Lost in the Movies: Twin Peaks Out of Order

Twin Peaks Out of Order

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.

This post will be updated throughout October as new entries appear on Tumblr and dugpa, where they are being cross-posted. All entries contain SPOILERS for the whole series.

I am re-watching Twin Peaks out of chronological order, from my least favorite episode to my favorite episode, probably to be concluded with Fire Walk With Me. Partly this is just a fun, different way for me to watch a show that I’ve viewed a total of 5 times (with some individual episodes being watched at least twice that amount). The series obviously has its ups and downs, but this way it will only get better as I go along. I already have the overall plot pretty firmly in my head, so I don’t need to worry about continuity.

I will be writing down brief reactions - a capsule paragraph or so for each - over the next month (I hope to watch 1-2 episodes a day so I can finish in October; had I planned better, I could have done an episode a day starting on October 1 and ended with Fire Walk With Me on Halloween…oh well). Eventually, when Showtime re-airs the series I hope to do an extensive non-spoiler episode guide (as well as an accompanying spoiler post for each episode) compiling everything I’ve written and/or gathered on the show so far, plus some new observations.

I’ve already spent a lot of time thinking about Twin Peaks as a whole, seeing how each piece adds up to something bigger. This is one way for me to look at them from a new perspective.

#30 - Episode 21
(s02e14 a/k/a "Double Play")

Summary: Leo awakens from his coma, Coop tells Truman about his past, Evelyn reveals that she framed James, the mayor is reconciled with his dead brother’s widow, Doc tells Andy & Dick the truth about Little Nicky, and Leo stumbles across the cabin of Windom Earle.

So to start with, my least favorite episode...

It was down to this or the Diane Keaton-directed follow-up. Eventually I went with 21 because I always felt it was more boring than the flamboyant Keaton episode, and depending on my mood that's a worse offense. Starting with episode 21 turned out to be a wise move. I haven't watched any Twin Peaks episodes for nearly 4 months (since I got back into the show in March 2014, that's some kind of record). It was such a pleasure to be back in that world of hooting owls, hot coffee, and woodsy decor that I was mostly able to gloss over the tired writing and direction of the episode. Even with subpar material, it’s fun to hang out with the cast: Ed and Norma reconnecting in the cozy diner, Pete as perplexed by forgotten frankfurters as his resurrected brother-in-law, and Coop and Truman lovably luxuriating in the pleasure of one another's company, their relaxed camaraderie in as fine a form as it's ever been. I missed these characters, and time passed in their presence does not feel wasted.

I've always been amazed by fans who don't like Fire Walk With Me yet are apologetic about season two, but watching the episode in isolation after a long break I think I can better understand their mentality. Even at its lamest, the show always feels at least nominally "Twin Peaks-y," and there is something comforting about its collection of characters, moods, and motifs. I was even able to notice enjoyable things about plots I don't care for: Hideout Wallie's, despite being the central nexus of season two's most useless storyline (James & Evelyn) is actually a pretty cool locale, and while Ben's Confederate flag-waving war games are pretty pointless the Civil War drumrolls on the soundtrack seem to fit the rustic Twin Peaks mood (probably helped by that roaring fireplace behind Ben).

On the other hand, the Lana Milford and Little Nicky denouements are as cringeworthy as ever - sending the widow into the room with her (armed!) wannabe murderer is easily the most thoughtless thing Coop has ever done. Meanwhile, it's nice to see a spooky entrance for Windom Earle; by placing him in an old cabin in the woods, the show finds a way to make this out-of-towner seem vaguely at home in Twin Peaks. Sadly, it's mostly downhill from here. Mostly though, especially in the first half of the episode, I was focused on the ambiance rather than the action and honestly that is probably the best way to get through this episode. I enjoyed episode 21 more this time than I ever have before, though that's not a very high bar to set.

One other thing: since I wasn't coming off 20 previous episodes mostly focused around her death, it was pretty jarring to see Laura Palmer pop up under the end credits. Along with the Log Lady intros (which I won't be including in this rewatch, largely because I watched them all on their own after Catherine Coulson passed away), those credits always remind me of the bigger picture, however far the show has strayed from its place of birth.

#29 - Episode 22
(s02e15 a/k/a "Slaves and Masters")

Summary: Donna and James confront Evelyn (who kills Malcolm), Ben awakens from his Civil War delusion, Albert tells Cooper about Windom’s crime spree, Catherine and Eckhard barter over Josie, and Windom leaves Caroline’s death mask for Cooper.

Different directors emphasize different qualities of Twin Peaks. If the previous episode's Uli Edel was taken with the familiar iconography of Twin Peaks - owls, coffee, wood, donuts, etc. - then Diane Keaton seems determined to replicate David Lynch's peculiar visual techniques. Bizarre behavior, odd camera angles, and distracting objects are her stock in trade, but it all feels too artificial, the actors posed like mannequins in lifeless dioramas. Aside from acting, Keaton's background was in photography, and a number of these shots, if frozen, "would look nice on your wall" to borrow Mrs. Tremond's phrase. What they lack is that dynamic "anything can happen" quality that Lynch's work evokes.

This was a close contender for my least favorite episode: sometimes Keaton's choices just alienate me even further from the poor subplots, while other times 22 has been a relief from the dull, very TV-ish preceding episodes (hey, at least there's something to look at here). I think my biggest problem is that the staging often obstructs the performances: when Truman and Norma squeeze their profiles into the kitchen's small window I found myself laughing out loud at the awkwardness rather than appreciating what the sheriff had to tell her about Hank. On the other hand, Albert fares really well here, with both Miguel Ferrer and Michael Ontkean - :( - selling the previously hostile duo's newfound bromance. And Jack Nance's bewildered delivery of the Hungarian dry cleaning anecdote overcomes the irritation of that swinging door.

Since I actually watched the previous episode last night (a practice I'll mostly be avoiding on this rewatch), I wasn't really able to see 22 outside of its normal context. So I'm left with the same hang-ups as usual: aside from the visual conceits that don't work for me Windom is quickly reduced to a cackling cartoon, Catherine's and Eckhard's machinations feel unnecessarily convoluted, and Ben's Civil War drama remains a bizarrely anachronistic dramatic choice (on another note, something sure pulled a fast paint job on his office, didn't they? And all gone by the following day!). At least the Evelyn story is over, although that's little consolation to me as I still have ep. 18 - 20 to go! Why they stretched that plotline out over 5 episodes when Denise only got 3 I'll never know.

That's it for the worst of the worst, as far as I'm concerned. The remaining weak episodes all have at least a few things to recommend in them beyond just featuring beloved characters and partaking of the Twin Peaks vibe: at least a full scene or two worth waiting for. Much as I like the image of Caroline's death mask, I can't really say that about this episode.

#28 - Episode 28
(s02e21 a/k/a "Miss Twin Peaks")

Summary: Annie is crowned Miss Twin Peaks and kidnapped by Windom Earle

I initially thought this would be higher on my list, but whenever I tried to move it up I kept thinking "But I enjoy these other episodes more." On its surface, episode 28 should not be so close to the bottom. After all, it contains some truly classic moments like Windom's creepy chalk-white face, as well as fun minor bits like Lucy's solo dance or Shelly & Donna goofing off in the back of the chorus line. And this is an "IMPORTANT!!" episode, setting the place for the entire series' climax - originally aired as part one of a two-hour Twin Peaks finale. There are so many episodes in the middle of the show that go nowhere, so shouldn't I give this penultimate chapter credit for at least attempting to deliver the goods?

Yet I've come to realize that I prefer my weak Twin Peaks to be light and inconsequential rather than trying too hard but failing. Once I began re-watching 28, I was immediately relieved that I stuck with my gut by placing it this low. This is an episode I would rather get out of the way early before moving on to more enjoyable fare. Above all, much of it just drags. There are some quick character touches along the way that result in chuckles, but few scenes truly sustain energy and interest all the way through. On a meta-level many of the writerly conceits are thought-provoking: Annie bringing up Laura (and Shelly saying "I think we'll need more than a day" to heal from her death), the contestants "wrapped in plastic" raincoats, the real Log Lady being humiliated by Pinkle & then replaced by Windom Earle in Log Lady drag.

But these touches also direct our attention to just how far the show has fallen; bonus points for self-awareness only go so far. If Fire Walk With Me was partly an act of rage for Lynch, and I think it was, 28 seems to epitomize everything he was raging against. There's just a general lackluster feel onscreen (the Miss Twin Peaks contest is particularly lifeless). Even the late-season mythology, which I usually find absorbing, descends into vague astrological goobledygook. And it's often painful to watch the characters behave so illogically. Why don't Cooper and Truman just stop the pageant before a winner is announced? Why can't Andy find Cooper in the small and not very crowded Road House?

This is an episode that may be "better" than a lot of the really cheesy, pointless mid-season fluff but subjectively this might be my least favorite of the series, almost more so than the grim twins of 21 & 22 with which I launched this rewatch. Given the meta stuff and the fact that is this is apparently the last piece of non-Lynch-directed Twin Peaks that we will ever see, 28 is much more interesting to think about than it is to watch. The same could be said about the next entry on this list, although I'll probably find more to highlight there. Yeesh.

#27 - Episode 17
(s02e10 a/k/a "Dispute Between Brothers")

Summary: Cooper comforts Sarah Palmer, the town attends Leland’s wake, Cooper is suspended from the FBI, Nadine returns to high school, Cooper tells Audrey about Caroline, Jean announces a new plan to frame Cooper, Norma finds out her mother was the food critic, and Maj. Briggs disappears into a bright light in the woods.

