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How the Hell Did David Lynch Get Away With the Twin Peaks Finale?

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Deanna Witmer
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« on: May 17, 2017, 11:30:57 pm »

How the Hell Did David Lynch Get Away With the Twin Peaks Finale?


Photo of Scott Meslow
By Scott Meslow
2 days ago


http://www.gq.com/story/david-lynch-twin-peaks-finale

More than 25 years later, it's still one of the best, weirdest hours of TV to air on any network—let alone ABC.

In less than a week, Showtime will premiere its 18-episode revival of Twin Peaks. And while it's impossible to guess where that story will end up—18 hours is a lot of story—it's safe to assume it will shed new context on one of the most brilliant, infuriating hours of network TV history: the Twin Peaks series finale.

The finale aired on June 10, 1991, opposite a rerun of Northern Exposure and a made-for-TV movie starring Charlton Heston. Twin Peaks—which began as a critical darling and quickly ballooned into a water-cooler phenomenon—had long since shed most of its viewers. By now, everyone knew who killed Laura Palmer, and Twin Peaks had struggled through an uneven second season that failed to present a mystery that was even a fraction as interesting. As it ended its second season—and with a third still a toss-up—series protagonist Dale Cooper was set for a climactic battle against Windom Earle, his FBI mentor-turned-psychotic adversary. It was one of the better stories of that troubled second season, but it was still obvious that Twin Peaks' best days were behind it.

But as it turned out, the series—which had boldly flouted so many of the rules that then governed network television—had one last audacious trick to play: the darkest, riskiest, and most riveting finale the show’s creative brain trust could cobble together. More than 25 years later, it’s still the show’s finest hour—even as it laid the seeds for the show's own demise.

    If this isn’t the strangest hour of network television in history—well, it certainly belongs in the conversation.

Twin Peaks had certainly pushed the boundaries of network television before, with Cooper’s famously enigmatic dream sequence, or the murder of Maddy Ferguson, which was so singularly horrifying that I’m still kind of amazed it aired without any cuts. But this episode was something different. It was a surreal, undiluted nightmare better suited for an arthouse theater than ABC on a Monday evening, capped off with one of the cruelest twists ever aired on TV. If this isn’t the strangest hour of network television in history—well, it certainly belongs in the conversation.

So how did it happen? In a sudden burst of passion, David Lynch—who had more or less abandoned his creative role on the series (but popped up regularly to play Cooper’s FBI boss, Gordon Cole)—suddenly came back to Twin Peaks and threw out much of an already completed finale script. Instead, he rewrote large chunks of the story in real time—and he did it all in his usual, cryptic manner, leaving the rest of the production scrambling to accommodate his unique vision. When location liaison Barry Gremillion, still working from the original finale script, asked Lynch a logistical question, Lynch replied: "I wouldn’t pay too much attention to that script if I were you."

Lynch is not credited as a writer on the Twin Peaks finale, but it is obviously his work. To be fair to Mark Frost, Harley Peyton, and Robert Engels—who wrote that original script—the finale they scripted wasn’t exactly conventional network fare either. Much of the weirdness that exists in the final cut was there, in some form, from the beginning—most notably, Cooper’s harrowing journey into the Black Lodge and the climactic cliffhanger, which sees Cooper possessed by the spirit of BOB, the supernatural killer who murdered Laura Palmer. This twist was originally conceived as something that might goad ABC into giving Twin Peaks one last season to resolve it.

But if the original finale was always going to be unusually risky for a network TV drama, Lynch’s version was like a gymnast performing without a net. More than anything, what Lynch adds to the finale is despair—raw, discomfiting, unresolved (and probably unresolvable) despair.

Original script: Nadine slips back into shticky dialect as soon as she recovers her memories.
Filmed version: She breaks down into panicky sobs, and that’s where we leave her.

Original script: Doc Hayward rushes to help Ben Horne after he cracks his head open.
Filmed version: He just falls to his knees and screams at the ceiling.

