Twin Peaks, The Second Season: A look back, and why you don’t have to hate it just because everybody else does
We’ve all heard the sad tale of Twin Peaks season two, a story repeated endlessly for the past 25 years. More or less, it goes something like this:
David Lynch and Mark Frost created the first season together, which aired in spring of 1990. It quickly turned into a cultural phenomenon, spawning a dedicated fandom and changing the rules of television in the process. But the show faltered badly in its second year. Lynch departed mid-season to film Wild at Heart, and when he returned, his show had been hijacked by writers who didn’t really understand his vision, bogging the series down with forced subplots and X Files conspiracy theories about UFOs. Even worse, the network strong-armed the writers into unmasking Laura’s killer, a mystery that was never intended to be solved. Sensing that things had derailed, viewers abandoned the series en masse, and by the time Lynch tried to right the ship with his explosive finale, it was already too late. Goodbye, Twin Peaks.
This is a great story. Easy to remember, with clearcut good guys (a brilliant auteur, devoted fans) and bad guys (the evil network, lowly TV writers), and will no doubt be restated endlessly in various articles about the new season. There’s only one problem: it’s not exactly true.
For one thing, the timeline is off. Wild at Heart opened in theaters before season two even started airing. Not even a frame of the season had been filmed when Wild at Heart debuted at Cannes. Also, many don’t realize that season one is only the pilot and seven episodes; people often assume the break between seasons happens when the Laura Palmer murder is solved, when in fact that occurs nearly halfway into season two. While Lynch didn’t want to close out the Palmer mystery, Mark Frost was generally okay with the decision at the time, and stood by the season as a whole. Speaking of, this story ignores Frost’s role almost completely with its assumption that anything good about the series came from Lynch, relegating Frost to the status of “the guy who wrote the soap opera stuff” when in reality Twin Peaks is just as much his creation as it is David Lynch’s.
A more nuanced, fact-based rendition reveals just what can happen with even the best of shows, when the stitches are pulled and the fabric of the red dress begins to unravel. That version is much less easily compacted into bullet points, and resembles the following:
Lynch actually left midway through the first season to film Wild at Heart. This impacted the season very little, as there were only seven episodes to produce and Lynch & Frost had decided on many elements in advance. The series unexpectedly became a rabid pop culture sensation, and ABC wasted no time ordering a second season. Lynch, however, was bogged down trying to ready Wild at Heart for its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1990, and afterwards found himself scuffling with the MPAA to ensure the movie an R-rating for its North American release later that summer. His responsibilities with that film meant that he couldn’t fully participate when it came to developing and writing the early episodes of the second season. Instead, he split his time between the series and the film, ceding more of the day-to-day creative decisions to Mark Frost. He and Frost agreed the season would have a more mystical direction, incorporating their mutual interests in the metaphysical and supernatural.
Lynch returned in time to direct the first two episodes of the season in July 1990. When the show began airing that fall, the cracks had already started to materialize. A subset of very vocal viewers were outraged that the first season finale failed to reveal Laura’s murderer, and that frustration carried over into the second season premiere, which also did not answer the question. As an added source of stress, ABC had moved the series to the death slot of Saturday night, banking on the show’s popularity but instead ensuring that plenty of people would miss each week’s episode. As Twin Peaks was taking on a denser, more complicated tone, viewers started to feel confused and frustrated. Audience pushback and the unfortunate timeslot caused ABC to pressure Lynch and Frost about revealing the killer. Finally, several episodes into the season they relented.
While it’s often stated, sometimes by Lynch himself, that the murder wasn’t meant to be solved, he’s indicated in other interviews that the revelation would have/should have come at or near the very end. Either way, his original idea with Frost was that the series could go on and on and on before ever having to give up the ghost. (The nature of Laura’s killer — her father, who had been molesting her — is such a loaded and serious topic that it certainly seems as if it was meant to be directly addressed at some point, especially considering Lynch later devoted an entire movie to the subject). What’s certain is that for David Lynch, the magic of Twin Peaks was dependent upon this question remaining unanswered for as long as the series was airing. Frost, on the other hand, felt that Laura’s murder opened up so many other avenues of mystery, both mundane and cosmic, that revealing her killer actually wouldn’t cripple the larger sense of intrigue, so he was willing to concede to the network’s demands. Lynch was overruled, a possible snowball effect resulting from his compromised involvement with the start of the season.
