“The owls are not what they seem”

“The night was all you had
You ran into the night from all you had
Found yourself a path upon the ground
You ran into the night you can’t be found”

Laura Palmer, by Bastille

“The owls are not what they seem” The Giant

“Garmonbozia” The Man from Another Place

“How’s Annie? How’s Annie? How’s Annie? How’s Annie?” S.A. Cooper’s doppelganger

“I’ll see you in 25 years” Laura Palmer


Town sign, with Mountains beyond Mountains behind.

I toyed with the idea of just quoting a bunch of Twin Peaks related quotations to mark its return to TV after twenty-five years. The crypticity of that kind of appealed to me, but I feel like I have more to say. Surprise, surprise.

Twin Peaks was always like a half-remembered dream to me, even from the very beginning.

I don’t think Twin Peaks was ever really about the murder of Laura Palmer. I mean, sure, that was the vehicle on which to hang the structure of a show, the elevator pitch that TV executives wanted to hear in the late 1980’s, but I think if you were overly concerned about that mystery, you were missing the point of the show.

I’m one of those people who probably missed the point of the show when it was first on, and I count myself among its fanbase. Growing up, one of my best friends had an older brother, Andy, and we all looked to Andy as the arbiter of what was cool. He was three years older than us, and was into different stuff than us, but it was SETTLED LAW that if Andy was into a thing, it must have been legit. Looking back on it now, Andy was pretty much just this introverted, quiet kid, and I don’t really think he was into anything more cool than anyone else. He liked what he liked, and didn’t really follow trends, but try telling the 12-year-old versions of myself and my friends that in the late ’80s. We wouldn’t have believed you.

So, as it turned out, Andy was a big David Lynch fan, and was excited for this upcoming “detective show” on NETWORK TV (ABC) called Twin Peaks.  David Lynch, up to this point was a movie director who was known for his weird and off-beat imagery, but he had never done TV before. His co-creator, Mark Frost, is a novelist and wrote for TV before teaming up with David Lynch.

Fans of this blog will know that I pride myself on being “behind the curve” on most things, and that I usually only get into something after everyone else has gotten over it. This held true for Twin Peaks, as I never watched that mythical first season when it first aired, despite getting regular reports from Andy’s younger brother (my friend Steve) over the course of the spring. Little things like “You really should watch it. I think you’d like it”. Stuff like that. It wasn’t until the first season ended on a cliffhanger, “Come on, Trev, you gotta watch it“, that I saw my first episode.

My friend Steve had been recording all of them on his parent’s Beta VCR. Beta! It’s hard to imagine a time when all of North America relied on about 12 or 15 TV channels for all our entertainment. A time when there were really only three big American networks. A time when “serious TV shows” were things like Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere. So when one of those three major networks took a chance on what we’d call today “Prestige TV”, it was a big event. Nowadays, our entertainment stream is so varied and granular we are watching stuff at all hours on dozens of platforms, and all of it seems to be “edgy”. So when Netflix revives a “classic multi-camera sitcom” like it did with the revival of One Day at a Time earlier this year, it actually felt fresh and ground-breaking. “You mean there’s a show that pretty much takes place in a living room about a family and it’s sweet and funny and well written and wholesome? REVOLUTIONARY!”

I think I actually watched the season finale of Season 1 before I watched anything else, (I know: OUT OF ORDER?!). My friend and his older brother were getting geared up for Season 2 to begin that fall, (Grade 11 for us), and were going to do a rewatch. I joined them for most of it. So, even from the beginning, the show had a surreal, disorienting quality to it. I watched season 1 out-of-order, and I am even sure to this day that there are some episodes of season 1 that I’ve just never seen. For example, (SPOILERS!), I think I only know Jacques Renault as a corpse, but I’m pretty sure he was alive and walking around for some of season 1. I just don’t think I’ve seen those episodes. And we are only talking about 8 episodes in total for season 1! How is it possible I haven’t seen all of them? I never really understood who Jacques Renault was, but I sure became familiar with his evil brother, Jean Renault, in season 2. And you know what? Maybe I DID see those Jacques Renault episodes. I just don’t remember. The whole show has a hazy, misty quality to it, and for me it was filtered through my friend’s Beta tapes out of sequence.

Despite having watched Season 1 out-of-order (and possibly missing an episode or two), I immediately fell in love with the mood of the show. I think that is the best way to describe it. The show is all about the mood it creates. The feeling it leaves with you. This is why I encourage people who haven’t seen it to actually seek out the shows themselves, and to not rely solely on Wikipedia summaries. Sure, you might get the gist of the plot that way, but you’d be missing the whole experience of it, which is, as I am arguing here, the whole point of it. The colour palette, the wonderful soundtrack, the hypnotic shots of the falls by the hotel, the very essence of the “Pacific Northwest” distilled into hour-long shots to be taken weekly. I loved the “fish out of water” tropes of an urbane FBI agent “from Philadelphia” discovering all the small town charms of this sleepy yet mysterious town. Even the coffee, donuts and cherry pie in the “Double R Diner” seemed to take on meaning beyond their face values.

