Oct 1, 2014

Twin Peaks: The Owls Are Not What They Seem

In the spring of 1990, many tv viewers were persuaded to turn away from the Thursday night juggernaut of The Cosby Show -- A Different World -- Cheers -- and Wings to watch Twin Peaks, a tv series created by surrealist director David Lynch, to learn "Who killed Laura Palmer?"

No one knew that the answer would become so darn convoluted.

The premise: popular high schooler Laura Palmer of Twin Peaks, Washington, is found murdered.

FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan, best known for Lynch's homophobic Blue Velvet) is called in to investigate, and works with local sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean, best known then as the gay guy from Making Love).

Gradually they discover that everyone in town has multiple dark secrets.  There are weird alliances and interconnections.  A middle-aged woman regresses to a teenager.  Laura's psychiatrist commits suicide.

Cooper has a dream of a backward-talking dwarf who is From Another Place, who makes cryptic utterances like "when you see me again, I won't be me" and "everybody is full of secrets."

Laura had several secrets of her own.  One wonders how she found time to hang out with her boyfriend  (played by Dana Ashbrook, left), when she was having affairs with several older men, as well as working as a prostitute to support her drug habit.  (In David Lynch's world, prostitution is the Ultimate Evil).

After seven episodes, the first season ended, with lots of clues but no answers.

During the summer of 1990, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer was published, and became a must-read.  It offered no new clues.

You could also get Twin Peaks: An Access Guide to the Town, with tourist information about the town, including the cafe where Cooper got his "damn fine coffee!" and cherry pie.

In September 1990, the second season began, on Saturday nights.

A giant who may be an alien warns Cooper that "The owls are not what they seem."

Whatever that means.

Laura appears in a vision and says "Sometimes my arms bend back."

Whatever that means.

Cooper learns of Black Lodge, which can manipulate world events.

There was no way to unite all of the plot threads into a coherent whole, so in December they threw in a lame explanation -- Laura was murdered by her father, who was being possessed by a being named BOB, who was working for the Black Lodge, who...or something like that.  And everyone scratched their head and said WTF?  All this to murder a teenager?

This was the homophobic David Lynch, so of course there were no gay characters, other than some leering effeminate villains, and some unintentional gay subtexts in the interaction between Truman and Cooper.

No beefcake to speak of.

So why did Twin Peaks gain so many gay fans?

Maybe it's the sinister small towns.  In West Hollywood many of us came from small towns, and remembered them as prisons where everyone had lots of secrets.

Maybe it was wishful thinking.  We were waiting for one of the "secrets" to be about being gay.

Or maybe it was our own hidden knowledge.  Before the 1980s, and often after, kids grew up unaware that gay people exist.  There was a conspiracy of silence that could be overcome only through seeking out subtexts, euphemisms, things left out, clues hidden from view.  We knew more than anyone that "the owls are not what they seem."

See also: Lost: Charlie's Three Boyfriends.