This was a very hard episode to place. On the one hand, this is where everything begins to irreversibly head south. The show's most compelling and troubling bits of drama are cavalierly swept under the rug, the human tragedy and supernatural flourishes of the previous episode are barely followed up on, and many of the worst comic subplots are initiated.

The entire wake scene is an absolute train wreck, just a disaster start to finish, goosed by the chaotic score, which can't decide if it wants to be sad or funny. And what’s with the cheerful demeanor of the townspeople attending a serial killer's memorial? It has been suggested that the actors may not have even known whose wake they were supposed to be attending, which is entirely plausible when you recall that the killer's identity was still a public secret at the time of production. This only hammers home how rushed the writers were in prematurely wrapping up the mystery that had provided their premise. Incidentally, Sarah Palmer's last scripted line on the show - before being dropped from the cast completely (until Lynch improvised her return in the finale) - is "I need to remember all of this..." Right before they cut away from Laura's tragedy one last time to reveal the mayor and his brother fighting at the buffet table! You can't make this stuff up.

When I first watched the series seven years ago, that moment with the two brothers made my heart sink. Suddenly and helplessly, I could see exactly where this show was going. Apparently director Tina Rathborne felt the same, admitting later that the scene represented an unfortunate turning point for the series and that this episode stood in stark contrast to her previous Twin Peaks venture, Laura's funeral. Indeed, Rathborne seems as confused as the viewer by this material. Similarly to her first episode, she indulges a lot of bizarre character traits (in particular, Hank and Ernie’s aggressive wrestling at One-Eyed Jack's is a wtf? moment). But this time, unmoored in the town's sense of grief and eccentricity, few of these gestures land. She also uses a LOT more music than in episode 3, one of the quietest in the score-heavy series. The wake is not the only scene to descends into a cacophony of distracting cues, adding to the sense that we are trapped on a carousel gone out of control.

With all that in mind, it's quite logical for the episode to place so low. On the other hand, this is a really watchable hour of television! Sometimes it's so bad it's good - the moment when Nadine throws the jock twenty feet in the air is worthy of a grade-Z kids' show, even more surreal when you realize that we are only thirty-five minutes of screentime away from Leland's death. In other scenes, the pathos and humor actually connect; watching it without the distraction of the previous stretch of episodes I was able to enjoy many character moments more than I ever had before. In light of today's unfortunate Twin Peaks news, Cooper's fond goodbye to the sheriff's station crew, especially Truman (with whom he swoons over a Green Butt Skunk fishing tackle) is enough to give the most jaded viewers a lump in their throat.

I was also surprisingly on board with the conclusion to the lame M.T. Wentz storyline, silently cheering Norma as she tells off her mother after a lifetime of belittlement. Catherine's appearance at the sheriff's station is also weirdly compelling and layered, a clear lie given unexpected poignancy by Rathborne’s musical choice and the realization that her talk of a guardian angel prefigures Fire Walk With Me. And while the episode’s and arguably the mid-season’s most thought-provoking dialogue was unfortunately cut out (it linked fear and love as opposites, and implied that Leland's self-hatred played some role in his possession), the campfire scene with Cooper and Maj. Briggs remains an intriguing teaser for the mysteries and mythology to come. It's amazing to realize, given how much fans conflate all the mythology in their heads, that there are no Lodges on the show until this conversation.

All in all, this is a strangely essential episode to understanding Twin Peaks as a whole, but that doesn't mean it deserves to be ranked highly. If I was judging it purely on meta-fascination, it would be in my top ten. Judging it for what it did for the show's narrative, it deserves to be dead last. Instead I'll place it here, fourth from the bottom (although in the future I'd probably rank it slightly higher for those enjoyable character moments). And I'll paraphrase Seinfeld: "It's a loathsome, offensive brute...yet I can't look away."

P.S. Make sure to check out Michael Warren's brilliant takedown of the wake scene. His image captions are as hilarious as they are heartbreaking.

#26 - Episode 19
(s02e12 a/k/a "The Black Widow")

Summary: Cooper learns of Jean’s drug deals at Dead Dog Farm, the mayor’s brother dies during intercourse, Dick suspects Little Nicky is the devil, Nadine joins the wrestling team, and Maj. Briggs returns during a stormy night.

Here's an odd one. This is the "sitcom" episode of Twin Peaks, and it's a toss-up which scene best embodies the winking cheesiness that the show has descended into. Is it Nadine dropping Mike in wrestling practice (a scene whose long awkward gaps would be perfectly timed with a canned laugh track, as the Twin Peaks Rewatch podcast pointed out)? Or is it the appearance of a character who answers James' simple questions with long, ridiculous soliloquies that are simultaneously non sequiturs and info-dumps (speaking of podcasts, the folks at the Twin Peaks Podcast - no relation - helpfully & hilariously dubbed this guy "Exposition Malcolm")? Maybe it's the newly widowed Lana Milford regaling Hawk with her brace-kissing escapades (before he - Hawk, of all people! - succumbs to a goofy pratfall), or Dick Tremayne and Little Nicky in matching jean jackets and ascots fixing a tire, or Andy's infamous thought balloon (if Twin Peaks is initially presented to us as a precious, unique little Gizmo wrapped up under the Christmas tree, then this subplot is the Gremlin that grew from its back to spawn its own foul litter).

My vote, however, would go to a bizarrely written, and even more bizarrely directed sequence near the end of the episode. After a spontaneous bout of Shakespearean sonnets, Lucy wanders through a deserted sheriff’s station to discover Andy, Dick, Truman, and Doc mooning over Lana. Flute music plays liltingly on the soundtrack as she tells them a story about her clown cousin’s striptease. How the hell did we reach this point and what law of TV physics allows this to exist in the same universe as Maddy's murder? During early rewatches of Twin Peaks, I considered this episode the absolute nadir. That's fair, yet I'm ranking it above several others for a few reasons. For one, the sheer ridiculousness keeps it from ever truly getting boring; also, there are several scenes I quite like on their own merits. One is Audrey's intervention for Coop, which would feel at home in the first season; another is a spooky, quintessentially second-season moment in the Briggs household (we rarely get to see them interact as a family, and it's always good to get more Betty). That scene is capped by a gorgeous shot of rolling thunderclouds that ends the episode on an appealing note.

For the most part, however, this feels like the ruined city of a grand civilization, taken over by barbarian hordes who have no clue what to do with its amenities. The characters, locations, and even musical cues are the same (check out the extremely inappropriate uses of Laura's, the Little Man's, and especially Harold's themes) but something at its core is wildly different. Oddly enough, the episode was directed by Caleb Deschanel and co-written by Harley Peyton, the duo responsible for one of my favorite episodes of the first season. Go figure! Whether or not Lana Milford is cursed, the show itself seemed to be hexed at this time; nonetheless, episode 19 is a guilty pleasure for many of the same reasons it is an abomination. I've bumped it up a few spots in my rankings - blame the Little Nicky thought balloon hovering over my head right now.

#25 - Episode 23
(s02e16 a/k/a "The Condemned Woman")

Summary: Norma leaves Hank, Jack arrives in town, James leaves town, Ben launches a crusade to “save Ghostwood,” Windom lures Shelly, Audrey, and Donna to the Road House, Josie kills Eckhardt before dying mysteriously, Bob and the Little Man appear to Cooper, and Josie’s face pops up in a drawer pull.

This is the first episode on the list that I can’t comfortably describe as “bad.” For one thing, there are none of the cringeworthy cheese-factor moments that occur throughout the mid-season (including the next episode, which I otherwise consider an improvement). Episode 23 generally feels classier than its immediate predecessors, due in part to the return of Lesli Linka Glatter, the show’s most accomplished and prolific director aside from David Lynch himself. Back on even keel, Twin Peaks re-harnesses its dissipated energy in order to conclude the long-simmering story of Josie Packard and plant the seeds for some new plotlines (Annie, good Ben, JJW, and Windom’s first overt attempt to interfere with the townspeople).

We even glimpse the long-forgotten Bob once again! Not to mention the Little Man; it’s easy to forget (given the multiple flashbacks, references, and upcoming reappearances) that this was the first time Michael J. Anderson shot anything for Twin Peaks since the alternate ending to the pilot in 1989 before ABC had even commissioned a series. Between Bob, the Little Man, and Josie’s memorable appearance in a drawer pull it also feels like maybe a whisper of David Lynch is finally in the air again (Lynch’s direct intervention in a show he had mostly been removing himself from). I always found it interesting (maybe it’s just arbitrary?) that every collection of Twin Peaks’ second season has included episode 23 on the disc with 24/25/26, rather than 19/20/21/22, as if a new chapter has begun. For many viewers this is the comeback episode where Twin Peaks starts to get good again.

And yet while planning this list, I struggled to rank 23 even as high as it is; at one point I even started viewing it before changing my mind and elevating it a few spaces. Here’s a good example of how watching an episode out of context can benefit that episode. Following closely on the heels of the deadly 21 & 22, 23 always felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back. By this point in a given rewatch, I am sick of the Josie plot and the episode’s deliberately ponderous pacing usually just frustrates me. The first time I saw this episode, having no idea where it was heading or how long it would stay good or bad, the reappearance of Bob and the Little Man didn’t feel like a comeback, it felt like Twin Peaks jumping the shark. Bob wasn’t scary and the Little Man looked foolish dancing on a bed and what the fuck was with that terrible CGI knob?? At least, I initially felt, the mid-season slump had avoided soiling the show’s Lynchian iconography but now that too had been dragged through the muck.

