TWENTY-FIVE YEARS LATER: QUESTIONS IN A WORLD OF BLUE/ANSWERS IN A ROOM OF RED – TWIN PEAKS REVISITED (A ‘Your Fucked Up Childhood’ Special)

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“Oh God. I was just a boy.

I saw him in my dream.

He said he wanted to play.

He opened me and I invited him and he came inside me.”
~ Leland Palmer

The red curtains of my bedroom do just enough to shield the dying summer sundown from the screen of my portable TV. There’s nary a hair on my balls and a Teenage Mutant ‘Hero’ Turtle poster beams at me from each of four walls. It’s entirely likely I’m wearing white High-Tops and a T-Shirt depicting Bart Simpson ‘hanging ten’ upside down in a “tube”.  Through a blizzard of static I stop tuning as I suddenly discover a man in a beige trench coat stepping delicately through a pitch black forest, before being caught in a spotlight with no logical point of origin and confronted by the impossible manifestation of softly swaying red drapes among the sinisterly lilting boughs. He approaches the curtains cautiously, then quickly, inquisitively slips between them whereupon they both vanish completely, leaving only the heavily populated desolation of those introductory dark woods.

He re-emerges in a garish room, the only continuity now all pervasive, disconcertingly swaying red curtains, into some ulterior intellect’s unfathomable interpretation of what might pass for a man-made place. The nature of his transcendence dictates this location is not on terra firma, and I’m imbued with the feeling that it conceivably exists anywhere and nowhere at the same time. A sharply dressed singer of indeterminate gender belts out a terrifying Jazz standard about coming eyeball-to-eyeball with an accusatory ‘you’ beneath sycamore trees. A dwarf acquiesces to a disconsolate saxophone, falling into position with all the import of some preordained inevitability grander than the planets. This red room blackens momentarily before being frenziedly stabbed starkly into view intermittently by the unrelenting onslaught of a strobe light thematically echoing the erratic patterns of its black and white zig-zagged floor.

“If you confront the Black Lodge with imperfect courage, it will utterly annihilate your soul.”
~ Deputy Tommy ‘The Hawk’ Hill

Well, tickle-me obliterated. I shattered the strobe into the snow in which I discovered it, and tried to reconnect with what I’d thought was the inalienable order of my previously reliable existence.

In the summer of 1991, David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ bowed out with the most surreal, and disturbing display ever to grace Network Television. Yes, in spite of all it’s incongruous logic and cloudy eyed, screaming apparitions, it was and remains a thing of staggering, if terrifying, beauty. ‘Twin Peaks’ punched a hole through the artifice of asininity inherent in Television drama of the late 20th Century, through which many innovative series have leaked but never surpassed such an impact.

That adolescence molesting, apocalyptic final episode set Shawn C Baker and myself on a collision course (or ‘appointment at the end of the world’ Friday, 17th of August 2000 for the 10th anniversary Twin Peaks/Lynchfest) at a small, damp Community Hall in the Pacific Northwest, facing the Motel where Leland Palmer arguably made the decision to murder his 17 year old daughter, Laura. We were looking for answers. 14 years after that chance encounter, and 25 after Dale Cooper entered the Red Room where he was told he would remain to this day (March 26th, 1989), we’re still searching.

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“‘Twin Peaks’ conclusion literally ripped the top of my head off and threw it out the window (still never got that back…)”

~ Shawn C Baker

Chester Whelks: Let’s start at the beginning of the end. Shawn, I’ve heard you talk about happening upon the Pilot, the 2 hour introductory “movie of the week”, but other than the above quote, I haven’t really heard about the circumstances surrounding your viewing of the final episode, which itself appeared as the final hour of a 2 hour broadcast twinned with the preceding episode on June 10th 1991. Can you describe your memories of where you were at that time in your life, details of that evening – I believe it aired between 9 and 11pm (though I’m not sure which timezone) Had you been religiously keeping up with the show despite the prohibitive time-slot it had been given (Saturday nights)?

