Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Beautiful Dark Chapter 6: Twin Peaks Season 1

There was a period of about four years after David Lynch's work on Blue Velvet that was, as Greg Olson explains, abundantly productive for Lynch. He continued to paint and then, with a lucky break and growing confidence, showed his work in galleries in New York and Los Angeles. He co-starred with Isabella Rossellini in the feature film, Zelly and Me. He directed the short film, The Cowboy and the Frenchman, for French magazine, Figaro. And then he began a fruitful partnership with Mark Frost that had him deeply involved in three projects which never came to fruition but which planted the seeds for one of the most striking television series ever—Twin Peaks.

Olson provides some good background on how Frost and Lynch teamed up. Most Peaks fans know that they were brought together by Lynch's agent, Tony Krantz. Soon the duo was producing scripts. First up was Venus Descending, a biography-drama about the life and death of Marilyn Monroe. Then they pitched the idea of a of science fiction TV series, The Lemurians, in which detectives would probe the possible presence of aliens on earth. Finally, they produced a script for a comedy film entitled, One Saliva Bubble. (The story tells the tale of a freak accident that causes people to switch identities.) None of these projects ever came to be (One Saliva Bubble may have come closest to production) but each contributed a significant piece to the eventual Twin Peaks universe: From Venus Descending, the mysterious death of a beautiful and much-admired young blonde woman (and the name Norma Jennings); from One Saliva Bubble, the idea of variable identity; and from The Lemurians, the scenario of the FBI investigating the supernatural.

Stymied by the collapse of these early productions, Lynch and Frost huddled together to produce the script for the Twin Peaks pilot. They pitched it to ABC and got the go-ahead to shoot. The rest is history, although for this chapter Olson is only interested in examining the early days of Twin Peaks (presumably there will be much more to come in Chapter 8 of Beautiful Dark; there, Olson will look at Peaks season 2 and the film, Fire Walk With Me).

Olson delves into the pilot, describing the themes and mood of the film. He painstakingly analyzes the opening few minutes explaining how they set the tone for the rest of the episode and the series. He examines the dynamic of the Palmer family and notes Sarah and Leland Palmer's intense emotional reactions to the news of their daughter's death. Olson provides a specific, perhaps overly-analytical examination of Sarah Palmer's phone scene early in the pilot. He looks at objects positioned on the window behind Sarah and argues they represent the roles of each member of the family. I won't reveal Olson's analysis here (check page 274) but suffice to say he places a lot of symbolism on objects which appear for but a few seconds on screen. I've been accused of over-analyzing Twin Peaks (an upcoming post on the identity of Judy in Fire Walk With Me will show you why) but this may be scrutiny to the extreme. Still, Olson's sharp examination of Dale Cooper is rewarding. He reminds us that Cooper is a sort of hybrid detective—one who embodies the strict forensic approach of Sherlock Holmes with an intuitive, feminine sensibility. Cooper "knows that his calculating brain alone can't take him where he needs to go." (p. 281)

After a thorough look at the pilot, Olson turns his attention to the second full hour of the series—the only other episode of the season directed by Lynch. Of course, most of his analysis centers on one of Twin Peaks' most riveting sequences: Dale Cooper's dream. Here, Olson shows how the dream allowed Laura Palmer to become an active and enduring presence in the narrative. Cooper did not merely dream about Laura, he became explicitly connected to her: "She is [. . .] his truly significant Other." (p. 292) This is a crucial observation because even though Laura Palmer is dead in the series she is still a vital presence in the story. The dream sequence underscores how—almost from the beginning—Lynch was interested in bringing Laura "back to life" and transforming her from a simple plot object (dead victim) to an autonomous subject (story protagonist). Lynch will make a far more valiant effort at such a transformation in Fire Walk With Me.

Olson acknowledges the critical function of Cooper's Dream ("it will become the extraordinary common ground of Twin Peaks' narrative," p. 291) but he forgets to note the origin of the sequence. Most fans know that the dream comes from footage Lynch shot for the "European ending" to the pilot—an extra fifteen minutes of story added by Lynch and Frost to make the pilot a stand-alone work. Although the extended ending does little to tie things up, it does provide a form of closure to the initial Twin Peaks story. Incorporating this sequence into the on-going series, however, may have introduced a few problems. As we wrote in Wrapped In Plastic 59:

The dream is positioned as a crucial piece of the narrative—a puzzle whose solution will lead to the murderer's identity. But the dream sequence is arguably just visual poetry by Lynch, an almost ad-libbed sequence developed to provide an ending to the pilot for its overseas release as a stand-alone movie. This "European ending" originally had little connection with the Twin Peaks story; it was something Lynch had created at the last minute of filming. In describing the creation of the alternate ending, Lynch said he was "just winging stuff for the ending we had to do," and that "nothing was really that thought out" (Lynch on Lynch, edited by Chris Rodley, p. 165). The rest of the Twin Peaks narrative will be driven by this short, whimsical piece of film. The result will be an astonishing and revolutionary (but sometimes convoluted) television series. (p. 10)

The lack of discussion about the origin of the dream and how it's placement into the narrative would affect the trajectory of the series seems like a significant oversight. Still, Olson gives the dream its due, exploring its unusual format and showing how it fits perfectly with Lynch's filmic sensibility. Olson completes the chapter with discussion of the rest of the first season and looks at the phenomenal public reaction the series garnered. He also looks at the critical role Mark Frost played in the production and how collaboration was both a boon and burden for Lynch.

Twin Peaks remains one of David Lynch's greatest accomplishments and Olson does justice to the first season in this mesmerizing chapter. And there is still so much more Twin Peaks to come.


  1. Nice post.

    I always thought that there was a lot of foreshadowing in the Tibet rock throwing sequence as well.

  2. Oh, yes. It's a wonderful sequence and Olson covers it well in his book. That sequence helps drive the rest of the season one narrative. The dream will stay "in play" well into season two, however.

  3. Twin Peaks is a series? I haven't have time to check it.

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