Tonight, however, I enjoyed the episode more than I ever have before; I’d even be inclined to rank it at least two spots higher. For the first time ever Josie’s dilemma felt mildly engaging to me, not just in theory but in execution. It played less as the result of confused writers and a confused actress unsure of Josie’s own intentions and thought process (which was part of the problem, let’s be honest - Joan Chen wanted out, and the staff never had a clear read on her part), and more like what David Lynch intended Josie to be from the beginning: a character who has been victimized and also has victimized others, and is supposed to be unsure of what she wants. Unlike those other quintessentially Lynchian inventions Laura and Cooper, the filmmaker was unable to rescue Josie from the show’s betrayals. So he stuck her soul in a drawer pull for safekeeping. The character whose enigmatic expression opened and very nearly closed the series (since ABC almost canceled Twin Peaks in February 1991) may very well return to our screens in 2017. “Josie, I see your face…”

#24 - Episode 20
(s02e13 a/k/a "Checkmate")

Summary: Maj. Briggs talks about his experience in the woods, Norma and Ed get back together, Nadine beats up Hank, the lawmen stake out Dead Dog Farm, Cooper is taken hostage, Cooper kills Jean in a standoff, and Windom leaves a dead body in the sheriff’s station

I can say with confidence that episode 23 is better than 20. But - going into this rewatch, anyway (I may feel differently afterwards) - I decided that 20 deserved to be near the top of mid-season two as far as subjective favorite. Now, that's obviously a relative statement. In many ways this is a pretty crummy episode and by about two-thirds of the way in, I was getting restless. Evelyn popping champagne with James before making out with Malcolm (there is a LOT of the Marsh clan in this episode), Ernie's weird antsiness (which never comes off as funny as it's supposed to), Andy's and Dick's "undercover" investigation into Little Nicky's orphanage (stupidly charming to me on recent rewatches but just lame this time)...all quintessential midseason muck. Whatever doubts I had about its placement, 20 floated up near the best of the worst on the strength of two sequences: the trippy opening with Maj. Briggs and the climactic standoff at Dead Dog Farm.

I've become rather fond of Dead Dog Farm over time. The decrepit decor and even the name feel quintessentially Lynchian, and I like its dystopian vibe plunked down in the midst of the bucolic small town. I've also noticed similarities between it and the room above the convenience store in Fire Walk With Me, but we'll save that discussion for another time. As the blonde mounty himself observes, Jean's monologue doesn’t really make much sense (it's about on par with Josie shooting Cooper "because you came here"). But there is a wrongheaded intuitive logic to Jean’s superstitious blame-Cooper paranoia; it’s the sort of emotionally-driven rationale that people generally come up with when they are looking for a convenient scapegoat. Coop himself seems slightly swayed by the force of Jean's presentation; this is key season two/fallen Cooper material here, paving the way to the series climax.

Similarly, that bravura opening (a bit cheesy but fun in its video-game graphics) nicely lays the groundwork for the Twin Peaks mythology. I'd argue that, along with Hawk's speech in episode 18, this is the motherlode of lore for the mid-season. And it's presented in a much more visually compelling way than its entirely verbal predecessor. That fiery tattoo symbol spinning through space; the major seated on his jungle throne (love the distorted growls on the soundtrack, which can be heard subtly at the episode’s end too); the giant owl flashing across the screen; the artfully stated "skies above and earth below" pivoting from UFOs back to season 1's "darkness in the woods”; Briggs' perplexing delivery of "Is this for the soul? My soul?" as he taps the wooden table (a gesture that makes sense only in light of Josie’s fate); and finally the water dripping from the ceiling sprinkler, linking Leland's death to whatever is haunting Maj. Briggs and threatening Cooper.

Much of this is down to Todd Holland's flamboyant direction - the young director certainly had a way with flashy cold opens (he also conceived that traveling shot through the ceiling hole in episode 11). But we also have to tip our hat to Harley Peyton, who receives the episode's sole writing credit. This is the last time in Twin Peaks history, including the upcoming run, that any of the show's four core talents (Lynch, Frost, Peyton, and Bob Engels) would pen an entire episode alone.

#23 - Episode 18
(s02e11 a/k/a "Masked Ball")

Summary: Denise the DEA agent arrives to investigate Cooper, Hawk tells Cooper about the Black Lodge, James meets Evelyn, Dick introduces Little Nicky, Hank tells Ben he’s out of One-Eyed Jack’s, the mayor’s brother marries Lana, Catherine forces Josie to be her maid, and Andrew is revealed to be alive.

This episode has frequently been ranked at the bottom of the entire series. It introduces the dreadful Evelyn and Little Nicky storylines, sets aside a good chunk of time for the who-cares Milford wedding, launches the final, tedious stretch of Josie's storyline, and makes it clear that the last episode wasn't an aberration: Twin Peaks is dead-set on becoming a slightly more twisted Andy Griffith knockoff for the 90s, Northern Exposure with a more ridiculous bent as it emphasizes postmodern pratfalls of a lovable, kooky small-town community. Well, sure - and 18 is definitely a part of my least favorite patch of episodes in the series. But I think it's a lot better than most of the others.

Yes, Evelyn and Nicky make their debuts but their scenes become much worse in the next couple episodes. The Milford wedding provides a platform for numerous entertaining little character moments. Josie's bedside confession to Truman may be one of the character's best moments, allowing us to see her vulnerable side even as we remain aware of a complex dark side she is unwilling to reveal to her naive lover. And if the show is going to wander into wacky small-town shenanigans for a while, at least it will do so under the guidance of one of the richest, warmest, and most well-played guest appearances in the entirety of Twin Peaks: David Duchovney as Agent Denise Bryson. There are three passages in this episode that ensure its place at the very top of the mid-season, and one of them is Denise's debut. Given the times and the show's general tenor at this juncture, Denise could have easily come off as a one-note gag, dated and cringeworthy today. Instead, thanks particularly to the acting and directing, she is one of the more nuanced, believable characters, gracefully walking the tightrope between cheap humor and preachiness without falling into either trap.

Another of the three excellent passages comes right before Denise's entrance, as Hawk lays out the show's core mythology. This might initially seem like a throwaway monologue and ok, it's a bit hamfisted, especially the conceit that this grabbag of European esoterica (primarily culled from Theosophy) has anything to do with Pacific Northwest Native American lore. But listen closely, especially to the bit about the dweller on the threshold, and you have an essential key to understanding what happens in the finale and feature film. And of course this is the first-ever mention of the Black Lodge; all in all, one of the more essential info-dumps of the entire series. Amazing to think this scene is tucked away here, in a mostly forgotten episode, overshadowed by the material surrounding it and entrusted to a secondary character.

Finally, the third crucial passage is Ben's nostalgic reverie in his office, watching an old film documenting the groundbreaking ceremony for the Great Northern. The acoustic Twin Peaks theme and the blue-tinted monochromatic home movies add to the scene’s charm, capturing the old, yearning flavor of the series in a way most mid-season episodes do not. But the moment also carries thematic heft. Until now, Ben has simply been a loathsome if occasionally charismatic cad; this gesture offers a glimpse into the more vulnerable side of his character, paving the way for his eventual, bungled attempts to become a do-gooder.

Additionally, there are a surprising number of other solid scenes scattered throughout the episode: Cooper's whimsical credo about playing off the board (delivered to a baffled FBI supervisor); our first sneering Windom tape, mocking Cooper's "hobglobins" and promising the audience an intimidating villainous mastermind (if only); and Betty Briggs' visit to the sheriff station offers intriguing glimpses into Major Briggs' mysteries while allowing Charlotte Stewart more lines than all of her previous scenes combined. All too rare, but as Ben Horne once said (in happier if more malevolent times), "Always...a pleasure!"

#22 - Episode 24
(s02e17 a/k/a "Wounds and Scars")

Summary: Harry grieves Josie, the Log Lady and Maj. Briggs show Cooper their tattoos, Windom visits Donna in disguise, Cooper meets Annie, Ben holds a “Stop Ghostwood” fashion show, and Dick gets bitten by a pine weasel.

Is this the "comeback" episode? Is it a turning point in the series, and a turning point even in this achronological rewatch? Does it lead away from the meandering trivialities of the mid-season and towards the more exciting, engaged Twin Peaks of the final stretch (and, in our case, eventually the more dynamic first half of the show)? Sort of. I've always characterized 24 as a breath of fresh air, as "springtime in Twin Peaks," now that the least compelling subplots are out of the way and some momentum is starting to build in the Windom Earle and mythology storylines. But truthfully this is more like a breather between two big episodes, even if it isn’t sandwiched between them on this rewatch.

There is no single moment that stands out above the rest (I do like the Log Lady and Maj. Briggs reuniting to debrief Cooper about the mysteries of the woods, but the scene’s charms are brief and slight). Instead, the whole episode has a kind of relaxed ambiance about it, thanks mostly to James Foley's graceful, uncluttered, energetic direction: lots of long takes and subtle camera movements to grease the treads, moving us into position for the show's final arc. There is some junk too: the fashion show drags even before the notorious "pine weasel riot" (leading many viewers to rank this episode far lower than I do), and even after all these viewings the John Justice Wheeler-Audrey Horne romance still does absolutely nothing for me. On the other hand, call me crazy but I find Cooper's awkward courtship of Annie charming and - despite its transparently artificial last-minute set-up - kinda believable. I like their first meeting here and the buoyant mood is well-prepared by Shelly’s hilarious send-up of the Miss Twin Peaks charade (if only the writers had listened to her).

