Few TV shows are as complex, abstract, and hard-to-follow as Twin Peaks. Rather you believe that the mysteries presented in the show can never be solved or you simply enjoy going along for the ride, there are also multiple ways by which to watch the Twin Peaks universe. There have been three ground-breaking seasons of the show, a prequel film, a supplemental DVD called The Missing Pieces, as well as 3 different books that also may play a part in the chronology (depending on who you ask). This list is not meant to reflect the best way to experience Twin Peaks or even a suggested watch order, but rather an order for those who wish to watch the story according to a timeline. In fact, if you are new to the Twin Peaks universe, your best bet is to watch everything in the order it premiered. This will allow you to experience all the surprises and twists as it was meant to be seen. But if you like a structured, ordered chronology, definitely follow this order.
Season 3, Part 8 (Nuclear Blast-End Credits)
Twin Peaks: The Return was a major moment in time during the summer of 2017. After 25 years–unless you count the books and The Missing Pieces DVD, Twin Peaks was back. Although titled differently, this is certainly the third season of the series, even though it is essentially an 18-hour film–hence there are no ‘episodes’ but ‘parts.’ Shortly into Part 8, subtitled ‘Gotta Light,’ a strange, visually magnetic, and spellbinding montage of images fill the screen. Beginning with the detonation of a nuclear bomb at White Sands, New Mexico in 1945, and concluding with a young Sarah Palmer ingesting the essence of her future daughter, Laura in 1956, this entire set of sequences is the absolute beginnings of the Twin Peaks universe.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
In 1992, a year after the brilliant but incomprehensible season 2 finale of the show, David Lynch made a prequel film titled Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. This film is all about Laura Palmer’s story in the immediate days leading up to her death, as seen in the pilot episode of the series. Now with season 3 in the rearview, many of the film’s formally incomprehensible mysteries are now starting to become much clearer. If you know nothing about Twin Peaks, by all means start with seasons 1 and 2 before you watch this film, unless you do not mind spoilers.
Season 1 was where it all began back in the spring of 1990; television would never be the same. But the first season is actually the third in the timeline chronology. If you watch season one in this third place order, the events of the pilot transition smoothly from the end of the prequel film. Laura Flynn Boyle is now Donna Hayward in place of Moira Kelly, although the reverse is actually true since the film came after season 2.
The second season of Twin Peaks is perhaps the most divisive in the entire fandom of the TP universe. The first 10 episodes of 22 total continues the Laura Palmer mystery, in addition to other key details, and then against Lynch’s wishes, the ABC network demanded that he solve the mystery once and for all. After the big reveal (you will already know if you follow this chronology), until the finale even, the rest of the season is a bunch of stand-alone episodes exploring some of the quirky characters of the town. There is nothing wrong with this, and in fact, some of these episodes are quite good–especially all the Windom Earle stuff–but this break in the story seems distracting. But the stunning season 2 finale (the series finale in 1991) is not to be missed.
Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces
In 1992, David Lynch’s final cut of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was nearly 4 hours in length. Due to pressure from various production companies, Lynch cut the film down to 135 minutes, and the excised footage would linger in limbo until 2014. As part of a Blu-Ray release of the first two seasons and prequel film, Lynch constructed the prior footage into a narrative film known as The Missing Pieces. The mysteries of the show are expanded even further with this film, and the prequel film was given a retrospective and more positive reappraisal after this film shed deeper light on what was missing from the 1992 cut. Since The Missing Pieces contains two scenes that relate to the events surrounding the end of season 2, watching this after season 2 and right before season 3 is best if going by timeline.
Season 3: Parts 1-7; Part 8 (Until the Nuclear Blast); Parts 9-18
I have mentioned ‘timeline’ quite a bit in this guide, and after the final episode of season 3, you will come to see that none of this truly even matters now. The third season of Twin Peaks is a sprawling epic both literally and figuratively. Literally because the season covers terrain as far away as Buenos Aires to NYC to South Dakota to Texas and back to Washington State, and figuratively in how epics are typically not this strange and cerebral. For 18 mesmerizing hours, Lynch and co-writer Mark Frost upend our expectations, and somehow manage to make one of TV and cinema’s most enduring mysteries even more polarizing and open-ended. Even if we never get a fourth season, the closing moments of season 3 are perfect as is for this influential series.
Are the Twin Peaks Books Canon?
There have also been several books within the TW universe. Of the many out there, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (1990), The Secret History of Twin Peaks (2016), and Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier (2017) are the three most important. Since these books include many important details that relate directly to the series and films, many people do consider the books part of the official canon. But a lot of what is written falls outside of the distinct narrative of the series and films, so it is really up to you on whether you wish to read these three books or not.