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What Great Genre Stories Are Fundamentally "Unfixable"?

Illustration for article titled What Great Genre Stories Are Fundamentally Unfixable?

Last week, The Dissolve's Keith Phipps reassessed Fire Walk With Me, David Lynch's controversial theatrical coda to the Twin Peaks saga, now included in a massive, extras-filled Blu-Ray box set subtitled The Entire Mystery. At the time of its release in 1992, long after Peaks mania had waned (the show had been unceremoniously cancelled after two seasons the previous year), the movie was panned by critics and ignored by viewers. Even devoted fans of the series hated it. Instead of illuminating the short-lived series' mysteries, or resolving the plot threads left hanging at the finale, Fire Walk With Me plunged even deeper into the mystery, darkness, and outright horror at the heart of Twin Peaks, eschewing familiar characters and cutesy one-liners in favor of murder, incest, drug abuse, and madness. But as Phipps observes, traditional TV storytelling was never Lynch or Peaks co-creator Mark Frost's intention:

Instead, they wanted to spin labyrinthine tales around the titular Pacific Northwest town. The mystery would deepen, but the solution would move further out of reach. That's a beautiful idea for a TV series, and like a lot of beautiful ideas, it didn't work out so well when tested on the real world...


As time went by, and the show delved further into surrealism, magical realism, and the supernatural, viewers who had been entranced by the "Who Killed Laura Palmer?" mystery plot began to stay away in droves. By the time Twin Peaks ended in mid-1991, just a year-and-a-half after premiering to rapturous reviews and stellar ratings, only the most loyal fans were still watching, and they were rewarded with a spectacularly baffling, downbeat finale. When Lynch announced that he was going to make a companion movie to the series, those fans were relieved. Perhaps our long-suffering heroes, led by the virtuous FBI Agent Dale Cooper, would overcome the forces of occult evil and live to enjoy another cup of damn fine coffee at the Double R Diner.

Instead, they got a prequel that only deepened the shadows, that rendered the mythology more enigmatic, and made the possibility of triumph over darkness seem more remote. But linear narrative was never the point of the story. Twin Peaks was, in Phipps' words, a show "somewhere else, just out of reach, where it was always meant to be. It's a mystery made complete by its incompleteness." The essence of Twin Peaks is that it's fundamentally incomprehensible, that it defies all attempts at imposing understanding, and that ultimately understanding is beside the point. Just when you think you've got it all figured out, it shifts violently out of focus, concealing more. And without the possibility of further sequels or spinoffs, it promises to remain that way — though it's unlikely that additional installments would have helped clarify things. (The never-before-seen deleted scenes on the new set don't help matters much, apparently.)


Despite that, Twin Peaks has its defenders, who insist that Lynch's saga is not broken, but a defining work that defies the needs for upbeat endings or explanations of any kinds. The inconclusiveness isn't a bug, it's a feature; the show is unfixable not just in the sense of being irrevocably flawed, but in defying any attempt on the viewers' part to arrest the narrative in a rigid conceptual framework. And that leads me to wonder: What other genre stories — books, comics, movies, TV series — are pretty much defined by the lack of traditional narrative satisfaction? What makes them "broken" and yet, by virtue of being so, is also great?

Really, if you think about it, virtually every ongoing series is, by definition, incomplete, unfinished, and "unfixed." It hasn't ended yet. You can pick out emotional highs and lows — a "Dark Phoenix Saga" here, a "Red Wedding" there — but on the whole the overarching story is unresolved, and may never be resolved. It's very rare, though, that you have a franchise that actively denies its fans any kind of closure, as Twin Peaks did, but most modern serial storytelling is designed to do precisely that by its very nature. Peaks is unusual in that it ended up playing chicken with its fans' expectations on every conceivable level. It was designed, in other words, to be "unfixable," as opposed to merely unsatisfactory or inadequate. It's hard to say the same thing about, say, Lost or the Galactica finale, though I get the feeling that may end up being the case with a certain chair-related epic fantasy saga.

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