Welcome back to TV Timewarp, in which we spend Wednesdays revisiting each episode of a late, beloved series. Join us as we journey back in TV time to examine Twin Peaks, the wonderfully weird, cerebral murder mystery and quirky townie exercise from David Lynch and Mark Frost. Twin Peaks aired on ABC from 1990-91. You can follow our recently completed Firefly TV Timewarp here.
Brian Collins, Sam Strange and I will be covering two episodes a week, and this week we're discussing the second and third eps in the series. Read our post about the two-hour pilot here. You can follow along with us by streaming Twin Peaks on Netflix or Amazon Instant Watch. We're going to keep this baby spoiler-free, so if you're watching Twin Peaks for the first time, fear not.
And I'd like to start every installment with some crucial information...
What Special Agent Dale Cooper Ate This Week:
"Two eggs, over hard. I know, don’t tell me, it’s hard on the arteries, but old habits die hard - just about as hard as I want those eggs. Bacon, super crispy. Almost burned. Cremated. That’s great. And I’ll have the grapefruit juice, just as long as those grapefruits are freshly squeezed.” He had several cups of coffee, “black as midnight on a moonless night,” and one unfortunate sip of coffee that had “a fish in the percolator.” Three pieces of the “incredible cherry pie” at the RR Diner.
A note about episode titles - Frost and Lynch didn’t assign any, but the episodes were titled when they aired in Germany. CBS translated the titles when they streamed the episodes: “Northwest Passage” is the pilot, “Traces to Nowhere” is 1.02 and “Zen, Or The Skill to Catch a Killer” is 1.03.
The rights to the U.S. pilot weren’t available for several years, and so many people who watched Twin Peaks on VHS never saw the two-hour pilot. Thankfully, the second episode offers an adequate introduction to the universe, as it opens with Cooper hanging upside down in his room at the Great Northern, reciting the most pertinent details of the case to the unseen Diane. Coop hangs upside down to exercise those shapely calves (who else but Dale Cooper can look hot in boxers and black socks?), but of course it also illustrates the errant perspective with which he views the world, a perspective that allows him to see angles that others may not. For instance, a question for you guys: does Diane even exist? Is she just the name of Coop’s tape recorder? I love this guy.
In the second ep, new viewers are acquainted with most of the storylines established in the pilot: Norma and Ed’s sweet love affair and Ed’s crazy (amazing) wife Nadine (“By god, those things will be silent now”), Audrey Horne’s unhappy home life and crush on Cooper, Leo and Shelly’s tumultuous marriage and her affair with Bobby, James and Donna’s budding romance, Harry and Josie’s quiet affair, Cooper’s great working relationship with the Twin Peaks Sheriff Department, Catherine Martell’s sexy cahoots with Benjamin Horne (“Don’t sweetheart me, you old dog”), and the tragic ripples spreading out from the murder of Laura Palmer. But plenty of new threads are tangled in the mystery over the course of these two episodes.
What do we learn? Jacoby has Laura's necklace. Ben Horne used to sing to Laura. Laura had sex with three men in the last twelve hours of her life. Mike and Bobby are selling cocaine with Leo, and they owe him the $10 grand from the safety deposit box. Big Ed believes he was drugged by a bartender named Jacques Renault. Catherine Martell has been using some “creative arithmetic” to cook the books of the Packard Sawmill. Josie Packard suspects her and is working with Pete Martell to investigate.
Laura and Ronette Pulaski both worked the perfume counter at Horne’s Department Store. Benjamin Horne and his brother Jerry farm perfume girls to the casino/brothel located across the Canadian border, One Eyed Jacks. Ben and Jerry sample the wares there quite frequently. All of the women at One Eyed Jacks wear the absolute worst lingerie ever - hideously frilly saloon corset stuff.
And a few weird asides: the Log Lady’s log knows something about the night Laura died, but she’s not telling until Coop agrees to ask the log instead of her. The one-armed man appears at the hospital again, exiting an elevator and walking outside. Deputy Hawk reports this to Cooper, who is very intrigued. And Nadine seems to be crazy strong now, in addition to being crazy crazy.
