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JOSEPH N. BELL

Lynch Turns an Evil Eye to Life's Great Question

December 07, 1990|JOSEPH N. BELL

I've got to get this out in the open. I'm a Peak Freak. While its audience has bailed out and its ratings have plummeted, I've hung steadfastly with "Twin Peaks." If creator David Lynch were to tell us next week that it wasn't really Leland Palmer who killed his daughter but rather a white horse who answers to the name of "Bob" and can metamorphose into a human at will, I'd still go along. It's that bad.

Lynch is at a watershed now. Most murder mysteries end when the murderer is exposed and the detective explains in an epilogue the superhuman feats of mental gymnastics that led him to the killer. It is one of Lynch's better bemusements that his detective learned the truth from a dream in which the victim whispered the name of her killer in his ear.

But now Lynch has an hour of prime time and a solved mystery--well, sort of. There's no reason for the centerpiece of his narrative--the FBI agent played by Kyle MacLachlan--to hang around town any longer. The array of nitwits, neurotics and Neanderthals with which Lynch has peopled Twin Peaks can hardly hold an audience without the mastic of a murder mystery and the eccentric FBI agent around whom the story has evolved.

So what is Lynch going to do?

He left himself an opening last Saturday by some wonderful mystical and metaphysical portents about the evil that can alight within any of us really causing the crimes in the town of Twin Peaks. By purging the murderer before he died, Lynch set up the possibility that the evil--known as "Bob"--may infiltrate one of the other characters and start this whole process over again. And therein lies an intriguing opportunity to take this intellectual soap opera in a quite different direction.

I don't know if Lynch sees that or not, if he stumbled on it or set it up deliberately. But the most profound and frustrating puzzle with which mankind has dealt ever since the first Stone Age cave scratchings has been the origin of evil. This is the question that connects every book of the Bible--starting with the fable of Adam and Eve and the snake--and underlies most philosophical writings. If God is good and God is omnipotent, then where, oh where, did evil come from? And why does God countenance it in his universe?

If Lynch is going to turn his own quirky creative lens on that question by keeping his focus on the folks we've come to know in Twin Peaks, he could set up another mystery even more compelling than tracking down the murderer of Laura Palmer. And there are some clues that this has been his intention from the beginning.

Lynch, for example, gave his killer a persona and appearance quite different from the family man he inhabited. And he set his story (as he did his movie "Blue Velvet") in salt-of-the-earth middle-class surroundings and (at least with Twin Peaks) amid great physical beauty. If evil can flourish here, he seemed to be saying, it can flourish anywhere.

I think that dark premise is what drew me into "Twin Peaks"--that and the blatant manipulation built into the show that is really quite funny. Lynch allows you to take him seriously for about 10 minutes, and then slips in a zinger that goes by before you spot it and leaves you awash in your own absurdity for watching.

I like to imagine Lynch chuckling as viewers try to find some kind of symbolic significance in such nonsense as the white horse that appeared suddenly in the Palmer living room while the murderer was being exposed. I suppose that by thus, in effect, seeing myself as a co-conspirator with Lynch, I can somehow justify being manipulated myself. If I'm in on the joke, I can't be a victim. Can I?

But this, alone, would have worn thin long before the murder that launched "Twin Peaks" was solved. I watched the first episode of the show with my wife and stepson because David Lynch's movies--pretentious as they were--had intrigued me, as had the publicity that preceded this series.

All three of us were hooked instantly and have been ever since. But it wasn't until the last two episodes that I began to understand that what attracted and held me was that beneath all the manipulation and funny stuff was, intentional or otherwise, an effort to examine-- not , I suspect, to explain--the existence of evil in a small, idyllic town that could front for God's universe.

Now I may very well be imparting profundities to Lynch that would astonish--and perhaps amuse--him. That doesn't matter. Every piece of creative work is seen through the different prisms of the individuals exploring it. And "Twin Peaks" happened to come along at a time in my life when I could no longer accept the standard explanations of the coexistence of good and evil in what purports to be God's kingdom (nor could I accept evil's metaphysical non-existence, either).

A TV soap opera seems an odd place to address such a question, and yet David Lynch now has that opportunity. He has moved his story to the point where a new direction is imperative--and I'd like to know if that interesting mind is going to take on this question. And where he's going to take it.

So I'll be watching Saturday. I hope he doesn't blow it.

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