“One chants out between two worlds”: Visiting Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I visited Twin Peaks on the anniversary of Laura Palmer’s funeral.  According to the chronology reconstructed by scholars and fans, Laura was buried on Monday, February 27.  That is, incidentally, the day that Laura’s brunette doppelgänger, Madeline Ferguson, arrives in town.  Also, the day that Sheriff Truman throws a well-deserved punch at Albert Rosenfeld in the morgue.  Or maybe we should just call it Episode 4.

There is no explicit identification of dates in the show; or, if there are temporal markers, they are too subtle to catch my attention.  For this reason, it seems amazing to me (and perhaps a little pointless) that the chronology of the series has been reconstructed with such obsessiveness.  But then again, perhaps I am not one to talk about obsession.  After all, on Monday, February 27, I drove into the Cascades in search of “Twin Peaks”—the actual locations that were used to create the fictional town in the eponymous series.

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“In my mind this was a place surrounded by woods.”
–David Lynch, Lynch on Lynch (162).

In the series, Twin Peaks is located in the far corner of Northeast Washington–near the borders of Idaho and Canada, not unlike the real town of Metaline.  In reality, what the series presents as Twin Peaks is an amalgam of exterior and interior shots from several locations in Washington (and California).  With a few notable exceptions (such as the beach where Laura Palmer’s body washes up), most of the memorable exterior locations for the series were shot in the towns of Snoqualmie and North Bend.

These towns are less than an hour from downtown Seattle, a straight shot on wide, smooth I-90 to the foot of the Cascades.  By urban standards, it’s a reasonable commute.  Indeed, the most noticeable things about Snoqualmie from the freeway are the signs and billboards for brand new housing developments.  Upon getting off the highway, we tried to find a vista point for the Snoqualmie Valley and ended up in one of these subdivisions of new growth McMansions on tiny lots.  We parked on Frontier Avenue.  In other words, Twin Peaks is a lot closer to civilization than you might expect.

The Snoqualmie Valley and the McMansions

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Three of us went into the woods that day: me, my partner, and my college roommate J.  J. and I have both watched the series in its entirety more than once.  My partner had never seen an episode and was pretty confident that he didn’t want to.  He was riding along to humor me, because (bless his heart) that’s what he does.  But apparently a day in Twin Peaks was too much for his resolve.  He stewed for a few weeks and then one day suggested we turn on Netflix.

This viewing was my fourth time through the series.  And, as it had been a decade since my third pass, there is much that I’d forgotten, misremembered, or never noticed.  Strangely, the scene that has stuck with me most this time is a scene that I had always mocked.  It’s the song “Just You and I” performed by James and Donna and Maddy in Episode 2.2.  Here’s the link:

You can see why this scene is easy to make fun of.  There is something so staged about the setup, as if they’re aware that they’re facing a camera.  There’s no explanation for what they’re doing or why they’re doing it.  This is the first we’ve heard about this whole singing project.  The guitar part is delicate and chiming and maybe too sweet.  James opens his mouth and sings in that syrupy falsetto—two octaves higher than you were expecting.  And when Donna and Maddy add their red-lipped exhalations as backing vocals, I want to laugh every time.  But the sincerity in the scene is almost suffocating.

As storytelling, this scene probably does better than dialogue.  The work this scene does depends on the irony of one man singing “just you and I” to two women (and it’s clear this isn’t the plural “you”).  It brings the simmering love triangle to a boil and then forces its resolution.  Donna gets James.  And Maddy…  well, things don’t turn out so well for her.

This song has been in my head—off and on—for the last two months.  Sometimes I sing the James part to my partner and we laugh because it sounds so ridiculous.  But ridiculous as it is, I can’t shake it.  I’m stuck with it.

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“The old mill was torn down two months after we got there.”
–David Lynch, Lynch on Lynch (161).

So what physical traces of Twin Peaks remain?  Both more and less than you might expect.

Snoqualmie Falls, obviously, isn’t going anywhere (although there are several ongoing projects by Puget Sound Energy around the waterfall).  Nor is the iconic Salish Lodge (aka The Great Northern) going to disappear.  The falls and the lodge are both tourist attractions in their own right.  On the day we were there, the Snoqualmie River was snowmelt-swollen and the spray from the waterfall was showering the observation decks at the top of the cliffs.  The trees were coated with ice.  We were soaked through in minutes.  We dried off in the gift shop, where there is almost no evidence of the Twin Peaks connection.

The Salish Lodge and Snoqualmie Falls (significantly swollen in winter).

Unlike the “Great Northern,” the “Packard Sawmill” is almost entirely gone.  Indeed, it had been mostly demolished by the time the first episode aired in 1990.  At that point, the giant saws that dominate the opening credits existed solely as images–ghosts of machines.