That makes up most of the meat and potatoes of these two episodes; now let’s get to the gravy. Episode 3 provides some all-time great scenes, although both episodes offer the breathtaking cinematography that sets Twin Peaks apart from any other show in the history of television. The stunning shots of the waterfalls near the Great Northern or the mountains looming above the RR Diner are majestic in scope, something that’s rare for TV.
We get our first real glimpse of BOB in the third episode when Sarah Palmer sees him over Donna’s shoulder. For those of you who don’t know - don’t google BOB yet! He’s the silver haired, wild-eyed man that set Sarah to screaming but appeared to vanish when Leland entered the room. His participation on the show is legendary. As the story goes, a set dresser named Frank Silva accidentally trapped himself behind a dresser in Laura’s room during filming of the pilot, inadvertently creating a scary shot that Lynch liked so much he considered including Silva in the show. Later, during a scene in which Sarah is supposed to start screaming at nothing, a crew member informed Lynch that the footage would have to be reshot because a glimpse of Silva (evidently a monstrously clumsy set designer) could be seen in the mirror. Lynch decided this was fate and he re-wrote the entire series to include a character named BOB, played by Silva - and one of television’s most terrifying villains was born.
Meanwhile, Leland Palmer grieves over Laura with less screaming and more dancing. The scene in which he throws himself into a dancing mania, clutching Laura’s framed homecoming portrait as Sarah shrieks, “What is happening in this house?” is the perfect Lynchian combination of creepy, tragic and funny.
We meet the great Albert Rosenfield, the brusque forensics analyst who immediately bumps heads with Sheriff Truman and even provokes Lucy into sticking out her tongue. Albert and Harry clash mightily, to which Coop gives a jovial thumbs up.
Dale’s not the only one eating well this week, as Benjamin Horne’s brother Jerry arrives and delivers the world’s finest sandwich: brie and butter on baguette. I have tried this sandwich and can attest that it is truly the world’s finest sandwich. The scene as the two cheerfully named brothers exclaim at each other with stuffed mouths is one of my favorites.
And then we get two scenes that we could spend days analyzing had we that kind of time. First, the brilliant Tibetan method scene. Agent Cooper and his affable Dr. Watson gather the whole department outside, surrounded by those beautiful Douglas firs, in order for Cooper to demonstrate his Tibetan method of investigation. He explains that about three years ago, he awoke from a dream with knowledge of “a subconscious deductive technique involving mind/body coordination operating hand in hand with the deepest level of intuition” and a deep compassion for the plight of the Tibetan people.
With the help of Harry, Hawk, Andy and Lucy, Coop throws a rock at a bottle for each J name in town (in reference to the “J” Laura was nervous to meet in her diary). Here are the results: he does not hit the bottle for the names Norma Jennings, Josie Packard, Johnny Horne or James Hurley. He hits the bottle for Dr. Jacoby but the bottle does not break. When Truman says the name “Leo Johnson,” Cooper strikes and breaks the bottle.
The Tibetan method demonstrates with clarity the character of Dale Cooper. He trusts in intuition and keeps a marvelously open mind, yet he explores all avenues in a dogged and thorough manner. Actually, the scene typifies both Cooper as a character and Twin Peaks as a series - it takes firmly established genre tropes and subverts them with levity and quirk. Coop is no ordinary FBI agent, and this is no ordinary serial mystery. Cooper is meditating on these results, absorbing them, discounting nothing - but he doesn’t presume to be any closer to solving Laura’s murder than he was beforehand. And the very setting makes for a perfect snapshot of the duality behind Cooper and Twin Peaks: the indoors as outdoors, Transcendental nature surrounding the gruesome work of solving a murder.
The scene also serves to show how wonderfully game the Sheriff Department employees are. Lucy, Andy, Hawk and Harry all play along with bright-eyed acceptance, participating in this bizarre method without prejudice, because Coop has already proven his mettle to them as a detective.
And finally we have the dream from which Cooper awakes with such cheerful confidence. He knows who killed Laura Palmer! We’ll find out at breakfast.
