The release of television series Twin Peaks (1990-1) and the related movie, Fire Walk With Me (1992), in Blu-Ray finally brings the story of Laura Palmer’s murder to a conclusion. Although the last original material in the story was filmed over 20 years ago, previous releases lacked crucial scenes, which are now released for the first time.
In the late 1980s, Mark Frost (creator of Hill Street Blues) and David Lynch (director of Eraserhead and Dune) pitched to ABC a murder mystery set in Twin Peaks, a fictional town in the Pacific Northwest. Much to the pair’s surprise, the project was given the go-ahead. Lynch cast established actors (Piper Laurie, Richard Beymer) and new faces (Sherilyn Fenn, Mädchen Amick) alongside regular collaborators, including Kyle MacLachlan in the central role of Special Agent Dale Cooper. The use of the mountainous, heavily wooded scenery on the Canadian border and a memorable original score by Angelo Badalamenti contributed to Twin Peaks’ distinctiveness. Other nice touches, such as incidental shots of windblown pine trees and stoplights swinging in the night sky, added an underlying eeriness.
A series of six episodes was commissioned to follow the pilot. The opening episode aired in April 1990 and caused a sensation, drawing huge ratings and widespread media coverage. The mystery of who killed Laura Palmer made it on to front covers of national publications. Fans started a tradition of having coffee and cherry pie while watching the show, in honour of Cooper’s enthusiasms. The blend of murder mystery and soap-opera drama, with elements of cornball humour and arthouse surrealism, marked Twin Peaks as special in an American television landscape grown stale.
Twin Peaks is still important now because not only was it good television – it revolutionised how television was made. The ambition and scope of Twin Peaks – technically and artistically – changed American network television. Each episode had the budget of a TV movie and the production values of a feature film. Lynch’s attention to detail, understanding of sound design and innovative editing raised the standard of what was considered possible in television. Lynch and Frost co-wrote the pilot, directed some early episodes and oversaw the production and script decisions, selecting directors for episodes and encouraging them to be creative. The modern American television series as we know it today would not exist in its current form without Twin Peaks.
ABC was nervous about allowing a creative team so much freedom, but it didn’t interfere with the first season. However, as the second season went into production, executives warned Frost and Lynch that if the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer were not revealed soon, viewers would start to drift away. Reluctantly they agreed and the killer was revealed in episode seven of the season. Unfortunately, because writing and filming took place so close to broadcast, the writers did not have enough time to prepare a compelling alternative storyline for the remaining 15 episodes. Narrative tension inevitably ebbed.