Shawn C Baker: I was a bit of a miscreant in high school and when Twin Peaks’ final episode aired I was part of a cabal of like-minded deviants who hung out mostly in the massive forest preserves that surrounded our south Chicago suburb. It was in these woods we spent many a Saturday night ingesting a wide variety of illicit materials. This of course meant that for much of the second season I had to tape Twin Peaks and watch it either late, late Saturday night or on Sunday. Thank god for the VCR, eh? What Twin Peaks in general and the final episode in particular did to me at that time was help me translate my imagination – which had been reared on the likes of comic books and toy tie-in cartoons – into a more adult perspective. Twin Peaks employed an element of the fantastic but it did so in a very elegant way. The use of jazz in particular always strikes me as precisely the right tone for the surreal elements of the show, especially in that final episode. Looping back, this new concept for the fantastic percolated in my brain in a way that often saw me wandering off into those dark Saturday night forests of my intoxicated youth, searching for my own circle of twelve Sycamore trees. My un-indoctrinated friends thought I was a freak. Twin Peaks, particularly that final episode, helped me integrate those parts of my imagination previously tickled by some of the stranger elements of franchises such as GI-JOE into the adult world I was preparing to enter into in a few short years and was increasingly called upon to interact with. This in turn helped me avoid the customary push to chuck my imagination in the bin, a harbinger my parents definitely did not weigh-in on, but the world around me suggested the closer I came to college. I’ve come to see this dismissal of our imagination – a rite of passage that confronts, I think, most children as they prepare to enter the ‘real world’ – as our own confrontation with the ‘Dweller on the Threshold’ and I’d like to think it’s something Deputy Hawk or at least Michael Horse himself would be proud of me for. David Lynch in general and Twin Peaks specifically helped me circumvent that nonsensical idea that the imagination must be shed, because here was a show that had captivated the adults I knew and none of the other kids my age (at the time – later I would go on to meet many people such as yourself who the show affected at a similar age to myself) and thus it was proven to me that my imagination could indeed come with me to the other side of that walk for the diploma.

CW: The final episode is surprisingly well-set up by it’s predecessors; For me, there’s a distinct upturn when Gordon Cole returns in episode 2.15 and puts an end to Cooper’s disappointing ‘Deputy Sheriff’ days. Cooper is back, and his Moriarty-esque antagonist begins to expedite reservations for “an appointment at the end of the world”. BOB’s outstretched hand jerks spasmodically out of a spotlight above the pool of scorched engine oil in Glastonbury Grove. How aware were you at that time that you yourself were heading toward’s the definitive end? There was a brief hiatus and a very public campaign to save Twin Peaks in the run up to the finalé, wasn’t there?

SCB: Honestly, I was an angry stoner kid and Twin Peaks was the first time a corporate entity had ever threatened to withhold from me something I felt I had worked for and deserved. Of course that’s the ego-fetish of youth because, you know, imagine how the creators felt, right? But really, Twin Peaks was such a new experience for me that I did not understand how or why there had to be a fight to see what had been filmed and had a cult of people clamouring for its release. Of course, this and the cliffhanger of that final episode, the subsequent twenty-five years (almost) without a return or resolve – yeah it’s there if you twist and tweak, but a real continuation of what had been set up – that was new and it prepared me for much of the rest of my fanboy life. Whether its waiting with baited breath every time Terry Gilliam releases a new movie for it to pleasepleaseplease find a US theatrical distributor or Paul Cornell’s Saucer Country getting cut from the Vertigo line-up, Twin Peaks’ guillotine moment and the harsh echo that has resounded from it ever since taught me that, as Robert Blake’s Mystery Man tells Pete in Lost Highway, (very widely paraphrasing here) the end can come suddenly and from anywhere at any time.

SCB Okay, as a self-professed “glutton of American culture” I have to ask how the show and its protracted struggle to finish its much-maligned second season played out with you across the pond? Was there the same delay of the final few episodes leading up to the finalé in England? 

CW: Unlike yourself, being a few years younger I was not fully immersed in the series when it aired, which is going to sound peculiar considering how much I remember about circumstances surrounding something I later buried. These clues picked up in my youth sat in my subconscious giving the show an immeasurable power when I devoured the whole thing in three days in the mid 90s. I don’t recall there being any sort of a brouhaha about the continuity of the Second Season, which could be explained away by the delay in our receiving the series in the first place, I think we probably premiered it here (October, 1990) when you had finished Season 1 stateside, so the ABC drama regarding the show’s hiatus had probably played itself out by the time we saw Josie become part of the furnishings at the Great Northern.

SCB: Were the final two episodes sandwiched together?

CW: I can hand-on heart attest to the fact that the final episode was broadcast as a standalone. ‘Twin Peaks’ was on, on a Tuesday night on BBC2 at 9’o’clock, and I accidentally happened upon the final episode shortly after the 9’o’clock watershed, meaning it hadn’t been preceded by another episode.

