Spencer Collantes, a high school senior from San Francisco, has been banned from competing in the trivia competition at the annual Twin Peaks Festival in Snoqualmie, Washington State. He is too good. He is the Lionel Messi of Twin Peaks minutiae, and at 16, he is entering retirement.
"I've seen Twin Peaks more than 30 times," he tells me over the phone one day after school, sounding something like the blithely confident Max Fischer of Wes Anderson's Rushmore. "I've won the contest for the past three years in a row."
Each spring, in the weeks leading up to Twin Peaks Festival, the annual fan-organised gathering of the series' most diehard viewers that kicked off in 1993, he revisits all 30 original episodes in preparation for the gruelling three-round tournament. He throws me a sample level-one question: "What after-school program does Laura Palmer volunteer for?" Disappointingly, though I've watched the series un-rigorously maybe three times, I didn't make it to level two. Level three sometimes requires competitors to recite specific lines of minor-character dialogue from memory.
While Spencer's ejection from the competition is a bummer, next year, as a consolation prize, he will be allowed to write the questions. "And, of course, I'm excited that those questions will include season three," he says.
When the pilot episode of Twin Peaks first aired on ABC, on April 8, 1990, Spencer was still eight years away from his first birthday. But some fans have been immersed in David Lynch and Mark Frost's paranormal small-town world for over 25 years, since they first watched the pilot as teenagers, or kids up past their bedtimes. And across the generations, the community is awaiting the series' much-delayed third season, which will premiere on Showtime in the first half of 2017, with the excitement of religious disciples awaiting a second coming.
Showtime's teaser for Twin Peaks season three.
Before then, this October, the show's co-creator, Mark Frost, will also release a novel, The Secret History of Twin Peaks, which promises to provide further insights into the history and mythology of the fictional Northwest logging town. Like everything about the series itself, the book's contents have been the subject of gleeful speculation on Twin Peaks fan sites. What will its exact timeline be? How much will it overlap with the events of the first and second seasons? An early press release suggested that the book would begin with the journals of Lewis and Clark in the 1800s and follow events in the town up until the end of season two. More recently, the book's French publisher shared an abstract that describes a storyline involving a female FBI agent who discovers a box of evidence relating to Laura Palmer's death 25 years after Special Agent Dale Cooper's original investigation.
Reporting on each of these updates with a cheerful diligence that feels totally Lynchian is Pieter Dom, the creator of the Twin Peaks fan site of record, Welcome to Twin Peaks. Dom was born in Belgium, now lives in Brooklyn, and signs off his emails "Beware of Bob." He started the site in 2011, "not coincidentally on David Lynch's birthday," to create an online community for Twin Peaks enthusiasts to get updates and share their own Peaks-inspired creative work. Since the announcement of season three, in October 2014, activity on the site has doubled, he says.
"It's just mind-blowing that the symbolism and events are still being discussed," he says. "People still come up with original theories, like where location names come from, or they discover something new in the remastered Blu-ray footage, like a previously unknown character name or the title of a book."
"I think fans tend to be analytical thinkers," says Mischa, the creator of the sites Twin Peaks Props and Twin Peaks Archive. Based in Washington State, he publishes cast member interviews and sells rare original show props — Agent Cooper's FBI file photo, One Eyed Jack's casino chips — under the name "Jerry Horne." "Maybe [they're] the type that enjoy puzzles? I mean, 25 years later many fans discuss endlessly what a particular hand gesture on the show means!"
True believers have many names, Dom explains, "including but not limited to Peakies, Peakers, and Peaks Freaks." And when I ask him to describe a textbook Peakie he insists that there isn't one. "After talking to thousands of fans online, becoming friends with many of them, as well as attending and organising dozens of Twin Peaks events, I can now say that there is no typical Twin Peaks fan." Though he observes that "most fans do tend to be unique, open-minded, creative, and passionate people."
Christin Carlano, the co-owner of a knitwear store in Pennsylvania who sells David Lynch-themed knits and handmade soaps on her Etsy page Fibre Walk With Me, gives another explanation of what fans share: "the ability to be very cognisant and accepting of the painful and absurd aspects of life, while still being romantic and idealistic." Fans also usually have, she says, "an earnest appreciation of simple pleasures like a slice of pie, a cup of black coffee, and the scent of the forest."
