Twin Peaks Revisited: Fire Walk With Me
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…
In the town of Deer Meadow a young woman Teresa Banks is murdered. After the first FBI Agent vanishes investigating the crime, Agent Cooper investigates. And a year later, the last seven days of Laura Palmer are revealed, full of drugs, sex and terror as she is stalked by Bob before she is brutally murdered...
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is not like the rest of the series. It's a bold, uncomfortable and harrowing piece of drama from the mind of writer and director David Lynch which is in many ways more brutal than anything the series ever presented us. With its focus on the last days of Laura Palmer, it presents some shocking truths only alluded to during the investigation. Disappointing to many and beloved by others, it's a prequel TV movie that is often uneasy to watch.
The issue I have, like many, is that it doesn't really expand the story. We know that Leyland Palmer, possessed by Bob killed a woman before Laura, which launched Dale Cooper onto the investigation. We know that Laura was messed up in sex, drugs and other disturbed acts, the result of years being terrified and abused by Bob. And we know that Leyland Palmer unwittingly killed his daughter. As such, there is nothing that take place that really surprises. It is shocking and horrible and terribly tragic, but by not continuing the story of that harrowing season two cliffhanger, it came across as a terrible disservice to the fans.
The looking back, rather than forward, was one of the main reasons Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost wasn't involved. And with many key characters absent like Sheriff Truman, Pete and Catherine Martell and Ben and Audrey Horne, there is the sense that some of that magic has been lost. Of course, what role would those characters have had in Laura's last days? Probably not much. Audrey and Laura were not friends, Ben and Catherine had their own schemes (and her encounters with him at One Eyed Jacks are referred to but precede this story) and characters like Truman were completely unaware of her criminal activities. Instead the prequel streamlines the storytelling to Laura's final actions over that last week.
But not before a trip to Deer Meadow for the first half hour, with the focus on the events of Teresa Banks' murder a year earlier. It's a slow start and maybe not an altogether necessary one, though there are some interesting moments and performances. I rather like that it's the seedier, run down opposite to Twin Peaks and the murder fails to elicit the shockwaves Laura's does a year later. The Sheriff is a bully, the local diner a chain-smoking gossip of a greasy spoon; as far removed from Harry Truman and Norma Jennings as you could possibly get. But this theme isn't enough to carry the prequel for thirty minutes.
There are two things to note about Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me; it's weirder and more graphic than the show. David Lynch really unleashes the oddball nature of Twin Peaks in that first act and while seemingly clever at times, it isn't always eligible to watch. Take the woman in the red dress as Lynch's Gordon Cole brings in Chris Isaak's Special Agent Chester Desmond to investigate Teresa's murder. It's a little surreal, even for Twin Peaks. And the sudden appearance and disappearance of David Bowie's missing FBI Agent Phillip Jeffries makes no sense at all. It's all linked to the Black Lodge in some way and the Blue Rose, but it's never explored enough to be coherent to the larger story.
I do like Isaak's Desmond though, a proto Dale Cooper, teamed up with a young Kiefer Sutherland as rookie Sam Stanley to investigate the murder. It worked have worked better had Cooper fulfilled the role (apparently Kyle MacLachlan was a last minute addition despite being the central character of Twin Peaks) but he's part of the same kooky mold, if a little less endearing. Cooper is joyful whole Desmond is a little more edgy but that works in the more rough setting of Deer Meadow. His return at the end seems to go nowhere too, with the discovery of the green ring bearing the owl symbol seen during the latter part of Twin Peaks season two. I suspect this story may had developed had Lynch produced more TV movies, but on its own - and immediately followed by the bizarre Jeffries appearance in Philadelphia, it just becomes a confusing plot point.
Even Cooper's role is superfluous; he heads to Deer Meadow in search of Desmond and finds nothing and later 'senses' that Teresa's killer will strike again to colleague Albert Rosenfield (a wasted Miguel Ferrer). The truth is, that if the entire first half was cut - including the vision of the Red Lodge with Mrs Tremond, her grandson, Mike, Bob and other spiritual figures - nothing would be lost.
