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What the Food in ‘Twin Peaks’ Means to Kyle MacLachlan, 26 Years Later

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Food is its own character in Twin Peaks. It bleeds into the rich, dark tapestry of the show’s vision of Americana, set in a town where something is not quite right. (Namely, the town's homecoming queen, Laura Palmer, was found murdered, her corpse wrapped in plastic and disposed of near a riverbank.)

Certain foods have become synonymous with the show’s iconography; I’m thinking of that carefully-laced “damn fine” cherry pie, with grooves that look like chevrons. It’s a fool’s errand to watch an episode of Twin Peaks, a show that treats diner dishes with idolatrous reverence, and escape without a craving.

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MacLachlan as Dale Cooper in the original 'Twin Peaks'. Photo courtesy Kyle MacLachlan.
MacLachlan as Dale Cooper in the original 'Twin Peaks'. Photo courtesy Kyle MacLachlan.

“Food is a place of comfort in the original Twin Peaks,” MacLachlan, the show's star, tells me; we spoke last week. I asked him about the food in David Lynch and Mark Frost’s universe—what does it mean to the people who eat it, and what does it convey about the show's deeper provocations about human behavior? “The foods that people go to are things like doughnuts and coffee. They’re very comforting. And when Dale, my character, talks about cherry pies and waxes poetic about this food, he hearkens back to all that is good and right with the world.”

I spoke to MacLachlan last Thursday, before the reboot’s premiere this past Sunday. He had thus been instructed to be tight-lipped about the show’s reboot, which debuted on Showtime to riotous, somewhat bewildered acclaim. If some fans were expecting an easy stroke of nostalgia with this show’s premiere, they didn’t quite get it.

Deep-Dish Cherry Pie
Deep-Dish Cherry Pie

But MacLachlan, who plays FBI agent Dale Cooper, was muzzled by an NDA (contractually obligated to remain quiet about the new iteration of the show) during our conversation. Lynch and Frost had created a carefully guarded campaign around the show’s resurgence. The suspense has been mounting for 26 years, when the show last aired on national television. The world wasn’t quite ready for Twin Peaks in 1990, and ABC wasn’t the right home. It suffered from an era where its home network tried to broaden its appeal, compromising the show’s moody, misfit soul. After two seasons, it was cancelled. In those intervening years, Twin Peaks gained an impassioned fan base who clamored for its return.

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There exists, within this fan base, a solid constituency of those who are obsessed with the show's treatment of food: hosting elaborate dinner parties, writing unauthorized cookbooks. Consider this a testament to the breadth and scope of the universe Lynch and Frost created. In spite of only being around for two seasons, Twin Peaks provided enough material for a creative venture like a cookbook of over 50 recipes, drawn from the show's narrative blueprint, to exist.

MacLachlan today. Photo courtesy Kyle MacLachlan.
MacLachlan today. Photo courtesy Kyle MacLachlan.

Food assumes subtle, metaphoric charge in the original Twin Peaks, and Lynch and Frost wield it to sustain an unsettling mood while indicating deeper goings-on, to suggest that a placid sense of comfort is about to be ruptured. Food conveys double entendres: “When there’s suddenly a fish in the coffee percolator in the first episode, it’s a funny kind of gag. But it also has a deeper meaning, which is that—you know that saying in Hamlet, that there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark? There’s something, at the core, wrong with what’s going on.”

MacLachlan, Frost, and Lynch had been discussing a reboot since 2012, and though MacLachlan has kept busy with other rewarding endeavors—continuing to act in such shows as Portlandia, producing his own wine under the brand Pursued By Bear in collaboration with Dunham Cellars in Washington state—he has longed to play this character again. It’s a strange thing, to don the skin of a character who’s defined your career even if you haven't played him in decades. MacLachlan has no special process for adapting himself to a role; he simply reads a script many times over again and spends time steeping with the material. It's been a bit easier for him than it might seem, because MacLachlan's memories of playing this role are so vivid.

Everything You Need to Know About Doughnuts
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Everything You Need to Know About Doughnuts

“There’s a scene where I think I was biting into a doughnut and just relishing that,” MacLachlan remembers of the original. “It’s so nice to be able to have the okay to eat a doughnut on camera and really enjoy it, and to make it meaningful.”

Look out for a Facebook Live with Kyle MacLachlan on June 1st at 1pm EST. He'll be making a cherry pie.

Tags: twin peaks, kyle maclachlan