It's Confusing, but the Plot Twists Double the Fun

Too late.

If you haven't already started watching ABC's "Twin Peaks," forget it. You're out of it. You'll never catch up. Beginning at this late stage would be like beginning a 300-page book on page 200. You wouldn't know who Log Lady is. You'd be hopelessly behind and confused.

On the other hand, I've watched every episode, and I'm hopelessly behind and confused.

But loving it. I think.

You're thankful for small pleasures. So much of television is rigidly mainstream as well as simplistic, transparent and without mystique that you almost snap your neck doing a double take when sighting a series as gratuitously bizarre and magnificently opaque as "Twin Peaks." On this series, the mysteries of life remain a thick knot, which is swell with me. What I love best about "Twin Peaks" is that I have absolutely no idea what it's about or what it means. However, I do have a strong suspicion what it's about and what it means:

Nothing.

Ah, but watching "nothing" has never been as much fun. This is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill variety "nothing," this is "nothing" with wit, eroticism and style, a sort of Ingmar Bergman meets prime time, fraught with seemingly meaningless symbolism and oddball characters whose lives interweave cryptically.

Airing at 9 p.m. Thursdays on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42, "Twin Peaks" is the series that everyone is not talking about, but everyone in the media seems anxious to write about. And write about with unrestrained hyperbole.

" 'Twin Peaks' fever is sweeping the land," booms Newsweek. And exactly what land might that be? C'mon. Someone has been spending too much time with Log Lady (who carries a log). If "Twin Peaks" mania were as widespread as Newsweek seems to believe, ABC would not be undecided about renewing it for next season.

In last week's national Nielsens, "Twin Peaks" ranked only 44th, barely in the top half of the ratings for prime time. If "Twin Peaks" does survive past its initial mini-season--and we "Twin Peaks" maniacs have fingers crossed--then it will do so as a cult series whose relatively small audience is sufficiently young and upscale to excite the advertisers that excite ABC.

So "Twin Peaks" is not for everyone. Perhaps its viewers someday will hold conventions where they will sit around and speak obtusely to each other.

The enigma here is thick and seemingly impenetrable, promising no light at the end of the tunnel. The fact is that you have the distinct feeling that co-creators David Lynch ("Blue Velvet") and Mark Frost ("Hill Street Blues") have made "Twin Peaks" their own inside joke. The setting is a screwball lumber town in the Pacific Northwest where the discovery of 17-year-old Laura Palmer's plastic-wrapped body has set off the mystery that drives the plot.

What am I saying? What plot?

So baffling were the first 10 minutes of last week's episode that for awhile I was sure I had missed the previous episode. I hadn't.

In a sense, "Twin Peaks" makes disability symbolic of sinister strangeness. A one-armed man is refered to ominously. An obsessed woman who wears an eyepatch reacts euphorically when her drapes glide noiselessly. And, of course, a highlight of "Twin Peaks" came at the end of the third episode when a red-suited, backward-talking dwarf or little person sang and danced in a dream, telling pie-loving FBI agent Dale Cooper--who is investigating Laura's murder with doughnut-loving Sheriff Harry Truman--of a place where "there's always music in the air."

Is "Twin Peaks" ridiculing people with disabilities? Yes. But "Twin Peaks" ridicules everything and everyone.

I think.

In trying to fathom "Twin Peaks," the team concept is advised. I credit charts of characters printed in People magazine and Newsweek ("Deputy Andy: Crybaby") for putting the maze in a little better focus for me.

The media's real "Twin Peaks" guru, though, is John Leonard of New York Magazine. I sit at his feet. From his exhaustive article on "Twin Peaks" I learned that there may have been a sexual connotation to Ben Horne noisily wolfing down a brie-on-baguette sandwich. I learned from Leonard that Laura is named for the Gene Tierney character in the 1944 movie "Laura" and that the bird appearing at the start of several episodes refers to the robin at the end of "Blue Velvet." I learned from Leonard (who learned it from the New York Times) that the "Twin Peaks" title refers to women's breasts. I learned from Leonard (who learned it from Soap Opera Weekly) that the singer in a roadhouse was played by a singer for whom Lynch co-produced an album. And from Leonard I learned that the jukebox in Norma's diner is meant to recall an episode of "The Twilight Zone."

Yes! Of course! "The Twilight Zone!" But, uh, so what?

After borrowing from so many others, it gives me great pleasure now to make my own contribution to "Twin Peaks" lore. The dancing little person? Don't ask. After much thought, however, I have figured out who murdered Laura.

I discount Leo, the drug-running, wife-beating trucker, because he's too obvious. For awhile, I suspected Agent Cooper, before moving on to Sheriff Truman, who is so convincingly sincere that I don't believe him. Nahhhh, not those guys, either. I've got a better theory. Write this down, because you'll want to applaud me later. Laura Palmer's murderer is. . .

Laura Palmer.

We've just been introduced to Laura's lookalike cousin. But I've seen through this ruse. The cousin is actually the real Laura, who killed her cousin and is now impersonating her.

Yes, Laura did it. I'm sure she did it. I think she did it. She may have done it. She could have done it. She probably didn't do it. I don't know who did it.

No matter. There's music in the air.

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