[Review by Jay Yencich]
[Writer: Mark Frost, David Lynch | Director: David Lynch | Aired: 04/08/1990]
When I’ve tried to explain Twin Peaks to people and its role in the furtherance of television as a medium, I’ve said it’s like the moldy bread left out next to the fruit bowl that yielded penicillin. But maybe that’s not wholly fair; maybe it’s more like discovering that alternating current was more useful than direct, or that the universe was gaining speed as it expanded. Maybe I haven’t hit on the right simile yet. Maybe it was more a matter of a fish, flapping and paddling its way up through the mud to flop onto land, and then looking around and thinking “well, this is all right,” only to later find itself in a prehistoric percolator.
To survey that landscape primeval of television, it might help to have a little genre context. One would think that television bore an inherited resemblance to movies, using the same instruments and techniques in their creations, but instead I would argue that it was more like the development of the novel, via radio. Beyond its uses in relaying information (news broadcasts), early television, like the romances of old, tended to be more episodic in nature, self-contained and revolving around the lives of a core cast. Whether you had existing familiarity with the characters or not, their interactions and situations were what drove the show, leaving one to drop in or out for a story at one’s pleasure. Beyond the occasional lure of a brief arc, perhaps concluding one season and opening another, there wasn’t an overarching narrative insistence that an audience be present all the time. In many cases, there wasn’t even an endgame.
(This is the core of what one ought to understand going into Twin Peaks. There are other facets to my comparison outside of that. For one, the format was conducive to lighter fare, and attempts at more serious material often led to melodrama and deus ex machina results driven by a need for plot tidiness and closure. Both were also, at times, geared towards women who were seen as having more leisure time, hence, soap operas. Other analogs are likely there, but as I’m coming more from a literature background than a film studies one, my remarks are going to come off a little broad.)
Twin Peaks likely wasn’t the first TV series to do many of the things it did, but it was among the first to combine them in such a novel way. The characters would remain a draw, but the rest would be a mash-up: The interweaving drama of the soap opera, the framing of the mystery procedural, the comedy of the small town, fish-out-of-water sitcom, and the myth-making of fantasy/sci-fi anthologies. All these would be circumscribed within an unheard-of conceit: One episode would effectively be one day. The world would persist only with the characters daily navigating it.
The project would be marked by its ambitions which, as it often does, says something for its final execution. Twin Peaks is not the most proficient show in the annals of television history. It’s unevenly acted, heavily reliant on plotting, nearly unwatchable in its bad stretches, and comical or absurd in moments where it aspires to gravity. Still, in a time when television was somewhat barren, relied on the hope of syndication, and was grounded in the belief that viewers could not adapt to any monumental change, Twin Peaks was serialized and trusted that what it was doing would to be talked about and perhaps not fully apprehended on first viewing by any one individual. Certain scenes, for all of the show’s weirdness, remain haunting, or touching, or hilarious, and it’s a rarity that such a range of emotions would be attempted, let alone succeeded at. In this way, Twin Peaks has scratched out its own niche.
The niche is thus: A small town awakes one winter morning to discover the body of the local prom queen on an isolated beach. Evidence points to her having been tortured and raped, as well as abusing narcotics. As the particulars begin to disseminate through the town, the inhabitants are burdened with the need to reconcile their own knowledge of Laura with the newly-discovered dirt, the darkness that often remains hidden behind the veneer of a placid, backwoods village, the smiles that belie troubled lives. Soon, an FBI agent arrives and reveals the case as but one of a possible constellation of murders, and the case soon becomes its own agent for pursuing strands of deception, betrayal, violence, and abuse throughout the town, revealing a tapestry of players and events that motion towards a mythic, good vs. evil conflict being fought in the surrounding forests.
Retroactively, it also plays out as a paean to a lifestyle that was beginning to disappear, that we didn’t fully understand was disappearing then. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest at the time the show was airing, as the region was transitioning from a resource-based economy of timber and mining to the emerging field of computer technology. This series manages to capture some of that feeling from my youth, of understanding what was but not what would come to replace it. Change is an undercurrent of the show, and Twin Peaks is ever on the shore of change. The lumber industry is slowly waning, outsiders blow into town regularly trying to alter its psyche or economy, and crime and drug use are entering the public consciousness for the first time. Whether these are new or merely the awareness of them is, each individual reacts to it in their own way. While the Black Lodge and the White Lodge occupy each polarity, grey areas abound.
Laura is “The One” whose death sets this soul-searching in motion, and the story of Twin Peaks comes to encompass “The All” of humanity and their ability to respond to the differences between appearance and reality, change, and the pull of moral dualities.
