Every month, I will be offering at least one post on Twin Peaks...up until Showtime re-airs the original series. Then I will post extensive coverage of each episode (mixing new reactions with my many older pieces) immediately after they air. Stay tuned.
Starting with True Detective a few months ago, I am now keeping (and eventually publishing) a viewing diary on every series I watch for the first time. Part of the reason for this is my regret that I didn't record my initial reactions to Twin Peaks several years ago, even though I had just started blogging at the time. With this in mind, I recently opened a thread on the World of Blue forum, asking other Twin Peaks fans to recall their first reactions to a couple dozen major turning points on the show. The replies were fantastic, and eventually I decided to answer to my own question.
So here are my own responses, as I recall them. Some were positive, some were negative, and some were much harder to categorize (unsurprisingly, the Fire Walk With Me entry is nearly as long as the others put together). Some of these responses overlap with material I've written before for this blog - while others don't - so if you've read a lot of my Twin Peaks writing before you may want to skip around. Needless to say, it's all spoilers from this point on so if you haven't seen Twin Peaks yet, watch before reading. And learn from my mistake by recording your own reactions as you do...
Oh and one more thing. In the near future (possibly a month from now) I am going to sample lots of different responses into a big compilation post, showing different fans' reactions to various turning points. Frankly, it will be a much broader and more fascinating look at Twin Peaks fandom than I'm just able to provide on my own (not that that's stopped me from posting this as well!). IF YOU WANT TO PARTICIPATE, PLEASE SHARE YOUR OWN RESPONSES TO THE FOLLOWING POINTS either here or, preferably, on the thread linked above. I will eventually mix and match from all the different participants.
Leading up to Twin Peaks
I watched Twin Peaks in 2008 by renting DVDs from Netflix. I saw the whole thing in the space of about three to four weeks, so obviously my experience was rather different than someone watching it in 1990-91! But the experience actually began two years before I watched the full series, when I rented the old pre-Gold Box Artisan set from Netflix (which did not include the pilot episode).
I can't for the life of me exactly remember what/why/how I decided to watch Twin Peaks. I don't think I'd ever seen any clips, though I must have seen an image of the Red Room at some point [actually I think I'd heard it featured a "dwarf" but hadn't seen any pictures of the scene]. I was not a TV person at all, but it was doubtless through some film connection that I was drawn to Twin Peaks.
The big connection, of course, was Lynch. I hadn't seen that many of his films at this point, just Elephant Man when I was a little kid, Mulholland Drive (which I'd watched several times and was one of my favorite films), and Blue Velvet (which disappointed me the first time I saw it). I would watch Eraserhead within a year but I don't think I'd seen it yet. Nonetheless, on the basis of Mulholland Drive I knew Lynch was brilliant and that something about his atmosphere/style just connected with me on a gut level, like a dream.
I also liked the idea of the woodsy locale and was intrigued by the hook of the sad, wistful Laura Palmer mystery; when I was a kid I had seen some TV movie (not Twin Peaks, although it would have been around the same time) in which a girl goes missing and is never seen again, and all her classmates feel a sense of loss and it always haunted me.
So, without further ado...
2. The appearance of Bob in episode 1
I'm going to discuss the pilot further down the line, because I didn't watch it until after ep. 1 & 2 (only the Artisan set was available at this time). Watching ep. 1 I wasn't sure yet if I would like Twin Peaks. It felt a bit more soap-y and "early 90s TV" than I expected (I particularly remember getting this impression from the jail cell scene with Bobby & Mike for some reason). Plus it's always odd to enter in media res. Everyone's talking about Laura Palmer (this is the episode with those weird flashbacks/video montages) and things that happened the day/night before; I'm not sure if I even realized at first this wasn't the pilot but it became clear pretty quickly.
I wondered if Lynch had just executive-produced the show or if he actually played a role in its development. There was something there, but I wasn't hooked.
Good God, when Bob's face popped up on the screen I literally leaped out of my chair and yelled so loudly that my roommate heard me from the other room. In that instant I knew I was going to like this show and that it would definitely be Lynchian because that moment reminded me so much of the creature-behind-the-dumpster in Mulholland Drive. I'd never seen anything like this on a TV show before.
