The TDF Top 10: Twin Peaks
In our penultimate TDF Top 10, Baz Greenland returns to the town of Twin Peaks to ponder its greatest episodes...
Who killed Laura Palmer? That is one of TV's greatest questions and the impetuous for David Lynch and Mark Frost's iconic supernatural procedural drama Twin Peaks. It is a show that changed how we look at TV; it made supernatural mainstream, lead to cult classics like The X Files and delivered a serialised show that proved all TV didn’t need to be the ‘story of the week’.
When it was at its best, with its mix of kooky character humour, bizarre characters, dark secrets, murder mystery and chilling supernatural drama, Twin Peaks delivered some of the most compelling TV of the late twentieth century. During season one and the first half of season two, the wonderful FBI special agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) tried to find the person responsible for Laura's murder. The answers were more disturbing than anyone could have imagined - and also led to the show's quick decline. While there's some great stuff to be had in the second half of season two - and one hell of a bleak, twisted finale - the show went off the rails to quick cancellation. David Lynch brought the show back for prequel TV movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, but left audience frustrated with no answers to the shocking cliff-hanger.
And then, 25 years later, that gum Cooper liked came back in fashion and Twin Peaks returned for an eighteen-part series that was as revolutionary as the original run had been. We got answers - and more questions - and we're still hopeful that we might get a fourth season. Particularly after that latest twist ending.
Picking the 10 greatest episodes of Twin Peaks is something of a momentous task. Both the original and revival seasons are so serialised, it's often hard to separate the greatest episodes from greatest moments. But here it is. Allow me to present The TDF Top 10: Twin Peaks...
Honourable Mention: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
As a TV movie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me exists somewhat outside the narrative of any season, acting as a prequel to the original series and a focus on the last seven days of Laura Palmer's life. 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.
The issue with this TV movie, is that it doesn't really expand the story are arguably Dale Cooper's role is somewhat superfluous. But it gives Sheryl Lee a chance to shine in the role of Laura and her decedent into drugs, sex and madness, culminating in her horrific murder, makes for some powerful, tragic storytelling. It also has more relevance in light of the 2017 season, which draws directly on many of the ideas and characters presented here.
Regardless, of whether it is counted as an 'episode' or not, its placement on the periphery of the top 10 episodes feels about right.
Check out our Twin Peaks Revisited of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me here.
10. Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer (1.03)
This is the episode where David Lynch really starts to let loose. The Tibet scene’ is ridiculous, but it is utterly absorbing and very fun and it's great to see the chemistry of Cooper and Sheriff Truman's' bromance blossom. It is also an episode that lays many breadcrumbs, from Catherine's secret ledger to the debut of One Eyed Jacks and the infamous debut of Miguel Ferrer as the scene-stealing, aggressive, condescending FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield.
Cooper’s dream is the real reason this episode is on the list though. What at first glance feels like the bizarre ramblings of Cooper’s mind, interjected with some very prophetic phrases, is so much more. Sheryl Lee and Michael J Anderson's Man From Another Place make a compelling double act, their voices distorted (their dialogue running backwards and forwards simultaneously) as they interact with an aged Cooper. We also get our first real glimpse of the supernatural as Cooper encounters Mike and Bob and we enter the Black Lodge. Cooper awakening from his dream - a glimpse of his future finally revealed in the 2017 revival season - and knowing the who killed Laura Palmer, makes for a terrific cliff-hanger, that Lynch would take his time paying off.
Check out our Twin Peaks Revisited of Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer here.
9. The Past Dictates the Future (3.17)
Jumping ahead to the revival season, we come to the penultimate episode of Twin Peaks. While the finale might have been decisive (it's either disturbingly brilliant or frustratingly open-ended), the previous installment The Past Dictates the Future, does a superb job of bringing the story to a head. The good and evil Dale Cooper finally face off where it all began - in Twin Peaks itself.
The final battle is dramatic and utterly surreal, the possessing Bob making his final appearance as he attacks the victorious good Cooper. We get a joyous reunion with Diane, freed after her Tupla was killed and a final, momentous trip into the past as Dale Cooper finds himself in the events of Laura Palmer's final night, saving her from death. In Twin Peaks' eleventh hour, David Lynch turns the entire show on its head - but is it the happy ending everyone deserved?
Check out our review of The Past Dictates the Future here.