SCB: What was the popularity of the show around those you knew?

CW: I was introduced, inadvertently, to the show (or programme, as we’d call it over here) by my Dad. He worked into the evening, but would be home and fed in time to plonk himself in front of Twin Peaks with a beer by the time 9 ‘o’ clock rolled round on a Tuesday evening, or else he would catch the Saturday night repeat (rerun) at 22:30. I remember talking about it with my brother. He said it was very strange, and the characters were sort of peculiar. An example of its ‘weirdness’ he gave me was that for example, during a scene in a supermarket, characters would be interacting with one another unremarkably,but all the products behind them were blank white boxes with black text stating what the product was at it’s most base level. I later realised that he was likely mistakenly describing something he’d overheard about ‘Repo Man’, but this goes to show that there was a lot of Chinese Whispers about the show filtering down even to kids.

SCB: I’m curious as to Lynch’s fan base over in England at the time of the Peaks finale. I remember between the phenomenon of the show and the Wild at Heart commercials that would run concurrently, not to mention the lingering water cooler conversation of his Obsession ads and the SNL parodies they inspired, David Lynch briefly became a household name in some circles over here, do you remember if the adults you knew were aware of him?

CW: As I said, my Dad was a devotee, and among my parents and their friends, he was a firm favourite, being bandied around as a byword for anything from the world of film that was out of the ordinary. My Dad was a sort of hang-on Hippy, as were his friends and there were various interesting aromas around our household after we had been sent to bed, or at his friends’ New Year’s parties. My Dad’s best friend had a framed picture of the egg from ‘ALIEN’ on his living room wall, and a stack of VHS tapes, mostly difficult to obtain films such as the then banned Argento cut of ‘Dawn of the Dead’, ‘Suspiria’, and ‘Eraserhead’ and over a hundred others. If my own parents’ appreciation extended to ‘Blue Velvet’, I don’t recall, probably owing to the fact it’s not the sort of conversation they would have allowed me to be privy to!

SCB: Were you aware of David Lynch?

CW: I have strong recollections of ‘The Elephant Man’ and ‘Dune’ being ubiquitous videos in all the homes I frequented as a kid, and available to us. We would watch the weirdest mixtures of stuff ‘Watership Down’, ‘Android’, ‘Yellow Submarine’, ‘The Elephant Man’, ‘Krull’, ‘Dune’. During ‘Twin Peaks’, I would sometimes lurk outside the living room and hear this blissful music, and wonder why it was supposedly off limits. One night, I opened the door and wandered in the room at the exact moment an animalistic, long haired, denim clad man (who incidentally looked a little like my Dad, and ALOT like a few of the friends he let sleep downstairs on a Friday night) was roaring, chasing a hysterical young woman around a living room in a spotlight in slow motion. It made for an exceptionally confusing, frightening, and uncomfortable few minutes. A few weeks later I slinked in again and witnessed a pine weasel attach itself to Dick Tremaine’s face. I think this was part of my coming to understand who David Lynch was.

SCB: Was the press aware of him, or was Peaks just a quirky show that briefly received some attention here and existed in some kind of black hole there.

CW: David Lynch was already a well established and respected figure in the critical community thanks to ‘The Elephant Man’, a very English story executed admirably by a young man from Montana. As with many successes of this type, as evidenced in Oscar hype for any film with a scintilla of British involvement in it, I think the English wanted to claim that film as their own. ‘Blue Velvet’ had definitely made great waves over here, so by the time Twin Peaks arrived, the critics were acquainted with his inimitable vision…which doesn’t mean they ‘got it’.

SCB: One of the things about England I always love is that – and this is especially true of music – things that I love and think are great often flop here in the states but go over gangbusters over by you. How was Twin Peaks regarded?

CW: Twin Peaks was a BIG deal here, not to the extent that it was actively celebrated in the States or Japan, with themed parties or anything, the majority of people would have been too reserved for that (at least to my knowledge, though I’d imagine University students would have been all over the coffee and cherry pie parties). The pilot episode was watched by 8.5 million households, which when you consider we were a country of around 55 million people, and 34 out of 248 million American homes tuned in, I suppose you could argue it was marginally bigger here, especially considering it was broadcast on the BBC’s more arty, lesser watched sister channel.

SCB: Did the finale alienate the cultural consensus (if there was one) or add to it?

