Monday, July 10, 2017

Twin Peaks: Definitive Gold Box Edition review


    I love Twin Peaks. It is a series which was a profound influence on Esoterrorism (and by consequence Agent G) and is still something that inspires my writing. The surrealism and off-beat humor mixed with moments of great drama helped me create The Rules of Supervillainy. Heck, I'm going to do a series called I Was a Teenaged Weredeer based on Twin Peaks' mood. I'm very excited about the revival even though I've heard it'll be trading all of its quirky fun for drama.

    But what makes the show so good? Also, is it for everybody? These answers are complicated in the same way the series' story is. It is a genre busting series that combines a soap opera, murder mystery, horrific violence, comedy, and occult fantasy into one single story. Is it a perfect series? No, Twin Peaks zigs and zags between some of the best television ever made to complete garbage then back again in thirty episodes.

The original beautiful dead girl.
    Indeed, many of the flaws have been improved on by works based on it. I'm particularly fond of Alan Wake, Deadly Premonition, My Life is Strange, the X-Files, and even Riverdale as things that managed to build a slightly more coherent mythology from the material involved. Also, the ending was notoriously frustrating and it's taken twenty-five years to get a coherent ending. Until then, we had to deal with homages like the immensely entertaining "Dual Spires" episode of Psych. This review can't touch on everything but will hopefully convince you on whether to pick up the series or not.

    So what is Twin Peaks all about? Well, it begins with Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) being found wrapped in plastic on the side of the titular town's lake. Laura Palmer was the homecoming queen and beloved daughter of the city of 51,000 souls. Which, notably, is actually 10x the size of the town as envisioned by David Lynch and Mark Frost but ABC executives asked them to make it much much bigger. Anyway, the town collapses into grief as virtually everyone in the town is effected by Laura Palmer's death.

    FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle Mclaughlin) proceeds to travel to Twin Peaks in order to investigate as not only was Laura Palmer killed but another girl the year before. A third victim, Ronette Pulaski, is also found barely alive but she's unable to give any testimony due to the depth of her trauma. Dale Cooper teams up with Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) to investigate these savage acts but particularly Laurel's murder. They soon find out she was involved in/the victim of everything from adultery, prostitution, cocaine dealing, and child abuse. If one were to get the know the "theme" of Twin Peaks, it can basically be summarized as, "The evil underbelly of small-town America."

One of my favorite characters in fiction.
    Virtually everyone in the town has a public face of respectability and pleasantness but almost everyone is hiding some level of secret. Adultery, like in many small-towns, is the most common of these but it goes on to things like fraud and murder very quickly. Ben Horne, the town's resident Mister Burns who owns everything, is primarily a man trying to turn the town from a failing lumber community to a successful tourist resort.

    However, Ben's also a crime boss who owns a brothel as well as pornography ring that recruits financially strapped girls then pressures them into being his own not-so-private harem. School quarterback and golden boy of the town, Bobby Briggs, is also a petty drug-dealer involved with a married woman. Laura's best friend, Donna Hayworth, is a good girl who secretly resented this status and envied her friend's dark side.

    Oh, there's also a Native American/UFO/Theosophy eldritch location inside the forest which contains a group of alien spirits that feed off of human misery. One of these spirits has gone rogue and is fostering the worst elements of humanity in Twin Peaks, breaking their laws and making the lives of mankind that much worse. Did I mention this was a weird show? Also, the above might count as spoilers but I'm not sure if it's just my attempting to make a coherent summary out of elements that just reflect David Lynch's surrealist style.

Don't trust the owls, Coop.
    When the show is at its best, it feels like it's moving forward to solving the underbelly of Laura Palmer's death. Everything related to the posthumous character's private life from her friendship with Donna and James to her horrible abuse at Bob's hands is interesting. Agent Cooper is something of a parody of Sherlock Holmes and the precursor to Agent Mulder (David Duchovney, notably, plays a transsexual FBI agent on the show) so he's always entertaining even when it's clear he doesn't have a clue.

    Unfortunately, the show suffers whenever it drifts too far from its central purpose as the rest of the series' stories just aren't that interesting. The love triangle between Big Ed, Norma, Nadine, and Hank just isn't that interesting even if one of them is a murderous scumbag. Likewise, shutting down Ben Horne's brothel is less than a great accomplishment when there's a literal murderous demon running around.

    Infamously, the storyline suffered two major cases of executive meddling that may have killed the show. The first being network executives insisting Laura Palmer's murder be solved in the second season and soon, which throws the entirety of the narrative pacing off. The next being that Audrey Horne and Agent Cooper's budding romance be kibosh-ed for the not-unreasonable claim that he's an FBI agent while she's a high school senior.
Some of the most beautiful women in television.

        Unfortunately, this leaves a huge gap in the second season where nothing actually happened and two really terrible characters get introduced to fill the time as well as romance both protagonists. The fact they're played by Heather Graham and Billy Zane yet STILL are unlikable Replacement Scrappys (see TV tropes) says it was a matter of bad writing more than anything else. The show ends up introducing cackling chess-themed supervillain Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh) and finally gives some insights into the Black Lodge toward the end but it is too little too late.

    As mentioned, Twin Peaks doesn't really have an ending and the fact that is being solved twenty-five years down the road will serve as a cold comfort at best to viewers of the original series. In fact, to be honest, I don't think there's actually a reason to watch Twin Peaks after the solving of Laura Palmer's murder as that's when the story ends. That's about a 15-episode season of incredibly good, television, though. One which is more than worth watching this on Netflix or buying the Gold Box Edition I'm technically reviewing.

    Is the DVD boxed set or Blu Ray collection a better value than buying or watching the actual seasons? Yes and no. There's some really good commentaries on the show by David Lynch and Kyle Mclaughlin but nothing which is absolutely essential. I actually found the most entertaining part of the extras being the Saturday Night Live sketch where they make fun of how the show is deliberately avoiding solving its central mystery. I'm inclined to say just watch the show first on Netflix and if you become obsessed as I was, pick up the boxed set.

    I could sit here all day typing away at what I liked about the stories and which characters I thought were the prettiest or most interesting (that could take awhile -- Donna vs. Audrey vs. Shelly is my version of the Betty vs. Veronica vs. Cheryl debate). However, I have to say it is something you should check out if you love prestige television. Even after all of its imitators, it holds up amazingly well.

9/10

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