Who Killed the Pretty Blonde Girl? Exploring the Similarities of Twin Peaks and Pretty Little Liars
David Lynch’s Twin Peaks only ran for two seasons from 1990–1991, but the quirky murder mystery has had profound effects on television since. From Disney Channel’s Gravity Falls to USA Networks’ Psych, references to Twin Peaks are riddled throughout American television. Twin Peaks sets out to answer the question “who killed Laura Palmer?”, and follows the team at the Twin Peaks Police Department, assisted and lead by FBI Agent Dale Cooper, as well as other residents of Twin Peaks, Washington. The show disrupts the quaint veneer of small town life by revealing the true natures of seemingly innocent people, regardless of whether or not their dishonesty connects them to the murder. Freeform’s ongoing series Pretty Little Liars, based on the novel series of the same name, premiered twenty years after Twin Peaks with an eerily similar tagline: “who killed Alison DiLaurentis?” Set in another small town of Rosewood, Pennsylvania, a clique of teen girls, referred to throughout the series as “the Liars,” have their lives disrupted when their leader goes missing and is later pronounced dead. The Liars are thrown into trying to solve the murder when an anonymous bully, A, begins to threaten them. Like Twin Peaks, Pretty Little Liars deals with the facts that news travels fast in a small town and that no one is as innocent as they may appear to be. Plot devices, tropes, and character arcs featured in Twin Peaks are all paralleled in Pretty Little Liars.
Dead girls Laura Palmer and Alison DiLaurentis have more in common than their popularity and blonde hair. For example, both girls were secretive and conniving, though Laura hid this side of herself from most people while Alison turned it into her entire personality. Additionally, both Alison and Laura kept secret journals. In season 2, episode 13 of Pretty Little Liars, the Liars find Alison’s diary, leading them further down the rabbit hole of piecing together what happened the night she disappeared. Similarly, in Twin Peaks season 1, episode 1, the police find Laura’s diary that gives them a better look into her secret life. Later though, Laura’s best friend, Donna, discovers that Laura had been hiding a second diary all along in season 2, episode 4. That said, the familiar plot devices do not end with the two dead girls. In season 1, episode 6 of Twin Peaks, a mimicking bird named Waldo, pet of suspected killer Jacques Renault, is taken by the police as evidence and is later shot and killed by another suspect, Leo Johnson. This device is used in season 4, episode 2 of Pretty Little Liars, when Alison’s grandmother’s bird, Tippi, ends up in the possession of the Liars and is later stolen by A. In both cases, the series villain fears that the talking bird is too likely to repeat incriminating evidence. Twin Peaks and Pretty Little Liars also both use the woods as a setting for mysterious or creepy events. In Twin Peaks, much of the supernatural drama occurs in the woods, such as when in season 2, episode 10 where Major Briggs disappears following an encounter with an owl. Much of the drama in Pretty Little Liars also occurs in the woods as early as season 1, episode 1, where Alison goes missing from her friend’s secluded lake house. In both series, the main villains also make lairs in the woods, BOB existing in the Black Lodge and A taking up residence at the Lost Woods Resort. Twin Peaks established these as well as many of the other plot devices used in the modern television mystery, some of which can be found in Pretty Little Liars.
