Twin Peaks Revisited: 1.01 Pilot
TV revivals are a big thing. In 2016, The X Files returned to our screens after a 14-year absence and here at The Digital Fix, we revisited key episodes across its ten seasons and two movies. But there is one revival that is surely bigger than that; Twin Peaks will be returning for an unprecedented third season, directed by David Lynch and set twenty-five years after season two’s shocking ending. It is a revival that has everyone excited and anxious in equal measure. With a phenomenal cast, including nearly every original actor there is hope that Twin Peaks’ new season can recapture the magic of the first year and a half. So, like The X Files, we’ve decided to revisit each episode in the build up to the show’s return. We’ll treat each revisit fresh and try to keep major conjecture to future episodes separate. So whether you’re seeking to revisit an old classic or ready to find out what all the fuss is about, let’s return to the world of Twin Peaks…
The body of Laura Palmer is found washed up on the edge of a lake, wrapped in plastic. As family and friends deal with the trauma, a second victim, Ronnette Pulaski, is found wandering along an old railway track. Eccentric FBI agent Dale Cooper comes to Twin Peaks to launch the investigation...
So let’s begin with the pilot episode. One thing that becomes apparent after all these years, is how much this David Lynch’s take on a soap opera as it is a supernatural murder mystery. Characters are having affairs, brokering shady business deals, teenagers are having secret rendezvous and getting into fights. But given Lynch’s style, there is a certain dark, OTT edge to everything that takes place. It certainly adds to the weirdness of the events that taking place and on re-watch, I can see how it could have put off potential viewers attempting to find what all the fuss is about. But I think what the pilot serves to do is deliver some interesting characters, a gripping mystery and a sense of heightened drama that, if it pulls you in, will have you hooked until the series’ end.
So where to begin? Let’s start with the iconic moment – the discovery of Laura Palmer, naked and wrapped in plastic as she is washed up on the shores of the lake outside Pete Martell’s home. Lynch’s unique style is there from the start; his phone call to Sheriff Truman introduces us to the adorable Lucy and the awkward comedy as she tries to explain to Pete that she is transferring his call to a specific phone in the station. But the humour is a front for the darker elements at play, which are revealed as soon we returned to Laura’s body. Even in the plastic you can see the bloody horror inflicted upon her. The pull back to reveal her face, cold, brushed with sand and utterly dead, is one of the most iconic TV images of the 1990s.
Over the rest of the first act, we are introduced to various characters that inhabit the town. RR Café owner Norma and waitress Shelly, who is having an illicit affair with younger school Jock Bobby behind her violent husband Leo’s back. Leo remains absent for much of the episode, a threatening presence in her life while Bobby is an arrogant, smooth kid who wants it all. Dana Ashbrook delivers a truly unlikeable performance and as the boyfriend of the murdered Laura Palmer it is clear why he is the prime suspect.
Lara Flynn Boyle plays Donna, the innocent best friend of Laura; given that she spends half the episode weeping over her friend and then moping after James, she could easily have been a wet fish of a character, but Boyle delivers a sensitive, endearing performance that allows her to carry much of the pilot episode. As for Laura’s secret boyfriend, biker James, actor James Marshall tries to play the cool, sensitive opposite to Bobby, but unfortunately ends up a bit of a wide-eyed, unengaging character that rarely improves as the show progresses.
Though he is a noticeable nice contrast to the more dramatic characters in the mix.
Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) is the spoilt rich kid; in fact her actions this episode, destroying her father’s business meeting with a fake act about being upset over Laura’s murder and then deliberately pouring coffee over the receptionist’s desk means that she has no redeeming qualities at all. It is a far cry from the powerful character that should would become, while her father Ben Horne Richard Beymer is a the one that comes off as the victim of his daughter’s machinations, ironic consider the character he would eventually be revealed to be.
But in that first act, the focus is on everyone’s reactions to Laura’s death and it is often uncomfortable to watch. The quiet trauma as the high school finds out about their classmate’s murder is nicely played but the same can’t be said for Laura’s mother Sarah; Grace Zabriskie wails and moans uncontrollably, even before she finds out the truth and while I get the intention was to show the raw horror and anguish of a mother discovering her daughter has been murdered, it is so over the top it is painful to watch and for all the wrong reasons. There is a much better performance from Ray Wise as Laura’s father Leyland. He plays the anguish and trauma brilliantly and is thoroughly engaging throughout.