After Laura’s storyline was wrapped up nine episodes into season two, Lynch famously drifted from the series. He was disappointed to the point where he had fallen out of love with Twin Peaks, at least temporarily, and made himself unavailable to most of the cast and the writers. (Lynch has also admitted on occasion that he was unprepared for the amount of work that went into producing a full season of television). He did continue to have a hand in casting and in selecting directors, and he also approved final edits and sound mixes (in addition to providing a brief voice cameo as Gordon Cole), but he was no longer involved creatively.
Meanwhile, Frost was distracted with the script for his upcoming directorial debut, Storyville, and was himself somewhat unreachable. Compounding this is that the resolution of Laura’s murder left the writers in the lurch when it came to having narrative momentum. Their planned story arc to replace the Laura Palmer mystery — a romance between Cooper and Audrey — was abandoned when Kyle MacLachlan refused to film it, something which put him at odds with Lynch & Frost before they ultimately agreed to his wishes. As the burgeoning Windom Earle plot had not yet fully come to fruition, head writers Harley Peyton and Robert Engels were forced to improvise. Various subplots were brought to the foreground and stretched out. The show became noticeably lopsided as it tried to reestablish itself, its more soap operatic elements growing unwieldy and potentially grating on the one hand, and its bizarre, surreal mythology exponentially weird to the point of ridiculous on the other.
Behind the scenes, various cast and crew were increasingly irritated with the direction of the series and the absence of Lynch and Frost. Viewership wasn’t faring much better, the show’s audience bleeding out at a rapid pace. ABC halted production and put the series on indefinite hiatus, and it took a prominent letter-writing campaign from fans before the network agreed to let the series produce the remaining six episodes of its 22 episode order.
By this point, Mark Frost had already refocused on the series, and both he and Lynch started doing the publicity rounds to drum up support for a third season. Lynch was enthusiastic about continuing Twin Peaks, despite having reservations about the creative decisions made while he was away. In addition to reprising his role as Gordon Cole, Lynch stepped behind the camera to direct the finale. Disagreeing with the Black Lodge portion of the teleplay, he largely junked what had been written, keeping the main story beats but otherwise rewriting and reworking that entire section of the script. This angered some of the writers, especially Harley Peyton, who had co-written the script and been frustrated with Lynch’s lack of communication throughout the season. (Lynch and Peyton reportedly did not get along).
By the time the season wrapped, most involved were weary and exhausted and many were ready to move on. Since ABC chose not to air the final two episodes until that June, it became very clear they had no intention of picking up a third season, and Twin Peaks met its demise as a network television series.
I’ll spare you the brief but involved tale of my initial experience with season two. (Any interested parties can read that here). But I will say that when I did first see it, all those years ago, I was entirely unaware of the above story. At that impressionable age, I had almost no concern for whatever went on behind the camera; I was just concerned with what made it to the screen, and I mostly liked what I saw.
Looking back at season two as an adult with a more critical eye, all these years later, do I now feel about it the way many others do? Do I now get why the second season is actually pretty horrendous? Have I let go of childish things and accepted that my favorite show turns to lukewarm garmonbozia halfway through?
No. In fact, I still think the second season is pretty good, and I still really get a kick out of it.
