EPISODE 1: “TRACES TO NOWHERE”
Written by Mark Frost & David Lynch, Directed by Duwayne Dunham
Airdate April 12th, 1990
The series pick-up for TWIN PEAKS by ABC stipulated that they would get seven episodes, not including the two-hour pilot, to constitute their first season. After the resounding success of the pilot, both critically and commercially, fans and the network alike were eager to see where the narrative would go. So four nights after the pilot premiered – not even a full week – ABC added TWIN PEAKS to the regular schedule and the series was off and running.
This first official episode opens in The Great Northern, where Special Agent Dale Cooper has taken residence and is conversing with his assistant, Diane, via his microcassette recorder about the details thus far known in the Laura Palmer case. He ends this conversation with a musing sidebar on Marilyn Monroe’s connection to the Kennedys. That the lead investigator of Laura’s death ruminates in these terms opens the show to an air of conspiracy and outside thinking that will become customary for the series. Furthermore, that Coop gets to Ms. Monroe from Laura is no massive leap: both are tragic blondes and in fact the character of Laura Palmer was based in part on Marilyn.
Cooper has breakfast – including one damn fine cup of coffee – and his first meeting with Audrey, at her initiation. He can’t tell her much about the investigation but that’s not the point of this scene, their chemistry is. It’s powerful like potential energy, sultry and somehow simultaneously innocent, some connection more than a schoolgirl crush or an older man’s wandering fancy. There is something real between them, as characters or actors one, and it shows from this first meeting.
Later that morning Doc Hayward reveals the results of Laura’s autopsy to Cooper and Sheriff Truman, and it paints a tawdry, tortuous picture. Her official cause of death is blood loss from several shallow wounds. Bite marks were found on her tongue and shoulder, and there are lesions on her wrists and upper arms from where she was bound. A toxicology screen is pending, but it was determined that Laura had three different sexual partners in the last 24 hours of her life. The girl is suddenly as mysterious and full of secrets as are the circumstances surrounding her death. And Ronette Pulaski is still in a coma, so still no help, but her wounds match Laura’s, so wherever they were that night, the two girls were together.
Shelley’s truckin’ husband Leo is home from the road and gives her some clothes to wash like the sexist, misogynistic asshole he is. Among them, Shelley finds a shirt with waaaaay too much blood in it. Leo being Leo, she decides to hide it instead of washing it.
Finally James is taken from his cell to be interrogated by Cooper and Truman. He admits to shooting the video of Laura and Donna at the mountainside picnic, as well as to being Laura’s secret boyfriend. He also concedes that he knew about her drug use, and worries it has something to do with her death. Lately, he says, she’d been afraid of someone, but he didn’t know who. He tells them about the last time he saw her, around midnight the night she died. He was taking her home after they had rendezvoused. He describes her as emotional and erratic, says she got off the back of his motorcycle when they were stopped at a red light and ran into the woods. Cooper shows James the half-a-heart necklace found at the crime scene and asks if he knows who has the other half. Knowing it will only incriminate him further, James lies and says he does not know. He, of course, gave her the necklace and buried his half at the end of the pilot when Donna told him the authorities were looking for it. In reality, though, it isn’t in the woods at all, but was stolen and now is in the possession of an unknown other. Whether or not Cooper believes him on this point, he does believe James isn’t Laura’s killer, so releases him.
Meanwhile, Leo is looking for his bloody shirt in the cab of his truck and can’t find it. He worries he might have accidentally given it to Shelley to wash. But when he checks the laundry, the shirt isn’t there. Leo is not happy about this.
Maybe his ears are burning because at that moment Bobby and Mike Nelson – still in jail for the bar fight they incited the night before at The Road House – are discussing Leo and some deal with him that involves a boatload of cash for teenagers: 20k. Half they’ve already given him, that’s where Bobby was the night Laura died, but the other half is still owed, and it’s in Laura’s safety deposit box.
