(I spoil the drape runners out of the movie and television series Twin Peaks here (and manage to throw in an Infinite Jest spoiler while I’m at it). Also, I’m assuming an almost complete familiarity with the universe and plot of both. In addition to that, I go on and on and on.)
1. getting the movie review part over with
After running through the entire series of Twin Peaks again recently, I netflixed Lynch’s Twin Peaks prequel, Fire Walk With Me. Despite a now-decades-long fixation on the show, I’d avoided the movie. And, I know now, for good reason: it’s terrible.
The first half hour or so is a mess that doesn’t connect in any substantial way to the rest of the movie. Chris Isaak could have been the best actor of 1992 and I’d still only see him as a man-prop for a sand-flecked Danish supermodel. Kiefer Sutherland does what he can with an unnecessary character. I wanted to airlift poor David Bowie out of his one disjointed scene. There was no need to spend that much time in the trailer park, or Teresa’s trailer, no matter how good Harry Dean Stanton is. The scenes with the local police have none of the qualities (lightness, absurdity, sincerity) that Lynch managed with Truman, Andy, and Lucy in the series.
The movie jumps forward a year, to the days before Laura’s murder. The glaring plot and character inconsistencies might be irritating only to superdork fans, but really, if you are going to make a movie from a cult show, it makes sense to think of those folks. I could fill several pages with examples here, but I’ll skip it. (I can’t help myself: Bobby as fawning lovelorn puppy when he’s been off with Shelly for weeks by this point? And then kills a guy? Donna topless on roofies whoring it up with Laura and never mentions it after, not even to James? I’ll stop.)
A bit of balance: there were a few parts that worked. When Laura wakes into a dream by pulling her own wrist up and finds bloodied Annie next to her in bed, I was spooked and delighted. I appreciated the clarification of how Laura and Ronette went from being with Jacques and Leo to the train car with Leland (I’d always been confused about the sequence of events there). The scene with BOB assaulting Laura in her bed, her hands around his face as she sees for the first time that it’s Leland, was series-worthy. So there’s that.
2. a romance
The show started in 1990 during a years-long hard drought in the area where I lived. There were dead yellow lawns and water restrictions, and when it did rain, it seemed to start and stop while I was asleep or stuck in class. I lived in a suburb (of a town that’s a suburb itself) with no old trees or water features other than a mostly dry ponding basin, fenced off, a few blocks down from my parents’ house.
Twin Peaks takes place over a few days in February, with nearly the entire show happening under threat of rain—there’s almost no direct sunlight for the whole of the first season, and Lynch loves the greenery that results from that sort of climate. Big trees, loamy forest soil to bury necklaces in, moss and fog, all pushed into the hills around a wide river and a roaring snow-bordered waterfall. It looked like a heaven of water. Though I liked the quirkiness and mystery from the start, it was the setting that hooked me.
There was no way, years after the series filmed, for Lynch to exactly recreate the town when making “Fire Walk with Me.” The different bedrooms, streets, and houses are pardonable. I can’t get over the sun: it’s the wrong season in FWWM. Laura walks around the late-spring foliage in a warm yellow light, blue skies overhead without a hint of rain.
3. the wrong Laura
The other part of the romance, slower to develop, was about the autonomy of teenagers. I didn’t have a car until I was 18, and there was nowhere to walk or bike to from my house, no parks or stores and certainly not biker bars with Julee Cruise at the mic.
The kids in Twin Peaks had a tremendous amount of mobility and involvement in the affairs of the adult world. Most of my handful of friends didn’t date or work, and all but one had a curfew they obeyed. Laura not only pulled down good grades and the homecoming queen crown, she worked at a department store (and briefly a brothel in Canada, so there’s a commute), had two boyfriends, tutored Josie and Audrey’s autistic brother, volunteered as a meals-on-wheels driver, and managed to be a beloved friend and daughter to the community. I was grounded and read a lot.
So: the sneaky teenagers, the water, and all the reasons that everyone loves it (the visuals, the malevolence of objects, the humor and absurdity and tense plotting): that would have been enough for me to be a fan. It’s Laura and BOB that have pulled me through half a dozen whole-series re-viewings (including the awful run of episodes between Leland’s death and the finale), often with others I’ve harassed into watching with me.
Laura, despite the fact that she’s dead, wrapped in plastic, is the major force in the story. She’s touched every character (most of them literally) and there’s nowhere they can go that she hasn’t been. Unlike many of the other female characters, Laura is strong (broad-shouldered and sleek-muscled), assertive socially and sexually, unafraid. Where Shelly is dandelion-thin and tossed around like a bag of groceries by Bobby and Leo, Laura is a panther. Even at her death, she goes down snarling, enraged (more about that in a minute).
All of which makes it more disappointing that Lynch turned the Laura of FWWM into an older, more harried version of Shelly. Lynch loves Shelly’s character—he hadn’t planned on her returning after the first episode but brought her back and made her a primary. On the show, I like Shelly too and think she’s necessary. That fragility in the face of plain evil (Leo is not BOB-possessed, he’s just a dick), her inability to save herself, ever, all play nicely against the strength of the other characters. Shelly is the only person Gordon (played by Lynch) can hear sans hearing aide, and he kisses her. Lynch loves his victims, and he has a great one in Shelly.
