“Twin Peaks”, like so many other stories, is built off the murder of a young woman. That death becomes the starting point for the show’s actual narratives – the detective uncovering the mystery, the soap opera antics of the townsfolk, the descent into supernatural horror, and so on. When network and audience demands led to showrunners David Lynch and Mark Frost revealing Laura Palmer’s killer it didn’t take long for the show to fall into crisis, because her death was always meant as a way of propelling other narratives and expanding stories outward. Her death itself was not the show’s concern, just the show’s engine. Laura was a cipher for other characters and stories to get filtered through. “Twin Peaks” was dark and terrifying at times, but as the story of its eponymous town, it’s more fondly remembered for its idiosyncrasies, its quirks, its charm.
“Fire Walk With Me” finally tells the story of Laura Palmer herself. It isn’t the story of Twin Peaks the town, and outsider detective Dale Cooper is here the prop for her story rather than she for his – she’s not one of “half the high school girls in America” as Albert says in a nod to the trope, she’s a unique person who deserves to have her own story told. Seeing Twin Peaks through the lens of Laura rather than Cooper results in a very different tone. “Fire Walk With Me” is a dark, dark Lynch film. It’s off-putting, uncomfortable, unsettling, so much so that the whole series seems repositioned in the light of what Laura’s life and demise was actually like on its own terms. After the first quarter of the film, Laura enters the film in a montage running through numerous iconic parts of the series – the opening theme, the Palmer house, Bobby’s antics, Donna’s friendship, high school drama – which is mirrored in a second montage near the end set to an eerie, distorted version of Laura’s theme, proceeding through a lot of this imagery span as much darker, with unsettling flashes of electricity.
Structurally, the film narratively works as both prequel and epilogue to the series (thanks to the timebending nature of some of the supernatural conceits), but from the actual perspective of its release, I think it was a perfect finale to the series, even more so than the brilliant and daring second season finale, in finally inverting the conceit of the show to push the voyeuristic nature of the show and finally lay Laura’s life completely bare, in all its tragedy. “Fire Walk With Me” isn’t lurid, it’s depressing, and that’s a fine note to end a series about the tragedy of a young woman’s murder upon.
[I’ll deal with more specific spoilers, for the film and series, from here on out.]
Even before the film actually gets to Laura Palmer, it makes its mission statement clear, by starting in a town other than Twin Peaks, with detectives other than Dale Cooper and Harry Truman. Even before that, the film literally opens with a television screen failing, displaying only static, then breaking, as clear a statement of intent one’s likely to get from Lynch. The blue rose scene, with David Lynch himself (albeit in-character as Gordon Cole), seems at least partially a send-up of the show’s tendency to encourage byzantine speculation from fans.
When Chris Isaak and Kiefer Sutherland’s detectives do get to Deer Meadow, they find it a town ostensibly very different from what viewers except of small towns like Twin Peaks. There’s no inherent charm to it, the people aren’t particularly pleasant, and when the FBI detectives involve themselves it plays as invasive rather than charming. Together, Chet Desmond and Sam Stanley form a pseudo-Cooper, with Desmond representing his attractiveness and capability, and Stanley his peculiar genius and endearing quirks, but in the context of Deer Meadows, they aren’t half as appealing as Cooper. Even the beloved “hot cup of coffee” gets an unpleasantly parodied scene. Their entire part of the film is somewhat unpleasant, and it feels like the natural assumption as to why would be that, well, it isn’t “Twin Peaks”. But when the film does shift to Twin Peaks, we see that the lovable nature of the town was very much down to the series being filtered through Cooper’s perspective, as the town through Laura’s perspective is hardly any more appealing than Deer Meadows was.
Recontextualising the series in such a way could be taken as invalidating it, as exposing what people loved about the series – the quirkiness, the mysteries, the characters – as either somewhat a sham, purely the product of Cooper’s worldview, or exploitative, a way of breezing past a woman’s death to enjoy the drama it created. But just as it’s too reductive to take stories kicked off with the death of a young woman as inherently exploitative or amoral, it’s too reductive to read the film in that way. It’s the prevalence, the sheer amount of stories kickstarted by the deaths of young women that the same stories never really consider with much depth, that’s more the issue than the story themselves. And in the ending of the film the series itself is validated, as Cooper’s commitment to investigating Laura’s murder sees him positioned as her guardian angel, his good nature finally actual solace for her instead of just fuel for more stories. It unifies the series with the film and ends the series on as fulfilling and “happy” a note as it could without invalidating the end of the second season.
I give the film five cups of coffee, and a slice of cherry pie.