“It’s happening again”: The enduring cult of Twin Peaks

With the premiere of Season 3 nearing, the miraculous cult of Twin Peaks is alive and well. I say miraculous as what else can it be; how many shows have been renewed 25 years after their original conclusion? How many shows would still have the fan-base necessary to make such a resurrection profitable? At least one apparently. In its time, Twin Peaks was a modest success before it was cancelled after its second season due to declining ratings, with the feature film Fire Walk With Me acting as a prequel a couple of years later. The true mystery, even more than who killed Laura Palmer, is that since then, the show has regularly been listed as one of the greatest of all time, including by Time in 2010 and Rolling Stone in 2016. Two seasons of this drama have created the kind of cult following Gilmore Girls could only dream of. The charm of the show is difficult to pin down but in celebration of its return on May 21st, I’m going to give it a go.

One of the chief sources of Twin Peaks’ appeal is its absurdity; although it begins as a seemingly straightforward murder mystery, it quickly descends into surreal dream sequences and a more twisted sense of morality. No show previously had defied sense and order in such a way, taking Lynch’s characteristic lunacy to the small screen. The characters themselves are just that – characters; from the childish genius of Agent Dale Cooper, FBI, to the brooding leather-clad James (owner of surely the biggest forehead in Hollywood), to the agoraphobic botanist in possession of Laura’s secret diary. The show has occasionally been accused of melodrama and over-acting, particularly in the context of more nuanced modern murder mysteries, but I’d honestly rather watch Donna’s overdramatic sobbing than the loaded looks of copycat scandi-dramas. The overblown tone becomes more sinister as the plot develops into themes of possession and human evil, and I’m sure few would disagree that it’s extremely effective for conveying the mania of the show’s villains.

It is also true that, as my flatmate put it, “dead blonde girls never go out of style”

Mark Frost, Lynch’s collaborator, described the show as a “moody, dark soap-opera murder mystery” but one of the reasons why the show still holds such appeal is because it defied previous genre definitions and even morphed as it went along. The scene where Coop comes face to face with a very impertinent alpaca, for example, would be very off tone for the second season. After the reveal of Laura’s killer, prematurely pushed forward due to popular demand, the show falls into even more bizarre paranormal subplots, including the amnesia of Nadine, the tv show’s eye-patch wearing madwoman, causing her to regress into a hysterical high-school cheerleader. It is the general consensus that Lynch’s vision was thrown off-course by the demands of television networks and would have reached even loftier heights without the pressure to conclude the murder mystery that primarily engaged the audience. The popularity of the show placed demands on a show that was still developing, demands that could not be made of Lynch’s other, stranger, works such as Eraserhead and Blue Velvet.

Although the appeal of Twin Peaks has been relatively consistent since it aired, there has been a particular resurgence in the past few years which then led to the resurrection of the show with many of its original cast members this year. There seem to be several reasons for this; for one, modern pop culture has become increasingly obsessed with the dark and the surreal, mirroring the complexities that were new when Lynch first produced the series. Fatalism and black humour dominate media, both onscreen and online. Twin Peaks, with its sharply defined mythology and quotable nature, appeals to a modern audience perhaps even more than to its original context. It has further appeal to the ‘indie’ market as a cult show from a cult director, working from the impression of a select community who are in the know and wouldn’t even blink at the mention of a fish in the percolator. It is also true that, as my flatmate put it, “dead blonde girls never go out of style”, a trend proven by a spate of recent shows, including Sense8 and Casting JonBenet. There have even been theories circulating that suggest that the new season will again be centred around the murder of a young girl, predominantly stemming from the marketing’s focus on the phrase “it’s happening again”. As a TV show that seemed to cover every base in 1990, from horror, to whimsical humour, to a bizarre civil war plot line, maybe repeating itself is all the new season can offer. The newly enrolled cast members, including big-hitters Amanda Seyfried, Monica Belluci and Michael Cera, should bring some novelty to the original format if nothing else.

The appeal of Twin Peaks has always been difficult to encapsulate, and whether the season will be able to recreate its success is yet to be seen. Nonetheless, the feat of its resurrection and the hype surrounding its premiere this weekend, is a testament in itself to Twin Peaks as an enduring cult phenomena. Personally, I think it’s all because of the wooden charm of the Log Lady.