Pressure Reviews: Twin Peaks – “Pilot”

If you’re anything like us, you’re insanely excited for the new season of David Lynch’s classic noir mystery, Twin Peaks. But let’s face it, it’s been a quarter-century since the owls were not what they seemed. So binge watch along with us as we provide a weekly crash course for every episode leading up to season three!


Every great director has their signature appeal. With Quentin Tarantino it is his flair for conversational dialogue. Kubrick was a master of intricate set design and Hitchcock was the master of ratcheting tension. David Lynch’s strongest asset is by far his attention to the atmospherics. With the picturesque Snoqualmie Falls serving as a frequent backdrop, Twin Peaks boasted some of the most captivating scenery committed to television at the time. Within minutes of the opening frame, Lynch establishes the haunting score by Angelo Badalamenti, the wind blowing through the pines, and the cold gray skies as characters in their own right that will continue to set the measure of the series going forward.

The sharpness of David Lynch’s ability to cut a narrative is evident within the opening frames of the pilot episode. When the body of Laura Palmer washes to shore we establish our driving objective of the series within the opening two minutes. She has been wrapped in plastic sheeting and tossed into the chilly February waters like trash to be forgotten. There is still blood tacky in her hair. The blue lipped homecoming queen, veiled in plastic, caused for indelible iconography for the show and was likewise daring for ABC to portray at the time.

Laura Palmer: pastel goth O.G.

The show champions some seriously curious acting choices throughout and while many add to the eccentricity of the quirky town they inhabit, the tragedy of Laura’s parents discovering her death is undercut by her mother’s nearly-comical hysterics. Played by Grace Zabriskie, Sarah Palmer will continue to be a shrieking nutcase throughout the series. Conversely, Laura’s father, Leyland Palmer, played by Ray Wise, is one of the show’s strongest actors. Instead of similarly over-acting, Wise chokes on the stupefying loss, sinking into a believable and aimless depression.

Some of the magic found in Twin Peaks is the curious fusion of 1950’s nostalgia with their early 1990’s setting. Never once do the two eras collide in jarring distraction but serve to offer a unique and singular affectation to the town; as seen in the retro diner and John Travolta stand-in, football star and Laura’s boyfriend, Bobby Briggs. Before learning of the news in school later that day, Bobby offers the diner waitress, Shelly, a ride home. Here, we glimpse the first of many love triangles and love rhombuses. See, Bobby was Laura’s boyfriend, but he was also seeing Shelly the waitress on the side. For her part, Shelly was stepping out on her abusive cretin of a husband, Leo.

By the time Bobby gets to school rumors are beginning to circulate. The shock and devastation seen throughout the entire student body underlines the inter-connectedness of the small town and the subsequent ripples Laura’s death will cause. There are few for which her death hits harder than Laura’s best friend, Donna Hayward. Ready for another triangle? On the books, Laura was seeing Bobby (who was cheating on her with the waitress Shelly). Confidentially, Laura was also seeing emo biker, James Hurley on the side. Not to be outdone, James was fostering a budding romance with Donna (Laura’s BFF) who was cheating on her boyfriend, Bobby’s pal, Mike.

Simple, right?

The trouble in Twin Peaks soon spins out of control when another high school girl, Ronette Pulaski, is reported missing. The tragedy is no longer in the past but now an ongoing and potential crisis. When Ronette is found later, staggering in a daze across state lines, she is in a pitiful state. In nothing more than a torn slip, bruised, battered and dotted with fresh cigarette burns put out across her chest, Ronette’s abuse is visceral, jarring and effectively upends the quirkiness that had been established.

Ronette Pulalski after a looong night out…

While Deputy Andy Brennan is played for laughs, his sobbing at the scene of the murder, an abandoned train car, underlies the sheer brutality and degradation of the soul that the murder displayed, as well as how uncommon such violence is to the town. Within the train car a half-heart necklace is found near a small mound of dirt. Next to the mound is a scrap of paper with the soon-to-be infamous words “fire walk with me” scrawled in blood upon it.

The scene of the murder.

With one girl murdered and another beaten and victim of multiple rapes, the Federal Bureau of Investigation sends Special Agent Dale Cooper to investigate. Bright eyed and enthusiastic; It is an interesting choice to portray an authority figure as tender and childlike as Cooper can appear at times while still maintaining his effective professionalism throughout.

Much of Cooper’s running monologue is delivered into his hand recorder and addressed to the never seen “Diana”. While it may be a storytelling shortcut, it is an effective and clean manner to deliver narration while grounding it within the premise of the show’s reality.

When Cooper discovers a small letter “R“ under Laura’s finger he realizes this is no isolated act, but the calling card from a serial killer for which he has been on the hunt for some time. Giving the killer a reach and history beyond the immediacy of Twin Peaks raises his potency and danger. A larger, much more mysterious world, is threatening to bleed into the quiet town of Twin Peaks.

Agent Cooper and Sheriff Truman visit Laura

While several other characters are introduced in this pilot episode, they remain little more than cameos and we’ll get back to them when they make a proper, more substantial entry into the series, if for no other reason than to streamline a potentially cluttered review. Ultimately, all roads lead to the Roadhouse. The town bar, the Roadhouse is something of a barn mixed with a biker bar. Here, many storylines and characters established throughout the pilot dovetail for the closing scenes.

