"I can't remember a dead character getting this kind of response over this long a period of time."
So says Mark Frost, filmmaker David Lynch's partner in creating and producing the television series that clearly has kept more people talking than any other this year. Combining moody suspense and quirky humor, "Twin Peaks" begins its second season with a two-hour episode tonight on ABC (Channel 30), then returns to the Saturday slot that has become its permanent berth . . but there is no guarantee that the first new story will provide the anxiously awaited solution to the mystery that has fueled the show from its very first scene, the murder of teen-ager Laura Palmer.
Devotees have had an entire summer, and a full set of first-year repeats, to ponder every possible angle of the matter. Not only are there numerous suspects who had motives for committing the crime, but there's even a question of whether the victim actually was Laura, now that her look-alike cousin Madeleine (also played by actress Sheryl Lee) has arrived in the usually sleepy Pacific Northwest town.
However, the first season's cliffhanger-upon-cliffhanger finale left a lot of other puzzlers dangling. Who took several point-blank shots at FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), and was he really wearing a bulletproof vest, as nearly everyone in the world seems to believe?
Will Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie), her cuckolded husband Pete (Jack Nance) and the abused Shelly Johnson (Madchen Amick) escape from the blazing Packard Sawmill? Will Shelly's illicit lover Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) succeed in his plot to frame James Marshall (James Hurley), who was his romantic rival for Laura's affections, for drug possession? And, perhaps most importantly, will squeaky-voiced police receptionist Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) be able to provide enough coffee and doughnuts to satisfy everyone who survives this tangled web?
Still, not one of those queries seems to override the one that has existed in full force from the very start, generating a considerable amount of viewer distress when it wasn't answered in last spring's wrap-up installment. "We knew who it was from the very beginning," Frost claims of the identity of Laura's killer, 'and we always planned to reveal it at a certain time. The arc that we had planned in order to (solve that murder) took longer than seven hours, and always was going to. We're cognizant that people want to know the solution to a mystery, but we weren't trying to tease anybody. No one has come up to me and said, 'I definitely won't watch (the show) anymore.' They've had the whole summer to sort of get over it, and I hope they'll forgive us."
With the incalculable attention that "Twin Peaks" has garnered since its arrival, ABC executives are likely to forgive Frost and Lynch anything.