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Who killed Laura Palmer?  This question leads one on a journey into the dark underbelly of a small town in the Pacific Northwest.  David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks ran for thirty episodes over two seasons that aired from 1990-1991.  The series was one of the top-rated shows of 1990.  However, declining ratings led to its cancellation after only two seasons.  The series was followed by a prequel film in 1992, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.  Twin Peaks acquired a huge cult following in the years following its cancellation and is now regarded as one of the greatest television shows of all time.

In 2017, the show returned to Showtime with a limited event series consisting of eighteen episodes.  Every episode was written and directed by David Lynch and Mark Frost.  The final two episodes will air on September 3, 2017. This post will focus on the original series.  Expect a future post focusing on the new event series at a later date. I have no idea how Twin Peaks will end on September 3 but as Cooper would say, “I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.”

One thing is certain.  Twin Peaks is an original, completely unique work with David Lynch’s unmistakable brand of weird.  The serialized drama is an odd mixture of mystery, intrigue, horror, melodrama, and pure camp. Whatever your opinion is on Twin Peaks, it is hard to deny its legacy and impact on television history. Twin Peaks paved the way for other serialized dramas such as The X-Files (1993-2002) and Lost (2004-2010).  Twin Peaks was more cinematic than any television series that came before it thanks to the creative force behind it, David Lynch. Lynch was already an accomplished filmmaker who directed such films as Eraserhead (1977) and Blue Velvet (1986).

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Twin Peaks has many motifs, including coffee, pie, doughnuts, owls, and electricity.  Twin Peaks is a wonderful mix of great storytelling full of cliffhangers and plot twists, compelling characters, atmosphere, offbeat humor, haunting visuals, and an incredible soundtrack composed by Angelo Badalamenti.  Kyle MacLachlan is perfect as quirky FBI Agent Dale Cooper.  Michael Ontkean is great as Sheriff Harry S. Truman.  There are many young and beautiful women in Twin Peaks including Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle), Shelley Johnson (Madchen Amick), and Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee).  The series includes several prominent guest stars, including David Duchovny as a transvestite FBI Agent, Billy Zane as Audrey’s love interest, a young Heather Graham as Cooper’s love interest Annie Blackburn, and Lynch himself as Cooper’s supervisor, Gordon Cole.  The series has some veteran actors in its cast, including Piper Laurie and Don Davis who is wonderful as Major Garland Briggs.

The first season, made up of eight gripping episodes, focuses on the mystery behind homecoming queen Laura Palmer’s murder. Unfortunately, network pressures caused Lynch and Frost to wrap-up the Palmer mystery early in the second season.  After this resolution, the series seems to lose a little purpose and compensates with several uninteresting storylines, the worst of which is a subplot involving James Hurley, one of the show’s weaker characters. Lynch had minimal involvement with Twin Peaks during this time and the show became mediocre.  However, the series returns to greatness at the end of the second season which focuses on Windom Earle and his quest for the Black Lodge.  Kenneth Welsh is wonderfully over-the-top as Earle and steals nearly every scene in which he appears. The final episode, which was directed by Lynch and largely improvised on set, is brilliant and my absolute favorite episode of the series.

Ultimately, Twin Peaks is about the masks that people wear in life and the constant battle between the forces of good and evil; love and hate.  I have transcribed the Log Lady’s introduction in the Pilot episode below because I think it is the perfect summation of Twin Peaks:

“Welcome to Twin Peaks. My name is Margaret Lanterman. I live in Twin Peaks. I am known as the Log Lady. There is a story behind that. There are many stories in Twin Peaks. Some of them are sad, some funny. Some of them are stories of madness, of violence. Some are ordinary. Yet they all have about them a sense of mystery – the mystery of life.
Sometimes, the mystery of death. The mystery of the woods. The woods surrounding Twin Peaks.
To introduce this story, let me just say it encompasses the all – it is beyond the “fire”, though few would know that meaning. It is a story of many, but begins with one – and I knew her.
The one leading to the many is Laura Palmer. Laura is the one.”

The following is a list of my favorite episodes from the original series in chronological order.  Note: The loglines for each episode are restricted to the main storyline with Agent Cooper.  Obviously, there are many subplots involving other characters.

1) Pilot

Written by: Mark Frost and David Lynch

Directed by: David Lynch

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She’s dead.  Wrapped in plastic.”

Logline: FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper arrives in the strange northwestern town of Twin Peaks to investigate the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer.

All of the elements that make Twin Peaks such a great series are present in its first episode.  It is clear from the beginning that this is no ordinary murder mystery.

2) Episode 2: Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer

Written by: Mark Frost and David Lynch

Directed by: David Lynch

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That gum you like is going to come back in style.”

Logline: Agent Cooper uses his knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism in his investigation and has a strange dream that may give him the answer he seeks.

This episode includes one of my favorite sequences from the series, a dream scene featuring a dancing dwarf.

3) Episode 5: Cooper’s Dreams

Written by: Mark Frost

Directed by: Lesli Linka Glatter

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My log does not judge.”

Logline: Agent Cooper, Sheriff Truman, Deputy Hawk, and Dr. Hayward venture into the woods where they have tea with the Log Lady and discover a crime scene.

The Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson) is one of my favorite characters.  Her scenes with Cooper and the gang in this episode are priceless.