3. The Red Room dream in episode 2
This scene sealed the deal - I knew this was going to be my favorite series and an unforgettable experience. But I also remember the opening of the episode, with the entire Horne clan sitting around the table munching on Brie & baguette (or about to, anyway). This was visually the most interesting thing I'd seen yet on the show, and when "Directed by David Lynch" appeared on the screen I was not surprised. This started something of a game for me when I watched the full series - I would always try to guess if Lynch was directing before the final credit came up. Usually it wasn't that difficult to determine, but I remember being surprised when his name appeared on ep. 9 (the fairly low-key opening didn't strike me as Lynchian at the time) and also when his name DIDN'T come up after the Eraserhead-esque opening shot of Todd Holland's ep. 11.
However, this game would not resume for 2 years as I stopped my initial viewing at ep. 2. Not only was the pilot unavailable at this time, season 2 hadn't yet been released on DVD so I knew I didn't want to wade further in, only to get frustrated when I had to stop prematurely. The Gold Box came out a year later but for some reason I didn't pick up with the series until '08. Oddly enough, as I realized later, looking at my Netflix account, I rented the pilot two years to the day after I had first started watching the series. Spooky... (I also watched the killer's reveal six years to the day before The Entire Mystery blu-ray was released).
1. The pilot
I liked this episode, and it filled in some gaps certainly, but I don't think I was as taken with it as I had been by ep. 2. It's definitely Lynch's most restrained, somewhat aloof episode of the series (I discuss this in the pilot thread in dugpa's "Episodes" section). Much more Blue Velvet than Mulholland Drive. Most of all, though, I really admired how Lynch & Frost's screenplay unfolded so meticulously and precisely. This may have been the beginning of my curiosity about what role Frost played in the series.
One thing I distinctly remember from my first viewing of the pilot: breaking out into a grin and sighing with relief when Cooper appeared in his car. Everything had been so grim and moody so far, which was alluring, but this felt engaging in a whole different way. I don't remember my impression of Cooper from the earlier viewings of ep. 1 & 2 but this was probably the point where I got hooked by his character.
4a. The season finale - the fact that Laura's killer was not revealed
I am pretty sure that when I started watching Twin Peaks I did not expect the killer to be revealed at all. And I was fine with that. In fact, for some reason I was initially under the impression that Twin Peaks had been cancelled because Lynch declined to solve the mystery. And that made sense to me, I felt the point of the show was that yearning to know the unknowable and that this fueled the entire mood and atmosphere of the world.
4b. The season finale - Cooper being shot
On DVD, this certainly was not as big of a deal as it would have been in the spring of 1990 but I'm sure I rushed to return the disc in order to get the next one quickly. I don't remember any real impression of Cooper's cliffhanger, but I do know that I loved Frost's direction of the episode and considered it the best non-Lynch episode of season 1. I think ep. 7 plays best on first viewing, when we are totally hooked on the various plots and want to know where it is going. At this point I believed "all roads lead to Rome" and that everything related somehow to Laura's mystery. I thought, even if the final answer is never revealed, various clues will keep tying everything in together and indicate some even larger mystery.
5. The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer - did you read it before watching season 2? Did it point you in a certain direction?
I didn't read this until last year. I can't imagine what I would have thought if I'd read it before season 2. Even if you don't draw the connection between Leland and Bob, the abuse angle is hammered home pretty strongly so I think maybe it would have made the tone/narrative of ep. 14 seem less shocking than it did.
6a. The season 2 premiere - the very long opening with the waiter
This was probably my favorite episode of the series up to this point. While I enjoyed the tone of season 1, I was generally more taken with avant-garde surrealism than tongue-in-cheek postmodernism, so I generally preferred the hypnotic style of this to the pastiche-y Invitation to Love stuff. If the Red Room was a big turning point in knowing "I'm going to love this show" the opening of season 2 was another confirmation. It felt like pure cinema to me.
6b. The season 2 premiere - the appearance of the giant (which certainly takes the vaguely supernatural air of the show in a new direction)
I think I felt the same about this as I did about the waiter. It wasn't so much the narrative detail (although I loved the idea of making the mystery more cosmic) as the style: it was like oh yes, now we're just sinking into the bath of Twin Peaks and letting the water run over us.
6c. The season 2 premiere - the violent flashback to Laura's murder, with Bob making his first sustained appearance
I have no memory of my first reaction! Even weirder, when I re-watched the episode for my episode guide a few months later (I found it a big disappointment on second viewing, though it's grown on me again) I didn't even mention this scene!! And last year, when I viewed the episode a third time it still didn't really register for me. In my mind, I conflated this sequence with the dream in the following one, where Cooper sees the blurred Bob. Only when I listened to a podcast about ep. 8, in which people raved about this scene, did I go back and realize, oh yeah, this is its own distinct sequence and actually a pretty memorable conclusion to the season opener. Now it's one of my favorite parts of Twin Peaks.