Fortunately, things pick up when the prequel jumps a year later to the famous Twin Peaks sign, Angelo Badalamenti's main theme and the last seven days of Laura Palmer. We're back in familiar season one territory, though after the extensive development of many characters in season two, it does feel odd revisiting them back the way they were in the pilot. Bobby is still a high school jock, Donna is still a meek, innocent school girl. Shelley is still suffering abuse at the hands of her husband Leo and Leyland is still bustling around Twin Peaks with a full head of dark hair. It's a very focused piece of storytelling - and an uncomfortable one to watch too - which is why many beloved characters were cut (but can be seen in the DVD release of The Missing Pieces).
The most notable change is the replacement of Lara Flynn Boyle with Moira Kelly as Laura's best friend Donna Hayward. Donna was too essential to Laura's life to ever be cut and Kelly does a good job playing the innocent best friend starting to become aware of the darkness in Laura's life. She quite have the spark on screen as Flynn Boyle and there are moments where I would have loved to seen the original Donna's take on the subject matter, but Kelly's version is a perfectly serviceable replacement for this one off performance.
The prequel doesn't take the time to establish Laura's descent into darkness; she is already there. A flashback to a year earlier shows her fooling around with Ronnette Pulaksi for Flesh World magazine and she has already been kicked out of One Eyed Jacks, negating the need for Ben Horne to play a role in this story. The biggest success is allowing Sheryl Lee to develop the iconic character of Laura Palmer, flitting between playful and traumatised as she creeps ever closer to her tragic and brutal death. The signs that she is broken are clear from the start, sniffing cocaine in the high school toilets, smoking and drinking in her bedroom, flirting with boyfriend bobby, allowing love sick secret lover James to fondle her when she comes to him in just a towel. Her manipulation of Bobby is absolute; she mocks him openly when he questions her and then wins him back with a smile. It's easy to see why he was drawn to RR Diner waitress Shelley.
She also seems to know her fate, telling Donna early on that the angels have gone away, damning her to her torment. She is keenly aware of Bob, even if she doesn't yet know the identity of the man he is possessing and keeps all her dark secrets in her diary - including her abuse since the age of 12 - which she gives to a cameoing Harold Smith. When she visits the recluse, he catches a glimpse of her damned self, a demonic visage before she collapses in tears in Harold's arms and then flees. We also see her haunted by other characters, like Mrs Tremond and her grandson, but it is the appearance of Bob lurking in her bedroom when she returns home from school that provides the first moment of terror followed by the horrifying moment that she spies Leyland leave the house. It takes a moment for the penny to drop but it is a chilling twist for Laura to uncover.
The first scene that Leyland is not 'himself' comes at the deeply ominous dinner scene where he inspects her 'filthy hands'. Ray Wise is utterly terrifying, cruel and cold before snapping back to his original, lighter personality when Bob vanishes for a while. It's a tragic story for Leyland as much as Laura, though it is largely downplayed here. The focus is all on Laura's encroaching madness and descent into darkness and after that scene, things really start to go dark. The picture given to her by Mrs Tremond opens up what we assume is a portal to the spirit world in a creepy scene Laura seems to encounter Cooper - perhaps a vision of the Black Lodge from the future? It ties in to Cooper's own dream from Twin Peaks season one and sets up her fall with a warning not to take the green owl ring, a symbol that has increased prominence as the movie progresses.
If you wondered whether Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me would show more than drink and drugs, then the scenes at the Road House show just how depraved Laura's life had become and how dark the prequel would get. Ignoring the prophetic warnings of the cameoing Log Lady she hooks up with two men, under bat tender and drug-dealing pimp Jaques Renault. Laura knows she is lost, tears streaming down her face as Julee Cruise's haunting song Questions in a World Of Blue plays out, but she embraces the darkness anyway, and worse still drags Donna down with her after her friend follows her.
The red room (the metaphor is very strong) is a seedy place of naked dancing, drink and debauchery. Is is shocking to see how utterly confident Laura is, a million miles from the schoolgirl Donna, as she dances bare chested with a stranger. Hooking up with Ronnette Pulaski there is some pretty dark stuff going on, particularly the man going down on Laura and Ronnette at the table. But it is Donna who truly suffers, who completely out of her depth, tries to play Laura's game, perhaps as a way to understand Laura. It's only when Laura sees a topless, drunk Donna being fondled that her friendship finally takes precedence, dragging Donna to safety. It's not an easy scene to watch.
