We Are All Chad: How the episodic format of Twin Peaks makes jerks of us all, and why that’s a good thing.

In Part 6, a lot of bad things happened and a lot of bad characters were flushed out a bit more for us. Near the top of that list was Deputy Chad, the Twin Peaks Sheriff Department’s resident jerk.  He cemented his jerk-ness in this part with his derogatory remarks towards Sheriff Truman’s wife Doris and their dead son.  But oh, how quickly we forget.  Just last week, after meeting Doris for the first time in Part 5, with her over-the-top rant about “the black mold, Frank!”, we all said to each other, wow, what a shrew.  Doris was the new Nadine, we all agreed.  The crazy, nagging wife of the gentle, quiet man who had the sad misfortune to marry her.  We had a week to stew on what we knew of Doris, and most of us reached a consensus that was every bit as uncharitable as Deputy Chad’s assessment.

But that’s exactly what we were supposed to do.

David Lynch has said he wants us to consider Twin Peaks: The Return not as a television series, but rather as one, 18-hour long movie. Each hour is to be called a “part”, not an “episode”.  Supposedly that’s how it was conceived, written and filmed also, with the breaking up into parts done as an afterthought during editing process.  This is why we have the Roadhouse scenes at the end of each part, because otherwise we wouldn’t know we had reached the end.  That’s all very well and good, but the evidence speaks to a different game plan.

For starters, Part 5 did *not* end in the Roadhouse, and the show did not collapse upon itself. In fact, the carryover from Part 5, ending with Cooper staring up at the lawman statue, into Part 6, beginning with that same scene, left us with the feeling that Cooper had been standing there all week.  There’s something profound about that.  That effect would not have worked if we watched these two episodes, those two scenes, back-to-back.

Richard Horne was another bad character who was flushed out further in Part 6. In Part 5, he is an extremely dark character.  He smokes right under the “No Smoking” sign, he bribes cops, and he terrorizes teenage girls.  It looks like he’s being set up to be the Big Bad of the season and ooh, we all hate him.  In Part 6 though, we find out he’s just a punk kid with a fragile ego, and when the true alpha steps up to put him in his place, he falls apart.  He’s still a bad guy, sure, but he’s not the dark, brooding menace we thought he was for a whole week.  He’s just another pathetic loser trying to puff up his chest.  How would that effect have played out if those two scenes ran merely minutes apart from each other?

This is how good characters are developed. They have multiple facets to them and you have to peel back the layers of the onion to get to their true thoughts and motivations.  The characters on Twin Peaks are almost never one-dimensional.  The whole point of Laura Palmer’s story is that her life mirrors the entire town.  Everything appears pleasant and quaint on the surface, but there’s this complicated dark life that she’s living underneath that surface.  Everyone has secrets in the town of Twin Peaks.

The original series is remembered for the question that kept viewers worldwide enraptured for at least the entire first season: Who killed Laura Palmer? The answering of that question gets blamed for the demise of the show in season two, as if this one thing was the only framework the entire series was hanging upon.  However, we must remember that David Lynch never intended to answer the question of who killed Laura Palmer.  It was the hook, but it was not the show.  The show gave us new mysteries to solve every week, true to the principles of a good serialized drama.

Chances are that if you’re reading this article, you understand that there is, and always has been, an audience participation element to this show. There had to be.  Everybody was watching this show, and nobody understood what the heck was going on.  We leaned on each other to try to make sense of it all.  A show like this demanded to be discussed the next day.  Lynch and Frost played on this aspect masterfully, episode by episode.  Each one seemed to find a way to end on a new cliff hanger for one or more of the sub-plots.  And then there were those wonderful “next week on” clips that ran before the credits.  My friends and I would pour over these clips, analyzing frame-by-frame to try and see what we could determine.  It was joyous.

During the original series, the format of the day was the late night soap opera. Today it is binge viewing.  It seems that Showtime wanted a binge-able show initially.  The original plan was for 9 one-hour episodes.  That’s a pretty common format for the binge-styled shows of today.  A “season” is made up of 8 or 9 episodes and viewers are expected to watch the whole thing over a weekend.  However, Lynch renegotiated that into 18 hours of content.  He turned it into a show that, even after its initial airing, could *never* be binged all in one sitting.  We are meant to take breaks and absorb what we just saw.  To let it settle a bit and make us think.

Again, Lynch can tell us that Twin Peaks is meant to be viewed as one long movie, but I don’t believe it.  The new series has all the same serialized elements that the initial series had.  We build up tension over the first two beats of watching Dr Jacoby receive and spray paint these golden shovels, wondering what the heck this could possibly be leading to, and we get the payoff in the third beat with the Dr Amp show.  Gordon and Albert leave us hanging wondering who they need to bring in to take a look at Cooper, and next episode we get Di-freaking-ane turning around in her barstool and saying “Hello, Albert”.  These moments are more meaningful because of the time we have spent with them, the discussions we have been allowed to have in the spaces in between.  If we had binged it all and went back to revisit those moments, there would have been no mystery about them.  No anticipation.  The episodic format is part of what makes Twin Peaks not just a television show, but an experience.

So hey, let’s not forget that one of the other great jerks of the show was a certain FBI agent who stomped into town, made fun of all the locals, and tried to saw open Laura’s skull just as her funeral was supposed to be going on. When Sheriff Harry Truman punched Albert in the nose, we all cheered, and rightfully so.  But then Lynch and Frost peeled back that onion, and Albert became one of the most beloved characters of the series.  We were supposed to go through those ups and downs of discovery with this character, a journey that needed to play out over time.  These are two master story tellers, and we would do well to pay attention not just to what we are being presented, but also how it is being presented.

 

3 Replies to “We Are All Chad: How the episodic format of Twin Peaks makes jerks of us all, and why that’s a good thing.”

  1. Excellent.

    On Sat, Jun 17, 2017 at 11:36 AM, 25 Years Later wrote:

    > Brien Allen posted: “In Part 6, a lot of bad things happened and a lot of > bad characters were flushed out a bit more for us. Near the top of that > list was Deputy Chad, the Twin Peaks Sheriff Department’s resident jerk. > He cemented his jerk-ness in this part with his derogato” >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A nicely-written article and a good reminder for us all that nothing in Twin Peaks is ever as it seems at first, on the surface. I am pretty sure that you mean “fleshed out” instead of “flushed out, right?

    Liked by 1 person

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