A Twin Peaks Primer: What You Need to Know Before Sunday’s Reboot

The first thing you should know is that Twin Peaks fans are diehards and will be talking about cherry pie, coffee and owls incessantly for the next few weeks. Want to join them? We’ve got you

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The mystery of who killed Laura Palmer , shown here, is the driving force behind Twin Peaks.

Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer (Everett Collection)

Surrealist, soap opera, crime show, satirical, comedic, an “avant garde surrealist psycho-sexual stream of consciousness”—all these terms and more have all been used to describe David Lynch and Mark Frost’s 1990 cult classic show, Twin Peaks, which is set to return to TV on May 21 (The Movie Network, 9:00 EST).

The reboot was first announced in 2014 with the promise of nine episodes, but in 2015, it was announced that there’d actually be 18. Fans freaked out even more when it was confirmed that a ton of original cast members would be reprising their roles—and that the reboot cast would also include big-name newcomers like Laura Dern and Amanda Seyfried.

If you’ve never watched the show, the first thing you should know is that Twin Peaks fans are diehards and will be talking about cherry pie, coffee and owls incessantly for the next few weeks. Want to join the party? We’ve got you. Here’s everything you need to know before Sunday’s two-hour premiere.

Why people are obsessed

When the show aired in 1990, it was an instant hit. And unlike any other primetime show on TV at the time—such as Growing Pains, Full House or even Dallas—it didn’t prescribe to just one genre or define itself as any one thing. If you’ve ever watched a David Lynch movie (Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, Eraserhead) you know just how weird things can get, so imagine watching the madness that was Twin Peaks immediately following a Grey’s Anatomy-esque drama like China Beach. Even haters can’t deny the cultural impact the Lynch masterpiece has had on modern television (basically, there would be no House of Cards, Mad Men or Breaking Bad without its influence.) The world of Twin Peaks is complex, strange and delightful all at the same time.

The plot

In the small town of Twin Peaks, WA, the manager of the local sawmill, Pete Martell, finds a dead body washed up by a river near his home. The police identify the body as that of Laura Palmer, local darling and homecoming queen. Meanwhile, a disturbed girl named Ronette Pulaski is found in a daze and hospitalized. An FBI Special Agent named Dale Cooper is then called into Twin Peaks to investigate the case and soon discovers Laura had been living a double life. And in the thick of the mess, Benjamin Horne, who owns many local businesses, is trying to sabotage the Twin Peaks lumber mill and its owner, Josie Packard, so he can turn the mill into a country club for his own profit.

Key characters

Every character in Twin Peaks is genuinely memorable and contributes to the overall plot. But here’s a shortlist of the ones you should absolutely know about.

  1. Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan): The handsome FBI agent investigating Laura’s case. He loves coffee, cherry pie and using strange methods—like, say, throwing rocks at glass bottles while saying a suspect’s name—to uncover clues.
  2.  Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee): Homecoming queen, daughter of Leland and Sarah Palmer. She’s dead for pretty much the entire show, minus flashbacks and dreams.
  3. Leland Palmer (Ray Wise): Laura’s dad and Ben Horne’s lawyer. Let’s just say Leland is a really important character.
  4. Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean): The town’s sheriff and member of The Bookhouse Boys, an unofficial band of vigilantes.
  5. Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer): He pretty much owns everything in Twin Peaks. While his goal is to destroy the mill, he’s cheating on his wife with mill manager Pete Martell’s wife, Catherine.
  6. Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn): Daughter of Ben Horne and madly in love with Dale Cooper.
  7. Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle): Laura’s best friend, who immediately starts dating Laura’s side bae, James, after she dies.
  8. James Hurley (James Marshall): Laura’s side bae. He rides a motorcycle and you’ll probably feel like punching him in the face.
  9. Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook): Laura’s football player main bae.
  10. Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick): Waitress at the local Double R Diner and wife to an abusive truck driver named Leo who you’ll definitely hate. Bobby is her side bae.
  11. BOB (Frank Silva): An evil entity from The Black Lodge, a dark alternate dimension, who appeared in Laura’s dreams.

What to watch

At only 30 episodes, and a prequel film called Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the show is entirely bingeable. Unfortunately, when ratings started to slide near the end of the second season, ABC decided not to renew Twin Peaks for a third, ending the entire series on a massive cliffhanger. But listen, we totally get that there are only a few days left until the revival premiere, so if you don’t have time to watch all 30, consider watching these key episodes to get caught up:

  1. Season one, episode one (pilot) In this episode, we’re introduced to the town of Twin Peaks, the murder, Audrey Horne and FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper.
  2. Season one, episode three “(Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer”) This is the episode where viewers get a real taste of what Twin Peaks is all about. We get a good sense of how crazy Cooper’s deductive techniques can really be and a glimpse of how frightening BOB is (despite the fact he rocks a Canadian tuxedo). We’re also introduced to the Red Room, where Cooper finds an older version of himself, and a backwards-speaking Laura whispers something in his ear.
  3. Season one, episode four (“Rest in Pain”) Laura gets a funeral in this episode, and it also introduces some very important concepts and people: Laura’s dark-haired cousin (also played by Sheryl Lee) comes into town and Sheriff Truman mentions a mysterious dark presence in the woods.
  4. Season two, episode one (“May the Giant Be With You”) This episode picks up where season one ended off: Cooper’s been shot and as he’s lying on the ground in a pool of blood, a mysterious giant appears and gives him a set of very important clues, perfectly setting up the supernatural tone of the rest of the season. Leland also starts acting strange and his hair turns completely white.
  5. Season two, episode seven (“Lonely Souls”) Arguably the strangest episode of them all, you get to see lots from BOB, the giant, Laura Palmer and a creepy casino called One-Eyed Jack’s. Oh, and you pretty much find out who killed Laura. ’Nuff said.
  6. Season two, episode 22 (“Beyond Life and Death”) Before the reboot, this was the last Twin Peaks episode ever. Here, Cooper tries to sell his soul at the Black Lodge. Warning: This one is super dark and scary.

And finally, the cardinal rule

Resist the urge to Google “who killed Laura Palmer”—it’s definitely worth waiting to find out.

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