I want to clarify here, I’m not saying I think it’s flawless, or that I don’t get why people have issues with it. But I’m also not saying that I think it’s objectively bad and that I just happen to enjoy it anyway. I’m not “giving it a pass” or “looking the other way.” To this day, I think it’s genuinely cool television.*
Season two is a very different beast from the arguably superior season one. First of all, the pilot was pretty much a classic right out of the gate, and the seven episodes which followed were consistent and uniformly solid. That is Twin Peaks in its prime, in terms of narrative lucidity. Season two, however, feels like another show, pretty much from the moment it starts. In actuality, this isn’t so alien, because the pilot itself is quite different from the rest of the first season aesthetically, and even some of the characterizations (including Agent Cooper) feel mildly incongruous with what comes later. In its early going, Twin Peaks had already demonstrated that it could reinvent, or at least readjust.
But season two seems almost like a reboot, not a continuation of the world of the first season but instead a new variation. That new variation happens to be considerably more all-over-the-place. Make no mistake, the second season is a mess at times, but it’s an interesting mess, as a struggling Twin Peaks is still more fascinating than your average fully functioning TV series.
Of course, there are highlights of the season which are nearly unanimously agreed upon. Lynch’s contributions, in particular episodes 14 and 29, rank as two of the most respected episodes of any show, ever. The former features the revelation of Laura’s killer through the murder of Maddy Ferguson, one of the most unsettling and haunting sequences Lynch has filmed. Her brutal killing at the hands of Leland/BOB is intercut with a handful of the main characters sitting at the Roadhouse, a sense of melancholy and sadness overtaking them as Julee Cruise sings “The World Spins.” Laura Palmer in many ways was the heart of this small town, and her death impacted the community on a macro level. Maddy’s murder is therefore another blow to the soul of Twin Peaks. (And given the lyrics — “Love/don’t go away/come back and stay” — it also seems that Lynch may be inadvertently communicating his own feelings about revealing Laura’s killer so soon).
The latter episode, meanwhile, is unlike almost anything in the history of television. Once the action moves to the Black Lodge, it becomes a nightmarish trip into unsettling absurdity and mystical surreality, with Cooper having walked into his own spiritual fate and reaping the results. The revelation that Cooper’s doppelganger, his shadow self made manifest, is now at large in the world (and inhabited by BOB) is simply apocalyptic in its implications, considering what a morally upright character Cooper has been.
In fact, probably the most consistent through-line of the second season is the suggestion of Cooper’s dark side, and his struggle to choose love over fear. Though Cooper is noble to the point of almost being a Mary Sue (Audrey even tells him, “There’s only one problem with you: you’re perfect”), we come to see that this isn’t necessarily the case. Everyone has a shadow, including Agent Cooper.
The show forecasts Cooper’s doppelganger through Windom Earle (more on him in a moment), but also through the other villain of the season, Jean Renault, in particular Renault’s monologue in episode 20. That speech, expertly delivered by Michael Parks — whose performance as Renault is a standout of the season, no matter which way you slice it — blames Cooper for hurting Twin Peaks by trying to help it. Renault believes people would be happier, even safer, if Cooper hadn’t come and tried to rip the bandage off, exposing the town’s secrets.
The thing is, he’s not necessarily wrong. Since Cooper’s arrival, a lot more people have been dying than usual. There’s a vaguely spoken fear throughout the series that Twin Peaks can’t withstand exposure to the outside world . . . that its very delicately built structures of light and dark are tenuous at best, even archaic, and the whole thing might topple with too much attention from modern society. In this moment, Renault embodies the rage and resentment that many of the characters secretly feel towards Cooper’s presence; he personifies the wish that this squeaky clean, upstanding knight of justice would please just go away. He wants to believe that Cooper brought the darkness into Twin Peaks, and while that’s patently false, and though Renault himself is a vicious backwoods lout who’s not as smart as he thinks he is, there’s an undercurrent of uncomfortable truth to what he’s saying. Cooper’s arrival has galvanized that darkness.
