Northwest Passage: Returning to Twin Peaks and reopening The X-Files

TwinPeakssauceraltsmallLaura Palmer promised Special Agent Dale Cooper that she would see him again in twenty five years but few expected a promise made within the confines of the Black Lodge to have any validity in the real world, so when the announcement was made on October 6th 2014 that David Lynch and Mark Frost would bring a third season of Twin Peaks to the Showtime network the pause before the eruption of cheering across the Internet was a genuine stunned silence.

Running for thirty episodes across two seasons from April 8th 1990 to June 10th 1991 followed by the prequel feature film Fire Walk With Me, released August 28th 1992, Twin Peaks burned bright and fast, a landmark television series which demanded attention from viewers yet confounded them in equal measure, a sprawling ensemble of oblique narrative carried by the eccentric and often secretive inhabitants of that rainy town in Washington State, just south of the Canadian border with a declared population of 51,201.

Benefitting from the pedigree of Lynch’s cinematic reputation from The Elephant Man and Blue Velvet, thirty four million viewers tuned in for the opening episode yet only ten million watched the final cliffhanger episode the following year, though many who had remained loyal found that painful wound soothed the following year with the arrival of an alternative weekly fix of FBI agents investigating unusual cases which, while produced entirely independently and with no crossover of creative personnel, would echo many of the themes and stylings of its predecessor.

Unlike Twin Peaks, The X-Files was not launched with fanfare nor did it boast a large cast of familiar names, but while it may have taken longer to gain recognition its momentum when established was unstoppable, becoming a truly global phenomenon and turning relatively unknown David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson into household names and international stars.

TwinPeaksDaleCooperRunning for two hundred and one episodes across an unprecedented nine seasons from September 10th 1993 to May 19th 2002 with a peak audience of over twenty nine million (the fourth season episode Leonard Betts), the show also generated two feature films, Fight the Future, released June 19th 1998, bridging the gap between the fifth and sixth seasons, and I Want to Believe, released July 24th 2008.

Both Special Agent Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Twin Peaks’ Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) had unorthodox approaches to their work though are recognised for their success. Both characters looked for the truth hidden beneath what was apparent, Mulder in his many investigations into the paranormal, Cooper uncovering the secrets of the Ghost Wood, Owl Cave and the Black Lodge.

XFilesresearchWhile Cooper’s investigation was supported by local law enforcement in the form of the welcoming and dependable Sheriff Harry S Truman (Michael Ontkean), Mulder’s partner was originally assigned to evaluate his work with a view to terminating the department. Despite this, Special Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), a qualified medical doctor, soon became as engaged in the cases as Mulder himself, though always viewing his work through the lens of science.

While Mulder’s interests “beyond the Bureau mainstream” made him a pariah within the organisation, Cooper was tolerated if not actually encouraged. Cooper was later shown to have a supervisor with a similar approach to his work, Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole (David Lynch himself), while Mulder eventually gained a champion in the form of Assistant Director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), even if his protection of Mulder sometimes took the necessary form of curbing his activities.

TwinPeakslakesideUpon original broadcast, Twin Peaks was unique in the television landscape, the antithesis of the glossy soap operas of the period and presaging the era of the police procedural which was to follow, but modelled on the opaque motivations of film noir with a central investigation, the murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), answered not at the end of the episode but not until the end of the season, with the identity of the killer opening a door to even deeper mystery.

Like Twin Peaks, The X-Files were in no hurry to reveal their secrets, though each episode would offer its own resolution whether it was satisfactory to Mulder and Scully’s superiors or not. By sprinkling the “mythology” episodes – those dealing with Mulder’s conviction that the childhood abduction of his sister was part of a conspiracy between a “Shadow Syndicate” within the government and alien forces experimenting on human subjects – between standalone “monster of the week” episodes, The X-Files balanced the immediate audience needs against the longer aims of creator Chris Carter.

XFileslakesideWith the fictional town of Twin Peaks just south of the Canadian border in Washington State, location filming for the pilot episode took place in and around Snoqualmie, near Seattle; with the first five seasons of The X-Files filmed in and around Vancouver, less than 300km due north, the visual template was paralleled, the mountains, the mist, the endlessly saturating rain, the trees which harboured secrets in both shows, Glastonbury Grove in Twin Peaks and alien abductions, killer fungi, Neanderthal women, prehistoric insects and the occasional werewolf in The X-Files.

