“I’ll See You Again In 25 Years” – The Troubled Production of Twin Peaks

By Olivia Armstrong (@starcadet96)

The revival of David Lynch’s and Mark Frost’s cult-hit TV show Twin Peaks has been the talk of forums and twitter following its release in May 2017. Originally airing in 1991, the show quickly gained traction as one of the most influential shows of the 90s and inspired many later works who have taken influence or inspiration (including the Silent Hill game series, Gravity Falls, Welcome to Night Vale and that’s only a few). Despite only last two seasons and being cancelled following season 2, its influence cannot be overstated and the revival has served to enthral long-time fans and introduce newcomers who are equally dazzled by its eccentric creativity.

But, some may wonder, if the show left such an impact on pop culture and was seen by many as ahead of its time, why now after so long is the series being continued and why was the it cancelled in the first place?

There are many mysteries to be solved in the town of Twin Peaks but the biggest is the death of town darling and prom queen, Laura Palmer, who is found on a beach infamously wrapped in plastic. When the Twin Peaks police department and FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper are called to investigate and solve Laura’s murder, they find that almost everyone around them has something to hide and even the town itself may have a much darker face lurking beneath the surface.

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Despite a positive reception to season one, things started to shift gears a bit during season 2. While still well-liked, executives were becoming concerned that the series ambiguity and slow pacing concerning the central mystery would wear thin on the audience’s patience. Therefore, there was immense executive pressure placed on creators Mark Frost and David Lynch to reveal the killer earlier than they intended because they were afraid of people losing interest and the ratings dropping. This cultivated with Laura’s killer being revealed in episode 16 (which is the single best episode of the show). Due to the reveal and subsequently the Laura Palmer story-line being wrapped up a few episodes later, the cast and crew were essentially left with half a season and no idea what to do with it.

This is not to say the show became completely plot-less or there was any lack of charm in the characters. After the end of the Laura Palmer arc, many of the subplots underlining the main mystery were given a lot more focus and this is where the series kept strong, giving us established conflicts and the development of more out-of-focus characters. However, many audiences and critics agreed the series did not nearly have the hook it once had with the Laura Palmer mystery and it took several episodes for the show to fully recover from having the mystery forcibly solved and pull itself back up into a solid season. And by then, it was pretty much already too late and it was moved by the network to one of the lowest rated time-slots on television (Saturday nights at 10), sealing its fate.

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It didn’t help that some subplots involved new characters who weren’t nearly as enthralling (seriously, where did John Justice Wheeler come from? The land of bland?) and the expansion of some characters who definitely didn’t deserve the screen time (James’ season 2 subplot in particular is almost painful in how long it is and how little it accomplishes in terms of plot or development).

There was still a lot of the quirky charm and humour that drew fans in but without the dark undercurrent of the teenage prom queen’s murder, the stakes didn’t feel nearly as high as they once did. Despite having a fairly strong finish and ending on what many consider the most surreal and one of the best episodes of the show to date with a titanic-sized cliff-hanger, it didn’t stop the series inevitable cancellation after the season 2 finale. It was in this episode that the enigmatic Laura Palmer uttered the iconic line to Dale Cooper “I’ll see you again in 25 years.” Of all the lines in the episode, this one was at least comprehensible but no less puzzling. Following the revival however and an almost recreation of the same scene 25 years on in the first episode, the line takes on a whole new meaning, suggesting this may have been Lynch’s intention all along or simply a joke on his part should he ever be allowed to continue the story.

This also undoubtedly played a role in the movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me being received so poorly with critics and audiences. Fans who were left wanted answers about the season 2 finale and were disappointed to see the movie was a prequel about the life of Laura Palmer and many critics also felt the show had run out of steam by this point and the movie was the final example of Lynch beating a dead horse.

Over the years, critical reception to the movie has softened considerably to the point where some even consider it an underrated masterpiece and even Lynch’s best film (myself included). But most agree it was largely tainted due to its association with Twin Peaks, not only due to the season 2 cliff-hanger but also because it took a largely different tone from the series, being much darker and more nightmarish due to Lynch having complete control over the project (whereas the original series was a collaboration between him and Mark Frost). It was a box office failure and critic Vincent Canby even went as far as to famously state “it’s not the worst movie ever made; it just seems to be.” This was taken as the final sign that Twin Peaks was truly dead and buried and some of the mysterious town’s biggest secrets may never be revealed.

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That is, until several years ago, when it was announced in 2014 that a continuation was being planned by Lynch and Frost and produced by Showtime. Despite denying for years that they would ever return to the town of Twin Peaks, both creators finally decided to continue the story in real time, with 25 years also having passed in-universe. No less than 37 actors and original series composer Angelo Badalamenti returned to reprise their roles. Which brings us to the present – 2017. Despite being in his twilight years where many would have retired from directing at this point, Lynch still felt there was some unfinished business with the quirky residents of Twin Peaks and their stories needed to be continued. At the time of this writing, eight episodes of The Return have been aired and the first two parts were shown at the Cannes Film Festival – the same festival that viciously booed Fire Walk With Me in 1992. Lynch received a five-minute standing ovation from the audience.

In a way, maybe he was always meant to return because as much as he’s clearly not finished with Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks it seems is also not finished with him.