Note that when Cooper is armed again following Renault’s shame rant, he immediately kills him, putting bullets into Jean before Renault has even finished reaching for his own gun. Cooper doesn’t try to arrest him, doesn’t give him a chance to surrender. Though this might be unintentional, it’s difficult not to read the scene, or at least its subtext, as Cooper killing Renault partly as a reaction against hearing something he’s not ready to confront. (I want to clarify that I don’t think the scene is written to literally be about Cooper murdering Jean Renault. Jean would have killed him if Coop hadn’t fired first).
Present in this scene is another highlight of season two: David Duchovny’s performance as trans DEA agent Denise Bryson. While the debate about trans representation in media is now a fixture of the national conversation, in 1991 it was uncommon to see a trans character that wasn’t played strictly for laughs or as a bawdy caricature. (One of the earliest to buck that trend would be St. Elsewhere, from Frost’s alma mater MTM Productions, which devoted an early episode to a guest character preparing to transition). And while Bryson’s gender identity is briefly a source of humor in the series, she’s also portrayed sympathetically. Cooper’s and the department’s acceptance of her, despite initially being thrown by the fact that Dennis is now Denise, proves extremely touching. As does Audrey’s later encounter with Agent Bryson, where she’s clearly inspired by seeing a female agent, Denise immediately becoming a kind of role mode to her.
Though I’m neither trans nor a woman, I’ve always held Denise Bryson as somewhat of a hero myself. It was frankly inspiring to see a character like that, and to see such a character comfortable in her own skin and being accepted by others, and while I don’t think Twin Peaks is or should be expected to be a political show, Denise Bryson remains one of the season’s most significant contributions.**
Now for the contentious discussion. There are plenty of season two plotlines which draw the ire of various fans and critics: Ben’s Civil War fantasy, Little Nicky, superhuman Nadine and her teenage dream, MT Wentz, Josie and Eckhardt, and Audrey’s romance with John Justice Wheeler are just some of the stories that tend to come under fire. Everyone’s mileage varies in terms of likes and dislikes. Far and away, however, the James/Evelyn/Malcolm subplot is easily the most despised detour the show ever took, a reheated Double Indemnity-by-way-of-Dallas scenario that for many viewers was DOA the moment it hit the screen.
And yet, I actually don’t mind it. When I first watched season two, I disagreed with the series leaving the confines of Twin Peaks, which happens to be one of the most cited complaints about this storyline. It’s not even happening in Twin Peaks, so what’s the goddamn point? However, in retrospect, one thing Twin Peaks was clearly building towards was showing that the forces at play in the town are also at work elsewhere. Between Fire Walk With Me and The Missing Pieces, we also visit Deer Meadow, Portland, Fargo, Philadelphia, Buenos Aires, Seattle, Spokane, and Canada. And regarding Canada, we ventured outside of Twin Peaks every time the characters went to One Eyed Jack’s, so this is already a moot issue. But one thing the James/Evelyn story demonstrates is that there is weirdness all over this part of the world — in this instance, not of the supernatural variety, but the conflicted darkness at the hearts of the characters is not irrelevant to the story’s more metaphysical aspects — and it’s clear the series would have gone other places had it continued.
Two of the more common criticisms is that Evelyn was miscast, and that the screenwriting in general is just horrid. But I’m not really sure I agree that Annette McCarthy is a poor actress, or that the writing is atrocious. I think the main issue with this subplot is that it’s fairly unremarkable and pedestrian for a series which tended to mutate standard soap opera fare into something else. (I don’t entirely agree with that, either, as there are a handful of stories on Twin Peaks, going back to season one, that could have fit very unironically into Dynasty or Falcon’s Crest). Certainly, it’s not Twin Peaks at its most transcendent. But I’m a sucker for a good noir B-movie and the Evelyn Marsh subplot fits that bill. Plus, I think Nick Love did a terrific job as Malcolm Sloan; he really pulls it off as a slimy, abusive snake and I find him genuinely unnerving in the role.
