Between Two Worlds

A comprehensive history of the strange, sublime collaboration between Twin Peaks creators David Lynch and Mark Frost.

From the outset, the creative partnership between Mark Frost and David Lynch seemed just peculiar enough to work. Frost, a writer for network shows including Hill Street Blues and The Equalizer, had a conventional background, schooled in the rules of quality broadcast television. Lynch—who, when he met Frost in 1986, had made a handful of movies, including the disturbing, surrealist Eraserhead—was not so … mainstream, to put it mildly.

Despite operating in virtually different worlds, they eventually united to meld their sensibilities for a groundbreaking, if short-lived, serial drama: Twin Peaks. They both played key, if remarkably different, roles in the process. As the New York Times wrote upon the series’ premiere in 1990, “It is doubtful whether ABC would have gone for one partner without the other.” With Twin Peaks, one of the strangest and most fertile creative partnerships in recent history was born.

The collaboration began smoothly, but as Twin Peaks rolled on and ran into problems, the tension began to show. ABC executives exerted pressure on the two to resolve their central mystery, a prospect that Frost supported and Lynch did not. Lynch’s involvement in the show diminished as he returned to making features, and the pair had strong disagreements over the direction in which the show’s follow-up movie, Fire Walk With Me, should go. So to try to understand what made this collaboration work, Slate has compiled a timeline of Frost and Lynch’s relationship—a dynamic that has long been both copacetic and uneasy, complicated and productive, as mystifying to outsiders as Twin Peaks itself.

1986: The first meeting.

Frost and Lynch were first connected by their mutual agent at Creative Artists Agency, who set up an initial introduction. “Upon meeting [David], I kinda felt like Huck Finn meeting Tom Sawyer,” Frost recalled a few years later. “We sort of looked at each other, and there was a twinkle in his eye that I recognized.” The pair would go on to write unproduced screenplays for the next few years, before pitching Twin Peaks to ABC.

1988: The ABC pitch.

According to one interview with Frost, the pitch went exactly as you might imagine. “Their pitch to the network was vague,” explains one recent article. “Frost recalls Lynch spending the majority of their meeting describing—with suitably jazzy hand gestures—the way the wind whispered in the pine forests surrounding the town.” Sounds about right. But somehow, it worked.

April 1990: Twin Peaks premieres.

On April 8, 1990, Twin Peaks premiered on ABC. Frost and Lynch started hitting the media circuit, describing an unconventional collaborative relationship that was—even then—of utmost interest to reporters and fans. Frost told the BBC:

We work out of my office at home. David gets to stretch out on a nice little comfortable chaise longue, and I sit there and do all of the typing. But he literally can’t type his name, so it’s a practical arrangement as much as anything else.

The interviewer pushed for juicy details about subjects they’d disagreed on, but Frost was coy. “You always get to that point [of disagreement],” Frost said. “I’d never written with a partner before and neither had David, and what you quickly realize is that it’s quite a bit like a marriage.” After another follow-up, however, Frost did admit one particular idea that took him some time to warm up to: “I had a few doubts about the midget.”

In April 1990, in a conversation with the Times, Frost admitted to preferring “excessively verbal characters”; “generally, my internal pace is faster than David’s,” he said. The two agreed that “problems have arisen” when Frost would try to write dialogue for Kyle MacLachlan’s Agent Cooper. But Lynch affirmed: “Mark is good for me and I’m good for him. If you’re working on your own, it’s more abstract, subconscious.” He explained that Frost had taught him the structural and formal specifics of broadcast television—specifically, how to build plot around commercial breaks. “Basically, you work for approximately 11 minutes and then there’s this big violent interruption,” he said. “We accept it as natural … but of course it’s totally absurd.”

July–August 1990: The show blows up.

Twin Peaks ended its first season on a ratings high, drawing in over 18 million viewers for the finale. Frost, for his part, seemed more affectionate toward Lynch’s eccentricities than ever before. That August, he told the New York Times that the show’s success proved that “[t]he world … has become more ready for David Lynch, and David Lynch has become more ready for the world.” (Even in handling the show’s commercial success, Lynch was still inextricably Lynchian: When asked about promotional T-shirts for the show, Frost quipped: “David will never approve a conventional T-shirt.”) But then ABC ordered a second season on the condition that they solve the Laura Palmer mystery.

1991: The dreaded back half of Season 2.

Frost and Lynch had very different ideas about whether revealing the murderer was necessary at all. While the two were pretty quiet about this disagreement while in the thick of it, they spoke about it some years later for Entertainment Weekly’s 10th-anniversary celebration of Twin Peaks.

