Why We Love Twin Peaks, Reason #2: The Comfort of Generic Suturing

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Warning: some plot details from Twin Peaks, Season 2…

Though it’s nothing today for there to be a half-dozen “fantasy,” “horror,” or “science fiction” shows on a nightly basis, Twin Peaks aired when these elements were restricted to specifically genre-oriented shows. So, in the US, science-fiction shows like Star Trek (TNG ran from 1987-1994) and Quantum Leap (ran from 1989-1993), and horror shows like Friday the 13th (1987-1990); and, in the UK, sf shows like Red Dwarf (1988-2012) and Doctor Who (the old series ran from 1963-1989). And before the trend-setting X-Files (1993-2002), there just weren’t nearly as many shows—mainstream or not—willing to include the fantastic as an element.

Well, never one to be satisfied with the “mainstream,” David Lynch said to hell with convention, grabbed his genre-blender, threw in a big dose of melodrama, and added equal parts police procedural, thriller, horror, and science fiction. And zip! we got Twin Peaks, which is technically “about” an FBI man’s attempt to solve a murder (that of Laura Palmer)… But this is hardly a fair description of a series that explores so much more. Why stick to one type of genre when you could explore all of them? Lynch’s use of different tonalities, atmospheres, and environments (sometimes within the same episode) seems to say something about the complexity and strangeness of human experience, which is just not adequately represented in a “realistic” sort of show.

Episode 6 from Season 2 is a good example of Twin Peaks’ hybrid nature: there’s a romantic scene between James (James Marshall) and Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle), with talking of “putting our hearts together and keeping them that way forever”; later, there’s a completely goofy scene involving grown woman Nadine (Wendy Robie) who, after coming out of a coma, has superhuman strength and believes she’s back in high school (a plot not out place in a daytime soap); the episode ends with a chilling scene involving one of the “persons of interest” in the Laura Palmer murder, a fellow known as both Philip Gerard and “Mike” (Al Strobel): he undergoes a metamorphosis reminiscent of Jekyll and Hyde, evoking an atmosphere of the thriller or horror.

Most episodes have this mix of different tones, different genres.

At one point in the series, FBI agent Dale Cooper asks the rhetorical question, “Is it easier to accept that a real person, a man, would rape and murder someone, than to say that a demon performed this heinous crime?” (NOTE: I’m paraphrasing here, mainly to avoid completely spilling the beans.) The generic reliance on a supernatural force at least partially soothes the human need to find an answer that fits. Cultural critic Roger Luckhurst identifies this phenomenon as a sort of generic suturing, whereby the absence of a reasonable explanation for a heinous crime is filled by a fantastical narrative.

Is this why we love Twin Peaks? Because it provides potential answers to those otherwise unanwserable questions? Not just, who would do such a thing? But also: Where do dreams come from? Is there an entity, a force that controls the universe, and if so, what form does it take?

Lynch offers no satisfactory answers, but spins his genre-blender again, and gives us the following, in episode 11 from season 2: there’s the “White Lodge,” which, according to the character Hawk (Michael Horse), comprises the spirits that “rule man and nature.” But there’s also the “Black Lodge,” which is the “shadow self of the White Lodge.” Every “spirit,” Hawk explains, “must pass pass through [the Black Lodge] on the way to perfection.” Though this sounds an awful lot like Manichean thinking—black and white, “good” and “evil”—Lynch is too much of a post-modernist, too much of a pastiche-artist to accept such a rigid doctrine. It’s abundantly clear, especially as the show reaches its cataclysmic denouement, that all humans have—shall we say?—motivations, desires, and predilections that lead us to seek both sorts of “lodges.”

Despite the darkness and—perhaps more unsettling—despite the ambiguity of the show’s conclusion, there’s still comfort in knowing that, if we can’t answer life’s questions, we can at least frame them beautifully, stylishly through the generic elements of fantasy, horror, and science fiction.

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