“It is happening again.” On May 21, David Lynch and Mark Frost will return to Twin Peaks, one of the most influential programs in the history of television, bringing a new season of the series to Showtime. It’s hard to overstate the impact Twin Peaks had when it premiered on ABC in 1990. Audiences had never seen a show like it, as it entered a landscape where family fare like Roseanne, The Cosby Show, Golden Girls, and A Different World were top ten hits. Quite simply, Lynch’s vision laid the foundation for the era of auteur-driven television we currently enjoy.
Will today’s audiences care about Twin Peaks more than two decades after its premiere? We’ll know soon enough, but in the meantime, there are plenty of ways to prepare for the series’ return, whether you’re totally new to the show or just need a refresher on the Log Lady.
Looking for the essential episodes to better appreciate the cult of Twin Peaks? Want to know which ones you can skip? Wondering if interviews, tie-ins, and Lynch’s controversial movie should factor into your warm-up for the revival? Consider this your own personal checklist to the world of Twin Peaks.
6 Essential Episodes
“Pilot” (season 1, episode 1)
The one that started it all. The shock wave that stunned network television. When Twin Peaks premiered in 1990, the film and TV worlds didn’t really cross over like they do now. David Lynch was a two-time Oscar nominee … and he was making a TV show? Everyone tuned in, and what they saw was a brilliant hybrid of classic soap opera tropes and Lynch’s Blue Velvet vision of horror lurking behind white picket fences. The blend of oddity, grief, and shocking perversion that would define the best of Twin Peaks all started here. This episode is as essential as they come in the way it deconstructs the soap opera, rebuilding it into something new and terrifying. It’s not just for the new Twin Peaks, but also for understanding how TV got to where it is today. It’s a masterpiece.
“Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer” (season 1, episode 3)
The one that deepened it all. This episode introduced the show’s iconic dream sequences, and it’s also where the most interesting characters started coming into sharper focus. The curtains, the music, the backward talking — Agent Dale Cooper’s dream ends this episode, followed by a line that had audiences jumping: “I know who killed Laura Palmer.” This is the episode that brought it all together: the mythology, the mystery, the characters, the tone. It also has the scene in which Leland dances to Glenn Miller’s “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” which made that song terrifying to hear ever since.
“The Last Evening” (season 1, episode 8)
The one that frustrated us all. The first-season finale was one of the most frustrating hours of television in 1990 because of what it didn’t do — reveal the identity of Laura’s killer — but that’s also what makes it so essential. It revealed that Twin Peaks was never going to be about what you think it’s going to be about. Rewatching the series in the present day, it’s a bit surprising that viewers expected the mystery would be wrapped up so quickly. Also, the pileup of action at the end of season one — reportedly filled with soapy cliffhangers as a way to encourage ABC to pick it up for another season — is pretty hysterical in retrospect.
“May the Giant Be with You” (season 2, episode 1)
The one that confused us all. The second-season premiere of Twin Peaks defied expectations yet again. If you thought Laura’s killer would be revealed at the end of season one, you were doubly frustrated when the show didn’t reveal the person who shot Dale Cooper here. Of course, that mystery wouldn’t be solved for some time. What’s so essential about this episode is how much it expanded the supernatural elements of Twin Peaks, opening with a vision of a giant in Cooper’s room. No longer was this show solely about the death of a popular girl with weird dreams; this was all about prophecies and mystery and possession. It also upped the terror quotient to a level you wouldn’t expect on network TV. The nightmarish vision that ends the episode — as Ronette wakes up and we see a screaming Laura and a homicidal Bob — is still just horrific.
“Lonely Souls” (season 2, episode 7)
The one that scared us all. We discover who killed Laura Palmer in this truly shocking episode, which revealed that Bob possessed Leland Palmer and forced him to murder his own daughter. Not only is this episode beautifully directed by Lynch himself, but it’s a wonderful play on the show’s soap opera foundation, pulling a bait and switch as the authorities close in on Ben Horne, only for the episode to end with a Bob-possessed Leland killing his niece Maddy. This one and the two episodes that follow are as good as TV gets, and should have won Ray Wise an Emmy.
