“Traces to Nowhere”
By Colin Hart
8.8 / 10
The series premiere of Twin Peaks was one of the greatest episodes in TV history. But how can you possibly follow up such a monumental achievement? The answer is simple: just keep things interesting. Even though that’s easier said than done, all that’s required of the second episode is to maintain the mystery.
In a way, “Episode 1” is the most important of the series. That’s because it’s the first true test of Twin Peaks’ greatness. For one, it has to follow up the aforementioned pilot. On top of that, it has to do so without the direction of series creator David Lynch.
Despite overwhelming odds, “Episode 1” succeeds on its own terms. After the installment is over, we already can’t wait to see what happens next.
The installment is directed by Duwayne Durham, who had previously collaborated with Lynch as an editor on Blue Velvet. Via static camera work and heavily saturated colors, Durham seamlessly maintains the atmosphere that Lynch established in the series premiere. And with composer Angelo Badalamenti providing a constant commentary in the background, the transition between directors is remarkably fluid.
Then again, Lynch was never the sole reason for Twin Peaks’ success — proper credit must be given to the brilliant ensemble cast and their extraordinary chemistry. Even though “Episode 1” does a great job advancing the plot, it does an even better job expanding the characters.
Extended spotlights are given to Audrey Horne, Bobby Briggs and Shelly Johnson, all of whom become more personable as a result. Even periphery players like Pete Martell and the Log Lady, who would both feel out-of-place on basically any other TV show, help add to the overall charm and personality of the series.
But the character we gravitate toward the most is Special Agent Dale Cooper, who embodies the best of what Twin Peaks has to offer. He’s a brilliant detective, sure, but he also possesses the perfect balance of humor, charisma and eccentricity.
For example, the very first scene of the episode finds him hanging upside down in his hotel room like a bat, talking eloquently into his tape recorder. The next scene finds him smooth talking the young Audrey Horne at breakfast. Later on, he falls in love with the Double R Diner’s dessert menu.
Although Twin Peaks loves to revel in quirky dynamics, the hospitable setting can often be deceptive. Cooper’s investigation reveals that Laura Palmer, the innocent high-school sweetheart, was actually a depressed cocaine addict who had sex with at least three different men on the night she died.
Meanwhile, in what may or may not be a dream, Laura’s distraught mother, Sarah, has a disturbing vision of a sinister man crouching behind her daughter’s bed. The illusion is fleeting, but it manages to bring up all kinds of supernatural and psychological intrigue.
Yet no scene in the episode is more harrowing — or more realistic — than when Shelly Johnson is brutally beaten by her abusive husband, Leo, for hiding his bloodstained shirt. Not only does this set him up as the main suspect moving forward, but the scene also shines a light on one of the main societal issues that Twin Peaks wants to examine: the harsh realities of domestic violence.
Through extreme close-ups and a dissonant musical score, the agonizing scene quickly becomes unforgettable. Durham and Badalamenti manage to show us “the evil that men do” without actually showing us anything at all. Even more impressive: they manage to cover up Eric Da Re’s dreadful acting abilities. His delivery is more wooden than the Log Lady’s log.
One element the series premiere greatly benefitted from was its extended runtime. “Episode 1” is a standard-length 47-minutes, which means that some storylines aren’t given ample time to breathe. For example, the affair between hotel-owner Benjamin Horne and sawmill-heiress Catherine Martell is both confusing and superfluous.
Likewise, the interaction between diner-owner Norma Jennings and eyepatch-wearer Nadine Hurley is too quirky for its own good, playing like a poorly-written parody of the series itself. Idiosyncratic doesn’t always equate to intriguing.
Nevertheless, bumps in the road this early in a series should be expected. Second episodes are never perfect, and the fact that “Episode 1” is a worthy follow-up to the monumental premiere only proves that Twin Peaks is here to stay.
Another satisfying cliffhanger at the end of the hour — one that implicates Laura’s drugged-out psychiatrist, Dr. Lawrence Jacoby, as a prime suspect — makes sure we’ll be tuning in next week.
DONUTS & COFFEE
- With Bobby Briggs and James Hurley (and probably Pete Martell) now cleared of any wrongdoing involving Laura’s murder, the prime suspects are 1) Leo Johnson and 2) Dr. Lawrence Jacoby.
- Leo sells hard drugs, displays violent tendencies toward women and is in possession of a bloodstained jacket. Lock him up already.
