Analyzing the Return of Twin Peaks

Twenty seven years later, the cult classic is back on TV May 21. To prepare, here's some things you should know.

Welcome to Twin Peaks

What It Was

Twin Peaks premiered in 1990 on ABC and television was never the same. For a movie director—a movie director who had been nominated for Oscars, recent Oscars—to slum it on the tube was unheard of, but director David Lynch had a story and a vision that could not be confined to the small timespan of the big screen.

Lynch was known for his examination of the destruction and disturbance that lay beneath the spit-shined surface of American normalcy, and Twin Peaks explored all the angles—and genres. The murder of small-town teen queen Laura Palmer became not just a police procedural, but also a soap opera, high-school drama and even, occasionally, a sitcom. Leading the investigation was FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (played by frequent Lynch star/surrogate Kyle MacLachlan), whose rigidly Boy Scout-like demeanor contrasted with his tendency to rely on bizarre visions and surreal dreams for insights into the case. But the town of Twin Peaks contained many characters, from sexpot-in-saddle shoes Audrey Horne to dance routine-prone grieving dad Leland Palmer to perpetually-shouting FBI head Gordon Cole to the Log Lady (“My log saw something that night …”)

Twin Peaks slipped in its second season—the murder was solved, Lynch and his collaborator Mark Frost both moved onto other projects and the show seemed to lose focus. However, Lynch returned for a finale that wrapped up some loose ends, but tore apart even more and that unwound from unsettling to mind-jarring in 50 minutes. One of the many ominous notes struck was the ghostly Laura Palmer stuck in the Black Lodge, whispering to Agent Cooper, “I’ll see you in 25 years.” And so 25 years since its last episode—give or take a few months—we are finally seeing Twin Peaks again.

Why It Matters Now

The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, American Gods: All of them find precedent in Twin Peaks—the extended storylines, the polished style, the shocking violence, the willingness to go beyond weird. When Twin Peaks premiered, it was both more prestigious (the Cannes-certified director, the big-screen actors) and more avant-garde (pretty much everything else about it) than anything else on television.

It also birthed television people talked about—not in the moon landing/”Who shot J.R.?” sense of bonding over shared experience. With Twin Peaks, everyone may have watched the same thing, but what you actually saw was up for interpretation and discussion—Why is the fish in the percolator? Why is a grown-ass woman on the high school wrestling team? Why is the little girl in fairy princess drag playing the piano? We talked about Twin Peaks to try to figure out what it all meant—something we take for granted, now that every show uses ambiguity and speculation to fuel their social media feed.

The fact that the show still has an obsessive fan base over two decades later certainly contributed to its return. It’s been referenced in shows from The Simpsons to Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated and the merch has always done a steady business, from Log Lady action figures to “Welcome to Twin Peaks” lunch boxes to Black Lodge-patterned skate decks—you can even get a Double R Diner waitress cosplay dress at Hot Topic. And many of us remain disappointed that the Twin Peaks restaurant is a wack Hooters knockoff and not a wood-paneled diner serving coffee and pie with a jukebox stuffed full of Duane Eddy and Enrico Morricone, the better for sweater-clad teenagers and backwards-talking dwarves to dance to.

What It Might Be

In a world seemingly without secrets, David Lynch has managed to keep his: There has been not a tweet, not a blog, not a leak, not a link from the set of Twin Peaks. Word has it that only Kyle MacLachlan had a full script, with the rest of the cast making do with their relevant pages. We do know that much of the original cast is returning, Sherilyn Fenn, Mädchen Amick, Ray Wise and Alicia Witt among them; Robert Forster (Jackie Brown) will be replacing Michael Ontkean as Sheriff Harry Truman. New additions include Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ashley Judd and Michael Cera, as well as Lynch stalwarts Harry Dean Stanton and Laura Dern, the latter of whom reportedly has a large role. Miguel Ferrer (Agent Albert Rosenfield) and Catherine Coulson (the legendary Log Lady) reportedly shot scenes before their untimely deaths. Unfortunately David Bowie did not—especially since his character’s brief, dimension-sliding appearance prefigured what would happen to Agent Cooper and also projected the “I’m terrified and I don’t know why” sensation that epitomizes some of the series best moments.

Lynch himself directed all 18 episodes of the reboot and has said that the show will be closely related to the movie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which placed Laura Palmer’s death in the context of her (fucked up) life and connected it to another murder being investigated by the FBI. No plot outlines or press copies have been made available and promos can only be described as intensely vague—static shots of headlights in the darkness, a bar’s neon sign, a trailer in the woods, a frightened woman hanging up the phone. We may know who killed Laura Palmer, but we still don’t know why. And, 27 years later, that question returns to light up our screens and haunt our dreams.