That Twin Peaks, like many shows on television, has a first episode and then a second and so forth, only prepares us to examine it in certain ways if we’re not attuned to its intentions. Sure, we expect specific attributes from a pilot: A setting that informs both viewer and plot, a troupe of characters to make their way in said world, and some impetus to fuel the story for the duration provided that it isn’t cancelled (haha whoops). Regarding the project of Twin Peaks on an initial viewing, there’s an inclination to say that plot fuel is nitro and the backdrop and characters are just hanging out in the stands hoping to avoid exhaust fumes, an inclination that ultimately proves wrong.
Perhaps it’s because if you polled people who saw the series some time ago, “she’s dead… wrapped in plastic” might be the takeaway. But consider how the setting builds those iconic scenes up. From a cinematography perspective, everything leading to that moment has been arranged to captivate the eye: Ducks in a bonsai-garnished waterway, the greyhound lamp, Josie, sleek and humming, the sheer number of implements in the Packard kitchen. As Pete leaves to go fishing, we’re already trained to look at everything as distinct, then we see Pete see something out there on the water, see the mind-body duality of his head pointed in one direction and his feet in the other, see through his eyes via shaky cam in the final approach, and then, that ghostly, translucent tarp. Pop.
Or, yours may be the tack that claims the plot has to take precedence because the location and persons present are incidental. There’s no grand significance to Laura’s being found at the Packard residence above any other locale, nor do any of those watching take special investment in the case or its resolution. Outside of Josie, whose relationship with Laura was nearly exclusive to the English lessons, and Doc Hayward, whose family was friends with the Palmer family, most of the people observing didn’t really know her. Their having seen the body first-hand impacts them no more than if it had been hearsay. As a result, the location and character aspects both seem trivial, merely the spot where the roads crossed, which would set plot as our main highway through.
But in repeated viewings, just how much of the characters are revealed in the opening minutes! Pete and Catherine’s strained, loveless relationship, punctuated by his kissing his own hand and then putting it on her cheek as she glares at him. Josie sitting in a world exclusive to her, absorbed with the mirror, ignored by the rest. Lucy’s innocent tendency to explain in excess, yet never quite enough. How Pete lingers on the other side of that driftwood, needing that extra layer between him and whatever’s under wraps. Andy’s lack of fortitude, at odds with his line of work and experience doing it. The way Doc Hayward’s own professionalism is challenged by his emotional response to the circumstances. And Sheriff Truman? Well, with the hitches shows in saying Laura’s name and turning over the body, he at least has enough on the game to play the straight man foil and speak the voice of local affairs. In this world, that’s enough to get him a deuteragonist role, the rudder on the brave little boat.
I’m not here to discount the plotting of Twin Peaks, as it provides that initial bit of thrust and is generally solid if devotedly beholden to chronology. However, to propose that characters and setting are mere bystanders as plot drops the brake doesn’t seem like the right way of watching. The labor of the show is to get these working and churning along in harmony, a task that we take for granted now as viewers of modern television, but was truly groundbreaking then. Trying to make each episode a day in the life of the town was not lacking in technical ambition.
The drawback is that as we get into the plot, trusting it to guide us through that first episode, there are instances where the show’s desire to introduce everybody and make connections are at odds with how we enter as first-time viewers. “News travels” is our main avenue in, and so of course we’re going to see Sarah Palmer’s response while the wound is at its most raw. Consider for a moment that this is the most sane we will ever see her in the whole series. Take the dark route with it retroactively, and Sarah’s calling for her daughter on the Nth lazy morning in a row becomes less of a sign of teenaged habits and more a flashing red indicator of Laura’s exhaustion by her circumstances, which even Sarah seems to be warily aware of. And then another deliberately planned shot, up the stairwell, all these doors, light coming in, but nothing we can see for ourselves initially, a mimesis of the series’ take on storytelling. There’s the character gravy of the various calls to various people, the Briggses rationally responding, the coach disclosing too much for Mike’s taste, but these are mostly present for the sake of ramping up the desperation.
And then we transition to Audrey Horne exiting the Great Northern as Sarah dials Leland. Why do we end up with Audrey? I’m as happy as the next guy (or gal if you so swing) to stare at Sherilyn Fenn for a few moments, but it’s an instance where the director-mind and the viewer-mind bonk heads and there’s a coconut sound. If we’re talking about Leland, knowing nothing about him aside from he’s a working man, why show Audrey? What is accomplished in debuting her here that couldn’t be achieved elsewhere, other than gaining a rest of time? And why drop Leland into an extremely passive role of being the details man to Ben’s ambition, leaving us with little apprehension of him as he gets up to take that fatal call?
