As Angelo Badalamenti’s instrumental plays, we’re greeted by a tiny bird (of the Bewick’s Wren variety) perched on a branch… probably the branch of a Douglas Fir, Special Agent Dale Cooper’s new favourite type of tree.
Plumes from a lumber mill ejaculate into the seemingly perpetual overcast sky, the blades of a saw is being re-cut or re-milled? I’m sure an engineer or lumberjack would correct me on this but I’m just a writer who should’ve watched Twin Peaks years ago.
The slow, melodic opening music feels emotive with a sense of loss and yet it is horrendously dated. In the early 90’s my mum had a cassette tape called ‘Pure Moods’ or something and Badalamenti’s piece featured as part of the compilation. At the time I was ignorant of its connection to the show, I must’ve been 7 or 8 years old when Twin Peaks debuted on British television. I was more interested in Star Trek The Next Generation and the themes of David Lynch’ seminal TV show would have been far too adult for my tiny, innocent mind to comprehend.
Now, 27 years later and with its third season in the pipeline, I felt it was time to check out this cult wonder, this odd and fascinating murder mystery.
I have experienced David Lynch. After all, he is one of those filmmakers that have become an eponymous adjective. His influence, when paid in homage, is described as “Lynchian”. He has a way of merging the mundane with the macabre and as much as I would like to spout pretentious conjecture about the hidden meaning of the woman behind the radiator, I’m not writing about his body of work. I’m just writing about one body and that is the body of the murdered’ Laura Palmer.
You can see Twin Peaks influence in popular culture. When I was greeted by that odd choice of font, that brown text encased with a green outline, spelling out ‘Twin Peaks’. I saw that road sign with its autumnal trees, its lonely road and I instantly thought of the Playstation game’ ‘Silent Hill’.
But my naivety isn’t to blame for drawing that conclusion, it’s just an example of how David Lynch has been able to burrow into my subconsciousness. Much like the fucking soundtrack… the meandering jazz numbers that ferment into my mind jelly until all I can hear is smooth sax and finger snaps.
“She’s dead! … Wrapped in plastic!” We’re told and yet the man discovering the corpse on the riverbank is ignorant of the victim’s identity. We’re ignorant of the corpse’s name and yet she is the magnet that draws all the players into place.
And there is a lot of players! Too many to count and we’re expected to remember all of them?!
Funnily enough we do!
I can’t recall a single pilot episode of a TV show that force feeds the audience so many characters.
In the beginning, we see Jocelyn Packard. A woman from Hong Kong who is also a widow who now happens to own the lumber mill that features in the opening sequence. Big Ed who runs an “oil farm”… petrol station? Whatever. His wife has an eye patch and is obsessed with drapes, I’m sure this is a plot point later in the series. Bobby the bad boy ‘T Bird’ wannabe who, when questioned by the cops about why he wasn’t at football practice, replies; “I didn’t feel like it!” then punctuates his sentence with a snap of his fingers. He displays West Side Story levels of theatrics throughout. Then there is his best friend, can’t remember his name but he wears a red jacket and I like to call him; “Not-Eric Stoltz”, he’s got beef with Big Ed for some reason.
Then there is a prostitute that may have escaped the killer, she just so happens to be in an escort catalog that Laura Palmer kept in a safety deposit box (along with $10,000)… and while we’re on the subject of Laura Palmer, we’re introduced to her parents. Her father just so happens to be the awesome Ray Wise and her mother does the best freak out I’ve seen on TV. She’s so gratuitous with her heart-wrenching grief that it becomes hilarious to watch. It isn’t helped by the, almost, romantic music that plays over the scene.
We even hear her cries from the holes of a dropped telephone receiver while Ray Wise is being informed of his daughter’s death.
Let’s not forget Lucy, she’s the receptionist at the police station. She sounds like a voice actress who usually plays the part of children in Nickelodeon cartoons and her character seems to be incredibly empathic, especially with Deputy Andy who cries in every scene he is in. Then there’s the Sheriff who shares a name with the 33rd President of the United States, the Log Lady, Shelly and that weird trucker guy who demands that his wife(?), girlfriend(?), daughter(?) only smokes one type of brand just so that he can keep tabs on her (no pun intended).
Who have I forgotten? Oh yeah, the guy who originally found the body and the sister-in-law of Jocelyn Packard who fires a guy at the lumber mill because she’s pissed off that Jocelyn has let everybody have the day off because Laura Palmer (apparently, everybody fucking loved her) has been murdered.
Big Ed is having an affair with the waitress that Shelly works with. Big Ed has a fatherly relationship with Laura’s best friend’ Donna and she is in love with James who is a biker who seems to have a constant look of fear and apprehension on his face and no wonder! He was with Laura the night of her murder and he just so happens to have the other piece of one of those tacky Argos split-heart necklaces. He buries it but it is dug up at the end of the episode and the editing makes it look like it was part of a nightmare that Laura’s bereaved mum had!
