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The Killing and Twin Peaks

on Wed, 06/15/2011 - 00:00

On April 8, 1990, ABC premiered a new drama entitled Twin Peaks. The series, created by film director David Lynch, centered on the murder of high school student Laura Palmer and the subsequent investigation into her death, but in reality it was a philosophical dissertation on good and evil, as well as a study into the darker sides of what initially appears as a small, Washington State community with a scenic landscape, freshly baked pies and tranquil aura.

On April 3, 2011, AMC premiered a new drama entitled The Killing. It also follows the death of a high school student in Washington and the subsequent investigation, but instead of small town America, The Killing takes place in Seattle. Although the series was based on a Danish television show called Forbrydelsen, its initial tagline of “Who Killed Rosie Larsen?” quickly brings to mind the tagline of Twin Peaks from 21-years earlier, “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” The Killing likewise delves into the secret closets of its characters like its predecessor, and shines light on what lies beneath ordinary people struggling to survive in a world filled with ambiguity.

That is not to suggest that The Killing is a Twin Peaks clone. Twin Peaks, after all, was more fantasy than reality, a television show filled with quirky characters, dancing midgets, cryptic giants and a supernatural personification of evil simply known as “Bob.” The Killing, on the other hand, has no such fantastical elements and is populated with the types of people one meets on a daily basis. The investigative styles of Sarah Linden is also grounded in the everyday grunt work of regular police departments and not the Sherlock Holmes-like stylings of FBI Agent Dale Cooper. Regardless of these facts, however, small strands of Twin Peaks DNA run through The Killing nonetheless.

Evidence of such similarities can be found with a quick comparison of the early episodes of both series. The investigations into the deaths of Laura Palmer and Rosie Larsen initially lead to their respective high schools and bad-boy boyfriends. Palmer’s beau Bobby Briggs is captain of the football team, has a rebellious nature and proves to be uncooperative with local authorities. His The Killing counterpart Jasper Ames, meanwhile, has an air of the privileged rich, is equally uncooperative and has likewise had past run-ins with the law. Both Briggs and Ames also have dubious comrades-in-arms—Mike Nelson and Kris Echols—while Laura Palmer and Rosie Larsen share similar-style best friends in Donna Hayward and Sterling Fitch.

While the respective duos of Bobby Briggs/Mike Nelson and Jasper Ames/Kris Echols are the first characters to be considered as potential suspects, the early investigations on Twin Peaks and The Killing also revealed startling revelations about the two victims. Laura Palmer was homecoming queen at her high school, and the type of teenager who volunteers with the local Meals-On-Wheels. Although not given such a stellar resume as her counterpart, Rosie Larsen is still described as a “good girl with no secrets.” In reality, however, both teenagers had a dark side filled with sexual fantasies and clandestine visits to the seedier locales of their respective communities.

Arguably the most striking similarity between Twin Peaks and The Killing is the manner in which the parents of the victims become aware that their daughters have been murdered. On Twin Peaks, Sarah Palmer calls husband Leland Palmer to inform him that Laura was missing. As they speak, Sheriff Harry S. Truman arrives at the Great Northern Hotel—where Palmer is employed as an attorney—to tell Leland the news. He never gets to speak the words, however, as Laura Palmer’s father immediately realizes what has happened. He drops the phone, leaving wife Sarah begging to know what was going on.

On The Killing, meanwhile, Rosie’s father Stan Larsen drives to the site where the police have found the teenage girl’s body while talking on his cell phone to wife Mitch. Stan Larsen likewise does not need to be told what has happened and drops his cell in a similar fashion to that of Leland Palmer, leaving Mitch as desperate for information as Sarah Palmer on Twin Peaks. The same anguish screams and tears of loss are also evident in the two eerily similar scenes.

As both Twin Peaks and The Killing move away from high school as a source of suspects and clues, the similarities between the two shows begin to diminish. Twin Peaks, for instance, builds upon its initial “quirkiness” and delves into the underbelly of the seemingly tranquil small town in a soap-operish fashion. The Killing, meanwhile, continues to be grounded in reality, but evidence that both major and minor characters are “not what they seem” likewise bubbles to the surface. Stan Larsen is initially portrayed as a good family man earning a living with his moving company—in reality he used to be an enforcer for the mob. Seattle Mayor Lesley Adams is just as ruthless and corrupt as Twin Peaks’ businessman Benjamin Horne, and when a Muslim teacher becomes a lead suspect in the case, prejudice rears its ugly head in the tranquil community of upper Washington State.

In many ways the opening sequences of both Twin Peaks and The Killing sets the stage for what’s to follow. On the ABC drama, Pete Martell embarks on an early morning fishing trip against the backdrop of the scenic mountain ranges in the area, only to find the dead body of Laura Palmer wrapped in plastic and lying on the beach of a lake. On The Killing, homicide detective Sarah Linden goes jogging in the equally scenic woods of Seattle only to stumble upon the dead body of an animal also lying on the shores of a lake. Both openings reflect the overall tone of the two shows—despite the beauty of the surroundings, something is not quite right.

Sarah Linden personifies that image on The Killing. In the pilot episode, she is portrayed as a top-notch homicide detective and single mother on the verge of relocating to California with her fiancé in order to start a new life. Through the course of the series, however, it is revealed that Linden has inner demons of her own, was raised in foster homes and struggles to be a good mother to teenage son Jack. Although she is “forced” by her superiors to stay on the job until the investigation into Rosie Larsen’s death is completed, there is also the nagging sense that subconsciously she is staying in Seattle as a means of “escaping” the better life that awaits her in Sonoma Valley.

Although there isn’t an FBI Agent Dale Cooper on The Killing, the AMC drama does have Stephen Holder, Linden’s homicide partner. While Cooper had a Sherlock Holmes-like ability to piece clues together, Holder is a street-smart, former undercover narcotic agent with a rough exterior and extensive knowledge in regards to the underbelly of society. Dale Cooper also adhered to a Zen-like belief system that was reflected in his enjoyment of cherry pie and a “damn fine cup of coffee.” In the episode “Missing,” pseudo-vegetarian Holder likewise offers his own personal philosophy that is both similar-yet-different than that of the FBI agent from Twin Peaks.

“Everything makes sense,” Stephen Holder explains to Sarah Linden. “Depends on how you perceive it. See, people be wanting to put everything in a box, get spoon-fed the answers, make everything black-and-white. Me? I see the grays.” He pauses before expanding on his thoughts. “JC, Buddha, lactose, ovo vegetarianism—wisdom’s all around, Linden. It’s like air, you just got to breathe it.”

Twin Peaks contained the unique cinematic style of its creator David Lynch, and was in essence a dream world of light and dark, good and evil. The Killing, meanwhile, has a more traditional film noir quality that is grounded in reality. Both series, however, utilize the death of a teenage girl in a tranquil community to explore the secrets that inevitably lie beneath the surface. In the end, the two dramas are arguably more dissimilar than alike, despite an array of obscure resemblances. The basic DNA of Twin Peaks still runs through the narrative of The Killing nonetheless, making the simplistic question of “Who Killed Rosie Larsen?” just as intriguing as the “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” query from decades earlier.

Anthony Letizia

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