In later episodes, these wouldn’t be damning or necessarily even noticeable, but a pilot has pressure to justify itself, and so the little jumps from one unfamiliar location or group to the next come down to bear a little bit harder. Some fifteen minutes into the franchise, we go from Laura’s death being revealed to her parents, to an unrelated scene involving her boyfriend Bobby (thankfully verified as existing), to Leland at the morgue, to the high school and Donna, whom we have no understanding of other than “if the camera is pointed at her in this manner, she must be important!”
You could telegraph the punches with Sheriff Truman remarking after finding Leland that they needed to locate Laura’s unaccounted-for boyfriend, or an illustration between Doc and Leland that would situate Doc Hayward as Donna’s father, appropriate considering their daughters are besties. Unfortunately, this is when the series’ obsessive timeline of events leads it into some rough territory for the first-time viewer, having not yet vetted a full set of symbols to visually cue movement as it does later in the same episode (shot of Laura as prom queen in the trophy case -> shot of Laura’s framed picture in the Palmer house, shot of truck in a magazine -> shot of Leo’s truck).
It’s also a series of scenes where there isn’t forward momentum in the plot. We’re waiting for characters to show and then catch up to what we already know, i.e. a lot of reaction shots. These sequences don’t benefit in the same way from intense point-by-point scrutiny, if we’re operating under the assumption that a lot of people are going to be broken up about it, so let’s take a moment to regard the episode as a whole and consider how certain characters are developed, relatively.
Providing the better example first, look to how they set up Audrey Horne, whom we see in a few different contexts. First, she is as a well-dressed young woman being chauffeured into town. Careful attention is paid to her modest shoes which, while plainly a woman’s, have about as much style as a pair you’d rent at a bowling alley. Next scene, she is seen stuffing aforementioned shoes into a locker, trading them for red heels as she puffs a cigarette, secretly enough to be unobtrusive but not so hidden that you’d think she fears reprisal. Her interactions with Donna and James, the other high schoolers, are casual and familiar, but throughout she’s isolated and no one converses with her, or seems to want to.
The bit with the Norwegians is likely where most people would devote their attention, and it is memorable: Mischief at the concierge desk as a diversion, the intentional pout and mopey, out-of-context announcement, the gleeful reactions at their huffy exodus. A viewer can tell she’s versed in such charades and that nothing in her livelihood is staked on whether or not her father can close the deal. She’d rather have that attention for herself.
A lot of shows would stick with that motif and rehash the finer points of the “poor little rich girl” archetype for a while, but then we see Audrey with her mother, as her developmentally-disabled brother bangs his head in the other room. They’re nervous, patience still worn after all these years of enduring it as a persistent facet of their lives. You see that she acts out, the how and why of her allure and tricks, and you see that she is also largely isolated and competing vainly for the attentions of preoccupied adults, eventually leading her to another preoccupied adult in Cooper. She’s a rounded character and has only had ten total minutes of screentime.
But the first-time viewer might not actually be able to describe why it is that Audrey gets such a level of attention considering the other people in Laura’s class, Laura’s own intimates. As far as who should be focused on, what do we know about Donna, or James for that matter? Donna is established as “best friend,” perhaps a “good girl” given her conservative dress and close relationships to parents and siblings (the interaction between her and Doc at the end borders on family sitcom). She seems to have a rapport with Big Ed, familiar enough for him to stick up for her. She is bad at lying, with the obvious woman hiker fib. She has an ordinary social life, with the various girls comforting her in the classroom whom we never see again. She has a controlling boyfriend, but that’s the extent of the “danger” she has to contend with.
James is established as a biker, the secretive man-on-the-side. His position leaves him unable to respond as transparently, with the snapped pencil and kicked-puppy sidelongs the extent of what he can display in the classroom. Consequently, isolated hillside brooding follows. He’s close to his Uncle Ed, probably not so much to his Aunt Nadine. Concerned and well-meaning, if a touch dopey. Somewhat intimidated by Mike and Bobby, but backed up by the Bookhouse Boys, whom we don’t see a great deal of beyond their main cast members. And…?
The most we get out of either of their motives may be the woods scene where they talk about their respective relationships to Laura, what she was really up to, and their feelings for each other, but when these arise, it’s indirect, second-hand until emotions drag them into the smooching event horizon. That’s how they’re characterized for the bulk of the series. We understand the situations they’re in, their misgivings, but not James and Donna personally. They’re left sitting more as archetypes than full characters.
