Return to the complete Twin Peaks index

Written by Mark Frost
Directed by Lesli Linka Glatter

Airdate: 10 May, 1990

It couldn't be more easier or more common to talk about Twin Peaks as having sprung in its entirety from the mind of David Lynch. For Lynch is, after all, the only member of the show's creative team to have real prominence and a fanbase outside of this series itself. Co-creator Mark Frost, who has several more episode writing credits than Lynch, hasn't done anything since the show of any real prominence other than co-writing both the awful 2005 version of Fantastic Four and the marginally less awful 2007 sequel Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. None of the writers or directors of individual episodes ever did something more prominent than work on this very show, though at least a couple of them are famous for other reasons - Caleb Deschanel for his cinematography, Diane Keaton for her acting. So really, why wouldn't we just assume that this is Lynch's baby, and everybody else an anonymous slave to his vision?

Because it's obviously fucking wrong, is why, and not just because Lynch and Frost famously stopped paying attention to what the show was doing midway through the second season. As a matter of fact, Twin Peaks is a show remarkably sensitive to changes in who's directing any given episode, considering how consistent its aesthetic and narrative vision is otherwise (all 29 regular episodes of the original run were shot by Frank Byers, and edited by one of just three men who pulled roughly equal duty). I insist on this now because Episode 5 was the first episode of the show directed by Lesli Linka Glatter, who went on to direct the second-most episodes of any individual after David Lynch himself - four compared to his five plus the pilot. It's also the first episode whose directing suggests that it was possible to leave a genuine personal stamp on the material that wasn't inherently Lynchian. In fact, it is pretty fucking terrific direction overall, and while it helps that Frost's script for the episode is the best since the wonderful weirdness of Episode 2, it's due in large part to Glatter's work that Episode 5 ends up as my favorite non-Lynch episode of the first season.

It's a grab-bag episode on the order of Episode 4, advancing each of the series in-play subplots a little bit, but without that episode's attendant dragginess. It helps that stuff happens in most of those plots, and that the episode's most extended periods of stuff not happening are so wonderfully delirious. The most prominent of these, by a considerable margin, is the arrival of our dogged officers of the law, Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), Harry (Michael Ontkean), and Hawk (Michael Horse), at a mysterious cabin in the woods. Here they encounter a very important clue, but that's hardly the point: the point is that this is the cabin of the widow Margaret "Log Lady" Lanterman (Catherine E. Coulson), maybe the most eccentric of the many local eccentrics of Twin Peaks. We've already met Margaret and the log she carries around, claiming it is sentient; but this is our first time really getting to spend time with her, and the experience is as memorable as anything else that happens all season Coulson is one of the show's most established Lyncians. She first worked with the director on Eraserhead, behind-the-scenes (coming to the production via her then-husband, Jack Nance, the film's star); during one of the many breaks in Eraserhead's production, she starred as the title character in Lynch's short The Amputee. More importantly, maybe, she and Lynch started getting into transcendental meditation around the same time.

The point being, Coulson is particularly well-suited, maybe even more than Nance, to understanding exactly the rhythms that a thick slice of Lynchiana needs, and she amply demonstrates it in her first extended appearance. Lots of Twin Peaks actors, notably Don S. Davis and Horse, are repeatedly tasked with talking about the peculiar cosmology of the series in tones that fall somewhere between religious rapture and folklore professor; Coulson's approach is unique in that instead of a kind of foggy ecstasy, she's impatient and barking. The cadence of her line deliveries has the same spiritual abstraction, but her tone is harsh and demanding. More than any other character, it doesn't feel like she's relating the stories about the woods and spirits around the town, it feels like she lives inside of those stories, and is in fact reporting them to us. Not for nothing was it the Log Lady among all characters placed into the episode previews made for the show's first run on the Bravo network; Coulson gets at the soul of Twin Peaks, the curdled mixture of cruelty and beauty and transcendence.

Honestly, if all it did was put Margaret front and center for a few moments, I'd be willing to call Episode 5 a top-tier episode, but it's only the best moment out of many great ones. Some of these would be impossible for any director to fuck up: the climactic reception at the Great Northern Hotel for a group of overly enthusiastic Icelanders is peak Peaks for a lot of reasons. There are little touches like the microphone that bursts with static, or Nance's rubbery facial contortions while asking one of the Icelanders, with suspicious horror, "your whole country is above the timberline?", or the gravely noir-esque opening and closing shots of Josie (Joan Chen) as a pitch-black shadow, pensively smoking, in dramatic contrast to the party. There's the great big touch of a dance sequence, in which Leland Palmer (Ray Wise), in the throes of some all-consuming grief that borders on mania, starts to shuffle around the dance floor, and is joined by Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie) in an attempt save face for Ben Horne (Richard Beymer). Laurie's game silliness in matching Wise's gesticulations of grief is exactly the kind of  "this should be horrifying but it's funny" that Twin Peaks does so damn well, particularly as the whole party turns into a frenzied parody of Leland's mental anguish. And then a cut to  Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), crying in frustration, brings us back down emotionally in the space of just seconds.

A similar balancing act is perfectly executed in the one of the most plot-inconsequential moments of the whole episode: the Briggs family therapy session with Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn), which opens as with some punchy banter between Maj. Briggs (Davis) and his wife Betty (Charlotte Stewart) that feels practically like screwball comedy; then as it shifts to a direct face-off between Jacoby and Bobby (Dana Ashbrook), it shifts in quick order from mean taunting to a moody creepiness, to genuine sadness. The writing is great here, but "impossible to fuck up" is selling it short: the scene is immaculately constructed visually, from the whip-pans between the Briggs parents at the beginning to the Bergman-influenced two-shot in profile where most of the emotional drama of the scene comes out, it's really quite a perfect scene throughout.

That, in a nutshell, is what Glatter brings to the series: perfect control of her actors' emotional states (besides Jack Nance having the most Jack Nance-y delivery of the show since he left a fish in the perkalator, there's the unprecedented perfection of the scenes between Bobby and Mädchen Amick's Shelly: flirty and sordid, but with the gleeful enthusiasm of teenagers in love, it's the first moment where their love story has felt entirely credible and worth following in the whole series), and knowing just exactly what to do with the camera. This episode is uncharacteristically full of big, swooping camera movements by the standards of the ordinarily static and slow-moving Twin Peaks: we get an opening scene with the camera circling from Cooper's side to his front, and from there on, it's clear that Glatter has an enthusiasm for using tracking shots and circular dolly shots that serves the episode extremely well, giving the sets a sense of physical presence and spatial continuity that's absorbing in a different way than anything else the show has done; she also uses the same techniques to clearly lay out the relationships between characters, both for emotional and plot-related reasons.

Episode 5 is a different kind of great Twin Peaks episode, more exciting and invigorating than it is atmospheric and otherworldly, but it still gets the core of the show right: the invisible seam between goofy comedy and tensed-up horror, and the melodramatic human lives playing against a backdrop of encroaching evil. Admittedly, I feel like the absence of the purely, ineffably weird keeps it just a hair below the level of the absolute best the show has to offer, but as a sustainable television show, and not just a playground for David Lynch to Lynch it up, this episode is an example of all of Twin Peaks's strengths, and really not a single one of its weaknesses.

Grade: A