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When news broke last week that watching Fire Walk With Me would be to understanding the upcoming Twin Peaks revival (premiering Sunday, May 21 on Showtime), I groaned in disappointment. While I hadn’t seen the infamous prequel to Twin Peaks (which was actually filmed and released after the series went off the air, and is a prequel you really can’t understand without having seen the television series first), I had heard nothing good about the film and was perfectly content to pretend it never happened. But, when I read that Lynch recommended seeing it to better understand what was coming, I was a good critic and sat down this past weekend to watch the film. And then sat down to write a quick refresher for all those Twin Peaks fans who don’t want to spend two hours of their life slogging through a film that doesn’t add all that much to the story we know. You’re welcome.
I’m going to assume, dear reader, that you’ve watched all 30 episodes of Twin Peaks (or, you’ve at least made it through my recommended Twin Peaks revival prep), because I’m going to spoil a number of Twin Peaks secrets in this. So, if you don’t know who killed Laura Palmer, and you have no idea what happened to Coop and Annie in the series finale, I recommend you take a break, binge some Twin Peaks, and then come back to this. Because it’s better to just see what happened to these incredibly complex and interesting characters than get bits and pieces here. Don’t worry. I’ll wait.
Ok. So, Fire Walk With Me is essentially the story of how Leland Palmer/BOB destroyed Laura Palmer mentally, physically, and emotionally over the course of five years of her life. And it’s incredibly depressing to watch, especially knowing that she’s going to end up dead in the river wrapped in plastic by the end of the film. But, for all its faults (and there are a number of them), the film is a great showcase for Sheryl Lee (Laura), allowing her to show tremendous range and really dig into the deep-seeded pain and despair that made Laura the girl everyone wanted to protect and save. It’s a really affecting performance. And when you start to think about how long BOB has been assaulting and tormenting Laura (apparently since she was 12, which is just horrific), the whole situation just gets more and more difficult to deal with. The film certainly gives us the chance to understand Laura Palmer more (considering she’s really just a Black Lodge cipher in the television series), but it all feels a bit stunted, having watched the series and knowing all the twists and turns before they happen in the film.
The bulk of the film is Laura trying to figure out who BOB really is, while also avoiding him at all costs via excessive drug use, sex with a number of different men around town (including James, who remains the awful, moody, motorcycle riding killjoy we all couldn’t stand on the TV show), and reaching out to Donna (played in the film by Moira Kelly rather than Lara Flynn Boyle, neither of whom will be back for the revival) in hopes that Donna will help save her from the menace in her home- an act that only serves to pull Donna into Laura’s own spiral.
BOB, naturally, is terrifying. And Ray Wise’s Leland Palmer is even more conflicted in the film, as he vacillates between a BOB-controlled terror and a loving father who desperately wants to protect his daughter. But knowing the secret the film takes steps to hide for the first hour or so – that Leland Palmer is possessed by BOB – takes away a lot of the mystery. And there’s no real way to get around that. Watch this before seeing the series and the entire Laura Palmer mystery is pretty much a wash. Watch it after and the film loses its punch in the big reveal. Oh well.
It was nice to have a refresher as to the Laura arc prior to the new season, but I suspect the crucial elements to know going into the new episodes don’t come from that part of the story. Rather, the film begins with FBI Agents Chester Desmond (Chris Issak, who is just awful) and Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) investigating the murder of a teenage prostitute in rural Oregon. The woman, Teresa Banks, was friends with Laura Palmer and was sleeping with Leland Palmer/BOB, although the FBI never discovers this information. Rather, like would be found on Laura one year later, the agents find a small piece of paper under her fingernail with the letter T on it (Laura’s letter, for those who might not recall, was R, while Maddie had a B, and Ronette had an O). Agent Desmond then finds a ring that Teresa was wearing (the same one held by The Man From Another Place in the image below) and promptly disappears. Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) investigates and finds no trace of him.
The film then covers the immediate days leading up to Laura’s murder, all of which are also discussed in the series itself (including footage of BOB kidnapping her and Ronette and taking the pair to the train car in the woods). However, throughout those days, Laura has several moments within the Black Lodge alongside the Agent Cooper from end of the television series, after he has been possessed by BOB and Annie has been attacked (in fact, Annie appears to Laura and tells her to write that the Good Dale is trapped in the Black Lodge). It’s a strange complication to the story, mixing timelines. But, then again, this is Twin Peaks. Strange is normal.
The ring Teresa was wearing when she was killed (by BOB) is the same ring Laura wore when BOB killed her. It’s also the same ring Cooper gave to Annie, which resulted in BOB attacking her. One would assume that ring is a crucial element of things to come in the upcoming revival. The film also spends a good amount of time with The Man From Another Place, who feasts on the pain and suffering of BOB’s victims (in this case, it’s Leland’s pain after killing Laura, referred to as “garmonbozia”), which is a pretty scary quirk to the character that wasn’t there during his appearances on the series. Oh, and David Bowie appears (briefly) as an FBI agent who is trapped out of time, only able to appear in fits and starts before disappearing into the ether once more. I’m not sure if that will matter moving forward, but it was a pretty fun moment of classic Twin Peaks weird.
Fire Walk With Me isn’t a good film, and it’s not a particularly good bookend to the Twin Peaks story. The stuff with BOB and the Black Lodge is far scarier than anything the television series handled (which isn’t surprising, as the film wasn’t tied down to network television standards – much like the new series won’t be), but it also plays heavily into the soapier elements of the series, like the teenage love triangles, without much payoff beyond basic whining. And I had forgotten how over the top some of the show’s performances can be (which, of course, was the goal, but it is still rather jarring in this era of Peak TV earnestness).
Come next Sunday, remember that Leland Palmer murdered not just Laura Palmer, but a number of young women at the behest of BOB’s spirit. Remember that there’s a green ring that called BOB to attack those who wore it. Remember that there are a number of spiritual denizens of the Black Lodge, and that The Man From Another Place is far more sinister than he appeared on the television series. And remember that the Dale Cooper who was released to the world at the end of the series was not Good Dale, but rather an evil, possessed version of our hero. Oh, and remember that James is just the absolute worst. And he’ll be back in the new series. Sigh.