On its surface, Twin Peaks is a show about a fine-ass FBI agent scootin' around a Pacific Northwest logging town, trying to solve the murder of a troubled teen. On every other level, it is, objectively, insane. David Lynch famously conceived of the show's linchpin dwarf-dancing-in-hell scenes when he placed his hand on a hot car. Creamed corn represents the manifestation of pain and suffering. A woman is doomed to live forever inside the knob of a drawer. Somebody wears these sunglasses.
This was all fine back in the '90s, when everybody was like, "Cool, whatever, let's do the Macarena while we brush our troll doll's hair." But in the age of True Detective and 14,000 other detective shows that end conclusively and with a chorus of critics clamoring to analyze them, Twin Peaks can be frustratingly baffling. Many a fellow millennial whom I've tried to introduce to the show has been like, "Love the murder and everything, but what the fuck is going on?" Alternatively, and ironically, many a modern critic has argued that it isn't important to figure out what the fuck is going on — that one should just let the show wash over them like a hot bath of wet corn. "Stop trying to solve Twin Peaks!" they cry. "Just enjoy it while you sit in your rented home and eat your avocado toast, you gig-economy freaks!"
On a hot Tuesday night in Brooklyn, five days before the show's long-awaited third season premiere, I decided to do a little detective work of my own (thank you, but please do not call me brave). I attended "A Tribute to Twin Peaks," a one-night-only event at the Brooklyn Bazaar hosted by Showtime, BBQ Films, and Flavorpill that promised to be an immersive "Twin Peaks world both wonderful and strange," populated by demented PeaksHeads like myself. I planned to ask these PeaksFreaks a "simple" question: What is Twin Peaks about? I wanted to figure out if anybody knew the answer to this question with any kind of confidence, or if people were upset about not knowing — if, ultimately, it even mattered.
I arrived at the Bazaar early so I could casually approach people who had been waiting in line for hours, people who were hungry and thirsty and generally riled up enough to try to parse David Lynch's artistic intentions with a total stranger. My first interview subjects were Rick and Jen, a twentysomething couple who I thought were dressed up as James and Audrey, respectively, but were actually just wearing their own normal clothes. Jen watched the show as a child, which "wasn't a great parenting decision," but everything is fine now. Rick watched the show because he "kinda likes" Jen. I asked Jen, who was indeed likable, what she thought the show is about, and she had an answer locked and loaded: "I think it can be boiled down to the struggle between good and evil, externally as well as within yourself."
Impressed, I asked Jen if she had any concerns for Season 3. "Just that I'll be able to follow it," she said. "Did you feel like you had a firm grasp on the first two seasons?" I asked. "As firm as one can have," she said. "Do you think that matters?" I asked. Not-James chimed in: "Some of it does feel like free-floating absurdity. But if you're enjoying it, it doesn't matter."
Satisfied, I moved along to Marissa, a 21-year-old in a crushed-velvet skater dress who was also not dressed up as anybody. "I guess I'm the curtains in the Black Lodge," she allowed. I stopped asking people about their clothing after that. Marissa only started watching the show a few years ago, Mulholland Drive is her favorite movie, and she thinks young Kyle MacLachlan is "so hot." "After watching Fire Walk with Me, I had more of a grasp on Twin Peaks," she told me. "I think its message is, kind of like, I don't know," she said, grinning excitedly. "I read that David Lynch got it in a dream, and I feel like all of it is so dreamy, so it's kind of like, he came up with this dream, and now it's the biggest thing in the world. A dream can turn into the biggest thing for you."
Annie, Colin, and Ash, a trio who found the event on Twitter and may or may not have actually known one another, told me, "It's about so many different things, it's hard to narrow it down to one." "It's a mystery," said Ash, who seemed to hate me. "I like mysteries, and it never totally unravels." Colin had a more definitive stance and was also nicer, thank you Colin. "Well, literally, it's an analogy for the Marilyn Monroe case," he said.
I stared at him.
"The show originally started as a fictionalized account of Marilyn Monroe's death," he explained. "There are a lot of parallels — you know, famous blondes — but ultimately they decided to shape it to be closer to a case that the writer Mark Frost encountered when he was younger." Annie "basically agreed" with Colin. "It's like the butterfly effect," she said. "You know, one tree falls in a forest…"
I concluded my pre-event interviews with another couple, Melissa VanFleet and Tyler VanEllen, who originally said they were not related, they were just in an alt-metal band together, then later told me they were married, but had different last names that both started with "Van." Melissa was dressed as Shelly Johnson, and Tyler as a terrifyingly be-ponytailed Leo Johnson; later that evening they would both be finalists in a Ms. Twin Peaks contest that, tragically, neither would win. None of us yet knew of their bleak fate when Tyler calmly told me that Twin Peaks is "a basic description of the dark forces in the world that people don't ever think about." Melissa nodded, adding, "Also, I want to say, I love the location of it. I think that adds everything. We love anything woodsy."