We see the Black Lodge, a red curtained room with a black and white chevron floor and a white statue almost like the Venus de Milo. Aged Dale Cooper sits in a chair as a dwarf (The Man From Another Place, played by the great Michael J. Anderson) shakes in a corner. Lights flash and we see quick glimpses of Sarah Palmer running downstairs, BOB, Laura on the autopsy table, the one-armed man. The one-armed man intones:
Through the darkness of future's past, the magician longs to see. One chants out between two worlds, ‘Fire walk with me.’ We lived among the people. I think you say, convenience store. We lived above it. I mean it like it is, like it sounds. I too have been touched by the devilish one. Tattoo on the left shoulder. Oh, but when I saw the face of God, I was changed. I took the entire arm off. My name is Mike. His name is Bob.
So the one-armed man is Mike, and BOB is Bob. They are not to be confused with high school jocks Mike and Bobby (doubles! So many doubles in Twin Peaks). BOB whispers from his corner, “Mike. Mike! Can you hear me? Catch you with my death bag! You may think I've gone insane, but I promise. I will kill again."
White candles surround a mound of dirt (and apparently, the ear from Blue Velvet) and are blown out all at once. Aged Dale Cooper watches as The Man From Another Place continues to shake, and suddenly someone who looks like Laura Palmer sits in another chair. The Man From Another Place turns around, smiling. He sits and rubs his hands together, saying “Let’s Rock!” in a peculiar way. (Lynch filmed Anderson speaking backwards phonetically, and then reversed the film to create this secret language.) Not Laura touches her nose coyly. A shadow floats across the wall, seemingly attached to nothing.
The Man From Another Place continues in his strange way, “I’ve got good news. That gum you like is going to come back in style.” Aged Coop looks at Not Laura, and The Man says, “She’s my cousin, but doesn’t she look almost exactly like Laura Palmer?” Aged Coop says, “But it is Laura Palmer. Are you Laura Palmer?” Not Laura says, in the same reverse-speak as The Man, “I feel like I know her, but sometimes my arms bend back.” The Man From Another Place adds, “She’s filled with secrets. Where we’re from, the birds sing a pretty song and there’s always music in the air.” The lights flash, Badalamenti’s snappy score starts to play and The Man From Another Place gets up and dances in the most impossibly groovy way. Not Laura stands and walks to Aged Coop, kisses him gently and whispers in his ear. And then Coop wakes.
It’s a perfect use of dream logic, an appeal to Cooper’s subconscious that sparks some knowledge he already had deep within but did not realize he had. As more of the mystery is revealed in future episodes, we’ll see what nearly every one of these dream hints mean - they all go somewhere. We just have to pay attention!
Now we’re getting to some good stuff. "Traces to Nowhere" basically gives us more of the essential gist, but does so without repeating the pilot much. Instead, it magnifies most of what was great about our first glimpse at Twin Peaks. We knew Nadine was weird, but here we really get to see her dig into that weirdness as she tells Norma about her cotton ball discovery with such fervor that we can’t totally discount the notion that she may know about Nadine and Ed’s multi-decade long case of puppy love.
Last episode, we saw Major Briggs pick Bobby up from the police station, but it’s not until this episode that we really see the character shine. Sometimes it seems like Twin Peaks suffers from too many badass characters. I would easily watch several seasons of Major Briggs lecturing Bobby with his extreme verbosity and soulless understanding. It’s hilarious. Until he smacks that cigarette out of Bobby’s mouth. Then it’s serious. Until Bobby’s mom sadly pulls the cigarette out of her mashed potatoes. Then it’s Twin Peaks.
We meet Jerry Horne, Ben Horne’s brother, in this episode. Actually, we get a lot of Ben Horne action here in general. He spits some cruel barbs at Audrey and we see him just after sleeping with Catherine. Ben’s a character I’m never 100% behind, but I know I like him best when he’s standing next to the equally, if not more so, hedonistic Jerry. Together, they make quite a pair of super rich super nerds, and I can’t help but respect their deep appreciation for a sandwich that doesn’t appear to have any meat on it or A1 sauce or anything.
We also get our first glimpse of some weird carny crouching in the Palmer household as well as some ex-carny with one arm creeping around the hospital. Even in a town like Twin Peaks, sneaking/crouching carnies tend to offer only bad tidings.
Not a ton of stuff happens, but the episode’s great anyway. When these characters do their thing, the plot comes in a distant second as far as I’m concerned. There was a fish in the percolator, man. Do I really care who killed Laura Palmer?
