The original Twin Peaks pilot detonated an atom bomb over TV storytelling. Dark, surreal and funny as hell, David Lynch and Mark Frost’s revolutionary show rewrote the rules for a whole generation in terms of taboo subjects and genre conventions.
Even as the non-“Peaks Freaks” part of the audience tired of not knowing who killed Laura Palmer – and then being saddened, disappointed and/or confused by the explanation – the world never quite recovered from the series’ dark yet nostalgic vision of small town America.
Twin Peaks served sex and violence alongside the cherry pie and damn fine coffee, steeped in supernatural mystery and primal terrors. Many shows have since earned the honorary descriptor of being ‘the next Twin Peaks’ – The X-Files, Lost, Stranger Things to name a notable few. Even the goddamn Gilmore Girls owes a pretty obvious debt to the Log Lady’s hometown.
In the decades after Twin Peaks aired, TV emerged as the 21st century’s dominant cultural medium by telling risqué stories with cinematic style. Lynch and Frost never believed there was any difference in the first place.
INTO THE BLACK LODGE
Yet none of these shows, or anything in the new TV canon, has tried something as truly daring as a primetime teen sex, drugs and rock n’ roll Americana murder mystery show that’s equal parts soap opera and metaphysics.
Part of the audacity remains in the fact that Twin Peaks was being shown on network television in the era of V-chip censors and “Parental Advisory” warnings, which made it feel kind of like finding a Playboy in the periodicals section at the public library. Its predecessors have come about in an era of premium cable and streaming, so even when they’ve pushed the boundaries of content, it’s always felt more like seeing internet porn in the public library. A little bit titillating, somewhat discomforting, but not at all out of the ordinary.
At least until Twin Peaks: The Return aired on one of said premium cable channels. Specifically, the episode “Gotta Light”, which detonates an actual atom bomb – in fact, a reimagined staging of the very first nuclear explosion – in the surrealist montage of images that dominate the center of the narrative arc.
If the bottle episode has become the new signifier of highbrow TV storytelling, “Gotta Light” both reinvents the concept of this TV trope and turns it into something new entirely, a divergent art film in the middle of a serialized narrative that also somehow explains the whole damn thing if you’re watching closely enough.
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Call it an avant garde prequel pilot in a sequel series (or very belated third season). Call it an origin story, as Mark Frost did, poking a playful finger in the eye of superhero franchises. Call it a legendary filmmaker cashing in a blank check of self-indulgence and artistic pretension if you want to be a troll. What you can’t call it is formulaic, timid, trite, dull, or uninspired.
In fact, it’s the kind of thing that continues to inspire us here at Hieronyvision as we try to forge the path of independent TV and bold, new storytelling.
Walk with me.