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.
When you see David Lynch’s name pop up in the credits as director of an episode, you know it’s going to be an important one. So, first-time watchers: what did you think?
Episode 14 reveals it was her father, Leland, possessed by the evil spirit BOB—who then kills Laura’s doppelganger cousin, Maddy. Originally, Frost and Lynch wanted the killer’s identity to remain an unsolved mystery, but network pressure made them expose the perpetrator. There’s debate among fans whether the show should have stuck to Frost and Lynch’s original vision, but as much as Twin Peaks thrives on mystery and symbolism, I think Laura’s killer had to be revealed. Beyond a small measure of closure, it also gives us one of the scariest hours in television history.
The entire last act of this episode is burned into my memory. There are some elements of Twin Peaks I’ve forgotten or overlooked over the years, but episode 14 is unforgettable. The sound of the record player. Sarah Palmer’s vision of a pale horse, an omen of death. Cooper’s vision of the Giant in the roadhouse, warning “It is happening again.” (Are there four scarier words in television history?) Julee Cruise’s haunting song “The World Spins” playing over that final shot of the slowly billowing red curtains. David Lynch creates a mood of pure terrifying mystery through his use of image and sound, and this episode has lingered within for over a decade.
I first watched Twin Peaks in chronological order, beginning with the prequel film Fire Walk With Me. It’s an interesting, if not advisable, way of discovering the series, so I already knew the killer. Maddy’s murder never gets easier to watch, though. It’s harrowing. It’s maybe a little too easy to compare Maddy’s murder to the shower scene in Psycho—the most famous murder scene in film history—but I’ve often heard of them described in similar awed, horrified tones. Just as there are people who swear they saw the knife carve up Janet Leigh, I’ve heard Maddy’s murder described as if it were the goriest scene ever aired on television. It isn’t, but it’s brutal. Every blow looks like it hurts, and it’s filmed in such a nightmarish way that there’s none of the usual glamour and gloss that usually comes with fictional violence on television. And the killer is Leland, who seemed to be possessed by his grief, but was actually possessed by something else. It’s a devastatingly powerful reveal, and I don’t think the show is weaker for it—the reveal that Leland killed Laura doesn’t invalidate Bobby’s statement at her funeral, that the entire town was in its own way responsible for Laura’s death. Twin Peaks was the environment that allowed BOB to thrive and kill, and kill again. Of course the real killer was home the whole time. He couldn’t be anywhere else.
The fact that BOB has been in possession of Leland’s body is extremely disturbing. There were many heartfelt scenes with him acting out his grief, but was all of it done with BOB behind the controls? The scene where he wails while he dances at the Great Northern is a powerful depiction of someone trying to function in a social setting while in mourning, but it was BOB the whole time? Just fucking with people for the fun of it?
I take it BOB must be able to possess a person, but at the same time is constrained to that person’s individual memories and mannerisms. While people seem to find Leland’s occasional bursts of song unsettling, his choice of song is never called into question. It is natural for Leland to sing show tunes, just not at the particular times he is choosing to sing them. BOB seems to be able to operate only within the boundaries of his host’s consciousness. Or maybe he can manipulate them beyond their normal behavior, but chooses to remain within those constraints for a more convincing disguise.
This also sets a different spin on Leland pulling Ben Horne into that duet in the last episode. It was BOB toying with him, not a grieving Leland reaching out to a friend. And it was BOB that killed Jacques Renault, not Leland attacking the man he thought had murdered his daughter.
The strange thing is that rewatching this episode hit me harder than it did on my first viewing. I’ve seen all of Twin Peaks before, but it has been about five years since I’ve watched season two. I was very affected by the the brutality of this scene. Maddy’s murder gave me chills down the spine.
One thing I don’t understand is where Sarah Palmer was in all of this. She’s shown crawling across the floor, calling for Leland, and then does she pass out? And why did she pass out? Why couldn’t she get up and call for help or run away?
BOB/Leland drugged Sarah before he murdered Maddy. As BOB takes control of Leland fully, Maddy smells something burning and runs downstairs in a panic. Dr. Jacoby recalled smelling burning motor oil when BOB/Leland killed Jacques. BOB is always a presence lurking in Leland’s mind, an invisible influence, even if he’s not always the one driving.
When Lynch and Frost realized they had to reveal the killer, they hired Jennifer Lynch (David’s daughter) to write The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, which was published between seasons one and two. They had to tell her who the killer was and the backstory behind it so she could write it, but only a handful of people knew the killer’s identity until it was almost time to shoot this episode. The book itself is…okay? It’s been years since I read it, but I remember it being quite lurid, and maybe giving too much information that could reveal the killer. It’s certainly not essential reading, but it’s a curiosity for the superfans.
Lynch and Frost didn’t want anyone in the cast to know who killed Laura until the last possible moment. Even Ray Wise didn’t find out until late in the process. It’s amazing to watch his performance from the pilot forward, knowing that he didn’t have any information beyond the script to influence his performance. In a very concrete way, he only knew what Leland knew.