Strengthening those ties, many actors who had featured in Twin Peaks would also work on The X-Files: Claire Stansfield, Judge Sternwood’s assistant Sid, was the title character in The Jersey Devil, Michael Horse, Deputy Hawk of the Twin Peaks sherriff’s department, was Sheriff Charles Tskany in Shapes, Frances Bay, the mysterious Mrs Tremond, was a resident of the Excelsis Dei nursing home, Michael J Anderson, “the man from another place,” was Mr Nutt in Humbug, Kenneth Welsh, Cooper’s nemesis Windom Earle, was Simon Gates in Revelations and Richard Beymer, Benjamin Horne, owner of the Great Northern Hotel, was Doctor Jack Franklin in Sanguinarium.

TwinPeaksDeniseMost significantly, Don S Davis, Major Garland Briggs, a US Airforce officer possibly involved with Project Blue Book, played Dana Scully’s father Bill Scully on Beyond the Sea and One Breath and David Duchovny had himself appeared in three episodes of the second season of Twin Peaks as Drug Enforcement Agency agent Dennis Bryson.

A close friend of Agent Cooper’s, he surprised Dale with the revelation that on an undercover assignment he discovered how comfortable he was in women’s clothing and had since assumed the name Denise Bryson. His character epitomising the dual nature reflected throughout the show, it was Deputy Hawk who remained unflappable upon first meeting Denise; “It’s a good colour for him.”

XFilesWilliamScullyInterestingly, in two of the episodes featuring Twin Peaks guests, Beyond the Sea and Revelations, the dual nature of that show carried over to The X-Files in that the normally sceptical Dana Scully found herself in the role of the believer with Fox Mulder appealing to her not to accept the comfort of her credulity when the facts did not support it.

Many other influences were apparent on the show, with early seasons adhering to the advice “if you must steal, steal from the best,” repackaging classic science fiction and horror movies almost on a weekly basis: Squeeze (The Night Strangler), Conduit (a Spielberg double bill with both Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Poltergeist represented), Shadows (The Entity), Ghost in the Machine (2001: A Space Odyssey), Ice (John Carpenter’s The Thing), Beyond the Sea (Silence of the Lambs), Born Again (Audrey Rose), The Calusari (The Exorcist), and so forth.

TwinPeaksGarlandBriggsCarter acknowledged the specific debt owed to Kolchak: The Night Stalker, the single season investigative drama continuation of the classic television movie The Night Stalker broadcast in 1972. Atypically for a genre show, Kolchak did not feature any genre elements such as a spooky soundtrack, stylised performances and soft focus or Dutch angle shots, instead presented entirely as a purely situational drama where the main character just happened to be investigating cases where the perpetrators were discovered to be supernatural creatures.

By presenting vampires, werewolves and so forth in realistic settings rather than beneath a veneer of fantasy, that show created a veracity which connected with the viewers of that era which Carter and his team successfully recreated, both in the physical production of the show and in the character of Dana Scully, a rational sceptic keen to dismiss her partner’s flights of fancy. They represented both sides of the audience’s intellect, the rational part which said “this can’t be happening because…” but also the part eager to embrace the tantalising possibility “but what if it is?”

XFilesshapesIn contrast to the surrealism favoured by David Lynch in many of his works where films stars and former matinee idols were cast in significant roles on Twin Peaks (West Side Story‘s Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn, The Hustler‘s Piper Laurie, The Last Emperor‘s Joan Chen, The Mod Squad‘s Peggy Lipton), The X-Files conspicuously avoided “stunt casting” in the early seasons, preferring local actors in the (correct) belief that the audience would then be watching the characters rather than the unknown Canadian actors playing them.

A consequence of the “real world” conceit of The X-Files was that the characters were aware of and could refer to pop culture, Scully citing both Carrie and Poltergeist in Shadows, with Star Wars providing context in Small Potatoes and I Dream of Jeannie turning sour in Je Souhaite, whereas Twin Peaks‘ fantasy world had its own fantasy soap opera, Invitation to Love.

TwinPeaksGlastonburyGroveIronically, as The X-Files became more confident it consciously played with its established format, becoming more apparent in its weirdness and even parodying itself, examples of which would be the introduction of two fictional pop culture figures of its own, television psychic The Stupendous Yappi (Jaap Broeker) and science fiction novelist Jose Chung (Charles Nelson Reilly), the Cher soundtracked black and white Frankenstein tribute The Post-Modern Prometheus and the seasonal whimsy of How the Ghosts Stole Christmas guest starring Lily Tomlin and Edward Asner.

Now, thirteen years after the last episode was broadcast and seven years after the second feature film was released, on March 24th 2015, only six months after it was confirmed that Twin Peaks would come to a new home on Showtime for its third season, it was announced that The X-Files would reopen for a tenth season on their original broadcast network, Fox.

XFilestreesTwin Peaks is not expected to broadcast until 2017 but is planned to run for eighteen episodes written by David Lynch and original co-creator Mark Frost, with Lynch planning to direct all. Angelo Badalmenti will return to provide the soundtrack, and Kyle MacLachlan (Special Agent Dale Cooper), Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer), Richard Beymer (Benjamin Horne), Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs) and Catherine E Coulson (Margaret Lanterman, “the log lady”) are among the confirmed returning cast.