And then things get even worse for Laura; driving with Leyland, their encounter with a screaming Philip Gerard, later known as the One Armed Man, puts her and Leyland over the edge. As the audience, we know that this is the spirit Mike trying to warn her about Bob, but it is still a harrowing scene as his rants unsettle Leyland, leading to the flashbacks to his affair with Teresa a year earlier and his discovery or Laura and Ronette together. It's a moment that we realise Leyland is just as haunted as Laura, encountering spirits like Mrs Tremond's grandson in the white mask. Given what we know from the series - that is not fully aware of his actions under Bob - it makes his descent into madness all the more tragic too.
That dark theme continues even further as Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me heads towards its harrowing climax. A cocaine-fuelled Laura witnesses Bobby kill a drug dealer in the woods and then in a gut-wrenching moment, Bob crawls through her bedroom window at night and proceeds to have sex with her. Her sudden, panicked realisation that it is Leyland in her bed is horrifying even when you know this happened from the series. To see him essentially rape his daughter is deeply unsettling, possibly only negated a little by the fact that she seemed to welcome Bob into her bed and she's eighteen at this point. But that feels more of a way to get this through the sensors and doesn't make seeing it happen any easier.
And so begins her last day on Earth; Laura is a broken shell of a person by this point, having one tearful embrace with Bobby before, out of her head yet again on cocaine, she hooks up with James one last time. The angel vanishing from the picture in her bedroom is the last nail in the coffin. Despite her love for James, she berates him, slaps him and confesses to him that Bobby killed a man but it is hard to imagine whether it is believable to James, what with Laura screaming uncontrollably into the darkness of the woods. Sheryl Lee coveys Laura's madness well while giving her a sympathetic edge. You can't help but feel for Laura as she screams "I love you!" to James after falling off his bike and running off into the woods, never to be seen alive by her loved ones ever again.
David Lynch saves the worst for last. Laura hooks up with Ronnette, Leo and Jacques in the cabin in a drug, sex-fuelled act of depravity, watched disturbingly by her father. In an act of creepy foreshadowing, Leyland attacks Jacques, knocking him unconscious while a drug-addled Leo, in one last despicable act, leaves the two women to their fate. The final dragging of Laura and Ronnette by Leyland, screaming, their faces lit up by torchlight as they are taken to the old, abandoned train car is a moment of horror, rarely seen in the series itself. Gerrard pursues, inhabited by Mike but is too late to save Laura.
The murder scene itself is one series of terrifying imagery after another, flashing between Leyland and Bob as both women are bound, Laura screaming as Bob appears in her reflection, trying to possess her. The musical score is dripping with atmosphere too followed by an eerie silence as an angel appears to Ronnette - but not Laura - enabling her to escape. We all know how broken she became as a result, that image her her stumbling over the train tracks one of the most evocative images of the pilot episode. Sadly for Laura, there is no last chance of redemption. Locked in with her father / Bob she finds the ring in her hand and her fate is sealed; putting it on, she is beaten and killed, before Leyland wraps her in plastic and drags her to the lake where she is later found by Pete Martell in the pilot episode.
One has to wonder if this was all too much to watch; so much of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is filled with acts of depravity and violence. We probably didn't need to see what happened to Laura Palmer, her deviant acts and violent death already discussed and catalogued through Agent Cooper's investigation. But at the same time, David Lynch delivers it all with an artistic flair, that while harrowing is arguably a work of passion. And that is summed up with the final scene and a final chance for the damned Laura Palmer's redemption. Sitting in the Black Lodge, with Cooper at her side, an angel appears white and pure before her and Sheryl Lee perfectly captures the relief and joy in Laura's face. Does she find peace in heaven? Perhaps. Maybe this is her good doppleganger, finding relief in the light after years of suffering. I assume the screaming version of Laura from the season two finale is her dark self. Either way, it ends the prequel with a moment of hope and joy and that is a relief in itself. Quite an emotive end too.
I can see why fans didn't like Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. It's all the darkness of Laura Palmer's story without the balance of kookiness the show did so well. It is uncomfortable and harrowing and in truth, doesn't reveal any more about Laura and Leyland's story that Twin Peaks hadn't revealed. But it is an interesting addition to the show's mythology and the first act in particular might yield clues to the direction of the revival.
