(For those just joining us, you’ve stumbled into the Twin Peaks corner of TV Club classic, an area dedicated to revisiting whole runs and key seasons of classic series, episode-by-episode.)
Four days after ABC premiered the Twin Peaks pilot it aired the first proper episode, an hour nearly as peculiar as its predecessor. Anyone unsure whether they were watching a comedy or tragedy was no doubt further disoriented by an opening scene that found Agent Cooper hanging upside-down, dictating another note to “Diane” and adding a further thought that asked, “What really went on between Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedys and who really pulled the trigger on JFK?” McLachlan delivers the line as if the notion that the official story about the Kennedy assassination might have some holes in it had never occurred to Cooper before. Maybe Twin Peaks has shaken some skepticism loose in that boy-scout brain of his.
Also apparently shaking something loose: Audrey, who makes no attempt to hide her infatuation for Special Agent Cooper, even if he does little to reciprocate. I love the sweetness of that relationship. Audrey wants to be a bad girl, but the moment a man treats her with the kindness her dad seems incapable of providing she wants nothing more than to do the right thing. “Emotional problems” may run in her family, but her issues seem pretty simple. I also love that her acts of rebellion, at least those we’ve seen so far, wouldn’t be shocking in 1952. In a later scene in which her dad chastises her for playing her weird jazz music too loud, music that sounds an awfully lot like Angelo Badalementi’s score. (It’s a neat instance of the elements that make up the show bleeding into the show itself and we’ll see it again later when Audrey plays a song at the diner.) On the other hand, I’d never before noticed that Audrey does seem a little stoned most of the time.
But it’s not all laughs this hour, even with the mysterious fish-in-the-percolator moment, an apparent miracle I don’t believe the show ever really explains. (Did Pete get confused? Did Catherine drop it in out of spite? Did it just kind of happen, as things do in Twin Peaks?) As Cooper and Sheriff Truman further their investigation into Laura Palmer’s death, we get to know the locals more. The show virtually points the finger at Leo Johnson (Eric Da Re) as he worries over a bloody shirt and proves himself capable of abusing women. His bar-of-soap-in-a-sock beating of Shelly (Madchen Amick) ranks among the show’s most disturbing moments. (I also always associate with the moment in The Grifters, a movie I saw around the same time, when Pat Hingle drops some oranges in a towel with the promise that “you’ll never shit right again.”)
The episode ends on a somber note as well. Dr. Jacoby is revealed as the man with the other half of the locket and begins crying has he listens to the final tape he received from Laura. We don’t get to hear what she says but the tears on his face remind us of how much the town has lost with Laura’s murder, even when it’s people who had no business taking so deep an interest in a teenage girl who feeling the loss.
- Jacques Renault’s name gets dropped for the first time
- As does Albert Rosenfeld’s, who we’ll see in Episode Two
- We first hear about the Bookhouse Boys, even if we don’t know what they do.
- We first find out that Ben Horne and Catherine Martell are an item
- “Bob” makes his debut appearance, not counting the alternate version of the pilot.(More on that below.)
- This is, I believe, the first reference to Horne’s Department Store
- This is also the first time we learn the extent of Dr. Jacoby’s Hawaii fixation. He was wearing a Hawaiian themed shirt in the pilot but we had no sign of how deep the identification went.
Here we have one of the most peculiar hours of television ever to air on a network. (And I say that as someone who’s seen the shown-once-only Far Side Halloween special.) Even the minor details are peculiar. Shortly before meeting the acerbic Albert Rosenfeld (the terrific Miguel Ferrer), Cooper briefs Truman on his unique character then concludes the chat by playfully grabbing Truman’s nose. What is this? What kind of show are we watching?
Peaks is at its best when it refuses to answer that question but even when it settles into being a soap opera, the genre gives it some freedom. Peaks episodes tend to be short on arcs and discernible acts. As a soap it doesn’t have to worry about such things so long as it keeps the plates spinning. The show tends to go to commercial break on a suspenseful note but mostly the episodes just kind of unwind. There’s another structure at work, too. I’d never noticed before this pass how tight the continuity is, at least initially. Episodes tend to capture a period of about 24 hours in the life of the town and there’s a lot of attention paid to keeping the chronology straight.
But enough talk about form; back to the weirdness. Man, do people on this show obsess over food. There’s Cooper’s well-documented enthusiasm for coffee and pie but watch the way the Horne brothers tear into that Brie and butter sandwich. And I doubt that’s the first time the police department has taken its doughnuts on the road.
The pastries apparently do them well, too, in the scene where Cooper lays out the investigative method he began practicing following a dream about Tibet through which he “subconsciously gained knowledge of a deductive technique involving mind-body coordination.” It’s the secret origin of Agent Cooper! Does this technique always involve pitching stones at bottles? And does it always point him at a red herring? (Well, Leo’s not exactly a red herring. But he’s not exactly the killer, either.)
Another memorable side trip brings the episode to One Eye Jacks, the just-over-the-border Canadian casino/brothel where the Hornes go to unwind and flip a coin over who gets to try the new girl. It’s a very Lynchian brothel where the prostitutes all wear classic lingerie and never bother with overt come-ons. It also has an image that I can’t made it on the air: The new girl emerges from, and draws the winner of the coin-toss into, a silk-draped corridor of soft, pink folds. This may have some sexual connotations.
It’s the final sequence that still shocks me, however.
Not only is it some of the most disquieting filmmaking Lynch has ever done (even with McLachlan’s lousy old age make-up) it opens up the series’ whole backwoods mythology, suggesting a pantheon of good and evil and a vision of hell out of everyday materials and strange folks. We meet Bob and Mike, two apparently supernatural beings who were living above a, I think you say, convenience store before one chose the path of good, at a tremendous cost, and the other chose the path of evil. It’s never quite clear what’s going on and it grows less interesting as the series tries to fill in the blanks. But we’re not there yet. Here we have a hell made out of red curtains and thrift store carpeting and a demonic being who looks less fire-and-brimstone than someone who would terrify you in an alley. It’s a weirdly All-American supernatural system and as long as it remains vague and suggestive it’s completely terrifying.
Lynch was recycling here, using elements he shot for the alternate pilot. I’d venture to guess that none of these elements were originally part of the design of the series. I even wonder if Lynch and Frost were fully committed to the mythology elements at the end of the episode. Yes, we’d seen the one-armed man in the “real” Twin Peaks but it could all just be another of Cooper’s dreams. Whatever the case, the series never really topped what it does here.
- Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly) makes his first memorable appearance.
- We get our first glimpse of Invitation To Love, the show-within-the-show whose plot twists and characters look even more ridiculous than Peaks’.
- First appearance of the Little Man From Another Place
At the height of Twin Peaks’ popularity, Lynch did a series of commercials for a Japanese coffee company in which Cooper searches for a missing Japanese woman. Here’s the first of four. Anyone want to try to squeeze this into the Peaks continuity somehow?
- Sherilyn Fenn’s hair has miraculously grown about three inches overnight thanks to the gap between filming the pilot and the first episode.)
- Do we ever learn how Nadine happened? Was she, at some point, less of a “character” and someone Ed might actually marry?
- Man, Bob is scary. And everyone knows the story, but I’ll repeat it anyway. Frank Silva was a set decorator whose image, accidentally caught in a mirror in one shot, got Lynch to thinking.
- Okay, I’m not made of stone. Let’s watch that diner dance from the second episode again.