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Written by Mark Frost & David Lynch
Directed by Duwayne Dunham

Airdate: 12 April, 1990

Weekly serial television shows have two basic episodes: the ones where shit happens, and the ones where pieces are set up for shit to happen next time (J. Michael Straczynski, creator of one of the earliest long-form narrative shows, Babylon 5, called the former "wham episodes"). Twin Peaks, by its nature, had very few set-up episodes: partially because its soap-operatic nature means that it always had enough plotlines going on that at least one of them was ready to come to a head at any given moment, partially the point of the thing was never really the story (a fact sadly lost on audiences and network executives alike), but the overarching atmosphere of the town, a free-floating dreamspace of abstract dread and absurdity. Any episode that spends time exploring the mood of the place, therefore, almost by definition is an episode where shit happens; it's just that it only happens for a given definition of shit.

That being said, there are episodes that do feel particularly like they're in place to bridge plot rather than create plot, and the first regular episode to air after the pilot is one of these (according to one convention, the 30 original episodes of Twin Peaks have titles, drawn from the show's initial airing on German television; according to another, they're simply numbered 1-29, skipping the pilot, and since this appears to be what creators Mark Frost & David Lynch preferred, it's what I'll be using). So, for that matter, is the pilot itself, I guess; but the sheer head trip of being introduced to Twin Peaks, WA for the first time is so overwhelming that it feels consequential even if it's just introducing us to the characters, for the most part.

I do hope that doesn't sound like a slight. While Episode 1 suffers from a complaint common to 24 other episodes of the show - it wasn't directed by David Lynch, but by editor Duwayne Dunham (who, for the record, had a limited but intensely impressive editorial career: assistant on The Empire Strikes Back andΒ Raiders of the Lost Ark, graduated to lead editor on Return of the Jedi, started working with Lynch on Blue Velvet, directed three episodes of Twin Peaks, and came out of apparent retirement to cut all 18 episodes of the 2017 return of Twin Peaks) - it would take an awfully demanding viewer to claim that this isn't an enormously satisfying hour of television. Particularly if, like me, your favorite part of Twin Peaks is when it shifts from goofy to dark and back, as though it didn't quite realise that those were two different things.

Episode 1, when it's not busy reaffirming the character relationships we saw in the pilot, is bound by food. The opening of the episode finds Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) waxing rhapsodic over coffee and eggs over hard, before launching immediately into scene in which the officers and staff of the Twin Peaks sheriff's office are too busy cramming doughnuts into their mouths to communicate. Cooper's very important phone call to FBI forensic specialist Albert Rosenfield is divided equally in half between discussion of the ongoing crime investigation, and Cooper's recommendation of the fantastic pies to be had at a diner on the way into Twin Peaks. Pie is consumed at the local Double R Diner, under the motherly eye of restaurateur Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton). The same pie is brought home by waitress Shelly Johnson (MΓ€dchen Amick) as a treat for her vile husband Leo (Eric Da Re), and a warm dinner is extended to lonely James Hurley (James Marshall) by Doc Hayward (Warren Frost) and wife Eileen (Mary Jo Deschanel). And of course we must not forget the coffee ruined by Pete Martell (Jack Nance, who shows up in this episode basically just long enough to deliver one immaculate line), who didn't realise that there was a fish! In the peculator!

On the one hand, this food-crazed episode is just continuing to develop the series' sens of overall quirky charm, and Cooper's in particular (his affection for perfect coffee and pie were, the first time I watched the show, the main aspect of his personality to me, at least in this first season). It's also doing a little bit more than that, I think, though it's not exactly clear until almost all the way at the end, when we arrive at dinner with the Haywards'. Twin Peaks is above all things a study of domesticated violence - not exactly the same as domestic violence, though there's plenty of that happening. It's about the intrusion of actual, literal, embodied evil into domestic spaces, spoiling what should be the comfort of hearth and home, and the Rockwellian Americana of a small mountain town like Twin Peaks itself. We already get some of that right here: the immediate contrast of the ugly domestic hell that Shelly is caught in (the episode cuts to a commercial break an instant before Leo starts beating her) and the cozy '50s-style nuclear harmony of James and Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) and her parents makes the latter seem more hopeful and necessary, and also like much more of a dirty damn lie (I have to wonder if this contrast would work so well if there was an actual commercial break in between; great television thrives on timing the pauses in its narrative correctly, but this is one case where moving immediately from one act to the next is vital for the show's impact).