8. The Last Evening (1.07)
Season one of Twin Peaks comes to a surprisingly quick end here in this tense finale that wraps up a number of plot threads. Cooper sets a trap for Jacques Renault, who is murdered by Leyland. Jacoby is attacked. Bobby frames James, Hank and Josie's schemes are revealed and Leo is shot. Shelley, Catherine and Pete's fates hang in the air as the Packard Mill burns to the ground. And in the season's closing moments, Cooper is shot by an unknown assailant. It doesn't necessarily have a lot to do with Laura Palmer's murder - and even less of Twin Peaks's trademark supernatural surrealism - but the breathless energy of the finale never stops being entertaining.
Leo is at his most terrifying here, finally revealing to Shelly that he knows about her affair with Bobby. The scene where a masked Audrey is 'seduced' by her father is disturbing and cringe-worthy, leaving her fate a mystery as the season closes. The mill fire is the big set piece and its destruction marks an end to a big part of the show's focus. This episode is a superb example of spinning multiple plates and not dropping a single one.
Check out our Twin Peaks Revisited of The Last Evening here.
7. May the Giant Be with You (2.01)
Which leads us directly into the season two opener. With David Lynch back at the helm as the director, the weirdness and supernatural elements of Twin Peaks really come to the fore. The opening scene quickly establishes the more ‘out there’ elements the show would go down; Cooper lies shot on his hotel room floor as the hapless, senile old man comes to serve him his warm milk. He is utterly clueless to the fact that there is a man bleeding out on the floor but it’s all part of Lynch’s oddball charm and sets the scene for the vision of the giant (Carel Struycken) to put him on the path to revealing the real killer. The ‘smiling bag’, the first time the immortal phrase’ the owls are not what they seem’ is spoken and ‘without chemicals, he points’. Like the dream early in season one, this sets the scene for the episodes to come.
The scene where Major Briggs (the late, great Don Davis) tells his son Bobby of the vision of the wonderful life Bobby will lead is surprisingly heartfelt, while the manic nature of Leyland’s recovering, humming away, wide-eyed with his shockingly white hair make him seem an even more tragic figure. The final scene is more disturbing than anything the show has done before as Ronnette relieves Bob's brutal murder of Laura Palmer. It is a chilling end to a strong season opener, that is no longer asking 'who killed Laura Palmer?' Instead the question is ‘who is Bob and how does Cooper catch him?’
Check out our Twin Peaks Revisited of May The Giant Be With You here.
6. No Knock, No Doorbell (3.16)
We're back to season three now, in another highlight from the 2017 season. After weeks watching Cooper come back to life as third doppelganger Dougie Jones, this was the moment when the old Cooper we loved returned. His proclamation "I am the FBI" as the classic Twin Peaks theme kicked in made me cheer with joy.
It was also an episode with revelations for several key characters. The horrifying truth behind Diane comes to the fore; the episode reveals that she was replaced with a Tulpa, with the sole purpose to aid the evil Bob-possessed Cooper - only to die and awaken in the Black Lodge. Most heart-breaking of all was Audrey; after fans saw her recreate her infamous 'Audrey's Dance' to the evocative music from season one, it all revealed as a lie and in the episode's final moments as she wakes from a hallucination in a psychiatric ward. No Knock, No Doorbell is a mix of tragedy and joy, setting the stage for the final two episodes and the return to the town of Twin Peaks.
Check out our review of No Knock, No Doorbell here.
5. Arbitrary Law (2.09)
This is the episode that Twin Peaks had been leading up to from the moment Laura Palmer's body was discovered wrapped in plastic and FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper arrived. An episode that could have easily worked as the show's finale. With Leland Palmer revealed as the Bob-possessed killer two episodes' previously, and Maddy's body discovered, wrapped in plastic like her cousin, Arbitrary Law becomes a race to find the killer before he strikes again.
Indeed, Donna nearly falls foul of Bob / Leland in a tense sequence before everything comes together and Leland is arrested. The final act is heart-breaking stuff, particularly when Leland realises what he has done and breaks down in utter grief; it's Ray Wise's best performance on the show, both as the malevolent evil Bob and grieving father. It could have been a powerful ending to Twin Peaks; unfortunately the show would soon go off the rails, before pulling it back by the season's end.
Check out our Twin Peaks Revisited of Arbitrary Law here.
4. Northwest Passage (Pilot)
Northwest Passage is quite simply one of the best pilot episodes of all time. 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, is one of TV's most iconic, haunting images. There are moments where David Lynch's weird surrealism and oddball humour shine through "You're not gonna believe this, there was a fish in the percolator!" to Cooper: “Who’s the lady with the log? We call her the Log Lady.” There are also moments of raw horror; the grief experienced by Laura's mother Sarah and best friend Donna, is almost overpowering.