CW: While my Dad stuck with Twin Peaks until the very end I have a firm feeling that he was of the opinion that it had tailed off significantly, whether this belief is informed by him opting to keep up with it via the repeats, or taping it, I’m not sure, but I know that he persisted despite being of the opinion it ultimately became a shadow of its former self (see what I did there?) . I don’t remember anyone else’s response to the finalé, probably because my own was so profound and illicit. I do remember some of the anticipation for ‘Fire, Walk With Me’, and I remember getting up early one Saturday morning and secretly checking what my parents had rented as I did every week, and seeing ‘Fire, Walk With Me’ and feeling a chill. I don’t remember any of the other tapes rented by them that I would look at, sat on top of the bookcase.

Chester Whelks: Shawn, back to the final episode – Windom Earle’s abduction of Annie creates the urgency that propels the viewer, with a sense of urgency, into the final episode despite your heart not wanting Twin Peaks to end. When Lynch’s episode opens, ‘Dark Mood Woods’ accompanies Cooper & Earle everywhere in the physical world, the Log Lady arrives out of nowhere (and Cooper knows she’s coming) much like she did when IT was HAPPENING AGAIN. How aware were you from the opening of Lynch’s final episode, especially given the fact the final two episodes were sandwiched together, that there was a seismic shift occurring much more in keeping with the best regarded episodes? Were you mindful at that time of who was at the helm of each episode? Were you looking out for Lynch’s name under the designation of ‘director’?

SCB: I think somewhere inside me I was aware that there was this, as you so wonderfully put it, “seismic shift” occurring that would put the episode in line with previous heart stopping moments such as when IT was indeed HAPPENING AGAIN, however, it would be a few years before I began to understand film in a way that opened up the idea of following certain creators and learning to recognize and appreciate their style. And it was, of course, David Lynch who primarily primed me for that understanding.
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CW: There is such a shocking contrast between Ghostwood Forest/Glastonbury Grove and the Red Room. The gateway is creepy in a familiar sense, but the Red Room is something else entirely. Can you recall how you felt when you transcended the threshold with Cooper, When ‘Sycamore Trees’ crept in – the Double Bass wobbling and vibrating, Jimmy. Fucking. Scott, the strange feeling of inevitability when the Little Man From Another Place fell into position, the light strobing on your face?

SCB: The appearance of those crimson curtains superimposed over Glastonbury Grove is one of the most powerfully charged images I have ever encountered in my life and it has kept alive in me ever since the idea that walking the inbetween places of our world, whether the fictional Ghostwood Forest or the forests that bordered my own town growing up, there is always hope in me that I will stumble upon a doorway like that. The real world dictates that I abandon that idea, but deep down Twin Peaks and its complete usurpation of my imagination taught me to never give up that hope. And I still haven’t.

CW: “Oh, the pity and fear of that final glance in the mirror!” ~ Martha Nochimson

You know what I’m talking about, Discuss.

SCB: It was everything I wanted and a total kick in the face at the same time. It took me years to stop pining over the fact that we were never given anything else – my imagination goes absolutely INSANE at the possibilities that Bob staring back at a toothpaste-abusing Dale Cooper opens. Possibilities that circumvent not only the way we are taught that good always vanquishes evil, but that maybe, perhaps, Evil is always present in good to begin with (again with that black and white floor – no wonder the Waiting Room is closer to our world than either of the lodges – it literally contains the two defining elements of our world: Black and white, good and evil.) What would the newly possessed Cooper do first? How would Bob utilize his new ‘liaison’ into not only the lives of the Twin Peaks characters that we have grown to care so deeply for, but also the US government? We get a little hint of what this might be like with Cole’s Blue Rose cases and David Bowie’s Philip Jeffries in FWWM, but Cooper? Honestly, that rumor last year about Lynch’s pitch of a third season to, of all places, NBC sounded amazing to me because it talked about Cooper having killed two beloved Peaks residents and spent the interim years in a nuthouse/prison. Time to shuffle off to Buffalo indeed. I still hold out hope that one day… but then, best not to say it.

CW: The End. There’s something almost mocking about the closing credits. Very few episodes of the series end with something other than Laura’s framed photo, the final episode has laura’s smiling face reflected in a coffee cup. In some ways it seems to be a miniature final scene from ‘Fire, Walk With Me’ – depicting Laura’s happiness, absolution.

