Twin Peaks, Washington seems like a really nice small town. Pretty girls, picturesque scenery, great coffee and pie – what more could anyone ask for?
What lurks beneath that surface, of course, is rape, murder, infidelity, evil demons, and much more.
David Lynch’s career has long been about exploring these dualities, and the ways in which we put on a veneer in order to protect ourselves, and those around us, from the hidden realities of life. Twin Peaks is the thesis statement of Lynch’s career, Kyle Maclachlan’s All-American Dale Cooper an avatar of optimism, quickly corrupted by the realities of small-town America.
Lynch has built his career on a distinct kind of tension, a kind of tension in which the most mundane moments feel like momentous occasions, not because they bear any weight, but because Lynch instills within them a sense of foreboding. Twin Peaks is filled with these moments – moments at the diner, casual conversations that feel ominous and dread-filled.
Lynch has also built his career on his mastery of cinematic surrealism, the way that his work feels closer to dream than to reality. Twin Peaks is full of that kind of dream-logic, even at its most coherent; at its most surreal, Twin Peaks is unapproachably bewildering. Scenes set in the evil “Black Lodge” dimension, rooms filled patterned floor and red curtains, a dimension in which people speak with a confusing, hard-to-understand cadence, are filled with moments of surrealism and confusion that would make Dali blush.
Lynch’s underlying values do seem to tell us a story here. There’s a battle for the soul of America, a battle between the Black and White Lodges. There’s a story here about post-nuclear America, about the idyllic “good old days” that maybe weren’t as good as we actually remember. There’s something to be said here about the fact that there are no black people in Twin Peaks, or most of Lynch’s films, about the fact that he seems to view vagrants as less-than, about the decided fascination he has with adultery and infidelity. Lynch is a man from a bygone era of conservative American values; he has beliefs that are at odds, he’s conflicted.
Twin Peaks is an intensely personal show for Lynch, and that makes it an intensely personal experience for the viewer. Lynch’s confidence in his bewildering style, his confidence that people will read meaning into things that defy interpretation, make Twin Peaks one of the most challenging shows I’ve ever seen. For all the talk of the great influence of Twin Peaks – and there’s no doubt of its influence – there’s very little that approaches the challenging nature of it. The great strength of Lynch’s surrealism is that he provides the viewer with a prism, that reflects a distorted view of themselves, their values, their beliefs, their interpretation of the world, back onto them.
Kyle Maclachlan simply carries the core of Twin Peaks, a show with an ensemble cast of mostly lesser-known actors. It’s been said that Maclachlan is Lynch’s muse, and there’s certainly truth to that. He’s able to be boyish, boy-scout-like, conflicted and challenged, an intensely capable agent of law enforcement, able to read and react to the most challenging and surreal of Lynchian moments without ever being taken out of the moment.
Twin Peaks is not a show for everybody. There are undoubtedly people who won’t get far in this quirky show, and I can hardly blame them. But for those that do (and it’s inspired a generation of obsessives, so they’re out there), there are lessons to be learned here, experiences to be had, dreams to be dreamt. Lynch understands the importance of Americana, and in Twin Peaks, his deconstruction of that Americana, he created a masterpiece.