The payoff is also pretty good, in my opinion. Some find Diane Keaton’s direction of that episode forced, others find it fitting, and I’m squarely in the latter camp. I enjoy Wallie’s Hideout as a setting, and the state trooper being unable to spell Jaguar (“J-a-g-w . . . hmm. Car!”) is priceless. In the conclusion of Evelyn’s story, it comes across what a trapped, sad person she really is, and the violent melodrama of the scene where she finally kills Malcolm really lands for me.
Evelyn’s dilemma as a femme fatale mirrors that of Josie, another oft-maligned story thread from this section of the series. While I can understand the dislike for James/Evelyn, I’ve never really been able to get my head around the disdain for Josie Packard. Certainly, she’s an inconsistent character, but by the time she departs the series, it’s rather clear that she’s been inconsistent because she’s a professional liar. No one ever really knows Josie, not even Josie, because she’s created so many identities and masks and webs of betrayal that it’s impossible to untangle. Like Evelyn (and even Laura), she’s a woman in a world of abusive men and has had to do terrible things in order to survive. Not that it excuses her actions, but I just always felt great empathy for Josie as the walls of her decisions slowly closed in around her. (I’m also of the opinion that everything is better when David Warner is in it, so when he showed up as Thomas Eckhardt, I had a nerdsplosion).
Speaking of this tangled web, it’s a genuinely shocking twist when Andrew Packard is revealed to still be alive. I remember I absolutely did not see that coming, yet it made so much sense that he’d been secretly pulling the strings with Catherine this whole time. Daniel O’Herlihy was always great at playing this type of character, and his one scene with David Warner sells the history of these two friends/rivals, while leaving much unspoken.
Perhaps the most divisive of the latter-season stories is, was, and always will be that enigmatic piece of silly putty, Windom Earle. Viewers tend to either love Windom Earle and everything to do with him, or they find Kenneth Welsh’s performance wince-inducing, his relentless scenery-chewing simply too over-the-top to be anything but an annoyance.
Earle had originally been sold as the Voldemort of Twin Peaks, a character of such razor sharp menace that Cooper was almost afraid to say his name. What we get instead is a cackling madman who wears completely ridiculous disguises and all but ends his scenes by declaring “I’ll get you next time, Gadget!” But for those of us who actually enjoy the character, this is precisely what works about him.
Windom Earle is a force of chaos, the yin to Coop’s yang, a disheveled genius who lacks empathy and causes pain and confusion simply because he can. His disguises are laughable because Earle himself finds them amusing; it’s hilarious to him that anyone believes these obviously fake personas. To Earle, the world is stupid, and most people simply ignorant donkeys who deserve their fate. He fits the bill for a true psychopath, coming across as if someone put Professor Moriarty, Hannibal Lecter, Gene Parmesan, Dr. Frankenstein, the Three Stooges, and the Wicked Witch of the West into a blender and set it to MADNESS.
Even more disturbing is the fact that his madman persona is itself a disguise. We find out later that Earle intentionally took mind-altering drugs to make himself appear insane. But listen to the messages he leaves for Cooper, or some of his more staid soliloquies. Welsh is still operatic, but no longer arch. He is completely capable of playing Earle in a restrained fashion, because deep down, Windom is calm and calculating. He assumes a stance of Joker-like villainous proportions because he wants to, for his own entertainment. Just like he allowed his wife and Cooper to fall in love and then attacked them, and just as he’s now obsessed with destroying Dale. For amusement.
And I may be in the minority, but I think it’s a brilliant stroke to send Leo into the hands of Windom Earle. Leo becomes everything he ever did to Shelly. He’s turned into an abused servant, shackled to this violent man who’s kidding around one minute and then beating him the next. Nothing is ever safe. It gets close to redeeming one of the most irredeemable buckets of trash in Twin Peaks.
Full disclosure: I have a love of mad scientists and mad mystics. I’m almost always down for crazed, overly theatrical monologues and raging egomania bordering on the absurd, so a character like Windom Earle is right in my wheelhouse. But I get that it’s not for everybody.
