Good coffee. Bad girls. A dwarf who squawked. And a log that squealed. They were the squirrelly staples of the murky burg known as Twin Peaks, and as such became the flash-frozen cultural icons of a television season. As riveted viewers could testify each week, the mythic mill town was locus for one of the most eerily spellbinding series ever to grace the small screen.
Nestled in Peaks’s bosom was Laura Palmer (played by Sheryl Lee), who made her series debut as a blue-lipped lovely done up like a Seal-A-Meal. And it was the riddle of who gave her the wrap job that propelled the most talked-about TV whodunit since Dallas’s “Who Shot J.R.?” cliff-hanger in 1980.
Laura Palmer. The dead girl’s extracurricular activity was astonishing: from tutor for Johnny the head-banger, to Meals on Wheels delivery girl, to party favor at One-Eyed Jack’s brothel. As FBI agent Dale Cooper’s season-long search for Laura’s killer unfolded (and soon became beside the point), phrases such as “dirt under the fingernails” and “broken heart” took on surreptitious new meanings. Series mastermind David Lynch pinged his audience relentlessly with subliminal cultural references, from a sheriff named Harry S. Truman to a Double-R-diner dessert that evoked an H. Rap Brown adage from the ’60s: that violence is as American as cherry pie.
Who killed Laura Palmer? Who cares! (Okay, for the record, it was dear old Dad.) What really mattered was that, for at least one hour each week, commercial TV’s center of gravity shifted, irrevocably. As Lynch recently mused to an interviewer, “Twin Peaks opened up a whole new world for me.” Or was it another dimension of sight and sound—courtesy of Laura Palmer?