Lynch: When we wrote Twin Peaks, we never intended the murder of Laura Palmer to be solved … Maybe in the last episode.

Frost: I know David was always enamored of that notion, but I felt we had an obligation to the audience to give them some resolution. There was a bit of tension between him and me.

Neither disputed the notion that the reveal was what ultimately killed the series, both in the ratings and creatively. But in February 1994, for the ninth edition of Wrapped in Plastic—a bimonthly magazine dedicated to all things Twin Peaks—Frost gave a harsher interview where he sharply criticized his former partner for his diminished involvement after the pilot, right through to the series finale.

When [Lynch] got on the set, very often he threw out the script—which didn’t please me all that much. But he would go off and do his own thing. He wasn’t showing up all that often. He’d come in and direct an episode every once in awhile. He wasn’t really involved with the scripts. Then he’d go off on his own thing and leave us hanging.

Lynch, meanwhile, acknowledged that Frost quickly became the man in charge. But he too felt the sting of his increased distance from the show. He told the Los Angeles Times in June 1992:

I think it’s dangerous how much time, how much involvement, one needs to have in television for it to not get away. Mark was the one overseeing Twin Peaks. He was the one tied to it … So yeah, for myself, it was a heartache, because something can’t be what you want it to be if you’re not there all the time.

1992: Fire Walk With Me.

Lynch and Frost came together again nonetheless to wrap up the series after its abrupt cancellation with a follow-up movie, Fire Walk With Me. (It wasn’t well-received.) But they again butted heads—this time, to the extent where one half of Lynch-Frost essentially exited the project completely.  “[Frost] had nothing to do with the development of the film, feeling strongly that a feature should continue the story for the fans, and not go backwards,” a recent Nerdist piece explains. “But Lynch wanted to go back to the time when Laura Palmer was still alive, and ultimately Lynch was the bigger name that got the film its financing, so he won out.”

Back in 1994, Frost was blunt about his (lack of) participation in the movie:

I was not involved at all. David and I had a disagreement about what direction a movie should go. I felt very strongly that our audience wanted to see the story go forward. So I declined to be involved in the movie.

Around this time, the pair also got an unrelated project picked up to series, On the Air. The sitcom also aired in 1992, was short-lived, and marked their final collaboration for more than two decades.

2014: Twin Peaks is brought back from the dead.

Frost and Lynch were publicly reunited in 2014 when Showtime announced it had picked up a limited revival of Twin Peaks. And after many years had passed, it sounded like they’d buried the hatchet—and then some. From Frost’s interview with BuzzFeed in October 2014, about reuniting with Lynch:

It’s a wonderful way to continue the friendship, and deepen the experience for both of us, as friends, as collaborators, and as people, working to tell a story together. Neither of us has ever collaborated with anybody else in this way, and it’s a very special relationship. I guess you can say it’s like the U.S. and Great Britain, in diplomatic terms. … First and foremost, it’s a wonderful chance to work together with a very good, dear friend.

2016: Frost publishes the spinoff book The Secret History of Twin Peaks.

Last year, with the Twin Peaks anticipation machine revved up once again, Frost published his own book on the series, The Secret History of Twin Peaks, a conspiracy theory–laden “dossier.” It didn’t feel particularly Twin Peaks–y. When Lynch was asked by GQ about his thoughts on Frost’s book, he replied, “It’s his history of Twin Peaks” and said he hadn’t even read it.

2017: The Twin Peaks revival.

With Twin Peaks’ return slated for a May premiere, Lynch and Frost appeared together before the press in January at the semi-annual Television Critics Association tour. Lynch, in a very Lynchian way, looked back fondly on their time together.

Well, in the beginning, many years ago, we were, Mark and I, as if lost in the wilderness, as it always is in the beginning, and then we seemed to find some mountain, and we begin to climb, and when we rounded the mountain, we entered a deep forest, and going through the forest for a time, the trees began to thin. And when we came out of the woods, we discovered this small town called Twin Peaks. And we got to know many of the people in Twin Peaks, and the people who visited Twin Peaks, and we discovered a mystery, and within this mystery were many other mysteries. And we discovered a world, and within this world, there were other worlds, and that’s how it started, and that’s what brought us here today. This story continues.

But that story has changed direction—and it’s in the new season that we’ll see how the latest twist in the Lynch-Frost saga plays out. With Lynch reportedly directing all 18 new episodes of Twin Peaks, his working dynamic with Frost has essentially reversed. Save for their writing process: “I do the typing,” Frost maintained last year.

And Frost seems aware of who’s in charge. “I haven’t seen the finished product yet,” he admitted to GQ in March. “David’s still working.”