FWWM Laura is no longer the outgoing, vibrant, aggressive young woman of Twin Peaks. She huddles from place to place, worried, ready to sink in terror or helplessness. She seems much older, like she has a stressful desk job and an ex-husband who won’t leave her alone. One of the moments of torment that Lynch puts her through is identical to one Shelly experienced: Leland pinches her left cheek while scolding her about the cleanliness of her hands (in the show, Leo pinches Shelly’s left cheek after growling about laundry).
4. “Sometimes, my arms bend back.”
By the time I saw the first episode of Twin Peaks, I’d been having Great Evil dreams for at least ten years, probably more like twelve. It wouldn’t matter the dream to start with: I would get a feeling that the Great Evil was there and there was nothing I could do to stop it. The GE wasn’t a person, but a feeling, a specific force, and it would come in the shape of strangers, people I knew, animals, sometimes things (it rose out of the floor once, a man-shaped mass of carpet). It would show up a couple times a week at least, and it would assault and mutilate and kill me and the other people in my dreams. I’d wake up gasping with adrenaline, all my senses tearing around in the dark to figure out where it was going to get me from. There’d be nothing there, and eventually I’d fall back asleep and hope it wouldn’t find me again.
As I got older I tried everything I could think of to deal with it: I learned how to have lucid dreams (GE loved that, that I knew I was dreaming and it could still disembowel me while it was wearing my favorite teacher’s body), I tried to sleep as little as possible for stretches (nothing like exhaustion to not help with night terrors, lemme tell ya), I slept in different places in my room (between the mattress and box spring, in the closet, on the floor). It would jump into the people I was trying to save from it and kill me again, slowly.
It stopped in my early 20s (a not very long story I nevertheless won’t tell here), with only half a dozen nightmares close to as awful since. The final official Great Evil dream involved me delivering myself up to it, putting myself naked on its front porch as soon as I felt that foreboding start to hover around my dream. Even through the fear, I was sick and bone-tired of the hopeless attempts to escape from something that would inevitably get me. Fine, let’s skip the rest of the dream: get me. The GE came to the door, was flummoxed and unprepared, and opted to back away from me.
I don’t remember when I noticed the parallels, if it was during the tv run or during one of the marathon sessions with a stack of VHS tapes. BOB owling around the woods, in and out of his hosts, that shape-shifting glee, his presence in the corners at night. Laura knowing he’s coming, knowing how impossible it is to escape. And in the end, delivering herself to BOB/Leland and her death to prevent BOB from having her as a host.
In her last moments, which we get through Ronette’s dream (if you are for some reason I cannot comprehend reading this even though you haven’t seen the show, be warned that that is a violent and scary clip), Laura screams, teeth bared, like a demon while BOB bludgeons her to death. She’s scared and suffering, but she’s also furious, a terrifying and powerful animal. A single screen shot of BOB’s face after she’s dead shows that he is devastated—the only moment in the series I can recall where he looks sad (on the video linked above, it flashes in a fraction of second around 1:07). Then he roars in sorrow. He’s lost her forever; she’s won. That is the Laura I want.
FWWM Laura screams too, but it’s all terror. She runs from BOB instead of at him, and he catches her and takes her down and revels in it. There’s no self-sacrifice, no choice, no agency on her end: she sinks to the ground and the hammer hits her like Leo’s soap-in-sock hit Shelly. An angel shows up and scared little Laura is bathed in white and removed from the situation by an unspecified saving force which is most definitely not her strong brave self. That’s just not how it’s supposed to go.
5. the perils of prequels
Stories complicated enough to attract a long-term cult following have unexplained elements. There’s a lot you are taking on the word of the creator, but if you like the story enough, it’s easy to make the leap. And if you’re a superfan nerd geek about the imagined world, you come up with explanations that work for the gaps. (I think Hal saw some of The Entertainment but was able to stop watching before it completely destroyed him, and I don’t care how many compelling alternative explanations about mold or toothbrushes I read.) As long as the creators stick with sequels, it can all work.
Prequels don’t work. Are there any prequels that work? I poked around for a while and couldn’t find an example of a good necessary one. Even when the prequel isn’t a craven attempt to suck cash out of existing fans, it doesn’t add anything to the imagined world but grief and nonsense.
The conflict: you love the world and therefore the creator of it for giving it to you. You figure out why the world is the way it is on your own. Then the creator makes a prequel and tells you that you are wrong, The Force is actually a blood-borne pathogen and Laura was a tired timid prey item, and you realize that this place that you thought you shared is just yours, and only if you can shut out the voice that made it in the first place.
In this case, I’m happy to lock Lynch out in the cold. My Laura is a bloody-mouthed hellion ready to rip the throat out of BOB, should he show up in a body that doesn’t also house an innocent and unknowing bystander. He should be terrified of her because his primary weapons, fear and the willingness to kill, aren’t enough to keep her from taking things he wants from him anymore. She makes brutal decisions, understanding the costs, and in doing so becomes the most powerful thing in the woods.