The singer performing in the bar, Julee Cruise, is a very odd choice for such a roughneck locale but Lynch knows what he is doing. She plays to the atmospherics of the scene rather than the surface of it, offering a spectral and moody pallor over the affairs within. As with all biker bars, a brawl soon ensues which finds Laura’s boyfriend Bobby tossed in jail for the night. During the skirmish Donna escapes for a secret rendezvous with James (her crush and Laura’s secret boyfriend). During a police interrogation Donna overhears that they are searching for the other half of the heart necklace found at the scene of the murder. Knowing James to be in possession of the necklace, Donna warns him that the police will be looking for it.

Being that last person to see Laura alive and having no corroborating alibi to offer James decides to bury the necklace rather than provide authorities with the evidence in an ongoing murder investigation. A curious choice that doesn’t really make much sense if you look at it too long, but such is the logic of star-crossed teenagers. During the burial of the necklace, Donna and James affirm their feelings with a brief make-out session over the mound of dirt they just buried Laura’s heart within, which, in hindsight is kind of in bad taste.

It doesn’t take long for Cooper and Sheriff Truman to pick up James and toss him in lock-up for the night until they can question him later. Within the same station, Cooper and Truman take a moment to reflect before retiring for the night before a table with an ungodly amount of donuts for such small police staff. Apparently, the secretary, Lucy, sets up the spread every night in preparation for the next morning. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever left a donut out all night and then tried to eat it the next morning but they get stale and aren’t that appetizing any longer. But, when in Rome, I suppose.

Diabetes, table for two?

The episode closes with Laura’s mother lamenting her death and simultaneously receiving a vision of a concurrent scene unfolding across town. A gloved hand reaches into the mound of dirt that James and Donna buried Laura’s necklace and steals away with it while Laura’s mother shrieks in psychic response. With such a compelling and mysterious pilot, a twist cliffhanger ending is not really needed to prompt interest in the next episode and plays a bit like an addendum but it does speak to the wheels within wheels narrative device the series employs throughout.

Aside from the murder mystery of Laura Palmer and the various love affairs (some of which were even omitted for clarity, but will be addressed when the characters become more prevalent) Lynch offers an ambitious C plot in the pilot that could threaten to muddy the waters and distract the attention of the audience to the driving narrative but manages to carry its own weight.

Town mover and shaker, Ben Horne, runs the Great Northern hotel where Cooper will be staying throughout his Twin Peaks residency. Horne is also trying to buy the Packard sawmill from Josie Packard, a mysterious Asian woman that married the late Andrew Packard shortly before his dubious death and inherited his sawmill. Josie lives with her late-husband’s sister, Catherine Martel, who is none too pleased her family’s sawmill has been given over to a stranger. More on this whole knotted bit of business as it progresses. Oh, by the by, Josie and the sheriff are an item as well. I mention it here if only to get you acclimated to the coming drama therein.

And one last bit of housekeeping. This episode is considered the pilot and while you’d logically considered the first episode, the show runners determined that it is something of a “zero” entry and that following episode is officially known as “episode 1”. Despite the faulty logic, I’ll be using their methodology so it syncs with their listings henceforth.


KEY PLAYERS: In the future, I’ll be referencing every time a new character is introduced in an episode. Since this is the pilot I’ll just address the key players this time.
Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee): Murdered homecoming queen; she has secrets
Leyland Palmer (Ray Wise): Father of Laura; likes to dance
Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie): Mother of Laura; sees spooky stuff, shrieks
Sheriff Truman (Michael Ontkean): Top cop in Twin Peaks; all around good guy
Deputy Andy (Harry Goaz): Sherriff Truman’s Gilligan; should not have a firearm
Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan): FBI agent sent to investigate; loves coffee and donuts and Douglas Firs
Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook): greaser Boyfriend of Laura; also dating Shelly the waitress
James Hurley (James Marshall): emo biker, secret boyfriend of Laura; also canoodling with Donna
Donna Hayward (Laura Flynn Boyle): Laura’s BFF; kind of a drama queen

-The blinking light in the morgue when Leyland goes to identify the body was unintended but Lynch left it in, thinking that it added to the atmospherics of the scene.
-Similarly, when Agent Cooper retrieves Laura’s safety deposit box from the bank the mounted deer head on table actually did fall off of the wall just before the scene was shot, but again, Lynch left it lying there as he felt it was just curious enough to remain.
-During Cooper’s examination of Laura. He turns to an orderly and asks him to leave the room, the orderly blinks and apropos of nothing says, “My name is Jim”. Cooper repeats his request for him to leave until it registers with the orderly. This was a goof but Lynch figured, ‘what the hell, why not?’.
-During the final scene when Laura’s mother sits up on the couch, rocked by the vision of the gloved hand taking the necklace, look at the mirror on the wall above her. The face of the set designer, Frank Silva, can be seen by accident. Lynch thought the image was so spooky that he not only kept it in but gave Silva a very influential role within the series that we will address as it develops.
-51 donuts. That’s how many the receptionist, Lucy lays out for about a half dozen officers. Seems like overkill.
-Originally titled, “Northwest Passage” the show was intended to take place in North Dakota
-The role of Josie Packard was originally intended to be played by Isabella Rossellini who dropped out at the last minute.


“She’s dead… wrapped in plastic.” –Pete Martel

“Take that, Mister Monkey Wrench!” Bobby Briggs

“Sheriff, we’ve got a lot to talk about.” –Agent Cooper

“They call her the Log Lady.” –Sheriff Truman

“The Norwegians are leaving! The Norwegians are leaving!” –Great Northern receptionist

  • Avatar

    Content Strategist, novelist and prolific roustabout who drinks entirely too much coffee. You can find him on Twitter @therealadamdodd