I don't know why it left such a shallow impression on me the first three times! All I can conclude is that I responded to Bob jump-scares and creepy, unexpected moments and this was more of a sustained terror which didn't have the same effect on me.
At any rate, seeing Bob kill Laura must not have surprised or shocked me in any way. I guess at this point I had already concluded he had something to do with her death.
7. Bob crawling over the couch in episode 9
This, on the other hand, my God it terrified and thrilled me! I had the same reaction as I did to Bob's first appearance in ep. 1 and it instantly became my favorite moment on the show. But I also loved the "Just You" number beforehand, which reminded me of the "Every Little Star" sequence in Mulholland Drive, with the 50s music playing and characters exchanging long, dreamy stares. I'm always taken aback by how much people seem to hate it, I guess because of James' falsetto. It felt purposefully corny to me, yet also very sincere and winsome in that perfectly Lynchian way. I felt it did a great job setting the mood for Bob's appearance.
Unfortunately, I liked the Bob sequence so much that I looked it up on YouTube...and at the end of the clip a link popped up for a video called "BOB Kills Maddy." My first Twin Peaks spoiler.
8a. The killer's reveal in episode 14 - the fact that it was Leland
Nonetheless, I still didn't know who Bob was - or if he was anybody other than himself (though ep. 13 seemed to suggest as much). I knew that it couldn't be Ben and with Maddy being murdered, I can't say Leland was a total surprise - after all, Maddy was staying with him. Plus ep. 13 & 14 really start to push Leland in a creepier, more menacing direction. But I think part of me still expected Bob to be a standalone killer and not to inhabit any host, despite Mike's scene at the end of the previous episode. I thought he might materialize and kill Maddy and than somehow Cooper would have to hunt for a killer spirit without human form, which could have been interesting in a very different way I guess.
When Bob popped up in Leland's mirror - or really, as soon as Leland started looking in the mirror, straightening his tie - it was kind of shocking. The thought of Leland being Laura's killer must have occurred to me as a possibility, but I just didn't think the show would go there. It made me feel a bit queasy and uncomfortable, especially since I'd been so excited to watch this episode (at one point or another it had become clear to me that who killed Laura Palmer was going to get an answer...and soon). I kept thinking about all Laura's statements about her romance with the "mystery man," and the fact that the killer had raped and tortured Laura, and Cooper's earlier quotes from her diary and it was just like...oh shit. They went there.
8b. The killer's reveal in episode 14 - the fact that it was also Bob
I think from his very first appearance I knew Bob had something to do with Laura's death. Plus knowing he was going to kill Maddy...this part of the reveal was not a surprise at all to me. I mean did it surprise anyone - other than Howard Rosenberg? [context: Rosenberg was an L.A. Times columnist who insisted that Bob was giving Laura CPR in the episode 8 flashback.]
8c. The killer's reveal in episode 14 - Maddy's murder (maybe the most disturbing thing I've seen in a TV show or even movie)
Interesting that I wrote that in parentheses because at the time I don't think I had the same visceral reaction to it I would later (only on last year's viewing did the full weight of the emotion really hit me). It was grisly and hard to watch, certainly, but I would say it numbed rather than jolted me. Just pretty exhausting, really. Plus I was still reeling from the Leland reveal! And, as mentioned, it had already been spoiled for me.
A word on the next scene, though: the emotions of the Road House really sunk in for me, and crystallized everything Twin Peaks had been about - this nameless sense of grief and loss that haunted everyone, and became the undercurrent to the magical melancholy mood. I also loved the Road House sequence just before the killer's reveal, with Donna lip-syncing "Rockin' Back Inside My Heart" to James. Those characters never bothered me the way they did others. They felt like they belonged to the same Lynchian world as Jeffrey & Sandy in Blue Velvet, and provided a great gateway into Laura's world (especially since, after the pilot and like one stray season 1 scene, we never actually see any of the show's teenagers in high school).
9. The way the discovery & capture of Leland/Bob is handled in episode 16
This was my first big disappointment with the show. By this point I was definitely invested in the mystery narrative as something other than just a mood-generator and I expected a much more satisfying resolution. Cooper remembering his dream felt like a deus ex machina and the episode felt like it was trying and failing to be Lynchian; it was way too bombastic. I think I may have been a bit relieved, though, to find out Bob was purely a possessive demon although Cooper's line to Truman was a bit jolting/discomforting. I couldn't yet accept the idea that incest was a part of this entertaining world.