Original script: Deputy Hawk and Major Briggs find Leo Johnson in the weird spider-trap rigged by Windom Earle.
Filmed version: We get just a brief flash of Leo in the spider-trap, with no indication that anyone knows where he is or has any intentions of saving him.

Original script: Laura Palmer comes back in a heavenly glow of white light, heroically putting herself between Bob and Agent Cooper.
Filmed version: Well, just watch...

That final sequence takes place in the Black Lodge—a nightmarish, apparently inescapable funhouse covered in omnipresent red drapes, and packed with smirking, blank-eyed doppelgangers of the characters Twin Peaks fans had come to know over the course of the series. We had seen this place briefly in Cooper's dream sequence near the beginning of a series—back when Twin Peaks was a critical darling, and its weirdness was in proportion to its night-soap plotting. But here, the Black Lodge takes over the series altogether, swallowing up all conventional drama in favor of this particularly Lynchian vision of hell.

And then there's all the time travel. The original finale script hints that the boundaries of time itself might have broken down; as Cooper enters the Black Lodge, he briefly becomes a child, and later encounters his elderly father. But Lynch takes this relatively straightforward concept (and this corny execution) and throws it out. Instead, at the Double R Diner, a scene from the pilot repeats itself more or less verbatim, though none of the characters involved seem to be aware they’ve said and done these things before. Is this a roundabout way of suggesting that Twin Peaks, which seems to be the epicenter of a universal battle between good and evil, has descended into a purgatorial spiral? Or is it just self-referential, self-indulgent weirdness for weirdness’ sake?

    The Black Lodge takes over the series altogether, swallowing up all conventional drama in favor of this particularly Lynchian vision of hell.

Believe it or not, the answer is closer to the former than the latter. For all the weirdness—and the semi-improvised nature in which it came — the Twin Peaks finale plays by its own internal logic; if you’re nerdy and obsessive enough to follow Twin Peaks down this rabbit hole, you’ll find most of the answers you need to make sense of it. It’s probably worth noting that that prequel movie, Fire Walk With Me, provides slightly more resolution to some of these questions. In another time-bending subplot, Annie Blackburn briefly appears in Laura Palmer’s bed, urging her to write Dale Cooper’s tragic fate into her diary. If Fire Walk With Me holds any clues to unlocking the more obtuse aspects of Twin Peaks—and Lynch has strongly suggested that it does—it’s a safe bet that the new season of Twin Peaks will pick up all these dangling threads and weave them into the story fans have been waiting so many years for.

But we’re saying all this now, with the benefit of decades of hindsight. Back in 1991, this was it. Cooper was corrupted—maybe even dead?—and evil had triumphed, with Bob acquiring a brand-new federal agent body to spread his evil across the land. And what did ABC think of this particular gambit? In Brad Dukes’ authoritative Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks, Philip Segal—then the programming director of ABC—didn’t mince words:

"I just laughed at it because it laughed at us. It made a mockery of us. It made a mockery of the television audience when you think about it. It was so ridiculous. There was a part of me that thought it was brilliant and refreshing because it broke the rules and was so avant-garde and there was a part of me and part of the network that felt betrayed and felt this wonderful opportunity to keep something brilliant alive had just been destroyed by its creators."

Segal stops just short of saying that this oddball finale was the final nail in Twin Peaks’ coffin—but he’s also making it pretty easy to read between the lines. You can imagine a world in which a more conventional finale might actually have netted Twin Peaks a third season. Instead, we got one of TV’s all-time most daring, mesmerizingly unresolved cliffhangers: Dale Cooper, a paragon of goodness, possessed by the killer he traveled to Twin Peaks to stop. It is the feel-bad ending to end all feel-bad endings.

Except, of course, that it wasn’t supposed to be an ending at all. Which is why it’s so satisfying that 25 years later, it's not an ending anymore. David Lynch and Mark Frost are actually bringing Twin Peaks back on their own terms, with the third season ABC almost certainly wouldn’t have let them make—in 1991 or in 2017. And the weirdest finale in TV history is suddenly, against all odds, just the midpoint of the story.
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