The Blog Formerly Known as Rebel Prince

Cult TV, Gen Y rants, and endless opera.

Twin Peaks: The Pilot Review

Posted by therebelprince on July 14, 2009

Alright, over the next few months (optimistically), I’m going to be reviewing David Lynch‘s seminal television masterpiece Twin Peaks on an episode-by-episode basis, focussing partly on a recap of the show, partly on an analysis of the episode as part of the whole, and a little on my own miscellaneous thoughts about the production. I’d love to hear comments from fans, critics or other reviewers about my opinions, and also any recommendations for good websites!

(In fact, here’s one now: Keith Phipps‘ reviews over at The A.V. Club, which I hope to live to.)

So to begin, of course, we turn to those two hours that revolutionised television on that quiet night in April 1990: the Twin Peaks pilot.

(Left: She’s dead… wrapped in plastic…”)

Episode Recap

We open at the Blue Pine Lodge where Pete Martell (Jack Nance) kisses his cold wife Catherine (Piper Laurie) goodbye as he heads out fishing. From the next room, a refined Asian lady – Catherine’s sister-in-law Josie (Joan Chen) – listens in. Josie’s husband Andrew was killed in a boating accident, and she has since retained control of the Packard interests and Packard saw mill, much to Catherine’s chagrin.

On the rocky lakeside, Pete is devestated to find a body somewhat iconically wrapped in plastic. After the arrival of Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) and Dr. William Hayward (Warren Frost), it is discovered that the body is that of homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). Over the course of this gloomy Thursday, the idyllic Pacific Northwest town of Twin Peaks is shattered by the revelations… and the implication that things might not be so idyllic after all.

A second girl – Ronnette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine) – has been missing but shows up, badly beaten and bruised, and collapses into a coma. Since Ronnette crossed state lines, the FBI sends out their top man, Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan). Working with Truman and his Sheriff’s department, Cooper investigates the connections to a murder a year earlier halfway across the state.

Meanwhile, suspects are brought in: Laura’s boyfriend Bobby  (Dana Ashbrook), who was cheating on her with repressed young housewife Shelley Johnson (Madchen Amick); and Laura’s secret boyfriend, the sensistive biker James (James Marshall). Elsewhere, Laura’s best friend Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle) seeks to find her own answers to the crime, and Laura’s parents Sarah and Leland (the perfectly cast Grace Zabriskie and Ray Wise) collapse under the pain.

Meanwhile, suspects are brought in: Laura’s boyfriend Bobby  (Dana Ashbrook), who was cheating on her with repressed young housewife Shelley Johnson (Mädchen Amick); and Laura’s secret boyfriend, the sensistive biker James (James Marshall). Elsewhere, Laura’s best friend Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle) seeks to find her own answers to the crime, and Laura’s parents Sarah and Leland (the perfectly cast Grace Zabriskie and Ray Wise) collapse under the pain.

By the end of the night, Cooper and Truman have unearthed a wealth of secrets about Laura: that there were other men in her life; that she was a cocaine addict; that she was taken to a train car with Ronnette and there she was raped and murdered. On the other hand, she delivered Meals on Wheels, taught English to Josie Packard, and tended to the mentally disabled Johnny (Robert Davenport), scion of Twin Peaks developer and mogul Benjamin Horne (Ray Wise).

It is the first day in a monthlong investigation that will shatter the quiet facade of Twin Peaks.


Twin Peaks gets off to a powerful start, with the first half hour the most emotionally draining beginning to a series I can recall. Zabriskie and Wise are cutting in their grief, particularly in the moving (and very Lynchian) scene where they learn of their daughter’s death. With the arrival of Agent Cooper, the series finds its sad-but-quirky vibe that would keep it reverberating in the pop culture memory for the next 20 years.
Written by series co-creators Mark Frost and David Lynch, and directed by Mr. Lynch himself, this pilot is full of memorable moments, and eerie atmosphere. It is an impressive day when a show’s pilot is the paragon it must live up to (other examples perhaps include Lost or Deadwood but are few and far between)

Here, we meet many of the quintessential characters. Among those not mentioned above: tearful Deputy Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz) and his doey-eyed girlfriend, receptionist Lucy Moran (Kimmy Robertson); statuesque Double R owner Norma Jennings (the bodacious Peggy Lipton); spoilt rich girl Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) who steals the show in the “Norwegians are leaving” scene; Shelley’s brutal husband Leo (Eric Da Re); Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse), whose character will be much analysed later in the run of my reviews; and soulful gas station owner “Big” Ed Hurley (Everett McGill) who barely tolerates the rantings of his lunatic wife Nadine (Wendy Robie). There’s also a brief glimpse of Major Garland Briggs (Don S. Davis), Bobby’s father and a key player in the events of the second season; and we catch sight of Margaret Lanterman, the Log Lady (Catherine Coulson).