In the history of the lumber mill, we could read the larger history of industry in the US in the twentieth century.  The mill was built in 1914 and originally belonged to the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Co.  At its peak, the company employed 1200 workers and was the centerpiece of a company town of 5000.  By the late 1980s, the Northwest timber industry was collapsing and large portions of the mill were shuttered and destroyed. The mill’s owner at the time—the company that would later shut down the mill entirely—was the conglomerate Weyerhaeuser.  At the time of Twin Peaks, Weyerhaeuser’s businesses, in addition to timber, included mortgage banking and financial services.  Two things to know about Weyerhaeuser today: 1. it is responsible for at least 18 EPA Superfund sites, and 2.  its board of directors includes NCAA President Mark Emmert.

The remnants of the “Packard Sawmill”–now a rally course.

What remains today of the mill is one smokestack and the attached powerhouse.  In 2005, the site was designated a historical landmark, although Weyerhaeuser was unwilling to provide funds to protect or restore the remaining building.  Since 2010, the property has been owned by DirtFish Rally School, which uses it to teach rallycross training courses (calling it “The Old Mill Adventure Park”).  And this completes our case study of the cycle of American industry: the factory has become a theme park.

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“Incest is troubling to a lot of people because they’re probably, you know, doing it at home!”
–David Lynch, Lynch on Lynch (185).

I’ve often seen Twin Peaks described as a “soap opera.”  This seems reasonable.  Soap operas are, in a sense, a celebration of vice.  They are about lust, greed, betrayal, and revenge.  At the same time, however, soap operas often try to tell a story of true love—or, more accurately, the story of the impediments to true love.  Twin Peaks certainly has all of these elements, both the vices and the aspirations to true love.  Indeed, the show offers a self-conscious commentary on its own soapiness through the parodic “Invitation to Love,” the soap-within-a-soap that appears to be the only thing on television in the town.

And yet, I associate Twin Peaks with a slightly different genre.  I want to suggest that the show is less a soap opera and more an heir to the tradition of Victorian sensation fiction.  Sensation fiction was popular in England during the second half of the nineteenth century (especially in the 1860s).  These novels focused on “sensational” topics that violated social norms (especially norms around sexuality and gender): bigamy, adultery, madness, murder, incest.  They were intentionally trashy (by Victorian standards) and were written to both shock and thrill.  Sensation fiction is driven by the idea that there are horrible, shocking secrets behind the public face of Victorian respectability, that scandal is lurking within many of the most (seemingly) sedate households.

Follow the tracks to… HORROR!

There is a surface/depth dichotomy in sensation fiction that I don’t see as much in soap operas.  The surface is placid, the depths are turbulent.  And it is this distinction that David Lynch is working in Twin Peaks (and indeed in much of the rest of his oeuvre).  Twin Peaks seems like a nice, happy, wholesome place–almost throwback to the 1950s–and yet, as we see increasingly over time, there is something horrible there.  The owls, among other things, are not what they seem.

This is why I think the recent incursion of Snoqualmie’s manufactured suburbia into the locations of “Twin Peaks” is not nearly as inapposite as it may seem.  After all, the ranks of McMansions on Frontier Street are merely the early twenty-first-century equivalent of the more established neighborhoods in Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet.  And it doesn’t take much work to imagine the horrible things that could be going on behind all of that beige vinyl siding.

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“We had drawn a map of the town.”
–David Lynch, Lynch on Lynch (158).

Maps matter in Twin Peaks.  Before their series pitch to ABC, Lynch and his co-creator Mark Frost drew a map of the imagined town.  As Lynch notes,

“We knew where everything was located and that helped us determine the prevailing atmosphere and what might happen there.” ibid.

In this way, Lynch’s map wasn’t just about creating a stage for events in the story; it was intended to be generative of those events.  Geography became story.

This is Lynch’s original map:

David Lynch’s pre-pilot map of Twin Peaks

This map was later tweaked, expanded, and filled in–often by fans.  Indeed, fans have embraced maps of Twin Peaks as a memento of the series.  A collection of Twin Peaks maps online is curated here.  You can even (as my partner did last week) buy a t-shirt with the Twin Peaks map on it.

The cue for this obsession with maps comes from the series itself and the dialogue studded with place names and driving directions.  Nor was the geography of Twin Peaks entirely physical.  At the height of the second season’s absurdity, we are treated to this specimen (described as a “petroglyph exposed by Windom Earle in the Owl Cave”):

Spirit mapping Twin Peaks.

Naturally, any attempt to visit the remaining Twin Peaks shooting locations around Snoqualmie and North Bend requires a map.  Here is the one we used, from “In Twin Peaks”:

A scrupulously accurate map of the existing Twin Peaks locations.