I will say this, though: I’ve never liked Cooper’s hesitation to speak with the Log Lady’s log. Especially after the next episode, Coop seems like the last guy who would be taken aback by an invitation to get information from a log. This is an especially sticky point since the Lady claims to have valuable information the show just chooses to sit on thanks to this bit of mischaracterization.
Hey, speaking of the next episode, it’s basically the best episode of this show. In fact, if the whole shebang ended here, I think people would still speak fondly of Twin Peaks, though its cult status would be far more limited.
Directed by David Lynch, we get our first big dose of the Black Lodge. On top of that, Coop really delves into his mystical malarkey with the rock throwing bit. What’s funnier, Hawk’s oven mitts or Andy’s (played by a young Chris Klein) physical comedy after getting hit in the forehead with one of Cooper’s rocks?
On top of that... Albert. Next to a character yet to appear, Albert’s my favorite minor Twin Peaks character, partly because I love confident jerks, partly because I love Cooper’s enthusiasm in Albert’s presence, and partly just because I’m extremely fond of Miguel Ferrer.
But this is really Cooper’s episode, and the best Cooper moment is not the much ballyhooed rock bit but his phone call to Truman after his prophetic Black Lodge dream. With half his hair sticking straight up from sleep, he claims to know who killed Laura Palmer only to tell everyone watching on the edge of their seat, “No, it CAN wait until morning.” Then he snaps his fingers to the beat of his already vanishing dream and Twin Peaks just flies into the stratosphere.
The only downside to these episodes is all the James/Donna in love business, but I kind of don’t mind since we get James’ dorky smile through most of it rather than his typical cross-eyed sulking. I’m not big on Donna either, but it’s pretty damn sweet the way she confides in her mother. Thanks to Tolstoy, happy fictional families are in short supply. It’s nice to have this one.
The Log Lady bit bothered me too - all the nonsense on this show and yet Cooper draws the line at playing along by asking a log a question (also this is another thing that appears in Deadly Premonition - but instead of a log it's a pot). It's just odd, even for this show. That said, I like that Truman is just as weird as everyone else in the town - the bit where he stuffs most of a bear claw in his mouth and then stands there with a blank look on his face while Cooper tells him his plan for the day is just wonderful.
As for Diane, I’d love to find out she was a figment of his imagination the whole time, especially since it would actually make MORE sense. How else would she be getting all of these tapes in any timeframe that would be useful? He talks to “her” more like it’s a live phone call.
Another weird subplot I love in these episodes involves the silent drape runner. For five years I worked as a drape/blind/shade installation guy in Boston (don't ask) and found myself intrigued by the possibility of a silent runner, since the clacking noise of those things haunts me to this day. Actually I take it back though - Ed might be the most normal guy in town, as nothing about him is particularly insane (yet), which is funny since he's played by Everett McGill, who has played deranged loons in just about everything else I've seen him in.
I was unaware that the pilot wasn't available in the U.S. for so long - I'm trying to wrap my head around having to start with "Traces to Nowhere" as your introduction to this world. Sure, it's not like the mystery has progressed much, but the sheer amount of characters and how they relate is difficult to keep track of even with that previous 90+ minutes of exposure to them, so it must have been one hell of a crutch for anyone who had to go in without the pilot. Especially when you consider how bizarre "Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer" is, what with the arrival of Ben's brother Jerry (really?) after that long, awkward dinner scene, Cooper's nutty method of finding a suspect, Leland's dance, and of course the introduction to "The Man From Another Place." Speaking of which, nice to finally get what that one Simpsons episode was mocking ("Did you have the same backwards talking dream with the flaming cards?").
Also, Leo is easily the most terrifying character I've seen on a major network TV show. I don't believe he killed Laura Palmer, but I doubt whoever DID will terrify me as much as the sight of Leo with a soap-filled sock.
And you guys would know better than me - is Jerry’s appearance supposed to be modeled after Lynch himself?
I think David Lynch just sees himself everywhere, and I think it’s mainly subconscious. Jerry is such a detestable pervert that I can’t imagine that Lynch would intentionally model the character after his own righteous coif. Which reminds me - Sam, yes! Coop’s post-dream cowlick is the stuff of legends.
