I watched the first series of Twin Peaks as a raw undergraduate at Manchester University, only a few months out of school. It was the only television I would actively stay in to watch, and it was the same for my Norwegian flatmate, who would sit fixedly for the 50 minutes in a state of quasi-religious ecstasy, reacting violently to any interruption. The what-happens-next excitement may no longer be there, but I love it no less nearly 25 years later, and I know I’m not alone. I have friends of different eras and from different places who have Twin Peaks inside them somewhere, like an inhabiting spirit from one the lodges.
It was clever, odd, homely, funny and even moving, the ingredients mixed for optimal satisfaction like the fat, sugar and seasoning in a doughnut, but that doesn’t explain the depth and persistence of its appeal, especially now that we’re awash in fine television in a way that was unthinkable in 1990*. There was something else, something hard to analyse. Much as Major Briggs said, quoting from Hamlet:
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Twin Peaks has a mythopoeic quality. It has something in common with modern world-building story cycles, like Lord of the Rings and the Sherlock Holmes tales; it seems simultaneously real and different from the world we know. Like the Holmes stories it’s as much about atmosphere and characters, about being there, as it is about plot. Unlike the Holmes stories, there is a supernatural element, a more-things-in-heaven-and-earth strand, that gives it a numinous quality, another dimension. It also has that fundamental appeal felt most often and most keenly in childhood, but which never quite goes; we want to be there. The now cringingly horrible word for all this is, well, enchantment: it is enchanting, it is an enchanted world. It’s a world you’d risk Bob and the Black Lodge for, if your courage didn’t fail you.
There are many other good things in Twin Peaks, and without them it wouldn’t have the same brilliance, but its mythic quality is not only why it has endured so strongly, it’s why Peaksians are both joyful and apprehensive that there’s to be a new series—if it’s no good it could wreck a world.
Read my 2017 piece on Twin Peaks: The Return for Empire magazine here.
Paul Fishman (Bristol, October 2014)
* Twin Peaks first aired in the US in 1989 and in the UK in 1990.