After 26 years off the air, Twin Peaks is returning this Sunday, starting an 18-episode continuation. That’s… basically all we know about it other than the cast. Original series creators Mark Frost and David Lynch have written every episode and Lynch directed the whole thing himself. Besides that, the trailers for the new series have been purposely vague, giving us quick shots of faces old and new, inscrutable little pieces of dialogue and weird, Lynchian imagery.
Which is great for me. I’m gonna watch this series no matter what. But it may be a little too vague for newcomers. Because of that I’ve written a woefully brief primer for anyone who’s new to the series. I’ll go over some of the main characters, locations and storylines from the original series. Of course, whether or not they’ll be relevant to the new season is anyone’s guess.
Disclaimer: this isn’t even close to a suitable substitute for actually watching the series. The entire show so far consists of 30 episodes and a film, a very doable amount to catch up on. I’d recommend that instead of going in cold. The series is already weird enough without making it even harder on yourself.
There will be spoilers!
The titular town is Twin Peaks, Washington, a logging town with a population of just over 5,000 people (despite the typo on the town’s welcome sign). The entire series revolves around peeling back the layers of an idyllic “small town America” and showing the growing rot underneath. There are two types of secrets in Twin Peaks which represent the two types of genres the show lives in. There are personal secrets like hidden affairs, illegitimate children, illegal dealings, drugs and murder, all very much in the realm of a soap opera. The second type of secrets are of the more mystical variety like secretive military bases, protective societies, ancient evils and possessing spirits. These sci-fi and horror elements are also explored by the series.
The inciting incident is the murder of a high school girl, but the point of the show is that the evil and the secrets have been there forever, the death has just brought it all to the surface.
Agent Dale Cooper
That death also brings our main character to the town of Twin Peaks. Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is many things: overgrown boy scout, hardline professional, zen mystic and a damn fine detective. He’s instantly likeable and easygoing, with the show wisely setting aside any tension you would think would arise from an FBI agent taking over a case from a small town police department. They’re more than happy for his help, and who wouldn’t be happy to see Dale Cooper?
Cooper brings more than just his love of black coffee and cherry pie to Twin Peaks, he brings the full investigative powers of the FBI. That includes the sarcastic and abrasive pacifist, Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer), Cooper’s hard-of-hearing boss, Gordon Cole (David Lynch), a DEA Agent friend, Denise Bryson (David Duchovny) and his psychotic former mentor, Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh). Cooper is the one who starts peeling back the layers and brings the long-held secrets of Twin Peaks to the surface. His main goal for over half of the series is trying to solve the high school girl’s murder.
That girl is Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). Her tragic life and death are slowly uncovered throughout the series though she mostly only appears dead, in videos or otherworldly visions. But her entire life hangs over the characters on the show, even the ones who barely knew her. Her therapist, Dr. Lawrence Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) was deeply affected by their sessions, Harold (Lenny Von Dohlen), an agoraphobe she delivered meals too, was emotionally changed by reading her diary.
The people closest to her play a much bigger role in the series though. There was Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), the boyfriend she has because she’s expected to, who she was secretly taking and selling drugs with. Her friends Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle), a much more traditional good girl, and James (James Marshall), who she was secretly seeing. Both Donna and James actively investigate Laura’s murder, learning many of the unsavory details of Laura’s life a little too late. She also had a cousin, Maddy Ferguson (Sheryl Lee) who helps them.
Her parents are Sarah (Grace Zabriskie) and Leland (Ray Wise). They both appear to be regular grieving parents, their horrified reactions to the news of Laura’s death are some of the standout moments in the show’s pilot episode. As it turns out Sarah is a victim as well, abused and in denial, and Leland Palmer killed his own daughter. At least, he did on a surface level.
The goings-on at the Packard Sawmill are maybe the most disconnected storyline from the central plot. Which is fine early on. In fact, that location kind of brings us into the story when kind-hearted Pete Martell (Jack Nance) finds Laura’s body. Wrapped in plastic. His wife is the scheming Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie) who is working against Josie Packard (Joan Chen), her “dead” brother’s widow and current owner of the mill.
There’s a lot of convoluted double-crossing that happens in this storyline, especially in season two, and most of it won’t be relevant to the upcoming series. Both Piper Laurie and Joan Chen aren’t returning and Jack Nance has passed away. I’ll just leave it at this: Joan’s soul gets transferred into the wood at the Great Northern Hotel. You’ll have to watch the series if you want to know what the hell I’m talking about.
Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department
We spend a lot of time at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department and it’s kind of comforting. There’s a warm, base camp feeling to the whole building and the characters within. Rarely does the sanctity of it ever get broken, and when it does it feels odd and uncomfortable. Part of the reason why it feels so safe is the solid stable of characters who reside within.
Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) is the Watson to Cooper’s Sherlock. He’s down-to-earth but also surprisingly willing to go along with Cooper’s out-there investigative ideas, such as following leads from a dream and throwing rocks at bottles. Unfortunately Ontkean has retired and won’t be making an appearance in the revival. Hawk Hill (Michael Horse) is a sheriff’s deputy, a close friend to Truman, an amazing tracker and a believer in the deep, spiritual evil around Twin Peaks. There’s also Deputy Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz) and receptionist Lucy Moran (Kimmy Robertson) who are engaged in an on-and-off-again relationship throughout most of the series. By the end of the original run Andy and Lucy both seem happy together and are expecting a child.
