Sunday, May 26, 2024

Twin Peaks Pilot Paints a Troubled Town

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“She’s dead… wrapped in plastic.”

It’s not easy to talk about any given thing in David Lynch’s work. You could say he is to film and television what T.S. Eliot was to poetry: immensely influential, yet obscure in interpretation. The full meaning in his art, much like Eliot’s poetry, is hidden. It’s beauty is concealed under narrative layers, tropes and extremely quotable moments.

Countless references are made to his work in films, television, video games and music. Many of these are attributed to the 1990 TV series Twin Peaks. For two years, a question uttered behind a dream-like veil of red curtains enthralled the viewers: “Who killed Laura Palmer?”

The answer came on the second season with a shock. The circumstances to it were explored in the 1992 film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Nevertheless, much of the mystery remains.

“See you in 25 years”

At the end of the second season, a promise was spoken as solace against the madness of the series finale. Thus ended a tale of mystery and charm, leaving behind a plentiful share of memorable moments. On October 6, 2014, it was announced that the series would make a comeback for a third season. This continuation is scheduled to air during the first half of 2017. The promise has been kept and some celebration is in order. So here starts an episode-by-episode review of this milestone of a series.

We begin with the series’s introduction: a look at the town. David Lynch’s favourite score composer, Angelo Badalamenti, gives us the first taste. “Twin Peaks Theme” plays on, superimposed over images and takes of the frontier outdoors and the logging trade. The feel is rustic, though idyllic in how it alludes to a simpler way of life. No hint of the chaos and burdensome cares of the city. Even before we are introduced to any character or circumstance, we are already given the local flavour. The sign by the road leading to the misty mountains welcomes the viewer to a very special place. “Welcome to Twin Peaks”, indeed.


Before getting into the story, we could benefit from looking at the town as a mutable entity. As we’ll find out, this town is more than a mere setting for a story. The introduction portrays a state, but all places change in light of what happens in them.

Turns out, things in the town were already a bit dark even before the young woman’s murder. Through the hefty load of characters, we see a variety of dynamics at play. This goes from strained family relations to drug trade and consumption among the youth. Overall, we see a pervading sense of unhappiness, whether by present circumstances or as consequences of past decisions. In this regard, the town portrays very genuine and relatable problems, buried underneath the facade of a simpler life. The discovery of Laura Palmer’s body begins to unearth these problems.

It is a story of many, but begins with one – and I knew her.

Let’s talk about the plentiful bunch of characters introduced in the pilot. Starting with the Palmer household, we get Leland (Ray Wise), attorney to a very important local businessman and his loving wife, Sarah (Grace Zabriskie), proud mother of 17 year old Laura. Closest to them is the Hayward family, made up of Doctor and coroner William (Warren Frost), his wife wheelchair-bound Eileen (Mary Jo Deschanel), and their daughter Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle), who is also Laura’s best friend – very pleasant people. Next, we get the not that pleasant Horne family, with Benjamin (Richard Beymer), aforementioned local businessman – shady as hell, his not very patient wife Sylvia (Jan D’Arcy), mentally handicapped son Johnny (Robert Davenport) – who happened to be tutored by Laura, and last but certainly not least, Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn), eccentric, whimsical and charmingly troublemaker-y.

Next, we get the Hurley family, with Edward “Big Ed” (Everett McGill), owner of the local petrol station Big Ed’s Gas Farm, unhappily married to his rather unstable eye-patched and silent drape runner-making, wife Nadine (Wendy Robie), and uncle of James (James Marshall), motorcycle enthusiast and friend to both Donna and Laura. We also have the Briggs family, with U.S. Air Force retired Major Garland (Don S. Davis), his loving wife Betty (Charlotte Stewart) and their son Bobby (Dana Ashbrook), football player, ultra-shady badboy and Laura’s boyfriend.

The ensemble’s looking pretty colourful so far, but we’re not done yet. That’s about it for ‘nuclear families’; traditional husband-and-wife with offspring in high school (pretty standard for the early nineties).

You may have noticed that I didn’t go to even moderate lengths to talk about Laura Palmer herself (Sheryl Lee). She is mostly outlined through her interactions with her parents and friends. The reason for it is…we don’t really know Laura. The aspects of her character are slowly unveiled as the show progresses, but we’ll get there in time.