SCB: Over the last few years it somehow occurred to me that this might just be Cooper’s coffee in the lodge, with the crazy, shrieking Laura still sitting there staring on after Dale’s escape attempt, and in her reflection we see – much as Bob occurs in Leland’s reflection in the ‘real world’ – the Laura we knew, looking out of the ‘mirror’ of the liquid, waiting for the peace that would come in the next chapter after that series final, FWWM.

CW: Given what has transpired immediately prior to this, it also seems sort of perverse. Do you have any memories of your emotions of the final scene bleeding into this end credit sequence?

SCB: I must have watched those closing credits a million times. I was always sure there was a message there. I mean, at some point something I read – probably in Win-Mill Productions’ late great Wrapped in Plastic magazine – spoke to how difficult a shot that must have been to get that reflection (pre-CGI of course).

CW: What are your memories of anticipating the release of ‘Fire, Walk With Me’ and what were your recollections of experiencing the film for the first time?

SCB: FWWM happened below radar for me – as I said earlier I wasn’t really a film guy at the time. I liked movies but they were disparate pleasures for me. I baulked at the chance to see FWWM in the theatre because at the time driving out from the suburbs to whatever art house theatre it was playing at in the city proper just wasn’t a reality for me, so I had to wait until it was released on VHS. And of course this was before the Internet and before there was this kind of rabid way to anticipate these kinds of things. You knew something had been released on video when you walked into your local video store and it was there on the shelves (hell, at this time I wasn’t even going to a place like Blockbuster – this was a family-owned video store). So I don’t know how much time passed between the series and the movie for me but that first time I watched it was very unfulfilling because this was before the entire series had even been released on video. Probably before I even owned any Twin Peaks – probably when I still had to rely on my various blank VCR tapes upon which I’d dubbed the show in scattered order. So the idea that, as I would do only a few years later, I could make an event of this and re-watch the series in preparation for the movie was just not a valid option for me at the time. Thus, several years removed from the experience I had some difficulty translating the very abrupt tonal shift of FWWM to what I remembered from the show. Of course, within a year or two I had my shit together video-wise and performed a massive event viewing with my girlfriend at the time. It was on that occasion that FWWM rocked my world and became the strange prequel/sequel Pandora’s box that it is today, offering tantalizing hints of solutions to questions that final shot of the series left us with while, of course, prompting ever more, darker questions.

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From Shawn C Baker’s personal collection, Twin Peaks as recorded off ABC.

CW: The final episode is marginally longer than most of the episodes in the series, maybe two or three minutes at most, but it still manages to use its 50 minutes very economically, flitting between two worlds. Whenever I watch it back, I’m still amazed at how much he manages to pack in – Dell Mibbler doddering across the floor of the bank like that, putting some sort of closure on the stories of the many denizens of Twin Peaks, Harry & Andy waiting, the varying encounters in the innumerable rooms of the Lodge…

SCB: At the time the final episode aired and for a few years afterward I would often sit and watch an episode out of context if it struck my fancy to do so. The final episode was one of the most common of those I revisited. During every single subsequent viewing of that episode I’ve tried to account for each twist and turn Cooper takes in those corridors, essentially attempting to map the Black Lodge and see if there were any answers therein. I’ve never quite gotten it. However, one thing those subsequent viewings instilled in me is the opinion that what we see in that final episode is not, in fact, the Black Lodge but, exactly as Michael Anderson says, the Waiting Room. The Black Lodge, as my theory goes, is really only witnessed in ‘Fire Walk With Me’. The white and black zigzag pattern of the Waiting Room indicates that it is in fact between both lodges and the place in which Deputy Hawk’s confrontation with the aforementioned Dweller on the Threshold actually takes place.

CW: How long were you in the Black Lodge with Agent Cooper? 

SCB: Aw, now my friend, I think you know the answer to that. Because, as I believe you and probably most hardcore Twin Peaks fans would agree, I’m still there in some way. We see Cooper’s confrontation with his shadow self and the outcome – he sacrifices perfect courage at the hands of his fear for Annie’s life. But whether what we enter with Cooper in that final episode is the Black Lodge or the Waiting Room, as I say I have never been able to completely figure out Cooper’s path and thus, am still trapped inside it much as he is.

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Chester Whelks

Chester Whelks

Chester Whelks is a peripheral figure on the fringes of existence. Predominantly bothering the local music scene of his native Manchester, England, he has a very finely attuned Justice-button, and knows how to call a spade a ‘Multi-Purpose Murder/Concealment Device’.

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