After its debut episode on April 8, 1990, Twin Peaks became one of that year's top-rated shows, a critical success both nationally and internationally. Reflecting its devoted cult fan base, the series became a part of popular culture, referenced in other television shows, commercials, comic books, a video game, films and song lyrics. Declining viewer ratings in the long-running second season led to a cancellation. In 1992, the series spawned a prequel to the series, the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, which attempted to connect the events leading up to Laura Palmer's death.
Laura's cousin Maddy Ferguson arrives to stay with Laura's parents prior to the funeral. Maddy, who resembles Laura closely, befriends Donna and James and helps them in their efforts to find the killer — even impersonating Laura at one point to fool Laura's psychiatrist, Dr. Lawrence Jacoby. During his investigation, Cooper stays at the Great Northern Hotel owned by the Horne family. The Hornes' sultry daughter Audrey develops a crush on Cooper that initially appears to be mutual. However, Cooper later rebuffs her advances, on the grounds that she is a high schooler, and that she is involved in the case he is working on. With Audrey's help, Cooper traces Laura's cocaine usage to a brothel called One-Eyed Jack's, which Audrey later infiltrates on Cooper's behalf. It is revealed that Laura had also been working as a prostitute there. Cooper also experiences a bizarre dream, in which he sees a one-armed man called MIKE, who chants a strange poem: "Through the darkness of future past / The magician longs to see / One chance out between two worlds / Fire walk with me." MIKE tells Cooper about another man called BOB, and how they went "killing together." BOB also appears as a man with long, gray hair, dressed in denim, who swears to Cooper, "I will kill again." As the dream continues, MIKE shoots BOB. Cooper then finds himself twenty-five years later, sitting in a mysterious red-curtained room. It is here that he meets the diminutive Man from Another Place, who intones clues to Cooper in the form of strange phrases, and then proceeds to dance to a jazzy beat. Also present is the spirit of Laura Palmer (although the little man at first claims she's his cousin), who kisses Cooper, and then whispers into his ear the name of her killer. When he awakens, Cooper is unable to recall the killer's name.
Cooper and the local police force are then able to track down Mike, whose full name is Phillip Michael Gerard. Gerard appears to be nothing more than a shoe salesman, and claims to know nothing of the BOB that Cooper describes. However, it eventually becomes clear that Gerard is possessed by an "inhabiting spirit" (the true "MIKE"), who reveals to Cooper and his colleagues the true nature of BOB — BOB is a fellow inhabiting-spirit who has possessed someone in Twin Peaks "for over forty years." All of the information that Cooper has gained from psychic and empirical means, including the mysterious utterances of an eccentric local woman known as The Log Lady, leads him to a number of suspects; but when he discovers the existence of Laura's secret second diary, he realizes that therein lies the key to solving the mystery. Harold Smith, a local man who was one of Laura's confidants, holds this diary. The secret diary reveals that from a very early age Laura was abused by a figure called "Bob," and that her use of drugs and sex are the means she has used to numb herself and escape from him. Cooper is shot by an unknown assailant at the end of the first season.
On the night before she is to leave town, Maddy is brutally murdered by Laura's father, Leland, who is revealed as the man who is possessed by BOB, as seen when BOB's spirit occasionally takes visual form in the place of Leland's figure. Cooper and Truman apprehend him, and as they interrogate the crazed Leland, it becomes clear that Leland has little to no memory of his grotesque actions while under BOB's influence. After confessing to two murders, BOB forces Leland to smash his own head against the wall of his cell. As Cooper and Truman rush to his side, Leland's memories of what he has done return to him, and in his dying moment, Leland claims to see Laura. However, as Cooper and the others note, if BOB has truly left Leland's body, it means his spirit is now loose in the woods of Twin Peaks, taking the form of an owl. With the murder investigation concluded, Cooper is then all set to leave Twin Peaks when he is framed for drug trafficking by the criminal Jean Renault, and is temporarily suspended from the FBI. Renault holds Cooper responsible for the death of his brother Jacques, who was murdered by a grieving Leland Palmer when Jacques was under suspicion for Laura's murder. After Renault is killed in a shoot-out with police, and Cooper is cleared of the charges, his former FBI partner and mentor Windom Earle comes to Twin Peaks to play a deadly game of chess with Cooper, in which each piece of Cooper's that he takes means someone dies. As Cooper explains to Truman, during his early years with the FBI alongside Earle, Cooper had begun an affair with Earle's wife, Caroline, while she had been under his protection as a witness to a federal crime. Earle went mad and killed Caroline, tried to gut Cooper with a knife, and was subsequently committed to a mental institution. Now having escaped and come to Twin Peaks, Earle hides out in the woods so that he may go about plotting his revenge scheme.
