Welcome to our biweekly roundtable of Twin Peaks where we are working our way through every. Single. Episode. Some of us are regulars and some of us newbies, but none of our experiences are the same. So get yourself a damn fine cup of coffee, watch along with us, and feel free to chime in on the comments section. Say anything you like, our log does not judge.
I watched the pilot episode. It was my first ever Twin Peaks episode, and I have to admit that I’m a bit overwhelmed. We’re dropped right into the middle of the investigation of Laura Palmer, and it feels like there are a dozen subplots and discussions going on at once. I did find it amusing when Leo gave Shelly that pinch on the cheek that lasted too long and ended up just looking hilariously awkward and creepy.
Special Agent Dale Cooper is so far my favourite character.
I first watched Twin Peaks six years ago. I was in financial straits, living in an area where I didn’t know a single person, feeling manic and lonely. But Hulu was there for me. I watched every episode of Twin Peaks during that time, and my abnormal living situation melded well to the surrealness of the show. The tall pine trees in the area even looked like the trees in Twin Peaks. I haven’t seen it since then, and I’m in an entirely different place in my life right now, so the second viewing should be a different experience.
Right from the start, my reaction to Laura Palmer’s death is hitting me harder. Of course, I thought it was sad the first time, but now that I’m a parent, I’m able to imagine the way the parents would feel more easily. To have someone rob your child of life would be unbelievably terrible. This time the parents’ behavior when they hear the news doesn’t seem as over the top or overacted. It seems pretty spot on.
That scene where the teenager closes his locker and squiggles away is one of my favorite ten seconds of television of all time.
Something to think on: Why did David Lynch decide to place this show in the Northwestern U.S.? Why use a sawmill as the industry in the backdrop?
I think the small town feel to it and the sawmill as industrial backdrop is mostly to do with the tone he was going for. Twin Peaks feels noir, but given that it’s also unconventional in how the information is fed to us or the other elements like the inclusion of the paranormal adds to the fact why this noir-ish story is told in a small town. Also, small towns are infused with mystery because you have a bunch of people who thought they knew everything about each other only to have a murder be the cause of peeling back the secrets.
Also, sawmills are very small town-ish. And great for body disposal. (Gawd, I went dark real fast, and it’s only episode one).
I watched Twin Peaks for the first time last year and absolutely fell in love with it. I got really wrapped up in the mystery and the complicated lives of these small town folk (although for the record 51,000 people is double the size of my hometown so I choose to believe the Welcome to Twin Peaks sign is a typo because 51,000 is not a small town). I was a little worried that the show wouldn’t be as gripping the second time around because I already know what happens. But from the first episode alone, I find there are so many little details I didn’t pick up on before. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to search for all the little clues Lynch and the writers wove into the episodes.
And the characters are still as fabulous as I remember. Yes there are a lot of them, but I found it doesn’t take long to get to know them all. I simply adore Pete. And Harry. And Lucy. And Audrey. And Dale of course. And well just everyone. Except James. Every time he comes on screen I just feel annoyed.
Side challenge: I’m going to try and have as many different kinds of pie as possible while I re-watch this show. I think Agent Cooper would approve.
Ardo, I agree with your thoughts on the appeal of a small town setting. There is such a delightfully creepy thrill out of realizing we know so little about what goes on inside the homes of people around us. Also, yes, easy body disposal. No soylent green here, only sawdust. Maybe the sawmill in particular was chosen because it’s essentially constant death droning on in the background. It’s the type of thing people don’t think much about, but taking down the trees encompasses a lot of issues regarding land rights and cultural issues. Anyone else with thoughts on “why the northwest and why a sawmill?”
The sawmill as a setting is very much in keeping with David Lynch’s aesthetic. He’s fascinated by many things, but among them are machinery and industrial mechanics. Lynch is from Missoula, Montana, so setting the show in the Pacific Northwest may be related to that. I bet I’d set a similar story in West Texas. There was a cultural shift around this time that seemed to be a response to the aggressive artificiality of the 1980s. There was a big push for environmentalism with lots of concern about endangered species and the ozone layer. At the same time this show came out, Starbucks took its first steps toward world dominance — being super into coffee wasn’t really a thing before that. About a year later, Nirvana would release Nevermind, and Seattle would become the hippest place to be. There was an interesting push-pull between everything being ironic and wanting to be incredibly earnest. This show is like 1990 concentrate.
Twin Peaks has no cold open, and the opening credits are a solid two minutes long. They don’t show people, just atmosphere. A road through a forest, a bird, a sawmill, a waterfall. They’re almost meditative, letting you become absorbed in the world of Twin Peaks.