I am usually just as fascinated by Windom Earle's deceptively low-key housecall on Donna, but for whatever reason (the too-jovial music perhaps) it left me cold tonight. Such are the perils of resting your reports on subjective whims. To flip that script, I usually laugh off Truman's grief-stricken non sequiturs ("that's the good thing about the law it DOESN'T BREATHE YOU CAN'T KILL IT!!!") but tonight I watched his morose temper tantrum with a lump in my throat. Partly due to the sad news of Michael Ontkean's recent depature from the new series and partly because I’ve been more taken with Josie’s story on this rewatch. The yelling still feels a bit goofy but Ontkean's croaking delivery of his follow-up lines (“She came to me!”) hit the spot, as does Truman's bewhiskered, whiskey-soaked hugout with best buddy Cooper. He has lost his lover, but he's still got his soulmate.

#21 - Episode 26
(s02e19 a/k/a "Variations on Relations")

Summary: Windom kills a young rocker and places him in a giant pawn, Gordon kisses Shelly in front of Bobby, tryouts for the Miss Twin Peaks pageant begin, Annie tells Cooper about her past, and Dick, Andy, Lucy, and Lana “enjoy” a wine-tasting event.

Finally, ten entries in, we reach an episode on which either Mark Frost or David Lynch are actually credited - both of them, for good measure! Of course, these aren't their heaviest contributions. David Lynch checks in for one last (memorable) appearance as Gordon Cole, smooching Shelly before he says goodbye. Aside from his brief, unenthusiastic vocal appearance in ep. 18 (which was very phoned-in...see what I did there?), this is the first time Lynch has appeared either on- or offscreen during this rewatch. Frost, meanwhile, co-wrote the teleplay with Harley Peyton, his only writing credit between the resolution of Laura's mystery and the final episode. The timing is odd, since 26 mostly feels like filler between the full-swing reboot of ep. 25 & the intensified climactic myth-building of ep. 27.

Still, Frost's touch can be felt as the various storylines draw together. Cooper even addresses this subject directly, calling the disparate but merging threads "different verses in the same song." That sense of an intertwined community is something that has been missing for the entirety of season two, even the best episodes, and it's a welcome return (even if it emerges more in the previous episode than this one). Several of the long-isolated characters are crossing paths. We watch Donna hang out with Shelly & Bobby (joined by Nadine & Mike, whom Bobby hasn’t palled around with in a while...for reasons Mike gleefully explains here). The white-haired trio of the Doc, the Mayor, and Pete lend their bemused, skeptical ears to Ben's pitch for Miss Twin Peaks. And Coop and Jack ruminate about love over whiskey and milk, in one of the only JJW scenes that actually works for me (mostly because MacLachlan carries it: I love his matter-of-fact response to Jack's lame "Hindus, amirite?" attempt at wit).

There's not much more to say about 26. Aside from two or three highlights, it mostly just chugs along harmlessly. Avoiding the pitfalls of the lower-ranked episodes, it also avoids their occasional heights. We only plunge into deep ridiculousness when a pontificating, smock-clad Windom Earle fires an arrow into Airheads dropout/giant chess piece-bound Ted Raimi (a/k/a Heavy Metal Dude a/k/a Rusty Tomaski as in The Ballad of Rusty Tomaski). But this is so completely, unapologetically cheesy that I kind of go with it. At least it serves a plot function, although "Next time it will be somebody you know" sure feel like a boy-who-cried-wolf cop-out on Windom's part. Exactly one-third of the way through the rewatch, we are mostly done with the show's mediocre batch. From now on we have a lot to look forward to.

(updated 10/16)

#20 - Episode 27
(s02e20 a/k/a "The Path to the Black Lodge")

Summary: Windom kidnaps Maj. Briggs, Audrey says goodbye to Jack, Shelly & Bobby reconcile, and Cooper receives a warning from the Giant.

We are now reaching the ceiling of what Twin Peaks is capable of in its post-Lynch, post-Laura episodes (two exceptions from this stretch remain: both involve Lynch in some capacity, and one involves Laura). Tedious late-season baggage like Lana Milford and especially John Justice Wheeler keep this one from completely soaring, but 27 does contain many striking moments. And the distinctive Twin Peaks mythology is finally coalescing, a fusion of the early show's sense of psychic dread with the late show's cosmic world-building. Desiring to evoke the old Lynchian spirit, director Stephen Gyllenhaal improvised a number of moments that weren't in the script: Andy crying at another crime scene, the mysterious trembling hands of the townspeople, Ben whipping his head around as a supernatural tingling emerges on the soundtrack, Pete calling to Josie in the wooden walls of the Great Northern, and of course the climactic montage of familiar yet eerily empty locations - a tantalizing harbinger of the momentous conclusion to come (this episode actually does a stronger job than 28 of setting up the finale).

Perhaps nothing better signifies Gyllenhaal's Lynchian touch than the way he approaches Cooper's and Annie's conversation in the diner. On page, this is yet another quirky exchange stuffed with romantic overtures and geeky non sequiturs ("Heisenberg!"). But Gyllenhaal adds a sense of dread as the camera pulls back slowly. Somehow the openness of the frame makes the duo seem more threatened than would ordinary horror-film claustrophobia. Crashing plates interrupt their kiss; cut to an extreme, slow-motion close-up of goopy coffee dripping out of its saucer. Aside from his unquestionably silly horse costume, Windom Earle is on-point this episode. The black turtleneck with soiled black FBI jacket is a far better look for him than longjohns and flute. My favorite scene this time, even more than those Twin Peaks-is-back! moments at the end, might be Windom's black-and-white video, ostensibly from his Project Blue Book days in the 60s. The off-kilter close-up of his stuttering lecture conveys more menace than a dozen episodes' florid monologues. Episode 27 is late Twin Peaks firing on all cylinders: woodsy esoteric lore, unhinged Windom Earle intrigue, and bustling town activity.

But there's still something fundamental missing here: the mystery that ties all the disparate strands together, the small-town tragedy in which the otherworldly terror is rooted, the open-ended question hanging over the mundane everyday events. It has often been said of the series that its central question was a red herring, that really the show was all about the community, just using the homecoming queen’s murder to introduce us to this world. And yet even the weakest of those earlier episodes have something the best of the late-season episodes don't. That incongruous portrait under every late-series episode reminds us of what’s missing. Finally, eleven entries into this rewatch, we are about to explore the hidden, haunted aspect of Twin Peaks. Who killed Laura Palmer? The next episode on this list opens with an oblique answer to that question, though we can't know this the first time we see it.

#19 - Episode 11
(s02e04 a/k/a "Laura's Secret Diary")

Summary: Leland confesses to killing Jacques, Ben and Cooper discover Audrey has been kidnapped, food critic M.T. Wentz is expected in Twin Peaks, Jonathan visits Josie, and Judge Sternwood arrives.

The journey through the ceiling hole is one of the best openings of the series, and Leland's confession, which immediately follows that striking image, is spectacularly good. If the rest of the episode followed in the same spirit then it would easily rank in the top ten. Sadly it does not, and so episode 11 barely scrapes by in the top twenty but, for a while at least, this was a very refreshing rewatch. Right off the bat, it's such a pleasure to see Ray Wise again. Of the many things the last dozen entries on this list were egregiously missing, his presence is near the top. And Sheryl Lee too - I'd been so focused on the idea of this being the first "Laura" episode of the rewatch that I forgot about Maddy. But there she is quite a ways into the episode, a useful reminder what a constant feature she was on Twin Peaks until she was swept away with the three L's (Laura, Leland, and Lynch).

Characters whom I’ve been watching for the past week appear much more in their element: Ben is a slimy schemer, Cooper the confident outsider looking in, and Audrey the teenager in over her head...even if she doesn't get to do much except act drugged-up at One-Eyed Jack's. But these familiar sights wear thin as we squander our time with Andy's sperm count, Josie's tangled plotting, and the who-the-hell-cares M.T. Wentz intrigue. The scenes pass by enjoyably enough, coasting on the moody atmosphere (this is the episode in which a thunderstorm passes through Twin Peaks) and the actors' charisma (including Royal Dano as a suitably folksy traveling judge), but several times I found myself tuning out of the decidedly non-crucial dialogue or action.

Here is where a lot of season two's flaws become apparent, and even if the very best stuff in season two is my favorite part of Twin Peaks, 11 reminds us that the show's decline wasn't simply a matter of ending the murder mystery. Speaking of which, many first-time viewers identify this as the episode in which Laura Palmer really seems to recede into the background, even as her story remains unresolved. Aside from the opening which dwells on Leland's grief and the evocative scene in which Harold reads from the secret diary, I suppose that’s mostly true. Which makes this a good transitional episode for my out-of-order rewatch.

#18 - Episode 15
(s02e08 a/k/a "Drive with a Dead Girl")

Summary: Leland hides Maddy’s body in a golf bag, Norma’s mother arrives in town, Ben discovers Catherine is still alive, Mike escapes and is recaptured, Truman charges Ben with the murder of Laura Palmer, and the body of Maddy is discovered, wrapped in plastic.

For two episodes in the middle of its run - maybe only an episode and a half - Twin Peaks exists as a very different show than it was before or afterwards. The narrative viewpoint is aligned more with Leland than Cooper. We are no longer driven by mystery, because we know that Laura was killed by Leland, who is possessed in some capacity by a spirit named Bob (we are not yet certain about the nature of that possession). But we are still driven by investigation, because Coop and Truman have not yet discovered the culprit. Ben is their lead suspect, an aspect of the case played mostly for laughs as Pete humiliates the disgraced mogul and Jerry offers his brother a lackluster legal defense.

