story in which BOB is the image that represents Laura's (and her mother's . . . and Ronette's?) denial of parental abuse, or are these events meant to be literally supernatural? To put in another way, if many of the strange events are located in Agent Cooper's unconscious, who sent the AGENT COOPER message from outer space? Do the writers know? What is the meaning of all this?

We would like answers to these questions, but – like chastity – we don't want them _yet_, right? Aren't questions always more erotic than answers?

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