As this is going on, Cooper continues to try to track down the origins and whereabouts of BOB, and learns more about the mysteries of the dark woods surrounding Twin Peaks. It is here he learns of the existence of the White Lodge and the Black Lodge, two mystical extra-dimensional realms whose gateways reside somewhere in the woods, and which are occupied by spirits that appear in Cooper's dreams and visions (metaphorically referred to as owls — "The owls are not what they seem", later named as "dugpahs" in a tape showing a younger Windom Earle lecturing on the existence of the two lodges). Hawk lends insight on the existence of the black and white lodge, warning "you may be fearless in this world, Cooper, but there are others". Hawk explains that these places are known to his people, places where spirits pass on their way to purification, elaborating that any soul that enters without perfect courage will be utterly annihilated. Cooper also falls in love with a new girl in town, Annie Blackburn (Heather Graham). When Annie wins the Miss Twin Peaks contest, Windom Earle kidnaps her and takes her to the Black Lodge entrance in Glastonbury Grove. Cooper realizes that entrance into the lodges has been Earle's long standing design and the greater reason for his return to Twin Peaks, it being a source of interest for both Earle & Major Briggs during their mutual time spent on project Bluebook. The Black Lodge then is revealed to be the place where BOB, the Man from Another Place, and the Giant come from, and where the red-curtained room of Cooper's dream is located. Cooper follows Earle into the Lodge, and has a set of bizarre encounters with doppelgangers of dead characters, including Caroline, Earle, and Laura and Leland Palmer. During Cooper's journey, Windom Earle is apparently killed when his soul is consumed by an enraged BOB after Earle tries to claim Cooper's own soul in trade for Annie's life. Cooper, whose perfect courage begins to fail, then tries to escape, but cannot find the exit in the non-linear path of the Black Lodge. He is chased by his own smiling doppelganger as he tries to find a way out. The Cooper doppelganger succeeds in overtaking Cooper, taking his place while Cooper presumably stays inside the Black Lodge. Doppelganger Cooper returns to the woods, with Annie by his side, both found unconscious on the ground by Truman. Some time later, Cooper awakens in his room at the Great Northern Hotel, and is tended to by Truman and Doc Hayward. Cooper states several times with monotony that he needs to brush his teeth. Locking the door behind him, Cooper then smiles uncharacteristically as he pours toothpaste into the sink. He then slams his head into the mirror, and when Cooper's bloody face turns toward the camera, he laughs — his reflection is that of BOB. Apparently the Cooper doppelganger has exited the Black Lodge, thus taking the real Cooper's place. The series then ends on this cliffhanger.
Lynch and Frost pitched the idea to ABC during the time of Writers Guild of America, East strike in 1988 in a ten-minute meeting with the network's drama head, Chad Hoffman, with nothing more than this image and a concept. According to the director, the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer was initially going to be in the foreground, but would recede gradually as viewers got to know the other townsfolk and their problems they were having. Lynch and Frost wanted to mix a police investigation with a soap opera.
ABC liked the idea, and asked Lynch and Frost to write a screenplay for the pilot episode. Frost wrote more verbal characters, like Benjamin Horne, while Lynch was responsible for Agent Cooper. According to the director, "He says a lot of the things I say". Originally, the show was entitled Northwest Passage and set in North Dakota, but the fact that a town called Twin Peaks really existed (much like Lumberton in Blue Velvet) prompted a revision in the script. They filmed the pilot for $1.8 million with an agreement with ABC that they would shoot an additional "ending" to it so that it could be sold directly to video in Europe as a feature if the TV show was not picked up. However, even though ABC's Bob Iger liked the pilot, he had a tough time persuading the rest of the network brass. Iger suggested showing it to a more diverse, younger group, who liked it, and the executive subsequently convinced ABC to buy seven episodes at $1.1 million apiece. Some executives figured that the show would never get on the air. However, Iger planned to schedule it for the spring. The final showdown occurred during a bi-coastal conference call between Iger and a room full of New York executives — Iger won, and Twin Peaks was on the air.