From the beautiful shot of Josie doing her makeup that opens the series – and which will open her own final episode – to the classic image of Josie and Catherine, in opposing light and dark fur coats watching the police handle the body, this episode contains some startling imagery. But it’s intriguing to see some of the seeds that are planted early in the show. At the train car, we have the words “Fire walk with me” written in blood: the first chilling evidence of BOB’s reign of terror. We get a glimpse of a One-Armed Man (Al Strobel) lurking in the hospital, get rumours about the Bookhouse boys and links to the Roadhouse. I doubt it was a seed, but Cooper referencing W.C. Fields’ line that “I’d rather be here than Philadelphia” is an ironic moment looking back, since we all know about Cooper’s tragic associations with the state of Pennsylvania.

Lynch is obsessed with images, and images within images. Here, a ceiling fan adds an incomprehensible weight to Sarah Palmer’s grief. A black phone, fallen from Leland’s hands, is an aural reminder of their pain. In the soft, sleek Badalamenti jazz that accompanies Bobby’s arrival to school is a simple riff, a reminder of an innocence which all of these teenagers are about to lose forever.

Angelo Badalamenti‘s evocative score implements a solid number of the show’s key themes, which will come to be a bit overused it must be said. Laura Palmer’s theme, however, remains one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever composed for television, from the first moment we see her corpse to the final use of it in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The Twin Peaks theme, played first over the opening credits image of a saw mill (beginning a major connection with wood which will be one of the most important within the show’s mythos) is striking and eerie, while endlessly beautiful. The DVD extra on the Gold Box Edition showing how Badalamenti composed the themes (which you can watch here is very enjoyable, although the man himself seems to have a very high opinion of his own work!

(Above: The grieving mother, Grace Zabriskie takes the cake as Sarah)

Perhaps most importantly, and – as we’ll come to see – vital as a factor in the show’s downfall, is Sarah Palmer’s closing vision. This vision is the only supernatural moment in the pilot, but it was something that was primarily overlooked by viewers first time around. In fact, this is the most relevant fact to emerge in the pilot.

Observations From Another Place:
*In the show’s timeline, this takes place on Friday February 24, 1989. The month-and-date timeline was initially adhered to rigidly, as were many elements of continuity within the series. Mark Frost would later confess that this was one of the first things to fall by the wayside during season two. Throughout the week-long season one, however, continuity is rarely broken.

* The pilot was also released on video individually (and has always been a contractual issue in some Region 1 DVD releases). Lynch was also contractually obligated to add footage for a European movie version, importing the end of Episode Two and – although it didn’t really reveal answers – it gave a slightly more closed feel to the mystery.

* The pilot was nominated for 8 Emmys, including Best Drama, Best Direction,
Best Writing, Best Supporting Actress (Sherilyn Fenn) and Best Actor (Kyle MacLachlan). It won for Best Editing and Best Costume Design.

* We also see several minor supporting characters for the first time here: Eileen Hayward (Mary Jo Deschanel), Sylvia Horne (Jan D’Arcy), Bobby’s school friend Mike Nelson (Garrison Hershberger), Mayor Dwayne Milford (John Boylan), Betty Briggs (Charlotte Stewart), Bookhouse boy Joey (Brett Vadset) and Donna’s sister Harriet (Jessica Wallenfels), a rarely-heard-from poet. We briefly see Andrea Hays as Double R Waitress Heidi, who interrupts Shelly and Bobby’s flirting in the diner. She will not be seen again until the series finale, in an exact mirror of this scene.
* On top of this, we have the only appearances of some actors who would be replaced later: Robert Davenport as Johnny Horne, and Roberta Maguire and Rick Tutor as the parents of Ronnette Pulaski.
* The final first: singer Julee Cruise, who sings her own songs at the Roadhouse in several scenes.

(Right: Donuts.)
Some of the finest moments from these first sumptuous two hours:
The opening sequence: from the first shot of that bird in the credits through to the discovery of the body, everyone is at the top of their game, and the relentless mournful woodwinds playing on the soundtrack never fail to bring me down.
Principal Wolczek (Troy Evans) breaking down as he delivers the message of Laura’s death over intercom.
Catherine impulsively firing a worker after Josies tops work at the mill out of respect.
Our first meeting with Laura’s rambling psychiatrist Dr. Lawrence Jacoby (the ever reliable Russ Tamblyn)
It is a very solid opening installment, and sets up most of the first season’s key plots and themes. Whether it will live up to the promise is another story, but certainly in the spring of 1990, everyone was holding their breath…

4 Responses to “Twin Peaks: The Pilot Review”

  1. […] Read more:  Twin Peaks: The Pilot Review […]

  2. […] here: Twin Peaks: The Pilot Review Tags: first-season, laura, peaks, pilot, piper-laurie, sherilyn-fenn, television, twin-peaks, […]

  3. […] on July 16, 2009 We join season 1 of Twin Peaks as it hits the ground running, on the heels of the magnificent pilot episode. “Episode One” (known in Europe as “Traces to Nowhere”) is another […]

  4. Aaron said

    Also, look at the picture of Sarah Palmer above. You can see Bob in the mirror

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