This article contains Twin Peaks spoilers
If you’re like me and caught up with Twin Peaks well after its original run on ABC in 1990-1991, you probably got the same advice I heard. “Season one is great and season two sucks. But you need to stick through the second season to get to the finale which is the best episode of the entire show.” Leaving aside the fact that they probably mean “everything after the Laura Palmer murder is solved” sucks, since we got some great episodes in the second season (the premier and episode seven, in particular), that advice offers a pretty limited understanding of what the original series had to offer.
Yes, Twin Peaks is most famous for its surreal imagery. Agent Cooper’s visit to the Red Room, BOB crawling over the sofa toward the camera, the Giant’s despairing observation that “It is happening again.” All of these are indelible parts of the series. But Twin Peaks was also a teen drama, soap opera, goofball comedy, police procedural, and more. So while some of the later plots from season two, such as James Hurley with the femme fatale and Ben Horne’s Civil War dreams, may be ineffective, they certainly belong within the world setup by Mark Frost and David Lynch.
Of these sophomore season additions, only one stands alongside the best of the unique alchemy brought by Frost and Lynch, before Robert Engles and Harley Payton took over on creative duties. And that’s Dick Tremayne, the smarmy department store clerk played by Ian Buchanan. With an absurd sense of self-importance and an even more transparent sense of style, Dick Tremayne was the perfect foil for Deputy Andy and an incredible faux-suitor for Lucy. The love triangle between them presents a hint of joy in the most dire parts of the series, and is one of the best reasons to continue watching the show.
It’s also way more important than most people realize.
The Ballad of Andy and Lucy
Lets face it, Andy and Lucy (played by Harry Goaz and Kimmy Robertson) were never the most complex characters in Twin Peaks. Sure, Andy’s childlike kindness makes him a surprising hero in the later stages of Twin Peaks: The Return, and Lucy’s ability to understand how cell phones work in the revival is key to defeating the evil Cooper doppelgänger. But the two were almost always played for laughs, in both the original series and the revival (remember the extended furniture shopping bit?).
In the pilot, Lucy is introduced with a comically thorough explanation of how phones work, interrupting Pete Martell’s disturbed phone call to the station and his iconic line, “She’s dead. Wrapped in plastic.” Likewise, Andy appears when he accompanies Sheriff Truman and Doc Heywood to the beach. As the strains of Angelo Badalamenti’s “Laura’s Theme” drench the soundtrack, Andy starts to bawl like a child. “Is this gonna happen every damn time?” asks an exasperated Truman.
These two moments not only prepare the viewer for more stories about Andy and Lucy, they set the tone for the series, revealing that Twin Peaks will shift suddenly from genre to genre. Throughout the first season and a half, episodes would go from gags about the myna bird Waldo, to a reference to Laura’s assault, to Horne brothers shenanigans. Even in The Return, which many consider more serious than the original network run, Frost and Lynch did not shy away from throwing in insert shots of Dougie getting bonked on the head during a game of catch with his boy, Sonny Jim.
No characters walked the line of the series’ various genres more deftly than Andy and Lucy. They both play key roles in the resolution of the primary mystery, like when Andy inadvertently discovers Leo’s bag of money or when Lucy overhears Mike and Bobby planning to hurt James. But they also got plenty of comic moments, with Andy bellowing about his sperms and Lucy being baffled by the station intercom. And of course, they got their romantic moments; a pair of guileless lovers, unscathed by the primordial evil infecting the town.
Enter: Dick Tremayne
For some fans, the addition of Dick Tremayne in the second season is just another indicator of the show’s fall from its first season heights. Ian Buchanan slathers each and every word with self-satisfied smugness, underlining punchlines about his shallow tastes and insignificant claims to power and esteem. Worse, these fans decry Dick’s insertion into the Andy and Lucy romance as a desperate attempt by writers who don’t know how to match the humor and absurdity established by Frost and Lynch.
