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On TV: What's Going on in Twin Peaks?

Aren't stories like sex? Didn't you want to delay the climax a little longer? Is that gum you like coming back in style?

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Did you miss the thrill of Twin Peaks during the mid-season break? Were Saturday nights just a little flat without the anticipation of having your sense of anticipation messed with? When the show resumes this week, do you have any idea what to expect? Don't you just love it that you have to say "no"?

Do you like to be teased and toyed with? Was Roland Barthes correct to compare narrative with striptease? Were you hoping that all the garments would come off in the last show before the break? Or is it more fun seeing the text still partially clothed in red herrings and enigmatic clues? Didn't you think it pathetic that so many TV critics were braying for resolution, accusing Twin Peaks of being a cheat, a fake, and a con for stringing us along for so long? Like Laura Palmer, this show is filled with secrets, isn't it? And isn't that the point?

When Benjamin Horne was almost exposed as the killer halfway through the famous episode in which Laura's father, Leland, was revealed as BOB, didn't you secretly want not to find out--just yet? If Benjamin had been transformed into BOB as he was being arrested, wouldn't that have been a letdown? Aren't stories like sex? Didn't you want to delay the climax for just a little longer? There is some poetry in the scheduling--after all, Saturday night is when married couples who stay in to watch TV Do It, isn't it?

Did you stick to coffee and doughnuts the night Twin Peaks revealed the identity of BOB? Or did you need something a little stiffer? Can you remember the last time you were so scared by a television program that you needed to pour a drink during each commercial break? Have you noticed that this show has abandoned much of its irony, taken its tongue out of its cheek, and adopted the codes of the fantastic, the fabulous, and the horrific? In doing so, hasn't Twin Peaks shifted from being a clever joke about soap opera and cranked itself up several emotional gears? And isn't it true that its science-fiction-cum-slasher-movie aesthetic has moved it beyond the cerebral and started hitting you in the guts, with all the violent force of Laura Palmer's killer?

How have you fared so far? Did you guess early on that Tojamura (the stereotyped Asian gentleman who asserted: "I find adherence to fantasy troubling and unreasonable") was a woman? Did you suspect he was Catherine? Or did you think he was Laura? Do you still think that Laura might have been impersonating her cousin Madeleine? Did you hear the clue in Agent Cooper's dream ("You might think I've gone insane / But I promise--I will kill again!") and finger Leland as BOB? Does it bother you that we care about such things? Are you upset that television viewers are invested in fiction? Do you think we should all be doing something more "serious"? Do you find adherence to fantasy troubling and unreasonable?

Did you shiver, scream, or cry out when Leland adjusted his tie in the living room mirror--and looking back was the ghastly face of BOB? Did you need someone to hold on to? Do we know that he killed Laura? Or was it Madeleine he killed? Meaning that Leland attacked Laura later--as Madeleine? (If Madeleine was really Laura, is that why she saw him as BOB? Or do we assume that Madeleine--like Laura's mother, Sarah, and her friend Ronette--can also see BOB?) By the way, have you rented Vertigo lately?

Have you, too, been touched by the devilish one? BOB is scary, isn't he? Why? Because BOB is real? Is it this that makes the second season of Twin Peaks compelling? Where does it hurt? Do you know? Do we really know who or what BOB is? Are the images of the mother (Sarah Leland) comatose, immobile, looking on at the father's abuse of her family metaphorical? In a nation concerned about child abuse, will David Lynch dare to joke around with this stuff? Or will he grow up?

Could a television serial ever survive mid-season narrative resolution? Was it a coincidence that last season's nail-biter occurred during sweeps week? (Aren't some questions too dumb even to be asked?) If Twin Peaks gets resolved this time around, will it become a dead soap opera? A victim of murder by narrative resolution? A televisual corpse, with no outstanding questions for life support? Are we watching a soap opera that continues forever, or a very, very long miniseries? If this is a soap opera with an ending, then isn't Twin Peaks a serial killer?

Doesn't television sometimes have an emotional power unmatched by cinema? When the serial invades the fabric of our lives and begins, in this case, to structure our Saturday nights--becomes, indeed, its climax? And when we are all watching it together--if not as a nation, then at least as a time zone united in horror--doesn't that lend television greater impact, the ability to constitute a media event whose simultaneity thrills its participants in a way that cinema never can?