There’s an obvious red herring in the form of a blue shoe-wearing psychiatrist who is unapologetically creepy like an old and should be forgotten BBC children’s entertainer.
What about Audrey? She’s got a mischievous and nihilistic personality trait and she’s like a happiness vampire that derives pleasure from other people’s misery. She likes to ruin everything for her own amusement, why? I don’t know?
I don’t know?
She smokes the fastest cigarette in television history before class and this is a high school where everybody is over the age of 20. This is also a high school where the soundtrack to the show is obviously non-diegetic because one of the students decides to dance, awkwardly out of shot in time with the music.
Did I mention the guy with the Indian headdress, sorry, I meant Native American headdress? He’s banging his head against a dollhouse, why? Because David fucking Lynch said so, alright!
I think I’ve mentioned all the players…
… Nope, I totally missed out the top-billed actor.
“And how could this be? For he IS the Kwisatz Haderach!” Said Paul Atreides sister in David Lynch’ Dune. Paul Atreides is in this TV show and he’s not a Muad’Dib, he’s Federal Bureau Special Agent Dale Cooper and he’s just going to out-weird everyone in Twin Peaks.
Here is his opening monologue;
“Diane, 11:30 a.m., February Twenty-fourth. Entering the town of Twin Peaks, five miles south of the Canadian border, twelve miles west of the state line. I’ve never seen so many trees in my life. As W. C. Fields would say, I’d rather be here than Philadelphia. Fifty-four degrees on a slightly overcast day. Weatherman said rain. If you could get paid that kind of money for being wrong sixty percent of the time, it’d beat working. Mileage is seventy-nine thousand three hundred forty-five, gauge is on reserve, riding on fumes here, I’ve got to tank up when I get into town. Remind me to tell you how much that is. Lunch was, uh, six dollars and thirty-one cents at the Lamplighter Inn, that’s on Highway Two near Lewis Fork. That was a tuna fish sandwich on whole wheat, slice of cherry pie, and a cup of coffee. Damn good food. Diane, if you ever get up this way that cherry pie is worth a stop. Okay. Looks like I’ll be meeting up with the, ah, Sheriff Harry S. Truman. Shouldn’t be too hard to remember that. He’ll be at the Calhoun Memorial Hospital. I guess we’re going to go up to intensive care and take a look at that girl that crawled down the railroad tracks off the mountain. When I finish there I’ll be checking into a motel. I’m sure the sheriff will be able to recommend a clean place, reasonably priced. That’s what I need, a clean place, reasonably priced.
Oh Diane, I almost forgot. Got to find out what kind of trees these are. They’re really something.”
His youthful enthusiasm and near dorky persona makes him a compelling lead to the point where he is head and shoulders above the other incredibly eccentric characters.
So allow me to talk about the plot; we open with the discovery of Laura Palmer’s corpse. She is, indeed, wrapped in plastic and she has the easiest acting role I’ve ever seen.
Throughout the episode, the actress who portrayed her had to pretend to be dead.
There’s a couple of scenes that she is in and she just lays there, just like the proverbial corpse that she is supposed to be.
The cops arrive and Deputy Andy cries while trying to photograph her as part of their rather shoddy forensic work.
The Sheriff consoles the grieving Andy because the victim is renowned. She’s Laura Palmer and everyone knows her and everyone loved her. I’m sure we’ll discover some sordid titbits of information that will change our opinion and perspective on her. It’s a fucking TV show, of course, there’s going to be extra shit to pad out their narrative. That’s how serialised television works, for fuck’s sake!
The mother of Laura Palmer is standing in a wonderfully dated kitchen, every cupboard door is veneer wood panels and the window has those little curtain swags that double up as spider hammocks. It’s the kind of kitchen where an ashtray was commonplace because it was a time when no smoking signs were a novelty. The mother smokes, the cigarette changed length in between cuts as she desperately tries to find the location of her daughter.
For fuck’s sake Laura’s mom! She’s in her mid-twenties!
No? She’s 17? Seriously?
Will that hold up in court?
Anyway, Ray Wise is on the phone to his distraught wife. He name drops other characters and ignorantly shrugs off his wife’s concern. The scene is masterly done, we’re greeted by a mundane corporate meeting involving a sale’s rep as he tries to sell real estate to Norwegian investors. Then, as Ray Wise is speaking to “mom” we see the cop car creep into the car park through the window of the reception. As Ray is trying to calm his wife, the cop strides past him, piquing his interest. The concierge gestures towards Ray Wise and the penny drops.
He knows something macabre has occurred and through paternal instinct alone, he knows his daughter is dead.
The scene ends with a dropped telephone receiver, “mom” is crying and we can hear her, we cut and she’s embroiled in the start of a full-on panic attack.