Christin is currently working to restock her shop. She sold most of her pieces, of which her favorites are "Black Lodge fingerless mitts, coffee-scented owl soap, and Eraserhead babies that I usually either crochet or needle-felt with wool" at her merchandise stand at the 2016 Twin Peaks Festival ("Julee Cruise performed. Everyone cried."). Next year, she's hoping to attend a viewing party — "ideally in Snoqualmie, where we can go get pie and coffee at Twede's (the real life RR diner) after."
Twede's Cafe in Snoqualmie, the real-life RR diner. Photography Neil Coulter via Flickr.
Snoqualmie, pop. 12,018, is the small town 25 miles east of Seattle, in the Cascade Mountains, where David Lynch shot much of Twin Peaks. It is also, along with the neighbouring town of North Bend, home to the annual festival, and mecca for Peakies. When the show originally aired in the early 90s, a fledgling Twin Peaks tourism industry sprang up, specialising in package trips to Snoqualmie for Japanese fans. (Japan is well known for its hyper-loyal fan base, says Pieter, but there are also strong communities in the UK, Spain, Italy, Russia, Poland, France, Germany, and Brazil.)
Mary Hutter is a regular at the Washington festival who moved to Snoqualmie two years ago to live full time. Among other things, she makes and sells miniature versions of Laura Palmer's secret diary (an important clue in the mystery of Laura's murder, the central thread of the Twin Peaks narrative). She prints, cuts, and ages the pages of each book by hand, binding them in the smallest faux-leather cover possible (by day she's a photo editor). While she began making the diaries for herself and friends, she also hoped to give one to Jen Lynch, David Lynch's daughter and the author of the Twin Peaks spinoff book The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. "I wanted to thank her for writing it, because it was really important to me when I was in high school," Mary explains.
Similar to many fans I spoke with, keeping the world of Twin Peaks alive is more than a hobby for Mary. "Most of my closest friends are people I met through Twin Peaks," she says. "We talk online all the time and visit each other during the year in different states. I've been going to the festival for 10 years now, which really changed my life."
Also like many fans, as a teenager, she watched the pilot episode during its first broadcast. "I remember sitting in my living room on the orange shag carpeting and watching this amazing world unfold before my eyes," she says. "My dad died the year before and it was my way of 'avoiding reality,' I think. The fact that Laura Palmer died on the exact same day as my father had — February 24, 1989 — may have helped to clinch my obsession a little bit, as well."
Mary Hutter's entry for the 2016 Twin Peaks Festival Short Film Contest.
For her, the series' return is about "being in that world again." She's looking forward to "Knowing more of the story. Seeing what my old friends are up to. Mist on trees.... And haunting music..." Angelo Badalamenti's iconic score is a touchstone for every fan, and the promise of new music by the man himself is a big draw for season three. That and finding out what happened to Agent Cooper, saddle-shoed heroine Audrey Horne, and the other townspeople. "Talk about your long standing cliff hangers!" says Mischa.
Much hypothesising about the characters' fates takes place on the Twin Peaks subreddit. "If I had to pick a personal favourite post from the sub," says Ted Dickinson, a recent PhD program graduate, Twin Peaks scholar, and one of the /r/twinpeaks moderators, "it's probably Caleb Cleveland's art of some of the major characters as they might be today, accompanied by descriptions of what they might have been up to since the original series." Cleveland's drawings depict an older, now-married Shelly Briggs (née Johnson), the trapped spirit of Josie Packard, and a glassy-eyed Agent Cooper, living under the spell of Bob. One of the images, of Bobby Briggs, also inspired the prompt for the fan fiction contest that Ted and the other moderators are running on the subreddit in the lead-up to season three (submissions are due by midnight on October 1, the prize is a signed copy of The Secret History of Twin Peaks).
For his part, Ted is excited to know what happens to Agent Cooper. "But I'm just as interested in some of the ancillary characters," he says, "In particular, Audrey Horne [played by Sherilyn Fenn]. Last we saw her, she was chained to the vault door at the Twin Peaks Savings and Loan right before it exploded, but Sherilyn Fenn's social media posts have made it pretty clear she's going to be in the new season. I'd love to see her take over the family businesses, maybe even the illicit ones."