If I was late to the game, I didn’t waste any time getting caught up in time for Season 2. In addition to watching as many episodes of season 1 on my friend’s Beta tapes as I could, I got the show’s soundtrack, I collected Twin Peaks trading cards, I picked up a copy of a “Twin Peaks Cook Book” (True story), someone gave me a copy of “Laura Palmer’s Secret Diary”,  I got a copy of “Special Agent Dale Cooper’s Diane Tapes”, an audio CASSETTE that was filled with recordings of actor Kyle McLachlan sending reports back to the mysterious “Diane” back in Philadelphia. We never really find out who Diane is, but she must be associated with the FBI in some way: an admin assistant or some other office staff who is presumably transcribing Cooper’s tapes into official reports, I even got sheet music for the piano for the Twin Peaks theme and Laura’s Theme (the LOVE theme from Twin Peaks), so I could learn to play them. This was years after I actually stopped taking piano lessons, even, but I was able to plunk them out eventually. I still have them.

And then season 2 began, and I didn’t miss a single episode. I even got my brother into it. Was it possible that with my brother being three years younger than ME, that I was the arbiter of cool for HIM? Probably not. More likely it was that we had one TV set and a dozen channels so WHAT ELSE WAS HE GOING TO WATCH? Oprah?

It was one of the weirdest, most uneven, befuddling, disjointed, misfit seasons of TV I’ve ever watched. I know I said at the beginning of this post that the whole point of the show wasn’t solving the mystery of who murdered Laura Palmer. I still believe that, but having said that, once the show reveals to the audience who the murderer is, it really begins to lose its way. The audience finds out in episode 7, but it takes two more episodes for this to become public knowledge in the show. And then, after that: it’s a little like we are all experiencing a lucid dream in this weird town, no longer having the driving force and reason for being there. It feels like the writers are spinning their wheels at this point, and when the writing goes, it doesn’t take long for any “moody good will” to get used up. Once the murder is solved, there really was no reason for Agent Cooper to remain in Twin Peaks, so the writers came up with this meandering plot involving a ex-partner who went crazy, and a run-of-the-mill revenge plot that eroded, rather than enhanced the signature look, feel and mood of the show.

I’ve never watched Lost, but a common complaint I’ve heard about the show from those who did watch it, was that it introduced a bunch of ideas and possibilities, but then never fully capitalized on them. It was as if J.J. Abrams had never heard of Chekhov’s gun. The show kept getting more and more convoluted until it finally came to a messy end where it turned out everyone was in heaven or something (SPOILERS ON A TEN YEAR OLD SHOW, EVERYBODY). I mean, maybe SPOILERS, I  don’t really know.

So it seemed to go in the course of the 18 episodes of season 2 of Twin Peaks. It started so strong, and I stuck with it, but it didn’t help that there was an almost 2 month break between the penultimate episode and the finale on June 10, 1991. During that break, my Dad got really sick with Depression again and was hospitalized. Even though he never watched Twin Peaks (he thought it was weird), he was always interested in what my brother and I were into. And of course that winter and spring, my brother and I were into Twin Peaks. In my all too infrequent visits to him in the hospital, I would sometimes give him story updates. He was a big fan of Kenneth Welsh, a Canadian actor who played Cooper’s ex-partner Windom Earle. I didn’t really go into alot of details about his character. I figured a man suffering from Depression probably didn’t need to hear about a character that went INSANE and escaped from a mental hospital. Still, when you can’t talk about anything else, you can always talk about pop culture, and it was better than silence. At least I thought it was at the time. My Dad never did recover from that last bout of Depression, and he died a week before the finale aired. My life was in shambles already, but I made sure I watched the ending. I had to. I was still a fan. Well, the last episode ended on an extremely nihilistic note, with Special Agent Dale Cooper trapped in the “Black Lodge”, a version of hell in this show’s mythology. He offers himself in exchange for the release and safety of his girlfriend, Annie Blackburn. In the final minutes of the show, we get a scene between Cooper in the lodge and a spirit version of Laura Palmer (or is it her doppelganger?) who says to him, “I’ll see you in 25 years” (is this a dream?).  Change of scene to Cooper waking up in a bed, in the company of the sheriff and the doctor. We are led to believe that things are going to be okay, as he asks about his girlfriend. “How’s Annie?” BUT THINGS ARE NOT GOING TO BE OKAY, because the final scene of the show has Cooper rising from the bed, going into the bathroom, closing the door, looking into the mirror. He squeezes toothpaste all over his brush and sink, and you see by the reflection in the bathroom mirror that he is possessed by the same spirit that murdered Laura Palmer. Cooper’s doppelganger smashes his head into the mirror, turns around, and with a crazy grin on his face, says repeatedly, “How’s Annie? How’s Annie? How’s Annie?”