Additional thoughts about 'The Missing Pieces'...
The Missing Pieces are approximately 90 minutes of extended or additional scenes cut from the theatrical release of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me but released on the 2013 bluray boxset. A number of scenes feature characters like Pete and Josie, Truman, Andy, Hawk and Lucy and Ed and Norma, who were cut. In many ways it's a last chance to see some of these characters one last time; they don't offer anything new to the story but are a nice glimpse into these character's lives shortly before the pilot episode.
The scenes that would have improved the theatrical release involve the Palmer family relationships; there are some nice moments between Laura and her mother Sarah that really establish their relationship. The first Palmer family scene in the theatrical version is the horrible hands washing moment but a cut scene actually establishes a happier household as they laugh and have fun together at the dinner table as Leyland tries to teach them Norwegian. While adding to the tragedy of what happened, the inclusions of scenes like this would have paced the story far better, adding shades of light and dark, whereas the end result is largely relentless and grim to watch.
The infamous Agent Jeffries scenes are still confusing but better expand the scope of David Bowie's missing agent, seen jumping between places while giving Cooper, Cole and Rosenfield more detail about his own encounter with the Black Lodge spirits. That extended scene with Bob, Mike, Mrs Tremond, her grandson and the figure in the mask are much more disturbing, even terrifying in moments.
Lastly we actually get a bit of story post-season two; it's made clearer that Cooper is watching what happened to Laura from the future, trapped in the Black Lodge and Annie's inclusion makes more sense too, talking to Laura from the hospital bed, wearing the green owl ring. A nurse takes the ring, possibly becoming Bob's next victim. We even get an extension of the chilling season two finale as Doc Hayward and Harry Truman talk to the possessed Agent Cooper after that infamous mirror forehead smash. These scenes don't offer more answers but feel cohesive to the overall story.
While a lot of scenes don't add much more to the story, the inclusion of about 30 minutes worth of footage, particularly the Cooper / Annie and scenes and those involving the Palmer family would have made Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me are more nuanced tale, with shades of light and dark and a story that makes more sense. It's a shame the bluray didn't realise a version with the missing and extended scenes included, but they're well worth a watch before the revival...
Donna: “Do you think that if you were falling in space... that you would slow down after a while, or go faster and faster?"
Laura: “Faster and faster. And for a long time you wouldn't feel anything. And then you'd burst into fire. Forever... And the angel's wouldn't help you. Because they've all gone away".
Future episode observations for season three – spoilers afoot…
As a prequel it sets up everything learned in the series, but viewers are better served by uncovering the clues to what happened to Laura and Leyland over the course of Twin Peaks. Viewed after the series, it has none, except for the one scene where Laura encounters a bloody Annie in her bed - a vision from the future - who tells her the good Cooper is in the Black Lodge. Taking into account those 'missing pieces' Cooper trapped in the Black Lodge witnessing events occur in the past and present and the owl ring passing from Annie to a potential new victim also lay the groundwork potentially for Cooper's journey in the revival.
Finally, the brilliant The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost might offer more clues to what will happen in season three. The huge focus on the mysterious past of Douglas Milford, a minor character is season two who married femme fatale Lana and died on his wedding night is perhaps the key; are Roswell, aliens, UFO sightings and infamous investigations like Project Blue Book linked to the spirits of the Black Lodge? The book would seem to suggest this. It certainly hints that there are multiple ways to make contact with the spirit world.
The book also offers clues to a couple of character's fates. Audrey survived the explosion at the bank and ended up in intensive care while Pete, Andrew and the doddering bank manager did not. Hank meanwhile died in prison a few years later. And Briggs too may be dead. The [HUGE SPOILER] archivist behind the book his last writings suggested a Bob-possessed Cooper visited his home the morning after the terrifying toothpaste, head smashing scene. We know that Don S Davis died between the original series and the revival, but his inclusion as a prominent character in The Secret History of Twin Peaks speaks volumes. Or maybe it doesn't. The book is a fascinating read but offers virtually nothing about what happened after the original series. The FBI agent known only as T.P. is surely a new character for the revival though, picking up Cooper's trail twenty-five years later.
Either way, we will find out soon enough. The wait is almost over...