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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Twin Peaks: Traces to Nowhere

Greetings, friends! I apologize for the tardiness and sloppiness of this post, but I have been quite busy with stuff.

I was asked to write this piece about the first proper episode of Twin Peaks because of my longstanding reputation as the world’s foremost David Lynch scholar (nope). While it is true that I have written some delightfully undergraddy shot-by-shot analyses of Lynch films, specifically Blue Velvet and Lost Highway, I must confess that there are a few embarrassing gaps in my Lynch experience, one of which is that I have not seen all of Twin Peaks. I have seen the first few episodes, including the extended feature-film version of the pilot that Lynch made just in case the show wasn’t picked up, but I don’t really know what is going to happen. The good news is that any spoilers contained herein will be lucky guesses!

On to the business at hand!

I’m going to start with a short, shallow introduction to Lynchian themes. If you wish to get to the meat of this thing, scroll down to Special Agent Cooper hanging upside-down…

The first thing that most people figure out about David Lynch is that his movies are really, ostentatiously weird. There are probably many valid explanations for how and why Lynch creates this weirdness, but the effect can be, among other things, hilarious, heartbreaking and frightening, and his films gain much of their power from his ability to evoke these emotions, sometimes simultaneously. The second thing that people figure out about Lynch is that he is very concerned with the concept of dark complexities lying underneath the placid surface of everyday life. A lot of students and critics are dismissive of this analysis, because it seems so obvious, but I think that Lynch’s take is actually more interesting than is immediately evident.

David Lynch Signature Cup Coffee from David Lynch on Vimeo.

In most of his work, including Twin Peaks, Lynch starts things off with a very short period of realism, which quickly transitions into a stilted exaggeration of the artificiality of the superficial. He uses things like a cranked up Angelo Badalamenti score and intensely amplified but simplistically emotional performances from his actors to underline their surface falsity. It is only then that the audience begins delving into the strange, dark underbelly of Lynch’s world, which devolves into surreal humor and, eventually, schizophrenic insanity. Some people read this as a critique of modern life or the complacency of a well-fed society, but I think it is more of an acknowledgement that the world and the people living in it are tremendously deep and complex, far too complex to be properly understood using standard conventions.

Lynch’s stories all seem to involve people facing, often for the first time, the true depths that exist in the world and the human soul. Looking at his characters, a few major archetypes arise that are often defined by how they respond to having stared into the abyss. Some respond by shutting off their critical faculties and pretending that things are simple. Others sink into the depths and become permanently indentified with the underworld. Some go mad, becoming emotional basketcases or embracing eccentricities that allow them to cope. Then there are Lynch’s heroes, who are able to respect and appreciate the deeper layers of the world while continuing to function in normal society, stronger for their broadened perspective. And, of course, there are the innocents, who might not be well-behaved but are too naïve to have any idea what they are getting into or what depths they already possess.

I think that most of the young characters in Twin Peaks, including Donna, Bobby and James, are in this last category. I also think that Laura Palmer was killed as she was in the process of figuring out which track she was going to take. The reason that her death resonates with me is that, despite all the crazy shit she was getting into, I get the feeling that she would have been one of the heroes had she survived.

Anyway, enough of that crap.


Let’s talk about the episode.

This episode was not actually directed by David Lynch, but it falls between two episodes he did direct: the pilot and Zen and the Art of Killer-Catching. As such, some of the elements are toned down here. Most of the music cues are the same (they really got their money’s worth out of that Badalamenti score), but the volume level isn’t quite as oppressive.

The episode begins with our hero, Special Agent Dale Cooper, hanging upside down and dictating. Cooper seems like the perfect Lynch hero. He has seen the darkness, and it still able to enjoy the world for what it is.

Cooper is exuberant about small pleasures like coffee. He is polite and kind to the locals, but he can also see through their bullshit. He knows that the world is a dark place, and he doesn’t allow that to diminish him. He is also very competent at his job, and while his dictations and small pleasures are often played for amusement, the show never lets us forget that he is in control of his own destiny.

One of the things this episode does is reestablish a few characters from the pilot. So just in case we forgot, Donna and James are falling in lurve but are conflicted about it. Amusingly, both of them see themselves as worldly, but they are still quite naïve and innocent. Hell, even Laura Palmer returns from the grave in the last scene to call James “sweet but dumb.”

We are also reintroduced to Bobby and his letter jacket wearing douchebuddy whose name eludes me. They are sitting in jail from a barfight discussing some sort of criminal enterprise, but the ridiculous bebop score underlines how ridiculous they are. I imagine that we will see more darkness from them later, but not yet. Look at how fearsome Bobby is:

The asshats are cleared and released, and we get to see Bobby at dinner with his parents. Bobby’s father is played by the awesome Don Davis, and he wins my award for best moment of the episode.

Somehow, Bobby is boning Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick, *drool*), and we get to spend some quality time with her and her delightful truck-driving husband, Leo.