Roll Credits.

And that’s it! That’s all we got.

I’ve read since then that there was supposed to be a Season 3 where a rescue mission is mounted to get Cooper out of the Black Lodge, but since the show was cancelled after 2 seasons (probably the right call), Cooper has been left in the Black Lodge all this time. Laura Palmer’s prediction that we would see her again in 25 years is coming true in real-time, with the unlikely revival of the series in a third season this past weekend. Now, this isn’t some kind of “fun reunion of the cast” kind of thing. This is a solid 18 EPISODES OF CONTENT, all written by David Lynch and Mark Frost. Most of the cast of the original show is returning too, with a couple of notable exceptions. Michael Ontkean, who played Sheriff Harry S. Truman is “officially retired from acting”. Some of the best scenes on the show were between Truman and Cooper, who developed a kind of “Holmes and Watson” banter and relationship over the two seasons. The revival will be the poorer for it without him. Another exception is Heather Graham, who played Annie, Special Agent Cooper’s love interest and the person for whom Cooper asks about in the last lines of the show. With her not returning, will we ever get an answer to the haunting question, “How’s Annie?” Another notable absence is Lara Flynn Boyle, who played Donna Hayward in the first two seasons. Her role was famously recast for the Fire Walk with Me prequel that came out a year after the show ended, and depending which Hollywood gossip you want to believe, didn’t appear due to something boring like “scheduling conflicts” or MAYBE IT WAS SOMETHING MORE JUICY LIKE “she had a falling out with David Lynch and her FORMER BOYFRIEND Kyle McLachlan”. When given a choice, I always go for the juice.

A few actors revived their roles, but have died since filming their scenes, so who knows what that will mean for the future of the show, if indeed there will be a life after Season 3? These include Mark Frost’s Dad, Warren Frost, who played Dr. Hayward, Miguel Ferrer, who played the sardonic Agent Rosenfield, and Catherine Coulson, better known as “The Log Lady”. Rest in peace, weirdoes.

In the years between 1991 and now, Twin Peaks has popped up in the wider pop culture. In some ways, it never really left those of us who watched it and loved it. There were references on The Simpsons, where Homer is shown watching the show and calling it “brilliant” and then in the next breath saying that he has no idea what is going on. On Seinfeld, two actors from the show, Warren Frost (Dr. Hayward) and Grace Zabriskie (Laura Palmer’s Mom) played George’s future in-laws in a nod to the show. Northern Exposure devoted a whole episode to a homage to Twin Peaks, and the show Psych did a special “20th anniversary” episode that featured no less than 724 Twin Peaks references! Even Stephen King was a fan of the show, and I remember reading Needful Things and smiling to myself when Norris Ridgewick, the deputy sheriff in Castle Rock, is described as a “Deputy Andy Brennan from Twin Peaks” type. Even my friend Kaj made a Twin Peaks reference in one of this high school history papers. Right in the middle of a report about the siege of Quebec he wrote in all caps THE OWLS ARE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM, mid-sentence, and carried right on talking about Montcalm and Wolfe. He did it just to see what our teacher’s reaction would be, AND THE TEACHER DIDN’T SAY A THING, which leads me to believe he is either a) a doppelganger from the black lodge, or b) never really read the report to begin with. I’m still not sure. One of my high school pals, Michelle, dressed up as “The Log Lady” for Halloween. We were an odd bunch.

The thing that is tripping me up is this: do I even WANT to see this? After 25 years, do I need more Twin Peaks? It’s easy for me to not watch it. It’s only available on a pay channel here in Canada, or through a mysterious streaming service called Crave TV, apparently. That would involve me signing up for a membership, and I’m not quite ready to take that step. For me to see this third season, it’s going to take work. But then again: it took work for me to see season 1 all those years ago. I had to sit in my friend’s basement and fast-forward through commercials on Beta tapes. The upsetting and unsatisfying end to the series is mirrored by the upsetting and unsatisfying to my childhood in real-life, too. Even doing a bit of research for this blog post has stirred up memories and feelings I haven’t felt since high school. Do I really want to go deep with this? Should I just leave Cooper in the Black Lodge, where’s he’s been since high school for me? David Lynch and Mark Frost are surely different people than they were 25 years ago, and I guess so am I, in some ways. The world is different too. When Twin Peaks first aired, TV was dominated by big networks, and everyone sort of watched the same handful of shows. Now, there are a number of PODCASTS dedicated to that show. I just downloaded the first one of a series called “Twin Peaks Unwrapped” which I guess is a reference to Laura Palmer’s body being wrapped up in plastic. Just try explaining PODCASTS to Agent Cooper. And don’t even start with him about Twitter. Today, you can type #twinpeaks as a hashtag and you’ll get a cool little graphic of red drapes and zig-zaggy carpet after it. Go ahead, try it. I’ll wait…………….