Steven Spielberg has occasionally talked about not originally liking Jack Nicholson’s performance in The Shining. When he explained to Stanley Kubrick that he found it off-putting, Kubrick asked him to quickly name his favorite actors. Afterwards, Kubrick noted that Spielberg failed to mention someone like James Cagney, known for his exaggerated screen personas. I think something similar is at play here. While I’m not comparing Kenneth Welsh to Jack Nicholson, it’s obvious that a performance like this is polarizing, because for some people, the artificiality of it just takes them out of the story.
It goes without saying that certain viewers will never warm to Earle or to Welsh’s campy take. Certainly, the character could have stood to be written less cartoonish at times. But I maintain that neither the character nor the performance is the fatal misstep that others claim. From his funhouse cabin of horrors to his unsettling impression of the Log Lady to fire exploding out of his head in the last episode, Earle is part of so many of my most cherished moments; “I haven’t been this excited since I punctured Caroline’s aorta” may be the funniest bit of dialogue of the entire series. Meanwhile, Welsh’s delivery of the line “I tell you they have not died . . . their hands clasp yours and mine” during the finale is beautiful, and shows what his performance might have been like had Lynch been more involved with the show and with Earle’s characterization.*** (The line itself is a quote from a poem by Gordon Johnstone. Fun fact: I worked it into my wedding ceremony).
Windom Earle plays a key role in the larger mystical shenanigans of Twin Peaks, themselves on display prominently later in the series. In terms of the show’s ever weirdening mythology, the back half of season two begins to approach ground zero levels of utter, unconstrained insanity. Forest spirits, government conspiracies, suggestions of UFOs and aliens, ancient cave paintings, black magic cults, and other planes of existence all create a “what the hell are these writers smoking?” vibe. It seems almost like they were flipping through a Fortean Times and choosing random subjects.
Looking at it from a distance, though, the whole thing makes a strange sort of nonsensical sense. While Lynch’s ethereal suggestion of the otherworldly gets swapped out in favor of a cruder and more literal interpretation, the second half of season two still builds on much of the ground laid by the first. Questions asked in the early going — Why are fear and love significant? What is Major Briggs really doing with the Air Force? Where does BOB come from? — are answered and deftly tied together later in the season. There are intimations that the phenomenon of the Lodges has something to do with extraterrestrials, but the exact relationship is never clarified. Are UFOs a misinterpretation of the spiritual? Or are the “spirits” of the Lodges actually what we could consider alien beings? Is there a clear distinction? This union of various ideas culled from both sci-fi and the supernatural is in fact a very bold, genre-bending step, and the limitless potential of the story to incorporate any fantastical concept that it wants just adds to the total experience of unreality that is Twin Peaks.
Take Josie turning into a drawer knob. (Even typing that sentence is preposterous). It’s a silly and out-of-left-field idea, and when I first saw it, it nearly shattered my engagement with the show for a minute. I thought, very sternly, “Hey! You can’t do that!” But it’s so completely ludicrous that it almost breaks the meter and goes back into demented brilliance. The mere image of a knob of wood screaming in eternal, existential anguish is just . . . maybe it’s dumb, but it’s also frightening. And we also know the Log Lady believes her log is alive, and now that idea is perhaps not so easily dismissed.
In fact, many of these pre-X Files storylines of pulp esotericism and conspiracies are fueled by a genuine interest in the occult, something which becomes notably obvious in Mark Frost’s novels The List of 7 and The 6 Messiahs, and in his recently published The Secret History of Twin Peaks. All of these books refute the notion that the weirdness of Twin Peaks is strictly attributable to David Lynch, and TSHOTP goes even further by demonstrating that many of the outlandish concepts from season two — which are often assumed to be merely the product of other writers throwing stuff against a wall — were deeply held fascinations of Frost’s that he always hoped to explore further.