For convenience’s sake, I’ll describe the rest of the characters as they come up in the narrative. So, put on your jazz ambience, help yourself to a cup of coffee and grab a pastry.


It all starts on a sleepy morning at the Packard Sawmill, owned by Hong-Kong native Josie Packard (Joan Chen)—widow of the late Andrew Packard—and managed by cold-hearted Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie). Catherine’s unhappily married husband, lumberjack Pete (Jack Nance), goes out for some morning fishing at the lake, unprepared for a strange sight on the shore. The strange-looking lump turns out to be a body wrapped in plastic. He calls the sheriff’s department to report his finding. The call is taken by quirky, mousey receptionist Lucy Moran (Kimmy Robertson) and forwarded to Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean), a highly competent man who quickly instructs Lucy to keep the matter under wraps while he, Dr. Hayward, and loveable fool Deputy Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz) look at the scene.

Andy tears up as he takes the pictures for the file foreshadow the mood. They uncover the body to reveal naked, lifelessly pale Laura Palmer. The discovery, coloured by Angelo Badalamenti’s melancholic score and the Doctor and Sheriff’s sorrowful reaction, kickstarts the show. Meanwhile back at the Palmers’, Sarah calls for her daughter to come down for breakfast. Unable to find her, she starts calling up her friends’ families, to no avail.

Laura! I’m not gonna tell you again! Yes I am. Laura!

The very real horror of a parent unable to find her child sets a prevailing tone. The scene changes to the Great Northern Hotel, where Leland Palmer is at his client Benjamin Horne’s business meeting. Laura’s father picks up the phone to hear his wife’s anguished words when Sheriff Truman arrives, prepared to deliver the fatal news. Their heartbreak takes over, and the devastating feeling of sheer loss starts to cast ripples throughout the community. Further on, this disclosure will be reprised at the Twin Peaks High School. The effect is crushing, as delivered by the principal and the homeroom teacher’s rueful speech tone, Donna’s unleashed grief, James’ sorrowful anger… and Audrey’s apathetic smirk.

The camera slowly zooms into a trophy case, showcasing Laura’s prom queen picture at the centre; we seen then an image of the young woman as she was known by everybody when alive: a golden child. It needs be said that Angelo Badalamenti’s work as score composer is absolutely brilliant. “Laura Palmer’s Theme” perfectly fits the darkness preceding the discovery and the ensuing denouement into inescapable sadness. It also makes the her character inextricable from a sense of tragedy.

Moving on to a stark contrast in tone, we see Bobby—not yet aware of his girlfriend’s death—hanging out at the Double R Diner, where he flirts with the establishment’s owner Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton). He then offers to drop waitress Shelly Johnson by her shady trucker husband Leo’s (Eric Da Re) house on his way to school. Turns out Bobby and Shelly are engaged in an adulterous relationship. At school, his best friend (and Donna’s boyfriend) Mike Nelson (Gary Hershberger) tells him the principal would have a word with him. Bobby is taken in for questioning.

Meanwhile at the Palmer household, the police searches Laura’s room and Andy finds several items, particularly a video camera and her diary, their contents unknown.

The local police force is on the job, but they can only do so much on their own. Time to talk about the other character I left undisclosed: our protagonist.

“Diane, 11:30 a.m., February Twenty-fourth. Entering the town of Twin Peaks, five miles south of the Canadian border, twelve miles west of the state line. I’ve never seen so many trees in my life.”

Enter FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), driving into the town, wearing a smart suit and tie, and talking to one Diane, who we only know through the voice recorder into which he lively speaks of every detail about his travel, including praise on an inn’s cherry pie and his fascination about the local vegetation.


Before he arrives, however, a strange development takes place: another disappearance is called in. The daughter of mill worker Janek Pulaski (Rick Tudor), Ronette (Phoebe Augustine) has gone missing. However, she is later seen roaming a bridge in town as if in a daze, dressed in rags and bloodied. Meanwhile, Andy calls Lucy to inform that he has found the place where Laura was killed: a train yard. At the local hospital, Agent Cooper meets Sheriff Truman, and after clearing the formalities about jurisdiction, the Cooper-Truman team embarks on the investigation. Trooper.