As with other episodes in this rewatch, 15 thrives out of context. At times I was surprised that it placed so low on my list. Ray Wise tears into his juicy part with gusto, the Richard Beymer-David Patrick Kelly dynamic is hilarious as always, Al Strobel continues to command the camera, and Kyle MacLachlan's troubled and troublesome chemistry with Sherilyn Fenn shines again in the penultimate scene, which was probably my favorite on this viewing. I also have a real soft spot for the Hook Rug Dance (on my first watch-through this was one of the last scenes in the series to really capture that "Twin Peaks magic" for me) and there are several excellent sequences with Leland - first when his fake sobs dissolve into maniacal snickers while a suspicious Cooper stands behind him, and later as he weaves back and forth on the road, singing “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” and nearly crashing into a gated golf course.

But somehow it's that near-final moment in the Great Northern that whispers to us of all the things the show once promised to be, and occasionally fulfilled. Cooper is alone, speaking to Diane while sitting shirtless on his bed, stomach wound exposed. This allows us to glimpse the vulnerability beneath his confident exterior in a way that doesn't feel as cheap or tawdry as the FBI suspension and Windom Earle plotlines frequently do. Then Audrey comes knocking, and her visit serves to remind us that their connection was always more about star-crossed desire than One True Pairing. I don't think their relationship should have ever been consummated, but if it was, it would have to be deeply tied into Cooper's downfall. What Audrey longs for in this scene, even if she doesn't quite know it, is less a romantic partner than a father figure, and Cooper, meanwhile, may be looking for a reassuring crutch (a Diane in the flesh, whom he can embrace as well as talk to).

Also powering this scene along is the evocative sound design - something Caleb Deschanel thrives with (see his use of wind rustling the plastic in Shelly's house back in episode 6). This time that eerie noise is the night air whistling at Cooper's open window, the darkness of the woods calling out even to those shut away in a comfortable, if temporary, home. Watched in its normal order, immediately after the titanic achievement of the killer's reveal, 15 can seem like a letdown, its tone a little too wacky for the horror we've just witnessed, its narrative uneven (and to be fair, the Norma's mom/Ernie Niles/Lucy's sister stuff does feel like a new low). Watched this way, however, before the best episodes and after the worst, its strengths become more apparent. Fleetingly at least, episode 15 is a poignant promise of what Twin Peaks could have been, if it had just had more faith in itself.

#17 - Episode 1
(s01e02 a/k/a "Traces to Nowhere")

Summary: Cooper meets Audrey, Cooper and Truman interview various townspeople, Pete discovers a fish in his percolator, the Log Lady says her log heard something the night Laura died, Sarah has a vision of Bob, Hawk spots the One-Armed Man at the hospital, and Jacoby is revealed to have Laura’s necklace while listening to her tape.

Woah, woah, wait a minute...why is this episode ranked so low?? It's one of only three episodes written by the core duo of Mark Frost and David Lynch. It contains some of the most quotable dialogue in the entire series ("This is, excuse me, a damn fine cup of coffee." "There's a fish in the percolator!" "My log saw something that night." "It's like I'm having the most beautiful dream and the most terrible nightmare all at once." and so on...). The holy trinity of coffee, pie, and donuts, which barely featured in the pilot, are fully established here. Many characters only glimpsed in the first installment are getting fleshed out, particularly Leo and Audrey (who meets Coop for the first time). We are so early in the series that no meandering detours or disappointing dead ends have been established yet; everything in town - and everybody, even characters like James and Josie, whom we might later lose interest in - still seems mysterious and intriguing.

This remains true rewatching the series, knowing what's to come; hell, it's even true watching the series out-of-order, having just recently experienced those later episodes. It's in the pacing, the way the characters interact, the freshness of the motifs and locales (this was the first bit of Twin Peaks shot on those iconic sets, doubling for the Washington locations). All in all, 1 is just a completely solid episode, chugging along on the power of what has been established for Twin Peaks while subtly adding new complications and angles. And yet here we are with the first regular episode of the series, a member of the golden first season, not even managing to crack the top half of my list.

Partly that's the strength of everything to come. But it's also due to episode 1's limitations, which feels like a better word that "weaknesses." The episode does exactly what it needs to do, transitioning the potentially standalone two-hour TV event into an hourlong ongoing weekly series, investing us in the individual characters (some of whom, including Coop, felt a bit colder in the pilot) and feeding us enough morsels of plot to establish some season-long arcs while leaving plenty withheld for later revelations. But so many episodes do more than what they need to, and so episode 1 often strikes me as a little underwhelming. There are many great moments, but no scenes that fully transport me from beginning to end.

This was the first episode of Twin Peaks I ever saw, before the pilot was widely available, and I had a mixed impression at the time. Much of it seemed very conventionally "TV"-ish and I wondered how deep David Lynch's involvement really went. Then came the scene at the Palmer house, and Bob popped up, and I was completely hooked (although the jump-scare doesn't do much for me anymore). What episode 1 really has going for it, what reminds me of its worth and gets me excited for upcoming entries, is that feeling of existing in a rich world of endless possibilities even if we aren’t doing much with them yet. The Laura mystery, which hovers over everything, still feels tantalizingly out-of-reach even as this episode brings us closer to her than the pilot via her first voice recording, a gauzy flashback and a weirdly overdubbed and distorted "Help meeeee..." Watching this, I can get a sense of how audiences at the time could be both fascinated and frustrated by the mystery, wondering with dread if it was going to tease them forever or if, someday in the distant future, they would finally get answers.

#16 - Episode 16
(s02e09 a/k/a "Arbitrary Law")

Summary: Cooper interacts with the room service waiter, the one-armed man, and the giant, Ben signs Ghost Wood over to Catherine when she reveals she has been playing Tojamura, Donna and Cooper discover missing pages of Laura’s diary, Cooper gathers suspects at the Road House and recalls the secret Laura whispered in his ear, Leland is tricked into a jail cell and Bob reveals himself, Bob confesses to the murders of Laura and Maddy and escapes Leland’s body, and Leland dies while Cooper guides him “into the light.”

And then there were answers. Too many? Not enough? The wrong ones? It's appropriate that episode 16 lands in the middle of my ranking because after seven years and at least seven viewings I still cannot easily summarize how I feel about it. Arguably even more than the unmitigated disaster of episode 17, this is where the ball gets truly dropped. After sixteen episodes of build-up and anticipation, the answer just falls into Cooper's lap in a turn of events that never really feels more than a contrivance to me, although I have a better sense of what they were going for now than I did the first time. Many of the concepts are compelling - a resolution coming through instinct rather than pure deduction, Laura herself playing an active role in solving her own mystery through the diary and dream, the missing ring standing in for Cooper's comprehension of what actually happened to Laura (in a way that will be built upon in both his autobiography and the film Fire Walk With Me, different as those works are in most respects).

And yet the highly stylized direction, with its showy angles, rich colors, and dramatic lighting, cloaks what is essentially a matter-of-fact delivery of the material. It unfolds as it would have been described on the page with little understanding of the subconscious intention behind it - there is no sense, as there is in every Lynchian episode, of a secret knowledge that can't quite be articulated but is deeply felt in every gesture or observation. I think the first time I watched episode 16, eager to see how the writers would handle this massive repertoire of suggestion and mood and imagery, I came away with the crushingly disappointed feeling that the emperor had no clothes. Something else that bothers me about the episode now, which I may have brushed over at the time (I may have even initially been relieved by its evasions, at least until I was confronted by the film), is that this matter-of-fact here's-what-it-is delivery applies not only to Cooper's revelation but to the Leland/Bob relationship as well.

Potential for ambiguity exists in throwaway lines, the other character's responses to the situation, and expressions or gestures that could have been imbued with a sense of awful knowledge. All of which are exploited to the hilt in Fire Walk With Me, leaving us with an unshakable impression of Leland's responsibility despite Bob's real existence. That ambiguity is lost in 16 because Tim Hunter's admittedly gripping direction is unsubtle enough to suggest greater depths and, unfortunately, because Ray Wise's bravura performance - some of the juiciest scenery-chewing in the entire series - was devoted to the idea of Leland as innocent victim of a completely distinct, maniacal demon. "Is it any easier to believe a man would rape and murder his own daughter?" Cooper asks Truman - and us. "Any more comforting?" No and no, but that's precisely why it's needed. Without that knowledge of Leland's guilt, Twin Peaks becomes little more than a spooky ghost story, fun but meaningless. And this does an immense disservice to all the moments of gravity and consequence (Maddy's murder foremost among them) that the show has gathered along its way to this climactic reckoning.

I would not feel comfortable relegating 16 to the bottom of the heap any more than I would feel comfortable elevating it to the top. The best description I've encountered comes from Martha Nochimson: "The show was reaching a crescendo at the same time that it was crumbling." Aside from the many good and bad things it is, there’s one thing it isn't: boring. This is absolutely gripping television from start to finish and it can't help but be momentous, even if it doesn't quite know what to do with that momentum. And there are so many indelible images: the giant appearing against the red curtains, palm out; the golden ring bouncing on the floor; the indoor deluge pounding down on the dripping detective as he holds the dying killer in his arms and recites the Tibetan Book of the Dead; Donna's red lips reciting Laura's words across time and space, emerging from the faded memory of a Red Room; Leland's twisted visage in the jail cell as he transforms into something more feral than human; and Donna's nervous discomfort and terrified reaction as Leland dances too close before grabbing her tight with all the power and desire at his command...a gesture all too human.

Ultimately, episode 16 is to Twin Peaks as Bob is to Leland: the familiar appearance cloaks an alien entity inside, something “off” about its movement and delivery that can’t exactly be pinpointed, and yet the two belong to one another. Their compromising synchronicity can't simply be dismissed much as we might wish otherwise.

