Act Four: ‘Twin Peaks’ was pioneeringly weird. It was also profoundly empathetic.

The weirdness of “Twin Peaks” wouldn’t matter as much if it weren’t an expression of real grief.
 
Act Four
Alyssa Rosenberg on culture and politics
 
 
Kyle MacLachlan in Showtime’s “Twin Peaks.” (Suzanne Tenner/Showtime) This week, my colleague and friend Hank Stuever wrote a terrific essay about David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks,” pegged to the series’ return on Showtime this weekend. “Nothing is as it seems, and that’s how ‘Twin Peaks,’ like a subliminal Bob, still makes its presence felt in this golden age of television,” he wrote. “It’s there whenever writers lean on dream sequences. Or when set design calls for a flickering ­fluorescent bulb. When showrunners avoid solving their story’s central mystery and then claim art as an excuse if fans disapprove. When loyal watchers are left typing long online missives to one another after each episode, desperate to figure out what it all means, or, most literally, what the heck just happened.” All of this is absolutely true. But as I rewatched bits and pieces of “Twin Peaks” this week, I was reminded of an element of the series that hasn’t necessarily accompanied its magnificent weirdness. The pervasive sense of strangeness that Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) finds in “Twin Peaks” matters not merely because listening to him talk about chocolate bunnies is hilarious, but because the characters care about Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) and each other. So much of the pilot is consumed with Donna Hayward’s (Lara Flynn Boyle) grief, James Hurley’s (James Marshall) wounded dignity, Deputy Andy’s (Harry Goaz) shock, and the Palmers’ frantic mourning. Laura Palmer is a victim of supernatural forces, but the show’s oddity is also a profound way of expressing the way the world gets rearranged when someone dies unexpectedly, violently and far too young. There have been a lot of dead girls on television in the years since, but if only a few of the exquisite corpses that followed Laura Palmer have left quite the same impression, it’s because far too many television shows haven’t treated them as if they matter in quite the same way. The weirdness is hollow without the real girl.
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