When I was four years old my mother consulted a doctor about my behavior: “Is it normal that she just watches Mary Poppins over and over again?” The doctor reassured her, “Sometimes kids just take comfort in the familiar. They like knowing what is coming next.”
In high school in the 1990s I painstakingly recorded, curated, and catalogued syndicated episodes of The Simpsons on VHS, using two VCRs to cut commercials and create my own greatest hits collections: Top Treehouse of Horror, the “Worst” of Mr. Burns, etc. To this day, my husband and I often speak to one another in Simpsons quotes. It’s one of the reasons I married him – he’s also a fan, and he always gets my references.
I’ve always been a fan. There is nothing quite like the deep sense of connection you feel toward a piece of pop culture that you really love. There is comfort and community when you find others who share your fandom. That’s why I never mock or begrudge anyone for whatever it is they are INTO, even if it’s not something that I identify with. There is something so pure and genuine about being unapologetically engaged with something that brings you joy, and in sharing that joy with others.
Pop culture phenomena are best enjoyed in the company of other fans. I will never forget being introduced to Beatles records by my boyfriend’s dad, while he shared tidbits of trivia about esoteric song meanings and who was on acid while recording what. Or acting out “Light My Candle” from Rent in the driveway with my best friend. Or making cassette tape recordings of Star Wars: A New Hope to listen to in the car with my boyfriend. Or reciting lines from old Monty Python movies with my dad. When he would say, “How do you know she’s a witch?” I always knew what was coming next.
I first watched Twin Peaks in 2002 on the tail end of a coming-of-age road trip across the country from Ohio to (fittingly) the Pacific Northwest. My future husband and I had run out of traveling money and ended up sleeping on the floor of my cousin’s home in southern Oregon. This cousin, another interminable fanboy, had an old VHS box set of the show, and we watched voraciously – two or three episodes each evening when he got off work. I quickly fell in love with the quirky characters, the bizarre twists and turns, the dreams and visions. It was indeed both wonderful and strange.
A few years later, we watched it again after acquiring an even shittier VHS box set from a video store that was going out of business. The tapes were nearly unwatchable, with warbley music and permanent lines running through the picture – yet we persevered. When it was eventually released on DVD we watched again, rejoicing that we could finally hear the opening theme without it sounding like it was underwater. We reveled in introducing the series to newbies, binge-watching in the days before Netflix, drinking coffee and eating pie with my dad, various friends and roommates. Anticipating their reactions because we knew what was coming next.
Just for good measure, in the months prior to the release of Twin Peaks: The Return, we watched the series once more – reconnecting with the oddball characters, revisiting the unsettling surrealism of the Black Lodge, cringe-laughing our way through the ridiculous falsetto of James Hurley singing “Just You,” sensing the wisdom of Major Briggs and the Log Lady, the integrity of Special Agent Dale Cooper, the evil of BOB.
Finally, it was time for The Return. In the dark with my husband and my father, my heart leapt as I heard the familiar opening, saw Laura’s smiling face superimposed over the trees and rushing waterfalls outside the Great Northern. Our routine each Sunday was this: a short discussion about current themes and theories, a viewing of the previous week’s episode, and finally the new episode – in the dark, and turned up loud. My personal ritual extended into the night, joining the Twin Peaks community online, reading the reactions of other fans on spoiler threads as I rocked my infant daughter to sleep. The images often worked their way into my dreams. Watching Twin Peaks: The Return has been one of the most compelling, mentally stimulating, and emotionally intense viewing experiences I’ve ever had.
I continue to be riveted not only while watching the show, but by the echoes of it that reverberate in my daily life. Never in all my years of fandom have I immersed myself so fully. The wonders of the internet make this possible. I seek out critical analyses and long-form think pieces on symbolism and themes. I read long threads on social media about tulpas and time loop theories and Easter eggs. I watch YouTube videos and clips. I even create Twin Peaks/Simpsons mash-up memes with my brethren in the Simpsons Peaks Facebook group. I see zig zag patterns and electrical outlets everywhere. I am INTO it.
Approaching the finale, I felt sad that it was ending but so grateful to have experienced it. This was a moment in time, a singular joy shared by so many fans who had become absorbed by this magical world created for us. In turn, we had become the creators, the seekers, the dreamers. I had no idea what was coming next.
I watched the finale with some damn fine coffee and cherry pie, in the company of my family, both literal and figurative. As always, my first viewing was visceral. I think everyone has their own way to enjoy Twin Peaks, and indeed all of David Lynch’s work, and for me it has always been to feel it first. In that way it is profoundly meditative. Interpretations come later – first I have to immerse myself fully into the moment and just let it wash over me. And it did. At one point during episode seventeen I looked over at my dad and husband and saw them both wearing that familiar expression: leaning forward, mouth slightly agape, brow furrowed. I knew I looked the same way. I felt triumph, joy, fear, confusion. We took a deep breath and put on the last episode. In one hour, all our hopes and expectations were ripped from us and flipped upside down, and we were left reeling. I felt disoriented, uncomfortable, shocked, sad. In the end, the familiar was gone, and what remained was dark and disastrous, broken yet strangely beautiful.
In the days that followed, I slowly began to put the pieces together as I sat with the ending. I connected with the community of fans, some betrayed and bewildered, some devastated and despairing, some finding the joy within the experience, most still hopeful, and wanting more. I explored allusions to Greek mythology, numerology, and Alfred Hitchcock. I read theories – literal, psychological, and metaphysical. I consumed analyses about the hero’s journey and the echoes of trauma. Claims that this was Cooper’s dream, Laura’s dream, Carrie’s dream, Lynch’s dream. All of these reactions and interpretations share some truth. There is redemption in finding the truth that speaks to us, the particular way this mystery continues to unfold in our own lives.
For fans of Twin Peaks, this exploration will not end. As Jeffries showed Cooper, we are part of infinity, and we will watch again and again, in different times, with different characters in our lives. We will experience new emotions and have new interpretations based on who we have become and are becoming. We will learn to find comfort in the uncomfortable and joy in whatever comes next.
Rebecca Soldan is a community organizer and nonprofit consultant. She lives in Youngstown, Ohio with her husband Bill, a fan of fiction writing and pop culture, her four-year-old son Spencer, a fan of He-Man and Super Heroes, and infant daughter Esme, a fan of boobs.