#15 - Episode 25
(s02e18 a/k/a "On the Wings of Love")

Summary: Truman narrowly escapes an assassin, Cole returns to Twin Peaks and falls in love with Shelly, Cooper is restored to the FBI, and a petroglyph is discovered in Owl Cave.

Picking my favorite moments or episodes of Twin Peaks, I definitely lean more toward the darker side. This isn't particularly unusual among Twin Peaks fans; arguably the most popular chapters in the saga are the ones with the least happy endings. We are, after all, talking about a show whose premise is the brutal murder of a homecoming queen, with even more disturbing, surreal, and horrifying twists on the horizon. And yet the cheerful, positive, joyous side of Twin Peaks gets just as much play, maybe more, when people celebrate the show. The culinary comforts of the RR Diner, the gleeful thumbs-up enthusiasm of Agent Cooper, the sweet romantic moments between characters...at times even the spooky woods and mythic lore seem fun and inviting. No episode better embodies this side of the show than 25.

David Lynch, usually more associated with the more abrasive, nightmarish sequences of the series, is the one who steps into this episode to kick off the happiest six minutes Twin Peaks has ever experienced, a classic sequence that embraces all four of those features mentioned above. Reappearing as Gordon Cole for the first time in eleven episodes (only his voice was heard way back in 18), Lynch's boyish good cheer is infectious and it sweeps over the show like a summer breeze. It's impossible to watch the following events without a smile on your face, savoring the sublime ridiculousness of Cole's "counter-Esperanto" with Shelly, overjoyed at a brilliantly on-point Log Lady cameo, and applauding with relief as Cooper luxuriates in his black suit once again. It's remarkable what a difference that suit makes; out of flannel, Cooper radiates confidence and comfort in his own skin. Hell, I even dig that penguin joke.

The episode is ranked so highly because of that sequence but there are other highlights too, despite some patches of mediocrity. Ben's absurd speech to Audrey is delivered with panache, Coop's "date" with Annie at the Great Northern bar has a nice mellow mood to it, and I especially like the subtle mix of rivalry and camaraderie in Shelly's interactions with Annie behind the counter. Windom Earle mostly bores me here but Gordon Cole redeems that story a bit too, by tying Windom to Project Blue Book and the One-Armed Man (so that he feels less like this non-Twin Peaks element forced into the plot) and especially via the arch-mockery of yelling into his ear via bonsai bug. Owl Cave is...mostly kinda cheesy, but I often find it fun in an Indiana Jones/Legends of the Hidden Temple kind of way. This is one of the least Lynchian episodes and at the same time it's David Lynch who makes it so great: another Twin Peaks paradox for the record books.

(updated 10/19)

#14 - Episode 10
(s02e03 a/k/a "The Man Behind Glass")

Summary: Ronette is nearly killed again, Donna meets Harold and discovers he has Laura’s secret diary, Leland tells Cooper and Truman how he knows Bob, Nadine awakens from her coma with super strength and the belief that she is 18, Lucy tells Dick she is pregnant, Jean arrives to supervise Audrey’s kidnapping at One Eyed Jack’s, Gerard’s other personality awakens, Donna twice discovers Maddy and James in intimate moments, and Leland is arrested for the murder of Jacques.

I have my top ten pretty well figured out, but the next four entries on the list are the ones giving me trouble. These are episodes I very much like, even if they are not quite in the top tier. So it comes down to weighing their drawbacks: what are they missing, and what do they have that they shouldn't? The good and bad of episode 10 divides pretty neatly. It opens and closes very strong, but sags in the middle. This is the first time in Twin Peaks (and one of the last times during this rewatch) that the subplots start to detach from the core mystery. Without that lifeblood they immediately begin to wither or petrify.

Everything surrounding Laura and Leland Palmer is gold: Donna's first few visits to Harold, Ronette's rude awakening in the hospital, Jacoby's Hawaiian hypnosis, Leland's trip to the sheriff's station to report on Mr. Robertson. Donna's speech to Laura's tombstone gets criticized by seemingly everyone but I think it is bravely and effectively executed by Lara Flynn Boyle (along with writer Robert Engels and director Lesli Linka Glatter). Even as the creators try to establish a world outside of Laura Palmer, scenes like this remind us why the show is at its best when haunted by her shadow. Gerard's restroom transformation into Mike is also a brilliant - and brilliantly-executed - way to show the demonic underworld of the town bubbling to the surface. It’s the only scene in the middle of the episode that shines like the beginning and end.

Watching this episode for the first time, these are the moments that stick out; watching it again, we realize how early the troubles of season two began. As Super Nadine awakens, or Dick drops by the station for the first time, or Shelly insists that she'll care for a comatose Leo, there is the sinking feeling that these plotlines aren't going to go anywhere...and that feeling is correct. Mark Frost told the press, "We want people to start to realize there is more to the show than Laura Palmer," and 10 exhibits the problem with that philosophy, because everything that isn't related to the Palmers feels like a diversion at best and a drag at worst. For now at least, these elements are on the backburner but they are warm enough to lower 10 several spots.

(And I forgot to mention Albert’s speech to Truman! The good moments of this episode are really, really good and there are lots of them.)

#13 - Episode 3
(s01e04 a/k/a "Rest in Pain")

Summary: Maddy arrives in town, the town gathers for Laura's funeral, and Cooper learns about the Bookhouse Boys.

Laura's funeral used to be my least favorite episode of season one. On my second watch-through, when I wrote an episode guide for the series, I found it to be a letdown after the Lynchian heights of the previous chapter, a bit too talky and even by early Twin Peaks' glacial standard rather ponderous. Tina Rathborne has an unusual touch, one of the most distinctive among the show's directors. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what she's doing or why she's doing it, an ambiance that didn’t help in her only other episode, Leland’s wake. Here, however, her style has grown on me and if I don't quite rank episode 3 as highly as some, I’ve come to really appreciate its unique flavor and mood.

The visuals are quite lush - think of that dissolve from the waterfall to Audrey in her deep red sweater with the soft morning haze filtering through the windows in the Great Northern (much more evocative than Duwayne Dunham's lighting a few episodes back). Or Dr. Jacoby tiptoeing up to Laura's grave in his Victorian cloak, presenting flowers in the evening mist - about as Romantic and Gothic an image as the show ever provided. Yanked out of context (after one of the show's highest achievements and before the investigative momentum gets going), the funeral episode has something very unique and valuable to offer: a real sense of what Laura's death - and life - means to the townspeople, consciously and subconsciously. In fact, I might argue that 3 - more than any other episode - would make an interesting double/triple feature with Fire Walk With Me and especially The Missing Pieces.

Whereas the pilot treats Laura's murder as an unknowable mystery, episode 3 suggests that her cause of death may be all too knowable, and that this feeling of guilt intermingled with grief is a cancer eating away at the whole community. Several scenes establish that the killer always had to be Leland, even as everyone - the town, the audience, even the episode’s writer and director - remains blinkered about his culpability. Every action, every gesture, carries a double meaning, conveying a sincere, sorrowful love for his daughter as well as an overpowering, oppressive sense of neediness. Whether colliding with his daughter's coffin - a refusal to give her space even in death, grasping at strangers on the dance floor and demanding that they comfort him, or drugging himself in front of a flattering soap opera fantasy (in which it is the father who is going to die for his daughter's sake!) all of Leland's actions seem reasonable, even pitiable, for a grieving father, but they are also entirely consistent with a manipulative, deluded abuser. There is no Bob in this episode - he'll be back soon enough. Nonetheless we have seen the killer, and he’s crying.

#12 - Episode 7
(s01e08 - season 1 finale a/k/a "The Last Evening")

Summary: “Leo Johnson was shot, Jacques Renault was strangled, the mill burned, Shelly and Pete got smoke inhalation, Catherine and Josie are missing, Nadine is in a coma from taking sleeping pills.” - Lucy in episode 8. Also, Lucy tells Andy she’s pregnant, Jacoby is knocked out by a mystery man, James is framed by Bobby, Audrey’s first customer at One Eyed Jack’s turns out to be her father, and Cooper gets shot.

What an enjoyable season finale! Yet I struggled a bit with its placement. It's certainly one of the ten most important - and most eventful - episodes of the show. It culminates the most celebrated stretch of Twin Peaks (the first season) and offers us a peek at Mark Frost's total vision. Frost remains - and will remain even after the new series - the only person to write and direct an entire Twin Peaks episode by himself. The first time I watched the show, this was definitely my favorite non-Lynch episode of the season, maybe of the whole series. But on follow-ups, it usually disappointed (tonight might be the most I’ve enjoyed it since that first time). The emphasis is on “non-Lynch” by the way, because all of the touches usually associated with him are absent from episode 7.

There isn't the slightest flicker of interest in the supernatural, the pace chugs along at a clip far removed from the pilot's emphatic deliberation, and while there are some offbeat flourishes - the incongruous Hawaiian mural in the opening shot, Jacoby's eyeball dissolving into a roulette wheel, Leland's silent scream, Josie rubbing her lips with her bloody finger - you probably wouldn't identify Twin Peaks as a surrealist show if this was the only episode you tuned in for. Instead, it appears to be a relatively straightforward police procedural/soap opera with some eccentric characters and a mildly baroque shooting style, set in a vaguely rural backdrop...although come to think of it we never see the woods once (unless you count the palm tree in Jacoby's office). The most distinctive location in the finale is actually quite urban - a huge processing plant where the cops chat about their relationship troubles before busting a drug-dealing pimp; we might as well be watching Hill Street Blues. All of that sounds fairly critical (but I like Hill Street Blues!) and I suppose this partly account for this episode coming in only at #12 despite its importance. Episode 7 leans very heavily on narrative at the expense of atmosphere, true, but this is a very gripping narrative.