Twin Peaks was unique and revolutionary, best known for its weirdness, but it was grounded in the familiar setting and tropes of a nighttime soap. On the surface, it’s a bit like Dallas in the Pacific Northwest with lumbermills and department stores. There’s upper middle class suburbia instead of ranches, oil fields, and skyscrapers. You have a murder mystery in a town surrounded by various people involved in affairs and/or shady business dealings. So they did give the viewer some frame of reference to hang onto when it gets weird. And even when the pilot is over, the first-time viewer has NO IDEA how weird it’s going to get.
It’s impossible to overstate how big Twin Peaks was in the culture when it started. I was just 13, but you couldn’t escape the soundtrack (and why would you want to?). My piano teacher assigned me the sheet music for the theme song. Kyle Maclachlan hosted the season premiere of Saturday Night Live in September 1990.
Most of the characters seem to live in a perpetually arch, soapy reality. Sarah Palmer is clearly already living in a different genre. The teenage characters speak to each other in completely bizarre ways.
I love the first act of the pilot where the news of Laura’s death begins to spread in the town. People are living their lives, and then this cloud creeps in. The levity of the scene where Ben Horne is giving his presentation to the Norwegians gives way to dawning horror when Leland Palmer is called out of the room to take a call from his wife. (Remember life before cell phones? This show would be very different if people could call and text each other.) He’s on the phone with her when we see the sheriff’s vehicle pull up in the background. We know what Leland doesn’t, so nobody ever actually says, “Leland, your daughter has been murdered.” It’s hard watching the Palmers come unraveled like that. They’re so raw.
I grew up in a town of about 80,000, but it still seemed small. Terrible things happened there that could resonate through the whole town. Also, because it was small and four hours’ drive away from anything good at all, bored teenagers got into lots of trouble with drugs and alcohol.
One thing I love about this show, even when I first watched it as a teenager: when the male teen characters act tough and try to smart off to adults, they generally sound like total snots and get shut down by adults who aren’t impressed. They’re not cool at all. Trying to ACT cool is laughable; it’s the characters who seem like the biggest squares who are actually cool.
The characters in uniform on this show aren’t conformists; they actually seem to be the most free to be individuals, but they choose to be on the same team in service of a greater cause. Every FBI agent we will meet is incredibly strange in his own way, but they’re wonderful.
The female teen characters tend to be underestimated by the people around them. They’re smart and resourceful. Certainly, no one had any idea what Laura really was involved in. To the first-time viewer, Laura might seem like another pretty dead girl for other people to feel feelings about, but we’re far from finished learning about Laura.
Can we talk about the Roadhouse for a minute? I love the idea that this tough bar on the edge of town apparently has Julee Cruise in residency, singing her slow, spooky Angelo Badalamenti tunes while people get into fistfights and such. I want to live in a reality where that exists.
Kyle Maclachlan gets top billing, and Dale Cooper is the protagonist of this series. But we don’t see or hear about him for 36 minutes into the pilot, and then he pops up as yet another new character. When this aired with commercials, that would be close to the end of the first hour of the two-hour pilot. He looks clean-cut, he’s from the FBI, and he seems incredibly square. My initial impression was that this would be a “stranger comes to town” plot where an outsider comes in and finds this town that’s so freaky and weird. But we’ll come to find out that Cooper is just as weird, but in a good way. Kind of a capital-G Good way, to be honest. He’s the polar opposite of a “bad boy.” Cooper clearly sees terrible things all the time in the line of duty, but he’s still a very cheerful person who openly derives a lot of excitement from simple pleasures. The smell of the Douglas firs, the glory of the donut buffet at the sheriff’s station. He’s not naive, but he’s filled with wonder anyway. That’s part of what makes him one of my favorite characters in any medium. And he’s not even my favorite character on this show! (We haven’t met my favorite yet.)
It’s been several years since I watched this, so I just died a little when I thought, wow, he looks so young! He was young. Cooper’s supposed to be about 35; Maclachlan would have been 30 when the pilot was shot. I’m gonna sit here and think about how I’m several years older than Dale Cooper now.
Watching this show makes me crave pie and donuts. More than usual, I mean.
I first watched Twin Peaks in the fall of 1995. I turned 19 around that time, so this was half my life ago now. I was very aware of it when it originally aired, but didn’t get to watch it later. When I finally watched it, it was just the right time for me. It’s no exaggeration to say it changed my life and made me a better person. I’m excited to get to watch along with you first-timers!