Double R Diner
The happenings at the Double R Diner are generally pretty disconnected from the main plot of the series, but they’re much more compelling than the Packard Sawmill storylines. The Diner is owned by Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton) who is having an affair with her former high school sweetheart, Big Ed Hurley (Everett McGill). Ed is James’s uncle and he’s married to Nadine (Wendy Robie) whose emotional instability combined with Ed’s guilt keeps him from running away with Norma. The two seem close to being together at the end of the series, but Nadine regaining her memories — it’s a long story, don’t ask — seems to tragically put all that in jeopardy.
Shelly Johnson (Madchen Amick) is a waitress at the Double R. She’s married to the abusive asshole, Leo Johnson (Eric Da Re) and is secretly — then not-so secretly — dating Bobby Briggs. Leo is a total, obvious prick who has a part in Laura’s death, tries to burn down the sawmill, ends up in a vegetative state and is eventually used by Windom Earle to bounce his craziness off of. Shelly and Bobby are much more interesting. Their scheming is more engaging than most, trying to get by and what they lack in brains they more than make up for in heart. Shelly is much smarter and happier than Bobby, and I swear, if anything bad happens to her in season three I’ll be… I don’t know, upset, I guess.
Annie Blackburn (Heather Graham) is a later addition to the show — a replacement love interest for Cooper, which I have a lot of thoughts about and could be a whole different article — and doesn’t get a whole lot to do. She has a fairly prominent placement in the stellar finale, but Graham’s absence from the revival makes it fairly clear that Lynch is done with the character.
Great Northern Hotel
The last prominent base of operations for some of our main characters, the Great Northern Hotel is a gorgeous, log cabin-esque hotel that’s home to Cooper and many other visitors to Twin Peaks. The Great Northern is owned by Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer), a scheming businessman who has his fingers in a lot of the town’s shadier dealings, including an attempt to take over the Packard Sawmill and a stake in the Canadian casino and brothel, One Eyed Jack’s. His brother is Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly) is his business partner, a bit of a scoundrel and a self-admitted poor lawyer. Both will be back for the new season but it’s not certain whether Ben’s late-series delusion of being General Robert E. Lee or the fact that he may be Donna’s biological father will come into play.
The most important resident of the Great Northern, iconically, is Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn). Audrey is a high school senior, a troublemaker and a rebel. Her chemistry with Cooper shone through hard in the first season but, due to some behind-the-scenes drama, they stopped being in scenes together and Audrey’s character got kind of stranded. She spends most of season two either being kidnapped or in lame, chemistry-free scenes with Billy Zane. She ends the series with a bang though, her fate unknown after a bomb blows up the bank she was in. She’s returning for the new series, so her fate isn’t really unknown, and Mark Frost’s book about Twin Peaks revealed that she survived the blast, protected by Pete Martell.
The Black and White Lodges
The lodges are otherworldly places, separated from this plane of existence. The White Lodge is “good” and the Black Lodge is “evil”. Obviously, we spend way more time seeing and talking about the Black Lodge. It’s there that Twin Peaks’ most iconic scenes take place. Cooper’s dream and his trek into the Red Room in the season two finale both take place in the Black Lodge. This is where a lot of the creepier pieces of Twin Peaks mythology comes from.
The beings from the Black Lodge include the backwards-talking Man from Another Place (Michael J. Anderson), the Giant (Carol Struycken), BOB (Frank Silva) and MIKE (Al Strobel). While some of them seem helpful or remorseful their true motives are hard to understand. We do know that they can possess people though, and BOB took over Leland Palmer’s body to kill Laura Palmer, Maddy Ferguson and Teresa Banks.
While Frank Silva has passed and Michael J. Anderson won’t be reprising his role we can assume that the beings from the Black Lodge will play an important role in the upcoming revival. Season two ended with Cooper rescuing Annie from the Black Lodge, but he’s been replaced by a Doppelganger and possessed by BOB.
Fire Walk With Me
David Lynch’s follow-up to Twin Peaks is a prequel, showing the tragic and complicated life of Laura Palmer. It’s pure Lynch, with raw, overbearing scenes and weird, seemingly-pointless asides. It’s also supposed to be fairly important to the revival season.
I’d recommend watching it regardless — as long as you’ve seen the series — because it’s a great film with powerful performances by Sheryl Lee and Ray Wise. While Lynch doesn’t seem particularly interested in the minutiae of world-building and canon, Fire Walk With Me gives us a lot more details about the Black Lodge and the beings that reside there, which may end up being important to the resolution of season two’s cliffhanger.
Obviously this was in no way comprehensive and was, in a lot of ways, rambling. Really, the gist of the premise is something you probably know from Twin Peaks’ cultural impact and the personal details can only truly be grasped by actually watching the series. It’s also important to remember that no one truly knows what’s in the mind of David Lynch, so nothing that’s happened in the series already could even be that important in season three. It will be exciting to find out.
Here are the major points you need to know: James is the worst, Cooper is the best and the owl’s are not what they seem.