Spoilers for both the original run and season 3 below.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep…”
Twin Peaks made its triumphant return last night and I, for one, could not be happier. Although I missed it on its initial 1991-92 run, after seeing Laura Palmer wash up on the shore, wrapped in plastic, I was hooked; season one flew by in one all-night sitting. Season two, however, took me a bit longer due to its double episode length and its more arduous plots, the price of director/writer David Lynch’s departure, an experience I’ve found is not uncommon with other fans. Season three blew my expectations out of the water—Lynch at his Lynchiest.
On some level, I do not want to talk about Twin Peaks because not only has it all most likely been said before, but because the beauty of Lynch’s creations beckon immersion, not reflection. His style is a projection of dreamlike, ethereal, saturated with imagery of the unconscious and the transcendental ‘big fish‘ that lie in the darkness just under the surface. The son of a research scientist for the Department of Agriculture, Lynch was raised in the trees and grew up believing in the mystery of the northwestern forest, misty, dark, impenetrable. So no, I do not want to talk about Twin Peaks — surely by now everyone has something to say about the premiere last night. No: I want to talk about the trees.
Washington is a temperate coniferous climate. The forests are broadleafed and dense, a canopy of green above and thick trees below; Douglas firs, redwoods, Sitka spruce. The air is almost always damp, logged with water. When you cannot see the sky and the air is full of the smell of damp soil, there is an innate connection with the earth around you, which is the only environment you can immediately experience. The scenery begs for mystery, enclosed and ensconcing whatever happens with it.
The woods, in Germanic tradition specifically, but certainly elsewhere, have an inherently pagan connotation, and why not? — the woods are good at hiding things that do not want to be discovered, and have an innate connection to nature, the essence of paganism. In his Landscape and Memory, Simon Schama tracks the history of nature and the influence of nature itself on history; he opens with a great quote from Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya: “Forest, forest, forest…monotonous, I should have thought”. Schama goes on to discuss the notion that, prior to the 19th American century, “the forest had been represented in the popular imagination as the enemy…beauty lay in clearance; danger and horror lurked in the pagan woods”. The statement is one of common sense; if you can see the land, then it can’t hold any secrets.
Schama also makes a connection between the towering redwoods and sequoias of the Pacific Northwest — the ‘Big Trees’ — as the contemporaries of Jesus Christ, an idea of novelty for Americans in the 1800’s and par for the course of 19th century Romanticism and the growing climes for the wild, radicalized Enlightenment of nature. There is an element of sacrosanct veneration of the pagan woods in Twin Peaks as well, partly on Lynch’s behalf; they contain a supernatural power, one we are unaware of and have subsequently lost touch with, but one that is present all the same.
The farther you go into the Ghostwood, the more you learn; this is central to the idea of both the town and the show of Twin Peaks, as well as to Lynch’s cinematic philosophy. The plot may begin with Laura in the river, but — especially in Fire Walk With Me — the setting of the mystery itself, and the enigma of Laura Palmer, is the forest. The woods are where Cooper finds the entrance to the Black Lodge, where Laura disappears into, where Coop and his team discover more about the murder the farther they (literally) wander in, towards The Log Lady and the secrets of what her log saw, as well as Jacques Renault’s cabin where ‘there’s always music in the air’. The woods conceal and reveal at the same instance — they mask the answers that are being sought, yet they also are the source of the answers themselves.
The most evident example of this is the fact that (S3 spoilers: one of?) the entrance to The Black Lodge is in the forest.
The Black Lodge is the inherent problem and solution to Laura Palmer’s murder; its creatures haunt her, as we see in Fire Walk With Me; she herself waits for Agent Cooper inside the Lodge, though trapped or not we do not know. BOB is the demonic force which ultimately kills her, journeying out from the Lodge to wreak havoc and prey on the foibles of human nature. He may not be of the forest, but he certainly uses it as a vehicle, emerging from it, stalking Laura into it, and roaming wild throughout it.
The woods also serve more covert needs of the residents of Twin Peaks — Bobby Briggs and Mike Nelson take a drive to score cocaine off of Leo Johnson, as Leo and his Canadian cronies often use backwoods trails to run drugs into town. Hotel mogul Benjamin Horne sets up a meeting in the trees with Leo himself to order a nice bit of arson and insurance fraud. James Hurley and Donna Hayward hide Laura’s locket in the mountains, knowing the police are searching for it and believe its owner was her killer.
I’ve watched all four episodes of the new season — while I have no more of an idea of what is happening than anyone else save for Lynch and Frost themselves, my concentration is on the woods; they were the key to the mystery before, and I believe they will be again once we return to them. Already, and due to the creative control Lynch has been given that was not freely available during the original run, these episodes have contained elements that are pure 100% uncut Lynch; there’s a little bit for everyone, from fans of Eraserhead to Inland Empire and Mulholland Drive. I even noticed a little Blue Velvet. I believe this will be Lynch’s magnum opus, if only because it so clearly displays his talents and skills as a director at their unfiltered strongest, although no one may understand it all until it’s laid out before us in full.
So far in season three, the woods of Twin Peaks has not made many appearances — although that may change. Trees and forest landscapes are often used to segue scenes, especially in the newest season, where the camera cranes over lush, misty firs and spruce. There is still darkness within them that Lynch wants us to see, and uses their imagery to link the unfolding mysteries from one to the next; already, a day after the fact, the world is swimming with observations, predictions, and speculations on what exactly is going to happen this season, but I have nothing to add — I’m just along for the ride. So David Lynch: take me through the trees.
Frost, Scott. The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes. Pocket. 1991.
Lynch, David. Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity. Deckle Edge. 2007.
Schama, Simon. Landscape and Memory. Alfred A. Knopf. 1995.