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Twin Peaks Is a Murder Mystery Done Right

Kevin Mooseles | 30 Oct 2014 10:00
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Laura Palmer is arguably the most empathetic murder victim in television history. Her loss resonates throughout the community, and it captivates the viewing audience more than any other crime drama murder victim before her. Lynch and Frost took the time and effort to explore those elements in a deeper and more reverential way than murder-of-the-week shows had ever done, allowing uncomfortable moments to linger on screen.

In contrast, an endearing feature of the show is the random weirdness. Examples from the pilot include a student who does a strange dance to class as the bell rings, and the stuffed deer head just lying on the table in the bank office (as agent Cooper and Sheriff Truman investigate Laura's safety deposit box) . As the show progresses, so do these weird moments.

Twin Peaks is equal parts re-imagined crime drama and soap opera parody. Over the course of the pilot about 2/3rds of the characters are revealed to be cheating on their partners. Laura was dating Bobby, but she was also seeing James Hurly (brooding biker guy) on the side. Bobby was cheating on Laura with diner server Shelly Johnson, who was married to pony-tailed trucker Leo Johnson (1990's view of a bad ass). There are several other sordid affairs revealed in this episode and they all pan out in various (often tragic) ways during the course of the show. Another remarkable feature of the town of Twin Peaks is how many beautiful people live there. And that, of course, is the winning formula behind every soap opera in human history: beautiful people making terrible choices and setting themselves up to fail in spectacular ways. Twin Peaks delivers this schadenfreude to viewers in spades.

FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper arrives in town because a second girl from Twin Peaks was found wandering and dazed across state lines. Cooper is an odd, but endearing fellow, who's equal parts awestruck-child-on-vacation and Sherlock Holmes. Cooper loves good coffee, good food, and the beauty of nature. He links Laura's death to a case he took on a year earlier, and believes the killer of both girls might live in town.

The investigation of Laura Palmer's murder stretches out until mid-way through season 2. At that point, execs at ABC saw the ratings start to slide, and demanded that the killer be revealed. After that storyline was resolved, a slew of new characters were introduced, and the tone of the show took a noticeable shift, which led to it being cancelled after the end of the second season. I'm not here to postulate how long the show could have lasted if the story arc of Laura Palmer ended at the end of the second season (or remained unsolved for even longer), but I do know that the show began with a strong premise that was maintained for a good while before the creative forces behind the project lost their way. Each episode contains moments worth exploring and pondering (which we will continue to do here). I am very hopeful that the new, limited run, series will find a team reinvigorated and inspired to dream strange dreams once again.

Bottom Line: David Lynch, earnest acting, beautiful backdrops and unexpected twists and turns are some of the ingredients that set Twin Peaks apart from both current and vintage TV shows. The show stands out not only in the story it tells, but in the way it tells that story.

Recommendation: Twin Peaks is an odd, but timeless, classic series that offers just as much to new viewers in our time as it did when it first aired almost 25 years ago. It is well worth watching!

Kevin Mooseles knows (but won't tell yet) who killed Laura Palmer. He enjoys a damn fine cup of coffee, and has been craving doughnuts every day since he started watching Twin Peaks.

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