Can a Twin Peaks Revival Make the Northwest Mysterious Again?

David Lynch goes back into the night.

By Margaret Seiler September 13, 2016 Published in the October 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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A quarter-century after its abrupt network finale, Twin Peaks begins a third season in May. With its return, David Lynch’s mood-piece soap opera of small-town sex, crime, and demonic possession has the potential to reconnect our overexposed modern Northwest to an earlier era’s cloak of mystery. The original Twin Peaks premiered in April 1990, 15 months after Reagan left office. The series ended just before Nirvana’s Nevermind, Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, Cameron Crowe’s Singles, and other Pacific Northwest beacons for musicians, wayward youth, addled romantics, and ambitious idealists.

Set in motion by the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer, the story on its face was nothing new. Drama bubbling in a supposedly pristine small town? Supernatural elements in the surrounding woods? It’s Peyton Place with dashes of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, and the Salem witch trials. But this whodunit with owls was no New England gothic. Like his near-namesake DB Cooper, Agent Dale Cooper dropped into a mysterious Cascadian landscape and became one with the place. Here, he could find answers simply by following his dreams—whether those dreams told him to throw a rock at a bottle, or revealed the name of Laura Palmer’s killer.

The show, notionally set north of Spokane, was largely filmed around Puget Sound. But any Northwesterner—not just those on the edges of Washington state—can claim Twin Peaks. Lynch was born in Missoula, Montana. Star Kyle McLachlan (Agent Cooper) was born in Yakima, Washington, runs a wine business in Walla Walla, and has basically become Portland’s honorary mayor thanks to his Portlandia appearances. Michael Ontkean (Sheriff Truman) was born in Vancouver, British Columbia. Ashland native Catherine Coulson, a hometown regular on Oregon Shakespeare Festival stages, played the Log Lady, the character most connected to the land. (Coulson died in Ashland last year.) Seattle native Al Strobel, who played both a traveling shoe salesman and an inhabiting spirit named Mike, has lived in Portland and Eugene. 

Twin Peaks portrayed the Northwest as a land of coffee and firs, where men wore plaid and women dressed for the weather. (It was also a place where you could get that coffee with a sandwich and slice of pie for $6.31.) Delightfully outdated on arrival, Lynch’s show depicted an FBI agent with Brylcreemed hair and sock garters who cracks W. C. Fields jokes, and a vintage-loving teenage girl who sways to big-band on the jukebox and expresses surprise at encountering a female FBI agent. (That agent was a cross-dressing David Duchovny—one can only dream what his future X-Files character and partner, FBI Agent Dana Scully, would have made of things in Twin Peaks.)

Instead of subversively sneaking into a major network’s prime time lineup, the new episodes will air on Showtime, subject to two years of heated anticipation, nail-biting over the health of aging actors (it seems Lynch and his crew didn’t get to David Bowie in time, for example), and very, very high expectations. For many Portlanders of a certain age (target segment: 40-somethings), native or not, cherry-pie-fueled viewing parties will be reunions with our former selves, catching glimpses of the waterfall and quivering branches that first attuned us to a whole region’s secret magic.

No, Twin Peaks did not play a direct role in the stampede to the Far Corner that has swollen Portland’s population and made our cultural quirks marketable. But the short-lived vision of a land of mist and misfits did hold out a strange promise of welcoming green and gray—a place apart, a place to take refuge while Julee Cruise sings of tragic love. “Where we’re from,” a little man tells Agent Cooper in his dream, “the birds sing a pretty song, and there is always music in the air.”

Want more? Check out our Twin Peaks-inspired fall fashion feature.

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