More colorful is this map, which we bought at Twede’s Cafe in North Bend for $2 (although the “pool ball” motif seems inexplicable to me):

A colorful (and odd) map to Twin Peaks locations in North Bend and Snoqualmie.

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“I guess I am big on that.  Girls crying, men crying, women crying: crying in general.”
–David Lynch, Lynch on Lynch (167)

For my partner, the most disconcerting thing about the entire first season of Twin Peaks was the grief of Sarah and Leland Palmer.  He found their grief absolutely unbearable: Sarah’s shrieking, Leland’s dive into Laura’s grave.  My partner was annoyed, unsettled, and embarrassed by such extravagant grief.

But my partner isn’t the only one.  Weeks after watching this episode, I found myself teaching a discussion section on Hamlet and being blindsided with complaints about how “over-the-top” the graveyard scene is (interestingly, the graveyard scene in Hamlet is obviously the dramatic template for Laura Palmer’s funeral).  Several of my students were annoyed and embarrassed by Laertes’ leap into Ophelia’s grave (particularly in the movie versions we watched).  My students echoed Hamlet’s reproof to Laertes: “What is he whose grief / bears such an emphasis?” (without necessarily recognizing that Hamlet reproves Laertes in order to compete with him in grieving for Ophelia).  As one of my students said, the whole scene is “ridiculous.”

And indeed, such grief does seem ridiculous–even when, as with Sarah Palmer, it seems nothing but sincere.  But why?  Why shouldn’t parents act like this when they lose their beloved daughter?  What the Palmers’ grief reveals to us, I think, is the rigid norms for grief on television.  We see grief almost daily (on almost every police procedural), but it never looks like Sarah and Leland’s hysteria.  Rather, grief on television leans toward catatonia.  Grieving people on television are quiet, subdued, withdrawn, docile.  They don’t call attention to themselves, but act out the loss of the loved one by becoming absent themselves.  This type of grief, then, becomes conflated with “dignity”–the unwillingness of the griever to upset anyone else.  And David Lynch blows that model apart.

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“There’s this story about the Double R Diner.  […]  The owner–Peggy, I think her name was–used to make, like, maybe only six pies a day when we first got there, if that.  After Twin Peaks she was making sixty pies a day!  Buses were pulling up in front of the place, filled with Germans or Japanese, people from all over the world, going into the diner and having cherry pie and coffee.  That place is on the map, you know, forever.  […]  I’m sure that business has decreased again for Peggy.  But there’ll always be people stopping by, I hope.  She’s really great.  And she really makes great pies.  Unbelievable!”
–David Lynch,
Lynch on Lynch (161) 

The “Double R Diner” sits the corner of North Bend Way and N Bend Boulevard in North Bend.  It’s called Twede’s Cafe and it still trades on its association with Twin Peaks (note the sign advertising “Twin Peaks Cherry Pie”).  Sadly, the interior no longer looks like the Double R, thanks to a fire in 2000 and a subsequent remodel.  The new interior still seems dated, but owes more to Johnny Rockets than to David Lynch.  Those invested in authenticity will be further disappointed to learn that the waitresses don’t wear aqua uniforms and that the parking lot seems too small for logging trucks.

The “Double R”

Lynch’s optimism that there will always be visitors may seem naive, but he wasn’t entirely wrong.  In a recent interview, the diner’s current owner estimates that about 4 percent of his business is from Twin Peaks tourists.  At the very minimum, this suggests to me that at least one table of fans per day shows up at Twede’s.  This may not seem like much, but considering that the series has been off the air since 1991, it’s actually pretty remarkable.  When we were there in the middle of the afternoon, there was one other table of fans.  We avoided eye contact out of embarrassment.

Not the worst pie I’ve eaten.

And what of Peggy’s pies?  (A question: did David Lynch actually remember the name of the diner’s owner?  Or was he referencing–intentionally or mistakenly–Peggy Lipton?)  My friend J. and I both ordered a slice of cherry pie and a cup of coffee.  Was the coffee “damn fine”?  Not especially.  And the pie?  It was okay.  Better than frozen, but about the equivalent to a pie from a grocery store bakery.  We are certain that Peggy no longer makes the pie, although perhaps her recipe is still in use.

Were we disappointed?  I would be lying if I said I expected to be blown away by the pie at Twede’s.  After all, this visit wasn’t as much about visiting the “real” Twin Peaks, as it was about visiting the ghosts and the ruins of Twin Peaks.  The point is not to eat good pie, but to eat whatever pie is still there.

