In 'Twin Peaks,' Art To Behold

Posted: April 08, 1990

Don't be put off by all the hype about David Lynch, the cineaste's darling with the convoluted Weltanschauung. Twin Peaks is a hoot of a murder mystery, and unlike most of them, in which a few questions are posed, this one asks a million.

Why is that boy Johnny banging his head against the wall?

It takes about 20 minutes for Lynch's TV debut, an eight-episode series premiering tonight at 9 on Channel 6, to wrap you in its clutches. After that, it's as easy to watch as a good Murder, She Wrote, but 100 times more interesting. By the end, you'll feel you know a lot less than you did at the beginning.

There is a reason why the world is falling all over itself to praise ABC's

innovative mystery-soap opera and its director. (When was the last time you saw a television review in the New Yorker?) Lynch brings his X-ray eye to TV, and gives us the pleasure of sharing the vision. He sees layers and layers and layers.

A home video shows two pretty girls romping in a field. It closes in on the face of one of the girls to reveal that she is not the colt we thought we saw, but a woman, a sensual blond beauty.

Then it closes in to show just her striking blue eyes, and the beauty turns to menace. Then it closes in on just one eye.

The FBI agent running the tape sees right away what Lynch makes us look twice to realize: The key clue in the video is not in front of the camera at all. It shows up in the reflection from the girl's cornea.

Where so many - almost all - shows ignore the vision part of television, Lynch wallows in it. His dark palette, goofy angles and loving focus on incongruent details combine with Angelo Badalamenti's weirdly inappropriate music to create a mesmerizing art that has never been seen on TV. Look away for a moment, and you'll miss something.

Who's that guy with the neat salt-and-pepper beard who gets off the hospital elevator?

But even if Twin Peaks' execution were routine, its script - by Lynch and his partner, Mark Frost, a key writer of Hill Street Blues - is sexy, mysterious, funny and fascinating. After its two-hour debut, the show moves to Thursdays from 9 to 10 p.m. Lynch directed only two segments, including tonight's, but he has said that his subalterns have maintained his high standard.

Of the subsequent episodes, only the second has been made available to critics, and everybody involved is understandably ultra-secretive about the outcome of the story. But by the end, it's safe to assume we'll find out who murdered high school honey Laura Palmer and stuffed her in plastic wrap. Or is it?

Laura's murder is the central tale, but there are many stories.

There's the cocaine and that other tortured girl who turns up incoherent on the railroad tracks. Wait till you find out what smarmy things she's been up to.

There's the sawmill, now owned by a mysterious Chinese woman. Wait till you find out who she's carrying on with.

There's the real estate man who looks as if he'll do anything to make a buck. Wait till you find out who he's in cahoots with.

In fact, it seems as if the entire population of the mythical Northwest town of Twin Peaks is doing something secret with someone.

The mists, the crags, the deep green Douglas firs with boughs that rustle in the wet wind are all important to the tone of Twin Peaks, but it probably doesn't matter what state the town is in. Nothing on the surface matters.

Where is that one-armed man who's mentioned in the final credits? Didn't he die when Lt. Gerard shot him in "The Fugitive"?

Over and over, characters talk about how well they know one another. And over and over, it turns out that nobody knows anything, least of all the viewer who's so pleasurably befuddled by the end.

Twin Peaks' characters are fascinating. Even the players in the smaller roles demand attention: the woman with the eyepatch who's obsessed with drapes, the oddball (perverted?) psychiatrist, the deputy who blubbers at crime scenes, the sheriff's dispatcher who talks like Victoria Jackson and provides orgies of doughnuts for the boys.

How did that creepy Leo get back from Butte so fast in his Big Rig?

At least we know about the woman who walks around carrying a small piece of wood. "Who's that lady with the log?" the FBI agent asks the sheriff. "The log lady," he answers.

That sort of inexplicable goofiness, taken from real life, turns up all the time in Twin Peaks, as a sort of self-conscious diversion. What's that deer head doing, just lying on the table in the bank safe deposit room? "It fell."

But it's not the only humor. "The Norwegians are leaving! The Norwegians are leaving!" a flustered hotel clerk hollers, parodying a 1960s movie about the Russians. Try not to smile as you watch the clean-living Norsemen drawn to leer, one by one, at the mischievous teenager who knows exactly how devastating a lamb's-wool sweater, plaid skirt and saddle shoes can be to an older man. (She also knows enough to ditch the saddle shoes for a pair of red high heels when she's in school.)

Don't be afraid of Lynch's reputation for violence and sex. This isn't Blue Velvet. There's not even any implied sex tonight, and only one scene - with tweezers and fingernails - might make you grit your teeth. There's no overt nudity either - Twin Peaks is better at almost showing things.

Why does James the biker tell the proprietor of Big Ed's Gas Farm, ''Laura's dead. She was the one"?

Uniformly, the acting is good, sometimes excellent, most of it from little- known players. Young actors Lara Flynn Boyle as Donna Horne, Sherilyn Fenn as the mischievous Audrey Horne and James Marshall as James Hurley are especially effective. You might recognize Joan Chen (The Last Emperor), Peggy Lipton (The Mod Squad), Michael Ontkean (Clara's Heart) and Piper Laurie.

And you may remember Kyle MacLachlan, Blue Velvet's naive young star, who plays Dale Cooper, the quirky FBI agent. Cooper seems pretty weird for an FBI agent, fixated on getting good rates at a motel and a fine piece of pie at a cafe. He's clearly got great investigative skills, but why is he in Twin Peaks? Did that poor battered girl really cross the state line, 12 miles away? Who's that Diane he keeps dictating messages to? Has anybody seen this guy's identification?

And wasn't there another fellow named Cooper, first initial D, who disappeared many years ago among the mist-enshrouded firs of the craggy, great Northwest?

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