Leo demands that Shelly do his laundry, and she finds a bloody shirt, which she cleverly hides in a drawer before he catches her with it. He caresses her tenderly.

Later, when Leo can’t find the bloody shirt, he caresses her again with a bar of soap in a sock.

In other news, James is also cleared and released, and his uncle Ed claims to have been drugged at the barfight rather than admit that he got beat up by those two children. Ed has been boning the other waitress at the diner, despite being married to an eyepatched woman named Nadine who is very, very sane. She is so sane, that she has engineered completely silent drapes, even though everyone knows that drapes are meant to be noisy. Luckily for the waitress, she gets to hear about this firsthand.

I’m sure that Nadine won’t be murdering any waitress in her sleep later tonight.

So, the investigation into the murder leads us to the sawmill, where Cooper questions Josie Packard about Laura Palmer, which doesn’t seem to provide any new information.

Fortunately, our hero gets a delicious cup of coffee out of it.

The visit does lead us to some business about Josie’s sister-in-law, Catherine Martell, and Ben Horne, conspiring to burn down the sawmill and then have very offputting sex on the ashes. I had a picture of some of the toe-sucking and cleavage kissing, but ew.

In the Palmer household, Leland is taking care of Sarah. I think that Leland is shady for a couple of reasons. First, when he figured out that Laura had died the sad music got way too loud, which is Lynch code for artifice. Second, when is Ray Wise ever not shady. Anyway, Donna comes and visits Sarah, and they have a moment too long for a gif and too perfect not to embed, so here is the whole scene.

Now, I don’t think I’m giving anything away when I say that the dude she sees there is killer BOB, whom I’m pretty sure I remember from the feature film version of the pilot. I hope we’ll be seeing a lot more of him soon. He is a creepy fellow.

After a long day’s work and a cup of fish coffee, Agent Cooper finally gets to have a slice or three of cherry pie, and we get a visit from the Log Lady, who swears that her log is an eyewitness to something that happened the night of Laura Palmer’s murder.

She is offended when Cooper declines to interrogate the log, so instead of everything being solved in this episode, we’ll get several more seasons of the show.

Finally, we close the episode with our good psychiatrist friend listening to a cassette tape of Laura Palmer and crying. In the cliffhanger of the pilot, someone recovered James’ half of the locket, and now this guy has it.

So there you go! I’m sure there was stuff I missed, so fill in the blanks (TWSS). I also am posting the first draft of this, so if you see typos, let me know on twitter, and I’ll ignore them. I leave you with this.


  1. Yay! MC Pee Pants!

    I need to get the gold box out and catch up before the next post. The first post was already etched into my brain after many failed starts to a Twin Peaks marathon.

  2. Unrelated, I need to know how to do the "read more" link thing to keep my posts from taking up too much space. I couldn't find it in the blogger interface. The last time I blogged regularly was in the Moveable Type heyday... #old

  3. I'm not the biggest Lynch fan (I think he's crazy-balls out of his mind- which may be the point...?" but I liked this:
    "First, when he (Ray Wise) figured out that Laura had died the sad music got way too loud, which is Lynch code for artifice"

    I think this is a problem I have with Lynch's stuff. I took that moment as annoying & badly done, not realizing it was on purpose. So,I liked that you mentioned it, because it gives me better insight to the scene.
    But dude (Lynch, not you) how am I suppose to recognize intentional bullshit for just bullshit?

  4. Also, who likes fun facts? #Rhetorical!

    Doctor Jacoby is played by Russ Tamblyn, who you may know for 2 reasons.
    1. He's Amber Tamblyn's dad. (& played God in Joan of Arcadia a few times)
    2. He's Riff from West Side Story

    Fun Fact 2:
    Richard Beymer, who is Ben Horne (Audrey's dad) was also in West Side Story, as Tony

  5. That's a good question, Gangy, and I don't have a simple answer. When it comes to David Lynch, you kind of have to assume that every decision he makes is deliberate. He probably is crazy-balls out of his mind, but he is also an artist, with a pretty amazing track-record making art films for public consumption. The dude knows how to evoke a mood.

    That isn't to say that you have to like what he does. There are plenty of valid critiques of Lynch. For one thing, many of his movies are a surreal reflection of his own personal life that are impenetrable to any real analysis. Still, it can't be said that he doesn't know what he's doing. Even those impossible narratives are brought to life in a affecting way.

    Also, it isn't really supposed to be obviously bullshit. The music thing was meant to suggest the superficiality of what was occurring, but it was also supposed to direct the audience's emotions, and do the kind of manipulation that scores do. I think if you put yourself into the shoes of a network tv audience in 1990, when overwrought scores were commonplace, the artificiality wouldn't take you out of the scene as much, but it would still make you unsettled and indicate that something is awry.

  6. Awesome stuff, Godsauce. This blog series may have peaked on just the second episode.