The song "Falling" (sans vocals) became the theme to the show, and the songs "Rockin' Back Inside My Heart", "The Nightingale", "The World Spins", and "Into the Night" (found in their full versions on the album) were all, except the latter, used as Cruise's roadhouse performances during the show's run. A second volume of the soundtrack was released on October 23, 2007 to coincide with the Definitive Gold Box DVD set.
During the filming of the scene in which Cooper first examines Laura's body, a malfunctioning fluorescent light above the table flickered constantly, but Lynch decided not to replace it, since he liked the disconcerting effect that it created. Also, during the take, one of the minor actors misheard a line and, thinking he was being asked his name, he told Cooper his real name instead of saying his line, briefly throwing everyone off balance. Lynch was reportedly pleased with the lifelike, unscripted moment in dialogue, and kept the "mistake" in the final cut:
Twin Peaks features members of a loose ensemble of Lynch's favorite character actors, including Jack Nance, Kyle MacLachlan, Grace Zabriskie, and Everett McGill. Isabella Rossellini, who had worked with Lynch on Blue Velvet, was originally cast as Giovanna Packard, but she dropped out of the production before shooting began on the pilot episode. The character was then reconceived as Josie Packard, of Chinese ethnicity, and the role given to actress Joan Chen. It is also notable for the casting of several veteran actors who had long been absent from the screen, including 1950s movie stars Piper Laurie and Russ Tamblyn, and former The Mod Squad star Peggy Lipton. The main character of the series, Agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan, would appear in all thirty episodes of Twin Peaks, including the pilot.
Due to budget restraints, Lynch intended to cast a local girl from Seattle, reportedly to "just to play a dead girl". The local girl ended up being Sheryl Lee — Lynch stated "But no one — not Mark, me, anyone — had any idea that she could act, or that she was going to be so powerful just being dead." Indeed, the image of Lee wrapped in plastic became one of the show's most enduring and memorable images. And then, while Lynch shot the home movie that James takes of Donna and Laura, he realized that Lee had something special. "She did do another scene — the video with Donna on the picnic — and it was that scene that did it." As a result, Sheryl Lee became a semi-regular addition to the cast, appearing in flashbacks as Laura, and becoming a recurring character — Maddy, Laura's cousin who also becomes another victim of BOB. The character of Laura would not be seen in any episodes, only through videos and photographs. Lee, however, had a dual role in portraying Laura's similar-looking cousin Maddy Ferguson, appearing in the late stages of season one. The character of MIKE's appearance in the pilot episode was only originally intended to be a "kind of homage to The Fugitive. The only thing he was gonna do was be in this elevator and walk out", according to David Lynch. However, when Lynch wrote the "Fire walk with me" speech, he imagined MIKE saying it in the basement of the Twin Peaks hospital – a scene that would appear in the European version of the pilot episode, and surface later in Agent Cooper's dream sequence. MIKE's full name, Phillip Michael Gerard, is also a reference to Lieutenant Philip Gerard, a character in The Fugitive. Lynch met Michael J. Anderson in 1987. After seeing him in a short film, Lynch wanted to cast the actor in the title role in Ronnie Rocket, but that project failed to get made.
While editing the alternate ending of the foreign version of the pilot episode, an idea occurred to Lynch on his way home one day: "I was leaning against a car — the front of me was leaning against this very warm car. My hands were on the roof and the metal was very hot. The Red Room scene leapt into my mind. 'Little Mike' was there, and he was speaking backwards . . . For the rest of the night I thought only about The Red Room".
During the first and second season, it was the search for Laura Palmer's killer that served as the engine for the plot, and caught the public's imagination, although the creators admitted this was largely a macguffin — each episode was really about the interactions between the townsfolk. The unique (and often bizarre) personalities of each citizen formed a web of minutiae which ran contrary to the quaint appearance of the town. Adding to the surreal atmosphere was the recurrence of Dale Cooper's dreams, in which the FBI agent is given clues to Laura's murder in a supernatural realm that may or may not be of his imagination. The first season contained only eight episodes (including the two-hour pilot episode), and was considered technically and artistically revolutionary for television at the time, and geared toward reaching the standards of film. It has been said that Twin Peaks began the trend of accomplished cinematography now commonplace in today's television dramas. Lynch and Frost maintained tight control over the first season, handpicking all of the directors, with some that Lynch had known from his days at the American Film Institute (e.g., Caleb Deschanel and Tim Hunter) or referrals from those he knew personally. Lynch and Frost's control lessened in the second season, corresponding with what is generally regarded as a lessening of quality once the identity of Laura Palmer's murderer was revealed. Lynch never wanted to solve the murder but Frost felt that they had an obligation to the audience to solve it and this created tension between the two men.