Plus, Frost carves memorable moments with the characters in every scene, enriching the texture even as he advances the story. It's too bad that Frost hasn't directed anything since Storyville (an underrated political thriller that came out the same weekend as Fire Walk With Me). He has a way with performance and pace that may have been honed in his early days of student theater. The energy and enthusiasm of the direction are contagious, reminding us what Frost really brought to Twin Peaks. He is often credited with keeping Lynch and Twin Peaks grounded, but he was actually the one more likely to lose sight of the show’s foundation and fall back on televisual tropes (just look at Windom Earle - a Batman villain in a show about a spooky small town's grief and intrigue). The flip-side of this flaw is a storyteller's enthusiasm for narrative drive and world-building (the characters are indelibly intertwined as the night's events unfold - the last time in Twin Peaks that this would be the case). If 7 is much closer to a conventional hour of television than others season one gems, it's still a damn good hour of television!

#11 - Episode 12
(s02e05 a/k/a "The Orchid's Curse")

Summary: Cooper discovers where Audrey is being held, Sternwood releases Leo and Leland, Donna deceives Harold to steal Laura’s diary, Jean kills Blackie, and Cooper and Truman rescue Audrey from One-Eyed Jack’s with Hawk’s help.

Admittedly, we have a stunt ranking here. Since I consider 12 very underrated, I elevated it above two first season classics - the funeral & the finale. That's a questionable, probably unwarranted move but allow me to advocate. Episode 12 attracts a fair share of detractors among both first-time and veteran viewers. Along with 10 and 11 it falls into a kind of no man's land, straddling the space between season two's bold Lynchian kickoff and the upcoming buzz surrounding the killer's reveal. These episodes aired just before sweeps month in 1990, providing the first evidence that season two's 22-episode order would impact the show's consistency in a way that the spring’s tight 8-episode run had avoided. Indeed, these in-between episodes lay the groundwork for the show's disappointing back half, even as the ongoing Laura Palmer investigation keeps them from sinking to the same level.

If episode 12 is superior to 10 and 11 that's because it contains several strong narrative throughlines: Judge Sternwood holds court at the Road House, Donna and Maddy plot against Harold, and Cooper and Truman rescue Audrey from One Eyed Jack's. I am particularly intrigued by the Donna-Harold dynamic despite the goofy cliffhanger on which it closes (one of the episode's few big missteps). Harold is a really interesting character, and I think Donna is at her most relevant and compelling when interacting with him rather than James. These two confused, vulnerable characters use their wounded love for the larger-than-life Laura to hurt or threaten each other: a perfect microcosm of Laura's impact on the whole town. Their interactions feel like the heart of early season two so it’s a surprise to realize how short their arc actually is (a handful of scenes over three episodes, with this one doing most of the heavy lifting).

Across the border, the One-Eyed Jack's raid performs a wonderful balance between Twin Peaks’ distinctively off-kilter ambiance and the more conventional demands of a TV action sequence. The court scenes, meanwhile, are fine; their main value appears in retrospect as we realize how easily the town lets Leland off the hook. Along with Bobby's more explicit speech at the funeral, Leland’s hearing may be the strongest - and most subtle - indictment of the town's complicity in his crimes. Aside from these three big set pieces, 12 falters, falling prey to season two’s distinctive mix of incongruous new characters (hello, Mr. Pinkle) and aimless situational comedy. But when it needs to deliver, it does.

Episode 12's best moments rely on visual storytelling, a wordless sense of moody atmospheric wonder which was Lynch’s gift to the show, occasionally lost in the midst of (generally enjoyable) Frost-Peyton verbosity. Donna's unsettling monologue is memorable, but better yet is her quiet, awkward kiss with Harold in his greenhouse, an image pregnant with all kinds of ambiguity. This pairs nicely with the fairy-tale imagery of Cooper kneeling by Audrey's bordello bedside. Both sequences emphasize composition, decor, gesture, expression and strikingly moody musical tracks ("Harold's Theme" is probably my favorite theme from the entire series). Also impressive is the woozy Steadicam work in One-Eyed Jack's, recalling the floating sense of uncertainty in early season one (despite its more classical template) and anticipating a similar approach in Fire Walk With Me, including one shot which replaces the whorehouse's garish, bright wallpaper with a faded, peeling version of the same.

updated 10/25

#10 - Episode 4
(s01e05 a/k/a "The One-Armed Man")

Summary: Sarah reports her vision of Bob, Norma attends Hank’s parole hearing, and Cooper and Truman question Gerard, visit the vet’s clinic, and raid Jacques’ apartment.

Entering my top ten, we reach a group of episodes that are close to flawless (with one minor and one major exception, whose tremendous strengths tend to balance its frustrations). This doesn't mean all of these excellent episodes are equal; on the contrary, my ranking came fast and easy, and I haven't budged since. But it's a matter of escalating heights rather than diminishing lows. And episode 4 is a perfect fit for the ten-spot. It lacks the major moments of the rest of season one, but its vibe is perfectly pitched between mellow, relaxed immersion in atmosphere, and the escalating excitement of an investigation discovering new clues, characters, and locations.

I love the sense of Twin Peaks as a world we can explore: the Timber Falls Motel, Lydecker's Veterinary Clinic, and Jacques' apartment are distinctive one-off locations yielding fresh evidence and quirky moments in equal measure. The characters move the narrative forward while also revealing their personal idiosyncrasies, with the boy's club at the sheriff's shooting range matched by Donna's and Audrey's testy tete a tete in the high school bathroom. It's a pity that the school featured so rarely in later episodes, forgetting the show’s roots in teenage tragedy (a quality that will be recaptured in the prequel). And it's even more of a pity that Audrey and Donna are rarely paired. For all their real-life rivalry (maybe because of it) they have great chemistry.

While director Tim Hunter has cited Otto Preminger as an influence on the episode's elegant and eye-catching visual style, I suspect writer Robert Engels took a page from Howard Hawks' crisp, chummy book, cultivating a "hang-out" aura that is both blunt and unflustered, economical and laid-back. It's hard to pick a favorite scene because the charm is more in the flow of the material than individual moments. Episodes like this - few and NOT far between (they are almost entirely clustered in the back half of season one) - suggest an alternate reality in which Twin Peaks might have thrived as a week-to-week TV show rather than a series of incredible, cinematic highs interspersed among many frustrating lows. Episode 4 provides an hour's distinctive entertainment before releasing you with a feeling of fulfillment and excitement for next week. I really like it, and always have.

#9 - Episode 5
(s01e06 a/k/a "Cooper's Dreams")

Summary: Cooper and Truman interview the Log Lady’s log and discover Jacques’ cabin, James and Donna meet with Maddy, Ben and Jerry throw a party for the Icelanders, Ben conspires against Catherine with Josie, Leland has a dancing breakdown, Shelly shoots Leo, and Audrey waits for Cooper in bed.

Episode 5 breaks into two halves. The first is very well-executed, meticulously picking up story threads to advance them a little bit, coloring in some new details of the characters or their situations, offering the fun flourishes we expect from Twin Peaks at its best (Jerry wielding a thick leg of lamb, Bobby’s false bravado melting the moment someone knocks at the door, and of course an unhealthy heap of tantalizing donuts passed around a crime scene to be consumed by detectives wearing plastic gloves). This is good stuff, but I think the heart of the episode is in its second half. Twin Peaks’ first season is tightly knit around two possibly interlocked dramas: the unsolved murder of Laura Palmer, golden girl enmeshed in Twin Peaks’ shadowy underworld, and the plot to burn down the Packard sawmill, a more sophisticated intrigue involving everyone from international entrepreneurs to the local shitkickers who dealt drugs to Laura.

The mill plot receives grand treatment in the episode’s big showpiece: a party for Icelandic investors at the Great Northern, where we discover new twists and watch the sprawling ensemble interact. The Laura investigation, meanwhile, is sprinkled throughout the episode but it really kicks into gear in Jacoby’s office. The doctor manipulates Bobby into tearful confessions, revealing Laura’s nuanced dark side. Before the Jacoby scene, watching the police trawl Jacques’ apartment for back issues of Flesh World, we are mostly curious about how Laura’s death implicates other members of the community and exposes the seedy underbelly of the town. After the Jacoby scene, trekking into the woods to trace Laura’s final night on earth (the Log Lady provides an aural account while Jacques’ cabin provides visual evidence), our curiosity focuses on Laura herself. What was she experiencing on her last night? What secrets led her into the woods, and what darkness consumed her there?

The upcoming episodes on this rewatch will circle ever more closely around these questions. For now, watching Cooper, Truman, and Hawk poke around the moody red-curtained room, we have the distinct feeling that we are chasing a dream which definitely exists - a nightmare maybe, but an unforgettable one. I think the show is at its strongest when it harnesses two divergent approaches to one another: the televisual concept of a world too teeming to contain within two hours, and the cinematic hook of a journey with a destination. Maybe Mark Frost, who wrote this episode, said it best. Regarding the forthcoming return of the series, he remarked, “I think what we’ve learned is you’ve gotta have a very strong central path through the woods. It’s fine to have tributaries and streams, and little byways, but ultimately, that path through the woods has to be very dark, clear and dangerous. That’s the path we’re going to keep to. There’ll be, I hope, a healthy percentage of delightful sidelines or paths off to the side, but there aren’t any shortcuts. You’ve gotta follow that main path.”