And of course, there's the literal intrusion of evil into a warm domestic moment, in one of the episode's two best scenes: as Laura Palmer's mother Sarah (Grace Zabriskie) is comforted by Donna, she has a pair of visions. The first, in which Donna's face is replaced by Laura's, is unsettling; the second is pure nightmare fuel, as Sarah glances at the end of Laura's bed and spies a man (set dresser Frank Silva, who was accidentally caught in a mirror in one shot at the end of the pilot, and thus was inadvertently borne one of television's all-time great villains) with stringy grey hair and grimy clothes staring back at her. The camera pushes in on his face a bit, and oh, how it does freak me out when it does so. Between Angelo Badalamenti's angrily toneless music and Zabriskie's screaming - my, how well Zabriskie does scream! - the moment is an outstanding jolt of raw horror right into an episode that has otherwise mostly stayed away from the thick atmospheric menace that Lynch spread over every moment of the pilot.

(The other best scene? Cooper's giddily enthusiastic breakfast, interrupted by the arrival of Sherilyn Fenn's Audrey Horne. I have issues with this subplot that we'll get into, but this first scene is such a great mix of the quirky comedy with innocent romantic bedazzlement that I'll let it slide).

But I was talking about food. One of the key elements of Twin Peaks is its portrayal of community: the first season is all about how many individual lives are affected by Laura Palmer's brutal murder (we learn just how brutal in the chillingly underplayed autopsy report in this very episode), because despite everything, this is a small town, everybody's life gets tangled up in everybody else's, and ultimately, everybody has to care for each other - it's why the two main human villains, Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) and Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie), are both depicted as greedy capitalists. They don't believe in sharing. And sharing, ultimately, is what matters most in this episode: the highly weighted act of sharing food which more or less opens (donut scene) and closes (Haywards' dinner table) the episode, along with the joy Cooper experiences by being in an environment where people who make food genuinely care about it. We're still in "Twin Peaks is pure and good and you'd love to live there" territory at this point, accentuated by the warm red tint to all the footage that makes it feel like a nostalgic painting (this tint was a major contribution of Dunham's); it matters that it should be established so clearly so that when it's stripped away later, we feel the pain of that loss.

Oh, it's foreshadowed: if you can make it through the end of this episode without noticing the series' fascination with men doing violence as a direct result of their understanding of masculinity, you simply aren't looking. And in a very subtle touch, we hear the first reference to an important motif, as Lucy (Kimmy Robertson), in what sounds for all the world like one of her long-winded non sequitur monologues, mentioned the sound of wind in the trees. It's not menacing yet, but it will be.

Which leaves me with the only other thing the episode really does other than to shore up the plot points as they stood at the end of the pilot: we finally get to meet the show's second-most important character, Laura Palmer herself, played by Sheryl Lee. It's only in two brief passages, one a gauzy flashback that James has under police interrogation, one the sound of her voice on a tape she mailed to her psychiatrist, Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) the day of her murder. What a spectacular contrast they make! The flashback is shitty soap opera nonsense, with Lee overplaying with schmaltzy indifference, like she had to learn her lines phonetically or something, and you could be forgiven for supposing that Lee is just a terrible actor. But her second appearance makes it clear why the flashback leaves that impression: because Lee is playing a high school student being a terrible actor for her dopey boyfriend. "God, James is sweet, but he's so dumb" Laura complains on the audio tape, and Lee's delivery of that line is as startling as her earlier scene is corny. It's the moment where the show solidifies its central theme: things that seem innocent are actually more complicated and shaded with grey, and Laura Palmer is the avatar of the whole town of Twin Peaks; the scapegoat who had to be sacrificed for the town's sins, even. But I'm getting ahead of myself. All we're left with right now is the sound of a young woman who we thoroughly misjudged revealing herself to us, and the sight of a man in gaudy tropical clothes weeping, and as cliffhangers go, it's not very grabby, not like the last shot of the previous episode. But for creating the uncomfortable sense that nice things are maybe not as nice as all that, it springs us into the rest of the series quite well, thank you very much.

Grade: A