Are the Windom Earle and Black Lodge stories a suitable and equally engaging replacement for the Laura Palmer plotline? No. Laura Palmer was the soul of Twin Peaks, and nothing else can really assume that level of magnetic import. But they aren’t quite the narrative disasters their reputation would suggest, as they’re wrapped around the pillars which hold up the universe of the show. At the same time, it’s clear the series couldn’t sustain in the exact direction it had been going. By the time Twin Peaks arrives at its final few episodes, it feels almost as if it’s fast forwarded, like it developed some kind of aging disease and quickly leaped ahead to its end stage.
With that, though, you can feel the show beginning to recover its vitality. One of the most staggering things about its final stretch of episodes is the way seemingly disconnected storylines begin to come together. We assume that Windom Earle has come to town merely to take revenge on Cooper, when he actually is there to discover the entrance to the Black Lodge, which in turn is connected to the classified research being conducted by Major Briggs. And BOB, the malicious force behind the murder of Laura Palmer, hails from the Lodge. All of these disparate pieces turn out to be intimately connected, different splotches on the same portrait. Fear and love, Laura Palmer, distorted reflections of Cooper . . . it’s all been leading to the final episode of season two. The Lodges have been calling to Agent Cooper his entire life, and when he steps through that red curtain, he’s stepping into his destiny.
Whenever Lynch is behind the camera, he elevates Twin Peaks to another level, and that happens in the finale. He transformed that material into something which had never existed on TV before, but the path getting there proved a bit rockier than the Giant hinted. Yet even when Twin Peaks faltered, it was still blazing an unpredictable new trail. Its weakest batch of episodes — the first four following the conclusion of the Palmer case —still offer so many memorable moments that are fixtures of the show: Renault’s monologue, the introduction of the Lodges, Denise Bryson, Andrew Packard. There’s almost nothing about Twin Peaks that is ultimately disposable.
Assessing the series as a whole, I’m of two opposing minds, which is perhaps appropriate for a duality-obsessed show called Twin Peaks. On one hand, I agree with Lynch. Revealing Laura’s killer clearly changed the center of gravity for the show, and it was never quite the same afterwards. There’s something magical about the idea of her murder investigation leading down so many weird avenues that it at times fades into the background, only to come to life again later. Laura Palmer is the show’s raison d’etre, and solving her murder in a sense kills her for good. On the other hand, I also agree with Mark Frost. The revelations about Leland, BOB, and the Lodges raise so many other bigger, more spiritual questions that solving Laura’s murder is really just the tip of the iceberg. BOB is part of an unsolvable equation, so Laura’s murder isn’t really closed despite us learning who did it.
As for the abandoned Cooper/Audrey romance, I’m not sure the series was worse off for losing it. While part of me always rooted for them, at the same time I don’t know how great it is for Cooper to start sleeping with a high school student. He’d already made it clear that, despite finding Audrey attractive, he wanted to be there for her as a friend. He understood that she was a troubled teenager who needed someone to actually listen. That same adult later boning her is, um, I don’t know. Part of Audrey’s overall arc is that she has to let go of that romanticized fantasy of Coop. Then she falls for environmentalist cowboy Jack Wheeler, himself an idealized fantasy, so it’s admittedly confusing. However, one of my favorite scenes in the entire series is Cooper and Wheeler sitting by the fire and talking about love, with Cooper never realizing that Jack is referring to Audrey. It’s a great moment, and I wouldn’t want a Twin Peaks without it. (We also get a tender scene between Audrey and Pete, one of their only times interacting on the show).
Ultimately, it’s impossible to know how season two would have progressed had it not been forced to compromise, or subsequently lost focus. It seems likely that, if the series were given a chance to more organically build to the reveal of Laura’s killer, much further down the line, it might have played out quite differently. Just consider how the character of BOB came about while filming the pilot, essentially as an accident. Who knows what elements might have been developed or discovered after several more seasons?
But then consider that if another path had been taken, we might never have gotten Leland’s death scene, with him being hit with the horror of recognition about everything he’s done, the sprinklers causing it to storm inside the police station as Cooper recites the Tibetan Book of the Dead to Laura Palmer’s father and killer, whose life washes away before our eyes. It’s powerful stuff, reducing me and many other viewers to hysterical sobbing, and it’s now such an integral part of the show’s emotional matrix that erasing it almost sounds blasphemous.