Plot devices are not the only things Pretty Little Liars learned from Twin Peaks. Though Twin Peaks heavily veers from reality with its supernatural events, and Pretty Little Liars flirts with the paranormal as well, both series stray from realism in the more mundane aspects of small town life. Both shows are guilty of perpetuating the “Shouldn’t We Be in School Right Now?” trope, which calls out writers for making the lives of their teenage characters far too intense to also include a seven hour school day. Whether working on fashion shows (Pretty Little Liars S2, E6; S3, E11; S5, E12), getting tied up with police questioning (Twin Peaks S1, E2 [+ongoing]; Liars S1, E2 [+ongoing]), or simply hanging around the Double R Diner enjoying some “damn fine coffee” and cherry pie (Peaks, entire series), the teens of both Twin Peaks and Rosewood have little to do with school, excusing the occasional comment about a biology test someone should be studying for. While not in class, both sets of teens come across crucial information and pieces of evidence regarding the murders of their friends and decide against bringing it to the attention of the police. On the occasions that they do go to the authorities, accusations are almost always put on the teens (Peaks S2, E13; Liars S2, E1). The biggest red flag that the writers do not understand the lives of their young characters comes when two young girls are forced to deal with trauma. In the Pretty Little Liars mid-season three finale (E12), Liar Emily Fields is forced to stab her ex-girlfriend’s former fling and killer in self defense. Similarly, in Twin Peaks S1, E7, high school-dropout Shelly Johnson is forced to shoot at and injure her abusive husband, Leo, in self defense. After being initially frazzled, neither Emily nor Shelly express any PTSD or other emotional turmoil after gunning down their respected abusers, despite the fact that both are painted as weak, emotionally unstable girls by their writers before the incidents. Neither Twin Peaks nor Pretty Little Liars deals with the issues of school, authority figures, or trauma in a realistic way when regarding their young characters.
Shelly and Emily are not the only paralleled characters. Both Twin Peaks and Pretty Little Liars make big reveals in their second seasons. Midway through its second season, Twin Peaks identified Laura Palmer’s killer, resulting in a decline in ratings and ultimately dooming the show. They did, however, leave the mystery of the spirit Killer BOB largely unsolved. Pretty Little Liars inverted this reveal in their second season finale, “UnmAsked.” Alison DiLaurentis’ murderer remains at large, but the girls discover the face behind A, their anonymous attacker. Both BOB and A are in some ways connected to the murders of the respective girls, but neither hide from their involvement in the murders, rather they put their focuses on continuing to torment others. In season 2, episode 9 of Twin Peaks, “Arbitrary Law”, after watching Laura’s father, Leland Palmer, commit suicide upon realizing that he is his own daughter’s killer, Agent Dale Cooper discusses with Sheriff Harry Truman and fellow FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield whether Killer BOB is real or a physical incarnation of Palmer’s inner demons. Palmer, in the moments before he dies, is vacated by BOB and remembers the spirit possessing and molesting him as a child at his grandfather’s house stating that “he [BOB] came inside me.” Though the group does not reach a consensus, they all agree that BOB is a manifestation of “the evil that men do.” Committing acts such as assault, rape, and murder, BOB is literally fueled by the pain, suffering, and fear of his victims. Similarly, in Pretty Little Lairs, A is psychologically fueled by the pain of her victims. A’s torment, however, takes a more feminine spin, causing pain by ways of cyberbullying, blackmail, and mental warfare, representing the evil that women do. A and BOB both represent what a bully looks like to the main characters of both their series’. To Agent Dale Cooper and the Twin Peaks police team, a group of adult men, a bully is someone who asserts their dominance over others by physically causing them harm, where to the Liars, a group of high school girls, a bully is someone who manipulates others with insults and blackmail until they are picked apart. Where men will assert their anger physically, women fight with words.
The lasting effects Twin Peaks has had on modern American television can be seen in countless shows, but one of the most surprising is the teenage murder mystery Pretty Little Liars. Though Alison has some obvious similarities to Laura, Pretty Little Liars does not stop there when borrowing from Twin Peaks. From talking birds to multi-faced antagonists, Pretty Little Liars makes the lasting effects the short-lived Twin Peaks has had on mystery television apparent. Pretty Little Liars even goes so far as to pay homage to Twin Peaks in season 1, episode 10, when they briefly introduce their very own, female, Agent Cooper. Twin Peaks is the show that redefined serialized television and pioneered the long form crime drama, bringing audiences back week after week to answer the central question: “who killed Laura Palmer?” Pretty Little Liars is one of countless shows to benefit from these changes. Pretty Little Liars borrows plot devices, tropes, and character arcs from Twin Peaks, highlighting the effects that the series had on the modern TV drama.