While I can’t argue that someone should enjoy Andy and Dick’s misadventures with Little Nicky, I do maintain that their attempts to win Lucy’s trust (and thus be named the father of her unborn child) are examples of vintage low-brow Twin Peaks humor. Take the diner scene in episode eight, which finds Andy and Dick treating Nicky to a malted. The ever-innocent Andy tries to connect with Nicky on his level, talking to the boy without pretension or arrogance. In response, Nicky rigs Andy’s stool, causing him to fall over in one of Goaz’s signature pratfalls. Likewise, when Dick tries to dazzle Nicky with his faux-elegance, Nicky blows the cream into his face, giving Buchanan the chance to play up Dick’s pretentious nonsense.
As is often the case with Twin Peaks humor, these gags aren’t just comic relief that distract from the show’s heavier material. Rather, they underscore the central themes, providing a different perspective on the show’s cosmic battle between good and evil. The love triangle is less about the question of biological parentage, and more an issue of childcare. Which of these two men would best join Lucy in raising her child?
That might seem like an obvious question, but Twin Peaks is deeply concerned about the relationship between parents and children. Major Briggs’s missteps with his son contribute to Bobby’s troubles, Audrey Horne goes to outrageous extremes to get her father’s attention, and we all know about Leland and Laura. These themes carry over to The Return, where we not only see the troubled children of the main cast, but also witness seemingly disconnected vignettes of random young people in the town. Each of them seems infected by the same evil that threatened Twin Peaks in generations past.
Furthermore, Twin Peaks presents a cosmology where small actions have universal import. Agent Cooper’s enthusiasm for pie and coffee aren’t just affectations, but rather resistance against the consuming power of BOB. Ben Horne’s dirty business deals make him a potential carrier of BOB’s evil, and create a cesspool of turmoil that threatens the entire town.
So while the show does allow us to laugh equally at Lucy, Andy, and Dick, it has far more appreciation for the honesty and openness that Lucy and Andy bring. Dick cannot be the one to raise Lucy’s child, simply because his dishonesty and lack of generosity presents a foothold for Bob.
Wally’s Dharma Is the Road
But perhaps the biggest indicator of the love triangle’s importance comes during The Return, when we finally meet the product of Andy and Lucy’s work: Wally Brando, played by Michael Cera. Wally Brando only appears in one episode, during a strangely long scene in which he delivers a rambling speech, looking and sounding like his actor namesake. Cera indulges in classic Frost and Lynch humor, a bit that goes on far too long, deriving humor for the way it frustrates and confounds audiences.
But the crucial parts of the scene are the cutaways back to Andy and Lucy, who beam with pride at their son. Yes, Wally says a lot of nonsense about how his Dharma is the road and how he admires the original Sheriff Truman for his work and care. It’s not clear what kind of life is ahead for Wally, but we do know one thing. He’s leaving Twin Peaks unaffected by the same rot that threatens so many others of his generation. And that’s all because Lucy and Andy raised him well.
Contrast Wally to the two other legacy characters in the show. Richard Horne might be the most hateful character in the entire franchise, a guy who terrorizes his grandmother and disabled Uncle Johnny when looking for money, a guy who runs over a kid and threatens witnesses. Every time Richard appears on screen, he exudes evil. And that makes sense, given the fact that he’s the son of Cooper’s doppelganger, who raped Audrey while she was in a coma. Although less openly destructive, Bobby and Shelly’s daughter seems to be heading into the same moral morass that almost swallowed her parents. That journey stems, in part, from Bobby and Shelly’s inability to get over their own hang-ups and connect with her.
Across all three seasons of Twin Peaks, as well as the movie Fire Walk With Me, we see how teenagers are most susceptible to the cosmic forces that converge upon the town. As best illustrated by Laura Palmer herself, teens have great potential to spread goodness or evil, freed from the expectations that consume adults. By teaching their son Wally kindness and openness, Andy and Lucy didn’t just raise one of the most memorable characters in a series stuffed with them, they also prepared Wally to see the world freed from BOB’s grip. And that would not have happened had Andy not proven himself against Dick Tremayne.
Even if the jokes made in the love triangle plot don’t all land (I for one like Nicky as the devil, but I get it), there’s no denying that the storyline isn’t a deviation from the main thrust of Twin Peaks. Rather, it’s a distillation of everything that made the series so bizarre, funny, moving, and great.