Over the years, David Lynch himself has remained ambivalent about season two. Sometimes, he refrains from making specific criticisms (apart from mentioning things like not enjoying Coop’s choice of flannel shirts), offering the equivalent of “maybe it worked for some people, but it wasn’t for me.” Other times, he’s less reserved, such as in a recent interview with the NY Times, where he said, “It got very stupid and goofy in the second season; it got ridiculous. I stopped watching that show because it got so bad.” Ouch.
As David Lynch is my favorite director, one might think my approach would be “Well, not even David Lynch likes season two. It sucks. Cased closed.” But as much as I’d love to view Twin Peaks as strictly Lynch’s baby (since ascribing absolute artistic intent is one way to impose order on this insane universe), the truth is more complicated. He co-created Peaks with Mark Frost, first of all, and Frost knows this world just as well as him. Additionally, Lynch stepped away from the show for a while, meaning other people are equally responsible for making the series what it is, for better or worse. And lastly, in the end it doesn’t matter what Lynch did or said. If I think something is good, then I think it’s good. Over the years, I’ve learned to see Twin Peaks as something separate from David Lynch, a major part of his body of work but also an independent organism.
In an interview with Rolling Stone to promote the new season, a judicious Lynch perhaps puts it best: “Well, for me anyways, the pilot was the most Twin Peaks, and then other things came along that became Twin Peaks as well. It’s a particular . . . We all see it from our own point of view.” Ultimately, everyone takes away their own experience. There are as many variations of what worked and did not work on Twin Peaks as there are people who’ve seen it.
As we head into the new episodes, the second season’s issues will undoubtedly be a focus as the legacy of the series is reassessed. Lynch and Frost were determined to retain creative control this time around, in order to avoid the very types of creative struggles which marred season two. At the same time, I hope the second year continues to receive a critical reevaluation. The behind the scenes problems which impacted the season are not as straightforward as often presented, and the season itself is, in my opinion, far from the artistic abomination it’s typically made out to be. Like it or no, year two is as much a part of the show’s heritage as year one, or FWWM. It would have been better had David Lynch and Mark Frost called more of the shots, I have no doubt about that, and I am very relieved that they’re both steering the ship for this new iteration. But an imperfect Twin Peaks is still Twin Peaks, and in my own experience with the series, every episode has been a joy in its individual way, and I ultimately wouldn’t change a thing.
Even fucking Josie turning into a fucking drawer knob.
Thank you for reading. Nearly 25 years of thoughts and feelings went into this article. Here are some very brief footnotes:
*I’m not here to tell anyone what they should like or not like, but it is frustrating sometimes when the second season is off-handedly dismissed in toto. I remember reading a review in Entertainment Weekly of the Twin Peaks Gold Box Set, and it lamented the inclusion of season two while still praising Twin Peaks as fabulous television. Given that the second season is over 2/3 of the entire original run, it seems both fair to include it, and also slightly suspect to be calling Twin Peaks a great TV show if you’re summarily shrugging off the majority of it.
**I’ve read an article or two critical of the fact that Denise switches back to Dennis at one point, saying that this represents a broad misunderstanding of trans identity. I’d like to point out that: a.) there’s no reason Denise can’t choose to call herself Dennis again [Bryson could be gender fluid, for instance]; and b). she wasn’t actually flip-flopping her identity, she was going undercover as Dennis for a sting operation, because she rightfully figured that a brutish redneck sociopath like Jean Renault would be weirded out by what he’d simply consider to be a guy in drag, and wanted to be inconspicuous. She’s a damn good agent, people.
***I know Lynch apparently didn’t care for the way the Windom Earle character was handled. But I can confirm that I am not, in fact, David Lynch, so thankfully this isn’t an issue for me.