Contrast that with all of the conclusions we ourselves can make about Audrey. Or Shelley, with her coyness in The Double-R, the drag from the flask as soon as the police car passes, the near reflexive, recoiling, choked “back up” at seeing Leo’s truck, her submissiveness towards him in conversation at the expense of what little individuality she is able to express. Or Bobby, with his alpha male confidence in being the center of attention at the diner or high school or Roadhouse, how inclined he is to punish other’s indiscretions while leaving his own unexamined, how he loses his temper and has to be restrained multiple times (frequently in the presence of law enforcement!), how he rebuffs his father’s magnanimity, how much more emphatic and intense he is about Laura’s love for him than his own for her. Or, though inebriation is an overused method to get characters to make candid remarks, Sarah, in her unreal, drugged state, sitting with friends and relations (who treat this as not being the first time she’s needed sedation), making prophetic inquiries as to who might be upstairs, reciting mundane happenings for all their squandered significance, scraping against rather than answering questions.
It is the introduction of Ronette that gets us back into a plot swing of things, and by now we seem to have our narrative bearings. Andy can make reference to her disappearance and her father’s working at the mill, we can show the mill as a center of the town’s livelihood along with the alluded-to conflict over its administration (note Pete’s barely conflicted loyalties), and we can get to Ronette herself on the bridge. This happens to hit on a few aesthetic sweet spots for me: the individual set against a monumental landscape, the long shot static shot that changes by small comings and goings, moderation of sounds and silences, gradually revealing more of what she looks like, the bruises and abscesses, the stained nightie, the rope. It gets you to re-lock your attention. I just wish it took us somewhere more rich, more robust, more resonant, than the Ed and Nadine introduction at the gas station, which has character merits and visual appeal, but exists as a time-buffer so that Cooper won’t learn of Ronette’s discovery impossibly fast.
I comment on this because there’s a lot more to connect Cooper to the Ronette scene than just the fact that it links to his Teresa Banks case. Other scenes are more of an ars poetica for the Twin Peaks aesthetic, but the Ronette intro is AN example of it and what we get from Cooper is a verbalization of it and, as we come to know, there’s no way to dissociate the show’s aesthetic from Cooper himself. Associative, delighted by small pleasures, surprisingly thorough, unconventional, quirky, charming, coffee-and-pie-obsessed, keenly attentive. Every significant observation, even certain insignificant ones, prompt a response. He’s a thinker, but one in every moment impelled by what his senses are taking in.
This component may be among the more important because Cooper is atypical for a TV show genius detective. Other shows can be eager to push their lead as otherworldly sharp, drawing conclusions far more rapidly than most human beings are capable of with any accuracy (often by withholding discernible details from the viewer). Little about Cooper is rushed, as we see with the Bobby interrogation. A whole sequence of questions about Laura, their fights, their possible drug use, and who took that video, has to be asked with Cooper sussing out Bobby’s reactions along the way. Only then does he conclude, accurately, Bobby’s culpability in the murder.
This positions Cooper as more of an audience surrogate. He sees what we see, has been trained in what to look for and can train us as well. We can pick up on why he derives the conclusions he does while delighting in the wider pool of cultural references he can draw on for his own insight. His joy and inquisitiveness in experiencing his surroundings are meant to be our joy in the same. Why shouldn’t these trees be fantastic?
These traits are not without their corresponding shortcomings, however, and knowing those helps to particularize Cooper’s flaws, beyond the expected job-blinders that detective protagonists often wear. He doesn’t care about the social implications of Laura doing cocaine, or any conflict stemming from his snapping the diary open, another violation of decorum. He wants to interrogate Ronette when everyone around him and his own inspection could confirm she’s in no condition. When digging out the letter from Laura’s fingernail, or finding the marked page in Fleshworld, there’s such excitement on his face at the prospect of new evidence that it’s almost as if the human loss is not a factor for him at all. Sheriff Truman tries to push back and get him to consider the investigation from the vantage of the Twin Peaks community, but in that lower position Truman is relegated to, only so much can be done when Cooper’s desire for knowledge overruns certain boundaries. In the rare instance they do butt heads, as with the references to the safety deposit key and cocaine residue, Truman acquiesces but quick. The case takes priority.