Its ambitious style, paranormal undertones, and engaging murder mystery made Twin Peaks a surprising sleeper hit. Its eccentric characters, particularly Kyle MacLachlan's Dale Cooper, were unorthodox for a supposed crime drama previously known to American audiences, as was Cooper's method of interpreting his dreams to solve the crime. Following the cliffhanger finale of the first season, the show's popularity reached its zenith, and "Peaksmania" seeped into mainstream popular culture (such as Saturday Night Live, in which Kyle MacLachlan hosted and performed a sketch that parodied the show). For the 1990 Emmy Awards, Twin Peaks led all series with eight nominations, although it only won two awards: Outstanding Costume Design for a Series and Outstanding Editing for a Single-Camera series.
This wasn't quite the end, though, as there was still a large enough fanbase for viewers to begin an organized letter-writing campaign, dubbed C.O.O.P (Citizens Opposed to the Offing of Peaks). The campaign was successful, and ABC agreed to another six episodes to finish the season. In the final episodes, Agent Cooper was given a love interest, Annie Blackburn (Heather Graham), to replace the intended story arc with Audrey Horne. The series finale did not sufficiently boost interest, and the show was not renewed for a third season, leaving an unresolved cliffhanger ending that continues to be debated.
David Lynch himself returned to direct the finale of the series, annoying a few of the actors and writers, as they had previously felt "abandoned" by him. The writers, for their part, didn't appreciate his changes to their scripts. In the featurette "A Slice of David Lynch", included with the 2007 "Gold Box Edition" DVD release of the complete series, Lynch expressed his regret at having resolved the Laura Palmer murder, stating he and Frost had never intended for the series to answer the question and that doing so "killed the goose that laid the golden eggs". Lynch directly blames network pressure for the decision to resolve the Palmer storyline prematurely. Later, David Lynch, having been long unhappy with ABC's "meddling" during the show's production, sold the whole show to Bravo for a small, undisclosed sum. Bravo began airing the show from scratch again, along with Lynch's addition of introductions to each episode by the Log Lady and her cryptic musings.
A popular feature of the series was Frost and Lynch's trademark use of repeating and sometimes mysterious motifs — trees (especially fern and palms), water, coffee, donuts, owls, logs, ducks, fire — and numerous embedded references to other films and TV shows, such as The Twilight Zone (mysteriously malfunctioning electrical equipment), and The Patty Duke Show (the phenomenon of identical cousins).
Another example can be found in the final episode of the first season, when Leo Johnson is shot in a dramatic fashion, and a similar event is shown happening to the character of Montana in Invitation to Love. Lynch later reused the motif of a show-within-a-show in his film Inland Empire (2006), which incorporated a secondary series, Rabbits.
The pilot episode, first shown on TV in the US, was released on home video in Europe in 1989. The European version is 20 minutes longer than the TV pilot, with a different ending added to bring closure to the story. The Red Room dream sequence that ends episode two, where Cooper encounters the Man from Another Place and Laura Palmer, was originally shot for this film. Lynch was so happy with the material that he incorporated part of it into the second episode of the regular series (that is, the third episode shown in the U.S., including the pilot) as a dream Cooper has about the case (at the start of episode three, Cooper gives a scene-by-scene account of the European ending, including references to events seen only in the international pilot and not the dream-sequence version, such as MIKE shooting BOB). This version of the pilot was also offered by Warner Home Video in the United States, resulting in a rights-entanglement which prevented the broadcast version of the pilot being released for a number of years. On October 30, 2007, the broadcast version of the pilot finally received a legitimate U.S. release as part of the Twin Peaks "Definitive Gold Box Edition". This set includes both versions of the pilot. On December 18, 2001, the first season (episodes 1-7, minus the pilot) of Twin Peaks was released on DVD in Region 1 by Republic Pictures, which had an output deal through Artisan Entertainment, now part of Lions Gate Entertainment. The box set was noted for being the first TV show to have its audio track redone in DTS. The region 1 release was heavily criticized for not including the key pilot episode, which could not be included due to the fact Lynch sold the rights to it to Warner Home Video in order to facilitate its video release in Europe. When the series was released on video in the US (twice by Spelling Entertainment's Worldvision Home Video), the pilot episode was excluded both times. In turn, Warner Home Video released the pilot on video — however, it was actually the European version, and was labelled as having "bonus footage". The televised pilot episode is included in the UK (region 2) DVD release from Universal Home Entertainment. A DVD collection of Season One was released in Australia by Paramount Pictures, in 2001. In 2006, Season 2 was released by the same distributor in two parts (Collections 1 and 2). In addition, the entire series was released in Australia in a box set collector's edition.
