The first season of Twin Peaks introduces us to the plot, the murder of Laura Palmer, and besides letting us witness the lives of the surreal and glorified people of Twin Peaks, the first season of the 1990’s series is about subversion and development. While the first episode establishes relationships between characters and sets the mood for the rest of the series, the viewer’s expectations are subverted soon. The murder of Laura Palmer and the investigations of Agent Cooper, who comes to Twin Peaks in order to find the culprit, almost become secondary. They provide the framework for all the secrets that lay hidden beneath the peaceful surface. For someone who has not heard much about Twin Peaks before and watches it for the first time, there are some fascinating things going on, some of which will be explained henceforward – or at least I attempt to understand them.
One of the most important aspects of Twin Peaks is the soundtrack. The music is not only memorable and the title song evokes feelings such as nostalgia or anticipation (like every title song is supposed to), but the music in Twin Peaks is also a tool to juxtapose events and emphasize the development of characters. Every situation has a specific score which makes it easier for the viewer to anticipate certain events. For instance, Bobby seems to be a young man who constantly overestimates his abilities and every time he plans a revengeful act (either disclosing Leo’s crimes or ambushing James) the music changes and a specific score is played. Yet, Twin Peaks subverts the viewer’s expectations just as it light-heartedly intertwines genres and, again, does not show what one expects. The music is a mix of genres, as is the series itself. This particular song reminds viewers of film noir and plays an important role when it comes to the atmosphere or mood the series creates.
In that regard, the composition of Laura’s theme has been an emotional matter. Angelo Badalamenti, the composer, talks in an interview about the development of the title song, how it creates pictures in one’s head and evokes different emotions. It reflects Laura’s personality, is beautiful and heart-rending at the same time.
The characters exhibit this combination of seemingly opposite elements, development and surprising behaviour best. Audrey seems to be a mischievous High School student, but becomes the clever side kick attempting to find the murderer. Pete is first portrayed as the unknowing husband, but later becomes the lovely helper. Bobby, who first seemed to be the rebellious and naughty teenager, soon turns out to be a heartbroken young man, who feels lost in this world. Then again, other characters remain the same, their reckless behaviour intensifies and they display a Machiavellian attitude every time nobody (except for the audience) is watching. Benjamin Horne is a perfect example for this.
Then there is Agent Cooper, the outsider, even intruder, who reveals the hidden relationships. He is the catalyst for the revelation Twin Peaks experiences, he puts a spanner in the work and interferes in such a way that the mechanics, the inhabitants of Twin Peaks developed, begin to fail, their masks fall down and their true selves are revealed. Agent Cooper’s ability to look beyond a person’s mask, unveiling them, is heavily exaggerated as he discovers hidden relationships ridiculously fast: for example, he knows about the affair Ed and Norma have as soon as he sees them in the cafe, or about the secret relationship between Sheriff Harry and Josie after seeing them together for the first time at the Packard’s house.
Agent Cooper’s abilities are ridiculed. As soon as he mentions his dream about Tibet (which is about the Dalai Lama, the Chinese invasion and which eventually grants him knowledge of a “deductive technique” involving the “deepest level of intuition”) and chooses intuition over real evidence, we question his sanity (as throwing rocks at a bottle and using this “Tibetan method” to determine a suspect is far from professional), but again, the series proves us wrong and does the opposite of what we expect – Agent Cooper actually succeeds and finds further evidence that seem to bring him closer to the murderer.
Unfortunately, the ending of season one ends with three cliffhangers and poses more questions than the season could answer. It reminds us of soap operas and, indeed, Twin Peaks mixes a detective story with a soap opera. A typical detective story has a memorable, maybe eccentric or especially talented and clever detective, the clues must be available for the audience as well as the murderer, who is usually not a figure that is introduced towards the end of the story. Twin Peaks presents exactly that. The soap opera, however, does not focus on one protagonist, but a group of people that live in a specific area, in this case Twin Peaks. Rather than focusing on the events, we follow the people and observe the trivial events arising from their complex relationships with each other. There are central meeting points, dramatic irony, gossip and red herrings – all of which can be found in Twin Peaks. “Invitation to Love”, the series that apparently every person in Twin Peaks watches, is an intertextual hint and another element that highlights the hyperbolic approach Twin Peaks takes. On the one hand, there are many plotlines, intrigues, love affairs, but on the other hand the crime provides further sensationalist attributes.
The camera uncovers those multiple plotlines and makes the us wonder and speculate. We sympathize with or despise characters and feel like we know everything about them, as their secrets are uncovered in front of us. Moreover, the figures are round and develop throughout the season while the series subverts expectations that it provoked by showing us exaggerated stereotypes. For instance, Deputy Andy, who is shy and becomes extremely emotional quickly, later shoots the suspect, Jacques, in cold blood. The deep characters and the easily accessible stories allow us to immerse in the world of Twin Peaks. Agent Cooper is the connection between the audience and the isolated town. His, or our, adventure begins when the discovery of Laura’s body and Agent Cooper enters town. He himself points out the beauty and idyllic atmosphere of Twin Peaks, referring to the Douglas-fir growing everywhere, mimicking our initial impression of Twin Peaks. However, the series alters our perception of the town by focusing on the characters instead of the landscape further on and we perceive the series as subverting, because it consciously plays with our expectations. In addition, the music and characters support this notion. From my point of view, this is what makes Twin Peaks so fascinating: mixing genres and always subverting expectations whilst creating relatable yet hyperbolic characters and stories.