Some trivia: In this episode, Cooper says it’s February 24th. Each episode takes place during roughly a day’s time with a couple of exceptions. The iconic photo of Laura Palmer as homecoming queen is Sheryl Lee’s actual homecoming queen photo from high school.
Sorry to jump in, but according to Sheryl Lee, that’s not her real prom photo.
WHAT?! Well, now I must question all reality. (I can’t wait to see what other new things I’ll learn!)
The pilot was shot in 1989, and the rest of the first season in 1990 once it was picked up to series. That’s why there are some cosmetic differences between the pilot and the rest of the season, like Audrey’s hair is shorter here, and Cooper’s hair is flatter.
I know entirely too much trivia about this show, so I’m not sure how much anyone actually cares about. Do you want to know what various actors were best known prior to this show? Backstage trivia?
“She’s dead. Wrapped in plastic.”
My first exposure to Twin Peaks was the prequel film, Fire Walk with Me, which is absolutely not the way you should first watch Twin Peaks, but the film was enthralling enough that I had to track down the series that spawned it. (“How the fuck was this a TV show?” may or may not have been my exact thought.) I was in high school, and the show was long off the air and only available in a box set of expensive VHS tapes with terrible picture quality, so the new Blu-Ray set complete with deleted scenes would have been a dream come true for my teenage self.
Twin Peaks features one of the most beautiful and atmospheric opening credits of all time. Angelo Badalamenti’s theme song lulls you into a sense of tranquility that is immediately disturbed when Pete (Jack Nance, Eraserhead himself) discovers Laura’s body wrapped in plastic. The show also feels like a spiritual successor to David Lynch’s earlier film Blue Velvet, which began with similar scenes of small-town beauty, before exposing the ugliness and decay underneath. (The town in Blue Velvet is even named Lumberton.)
There’s a lot of raw emotion in this pilot episode, and rewatching it I was immediately struck by how many scenes there are of people crying. Deputy Andy cries when he sees the body, before it’s even revealed to be Laura, and then again when the police discover the scene of her murder. Ray Wise and Grace Zabriskie are completely unleashed and vanity-free in their displays of grief as Laura’s parents. One teenage girl–who is never seen again–runs through the schoolyard screaming. In one of her best moments in the series, Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) realizes Laura’s dead and bursts into tears in the classroom. I feel that a lot of television shows would have skipped over the emotional reactions of the people who knew Laura–“Hey, get to the mystery stuff!”–but Lynch understands these scenes are important, we need to know that Laura Palmer matters. She is mourned.
Special Agent Dale Cooper appears much later in the pilot than I remember. Maybe because he has such a perfect entrance, talking to Diane on his tape recorder and marveling at the passing trees, it feels like he must have been there right from the very beginning. (Why the northwestern setting? The trees, the trees! Is there anything more ominous and foreboding and full of mystery than a dark forest at night?) Kyle Maclachlan’s Dale Cooper is one of my favorite television characters of all time, and he’s immediately magnificent.
David Lynch’s direction in the pilot is really phenomenal. This episode still feels amazingly ahead of its time and is full of striking, haunting imagery–Cooper and Harry talking over a mounted deer head, traffic lights flickering in complete darkness, Audrey slipping on red pumps, the scrap of paper reading “FIRE WALK WITH ME,” and so on. You could start a list of television shows (especially cinematic, “event” dramas) that owe a debt to Twin Peaks and never run out of titles.
What also amazes me is how carefully Lynch balances tone. It would be easy for Twin Peaks to immediately spill over into kitsch; the Log Lady and one-eyed Nadine screeching about drape runners wouldn’t be out of place in a John Waters film, for example. Twin Peaks, as a town, feels very off kilter and out of time, a place where it’s the 1990s, but also the 1950s. Have any teenagers, even on TV, talked like Twin Peaks’ teenagers? Has any jukebox ever played a song like the one Bobby plays? Twin Peaks also shifts effortlessly from humor to horror, and the scene where Ronnette walks across the bridge, battered and bloody, is more terrifying than any scene in The Walking Dead.
Twin Peaks also came out before television shows were expected to be meta and self-referential and stuffed with Easter Eggs for the internet to dissect, but there is so much stuff in this episode that is built upon later in unexpected ways. Note the one-armed man exiting the hospital elevator, and the names “Sam” and “Albert” that Cooper mentions.
And whoa! Who the hell did Sarah Palmer see in her vision, reflected in the mirror?
Pretty spooky, right?
That image gave me chills. Looks like the ghost I saw that one time.