Cool, huh? I don’t know what to tell you. There is definitely a part of me that wants to see what happens next. OR DO I?

Okay, so despite stating my opinion that Twin Peaks is all about the journey, not the destination, it’s all about the mood, not the plot, that it’s all about the experience, not the results, I know there are some of you that just want to jump in and watch Season 3 with minimal catch up.

I get it.

I know what that feels like, and maybe that is the biggest difference between the me of 1991 and the me of 2017. I just don’t have the patience for things like I used to. When I hear a new season of a show is available, even a show I’ve enjoyed, I don’t automatically feel joy, I feel dread. Dread that it is ONE MORE DAMN THING for me to get off my already overflowing pop culture plate. And that goes double for “revivals”. Sure, I enjoyed the heck out of the first three seasons of Arrested Development, but like most people, I was pretty disappointed with the Netflix revival. When news broke that yet another season was announced recently, it felt like too much of good thing. Enough, already. You probably wouldn’t order the same pizza from the same pizza place every night for supper, would you? EVEN IF IT WAS GREAT PIZZA? Wouldn’t you like to try new things? Isn’t variety the spice of life? Maybe it has to do with the fact that I am now in my 40’s and every day feel the cold breath of DEATH on the back of my neck and realize I better “get busy livin’, or get busy dyin'”, as Morgan Freeman reminded us in The Shawshank Redemption. I think a part of me is just plain scared that I won’t be able to capture that good feeling I had of catching up on this show in my friend’s basement, and watching the new ones with my brother all those years ago. Nothing will bring those days back.

So for those readers who would like a quick primer of what you probably need to know to get into Season 3 of Twin Peaks, (and aren’t afraid of SPOILERS), read on! For the rest of you, you can stop here and eagerly await my inevitable tribute to Roger Moore, who died while I was in the middle of this post. Rest in Peace, Double Oh Seven. We’ll get to you in a bit.

twin peaks

Lynch’s Last Supper?

  • Laura Palmer was murdered by her father, Leland Palmer, who was possessed by an evil spirit known as BOB. Another evil spirit, MIKE, was BOB’s partner in many murders and rapes but at some point before the beginning of the show, MIKE repented, cut off his arm, and is now on the hunt to stop BOB. MIKE is currently possessing a shoe salesman named “Philip Gerard”.
  • Special Agent Dale Cooper had a former partner named Windom Earle, who WENT INSANE, murdered his wife, Caroline, (with whom Cooper was having an AFFAIR: what is this? Broadchurch?) and was locked up in a mental institution. (All of that is back story that comes out in Season 2). A large part of the second half of season 2 was all about Windom Earle escaping the institution and coming to get revenge on Cooper in Twin Peaks.
  • In the show’s mythology, there are two lodges, The White Lodge (good spirits) and The Black Lodge (evil spirits) that exist in another dimension where time and space intermingle. BOB and MIKE are from these lodges, which are connected by a waiting room that has zig-zaggy carpet and red curtains. The lodges also can create doppelgangers, or evil twins of people who sometimes get out into our world. In the show, we’ve seen doppelgangers of Laura Palmer, Agent Cooper, Laura’s Father, The Man from Another Place, and Caroline Earle.
  • In the final episode, Windom Earle kidnaps Annie Blackburn (Cooper’s girlfriend) and takes her into the Black Lodge as revenge. Cooper follows. BOB murders Windom Earle and Cooper strikes a deal with BOB: if he lets Annie go, Cooper will stay in the Black Lodge as prisoner.
  • Agent Cooper’s doppelganger (which appeared to be possessed by BOB) escapes the Black Lodge and is free to roam our world. Annie’s well-being is unknown.
  • The owls are not what they seem.



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2 responses to ““The owls are not what they seem”

  1. Well! What do I do? Should I watch it? I feel like watching the first new episode…why not, right? So does this mean it will start with Cooper possessed?! Intriguing…
    The last character I have associated with Kyle M is Skye’s father from SHIELD. He was so great on that show.
    I think it’s on Showtime, not HBO. So ADJUST your post as you see fit. 🙂
    Thanks for writing!

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