A full 30 minutes elapse before we even arrive in Twin Peaks itself, and once there much feels off: Donna Hayward has been recast, Audrey Horne (whose fate was left ambiguous in the series finale) is nowhere to be found, everyone is now allowed to say “fuck.” Lynch, who clearly felt handicapped by the restraints of network television, seemed to be not only reclaiming his project (with which he was only minimally involved after the reveal of Laura’s murderer) but also decrying the entire format — the first image in the film is literally an exploding TV set.
That it makes the town of Twin Peaks feel less special must have turned off viewers as well. We knew from the beginning that Laura’s murder was preceded by a similar case in Oregon, but not until “Fire Walk with Me” did we enter that parallel world. There are Laura Palmers everywhere, even if most forests don’t double as gateways to otherworldly dimensions.
The show’s paradox — and, in some ways, its tragic flaw — was that its central mystery both was and wasn’t a MacGuffin. The question of who killed Laura Palmer was almost intended as a rhetorical one, less an end unto itself than a means of entering this singular world and exploring its strange peripheral details. But it also served as a clearly understood point, and the single most compelling element. Coop’s dreams, the two Lodges, Laura herself: These formed the show’s center of gravity. Once “Twin Peaks” stopped revolving around it, everything came off its axis.
Lynch underscored that in “Fire Walk with Me.” It’s as though he was saying that, at its core, “Twin Peaks” was never about damn fine coffee or log ladies. It was about incest and abuse. It was about a man who raped his teenage daughter for years before murdering her, possibly while possessed by an evil spirit but possibly just using that demon as a means of disassociating from the pain and sorrow he’d inflicted on his little girl.
In that sense, beginning the show immediately after Laura’s death was an act of mercy: The worst of it was already over. “I’m gone. Long gone” is one of her first lines in the film; also gone is the show’s aw-shucks surface, replaced by the ugly reality that was always lurking just beneath it.
So no, Coop, that isn’t any easier to believe, but it is the truth. In a fictional world that abounds in mystery and ambiguity, we have to take concrete answers where we can find them — even and especially when we don’t want to hear them. It’s no wonder that people initially rejected “Fire Walk with Me.” It chanted out between two worlds, telling us what we didn’t want to hear. 25 years later, it’s time to start listening.