WARNING: FULL SPOILERS FOR BOTH TWIN PEAKS AND LEGION

The world of television would not be the same without TWIN PEAKS. David Lynch’s passion project has long been considered a cult classic — to the point that Showtime renewed it — 27 YEARS after its cancellation. Now that it is back and Lynch has announced a possible retirement from Hollywood, the television landscape is changing yet again. This time for the weirder.

Enter Noah Hawley. His singular vision for FARGO resulted in one of the best crime dramas on television, rivaling even the Coen Brother’s classic 1996 film. So what does Hawley do when FX gives him the opportunity to adapt a Marvel character? He picks Legion; a character once deemed “too unstable” for any X-Men team by comic writers. And naturally, one of his biggest influences when creating instability comes in the form of one Mr. Lynch.

Now that LEGION’s first season has wrapped, and TWIN PEAKS has made its eerie return, the similarities could not be more obvious. Cable television was clearly holding Lynch back. TWIN PEAKS’ return brings back imagery not seen since ERASERHEAD; the melodrama replaced with Lynch’s signature trippiness.

Until TWIN PEAKS’ return, LEGION was the only show straddling that strange combination of whimsy and the peculiar to such an effect. Yet, here we are, TWIN PEAKS has made its massive return, and LEGION is one of the best Marvel shows on the air. Both shows just happen to be the weirdest things on television.

TWIN PEAKS

Shrouded In Mystery

LEGION and TWIN PEAKS might share kooky imagery, but also in the way, they tell their stories. Back in the early 90s, television was in a much different place in comparison to today’s “Golden Age.” Showrunners consistently sacrificed quality for easily digestible plots that people have long since forgotten. Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost were able to create a world that was horrifying and quirky all at once, mostly due to a writing style that intentionally leaves the viewer in the dark on certain details.

READ: How Noah Hawley’s Style is Unlike Any Other Working Showrunner!

This is a common practice in television writing today, solidifying TWIN PEAKS’ influence on the showrunners of today. Shows like LOST, THE LEFTOVERS, THE KILLING, and especially LEGION, would not exist today without Lynch’s seminal drama series. Hawley has praised Lynch and Frosts writing before:

“One of the things that Lynch did, and especially did on ‘Twin Peaks,’ is, he bypassed information. If you think about what a story is, a story is there to convey information to you. But if you strip the information out, if you start to put images into it that don’t seem to be connected to information, you start to put things in people’s heads — they have to fill in the information for themselves.” -Noah Hawley

He clearly took this “bypass” of information to heart when creating the first season of LEGION. Like TWIN PEAKS, the writing in LEGION forgoes just enough information to spur the imagination. LEGION does not pander to those watching David and his mutant friends as most comic adaptations might — this is a thinking man’s show, whether you like it or not. It’s this lack of information that ultimately gives both shows their subtle horror. It is not what you see the on the screen that terrifies you; it is what you don’t see. As Hawley says, your mind just fills in the blanks.

When Are We?

Adding to the uneasiness of both series’ are their seeming timelessness. TWIN PEAKS to this day feels ahead of its time. The style and swagger of the costumes and soundtrack give the series a hazy time-frame. The pilot took place in 1989, but the characters and plot make no mention of the year, and they don’t have to. The characters and plot are as timeless as the tone, you could take Agent Dale Cooper and Audrey Horne and place the story in the seventies, and it would probably look and play out the same.

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Composer Angelo Badalamenti’s score plays a large part in this effect as well. He straddles lounge-room jazz and shoegaze seamlessly. One scene can feel like 50s noir, the next a sinister crime drama. Countless musicians have been influenced by TWIN PEAKS (yes, including the band Twin Peaks), Badalamenti’s score has not aged a bit. Lynch is clearly aware of this; most episodes of the renewal have ended with some of these bands playing over the credits. It was only natural the Bang Bang Bar became a hipster hub.

LEGION achieves its timeless feeling in a much less nuanced fashion. LEGION shares TWIN PEAKS’ “retro-yet-present” feeling, thanks to an unreliable narrator. Most of what happens in LEGION is through David’s eyes, and David just happens to be crazy. His adventure through the first season brings him to a CUCKOO’S NEST-esque psych ward, a modernist styled mutant school, and…a floating block of ice in another dimension. We get some idea of the time after meeting Oliver Bird, who is clearly from some version of the sixties. With a soundtrack that ranges from Nina Simone to Radiohead — it makes it hard to find any evidence of when the show takes place.

That TWIN PEAKS Feeling

The meat of any David Lynch project comes from his macabre visuals. Watching ERASERHEAD is an experience in itself. Strange from the get-go, Lynch’s directorial debut explains nothing, leaving you to dissect imagery that is not only horrifying but downright unsettling. TWIN PEAKS is no different. Whenever the show enters the Black Lodge is when the utter creepiness rears its head. People with dead eyes and no answers inhabit the red room, talking in reverse is the norm in that backward place. The scenes in the Black Lodge are iconic, a pure stroke of horror genius from Lynch.

READ: The ComicsVerse Review of the Final Two Episodes of LEGION

LEGION is Lynchian visuals, comic book-ized. From the experimental editing and camera angles to Oliver’s ice fortress, everything in LEGION always feels “off.” Hawley uses this to his advantage, weaving a story told through a person with schizophrenia that successfully mirrors his anxieties and ticks. It works because, just like TWIN PEAKS, the audience knows not all is at it seems. Again, they are left to fill in what Hawley doesn’t tell them…or what David does not tell them.

Perhaps the biggest influence Hawley took from Lynch was how to write his villains. The Shadow King feels like a product of Lynch’s mind both in design and how he is portrayed. Aubrey Plaza’s performance is equal parts melodrama and seething rage, making her villain unpredictable in action and power. It mirrors TWIN PEAKS’ BOB in a lot of ways; a nameless horror of unknown origin that seemingly kills for no reason. By the season’s end, some questions about The Shadow King are answered, but her existence, in general, fills LEGION’s scenes with dread. As with The Black Lodge, only time will tell if we get answers on The Shadow King at all.

Weird Television’s Future

When it comes down to it, LEGION and TWIN PEAKS are drastically different television experiences. If Hawley hadn’t gone on record stating MULHOLLAND DRIVE as a direct influence for LEGION, the comparison between the two might never even be made. But the more I think about it, the more obvious it is. Lynch directing a Marvel property will never happen, but LEGION is probably what it would look like if he did. Hawley is good at taking the best aspects of a director and morphing them into his own thing. FARGO and the Coen Bros is much more on the nose, but his Lynchian influences on LEGION are apparent.

Now that TWIN PEAKS has returned, audiences are seeing how much cable held Lynch back. He has held nothing back in TWIN PEAKS’ return, almost to the point in which he’s parodying himself. Keeping that in mind, will Hawley see how much Lynch has changed in TWIN PEAKS, and take that technique to LEGION’s second season? It certainly wouldn’t be a bad thingtwin peaks

If TWIN PEAKS’s successful return means anything, it’s that weird television is on the rise, with LEGION in tow. Glimpses of it hit the mainstream in the first season of HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE, with creator/writer Nicholas Pizzolato sprinkling in hints of cosmic horror in his southern crime drama. HBO is coming back for more with the recently announced LOVECRAFT COUNTRY adaptation, with Jordan Peele as producer. If weird television needs anything, it’s weird fiction’s reigning king: H.P. Lovecraft. While TWIN PEAKS’ future is up in the air as of yet, the return has opened the floodgate for original, but most importantly, weird content in the mainstream.

If Marvel can do it with LEGION, then I have faith that bizarre television has a bright future ahead.

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