There’s more than a few cast members from the original “Twin Peaks” who did not return for the latest batch of episodes that dropped late Sunday night. Some have retired from acting, while a number of others are memorialized in the episodes’ closing scrolls.
But there’s one non-holdover from the original “Twin Peaks” run that might indicate the biggest change in what the show has become: the opening credits bird.
When Showtime unveiled the first look at the opening credits, gone was the unassuming footage of a quiet Washington logging town, replaced by a more overtly ominous intro. While the updated opening credits prime the audience for an aggressively weirder spin on this otherworldly murder mystery, it loses some of the subtle punch and the humble, twisted-fairytale rhythms that used to kick off each installment. It’s only 90 seconds of change, but it’s an effective microcosm of what the “Twin Peaks” update sadly left behind.
Even though it’s only been a few days, nearly every frame of the first four “Twin Peaks” revival episodes have been pored over, combed through and dissected for clues. So it’s kind of incredible that in the 27 years since the show first hit the airwaves, no one can figure out what species of bird that is. The owls may not be what they seem, but neither is this little guy on a branch. (Is it a Varied Thrush? A Bewick’s Wren? Neither?)
The idea that the first thing in the opening credits is a slightly abnormal bit of nature is the kind of small enigma that doesn’t rely on disembodied brains for its bizarreness. It’s the kind of ever-so-slight, real-world perversion that the best parts of Lynch’s early oeuvre feasted on. It’s the ear in the grass that kicks off the series, delivered in a much less threatening package.
In the original run, the last image the audience saw before the actual title flashed over a city welcome sign was the manufacturing of table saw blades. Sixteen seconds of slow-dissolve goodness, all capped off by the existential dread of seeing sparks fly off slowly eroding shards of metal. Lynch often gets credit for overwhelming the viewer’s senses, but stripping this montage of the ambient sound is a fine example of what he (and the show) are capable of when they take those sensations away.
Long before “Twin Peaks” revealed BOB, those saw blades were already there, reinforced in every opening, the idea that the everyday tools of industry, the methods that kept this town alive, were also incredibly dangerous. These are blades, designed with precision, that could do unspeakable damage if left in the wrong hands or used for nefarious purposes. That’s almost as scary an embodiment of “the evil that men do” as a grey-haired psychopath slowly mounting a living room couch.
Growing up, my hometown’s local smooth jazz station had Angelo Badalamenti’s “Falling” in heavy rotation on weekend mornings. And for good reason: out of context, it’s perfectly serene and soothing. Prop that up against a flowing waterfall and you have the hypnotic, luring in of the audience that helped make this must-watch TV in the early ‘90s.
With the new credits, Lynch has done a literal 180-degree turn, approaching the falls from behind rather than head-on. The familiar theme is still there, undisturbed, but the added layer of mist and fog that the non-premiere episodes use in the opening is key. Lynch has traded in a clear day and the not-yet-melted snow for a visual that’s more performatively spooky. The slower, creeping kind of insidious setup has given way to something that announces itself as eerie and mysterious from the opening frame.
And in the new one, that continues through to the Red Room. Rather than subverting the iconography of the Pacific Northwest, “Twin Peaks” is now dead-set on its own mythology. As the red curtains flutter and the camera hovers over the optical illusion, zebra-striped floor of the mysterious purgatory that Dale Cooper’s been trapped in all these years, it’s a definite contrast to the static shots and patient pans of the vintage opening.
The best of “Twin Peaks” has always been built on this kind of juxtaposition, the beautiful against the ugly, the conventional against the ethereal, the supernatural against the recognizable. While there are certainly still some elements of that tug-of-war still left in its reincarnation, much of the first four hours teeters towards the extreme. It’s unmoored from so much that makes this TV world recognizable.
Much of that starts with the new way that the show is framed. It’s as if “Twin Peaks” has finally bid farewell to nature and taken the laws of physics with it.
“Twin Peaks” now exists in a world entirely of its director’s creation. It’s a shame, because in leaving our world behind, he’s taken some of the show’s dark resonance with him.