Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Secret History of Twin Peaks

I've been a knocked-out Twin Peaks geek since I sat in my living room on April 8, 1990, got halfway through the pilot, and blurted out to whoever was in the room with me, "This is the best damn television show I've ever seen." After having watched the original two seasons and the follow-up/prequel film, Fire Walk With Me, countless times over, my opinion has changed little. While the critical consensus that the show went off the rails after the first half of the second season is anything but ill-founded, even those episodes still engage, and the second-season finale, directed by David Lynch, is a mind-blowing masterpiece. And yes, damn those cliff-hangers, yet and still it was the not knowing that sparked so much speculation about the show — more specifically, about the characters and their fates — and spurred fan interest that has only blossomed over the decades. My view of Fire Walk With Me also bucks the majority opinion that it was a train wreck featuring a few scattered moments of brilliance. No ma'am, the more times I watch that film, the more I find to dissect, to revel in, to question, to be glad in not knowing all the answers. It's David Lynch doing what David Lynch does best, and oh, my lord, would I ever love to see a director's cut of this monster. Of course I am all revved for the Showtime revival set for next year; at the moment, I don't have Showtime, but there is always a way.

I picked up The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost, the show's co-creator, knowing little about the book, only that it fills in some gaps while leaving many unaddressed, and that it ostensibly sets up some plot points and possible characterizations for the upcoming series. For a book like this, reviewing it without spoilers is a tricky prospect, so if you proceed, you may encounter them. Be on your guard.

Though it's called "a novel," the book is structured as a dossier compiled by an individual known as "The Archivist," who clearly has connections to both Twin Peaks and certain government agencies (fans of the show will almost certainly guess his/her identity quickly). In turn, the dossier is being investigated by an FBI agent, whose hand is shown primarily in the copious footnotes that accompany the text. The documents in question include top secret government papers, personal correspondence and diaries, excerpts from local news stories, transcripts of interviews, and more. From these documents, a picture of the strange forces at work in and around Twin Peaks begins to take shape, starting in the earliest days of the nation, with fact and fiction intermingling so that one is barely recognizable from the other. From writings by explorers Lewis and Clark, we learn of the discovery of two mountains near a river with a great waterfall, a small circle of sycamores, and a mysterious cave. A fair portion of the book focuses on the plight of the Nez Perce tribe in the area and their interactions with both the US government and those same otherworldly forces first encountered by Lewis and Clark. From there, the mysterious 1947 incidents at Roswell, NM, occupy a significant portion of the novel's word count, tying into the alluring but little-explored events in the series that involved Major Garland Briggs (Don S. Davis).
Doug Milford after joining
the US Army, circa 1941

Throughout the novel, we do get to discover more about some of the local personalities that were prominent in the series, with the most attention paid to Sheriff Harry Truman (Michael Ontkean); Deputy Tommy (Hawk) Hill (Michael Horse); Dr. Lawrence Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn); Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie); Josey Packard (Joan Chen); Mayor Dwayne Milford (John Boylan); Big Ed Hurley (Everett McGill); Nadine Hurley (Wendy Robie); Margaret Coulson, a.k.a. "The Log Lady" (Catherine Coulson); Carl Rodd (Harry Dean Stanton, from Fire Walk With Me); and others, including relevant information about their parents, siblings, and various significant family members. Perhaps the most surprising revelation of character involves the mayor's brother, Doug Milford (Tony Jay ), who, in the show, was the most minor of minor players, known primarily as the publisher of the town newspaper (The Twin Peaks Post) and the ill-fated husband of vixen Lana Buddig (Robyn Lively). In The Secret History of Twin Peaks, Doug Milford comes out front and center, with author Frost building a complex, lifelong history for him that, within the context of the TV series, one would never have suspected (very possibly the reason Frost chose this particular character to imbue with such dramatic significance). At first, Frost's decision to center the story on Doug Milford didn't ring quite true, but over the course of the story, that focus became less jarring and more comprehensible, especially as its ultimate scope became apparent.

The murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) and the fate of her father, Leland (Ray Wise), are granted little more than passing mention near the end of the book, but given that the first season and a half of the series — plus Fire Walk With Me — revolved almost entirely around that mystery, further delving into the superficial facts of it here would have seemed redundant. Happily, however, a number of loose ends from the series are given closure, such as the outcome of the explosion in the bank at which Audrey Horne (Sherilynn Fenn), Pete Martell (Jack Nance), and Andrew Packard (Dan O'Herlihy) were present. We have a tribute to the Log Lady, ostensibly for the Twin Peaks Post, as lovingly rendered as if it were intended for the late actress who played her, Catherine Coulson.
Page from the journal of explorer Wayne Chance,
circa 1875, showing a rendering of the map
discovered on the wall of Owl Cave

The most intriguing aspects of The Secret History of Twin Peaks are the back stories for the characters that offer insight into their personalities that may or may not have been exposed during the series' run, and the explorations of outré events related to but not necessarily showcased in the series. Given the book's focus on mysteries and secrets, which include but are not limited to Twin Peaks, geographically and thematically, one might expect more delving into the Black Lodge and its inhabitants, yet these are given relatively little coverage. However, at the end of the book, the Archivist's conclusions regarding universal mysteries absolutely encompass the essence of the Lodge, and in fact open the way for continued exploration, likely to be set up in the upcoming Showtime series.

To be sure, The Secret History of Twin Peaks is not aimed at the casual reader, but rather to those geeks such as myself who have made the show not just a source of entertainment but a passion. Given Twin Peaks' structure, open to so much individual interpretation, it is natural that this book might not jive with conclusions drawn by many fans over the 25 years since the show aired. But with this book, Mark Frost has done a commendable job drawing fans back into the town, the characters, the mysteries of Twin Peaks. I blazed through the book cover to cover, but there's enough material within to warrant a revisit, especially in that — just like the series — repeated visits may reveal secrets missed in the initial experience.

The audio book features members of the cast — including Kyle MacLachlan (Special Agent Dale Cooper), Russ Tamblyn (Dr. Lawrence Jacoby), Michael Horse (Deputy Hawk), Chris Mulkey (Hank Jennings), David Patrick Kelly (Jerry Horne), Amy Shiels, James Morrison, Robert Knepper, and Annie Wersching — narrating passages that pertain to the characters they played (or will play). That, as well, may be a purchase worth making.

Without question, I will be revisiting this book, perhaps as often as I have revisited the series itself. Four and a half out of five Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.
The Twin Peaks sign for the upcoming Showtime series. Twin Peaks' actual population is supposed to be 5,120—
the extra digit is explained away as a "misprint." In reality, the network insisted that the show appear to take place
in a larger town as, in 1990, since it felt audiences wouldn't be receptive to another series set in a small town.

No comments: