Had I first seen Twin Peaks during its initial television run, the experience might well have killed me.
Luckily the show’s pilot aired in April 1990, two months before I was born. By the time ABC pulled the plug and forced David Lynch to wrap it up in the second season, I would just be learning to talk. Even when I reached the right age to develop an appreciation for the macabre, it took me a while to jump into Lynch’s work, which friends and the internet seemed to recommend with more and more gusto each day.
Not long after I finally got around to watching Blue Velvet in college, my then-housemate tried turning me on to Twin Peaks. So did her boyfriend. Together they reached the point of evangelism, or at least that’s how I saw it – they quoted lines of dialog, filled their Tumblrs with iconic screenshots, incorporated “Lynchian” into their everyday lexicon. Other friends joined in, using any excuse to bring up the show and schmooze over its achievements. There was a cultural discussion going on – a very intense cultural discussion – and I wasn’t keeping up.
Still, a year passed, and I came no closer to learning why the phrase “a damn fine cup of coffee” should be so funny. I’m slow about warming to new time commitments.
But last month I subscribed to Netflix. This changed things.
I blew through the first season in one day. That’s roughly seven hours of TV, considering the average episode ran about 45 minutes, plus the feature-length pilot. I took a break, went home to visit my family, and started the second season a week later. A more demanding task, I staggered its 22 episodes over a single four-day weekend.
In that time I stayed in my basement apartment, climbing the stairs now and then only for something to eat, once even going as far as the corner store for a six-pack. I stopped texting my friends. Essentially I disappeared, went off the map. Barely anyone heard from me. I think I called my mother once. My laptop’s blue glow provided light to get through the day. My ears heard nothing but the music of Angelo Badalamenti.
It was unhealthy and I wanted out. But it would only end, I realized, when I finished the series altogether. It didn’t matter that I started to notice the much-bemoaned flaws in the season’s latter half: the increasingly meandering subplots, the increasingly irksome Nadine, the increasingly distracting Lucy/Andy/Dick storyline. Hell, even when Lynch had to tip his hand and, at the behest of the network, prematurely resolve the show’s main conflict (in S. 2 Ep. 9), I soldiered on undaunted. I needed to know what happened to Agent Cooper (by now practically my buddy) and Audrey Horne (by now my only beloved). And I needed to know immediately. I couldn’t afford to wait. I’d have died.
Imagine if I had to sit through six days between each episode, like all those schmucks in the early ‘90s? I don’t want to think about it.
You can credit my obsession to Lynch’s masterful visual storytelling, and this undoubtedly played a role in why Twin Peaks became my particular pop-cultural fixation. But ostensibly it could have been anything: an album streaming on a band’s website, a full movie uploaded to YouTube, endless free podcasts or photo galleries or video clips. At least in the age of TV we had to abide by schedules. Thanks to the internet, our access to pop-culture is now wide open. We can indulge whenever we want, to whatever extent we think we need.
In fact, this limitlessness further feeds our obsessive appetite. Plentiful free TV shows lead us to… expectations of many more free TV shows, and other treats beyond that. Instant indulgence becomes the norm. I see that my Netflix account now recommends a David Lynch documentary. I’ll probably end up watching it. Soon. And who knows where I’ll go from there? The lure of the promise of more is unending.
Regarding Twin Peaks, I think I’m making a good recovery. I can talk to real people again. My brain can focus on something other than how Tibetan spiritualism and Native American folklore relate to small-town Americana. I can stroll down the street with a friend a resist the urge to point at trees and mutter, “The owls are not what they seem.” First I just needed to conquer the show, triumph over it, much like how Great Northern Hotel owner Ben Horne needed a perceived victory to overcome his own delusions when he…um…never mind.