The actual event took place in a series of rooms designed to look like famous Twin Peaks properties. It began in a massive space decorated to look like the Double R Diner, complete with a coffee and cherry pie counter, which was promptly swarmed by Peaksies desperate for sustenance. The pie, I can report, was a little cold, but not bad; I swapped out the hot coffee for a themed cocktail made with cold brew and spiced rum, because I am a professional. Within a few minutes, a man dressed as Deputy Andy Brennan took the stage to introduce a series of burlesque performers from a troupe called The Pink Room: David Lynch Burlesque, all of whom were also dressed as Twin Peaks characters. This was a confusing, but not unwelcome, development.
Double R owner Norma Jennings stripped down to bright red pasties and a thong, then doused herself in coffee and the innards of the cherry pie. Audrey Horne, whose lips I later found out were decorated with "loose glitter from Ricky's," tied a cherry stem with her tongue. Nadine Hurley swallowed a bottle of pills, passed out, emerged from a coma to the strains of Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream," and pranced about the stage in a corset, lifting weights and seductively rubbing up against a pair of hung drapes.
I turned to a young man with giant gauges and asked him if he knew what Twin Peaks was about. He exhaled for a long time. "The mystery part to me is the whole velvet scene with the little guy," he said, finally. "I don't understand what that's about. All the small people, all the dancing, the awkward silence stuff. That part confuses me. But I like it, because I like stuff like that." A man next to him told me it was "about every aspect of humanity."
With that settled, we all walked into the next room, set up to resemble the Palmer family living room, with depressing 1980s couches, old TV sets, palm fronds, and, just like in the show, a station at which visitors could sign up for Showtime. Here, we would watch more burlesque performances, including one from the Log Lady, who ran her tongue down the entire length of said log, and BOB, who thrust his thonged pelvis and bedazzled nipples to, hilariously, the sounds of a David Lynch interview, in which Lynch explains how double denim–sporting set designer Frank Silva accidentally showed up in a shot and was thusly cast as the show's maniacal villain.
After her log was dry, I asked the Log Lady herself what she thought Twin Peaks was about. "There is a sadness in this world," she said, through lips lined with more loose Ricky's glitter. "For we are ignorant of many things. Things like the truth. And in our ignorance, the sadness is very real. The tears are real. There are even tiny ducts, tear ducts, that produce these tears, should the sadness occur. And on the day when the sadness comes, we will ask, 'Will this sadness, which makes me cry, ever end?' The answer, of course, is yes. On Sunday, the sadness will end." Sunday is the day of the show's third-season premiere.
Nearby, I found Ralph, an attractive 37-year-old man with extremely long hair who was dressed — in an unofficial and non-burlesque capacity — as Deputy Tommy Hawk, a name I did not realize was dementedly racist until I just typed it out. I asked Ralph if he grew his hair out specifically for this costume. "No," he said. "Sometimes, when you have long hair, there's a character who has long hair, and you're like, 'That's the one.'" Ralph, whose hair took two years to get that long, told me that, as a child, he had no idea what was happening on Twin Peaks, but that as an adult, he'd grown to understand it. "When you read the news, or you visit a creepy town, and something's not right — David Lynch touches on a nerve of Americana that's really intangible. He says nothing, but says everything." He added that the show was about "individual struggles," and that "we love to dress up as these characters because we see ourselves in each and every one of them." Ralph would go on, quite deservedly, to win the Ms. Twin Peaks contest.
At this point, many of the burlesque performers were roaming the room in character, looking for Peaksfaces to talk to, so I decided I'd ask them for their own takes on the series. Lil, Gordon Cole's "mother's sister's girl" from Fire Walk with Me, was the most game. "You have to crack the code of the different things that I do," she said, winking. "I'm blinking my eyes. I'm making a sour face. I'm making a fist. My other hand is in my pocket. And I'm stomping. And I'm wearing a blue rose. Oh, and my dress is tailored. All of this means something." I promised her I would think about it, then asked if she could answer out of character. "I think Twin Peaks is about being able to enjoy the creation of a world without forcing anyone to understand it," said Lil, who told me her burlesque name was Seedy Edie (I initially misheard this as "Ziti Eat-y"). "I think you can enjoy art and entertainment without being nitpicky about understanding every little detail. I think sometimes you get a better experience if you just let something happen to you."