You guys both make a great point about Cooper’s unwillingness to speak to the Log Lady’s log. It’s deliberate time-wasting on the part of Lynch and Frost, and time-wasting that is incongruous to the character is the worst kind. But strap in and get used to it, because a whole lot of hours are whiled away in the name of delaying mystery resolution as long as possible, and it’s rarely in service of character or story. That’s probably my biggest problem with Twin Peaks - the sheer refusal of the writers to use resources already at their disposal (characters with such weird idiosyncrasies, a town where anything can happen) to create believable, in-universe rules for why the story unravels as slowly as it does. Why couldn’t the Log Lady simply say that her Log only speaks during a full moon or something? That would delay the reveal without betraying Coop’s character, and it’s perfectly in line with the Log Lady’s own bizarre rule book.
That said, I agree that these two episodes are two of the best in the bunch. They strike a perfect balance of comedy and creepy, with just the right amount of weird supplementing a story that’s still carefully contained.
I feel at a slight disadvantage here because you guys know so much more than me, but I'm having fun catching up on these little references that I've heard over the years, and also enjoying it while it lasts since I've heard some not so great things about the back half of the second season (I was flat out told not to watch it at all by more than one friend the last time I attempted to get through the series). And I like that they ease you into the weirdness - I can assume it gets stranger, but there's a nice progression here, where the first scenes of episode 1 are pretty much standard crime drama stuff (someone finds a dead body) and by the end of episode 3 we're watching a backwards talking dwarf say things that will either a. make a lot of sense later or b. will remain total batshit nonsense that people like to quote on Twitter or Facebook when they have nothing else in their head.
Sam's point that another favorite character hasn't even appeared yet is worrisome for me though, as I'm having trouble keeping everyone straight. Perhaps I should make a little character map like the one that came with Game of Thrones (which I consult often while watching). Or maybe some folks get killed off to make it easier.
Random aside - I'm enjoying seeing a well-filmed TV show shot on film. It's depressing that this 1990 TV show (in 1.33:1 aspect ratio to boot) looks better than most movies nowadays. Hell, even Lynch himself can't even be counted on to make something look this good anymore - Inland Empire was an affront to my eyes. I know they added an ending and released the pilot as a movie elsewhere; wonder if there are 35mm prints of it floating around. It would make for a wonderful screening.
Keeping track of the characters probably won’t be as hard as you imagine. If it matters, you’ll probably remember who someone is, and if not the show will help you (I think. It’s been a long time since I watched season two). The guy I referenced is a great example. It’s pretty much impossible to forget Gordon as he’s played by David Lynch himself. I think some of the characters grow redundant. I can sometimes confuse Bobby and James as well as Donna and Audrey.
Speaking as someone who barely remembers what’s coming with season two, I look forward to the rest of the show, but can’t help but wonder if this is as good as it gets. That’s not really a complaint since most shows would probably love to have such a staggering high point. But “Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer” defines Twin Peaks to such an extent that it unfairly renders following episodes lackluster by comparison. Sparing use of the Black Lodge helps its integrity, but also bums you out each time an episode ends without it.
On the other hand, as someone who slightly remembers what’s coming with season two, I know there are some pretty amazing scenes on the way, and I’m excited to read Brian’s reactions. Personally, I’m looking forward to changing my mind completely and deciding that the show only got better as it went along, and James is the greatest character in the history of television. Let’s Rock.
Some questions to leave you with, dear readers:
1) Does Diane exist? Is she the name of Coop's tape recorder?
2) Newbies: are you having trouble keeping track of the characters here?
3) What do you make of the use of doubles in Twin Peaks: Bob and Mike, Bobby and Mike, Ben and Jerry, Laura and Not Laura, everyone's double lives, etc? Aside from Lynch's love of duality, do you think it signifies anything deeper?
4) If you have a different analysis of the dream or the Tibetan method, speak up!
Tune back in next Wednesday as we cover episodes 1.04 ("Rest in Pain") and 1.05 ("The One-Armed Man"). Find out what Special Agent Dale Cooper eats next!
Some comment etiquette: many people are visiting Twin Peaks for the first time with us, so please mark all series-spoilery comments appropriately.