“Diane, I’m holding in my hand a small box of chocolate bunnies.”
I am currently watching a television show called Twin Peaks, a bizarre little crime drama that came out in the early ‘90s. It is set in the town of Twin Peaks, a delightful town in the far northern reaches of Washington state. You wouldn’t believe how large the pines are and the waterfall here seems almost vast and infinite. The story is instigated by the death of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), a lovely highschool girl taken in her prime.
When the parents discover the death of their daughter, I’m reminded of the power of the medium. The ability to use imagery to connect space and time allows Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) to receive news of his daughter’s death while placing the phone over his heart, his wife Sarah Palmer (Graze Zabriskie) on the other end. While connected by sound, and through the editing, by images as well, the two experience grief together, a touching moment of metaphysical connection.
A similar moment occurs when the school discovers the news. The bustling hallways funnel into the murmurs of the classroom until the whispers of news reach the ears of a teacher. The vacancy of Laura’s chair is sensed by Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle) and James Hurley (James Marshall). Emotions build before the news is even spoken, Donna and James are in grief. The announcement is made, the principle wilts in the aftermath. The stillness of the empty classroom hallways is our exit from the scene.
Sound is important in Twin Peaks.There’s a stillness in the air sometimes, only the softest waft of a sound, that dares to interrupt the silence of grief. Othertimes, it moans with sinister notes, a reminder of the evils of pain and suffering. And there are times it screams, the rustling of the wind, the roar of the waterfall overwhelm and roll over us, the pure force of uncontrollable emotion.
While the show is built around the absence of a character, I enjoy meeting the many characters still living. Lucy (Kimmy Robertson), the police station secretary, is such a delightful small-town character. Simple, sweet and a bit stupid. In a ways, she represents the entire town of Twin Peaks, at least at first glance. That’s because Twin Peaks is a town brimming with secrets. Double lives, sordid affairs, dark corporate plots.
An outside wanders into this web of secrets, a Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) from the FBI. He narrates his trip to Diane, and I love the sense of personality, the dry wit of his remarks and the pacing of his monologue, his fascination with small things like the trees. He’s got a natural curiosity that might be just the thing for the Laura Palmer case.
The city man coming into small-town America could be rife with all kinds of simple juxtapositions. But the show doesn’t assume the simple goodness of small townsfolk or the inherent decadence of cityfolk. There’s something larger at work here than a culture class, a larger mystery that Cooper wishes to discover alongside local sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean).
And yet, for a show about secrets, Twin Peaks gives a lot to its audience. A number of secret affairs are revealed, two of the major clues from the case are already presented to the audience: the owner of the bike and heart necklace. Who killed Laura Palmer is the larger mystery, but the tiny hints aren’t strung along as bait for the audience, but simply smaller strands in a web of evil, deceit, and corruption that is just beginning to take shape.
However, there is also a sweetness and beauty to be found. When Dr. Hayward picks up Donna after the cops find her, instead of giving her a dressing down, he says he trusts she had a good reason for her actions. He also says, “I’m so thankful to have a daughter like you.” It’s a wonderful moment of a father’s love for his daughter in a moment that could have just as easily bred tension and distrust between father and daughter. There is still beauty to be found amid the tragedy.
© 2014 James Blake Ewing