And so: Have you thought about the possibilities for further narrative arousal? Of course you have, haven't you? We still don't know who shot Agent Cooper, do we? We know that Leland-as-BOB killed Madeleine and Laura--but will BOB now move on to inhabit a new Twin Peaks resident? Wouldn't Leo Johnson be the perfect new host? In any case, since we know that the letters-under-the-fingernail imply a serial killer, not a crime of parental passion, what accounts for Leland's actions? If Leland is BOB, why did the One-Armed Man collapse in the presence of Benjamin Horne? Did Harold Smith really kill himself? Or was he murdered? If so, by whom? Is Leo Johnson really catatonic? Or is he pretending? At what point will he spark back to life and unleash his sadistic madness upon Bobby and Shelley?

What is the relation between the extraterrestrial giant and the dithering, ancient butler? Are they the same person? Who sent the AGENT COOPER message from outer space? What, or where, is the White Lodge? Is Diane really a tape recorder, as the sleeve for the Twin Peaks album suggests? If not, how and when will she appear? Who is really pulling the strings in Josie Packard's life? Where is Major Briggs? Was he spirited away by extraterrestrials? How will Agent Cooper deal with the phony corruption charges now leveled against him via the dastardly Jean Renault? What does "the owls are not what they seem" mean? Is Agent Cooper suffering from hypoglycemia? Can you hear a waitress in a coffee shop mention pie without laughing?

Have you noticed that the "Invitation to Love" soap-within-a-soap that appeared during the first season has now gone? Isn't this significant? Doesn't its disappearance signify the transformation of Twin Peaks from a show about soap opera into something more interesting--a soap opera? Hasn't the clever-clever Twin Peaks been slowly corrupted by its form--the serial? Is this not so much David Lynch's triumph over television as television's triumph over Lynch?

Can soap opera deal with parallel (nonrealist) realities? (If your answer is no, what about Pam Ewing's dream?) Isn't the crypto-feminist critique of Twin Peaks for its images of violence against women (Laura, Madeleine, Shelley, Catherine, Josie, Audrey, Blackie--half the women in the show, it seems) a mistake? Aren't we no longer distanced from these women through intertextual joking, and instead required to feel? Isn't this identification (the triumph of soap, of the serial, of the TV audience) important precisely because causing people to identify with the horror of violence and abuse is the first step toward educating them about it? Are we so dumb as to believe that all representations endorse what they show? And if--as some critics have suggested--soap narratives correspond to female sexuality through the link with multiple climaxes, doesn't the constant reiteration and discovery of questions have something to do with the way women talk, not through bold statements, but through tentative inquiry?

Is there still the risk that Twin Peaks will turn out to be yet another David Lynch exercise in playfulness? Like Wild at Heart, gross yet superficial? Excessive but pointless? How important are Mark Frost (the cocreator of the series) and his influence in providing a counterbalance to Lynch's tendency to spoil his own work with banality posing as Art? Did you read all those interviews with Lynch last year? Did you find a single interesting statement in any of them? Does it matter what Lynch thinks? Wouldn't it be more interesting to interview the TV audience?

What is the meaning of symmetry in Twin Peaks? Have you noticed how often we find ourselves peeking at twins? Which of these parallels are significant? Madeleine and Laura? The giant and the butler? The One-Armed Man and the one-eyed woman (Nadine)? The one-eyed woman and One-Eyed Jack's? The two halves of Laura's necklace? The White Lodge and the Black Lodge (where, in Deputy Hawk's words, "you meet your shadow self")?

Is that gum you like coming back into style? Remember the Little Man From Another Place who appeared in Agent Cooper's dream in episode three last season? If the writers are making it up as they go along (as some cast members--and TV critics--have suggested), then how is it that every detail from the dream seems pertinent to the mystery? Remember when Cooper awoke from his dream to announce: "I know who killed Laura Palmer"? If he meant, as we must assume, that his unconscious mind knew the answers, then does BOB represent Laura's (and her mother's--and Ronette's) denial of parental abuse? Or are these events meant to be literally supernatural? To put it another way, are the literally supernatural aspects of Twin Peaks also metaphors for the dark side of everyday life?

We would like answers to these questions, but--like chastity--we don't want them yet, do we? Aren't questions always more erotic than answers?

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Will Northerner.

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