The X-Files will broadcast six episodes beginning Sunday 24th January 2016, with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson returning as Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, joined by Mitch Pileggi (Assistant Director Walter Skinner) and William B Davis (CGB Spender, “the cigarette smoking man”). Confirmed writers and directors include Chris Carter on premiere episode My Struggle, Glen Morgan on Home Again, rumoured to be a followup to his shocking fourth season episode Home and Darin Morgan on Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster; Mark Snow will again provide the soundtrack.

Twin PeaksdonutsWhile these shows once defined the new television, where they led has now become the standard: is it reasonable to expect them to continue to be at the cutting edge or should we be satisfied with less? Is it enough just to have them back as solid entertainment with the caveat that once the swell of nostalgia is past that the long term fans, always the most demanding audience, will expect quality to be maintained and will look at them critically as they wait for them to deliver on their promise?

We have asked our team, those “long term fans” of whom we speak, to express their expectations, hopes and concerns about the revivals.

XFilesmothershipMatthew Rutland – I have many feelings, quite a few mixed, about the re-birth/reboot/continuation of these beloved series, so these are my feelings this far. Oh, and apologies in advance for mixed metaphors.

The X-Files and Twin Peaks are like two cars. Whilst The X-Files has been stopped as a television series for over ten years now, we have had two cinema release films, video games and comic book series (of which I am a particular fan) to keep the property very much in the public consciousness. So this is like taking a vintage car to various shows and meets, keeping it well tuned. Therefore a return to the small screen seems perfect.

TwinPeaksHarryandDaleThe actual cases themselves can also be passed on to younger teams and even though we all watched it for the chemistry and relationship between our beloved protagonists Mulder and Scully, they can be replaced. The fact they are older doesn’t necessarily make it a necessity, but it is helpful if this is successful and they look to continue into new series.

Twin Peaks. Oh man, Twin Peaks was the proverbial “Something Else.” Clever, witty, slick, quirky, brooding, dangerous and sexy. And that’s just our beloved agent Dale Cooper. Hell after twenty five years the fact people remember it is testament enough, let alone love it enough for Hollywood to see dollar signs. (I even have a picture of Donna, Audrey and Shelly as my phone wallpaper).

XFilesUFOHowever, I feel it was very much a product of its time. Ideas in this show that were pioneering have now become clichéd tropes of the genre, or even television as a whole. Or maybe as I sit and watch it over and over I feel resentment for a new generation and want to keep it a cult phenomenon that others don’t know about, where I can chat to the few friends who know of it in reverence without others chiming in. Like Roy’s T-shirt in The IT Crowd says, nothing is any good if other people like it.

So, wasn’t there a car analogy? Yes, and if this was a car, a product of its time, then some parts will just no longer work and need replacing, without any road testing in the years between. Will it drive? Sure. But will it be the same experience? No. I don’t know if I even want it to be. They will keep remaking King Kong every twenty years, but they will never remake Gone with the Wind.

TwinPeakssingBecause if the magic isn’t there, or has faded, it won’t be the same.

Lee Richardson – The basement in the Edgar Hoover building was tantamount to a comfort blanket for my imagination as a young teenager. An example of a professional American place of work, an offering of the capabilities and restraints of television show creators of the time and of course the most fertile stomping ground for aliens, monsters, demons, conspiracies and the generally inexplicable.

XFilesPostWatching this same stalwart of programme making some twenty years later, I wonder, does it make me feel the same? Certainly other examples of generation-defining television series have come and gone and some are going strong in their sixth season, regardless of the winter coming.

Despite breaking plenty of televisual ground and being more than proficient in its production, I always saw The X-Files as one of those personal favourites. An example of a piece of work which allows us to willingly place our rose-tinted glasses over that otherwise harshly critical eye.

TwinPeaksTibetOstensibly the show is two FBI agents chasing rumours of aliens up and down the country. What is easy to forget is the creating and sustaining of one of television’s most enduring relationships, an over-arching plot that is more resourceful than it probably ever thought it needed to be, and a proliferation of characters each one more considered and integral to The Truth than the last.

Admittedly it is awash with its share of “wait a minute…” moments; Terry O’Quinn playing three different characters through the nine seasons and film, and Krycek having other unintentional bit parts. Television crews being reflected in the agents’ weekly rental car and unashamedly blinding the viewer with scientific jargon in an attempt to set some precedence to loosely explain the proclivities of this week’s monster.