Downstairs, in a back room, three lone Peakslovers were halfheartedly singing Chris Isaak karaoke. I tried to let something happen to me, but got uncomfortable and left. Down the hall, a long line of Peaksfucks were waiting to get their photos taken against a green screen that placed them against a kind of Twin Peaks vortex background. This is where I met Natalie and Kasidy, a very adorable young couple dressed up as Agent Cooper and the Jumping Man, a supremely fucked-up-looking character who shows up for 20 seconds in Fire Walk with Me. Kasidy, a hobbyist mask-maker intimately familiar with the deep Twin Peaks subreddits, had created his Jumping Man mask from scratch, and I will recall it with stark horror until my dying breath. He told me that Twin Peaks was about "American mythology — the bizarre idiosyncratic nature of human beings, under a microscope." Natalie thought it was about "the hidden worlds within small-town America." Later, Kasidy, too, would lose the Ms. Twin Peaks contest in a hotly contested final battle with Ralph.
There was one burlesque performance left, and I realized I had yet to ask anyone, "Hey, why are we watching Twin Peaks characters get naked?" Maybe the answer would illuminate yet another angle to the show, and maybe I was drunk on coffee-and-rums. I ran into Chris and Steven and Brandon, three fortysomething men who did not really seem to want to talk to me, but I forced them to. "What's the question, again?" asked Brandon, irritated. Chris "wouldn't know where to begin. It's a world." Steven was "reminded of his hometown" but "wished I'd had a half hour to think about this, so I could put it into words."
Finally, I found burlesque Audrey Horne. "My name is Audrey Horne, and I get what I want," she said. "My father owns the Great Northern, and I think a couple other shady things. I'm really torn up about my friend Laura getting murdered." When I asked her what she thought the show was about, she winked saucily. "Twin Peaks is about a small town with a lotta trouble," she said. I asked her to step out of character for a moment to please explain to me what the fuck was happening.
Audrey's "real name" was "Buxom Bunny," she explained, and she'd been with Pink Room Burlesque for three years. "So, you're like, three levels deep, persona-wise, here," I confirmed. Buxom Bunny nodded. Understanding I would not be permitted entrance to Level 1, I asked Buxom Bunny why they'd decided to turn Twin Peaks into a burlesque show. "I think they're both so over-the-top outrageous that it wasn't that hard to do a Twin Peaks burlesque," she said. "Twin Peaks already is a burlesque. It's already so overdone, such a soap opera. It was easy to take these characters, who have such definitive features and personality, and put them on stage and be recognizable." Buxom Bunny also told me that David Lynch had to approve every aspect of the event before it was staged, including the performances, which he watched via video. "I didn't know this was happening until it was confirmed," she laughed. "Had I known David Lynch would see my Audrey Horne act, I'd have been a little nervous."
The crowd, tipsy and confused and horny, teetered to the third floor "Black Lodge" for the final performance. Our emcee Deputy Andy was now dressed as Gordon Cole, screaming into the mic as he introduced a woozy number from Agent Cooper's late-in-the-game love interest Annie Blackburn, a twitchy and Lucille Ball–esque Lil, a sultry Josie Packard shooting confetti out of a glittery gun, and finally, Laura Palmer herself, PBR in hand, simultaneously grinding and sobbing to Shep and the Limelites's "Daddy's Home."
Gordon lovingly lambasted Lynch before each. "Lil was wearing a blue rose, which means … this is a David Lynch movie," he said. "At the last minute, [Twin Peaks] decided to ditch Josie Packard's story arc by having her spirit leave her body and be damned to eternity in the wooden knob of a dresser drawer, because David Lynch." After a zombified Laura stumbled off the stage, mouthing "Fire walk with me," Gordon raised his eyebrows at the audience. "Honestly, this is a pretty messed-up story. I mean, Laura was 17!"
Near the end of the evening, our host hopped into the spotlight himself, rapping impressively to the Twin Peaks theme song about the innate nonsensicality of Twin Peaks. "Half of that which happens seems absurd / Motifs and the imagery taunting me, like fire and birds," he yelled, still in character. "Is there any meaning in between these creepy scenes? / I shrug and scratch my head, I'm always left with guesses / None of these people that I meet can seem to answer questions."
The drunk and horny Peakseroos lost their collective shit, shrieking and laughing and punching each other on the shoulders (gentler next time, Tony) in recognition. The lyrics resonated: None of us had any idea what the fuck this show was about, or what we were supposed to take from it, or if we were supposed to take anything from it; maybe we were all just hot cars melting beneath the blazing lunacy of David Lynch's "vision." But, if nothing else, wasn't it cool to have that shared car-melting experience? Wasn't it cathartic and fun to have all watched something that made no sense, then be able to turn to each other and be like, "Yo, that made no sense"?
After crowning my best friend Ralph as Ms. Twin Peaks, Gordon — who finally told us that his "real" name was "Shaffer the Dark Lord" — turned to the audience, apologetic. "I want you to know that that was difficult, and I wanted to pick all of you, because your costumes are so much better than mine." Everyone roared in agreement. "Stick around afterward," Shaffer the Dark Lord added, "and I'll get you all high."