Of course, there are storytelling benefits to how Cooper engages the world outside of its mere charm. How he takes in environmental data and anticipates other’s questions, these set up for some of the most natural exposition you’re going to find. As the stranger to town, and one in an authority role, Coop has every reason to request insights and be used to provide the audience with supplemental material. Some of it is just communicative, as his dialogue in the hospital hall with Sheriff Truman about The Bureau’s role (case covers multiple states, etc). Other parts are illustrative, as we get from the town hall meeting where Cooper asks for input on a growing list of town characters. It’s an area where most shows, heck, most media can falter (let us reflect on Big Trouble in Little China where everyone announces who they are and what their intentions), so one can appreciate how easily this kind of information comes for Twin Peaks while soberly confirming that it would be difficult to merely replicate without getting predictable.
With all this character back and forth over the last ~1700 words, I’ve roughly covered the substance of a number of the scenes from the Palmer family reveal up to around nightfall. There are only a few big ones that I haven’t hit yet that I would like to touch on before wrapping up.
The first is a sequence I affectionately refer to as “The Hell Train.” We got a taste of it between the analysis of Laura’s bedroom trinkets and the Bobby interrogation, when Andy sits weeping over the two-way about how horrible it is, as dogs jump and bark merely by being in the vicinity of a few boxcars. It just escapes being overwrought and so when we get Cooper and Truman in there a few scenes later, I’m willing to get on board with how eerie it is.
Disused tracks, cars propped up on planks as a citizen militia flanks an armed police contingent, limited lighting, incessant water drips, blood on textured metal, claw marks on wood, rags used to mop up fluids and then thoughtlessly discarded, a hammer with more blood and a plastic bag around the handle, more bloody rags, an indoor dirt mound like a shrine or a tumulus with a single golden fragment shining atop as a relic, “FIRE WALK WITH ME” etched in blood on newspaper. I’m accustomed to a particular horror or thriller stock of images, rather stale from decades of use. What’s here, though, is singular and interpretive, just there to seethe as an image. It makes The Hell Train as a whole worthy of appearing on the Gold Box as often as it does.
If I’m trading my analyst’s hat for a conjurer’s, the idea of a train in this spot has a particular magnetism for me. As train tracks were a feature laid down with all of human capriciousness, bias, and corruption at play, the path of a railroad was very often a touchstone for when things went right or wrong in a region, where one town was saved and another had its economy annihilated, often with few tangible reasons. To set functional tracks against cars that have rotted in the rain, to build them up as the dark shrines of a chthonic belief system at a time when rail travel and transport were starting to fade away, there’s just a lot of gooey symbolic and thematic goodness to it in my viewing.
The next big scene is The Roadhouse, which we’ve been hyping to since Donna collected James’ note halfway in and Norma voiced her out-of-the-blue desire to see Big Ed. I find the latter a touch abrupt and one added thing to keep track of at this point, but the dialogue covers for that bit of chemistry that might even transcend Ed’s inherent stiffness. She beeps his nose and uses “Tammy Wynette time” as a shorthand, he talks of his illustrious drape-hanging career and says “when your sweetheart’s husband is in the joint for manslaughter, the word ‘parole”s got a nasty ring to it.” It’s not ideal as a way of developing the both of them (feeling relationship fatigue by now), but the way both of them change their way of speaking when around each other sells the connection, and just being where it is provides Ed an opportunity to intervene later, cementing his dislike for Mike and Bobby.
There’s also that “only bar in town” feeling that you get from The Roadhouse. It’s replicated in settings like The Double-R and the café in The Great Northern with an assortment of other types, but it’s distinct for the first time here with the pseudo-gang of bikers, decked out like extras from Brando’s The Wild One , the plainly-dressed local extras (some with glorious 80s mullets), the more woodsmen-looking types closer to the bar itself. It’s all broad strokes at the outset, but all different ages and backgrounds are present here and we’ll get more as time goes on. Too much variety would draw attention away from the jocks vs. greasers nature of the fight scene anyway.
After that, the flight, Donna and James in the woods, James in custody and left with the caged animals Bobby and Mike, a charming debrief with Donna and Doc, doughnuts, Truman and Josie, Catherine and Ben, Sarah’s vision, flourish.
Now having summarized and analyzed the equivalent of a feature-length movie with tendrils poking and probing outward to a television series intended to be of an indefinite span, I currently find myself in the unenviable reiteration phase of the review.
“Overwhelming” can be a first impression of the Twin Peaks pilot, and on the dozen or so viewings I’ve made in trying to get this in order, I’d settle on its being “overambitious.” Where a lot of shows have enough material to work with having five to six core characters interacting with each other in carefully delineated settings, Twin Peaks opted to go with about twice that many, with regularly recurring secondary characters, and each of them pursue or try to make sense of the case in ways that don’t often overlap. Combine that with the rather strict and linear interpretation of time and events, and you get a show that in its worse moments feels disjunctive and patched together from competing stories, not all of which have the same heft (thankfully, we don’t have to SEE Big Ed putting up the drapes).