Donna – Laura’s best friend – is having conflicting feelings and shares them with her mother, Eileen. On the one hand, she’s super sad her bestie was murdered, but on the other, she’s totes in love with James and now he’s in love with her, too. She’s afraid this makes her a bitch. Eileen lies and tells her it doesn’t, because that’s what moms are for. Speaking of moms, Eileen is a pretty famous one in real life. Her name is Mary Jo Deschanel, and in addition to being married to Caleb Deschanel, who will direct three TWIN PEAKS’ episodes, she’s also the mom of NEW GIRL’s Zooey Deschanel and BONES’ Emily Deschanel. If you haven’t seen TWIN PEAKS since those shows catapulted the sisters Deschanel to stardom, the family resemblance might startle you a little, in a super cute way.
Big Ed the gas station owner is having an off-the-record conversation with his buddy Truman about the bar fight last night, in which he was a participant on the side of good. He’s got a bump on his noggin, but says it didn’t come from a punch, rather from his head hitting the floor when he passed out: he thinks his drink was spiked. One of the reasons he thinks this is because of the guy tending bar, a one Jacques Renault. The frown on Truman’s face tells us all we need to know about the sort of fellow this Renault is: the unsavory sort.
At the craft store in town, Norma, Ed’s mistress, runs into Nadine, Ed’s one-eyed wife. Nadine is recently obsessed with creating completely silent drape runners and has come for supplies. You can’t reason with Nadine, only deflect her politely, so that’s what Norma does.
When at last they’re brought up from the holding cells, Bobby and Mike Nelson think they’re going to be questioned but instead they are released with a stern warning from Cooper that should any harm befall James Hurley, they’ll be the first people he comes for.
Next on Coop and Truman’s list of people to question is Josie Packard, the lovely widow of mill owner Andrew Packard, which makes her the mill owner now. She and Catherine (Andrew’s sister) and Pete (Catherine’s husband) all live under the same spacious roof. Josie is from Hong Kong, and Laura was tutoring her in English. The girl had come by the night she died, but only for an hour or so and was gone by evening. When Josie is called away to take a phone call, Coop correctly infers from body language that she and Truman are bumping uglies. Then Pete steals the scene by rushing in hoping to prevent the men from drinking the coffee he served them. Seems there was a fish in the percolator. Unfortunately, Pete was a sip too late with this news.
As all this is going on, Catherine is at an out of the way motel with Ben Horne, who is not only her secret lover, he’s also her co-conspirator in a plan to steal the mill land from her sister-in-law Josie. By this point of the episode, you’re starting to figure out the town of Twin Peaks didn’t need a murder to get mysterious.
Donna pays a visit to Sarah and Leland, Laura’s parents, for the first time since Laura’s death. While Leland seems to be holding it together best as can be expected under the circumstances, Sarah is an emotional and psychological wreck. She weeps and hallucinates Laura’s face over Donna’s own (shades of Robert Blake in LOST HIGHWAY here), clings to the girl like a drowning person, and then she has a full-on vision of a wiry man with long gray hair and beady eyes, clad in a denim jacket. He is hiding behind the couch, peering out at her. This is BOB, though he is not yet named, and this is his first official appearance, not counting blurred in the mirror at the end of the pilot. From the looks of him, and from the way he instantly shreds whatever’s left of Sarah’s sanity and reduces her to a shrieking mess, you can tell he’s important.
Deputy Hawk is at the hospital interviewing the parents of Ronette Pulaski. He learns from them that Ronette had a job after school working the perfume counter at Horne’s Department Store. That’s Horne as in Ben Horne. Hawk gets distracted when he sees a one-armed man exit the elevator and walk down the corridor. Hawk follows him at a distance, but loses him somewhere near the morgue.
Audrey is dancing with herself in her father’s office when he returns from his tryst with Catherine, and he isn’t happy to find her there. He knows she used Laura’s murder to scare off the Norwegians he was hoping would invest in his Ghostwood Estates development. This is his stake in the collusion with Catherine: she gets Josie’s mill, he gets Josie’s land, and Audrey’s attention-seeking tattle-telling has set him back significantly. Seems Ben Horne is a far better businessman than he is a father, or indeed even a person. Across town another strained parent-child relationship is explored at the Briggs’, where rebellious Bobby tries to light a cigarette at the dinner table only to have it slapped out his mouth and into his mother’s slice of meatloaf by his father, a strict, by-the-book Major in the United States Air Force.