From his very first scene, Kyle MacLachlan steals the show as FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, the man sent to investigate who killed Laura Palmer. 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. The pilot of Twin Peaks 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, 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.
Check out our Twin Peaks Revisited of Northwest Passage here.
3. Beyond Life and Death (2.22)
The final episode of Twin Peaks is another masterpiece. The second season floundered in the wake of the reveal of Laura Palmer's murder, but the presence of Windom Earle and the build up to the Black Lodge certainly brought a renewed energy to the show at its end. While the episode gives us several character conclusions and cliff-hangers, from Audrey and Pete getting caught up in the explosion at the bank as Andrew Packard and Thomas Eckhardt's game reaches a tragic end, to Bobby proposing to Shelley, the real focus is on Dale Cooper's journey into the Black Lodge to rescue Annie from Windom Earle.
David Lynch returns to the show and delivers its most disturbing, supernatural episode yet; from the screaming Laura that haunts the draped corridors, to Cooper arriving in the first 'waiting room' where he is greeted by Michael J. Anderson's dwarf, the Man From Another Place, this is a haunting, evocative sequence ending, disturbingly in Cooper being chased by his evil doppelganger. The season - and indeed the entire show at this point - ends with the horrible reveal that Cooper has been possessed by Bob. “How's Annie?.” is surely the most chilling final line of any TV show finale.
Check out our Twin Peaks Revisited of Beyond Life and Death here.
2. Lonely Souls (2.07)
The reveal of who killed Laura Palmer was one of TV most shocking moments, coming off the back of an incredibly tense episode that sees Ben Horne arrested for Laura's murder, after a vengeful Audrey turns against him, Catherine returns from the dead, Leo starts to 'wake up' and Maddy prepares to leave. But of course, she was never going to get out alive as Leyland is revealed to be the one possessed by Bob.
Maddy's murder is harrowing to watch. Transformed into a deranged, smiling killer as he grins back at Bob's reflection in the mirror, the scene intercuts between Leyland and Bob as Maddy is dragged screaming into the living room, forced into some kind of macabre dance, before being beaten to death. Perhaps most unsettling is the moment Leyland slides the letter under her fingernail as she lies barely alive on the floor. This the the most disturbing, breath-taking episode of the show's original run.
Check out our Twin Peaks Revisited of Lonely Souls here.
1. Gotta Light? (3.08)
The eighth episode of the Twin Peaks 2017 revival isn't just the greatest episode of Twin Peaks, it is also one of the greatest TV episodes of all time. Gotta Light is visually stunning, beautifully scored and a pure David Lynch-infused nightmare; both baffling and splendorous to watch in equal measure. A story of three acts, it charts the journey of the evil Dale Cooper, take a journey into the creation of the evil at the heart of Twin Peaks and explores the very first possession.
The death and resurrection of Dale Cooper by the evil spirits sets the scene for the episode's descent into madness. Lynch's nightmare reflected in the performance of none other than Nine Inch Nails at the Roadhouse as they sign She's Gone Away. The second act propels the audience back to New Mexico in 1945 and a test of a nuclear bomb. The journey through the heart of the explosion sequence is a phenomenal piece of cinematography, accompanied by Penderecki's very apt Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima. This is pure Avant Garde horror, a sequence in black and white lit up by burst of colour as the audience travels through the nuclear storm clouds and into rock and fire - the mouth of Hell itself. All this is observed by two good spirits - played by Carel Struycken and Mariqueen Maandig's - in something out of a 1920's silent movie backed by a stunning score, beautiful design and choreography; the closest we'll get to the mythical White Lodge.
The trip forward to the same New Mexico desert in 1956 sees the episode embrace its horror routes as vagabond spirits lurk through the desert town. From the unsettling woman's slowed down scream, to the infamous 'gotta light?', Robert Broski's 'Woodsman' crushing the face of a terrifying receptionist in a local radio shack, this is hypnotic, gory, blood-curdling terror, capped by the gruesome winged, frog-like creature possessing the poor girl by crawling down her throat. This isn't an episode for the faint hearted. It was not like anything I've watched on TV before - and perhaps never will afterwards - and that alone makes it a unique experience.
Check out our review of Gotta Light? here.
What are your favourite episodes of Twin Peaks? Let us know in the comments below...
And you can check out our reviews of Twin Peaks season three, our Twin Peaks Revisited of the first two seasons and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, plus our greatest TV character's piece on Dale Cooper, all in our Twin Peaks page here.