As pilots go, the sheer number of personae involved and the precedence the plot macguffin takes can make it harder to appreciate characters and setting for all the nuance present. It might feel like the show relentlessly wants to hawk on us one curio after another, but subsequent viewings demonstrate that these eccentricities are consistent with the characters’ later presentation and that this is all just part of the flavor. The only real issues, aside from the gaffes of sloppy transition, are whether or not the viewer is overtaxed just trying to buy into one small town having all these misfits (built up by an ever larger supporting cast), how to manage the spriographic overlay of one love triangle after another and, as I mentioned earlier, some confusion as to why a few principals come off flat.
Setting might be the harder one to address for me personally, because as I said in the intro, I grew up in this region, this time period, and I sometimes take what it does for granted. As I’ve looked into it more, I’ve come to appreciate how lived-in all of the locations are. The Great Northern’s native flair, the Packard residence’s woodsy practicality, and Leo’s half-finished shack, all reflect the tastes and presentation of their inhabitants. Since their depictive faithfulness isn’t at issue, when I come at the show with my list of complaints, I feel like I’m almost caviling by pointing out that the setting, at present, lacks the mythological concerns that will turn it into a real workhorse later. [That, and an even more petty point I’ll get at in my “Cons”]
With setting, character, and plot all mutually informing each other, it makes for good television, though perhaps not for everyone. Those who prefer a narrower focus or characters more in line with the people you’d find on the street might have a little trouble getting into it. Coming at it from another angle, if you’re the type of viewer who gets incensed at a couple of things being wrong or off, Twin Peaks has enough inconsistencies to make a few people lock up and shut down. If you’re prepared more for a ride than anything else, eager to see where the show might take you, then you’re in good shape to see it through to the end or close to it.
Welcome to Twin Peaks. My name is Margaret Lanterman. I live in Twin Peaks. I am known as The Log Lady. There is a story behind that. There are many stories in Twin Peaks. Some of them are sad, some funny. Some are stories of madness, of violence. Some are ordinary. Yet they all have about them a sense of mystery. The mystery of life. Sometimes the mystery of death. The mystery of the woods. The woods surrounding Twin Peaks. To introduce this story, let me just say that it encompasses “The All.” It is beyond “The Fire,” though few would know that meaning. It is a story of many, but it begins with one, and I knew her. The one leading to the many is Laura Palmer. Laura is the one.
The Log Lady introductions are set pieces, meant to introduce episodes but rarely aired with them during the show’s original run. No one I know would claim this to be anything other than a “miss” by the network, because these monologues help us understand the role of The Log Lady and often situate us within the themes and trajectory of an episode. In the case of the creamed corn episode, they can be outright funny.
To talk about this one, it primarily serves as a mission statement for both the show and particularly the first episode. Much of the pilot, as we have seen, resonates outward from the death of Laura into the community at large and how they respond. Setting things up with The Log Lady, it’s a way of justifying how what we see from the characters is in the context of their own coming to terms with the death, either emotionally or intellectually. But to establish the story as “encompass[ing] ‘The All'” and to draw attention to Laura as ‘the one’ is an early way of bringing to the fore her multiplicities. Aspects of Laura’s own story, revealed by degrees, have their own elements of sadness, humor, madness and violence, ordinary life, death, and the woods. It also, without explicitly naming either lodge or much mythology of “the woods,” emphasizes the dark/light duality of Laura’s character by bringing in those positive and negative traits that we only begin to understand by the end of the episode.
Another element to consider, “The Fire.” We see two-thirds of the way in, “Fire Walk With Me,” still not fully understood in its implications, and we also get various other flare-ups. That she is Margaret Lanterman, too close in sound to Lanternman, that there is a lantern on the mantel, that she’s in front of her fireplace, and we later find that her husband died in a fire on their wedding night. Additionally, the last place anyone saw Laura coherent was an intersection where one of the roads was “Sparkwood,” another implication of fire. There’s a lot in here that wants us to at least in passing consider light and fire, both for its illumination and its heat/destructive capabilities.
- When Johnny is banging his head against the dollhouse in the Great Northern, we see a quick interior shot along with a figure that looks like it’s in a wheelchair or an extremely stylized rocking chair. I don’t want to go too far into it because even after freezing the frame, I still can’t fully decide what it is, but if it is a wheelchair, then that’s an early clue of the Eileen Hayward/Ben Horne connection.