A great scene and yet with all the pieces presented to us, I’m left finding it utterly hilarious.
Why? Because the music, editing, acting and everything that encompasses it instills a sense of non-reality. I draw attention to the first opening episode of the American version of The Killing.
Both shows follow a similar narrative catalyst. Both are a murder mystery where there is more than there seems and while the latter feels real, Twin Peaks does not.
Whereas The Killing feels authentic, Twin Peaks feels like that overly complex dream you had and yet you forgot all the details seconds after waking up.
The players feel like caricatures, albeit very entertaining caricatures but due to their bizarre idiosyncrasies, they feel like cartoon characters rather than real flesh and blood people.
We watch and we are compelled, we find comfort in their other-worldliness. They’re inhuman or tainted by an environment we can only ever experience in unreleased Stephen King novels.
Maybe this is the appeal?
I digress, back to the plot; there’s a High School specifically for people who are afflicted with a very slight case of Hutchinson–Gilford progeria syndrome. They all look ten years older than they’re supposed to be but this is to be expected. It was a trend that was pretty standard fare for American television, mainly because of child labour laws.
Not only do the students look older than they should be, they also seem to have vague, ominous agendas. They all seem to know more than they’re letting on and yet they do not arouse suspicion despite their lack of subtly. Again, this is typical of television conventions.
As the Principle makes his announcement pertaining to the death of Laura Palmer we’re greeted by an empty corridor. The halls appear devoid of life and this is some kind of fucking metaphor because… Laura Palmer is ALSO devoid of life! Arty!
Donna, the best friend of Laura is consoled by background artists as she looks over to James, his expression kinda looks like what a puppy would do while its owner is about to drown it. He looks guilty as sin and he certainly knows more than he is letting on.
Audrey seems kinda happy but I wouldn’t mistake this as guilt, she’s obviously sociopathic and is now probably aware that, with Laura out if the picture she is now the most popular girl at school.
Throughout the pilot episode we are fed intrigue of the highest order and despite the number of characters, locations, plot points, we are made aware that all this has happened during the course of one day (another similarity to The Killing). Laura is discovered in the early morning, school starts and ends, the lumber mill is shut down for the day, another missing girl is found but in this case she is alive (though, completely catatonic), Dale Cooper arrives in Twin Peaks, everybody wants to go to the Roadhouse… no, not the Double Deuce and Patrick Swayze was at the height of his popularity so I doubt he would have made a television appearance.
Clues are found, people are interrogated. In one instance, Cooper is interrogating Bobby since he is the prime suspect until Cooper identifies him as just a crazy cat who races for pink slips and he’s merely just a rebel without a cause. Bobby is harmless, but during the interrogation, the boyfriend is shown a video of Laura and Donna playing in the wilderness but who filmed them?
Why Dale Cooper totally CSI’d the fuck of the video a whole ten years before CSI treated us to hyperbolic police procedural bullshit. He can see the reflection of a 1975 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide, but what colour was the bike Special Agent Dale Cooper?
“Oh, that would ruby red candy, obviously!”
Yes, this is accurate. A 1975 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide was painted in ruby red candy.
I did my research.
But who is the biker? Oh, it’s James of course. So now Cooper and Sheriff Truman are on the lookout for this elusive biker but first, they discover the crime scene where Laura met her untimely end. A scrap of paper with the name of the Twin Peaks TV movie is found, along with that aforementioned split-heart necklace.
Both James and Donna bury the other part of the necklace but are we supposed to believe that these two had anything to do with her murder? Maybe?
Regardless, a fight breaks out in the Roadhouse and the fight choreography is marginally better than that scene in the 44th episode of Star Trek (“The Trouble with Tribbles”). People are arrested and Laura’s “mom” freaks the fuck out, just because she can. Goddamnit, if you have an actor who can freak out as great as that then milk that ability… the same goes for vomiting on cue.
We end on the photograph of Laura Palmer, her forlorn and soulless eyes make her look dead while still alive.
So what did I think of the pilot episode of Twin Peaks?
I thoroughly enjoyed it and now I have to review the second episode.
Will we get any closer to discovering the truth? Will Bobby ever choose between the Sharks or the Jets? What will Audrey fuck up next? Will Big Ed’s wife ever be happy with her fucking drapes? Will that shrink be outed as the obvious sex pervert that he is? Will Andy man-up? Why does the Log Lady carry that log? What does “Fire Walk With Me” mean? Who dug up that other half of the necklace? Will the key to Laura’s diary be found and what is her connection to that escort magazine? Why did she have $10,000? Why did that guy dance awkwardly? Will I waste time looking up the model and colour of another motorcycle? Who shot Mister Burns? Is it wrong to eat cereal for dinner? What’s that smell? And when will I review the second episode?
I can answer that last one, it will be next week…