Anyway, it did seem like Bob-on-the-loose was a great narrative angle to pursue for the rest of season 2. I fully expected the show to highlight "the darkness of the woods" and explore the cosmos of Twin Peaks in new and exciting ways. It seemed like solving Laura's mystery had just opened up even bigger mystery.
10. Leland's wake in episode 17, with the comic subplots emerging and the writers trying to move past the mystery
My heart just sank the moment the two brothers started fighting. This may be one of the moments of my first viewing I remember most distinctly because I didn't see it coming from a mile away.
11. The realization that the Cooper-Audrey storyline was not going to play out
I don't think I caught on to this the first time. I enjoyed their flirtation but I didn't know where it was going and when it ended so unceremoniously I was distracted by all the other things going wrong with the show. Only after a few rewatches did I realize what a missed opportunity this was.
12. The stretch of episodes 17-23 (you know the ones)
As soon as the killer had been revealed, I switched all of my Netflix discs to Twin Peaks so that I could just marathon the series because I was so excited and curious to see where it went next. Becoming a lame attempt at Andy Griffith with the quirkiness pumped up didn't even occur to me. But I still expected things to come together or surprise me. I thought there would be twists, that somehow there was more to Evelyn, or later JJW (I expected him to maybe be a secret villain that would kidnap/hurt Audrey or something). What a bummer to realize there wasn't.
I also did not like the Josie/drawer pull episode, which felt like the show officially jumping the shark. At least before, all the bad stuff hadn't involved the supernatural elements, allowing them to remain unsullied by the show's general decline. Throwing in the Little Man & Bob felt like such a desperate gimmick and was delivered in such an un-Lynchian way. I probably wondered if the show was just done at this point but I don't think I ever considered not watching the rest. I can't remember if I read anything about the general direction of the show while I was watching it. I think after the Maddy spoiler I tried not to Google Twin Peaks at all.
13. Where you felt the show picking up again
Around episodes 24 & 25. Certainly Cooper getting back in the suit and David Lynch coming back to town as Gordon Cole was a big turning point. I loved the Shelly/Gordon scenes. (I think at the time, the pine weasel riot & JJW overshadowed the more promising aspects of #24 but I can't recall.) The big deal was that we seemed to be heading somewhere once again. The Lodge stuff was cool, and Annie at least brought a renewed sense of suspense into this world as I wondered what Windom would do with her. I don't think I liked Windom Earle though - too goofy with his costumes and monologues. But I definitely felt like I was enjoying the show again from episode 25 or so forward. Nonetheless, I completely skipped all of these episodes - indeed, everything after Leland's death in ep. 16 - when I watched the series again and did my episode guide. So last year I saw them for the first time since my first viewing. They weren't as bad as I remembered, but they still felt just as pointless.
14. The finale (and I know it was a 2-parter in '90 but I'm particularly keen to hear how the Lynch half played)
For whatever reason, I had a strong suspicion that Lynch would return to direct the finale, and that it would be memorable, and I was not disappointed. Since I had been hooked in to Twin Peaks by the directorial style, I just loved his bold choices in this episode - opening on the close-up of Lucy/Andy, the hilarious long takes of the old man in the bank, the wide lens in the living rooms, etc. And of course, the Black Lodge! I can't remember if I was surprised to see all the familiar sights again but I do remember getting a sense that Lynch knew this was his last hurrah and ended it with a bang. Turning Cooper into Bob felt completely Lynchian to me (only recently did I learn that this wasn't his idea, and that he probably didn't like it).
15. Fire Walk With Me
Feeling that the show had declined so sharply after resolving the mystery, missing Lynch's presence behind the camera, and having been fascinated by the "aura" of Laura (ha, that rhymes) I was naturally very excited to see the movie. I had picked up some sense that it was controversial somewhere, I can't remember where or what, but had no idea how much it was hated. I knew, obviously, that it was a prequel.
I don't totally recall my reaction to the early scenes (after watching the film, I felt they were unnecessary but that was partly colored by having just sat through all the Laura stuff - I think I was probably into them as cool Lynchian setpieces while they were unfolding). Overall, the first half of the movie felt very refreshing to me, what a treat to be back under the spell of David Lynch after such a dry stretch (not including the finale). When Laura showed up, it was so cool: as much as wanting to solve the whodunit of the show, I had been drawn in by the presence of this mystery figure who meant so many different things to so many people, who was always present yet frustratingly just out of reach.