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“The corpse–which proves to be that of Laura Palmer, the local high school’s homecoming queen–has blue lips and ratty, straggly hair. It’s the deadest-looking thing you’ve ever seen on television.”
–Terrence
 Rafferty, The New Yorker, April 9, 1990

There is nothing more iconic about Twin Peaks than the corpse of Laura Palmer.  It remains the deadest-looking thing I’ve seen on television.  Indeed, the image of her corpse has stuck with me so clearly that, last summer, while unwrapping a new shower curtain liner, I convinced my partner to photograph me as Laura’s corpse.  It was a spur-of-the-moment thing and we made due with an iPhone camera and the rudimentary iPhone editing software (to provide the blue tinge).  Even so, I think we managed to capture something of the iconicity of the image.

It’s deeply unsettling to look at your own corpse.  And unsettling as well to look at your friend as a corpse–when I made this photograph my Facebook profile photo, I received several requests from friends to “Take it down!”  So now I post it here.

I’m dead. Wrapped in plastic.

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We stopped at several other Twin Peaks sites that afternoon.  We visited the giant log that appears only in the credits for the pilot.  We drove past the high school and Ronette Pulaski’s trestle bridge.  We took pictures of what remains of the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Office (now the headquarters for DirtFish Racing School).

The giant log from the pilot credits has decayed significantly (and now has a roof over it).

But we didn’t go to all the sites on the map.  We didn’t visit the Roadhouse or Big Ed’s Gas Farm (which, last I heard, was a kite store).  We didn’t pinpoint the exact location of the “Welcome to Twin Peaks” sign or the place where Donna and James and Laura had their picnic.  My partner kept asking me if I wanted to see more of the locations and I kept refusing.  At the time, this reluctance to “see it all” felt like virtue.  I didn’t want to act like an obsessed superfan, chasing every single trace of a television show that has been dead for more than half my lifetime.  I didn’t want to be the kind of fan who took photographs of every single physical location in the series to produce a resource like this (despite the fact that I find this resource to be indispensable).  I wanted to resist the urge toward obsessive re-creation of the series.  Now, months later, I feel stupid.  After flying 800 miles and driving another 30, why wouldn’t I want to see everything?

The erstwhile Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Office.

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“But I really like that last episode.”
–David Lynch, Lynch on Lynch (182) 

I don’t know quite how it happened, but I watched Twin Peaks on network television as it originally aired.  I can’t even recall why I watched the pilot, as I wasn’t particularly interested in primetime television (with the exception of The Golden Girls) and definitely not crime dramas.  The only other person I knew who watched the show (outside of members of my own family) was my English teacher.  The next school day after each episode, we would discuss that week’s new developments, ignored by the rest of the class.  She found the show extraordinarily funny and I can still picture her rolling her eyes as she chuckled over the most outré developments.

And then it ended.  I’ve never forgotten the final episode.  How could I?  It was like nothing I’d seen on television.  At the time, I took the episode as a giant “FUCK YOU”–although now I recognize it was directed primarily at the network and not at the fans.  But even so, what are we to make of a series finale that actively refuses narrative closure?  That sets up a dizzying series of increasingly upsetting cliffhangers–with the full knowledge that none of them will ever be resolved?  It was an intentional violation of the rules of narrative and it was–and I still believe this–cruel.

I watched the final episode again last week and it is even more shocking than I remembered.  There are some weak moments of course–moments in which Lynch had been painted into a corner by the writers of previous episodes (and by the casting of Heather Graham).  But for the most part, it’s brilliant and terrifying.  I watched it around noon on a sunny day and I still found myself shivering with fear as Jimmy Scott sings about the sycamore trees.  And while I still think the episode was cruel, I’ve learned to embrace it with an exhilarating sense of masochism.

What I realized this spring in Snoqualmie is that I’ve never gotten over Twin Peaks.  And what I realized last week is that a lot of this has to do with the dissatisfaction of incomplete narration.  With the characters, I’m stuck in the middle of a narrative–a narrative that is unlikely to ever reach resolution (I don’t see David Lynch writing a Twin Peaks “reunion special” anytime soon).  Perhaps the reason I’ve never gotten over Twin Peaks is because Twin Peaks isn’t over.

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4 thoughts on ““One chants out between two worlds”: Visiting Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks.

  1. Thank you so much for this. I have a great deal to say…I’ve never recovered from TP either. But at the moment I’m stuffed in a very crowded Seoul subway car, so further reflections will have to wait.

  2. Wow! We are going to North Bend and Snoqualmie in may 2013, so i loved reading this post! And i got a lot of info out of it. It doesn’t matter how many times i have seen the show, it never bores… Thanks!

    • Thanks, Ellen! My advice for doing the Twin Peaks tour is to do all of it. We didn’t bother seeking out a few of the less well-known sites and I’ve regretted it a bit–after all, how often does one make it to Snoqualmie/North Bend?

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