Like many, this week’s episode of Twin Peaks has me asking questions. Is David Lynch a genius who has perfected the art form of television, or is he a bullshit artist? Was 30-40 minutes of arthouse film-making stuffed in between two gruesomely violent sequences the pinnacle of television, or was this nonsense that no one can explain? Are the fans of this episode pretentious art snobs who would like anything that doesn’t make sense, or are the detractors Lynchian neophites who would be more at home watching NCIS and The Big Bang Theory?
Like Lynch, I’m not going to provide an answer to all of these questions, but I am interested in the debate around the episode, which has people so heated. To me, this episode was an ambitious piece of experimental horror in the vein of Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive. Lynch has created something more at home with the work of Stan Brakhage and Maya Deren than with David Chase or Mathew Weiner. This episode is like nothing I’ve seen on television before, but I’m not as certain as some that it was the best thing ever created.
One thing I know for sure is that “Gotta Light” is not for everybody. Rather, I view this episode like a Jackson Pollock splatter painting: It’s pure abstraction that brings our attention to the materials of television itself (the sound, the visual, the screen), much like Pollock brought attention to the flatness and texture of painting. Like Pollock, this episode primarily forgoes narrative structure in favor of tone and style. And, like Pollock, this episode is particularly divisive, as many hold it aloft as the pinnacle of avant-garde television while others questionLynch’s sanity.
Now that it’s been over half-a-century since Pollock’s death, we can realize that his style was not the be-all/end-all of art, just as this episode will not be the be-all/end-all of television. Yes, “Gotta Light” is experimental and avant-garde television, but is that want we want out of TV? Personally, I watch TV for great storytelling, rather than great abstraction; I like narrative and structure in my TV. Of course style, tone, and vision are important, but they don’t necessarily need to be sacrificed in favor of abstraction at all costs. Warhol’s “Soup Cans” aren’t objectively lesser works of art just because Pollock’s splatter paintings are works of pure abstraction; some people enjoy Michelangelo’s biblical narratives over Rothko’s colored squares. Personally, Yves Klein’s blue epoch speaks to me more than any of the artists listed above, but that doesn’t make me right and the other person wrong. The level of abstraction in a work of art does not dictate individual taste in the product, and just because “Gotta Light” pushes the boundaries of television, doesn’t inherently mean it is best thing ever made for the medium.
For some reason though, whenever anybody on a forum decides to question whether this episode was “great TV,” somebody else inevitably attacks them and tells them to go back to watching some police procedural or network comedy.This is a problem for two reasons:
(1) When defending something we like,we shouldn’t forget that people watch television for different reasons. Some watch it as a form of art, and this is fine. But, arthouse television is a relatively new phenomenon, only starting around the turn of the 21st century. For 60 years prior to that, television was primarily understood as an escapist medium that was meant to be a distraction, and many people still use it as such.
(2) Just because someone doesn’t like Twin Peaks doesn’t mean they need to go back to watching CSI: Miami. We are at peak TV, folks! If someone doesn’t like Twin Peaks, they could go watch Fargo, American Gods, or Game of Thrones; they could go tune into Broad City, Rick and Morty, or Silicon Valley. And even if they do want to go watch Law and Order, who cares? When somebody doesn’t share your taste in art, you don’t need to shit all over them, especially when you don’t know what else they like and why they feel the way they do.
Ultimately, I really did like this episode of Twin Peaks. I thought it was one of the most interesting piece of surreal horror that I have ever seen. But, I also thought it was far from the best episode of television I have ever seen. Personally, Chuck kicking the table during the season finale of Better Call Saul packed way more of a punch than a 20 minute exposé of insides of a nuclear explosion. So, before you decide to write that Facebook comment berating somebody for not liking this episode (or any episode of any TV show) and belittling them for not not understanding David Lynch’s genius, you could just step back and think to yourself: “maybe I should just keep my opinions to myself.”