In a recent interview, Twin Peaks star Kyle MacLachlan said that everything on the show would eventually make sense. Later, on Twitter, he clarified that the show would make sense “in a general sense of the word… very general.” Director David Lynch’s surreal and creatively obtuse approach to film and television helped to redefine a cinematic sensibility to the point where we now use the adjective “Lynchian” to describe anything remotely weird in the medium.
Even knowing the director’s extensive filmography of mind-boggling oddities, many fans have found the new season of Twin Peaks to be an abrasive and perplexing watch. We are now halfway into the eighteen episode run, and very little time has been spent in the town of Twin Peaks itself. Familiar faces have appeared but Agent Dale Cooper is in a confusing new form, his evil doppelganger is on a murderous quest, and old favorites from the series’ original run have taken a back-seat to a labyrinthine tangle of plots and ideas. All in all, it’s very David Lynch, but fans looking for something a little more linear have been left wanting.
It may seem absurd to expect something as simple as a straightforward answer from a David Lynch show – after all, this is the guy who made Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive – but viewers love a good mystery and humans have a natural inclination to try and solve any puzzles that come out way. It’s the reason the crime genre is so popular and why there are swathes of online message boards dedicated to investigating unsolved crimes. In the latest episode, the show returned to a more conventional structure following the dazzling experimentation of episode eight. Some answers were given in this exposition-heavy hour of TV, but seldom in the expected manner. It may have been one of the more “normal” episodes of the show’s latest season, but it still featured a random scene in which a drugged up man in the woods hallucinated that his foot was talking to him. All of this has made for one of the year’s most thrilling television experiences – one that may never make sense, and may actually benefit from that.
When Twin Peaks debuted on ABC in 1990, David Lynch was already an accomplished director of feature-length and short films. His debut, Eraserhead, spent five years in principal photography, as the cash-strapped Lynch struggled to work within his already tight budget. The end result divided critics but found success on the midnight movie circuit and has since become a cult favourite. The film is tough to describe in terms of plot, but can most succinctly be summarized as the story of a man who is forced to care for his inexplicably deformed child while suffering from strange hallucinations (even that doesn’t do it justice). Lynch himself has always avoided confirming or denying critical or fan interpretations of the film, noting in the interview series Lynch on Lynch that he prefers not to “confess his own thinking behind the many abstractions in the film.” This is the driving force behind his most artistically valuable works: Why offer answers when the questions themselves are satisfying enough?
In the following forty years, Lynch has continued to push the boundaries of narrative storytelling, both in film and television. By the time Twin Peaks premiered, Lynch had been nominated for Best Director at the Oscars twice (for The Elephant Man and Blue Velvet), and he was a mere month away from winning the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for Wild at Heart (a decision that led many attendees, including film critic Roger Ebert, to boo him). It can be easy to overlook just how major a cultural phenomenon Twin Peaks became in 1990. 33% of the TV viewing audience at the time tuned in to watch the two-hour long pilot, and the rest of the first season brought ABC some of its highest ratings ever in the 9pm time slot on Thursdays.
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