EVERYONE’S STILL TRYING TO FIGURE OUT what the white horse means,” Craig Miller explains. We are sitting in his makeshift office in Arlington: a gray, wall-to-wall carpeted, nearly windowless room filled with Maxfield Parrish art books, dog-eared X-Men comics, and pop culture ephemera—a self-made oasis in the midst of the interchangeable prefab homes of the Mid-Cities. This is where Miller, 39, and John Thorne, 35, produce Wrapped in Plastic, a bimonthly fanzine about director David Lynch’s short-lived television series Twin Peaks, and where we sit watching a pivotal scene in episode fifteen. The central mystery of the series—Who killed homecoming queen Laura Palmer?—has just been solved, and a white horse momentarily flickers across the television screen before fading away. “Everyone wants us to ask Lynch about the white horse,” says Miller, who has unruly red hair and on this day is wearing (what else?) a Twin Peaks T-shirt. “It’s kind of nonsensical, unanswerable. But new readers send us letters saying, ‘Please explain the white horse to me. I’m dying to know.’”
Episode fifteen first aired a good nine years ago, which makes it somewhat curious, if not downright strange, that Miller and Thorne are still consumed by such trivia. But they are hardly alone in their fanaticism about Twin Peaks, a surreal nighttime soap opera about the peculiar goings-on in a fictional Northwestern town of the same name. Though the series lasted for less than two full seasons on ABC before being canceled in 1991, Wrapped in Plastic has a devoted readership that spans the globe. Its print run of 3,500 regularly sells out at bookstores and comic shops, and back-issue requests come in fast and furious. (Miller and Thorne have started a spin-off ’zine, Spectrum, that covers current cult TV shows like The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Xena: Warrior Princess, but its readership only sometimes eclipses Wrapped in Plastic ’s.) Letters from Twin Peaks— crazed readers pour into Arlington from such exotic places as Jerusalem, Singapore, and South Africa, and Miller has been awakened more than once by a phone call from a reader in a far-flung time zone.
Wrapped in Plastic is by no means the only publication of its kind; there are dozens of fanzines that dissect the finer points of shows with cult followings, from Star Trek to The Prisoner. But it is certainly one of the most widely read and best written. It is also one of the most esoteric. References to Kierkegaard and Carl Jung are strewn throughout essays with titles like “The Nine Billion Names of Windom Earle: The Hidden Ciphers of Twin Peaks, ” which finds meaning in the anagrams generated by the monikers of season two’s crafty villain and other regulars. Such an obsessive examination of the series has given Miller and Thorne a kind of underground cachet; they are often asked to speak at the annual Twin Peaks conference and are footnoted in Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks (Wayne State University Press) alongside the likes of Umberto Eco and Sigmund Freud. Despite such recognition, though, they have no illusions that their venture might someday turn a profit, or that they might achieve some measure of mainstream fame. This is a labor of love, in which cheap paper stock and obscurity are accepted facts of life. The reward is one that only die-hard fans could savor: The assurances that others out there share the same preoccupation.
Why does anyone still care about a show whose high point was a fifteen-minute dream sequence that featured a dancing lounge-lizard dwarf who spoke backward? For Miller and Thorne, at least, Twin Peaks broadened the possibilities of what television could be. “ Twin Peaks is not a failed television experiment in weirdness,” they wrote in an early issue of Wrapped in Plastic. “It is a successful example of the incredible quality that is possible—though rarely accomplished—in the ridiculed medium of television.” Indeed, with its film noir—style visuals, complex plot lines, dozens of well-developed characters, quirky dialogue, and mesmerizing original score (by the great Angelo Badalamenti), Twin Peaks was brilliant and wholly original. But the series, which garnered comparisons to the films of Jean Cocteau and Luis Bunuel, was always a bit too avant-garde for prime time and seemed doomed for cancellation from the very beginning. Not that Miller and Thorne are willing to put it behind them. “ Twin Peaks was challenging and different, and its ambiguity made it so distinct,” says Thorne, a former technical writer for Texas Instruments who has short brown hair and wire-rimmed glasses. “It wasn’t spoon-fed entertainment. Now people can’t get enough of shows like When Pets Go Bad. ”
The idea for Wrapped in Plastic was hatched by Miller and Thorne at the Dallas Fantasy Fair in 1991. ABC had just canceled Twin Peaks, which had been logging miserable ratings in its Saturday night time slot, and both men were upset. Thorne was speaking on a Twin Peaks panel, for which he had plotted a meticulous chart of the characters’ relationships as well as a calendar of everything that had ever happened on the series. “I knew that Laura Palmer died on Friday, February 24, 1989,” Thorne says, “and that every episode took place on a day following her murder”—the second episode the next day, the third the day after that, and so on. “They never say it’s Saturday in the second episode, but the kids aren’t in school. And they never say it’s Sunday in the third episode, but they’re in church. The internal consistency!” Alas, the consistency finally gave out. “Late in the second season,” he continues, “the calendar was slightly off. The Miss Twin Peaks Contest should have fallen on Easter Sunday.”
When Thorne presented these and other findings at the Fantasy Fair, Miller sat in the audience rapt. He was impressed that someone else had such a thorough knowledge of the show. Afterward he approached Thorne and asked whether he would be interested in collaborating on a Twin Peaks fanzine,