- There’s always been something inhuman, unearthly in the way that Bobby screams at James in the jail cell. I can’t point to things that never happened and may have never been in the works, but there are two Bobs and two Mikes in the show and each pair is close. In the case of the high school duo, Mike is more protective of his friend and tries to be responsible in his delinquency, but you’re not sure if the relationship is reciprocal exactly as Bobby tends to be mostly about himself. I often wonder if the two wouldn’t ultimately be affiliated with both MIKE and BOB. This is made all the weirder by the drug deal scene in Fire Walk with Me.
- Doc Hayward is the co-creator’s Dad. WHAAAAT
- Oh. My. God. The Briggs’ family has a toaster cozy.
- The jukebox scene in the Double-R marks the first and one of the rare times that a soundsystem does not play background music.
- One wonders if Mike wasn’t originally cast in Bobby’s role, given the resemblances amongst the Briggses.
- At thirty-six minutes into the show, we get Cooper. My initial draft notes for the review, remarking on this, say “This is like Ray and Roast Beef suddenly showing up three-and-a-half months into Achewood’s run.” Someone gets me.
- I had to search for it myself at one point, so note BOB’s reflection in the mirror as Sarah bolts upright near the end of the episode.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Doc Hayward has a great hangdog look in the hospital. His role is one of limited impact, but he plays it well throughout the series.
+ The transition close-ups of “trees in the wind” and “a stoplight at night” do a lot to add to an atmosphere of eeriness.
+ Audrey is “here” during roll call. One of the good moments of the high school scenes, along with the locker slam shimmy and the choice, as the death is announced, to primarily focus on empty hallways and let our imaginations play as to what the reactions might be.
+ Nadine is a character who’s basically around as comic relief later in the series and to switch up things emotionally in the first half. She has limited dimension and is never a character whose plight we particularly emphasize with. But the house right across from the gas station, permitting her to get out and harangue Ed at any time, the chain-link fence, the enormous picture windows, the way things are treated with dire necessity, Ed’s silence in reply. She’s ushered in about as well as she can be.
+ Ditto Jacoby, though his role in the series is obviously situated a bit differently. Truman’s avoidance of him and Cooper’s cold scrutiny, along with his inappropriate emotional responses, tell us a lot.
+ “Would you leave us, please?” “Um, Jim.” THEY KEPT IT.
+ “Asparagus for dinner again. I hate asparagus. Does this mean I’ll never grow up?” It’s a clichéd gut-punch by now, but moved through rather quickly, it’s sufficient for an “oof” and doesn’t outlast its utility as an “oof.”
+ A few character actors whose presence I appreciate: the Principal (also seen as a cop at the hotel desk in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Mayor Milford in his dotage.
+ Delightful continuity for future episodes in the form of Cooper whittling a whistle.
+ Julee Cruise singing the theme song at The Roadhouse! (it doesn’t get main review coverage because “Falling” doesn’t have any implications on the present audience; Donna is there but James isn’t, and Ed and Norma are already in love.)
– A personal quibble, but every time I see that sign in the intro with “Welcome to Twin Peaks, Population 51,201,” I shudder. That’s about ten times as many people as the town feels like it has (yes, I believe Twin Peaks has fractional people), and so conflicts with the particular vibe we get from it. Or, let’s put on a granular fact-checking spin: If Twin Peaks did have that kind of population, it would be the tenth-largest city in Washington state TODAY. It has four times the population of the county (Pend Oreille) it was supposed to take place in (again, today’s figures) and the town that it was actually filmed in only has a population of 5,731, today. I don’t dock the show for this since it basically doesn’t matter, no one references it, but it’s one of those little things that shows a degree of care and would have been easy to not screw up. Also there aren’t any large waterways or foghorns in that part of the state and the filming is pretty obviously somewhere on the Puget Sound. Get off my lawn.
– One wishes there was a little more from Sarah than crazy, or at least, for the scene to have ended with the dangling phone rather than a snap back to one more ear-shattering scream accompanied by hair pulling, the imaginative work of we were doing anyway.
– As much as I like the role Cooper has in the exposition, and the dynamic between him and Truman as the play between outside genius and local experience, it does draw some attention to how weak Truman is as a character. For a native of the town, Truman never feels like a native. His interactions rarely extend beyond that which his job entails, even as a Bookhouse Boy and secret lover of Josie. This could be rationalized as the emotional distance he might need to maintain, but other stories can and have gotten away with sheriff characters for whom we have a strong sense of personality. Truman is mostly the straight man, and that’s a type that can’t support weight on his own.
