A white-haired man adjusts his tie in front of a hallway mirror. Behind him, a record skips on its player. A ceiling fan whirs overhead. The man smiles at his reflection, and a different man smiles back.
Scenes like these stick in the memory long after the end credits have rolled. Thirty years on from its television premiere, the enduring success of Twin Peaks — now a certified cult classic that continues to enthrall fans old and new — can be traced to these moments. From those majestic Douglas firs to the red velvet curtains and zig-zag floors of the Black Lodge, the world of Twin Peaks is rich and immersive, sweeping you up from the very opening bars of Angelo Badalamenti’s beguiling theme music. Over the course of its original 30-episode run, Lynch and co. gave us moments of pure magic — sequences so uncanny, so unnerving, and so strange that they could be plucked straight out of a dream (or a nightmare). Revisiting the show today, it’s perhaps surprising to note how many of these magnetic moments are taken from its much-maligned second season.
In the years since its untimely cancellation, the second season of Twin Peaks has been widely condemned by fans, critics, and even show creator David Lynch himself — often held up as a prime example of “when good TV goes bad.” In a 2017 interview with TVLine, Lynch certainly didn’t mince his words when it came to giving his thoughts on the series, bluntly declaring: “the second season sucked.” Among many fans, the general consensus is that Season Two largely derailed the engrossing murder-mystery plot of the first season, eventually getting bogged down in a series of campy and inane subplots, which were passably entertaining at best and frustratingly dull at worst.
It’s not difficult to understand where these vexations come from. It’s exasperating, at times, to be forced to follow these meandering, suburban subplots when the mysteries of BOB and the Black Lodge are yet to be explained. But it’s these slower, sillier stories that allow the true horror of Season Two to really shine.
When he’s behind the camera on Season Two, we find Lynch at his most Lynchian. Always at home when marrying the macabre and the mundane, Lynch deftly uses these seemingly inconsequential subplots to elevate the show’s most terror-inducing sequences. Soothed into relaxation by a seemingly goofy side story, we frequently find ourselves suddenly blindsided by a nightmarish sequence that chills the blood and sets us on edge. Just as the white picket fences of Blue Velvet hid a multitude of horrors behind them, the soap opera melodrama of Twin Peaks Season Two conceals another lurking darkness — a malevolent force that subtly underpins the rest of the action.
Take the aforementioned scene of Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) adjusting his tie in the mirror. This chilling sequence from “Lonely Souls” is rendered all the more terrifying through Lynch intercutting it with slices of ordinary life in the town of Twin Peaks. As couples hold hands and enjoy the music down at The Roadhouse tavern, Leland’s true, murderous identity is revealed. Outside, life goes on as normal, but behind closed doors in the Palmer household, unspeakable horror is about to unfold.
Much like the residents of Twin Peaks, we, too, are lulled into a false sense of security — our guards let down as we fail to notice the evil hiding in the shadowy corners of everyday life. It is always there, just out of sight, lurking in the places that no one cares to look.
In Twin Peaks, the origins of evil might be supernatural, but the havoc it wreaks is all too real. BOB, an inhabiting spirit and force for wickedness, needs a human host to carry out his heinous crimes. Without a foothold in the real world, BOB’s villainy is condemned to another dimension; it’s when evil takes a human form that it ultimately leads to suffering. And that’s where the horror of Season Two truly lies — evil can take many forms, many of them mundane and ordinary. It can take the shape of a doting father, or a charismatic F.B.I Special Agent. It can infiltrate seemingly perfect family units in seemingly perfect American towns. And as people busy themselves with local gossip — with family feuds, love triangles, business deals, and blossoming romances — dark deeds can go unchecked.
“Maybe that’s all that BOB is… the evil that men do,” says a defeated Agent Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) following Leland Palmer’s mid-season demise at the hands of BOB. Beneath all of the blurring of the supernatural and the mundane, this is what Twin Peaks ultimately comes down to. By capturing the evil in the everyday, the show’s second season delivers some of the most chilling, unnerving moments of Lynch’s long and complex filmmaking career. So, if you’re thinking of skipping some of the show’s more ‘minor’ episodes during your Twin Peaks rewatch — press on. For the devil is indeed in the detail.