4) Episode 6: Realization Time

Written by: Harley Peyton

Directed by: Caleb Deschanel

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Harry, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee.”

Logline: Agent Cooper and Big Ed go undercover at One Eyed Jacks to find Jacques Renault.

Various characters’ stories begin to converge on a gripping collision course toward the season finale.  Twin Peaks is a series about different personas.  In the Pilot, the first shot of a character is Josie (Joan Chen), who is looking in a mirror.  Like so many of the characters, Josie has many personas.  Laura also had many secrets.  In this episode, most of the characters are literally donning a different persona.

5) Episode 7: The Last Evening

Written by: Mark Frost

Directed by: Mark Frost

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Bite the bullet, baby.”

Logline: Cooper learns the details of Laura’s last night in the cabin from Jacques Renault.

This is a great season finale that is briskly paced.  I love the transition from Dr. Jacoby’s eyeball to the roulette table at One Eyed Jacks as well as the scene in which Jacques recounts the despicable events at the cabin on the night of Laura’s death.

6) Episode 8: May the Giant Be With You

Written by: Mark Frost and David Lynch

Directed by: David Lynch

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“The owls are not what they seem.”

Logline: Cooper has a vision of a mysterious Giant who assists him with his investigation.

It took me multiple viewings to appreciate the brilliance of this episode, the second season premiere.  It should come as no surprise that every episode directed by David Lynch is among my favorites.

7) Episode 9: Coma

Written by: Harley Peyton

Directed by: David Lynch

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“Where does creamed corn figure into the workings of the universe?”

Logline: Cooper gets some unwanted news.

This is perhaps, the least memorable of the six Lynch-directed episodes but it is still an excellent episode in its own right.  I love the “Just You” sequence with Donna, Maddy, and James.  It is full of teen angst but is so much fun and BOB’s appearance at the end of the scene is absolutely terrifying.

8) Episode 14: Lonely Souls

Written by: Mark Frost

Directed by: David Lynch

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It is happening again.”

Logline: Cooper takes the One Armed Man to the Great Northern Hotel, with the hopes of finding Laura’s killer, who strikes again.

Due to a dip in ratings, ABC pushed David Lynch and Mark Frost to reveal Laura’s killer in this episode.  The reveal does not disappoint, though and makes for a sequence that is shocking and disturbing.  The scene in which Julee Cruise sings the Lynch-penned “The  World Spins” still sends a shiver down my spine.

9) Episode 15: Drive with a Dead Girl

Written by: Scott Frost

Directed by Caleb Deschanel

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“Diane, 10:03am, Great Northern Hotel. Sheriff Truman and I have just been with the one-armed man, or what’s left of him. In another time, another culture, he may have been a seer, a shaman priest. In our world he’s a shoe salesman and lives among the shadows.”

Logline: Cooper gets closer than ever to solving Laura’s murder while BOB covers his tracks.

This episode and the following installment allow Ray Wise to really show off his skills as an actor.  His performance as Leland is astounding.

9) Episode 16: Arbitrary Law

Written by: Mark Frost & Harley Peyton & Robert Engels

Directed by: Tim Hunter

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Through the darkness of future past / The magician longs to see / One chants out between two worlds / Fire walk with me. I’ll catch you with my death bag. You may think I’ve gone insane, but I promise I will kill again!”

Logline: Cooper decodes his dream to learn the identity of Laura’s killer.

This episode provides a satisfying conclusion to the Laura Palmer mystery, the driving force of the series.

10) Episode 27: The Path to the Black Lodge

Written by: Harley Peyton & Robert Engels

Directed by: Stephen Gyllenhaal

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Audrey, there are many cures for a broken heart. But nothing quite like a trout’s leap in the moonlight.”

Logline: Cooper brings Audrey, Donna, and Shelley together to warn them about Windom Earle, who has taken Major Briggs hostage so he can find the location of the Black Lodge.

This is Twin Peaks’ first truly excellent episode since Episode 16.  The long pull-out tracking shot of Cooper and Annie conversing in the diner is perfect as well as the extreme closeup that follows of coffee slowly dripping onto the floor.  The episode ends with the empty spaces of Twin Peaks and the return of Frank Silva’s terrifying BOB.

11) Episode 29: Beyond Life and Death

Written by: Mark Frost & Harley Peyton & Robert Engels

Directed by: David Lynch

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How’s Annie?”

Logline: Cooper follows Windom Earle and Annie into the Black Lodge.

This is one of the strangest hours of television I have ever seen and when I first saw it, I was shocked it aired on network television. The scene in which Jimmy Scott sings the Lynch-penned “Sycamore Trees” is haunting.

Duality is one of Twin Peaks‘ primary themes.  Duality begins in the title of the town and series: Twin Peaks.  Inside the Black Lodge, everyone has a doppleganger, or a double. This double is a darker version of the person and their only distinguishable feature is glazed, white eyes.  I am not sure that the Lodge scenes are supposed to make logical sense but they are surrealist, nightmarish, and brilliant.  The Black Lodge and White Lodge can be interpreted in many ways, such as heaven/hell, good/evil, or love/hate.  This episode’s ambiguity is part of the reason why I love it so much.  The series comes full circle and concludes with an unsettling yet beautiful cliffhanger.

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