- Meanwhile, Dr. Jacoby is obsessed with his former patient. He spends his time listening to recordings of Laura’s therapy sessions, and it’s also revealed that he was the one who uncovered James’ half of the locket at the end of the series premiere.
- Let’s also not rule out: 3) Jacques Renault (mentioned by Big Ed Hurley, but not seen) and 4) whoever the hell Sarah Palmer saw in her vision.
- Even though “Episode 1” is directed by Duwayne Durham, the episode is still written by Twin Peaks co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost. That’s not to take away any credit from Durham, but it’s a huge reason why the episode’s storyline remains so engrossing.
- Durham correctly surmised that Laura Palmer’s murder was actually a MacGuffin, and that the series’ real focus was the interactions between characters. He also believed that the relationship between Cooper and Audrey Horne formed the heart of the show. “Episode 1” does a great job establishing these facts.
- Bobby Briggs and his dad, the über-serious Major Garland Briggs, couldn’t be any more different. Nevertheless, they share remarkable chemistry. Scenes between them have a knack for being hilarious and touching.
- Two more love affairs are introduced this week: Ben Horne (Audrey’s father) and Catherine Martell (Pete’s wife), who are both scheming to take over the sawmill; and Sheriff Harry Truman and Josie Packard. Cooper correctly deduces the latter just by observing their body language.
- Cooper begins the episode asking himself, “What really went on between Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedys? And who really pulled the trigger on JFK?” He’s comparing the thrust of the current Laura Palmer investigation with two of the most famous conspiracies of all time. It could also be a meta-narrative referencing the series’ popularity. Eventually, Twin Peaks fans will study every frame of the series like the Zapruder film.
- “Episode 1” was directed by Duwayne Durham, and written by Mark Frost and David Lynch
Notes from the Black Lodge (SPOILERS)
Let me preface this section by linking to my “Unified Theory of Twin Peaks.” Please read it before scrolling any further. What follows are spoilers and analyses which try to prove my theory correct. So, without any further ado, let’s rock …
- Leo Johnson is heavily implicated as a prime suspect through two episodes, and even though he didn’t ultimately kill Laura Palmer, he was there on the night that she died. This can be seen first-hand in Fire Walk with Me.
- Donna Hayward tells her mother: “It’s like I’m having the most beautiful dream and the most terrible nightmare all at once.” The quote refers to her newfound relationship with James Hurley, which only came about because Laura died. However, the quote is directly in line with the “it was all a dream” theory. It’s almost as if Donna knows she’s in a fantasy world (or a TV show).
- Laura Palmer was Josie Packard’s English tutor. On the night that Laura died, she told Josie, “I think now I understand how you feel about your husband’s death.” In season two, we’ll find out that Josie is actually a coldhearted femme fatale who tried to have her husband killed. Perhaps Laura shares empathy due to her current situation with Leland.
- The sinister man that Sarah Palmer sees in her vision is Killer BOB, a malevolent entity from the Black Lodge that feeds off of human suffering. He possesses Leland Palmer to sexually abuse and murder his own daughter. Or, maybe, he merely serves as a metaphor for “the evil that men do.”
- Deputy Hawk sees BOB’s partner, Philip Gerard (a.k.a. the One-Armed Man a.k.a. MIKE), walking through the morgue. Just like last episode, the one-armed man disappears. He’s probably looking for garmonbozia (a physical manifestation of human suffering that takes the form of creamed corn). More specifically, he’s looking for Laura’s garmonbozia.
- The Log Lady tells Cooper that her log saw something on the night that Laura Palmer died. One day, the log will have something to say about it, and in a few episodes, the log will tell its story.
- In the Log Lady intro, she cryptically states: “Behind all things are reasons. Reasons can even explain the absurd.” In my opinion, she’s talking about art itself — if one can find meaning in art, then one should be able to find meaning in life. Twin Peaks is only a TV show, and if we can obsess over a work of fiction with such fervor, then why shouldn’t we approach reality the same way?
- The end of the episode shows Dr. Lawrence Jacoby listening to a recording of Laura’s final therapy session. She speaks of a “mystery man.” She also confesses that “I just know I’m gonna get lost in those woods again tonight.” Although the episode cuts off before we can hear the full quote, Laura seems to accurately describe her own impending death, as seen in Fire Walk with Me.