The Atmospheric Euphoria of Twin Peaks

Revisiting fictional worlds can bring a level of identifiable comfort to otherwise restless days. At least, that’s how I felt when I started constructing my Animal Crossing island a few weeks ago. My wife had been badgering me for months to pick up the game (she even bought a second Nintendo Switch) so that we could escape this pandemic together and uhh, I dunno, share DIYs? I was apprehensive at first because of a tragic event in our history. When I finally relented my island took to a very specific shape. 

Named “Dual Cliff,” my getaway is a blatant nod to the subtle suburban horror of the early 90s genre-bending TV-show Twin Peaks. The town is peppered with Americana design elements like plastic flamingos, charcoal BBQs, and jukeboxes, and is surrounded by a forest with some weird shit going on. Seriously, you should visit. I’d love to tell you about the eldritch horrors my adorable residents have formed a cult around. How great the coffee and pie are at the Diner. K.K. Slider also puts on a great show each week but he only plays KK Dirge

At some point though, you have to ask yourself why. Why do you gravitate towards this type of surrealist horror? Gravity Falls, Deadly Premonition, Silent Hill, Alan Wake, and Thimbleweed Park. I love all of these things and they were all directly inspired by Twin Peaks. The TV-show had an atmosphere that was unlike anything else before it.

“She’s dead, wrapped in plastic.” – Pete Martell, 1990/Trent & Kelsey Seely, 2013-

Three decades ago Laura Palmer was found dead, wrapped in plastic. Nothing will ever be the same. I know this because my wife and I regularly say to each other, “She’s dead, wrapped in plastic.” In 2020. The absurd yet serious line delivery underscored something… off about this story of a small town in Washington dealing with the death of its homecoming queen and the FBI agent who arrived to investigate her murder.

Twin Peaks, as a setting, is lush with scenery porn. The television show was shot like a film, leading to some really high-quality sequences. Breathtaking nature scored to melodic dream pop that adds a false sense of comfort to the town. It also led television viewers at the time to wrongly assume Twin Peaks to be a straightforward mystery or quirky soap opera. Underneath the facade of normalcy, the town of Twin Peaks is something altogether else.  

There are many dark secrets to Twin Peaks. A corrupt businessman who basically controls the town and secretly funds a brothel and casino beyond the border. A darling who post-humously is revealed to be an addict who secretly escorted as a BDSM prostitute. The Ghostwood National Forest which surrounds Twin Peaks happens to be home to a portal to an otherworldly location. And yet, many of the residents of Twin Peaks are unfazed by the strangeness of their town and the things that happen there. Is it because they too are weird? 

There’s an instance where Nadine excitedly mentions to a stranger that she finally figured out how to make quiet drape-runners by using cotton balls. Amidst her excitement, she mentions that she figured it out while waiting for her husband to be released from intensive care. Why does she care more about these silent drape-runners than her husband? Likewise, there’s a lady whom everyone in the town refers to as the Log Lady, who claims her log was witness to the crime and can hear it talk, but no one is put off by her. In fact, she might be one of the more benevolent forces in the town. Here she is attending the 42nd Emmy Awards (RIP Catherine E. Coulson). 

The townsfolk who aren’t outwardly crazy have the commonality of being white anglo-Saxon protestant wasp-types who subvert their outward wholesomeness with troubled backstories or hidden dark desires. Murder, adultery, insurance fraud — the same people who seem blind to the horrors around them are generally more focused on their own secret lives.

One of my favorite examples of this is when Donna, trying to figure out what happened to her dead best friend, was delivering meals. She delivers a meal to an old lady named Mrs. Tremond and her grandson. The pair say cryptic things and the grandson makes the creamed corn just vanish from the tray. He’s supposedly been “studying magic,” but the whole scene has a weird vibe. The next time Donna comes to visit they are not there. A completely different person lives there. Donna could have a breakdown over this clearly wrong thing but she’s so consumed by her undercover actions that it doesn’t register to her completely. 

The few exceptions to this censoring are the Bookhouse Boys, a secret society that fights back against the things that go BOB in the night, the Native American Deputy Hawk, and Agent Dale Cooper of the FBI. Hawk and the Bookhouse Boys are accustomed to the intimidating natural truths of the town and its surroundings, so they automatically accept when Agent Dale Cooper uses strange, paranormal methods to uncover Laura Palmer’s killer. Successfully, I might add. You might argue that the only reason Agent Cooper was able to navigate the situation in Twin Peaks as long as he did was that he became increasingly aware of the supernatural rules by exposure. 

Cooper would often be whisked off to the Red Room, a dimension where spirits speak backward and time works differently. Where the beings the Natives feared liked to feed on human pain and sorrow. We the Red Room and the Black Lodge underneath as series of identical rooms with red curtains and a zig-zag black-and-white patterned floor. And then there were the town’s own locations with connections to the supernatural world like the Palmer House, Jack Rabbit Palace, and The Dutchman. These were places the spirits of the woods like to frequent to mess with the locals. They reminded you that things in this town were only mean to look normal. They aren’t. 

The marriage of the real and the unreal in Twin Peaks is so revolutionary that it has influenced a swath of media as well as my Animal Crossing island. Was it the beautiful log cutting scenery? The many quotable moments? The quiet, unsetting horror that most of the town seems unaware of? Yes. It is all of these wonderful elements that make the atmosphere of Twin Peaks so euphoric and deeply satisfying. I’ve come to appreciate this world even more during this pandemic now that things outside my window appear more “normal” than they actually are. Perhaps nothing is normal.

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