And then we are treated to another traumatic scene as second missing teenager Ronnette Pulaksi is found stumbling over a railway line high up in the mountains, bloody and cold, wearing little more than a rag, ropes still bound to her wrists. Just when you get used to the goings on of these characters, Lynch tears you away with the darkness impacting this community and through Ronnette the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer deepens.
After that chilling moment, the arrival of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper is perfectly timed. From his very first scene Kyle MacLachlan steals the show, talking to the never seen Diane on his dictaphone about the local trees and his love of good food. It’s this sense of joy in everyday life that makes him so engaging; he can cut straight to the heart of the situation, often coming across as ruthless in his investigations but he mixes his experience of dealing with the darkest aspects of humanity with its best. And his budding ‘bromance’ with Sheriff Harry Truman (Michael Ontkean) is there from the pilot episode. Cooper and Truman have great rapport as they delve into the investigation.
And from the key players established – include Katherine Martell’s (Piper Laurie) rivalry with sister in law and mill owner Jocelyn Packard (Joan Chen) – things really kick up a gear. We still get the every-day affairs of the town; Donna fends off the abuse of boyfriend Mike, Norma tries to maintain her secret affair with local gas station owner Big Ed while he handles his wife’s obsession with new drapes, Audrey vies for attention in light of Laura’s murder and the terrifying Leo is introduced, threatening Shelly as he comes dangerously close to discovering her affair with Bobby. But it is all inconsequential to the horrors that have taken place. Intercut with these Lynchian soap opera moments, Cooper, Truman and the local police department uncover the bloody crime scene where Laura was murdered and Ronnette abused. It is the stuff of nightmares; pools of blood and shadow and the ominous message ‘fire walk with me’ written in blood next to the half-heart locket that belonged to Laura.
So much takes place in this episode that I could write pages about the pilot episode. David Lynch and Mark Frost deliver a compelling mystery with several key suspects – the violent Leo, cocky Bobby, secret boyfriend James and even her unorthodox secret therapist Doctor Jacoby. All the breadcrumbs are laid; Laura’s cocaine habit, Ronnette’s appearance in Flesh World, secret affairs, sinister messages and James’s account to Donna of how Laura ran off into the night where something utterly evil took place.
The stage is set. And we haven’t even met Bob yet.
The pilot of Twin Peak is a masterstroke in introducing multiple characters, their various and conflicted connections, some supernatural twists and a mystery that is certain to keep audiences hooked week after week. It can be grim viewing at times – given the many reactions to Laura’s death and it is through those performances that we get the very best and worst parts of the story. But Kyle MacLachlan is the glue that holds the episode together and through him audiences were given a character that served as a prototype to characters like Mulder and Scully and became a fresh take on a lead criminal investigator.
It would also be remiss of me not to mention how gorgeous this series looks. Washington state, with its mountains, pine forests and waterfalls are breath-taking; for a show two a half decades old, it could be all too easy to notice the bad quality of the footage or dated imagery but this does not feel apparent here. Twin Peaks has a timeless quality and that is still reflected on my third or fourth viewing of the pilot. Angelo Badalamenti’s score is also as hauntingly beautiful as ever.
Twin Peaks changed TV forever; it made supernatural mainstream, lead to cult classics like The X Files and Buffy The Vampire Slayer and delivered a serialised show that showed all TV didn’t need to be the ‘story of the week’. Would we have had Lost without Twin Peaks? it’s an interesting question and I look forward to revisiting Twin Peaks’s influences on TV as I progress through season one and two…
Cooper: “Diane, I am holding in my hands a small box of chocolate bunnies.”
Cooper: “Who’s the lady with the log?.”
Trumam: “We call her the Log Lady.”
Future episode observations – spoilers afoot…
As Leyland observes his daughter in the morgue, he wonders who did these horrible things to her. A chilling moment in hindsight, knowing who the real killer is…