Opinion: Real life political cliffhangers rival 80’s television
Out of the Blue
My favorite TV show of all time, Twin Peaks (1990-91), is inexplicably coming back for a third season starting next month, so I’m slowly rewatching old episodes, refamiliarizing myself with the series’ profoundly loopy world. I remember most of its dialogue and set-ups — I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the series at UC Berkeley in the late 1990s — but aside from gasping at the awkward antiquity of its late-80s hairstyles and fashion choices, from a 2017 vantage point, I’m surprised at how much of Twin Peaks involves cliffhangers.
It was a different world before the internet came around, kids. When Agent Cooper got shot by masked assailant in May 1990, Peak Freaks couldn’t just ‘Play Next’ and start up the second season on Netflix: we had to wait four months to discover the identity of our protagonist’s attacker.
But watching this particular episode again recently, I noticed that this gunplay (reminiscent of the ultimate 1980s TV cliffhanger: “Who Shot J.R.?”) was not the sole unanswered question posed by Twin Peaks’ first season finale. The sawmill in town burns down under shady circumstances. A local psychiatrist has a heart attack after being assaulted. A busty co-ed is kidnapped in a seedy Canadian brothel. It’s thrilling television, to be sure, but this time around, I’m noticing that Twin Peaks isn’t just unafraid to turn to a cliffhanger for effect – it’s content being a series of them, one after another.
And I haven’t even mentioned that fantastic Twin Peaks cliffhanger where the lawyer representing the National Security Adviser who was fired amidst worry that he colluded with Russia before and during last year’s presidential campaign said that he ‘certainly has a story to tell’, but that he’d need the promise of immunity before singing like a canary.
Oh, wait. That’s not Twin Peaks, that’s real life in 2017.
Returning to the wonders of Twin Peaks has reminded me that the Worst Supporting Actor Razzie Winner for Ghosts Can’t Do It, in 1990, is currently our commander-in-chief. Indeed he approaches his administration as though the whole thing’s a television show, and that his number one concern is ratings ratings ratings. Sure, Donald Trump stands to go down in flames if this Michael Flynn stuff gathers up some traction, but everybody who turned to the web after hearing about it was Googling Trump, looking through their favorite websites for Trump, checking Twitter for Trump. Mission accomplished, right?
Alas, TV (even on Trump’s favorite reality shows) constantly relies on amplified drama to get viewers involved. You know you will sell more advertising if you can inspire viewers watching Nancy Kerrigan getting voted off of Dancing With the Stars or Agent Cooper getting shot on Twin Peaks to say, “I MUST know what happens next!”
What Donald is learning right now is that the intended mechanics of a three-branch government is to keep volatility (in this case, exciting whodunits, like who might be voted the new Apprentice) to a minimum. My liberal cronies and I have lots of predictions about what will happen to various policies and members of the Trump white house as it careens into its third dumpster-fire month, but the truth of the matter is that even with new revelations about the company these folks keep and the bad decisions they make, the answer to ‘What happens next?’ in Trump’s Washington is: “Very little.”
Did Trump’s Muslim bans energize his base? Sure. But did they do much to alter decades-old policy? Not really. Will the executive orders he signed bring back the coal mining jobs he promised during the campaign? Maybe, but not likely. Will Ivanka and Jared get prison time for displaying plain-as-day conflicts of interest as entrepreneurs and employees of the federal government? Nah.
In Twin Peaks, outlandish plot twists and character double-crossings drum up emotional excitement in its viewers. Trump is utilizing similar tactics, but he has a serious problem with follow-through. In his personal soap opera of a presidency, the Kenyan Barack Obama tapped his phone lines (Failing!), Crooked Hillary lured millions of illegal voters to fill out ballots on election day (Lock her up!), and German chancellor Angela Merkel didn’t even deserve a handshake unless she and her NATO cronies paid their fair share (Sad!).
Would this make for good TV if it was true? Absolutely. But it’s not. If you have evidence that can prove your accusations, Donald, I can’t wait to see them. Make it a primetime must-see TV event.
Until then, though, why don’t we leave the fictional storytelling to Twin Peaks?
Mike Restaino is a writer and filmmaker based out of Incline Village. He is also a founding member of the North Tahoe Democrats. He can be reached at email@example.com