XFilesGhostsJust like favourite albums and films from a bygone era, we have to view them through old eyes. They led the pack for us then, carved out a path for their successors and have earned that sheltered spot where, I for one quite obviously, find it very hard to be critical.

So, what expression are you likely to see on my face when revisiting The X-Files today? A nostalgic grin.

TwinPeaksJamesLauraMichael FlettTwin Peaks, I want to be uncompromised, and I have absolute faith in David Lynch and Mark Frost to deliver. They stuck to their guns when Showtime wanted to cut the budget and made them back down, no doubt helped first by the worldwide cry of joy which went up when the announcement was made then the equal outrage when Lynch threatened to walk, led by the cast themselves. Showtime know there is a demand for this and they would have been fools to let it slip through their fingers.

The X-Files already gave us so much, it’s actually easier to be pragmatic about it. The problem with the original show was the weight of the mythology which nobody expected to have to last nine years, an unprecedented length of time for a genre show. Every season, a new ring had to be added to the circus, the Syndicate, clones, black oil, bees, rebel aliens, supersoldiers. Beneath that, the production quality never wavered and the standalones, while perhaps not as strong as the best the show had to offer at its height – what show can say that after even five seasons, let alone nine? – maintained a high bar.

XFilesWantA side effect of the mythology was that the season closers/openers were notoriously self-indulgent. I know that I’m unusual in that I thought I Want to Believe was a better film than Fight the Future, which was the ultimate example of that curse. Set between two seasons, it was a marketing exercise rather than a movie, two hours of treading water on the silver screen, unable to fulfil any dramatic purpose or advance the story as the sixth season premiere had to cater both to the fans who had seen the film and a wider audience who hadn’t.

They have to be narrative driven for the immediate needs of the story; while I would like to see plot elements running through all which will be resolved on the final night, I don’t want them to overwhelm and smother the foreground action, nor do I want permanent closure. My belief is that with a specific remit for six episodes, no need to stretch the action endlessly, they can actually achieve something.

TwinPeakslodgeI don’t need CGB Spender, as he’s already died twice, so I hope we only see him in flashback or some such, but I would like to see Agents Doggett and Reyes in some capacity, if not in this initial six then, should they be successful, a further limited engagement a couple of years down the line. If these work, will I want more? Hell, yeah!

There are undoubtedly revivals which have worked – Star Trek The Next Generation, Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, and certainly I’m more excited about these than Heroes, due later this year. If these are successful, will it set a precedent? Dead Like Me and Veronica Mars both got brief comebacks, but nothing further came of them. Is Firefly a realistic possibility? I know, dream on…

XFilestruthLes Anderson – So, two of the most original and influential TV dramas of the early nineties are to return to our screens in the next couple of years. As a fan of both I have apprehensions about their return. When both series aired in the early nineties they were genuinely ground-breaking and used storytelling techniques, plotlines and formats that were new to television at that time but which have subsequently been copied to the point of cliché over the last two decades, and what was new and strikingly original in 1990 and 1993 is now old-hat, which forms the nub of my apprehensions.

On the one hand, should each series return largely unaltered for the sake of both continuity and nostalgia? Both will feature original cast members reprising their characters but if the makers stay true to the originals they run the risk of becoming a lacklustre parody of a parody. On the other hand, should the makers strive to be as ground-breaking now as they were twenty-odd years ago? That approach runs the risk of both alienating the returning core audience and any new audiences. It’s a very fine line to tread; each series has to be commercially appealing.

TwinPeaksAnnieCompared with the early nineties, today’s home viewing landscape is bewilderingly complex and contemporary commercial considerations might lead to the quirks being ironed out. These new sequel series may well end up as empty pastiches of well-loved originals populated by distressingly aged versions of our favourite characters.

One ray of hope is the presence of original creative personnel, and I imagine that both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson will have very clear ideas of what works and doesn’t work for their characters and will have had significant input in the finished product. Similarly David Lynch is taking on the gargantuan task of directing an entire series (I suspect for budgetary reasons) and I hope his artistic instinct will not be too reined-in by “the suits.”

Anticipation for both series is phenomenal. Let’s hope we won’t be disappointed.

XFilespiesmallDavid Garside – This mini-event six episode season fills me with much joy but also concern. The X-Files has a huge following and with so much story to tell I’m not sure if six episodes is enough. A specific thing which should be addressed is a good explanation about the invasion that was supposed to have taken place on December 22nd 2012.

Yes, The Walking Dead did an amazing job with its first season of six episodes, but we’re talking about a pop culture phenomenon with The X-Files and I hope it’s not rushed and the episodes don’t bring up more questions which remain unanswered and then that’s it forever. Give us season eleven, please!

On a lighter note – I hope Gillian’s wig isn’t too distracting!




Show Buttons
Hide Buttons