Truman takes Coop to the Double R for some coffee and pie and to meet Shelley and Norma, the latter of whom sponsors the Meals On Wheels program which Laura created. Coop loves the cherry pie and needs a list of the clients on Laura’s route. While Norma gets that, Margaret the Log Lady comes over and tells Cooper that, “One day my log will have something to say” about the death of Laura Palmer, because it saw something that night. Coop is invited to ask the log exactly what it saw, but it’s a log, and it’s his first time talking to Margaret, so he hesitates long enough to offend her and off she goes, log in tow.
When Shelley gets home from work, Leo is waiting for her. He thinks she lost his bloody shirt, and now he has to teach her a lesson about respecting his things by beating her with a bar of soap in a sock. So then not only is Leo a misogynistic asshole, he’s also a sadistic piece of shit.
Elsewhere, Donna has invited James to have dinner with her parents. To be clear, Laura hasn’t been dead 48 hours at this point, and Donna’s already pilfered her man, not to mention he’s already allowed himself pilfered. Inside it’s all fruit punch and pleasantries, but outside Bobby and Mike Nelson cruise by, see James’ motorcycle there, and know it’s official, this dude took both their girls. Cooper’s warning be damned, they’ll have their revenge.
The episode draws to a close in the tropical-themed office of Dr. Jacoby, Laura’s secret psychiatrist. He’s listening to an audio tape she made for him in which she’s crying about how dumb and sweet James is. She says she just knows she’s “going to get lost in those woods tonight,” then adds, “remember how I told you about that mystery man? Well…” and that’s when Jacoby plugs in his headphones and we lose the audio. As he continues to listen, he opens a coconut and inside is the other half of Laura’s heart necklace, James’ half, the half buried by him and Donna at the end of the pilot. Which makes Jacoby’s the gloved hand that dug it up. Is he another suspect?
On a technical note, this episode was directed by Duwayne Dunham, the first of three he would helm over the course of the series. Dunham started his career as an editor, working on RETURN OF THE JEDI as well as two films for David Lynch, BLUE VELVET and WILD AT HEART. In the 2000’s he would shift into a director of TV movies, but his first experience working for the small screen was with TWIN PEAKS. Dunham does a good job of maintaining the aesthetic Lynch devised in the pilot, but there are obviously some differences in terms of tone and atmosphere. Most notably, this looks like what it is, a television show. Nothing too daring is done, stylistically, a reversal of the pilot which stands on its own as a movie, and a David Lynch movie at that. But this was to be the new norm, and it was encouraged by the producers. They wanted the basic atmosphere intact, but at the same time they also wanted the individual directors they hired to put their own stamp on things, which is why some episodes are Peakier than others; some directors came at it from an artistic standpoint, some from a narrative. Truth be told, this tug of war between stylistic consistency and inconsistency only adds to the other worldliness of the show, how it feels simultaneously separate from and a part of our reality, thus heightening its intrigue and allure.
Overall, then, this first episode was the first time TWIN PEAKS was working with room to grow. The show being picked up meant Frost, Lynch, and the other writers had the time and space to unfurl and broaden their tale. As a result, this episode has a slower pace than the pilot, but it needs to. Now that the basic set-up is out there, the story needs to simmer if it’s going to cook all the way through. This is a dense narrative, and this episode sets in motion a lot of subplots that were hinted at or absent from the pilot, but Lynch and Frost did an excellent job sewing everything together with the thread of Laura; even the stuff separate from the murder has ties to the girl. This is how you start a show, with dozens of questions begging for answers.
Next week – EPISODE TWO: “ZEN, OR THE SKILL TO CATCH A KILLER”
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Related Topics: One Perfect Shot, Twin Peaks