“Beyond Life and Death” (season 2, episode 22)
The one that haunted us all. This was the end. Long before Fire Walk With Me or the thought of a revival came into the picture, this seemed like the final chapter of Twin Peaks — and, man, did Lynch go out blazing. Most viewers remember the shocking cliffhanger revelation that Cooper was possessed by Killer Bob, but they often forget the riveting, strange hour that preceded it. After slogging through the back half of an often-rudderless second season, we arrived in the Black Lodge with Laura, Dale, Bob, and some of the most insane storytelling in TV history. It’s still amazing to think this was on network TV in 1990, or that it would still be kicking 27 years later. The show wasn’t ahead of its time as much as completely, totally unlike anything then or now.
3 Very Unessential Episodes
To be honest, there are whole blocks of the second season you can skip, mostly the material right after Leland dies when Twin Peaks had no idea where to go or what to do next. You can see that aimlessness in a few places, especially the James Hurley subplot, Nadine’s never-ending return to teenage life, and Ben Horne’s bizarre Civil War fantasy. There’s even a late-season episode that climaxes with a weasel attack. Which should tell you everything you need to know. Here are the most skippable of the bunch.
“Masked Ball” (season 2, episode 11)
After Cooper’s FBI badge gets stripped away, Twin Peaks quickly scatters in different narrative directions. We spend way too much time with Nadine, James’s motorcycle rebel persona is fetisihized into a ludicrous subplot, and we’re stuck with dialogue like, “I guess I’m not so interested in how my bike looks as I am where it can take me.” Oh, shut up. The end reveal that Andrew Packard is still alive is kind of a big deal, but also pretty annoying. Great, another character we don’t care about!
“Checkmate” (season 2, episode 13)
A lot of the same problems — too much James, Nadine, and crazy Ben — although this one does have a fun ending, bringing Leo back to a villain role. “Checkmate” also introduces the saving grace of the season’s closing act: Cooper’s serial-killer nemesis, Windom Earle, a man with fiendish planning skills but some of the silliest costumes in TV history.
“Slaves and Masters” (season 2, episode 19)
The Earle chess game almost saves the episode, but so many of the season’s subplots reach peak awful all at once in “Slaves and Masters,” which serves to show how much time you’ve wasted wondering what might happen to James. (Answer: pretty much nothing.) There’s also something distinctly uninteresting about the Catherine Martell subplot, and the awkward physical comedy in Nadine’s story line is just cringeworthy.
1 Essential Movie
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Will the Showtime revival share more creative DNA with Lynch’s prequel movie than the ABC series? There are plenty of reasons to think so: Lynch told Variety that the movie’s narrative is pivotal to the new series. Fire Walk With Me is the most recent Lynch property set in the Peaks universe, and it also holds the freedom of construction and lack of network censors that he’ll enjoy at Showtime. No one knows what to expect from the revival, but if the movie is any indicator, it’ll be way darker, scarier, and stranger than the original series. For that reason alone, Fire Walk With Me is worth watching.
Having said that, the film was made without co-creator Mark Frost, who anchored the original series and may serve the same role again. (It also lacks a few characters who will return for the revival.) The more experimental aspects of the divisive film could be tightened by Lynch’s collaboration with Frost. I’m expecting a hybrid, a cross between the soapy stylings of the original series and the horror of Fire Walk With Me, but the tone will likely be closer to the latter than the former. We’ll know soon.
5 Essential Interviews
David Lynch has never been one to explicitly break down his work, but there have been some fascinating interviews over the last few years with key players from Twin Peaks.
1) Start with this remarkable profile from GQ, which includes quotes from major collaborators like Naomi Watts and Laura Dern, both of whom are now a part of the world of Twin Peaks.
2) Jump back to 1990 with this BBC segment that features interviews with Frost and Lynch.
3) In March, EW talked to Kyle MacLachlan about returning to the show and what it means to him.
4) Find out about the “movie screen in your head” that influences the way Lynch shapes his visions in this interview from Wired.
5) Finally, don’t miss this great conversation with Mark Frost — which took place before the reboot was even announced — that touches on what influenced one of the most influential shows of all time.
3 Essential Tie-ins
1) When the show was airing on ABC, one of the best tie-ins was The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, which turned a major plot point into a book you could read between episodes.
2) In 2016, Mark Frost released The Secret History of Twin Peaks, a gigantic book that connects the early days of settlement in Twin Peaks all the way up to season two’s final scene. If anything, Frost’s book may be second only to Fire Walk With Me when it comes to essential background information, offering insight into what Frost considers important and where he might take the show next.
3) Sure, this may not seem essential, but if you’re a truly die-hard fan, you gotta have a Funko Pop figure sitting next to your TV. The Laura Palmer one is pretty macabre, so I’m going with Agent Cooper.