Fenn, along with other cast members including Mädchen Amick, Kimmy Robertson, and Russ Tamblyn (in fact, nearly all the original cast members), has been very involved with the fan community over the years, attending festivals and befriending other Peakies. "Through my websites I've been able to meet probably more cast and crew than actual fans," Mischa tells me. "Several years ago when I was down in L.A., a cast member wanted to know if I could have dinner at Piper Laurie's house! Are you kidding me?" Laurie played Catherine Martell, the devious overseer of the Packard Sawmill, on the original series. After dinner at Laurie's house that night, Mischa continues, "She put me to work and had me put coffee grounds in her rose beds." Better still, "another time I met her at Du-par's on Ventura Boulevard and for dinner she ate pancakes with her hands!"
Since 2010, an annual Twin Peaks UK Festival has also been bringing cast members and fans to London. Producer Lindsey Bowden founded the festival on the show's 20th anniversary, originally as a one-off, but it quickly became a yearly event — "an immersive theatrical fan conference," she calls it. "Now, with the new season being announced, it's got fans hyped," she says. The festival has almost doubled in size over the last two years; "it's gone bonkers."
Like everyone I speak to, Lindsey emphasises how welcoming and "community-minded" Peaks fans are. "We've managed to make people all over the world become close friends," she explains. During a difficult moment in her life, that community, and organising the festival, became very important to her. Lindsey's mother died while she was planning the festival's first incarnation, and both her fellow fans and the show's cast members were "so supportive," she says. In particular, Catherine Coulson, who played the series' beloved Log Lady and who recently passed away herself, became a source of comfort. Remembering their closeness, Lindsey explains how, when she'd decided to donate half of the festival's proceeds to a charity her mother had selected, Coulson also made a donation of her own. "In my dark time, [Twin Peaks] was my safe space," Lindsey says. "People find solace in it."
The Log Lady's glasses. Courtesy Twin Peaks Props.
In addition to planning the 2017 Twin Peaks UK Festival, Lindsey is preparing to launch her Twin Peaks-inspired cookbook, Damn Fine Cherry Pie, in time for season three. It will be released through Harper Collins in the US in November. Taking characters and iconic scenes as her starting point, she dreamed up recipes for Audrey Horne-worthy cocktails (a cherry julep), the Double R Diner's famous cherry pie, and the ominous sounding "Doctor Jacobi's Secret Coconut Hawaiian Stew." There are also jukebox lists and craft tips for hosting Peaks parties.
When I ask Lindsey how she feels about season three, she admits, "I'll be honest with you, I was one of the people who thought it shouldn't come back. How do you recreate that? But then I remembered: it's David Lynch!" That trust is echoed almost unanimously by the show's other diehard fans. "Sure. Any time a narrative gets picked up after a long hiatus, there's always a concern that it won't be quite 'right,'" says Ted. "But I think what's inspired so much confidence in Twin Peaks fans is seeing how closely involved David Lynch has been with the entire process, with everything based on his script and directing."
"I have absolutely no reservations," Mary tells me over email. "Whatever David Lynch and Mark Frost deem Twin Peaks is Twin Peaks. No one has a right to question them, IMHO. All of us fans have our own close personal relationship to the show, but ultimately it is theirs to do as they please. I trust them completely."
Earlier this year, she saw some of the filming for the new season in Snoqualmie. "I took my dog for a walk one day and ran into both David and Mark down the street from my house. It was bizarre! There were Twin Peaks Sheriff's Department cars parked all around town." "I don't have any real spoilers," she continues, "because the more I saw filmed the more I realised that I have no idea what is going to happen. The mystery remains alive!"
More than answers to the show's open-ended questions, fans are looking for an expansion of Twin Peaks' mysterious world. For "hours and hours of freaky, unconventional television purely distilled from the minds of David Lynch and Mark Frost," as Pieter puts it. "I'm expecting the Twin Peaks universe to expand like a mushroom cloud," he says.
Spencer too, is counting down the minutes. He's also preparing to make his family, who seem, for the most part, to feel lukewarm about the show — more lovingly tolerant of his obsession than true fans — watch the entirety of seasons one and two in preparation. I ask him how he's planning to enjoy Season Three Release Day, and he says that though he likes the idea of watching the first episode with friends and family, he's still uncertain. "Do I watch it alone first?" he asks himself. "I'll probably need to. When I hear the theme for Twin Peaks, it's a completely different world…"
His ultimate plan, though, is to try and get into the official world premiere. "I'm pulling every single string I can," he says, with Lynch-like mystery. "Even as we're speaking, I'm pulling strings."
Text Alice Newell-Hanson