But I was also aware that the movie was walking a fine line here. Was it just going to be a perfunctory re-telling of events we already knew? Were the actors now a bit too old for their parts? Was Lynch too distant from the pilot to re-capture the mood of Twin Peaks? And while Sheryl Lee had been perfectly cast as the alluring school portrait/frozen corpse, I had no idea if she could actually carry a movie. Her performance as Maddy hadn't impressed me very much and certainly she had never had a notable career outside of Twin Peaks, suggesting that she was more a screen presence than a true actress. I don't think I terribly minded the absence of Cooper and the ensemble and the show's usual mood/style, but I wasn't sure yet if Fire Walk With Me was going to work.
During all the woozy walking-to/around-high-school scenes I had my doubt. It seemed like maybe Lynch was just indulging his own fetish/desire to explore Laura's secret world. I expected to enjoy the movie for the curio aspect if nothing else, but wasn't sure if it would really live up to the first half of the series.
I'm not sure what the turning point was. It may have been as early as Laura's goofy dialogue with James ("a turkey is one of the dumbest birds" "Gobble, gobble") which is as weirdly affecting as it is goofy - you suddenly realize that Lee is playing it straight instead of winking at us as the show would have done. It may have been her smiling at Bobby, which has the quintessentially intense Lynch slow-burn quality to it. I think by the angels speech, though, I was hooked. Wow, I thought, this movie is going to be really good and hot damn, this girl can act! I was blown away by Mike in traffic, Laura's dream (really everything with that "open door" picture which terrified me on this first viewing in ways I can't quite explain - like the most uncanny image I'd ever scene in a movie), and ESPECIALLY the Pink Room (even though this was the time of the New Line DVD with the incorrectly-mixed dialogue) which struck me as the most hypnotic and brilliant sequence I'd ever seen in a Lynch film, which put it in the running for most hypnotic and brilliant sequence ever. And most of all, every scene delivered further indication that I was witnessing an extraordinary performance by Lee. I had no clue that this was in store for me, and it was such a thrilling discovery.
You'd think with all of this that as soon as the movie ended, I would instantly declare it a masterpiece. But I didn't. The problem for me was that the film re-awakened and plunged into all the dark stuff from ep. 14 that I had managed to push aside. I watched plenty of dark and disturbing movies up to this point, so it wasn't the subject so much that bothered me as the fact that, by presenting it in the context of a half-joking, whimsical murder mystery, Twin Peaks had gotten under my skin and made the reveal feel unusually discomforting. For whatever reason, ep. 16 led me to conclude that Bob was Laura's real tormenter and that he used Leland to kill her (I think I compartmentalized the rape part, and concluded that he was abusing her as a spirit, outside of any physical body). As I wrote in my review of the time, "the sense was that Laura's troubles originated outside of her home."
Well, the "wash your hands" scene destroyed that impression in one fell swoop and left me really shaken...
For my more extended response to the film, follow these links. Fire Walk With Me was the one piece of Twin Peaks that I responded to right away after a first viewing:
16. The Special Features disc
Obviously I didn't include this on my original list but I want to end on this note, because it was very much a part of my first viewing of Twin Peaks. After I had (semi-)digested FWWM, I watched the final disc of the Gold Box and was swept back into the show's magical universe. But with a much fuller context of how popular it had been and how complicated the process of making it was. This added another dimension to my appreciation because the offscreen story was clearly as wonderful and strange as the onscreen story! I remember being particularly taken with the "season one" part of the "Secrets From Another Place" documentary, watching the construction of this whole world on an L.A. soundstage, seeing their imagination become tangible, suggestive, yet not-quite-real. (It hadn't really occurred to me just how fabricated the world of the series was: if it bothered me to notice "the sets" when I popped in the first disc in 2006, now it thrilled me.)
This more than anything was the catalyst for me to immediately start the show all over again and begin analyzing it episode-by-episode. Although there was a half-decade break between this and my past year of Twin Peaks obsession, the process really begins there.
If you enjoyed reading this, definitely check out the other responses in the thread. There are many of them and some are really, really illuminating and thought-provoking, probably much more than my own.
Likewise you should check out the forum for the recently-concluded Twin Peaks Rewatch podcast, where a lot of newbies shared their own reactions and expectations (the bulk of the podcast episodes avoided spoilers, so a lot of first-time viewers followed along).