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The ethereal legacy of David Lynch show 'Twin Peaks' 30 years on


“The more unknowable the mystery, the more beautiful it is” – David Lynch

“I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange,” speaks Agent Dale Cooper, the fervent detective that leads David Lynch’s dreamlike mystery. It’s a line that well foreshadows both the flourishing future of the iconic series, as well as the influential changes that such a programme would have on the landscape of serialised television. 30 years after the release of its final episode the reverberations of Lynch’s ethereal series can still be felt. 

Situated in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness “five miles south of the Canadian border, and twelve miles west of the state line” as stated by Agent Cooper, ‘Twin Peaks’ is a fictional town with a veiled, dreamlike quality. Much like David Lynch’s 1986 classic Blue Velvet, the story depicts an otherwise normal American land, slowly leaking the surreal tonal energy that fuels its underbelly. Populated by a host of strange individuals, from Margaret Lanterman (better known as the Log Lady) to the maniacal Leland Palmer, these characters feel like lost spirits wandering through the wilderness, stabilised by the appearance of outsider Agent Dale Cooper. 

Invigorated by a powerful obsession with cherry pie, doughnuts, and particularly coffee, Dale Cooper is a wise sage who seems to be able to make sense of the mystery, piloting the investigation to find the murderer of Laura Palmer. It was a mystery that embroiled the whole of popular culture throughout the 1990s, so much so that the series even broke Japan and captured the imagination of thousands with the simple premise ‘who killed Laura Palmer?’. This popularity however was unprecedented for television, which up until this point was seen as the inferior, lowbrow cousin of filmmaking. Where cinema was art, television was seen as mere pop culture fodder. 

Though, despite having made the critically acclaimed The Elephant Man only years prior, in partnering with veteran TV writer Mark Frost, ABC was willing to give creative control over to David Lynch for a serialised format of his distinct surreal style. Twin Peaks became a cultural phenomenon as a result, with Lynch establishing a strong uncanny story that was just intriguing enough to have viewers come back week-on-week. Though, it is no wonder, 30 years later, stepping into the world of Twin Peaks feels like floating through a dream you once had but can’t quite remember. It feels simultaneously lovingly comfortable, yet strangely chilling. 

David Lynch created a wide web of content that enveloped viewers into a world they were not quite sure how to interpret, though were willing to engulf themselves in. Following the cancellation of the original show after two series, Lynch released 1992’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, adding to the bevvy of additional content the show created, including a novel titled The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer released by his daughter in 1990. Creating an idea of a wider, more elaborate universe is of course a concept that is now regularly utilised in contemporary pop culture, with several platforms including films, television programmes and online content each feeding into a singular ‘franchise’. 

Twin Peaks sowed the seeds for the interest in ‘true crime’ stories that today infest themselves in modern media, throwing a pile of jigsaw puzzle pieces at the audience, asking us to solve the mystery for ourselves. Unbeknownst to audiences, Lynch led us to a land “both wonderful and strange”.