The following is a guest article from Eamon Hanka. You can find Eamon in our Facebook group (link provided below), so please be sure to let him know what you think!
At the end of Part 17 of the new season of Twin Peaks, Julee Cruise appears and sings her classic “The World Spins”. It is a song about the cycles of nature. The river flows into the sea, the sun comes up and down each day, and Hailey’s comet has come and gone. Love itself is invited to stay forever. There has been so much discussion of alternate timelines since our beloved Twin Peaks returned last year, but if natural time were allowed to follow its course in Twin Peaks, would it benefit the characters that inhabit our favourite town? Is there even an implication that altering or travelling through time leads to self-destruction, either physically or in a psychological sense? This essay looks at the effects of time on some of the main characters from the show. The focus here is on the three television seasons of Twin Peaks, as Fire Walk With Me and Mark Frost’s two books are probably worthy of another piece in their own right.
Time as we know it: Seasons 1 and 2
There is a scene in Season 2 of Twin Peaks, at the beginning of the episode after Leland Palmer’s dramatic death. It is his wake, and Doctor Hayward is about to administer a sedative to grief-stricken Sarah Palmer. It is implied that this has been a regular occurrence since her daughter’s death, but this time Sarah refuses, saying that she wants to feel the feelings. We don’t hear or see Sarah again until the final episode of Season 2, but nonetheless the scene is encouraging. It seems that by confronting her grief, there is hope for her after all. Acceptance is linked to growth, and in the first two seasons of Twin Peaks, there are other examples of characters moving on from Laura’s tragic death and even growing as a result of it. Bobby Briggs begins life in the show as a drug-dealing punk but over time becomes a (more) mature adult, visibly moved by his father’s prophetic vision and in the coming years joining the police force as a respected member of society. I believe that Laura’s murder begins a chain of events for Bobby that takes him down that road. He does grieve over Laura, as shown during his visit to Dr. Jacoby’s office, but in his own way. He at least acknowledges that Laura was using him for drugs, and although it takes time (and Shelly Johnson) to move on with his life, he gets there. James Hurley, too, begins a journey of self-discovery after Laura’s death. He believes that Donna can fill the gap in his heart that Laura left, but eventually decides that it is best to be alone and get out of town to confront himself and his reality (via Evelyn Marsh!). Last but not least, Ben Horne comes very close to spending a long time in jail for the murder of Laura. This experience is also a beginning for him – a journey towards repentance that is still visible in the most recent season.
The examples above are simplified, and there are of course other reasons why these characters grow and develop – not just Laura’s death: Ben was scammed by Catherine and this is directly responsible for the beginning of his change, James was already a confused soul with a difficult personal life even before Laura died, Bobby grows from boy to man but is still no more than a scheming capitalist by the end of Season 2 (albeit with a better heart), and as already mentioned, Sarah disappears from Season 2 for a long time after her scene with Dr. Hayward and it is impossible to know how she fares for the remainder of the season. However, as the Log Lady says, at first there was one, and Laura was the one. The acceptance, growth and development of these characters occurred after the tragedy of Laura’s death. Time, when allowed to move along in a natural, linear way, can bring healing. As Ben Horne says (and maybe exaggerates) to Audrey towards the end of Season 2, ‘’time heals all wounds’’. That is, the time that you and I live by. But as we all know, time in Twin Peaks is a funny thing….and in the climactic final episode of Season 2, we are given a taste of things to come. Time, when manipulated, reversed, altered or deleted, provides very different results in the inhabitants of Twin Peaks.
What Time is This?: Season 3
If Season 3 had been a linear story and continuation of what went before, or even a more conventional television narrative, we might have seen Sarah Palmer as a family crisis counsellor. James might have worked at Big Ed’s Gas Farm, dispensing pearls of wisdom to Freddie about the transience of youth. Indeed, Ben Horne might have become a Buddhist monk, reciting chants in the mountains about the trappings of money and material riches (at least his brother got up the mountain…). However, as we know now, Season 3 is a very different entity. For the purposes of this essay, I’d like to focus on how the manipulation of time produces negative consequences for those who use (and abuse) it. Season 3 is a sensational cherry pie of temporal displacement. It’s not all about alternate timelines, and indeed much of the season appears to move in a forward-fashion, but the occasional signs are unmistakable. The Double R diner customers all change in a split second and as we see this, we are reminded that in terms of time, something serious is happening. Bill Hastings attempts to enter “The Zone”, another dimension in which he gets to meet fellow time-traveler Major Briggs. Hastings is searching for something, perhaps an ultimate truth, perhaps Judy.
However, his search leads to a grisly end, significantly, at the hands of one of the agents of evil that are also involved in this dimensional interplay. Major Briggs himself, a fountain of wisdom in Seasons 1 and 2, tragically meets his own death as a result of his investigations through time. And Cooper, through his quite literal attempts to travel through and change time, encounters chaos at the other end with Carrie Paige in the unforgettable Part 18. What do Bill Hastings, Major Briggs and Cooper all have in common in Season 3? It seems that they are searchers, they believe that time can be deconstructed, reconstructed and manipulated, and they are venturing where others have tried and seemingly failed (Phillip Jefferies’ human existence appears to have been exterminated too, as a result of his meanderings through futures past). The timeline(-s) of Season 3 are riveting for us viewers, they are science-fiction, thriller, film-noir, drama and horror. They are confusing, disorienting and thought-provoking. They inspire discussion among fans arguably as much as any other theme in the show. Sarah Palmer, possessed by a supernatural entity that may or may not be Judy, reminds us that human growth in this world of alternate timelines, changing the past in order to save the future, just isn’t possible (the fate of Sarah Palmer in Season 3 is fascinating and if she has been possessed by this being since childhood, it throws any acceptance or growth after Laura’s death into a whole new light)
And so, in the end, it is tempting to ask what kind of Twin Peaks appeals to us. We have all heard the criticisms about how Season 3 didn’t capture the “spirit” of 26 years ago. Did we want a human story of growth, of making light out of darkness? Did we simply want to “catch up” with our favourite characters after all this time, without the complications of time-travel or changing timelines to throw a spanner in the works? Did Season 3, after all, disappoint by substituting the human story with X-Files’-esque sci-fi cheap time-travelling thrills? There are those who believe this to be the case. However, I would argue that this was the bravest step taken by David Lynch and Mark Frost. How easy it would have been to truly set Twin Peaks 26 years later, exclusively set in the town, with mostly the same characters following a linear path to redemption and repentance. Instead, Season 3 challenged us and reminded us that, in life as well as art, we might do well to accept the march of time as it is, for better or worse. To conclude again with our Log Lady:
‘’Life is what it is, a gift that is given to us for a time — like a library book — that must eventually be returned. How should we treat this book? If we are able to remember that it is not ours to begin with — one that we’re entrusted with, to care for, to study and learn from — perhaps it would change the way we treat it while it’s in our possession.”