– Two reasons why I skip over the late scene at the Hayward’s. One is that, while the interaction between Donna and Harriett is fairly memorable, we only see Harriett one more time in the show and have no reason otherwise to remember Donna has [two!] siblings. While Harriett has the makings of a character, I’m also skeptical that the show needs her as junior prescient poet when you already have Sarah as a semi-lucid prophetess and The Log Lady serving as The High Priestess of the Pines. Secondly, the way Doc acts indifferent to Mike and Bobby’s obvious drinking and driving while breaking curfew, it just doesn’t seem in character, especially because he knows Mike and Donna are dating.
– They mention The Roadhouse, then transition to a very tiny Bookhouse, with a small convoy of motorcycles, without really establishing what either building’s role is, then show an interior shot of The Roadhouse’s stage. It’s a minor thing, but one more “hey wait a minute” by the show that wasn’t necessary.
– To recap the relationships as we know them by the end of the episode: Laura was dating Bobby, but seeing James on the side. James and Donna realize they love each other at the end, but Donna is dating Mike and James has just lost his own de facto girlfriend. Meanwhile, Bobby was seeing Shelley in addition to Laura and has few qualms about this despite Shelly being married to known loose cannon Leo, who is also his dealer. Norma is married to jailbird Hank (a Chekov gun), but has always been in love, mutually, with Big Ed, who himself is married to the eyepatch-wearing drape-enthusiast, Nadine. Sheriff Truman is in a secret relationship with Josie, who was widowed about a year and a half prior. Catherine is married to Pete,but has been in a liaison with Ben forever, who in turn is married to Sylvia, who is seen I think thrice in the whole series. When everyone in a show is seeing one person and wanting to be with someone else, infidelity as a plot device becomes less impactful, and bear in mind that this is only what we START with and is no reflection of how complicated things get before the finale.
* You probably weren’t thinking about Josie in black and Katherine in grey/white other than the juxtaposition, but following Katherine’s disappearance at the mill, she does unwittingly get led about in the woods, arriving at her own childhood cabin amidst overtones we learn to associate with the White Lodge. Josie, meanwhile, is last seen trapped by some sort of darker spirit in the Great Northern, the influence of the Black Lodge, one might claim. The woman became a drawer-pull. It can’t be good juju.
* Ben, from his trysts with Katherine, knows the mill isn’t actually going bankrupt, but rather it’s the books that are being cooked. Leland remains ignorant for the duration. Nevertheless, it’s a point of interest in the initial Ghostwood dialogue between the two. Business partners, yes, but not even Leland knows what’s up.
* For a while, Ben’s commentary on health and industry going hand-in-hand in Twin Peaks seems like a lie, but after his breakdown and his campaign to destroy the Ghostwood development and save the Pine Weasel, it seems like he comes to believe it.
* The first time we see Heidi at The Double-R echoes the last, and only other time we see Heidi, when the same basic scene repeats itself. Likewise, the first and last episodes will include a plot-drive to get into someone else’s safe deposit box.
* Maybe it’s just me but the tire screech while Bobby turns the car around sounds an awful lot like screaming. A woman’s screaming. Cue next episode at the Johnson residence.
* Cooper references the Fields quote, “I’d rather be here than Philadelphia.” It’s a nod to Lynch’s Eraserhead as his prior, Philadelphia-inspired movie, and a clue to where Cooper’s been, elaborated as Windom Earle gets introduced and Fire Walk With Me provides the pro- and epilogue. Other nods, obviously are the “Give this to Albert and his team. Don’t go to Sam” remarks and all references to Teresa Banks.
* MIKE is in the elevator and seen, a few times, as a red herring, before getting a proper introduction a few episodes later.
* Cooper’s snipe about Bobby not loving Laura is him at one of his more intense moments in the series, and his immediate departure after beginning to lose his composure is uncharacteristic. I regard this as a bit of a hint towards his own relationship with Caroline Earle.
* Sarah can tell from the sounds upstairs that it isn’t Laura. She does not recognize that it is Leland, who, in uncanny composure, asks if they really have to take the diary. Make of it what you will.
* Listen to Mike when he grabs Donna in The Roadhouse and you’ll hear him scream repeatedly “you’re just like her!” Since Donna isn’t involved with as many [weird] things as Laura was, you may say that it means nothing more than Donna’s possibly cheating on him with James, but in the subsequent episodes we do see Donna take on some of Laura’s things and traits. Unusually prescient of him.
* Additionally, Ed’s account of being drugged the fight in the next episode is set up here: He staggers before really landing a punch and is passed out on the floor when we snap back to the scene a minute later.