The first season DVD box set is known to have production errors, which cause many DVD players to freeze. One known track glitch occurs during the opening credits of episode 2. Another glitch occurs fifteen minutes into episode 4, during Donna and Audrey's scene in the girls' high school restroom. The European DVD box set of season two has an audio flaw where in episode 12, the center and right channels have been flip-flopped. The release of Season Two was complicated by the sale of Spelling Entertainment (which included both Republic Pictures, and the predecessor company, Worldvision Enterprises, the series' former distributor) - and later the transition of video rights - to Paramount/Viacom in 1998; and the 2006 split of Viacom into two separate companies — this saw the rights go to CBS Corporation/CBS Studios. Also, Lynch oversaw the transfer from video to DVD personally, but was delayed by the production of his new film, Inland Empire.
The first season was released on DVD by Artisan Entertainment, the video licensee for Republic, but Artisan/Lions Gate's rights expired in September 2005, and thus were transferred to Paramount. As a result of the 2006 corporate split of CBS and Viacom, CBS Studios (which ended up with Republic Pictures' and Spelling Entertainment's TV holdings) now owns the rights to the Twin Peaks series, with CBS Television Distribution handling syndication, and CBS Home Entertainment owning the DVD rights (although CBSHE releases are distributed by Paramount). The second season release was postponed several times, from September 2004, to early 2005, and then to September 2005, to early 2006. Season Two was finally released in the United States and Canada on April 3, 2007 via Paramount Home Entertainment/CBS DVD, which now acts as home video distributor. In Germany, Season 2 was released in two parts on separate dates in April 2007. Part 1 went on general release on January 4, 2007, including the "broadcast" version of the pilot episode. North American rights to the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me film are owned by New Line Cinema, a division of Time Warner (which also owns Warner Bros.), and is available on video and DVD through New Line. In Canada, the DVD was distributed through Alliance Atlantis, which holds all Canadian rights to the New Line library.
At the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con, a Twin Peaks box set was confirmed for U.S. release. It includes both seasons, the two versions of the Pilot episode, deleted scenes for both seasons, and a feature-length retrospective documentary. It was released on October 30, 2007. No date as yet has been announced for a U.K. release. The set was also released in most of Europe Region 2 (not including UK).
Many books have been written from or about the television show Twin Peaks. During the show's second season, Pocket Books released three official tie-in books, each authored by the show's creators (or their family), which offer a wealth of backstory.
One of these books: The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer written by Jennifer Lynch, David Lynch's daughter, is just that, the diary as seen in the series and written by Laura chronicling her thoughts from age 13 to the day she died, including the missing pages which an unknown vandal tore out. Kyle MacLachlan also recorded Diane: The Secret Tapes of Agent Dale Cooper, which combined audio tracks from various episodes of the series with newly recorded monologues.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me can be viewed as both prologue and epilogue to the series. It tells of the investigation into the murder of Teresa Banks and the last seven days in the life of Laura Palmer. These two connected murders were the central mysteries of the television series. Thus, the film is often considered as a prequel, but it is not intended to be viewed before the series and also has sequel qualities. Most of the television cast returned for the film, with the notable exceptions of Lara Flynn Boyle who declined to return as Laura’s best friend Donna Hayward, who was replaced with Moira Kelly, and Sherilyn Fenn due to scheduling conflicts. Also, Kyle MacLachlan was reluctant to return so his presence in the film is smaller than originally planned.
Fire Walk With Me was received poorly, especially in comparison to the series. It was greeted at the Cannes Film Festival with booing from the audience and met with almost unanimously negative reviews by American critics. The film fared poorly in the United States, partially because it was released almost a year after the television series was canceled (due to a sharp ratings decline in the second season) and partially due to its complicated nature that may have baffled those who had not previously seen the series. It grossed a total of USD $1.8 million in 691 theaters in its opening weekend and went on to gross a total of $4.1 million in North America.