Both men take a look at Ronette in the hospital, comatose and determined to be raped multiple times, and they notice how she talks in her sleep, alluding to a frightful experience. On their way to the morgue, they meet eccentric Dr. Lawrence Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) who is revealed to be Laura’s psychiatrist, though their appointments were unknown to her parents and friends. Now, looking at the girl’s body, Agent Cooper discovers something hidden deep under her ring finger’s nail: a small piece of paper with the letter R printed on it.

Later on, they examine Laura’s diary and find an allusion to somebody going by the initial J, as well as a safe deposit key and a white residue Dale believes to be cocaine. The video tape turns out to be a recording of Laura and Donna happily hanging out, and our protagonist deduces that James was the one who shot the video. The questioning of Bobby, though pretty rocky, eliminates him as a suspect; however, Bobby also arrives to the conclusion that Laura was seeing James, thus brewing a great deal of animosity from the Mike and Bobby duo towards James.

Don’t go there Laura! Don’t go there!

Things around Laura are already looking rather bleak at this point, and Trooper haven’t gotten their hands dirty yet. Interactions between the characters are quickly becoming influenced by mistrust, possible vices and hints of abuse, and the next findings only exacerbate things further.

At the murder scene, they find bloody traces, rags, a piece of paper with the words “Fire Walk With Me” written on it, and half a heart golden necklace. The other half is in the possession of James, making it pretty suspicious, especially since Donna was protecting his identity throughout her questioning. The safe deposit key revealed over $10,000 cash in Laura’s possession, as well as a contact ad magazine with a marked page linking her to Ronette Pulaski.

There are now sufficient resources to speak officially on the FBI’s involvement, so a conference is held in which we meet one more character: the Log Lady, a pretty unstable woman who carries a small log. In this conference, Agent Cooper announces similarities to a previous unsolved case, where a girl named Teresa Banks was killed, making Laura and Ronette the second and third victims of the same killer. Finally, he drops the bombshell the viewership has been waiting to for: the killer is somebody from the town. On a meta level, this announcement involves the audience as they partake of the guessing game. There is no shortage of ends to be tied, given the personalities of characters like Leo, Mike or Bobby, and the strange behaviour of Donna and James.

Back to the final moments of the pilot, we are transported to the Roadhouse, the favourite night hangout of the townsfolk, where we also encounter singer Julee Cruise performing dream-like songs on stage. We are given a few finishing touches about some characters, such as Big Ed who only married Nadine out of a sense of responsibility, and Norma whose husband is in jail; both Ed and Norma always wanted to end up together, but ended up the star-crossed lovers with only some wayward nights to be together. Mike is explored as an abusive boyfriend towards Donna and one half to a vicious pair with Bobby, having initiated a fight in the Roadhouse out of sheer spite.

In the midst of the chaos, Donna and James sneak off into the forest to hide the other half of the golden heart necklace. In the end, all three young men are taken in and held in a cell for the remainder of the night, where Mike and Bobby taunt James. Back at the station, Trooper sits before a table filled with coffee and rows of donuts, marking not only one of the most delightful and delicious motifs of the series, but also the beginning to a beautiful friendship.

Finally, one last visit to the Palmer household, where Sarah lay restless on the living room. She sees something in the blur between reality and dream: she screams as the lone necklace in the forest is taken by an unknown hand.

Bringing the pilot to a close, we are “treated” to a close up at the static image of Laura Palmer’s prom queen picture. Although a lovely young woman, the impression of her striking blue eyes and her bright smile leaves the viewer without a sense of calm. In fact, the prolonged and lifeless gaze of the girl functions to enhance the feeling of doubt and dread about everything just seen in this first episode. The very same image is used for every episode’s credits henceforth and despite what one may think or hope, the mystery will only get deeper each time.

Such is the hold this show has maintained over a generation of viewers and it’s no wonder that Twin Peaks has become such an undying reference to what’s cryptic, disturbing, alluring and mystical, all at the same time.


Images courtesy of CBS

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