We are almost past the tributaries, streams, and byways, and we are definitely past the mistaken shortcuts, detours, and dead ends taken by the original series before Twin Peaks learned its lesson. Pretty soon on this rewatch, we will be out of the woods altogether, up on the mountain peak where you can look out over the whole landscape and marvel at the fact that all those isolated little thickets - where it seemed like there was nothing beyond the thick canopy of trees overhead - add up to something momentous after all.

#8 - Episode 13
(s02e06 a/k/a "Demons")

Summary: James rescues Donna and Maddy from Harold, Coop returns Audrey to Ben, Maddy decides to go home, Josie departs for Hong Kong after finishing her dealings with Ben, Cole arrives in Twin Peaks, and Gerard transforms into Mike to deliver a message about Bob.

Analyzing what goes into a great episode tends to make things overly complicated. We may parse where an episode falls in the run of the show, what avenues it opens up, how it represents larger phenomena. We can pick apart the episode’s structure, determining if it works best as a standalone and how effectively it juggles many characters and stories. In truth, however, the most important ingredients for a great episode are simply great scenes. Every scene in episode 13 is good, a real rarity for season two, and many scenes are great. One scene, the last, is simply outstanding - the greatest moment on the series that David Lynch didn't direct (although he's present for it in the character of Gordon Cole). Al Strobel's performance as Mike, the spirit who emerges within the shell of shoe salesman Phillip Gerard, gives me chills even as I write about it. I believe this may be the best piece of acting on the series; at any rate, it's my favorite.

We have dealt with the supernatural side of the show only briefly in this rewatch: isolated patches during 23 and 27, more extensively in 15 and 16. To a great extent (save perhaps some suggestive gestures in 27) these otherworldly currents felt a little disappointing, lacking the acute sense of the uncanny which is usually Lynch's province. This time, Strobel and director Lesli Linka Glatter capture it completely with an ordinary man sitting in an ordinary room, talking to us calmly and precisely. Twin Peaks at its best is as mysterious as it is revealing and here there are no special effects, no flashy visual flourishes or lighting tricks, and the wonderfully spooky music remains subtle (I love that eerie wail as Mike "awakens") at least until the conclusive stinger. The scene’s strength is in the tight editing, the subtly executed camerawork (saving one intense close-up for the crucial moment), and especially Strobel's juicy gestures and vocal intonations.

I don't want to imply this scene, masterful as it is, is all the episode has going for it. 13 is absolutely chock-full of wonderfully-executed moments, often more so than the somewhat lackluster storylines deserve (I'm thinking particularly of Josie's exit from town). Glatter works with the actors to sustain a sense of energy and visual interest, delivering the goods with medium two-shots loose enough for us to appreciate the atmospheric decor but tight enough to keep our focus on what really matters here: the characters and their relationships. Bobby's and Shelly's welcome-home party is particularly memorable thanks to the contagious fun that Dana Ashbrook and Madchen Amick are clearly having (Eric Da Re, meanwhile, hits his one note out of the park). The Ben-Cooper-Audrey triangle is powerfully uncomfortable with the princess rescued by her fairy-tale knight, only to be returned to the dragon's lair. And Maddy's goodbye to James, straight off the cover of a paperback romance, is winningly sweet.

Sheryl Lee does a lovely job conveying Maddy's mixed emotions, as well as her wisdom in dealing with them (a maturity rare amongst Twin Peaks' confused youth). I wish there were more scenes like this with Maddy, a character who never quite got the development she deserved before now (her excellent diner scene with Leland was sadly cut from episode 9). The personal poignancy lends extra bite to Maddy's fate in the following episode, a death which is already shocking for what it tells us about Laura's own life, and also simply for the raw humanity of watching anyone suffer she like does. Such a sequence would be powerful even on its own, but coming on the heels of episodes like this, which dig into the characters and make us appreciate all of them in their nuances and broad gestures, it carries an almost overwhelming wallop. So let me take a step back from my no-nonsense look at individual scenes, to gaze at the big picture once again. Episode 13 is a reminder that Twin Peaks' best moments, among the triumphs of television (and cinema for that matter), rely not just on David Lynch's talents but also the careful work of other writers and directors who have sustained and deepened our interest over the course of preceding episodes.

#7 - Episode 6
(s01e07 a/k/a "Realization Time")

Summary: Cooper declines to sleep with Audrey, Leo kills Waldo the bird, Audrey gets a job at One-Eyed Jack’s, Cooper and the Bookhouse Boys go undercover at One-Eyed Jack’s, Donna and James set up Jacoby by dressing Maddy as Laura, and Catherine discovers Ben and Josie are conspiring against her.

Cooper sitting on the corner of his own bed, turning down Audrey's sexual overtures, offering friendship and guidance instead. Audrey smoking in the closet, spying on the secret lives of Twin Peaks while the afternoon sunlight filters in through the slats in her door, creating a pleasing daytime-noir effect. Coop kicking off one of the show's most memorable soliloquies with a calm smile and the interjection, "Harry, I'm gonna let you in on a little secret..." Waldo's broken little bird corpse crumpled on the bottom of his swaying birdcage, dribbling droplets of blood across the cheerfully arrayed donuts, as perfect an encapsulation of Twin Peaks as you can get in a single image. Audrey (again!) in a light black dress, surrounded by red curtains and candelabra, using an improvised party trick to teach Blackie what her tongue can do. Dr. Jacoby’s office, a Hawaiian oasis in the woods of the Pacific Northwest (and the only place we dare see cool blue in the warm-red town), haunted by the ghost of Laura Palmer on the flickering television screen as her disembodied voice speaks in his ear: a VHS tape and a phone call as jolting in their own way as those found in Lost Highway. There you have a list of some of the most iconic moments in all of Twin Peaks, and every single one can be found onscreen in this episode, like a fairy-tale cottage at the end of a wooded road.

As the forthcoming entries on this rewatch will make clear, I am a big fan of David Lynch's output on Twin Peaks (who isn't?!). When I first watched the series, before I trained my eye to see the big picture of what Twin Peaks adds up to, warts and all, I was mostly in it for Lynch and was always a bit disappointed when his name didn't pop up in the opening credits. But if someone was to ask me, "How good can Twin Peaks be without Lynch directing?" I would present this episode with as much confidence as Audrey presents that cherry stem. Both Lynch and Frost are absent from episode 6 (although we can detect Frost’s watchful eye drawing the narrative threads together over Harley Peyton’s shoulder), which also lacks even a whisper of the supernatural forces at work in the woods, except perhaps in the general ambiance of excitement, danger, and mystery. All the same, 6 plays as if someone uncorked a bottle labelled "Essence of Twin Peaks" and let it waft across the screen. The elegance, the weirdness, the humor, the intelligence, and the thrill of season one are all present in this episode, and only Lynch's own Episode 2 might serve as a more representative slice of what the show offers when all cylinders are firing. (*side note: I love the cameo turns of Jenny and especially Mr. Neff, and hope these actors return in season 3. Stranger things have happened on this show so I wouldn't be surprised...)

The only slight disadvantage brought to light by this viewing (if it can be called a disadvantage) is that the episode works even better on the heels of Twin Peaks' first eight hours. Watching it during a marathon feels like you're hitting that perfect buzz after several drinks: everything is illuminated and you just know things are going to get even smoother and more fun after this. Of course, that blissful optimism - referred to by Aldous Huxley as a "state of uninhibited and belligerent euphoria which follows the ingestion of the third cocktail" - is almost always misleading in reality, and in a sense it is misleading in Twin Peaks too. The subsequent climax of the season will be wonderful, but not quite as magical as this episode, and after that the second season alternates moments of sheer brilliance with long stretches of disappointment. And even those highlights won't at all be in the spirit of this episode. What we have here is a shining beacon of what Twin Peaks might have been had everything gone according to plan: a weekly TV show matching entertainment with innovation, colorful characters coupled with narrative twists and turns, and best of all a world so rich and full we could explore any corner and turn up something of interest. That's the Twin Peaks that the critics (correctly) feared they would lose when the series was extended for a 22-episode series. That’s the Twin Peaks that the press still celebrates today whenever the show comes up. That’s the Twin Peaks that viewers in 1990 longed for when the very next episode on this list opened with one of the show's most alienating and antagonizing gestures.

And yet. The most fantastic moments of Twin Peaks ARE yet to come, in the chronology of the show itself, and even more so on this rewatch, whose entire point is to save the best for last. As we prepare for our final ascent, let's recall the point of that Huxley witticism. It served not only as gentle mockery of the limited, ephemeral pleasures of alcohol but to pave the way for a vision of far more profound states of consciousness. The clear road through the woods ends now, with this entry, but the rewatch does not. To quote another time-bending exercise, "Where we're going, we don't need roads."

#6 - Episode 8
(s02e01 - season 2 premiere a/k/a "May the Giant Be With You")

Summary: Cooper gets a message from a giant, Audrey hides from her dad at One Eyed Jack’s, Leland’s hair turns white, Donna's personality changes when she wears Laura’s sunglasses, Maj. Briggs describes a vision to Bobby, Leland collapses while singing for the Haywards, and Ronette has a flashback to Bob murdering Laura in the train car.

No episode has been a greater roller coaster for me than the season two premiere. The first time I watched the series, I'm pretty sure loved it; in fact I think more than any season 1 episode this may have been the one that truly hooked me, demonstrating not only that the show had promise but that it would deliver on this promise. The second time I watched the series, I definitely didn't like it. Everything seemed to endlessly drag and nothing led anywhere (and I'm not even talking about the waiter scene, which I still found amusing and hypnotic even on that rewatch)! The third, fourth, fifth, etc times I had a more nuanced opinion, shifting back and forth between frustration and appreciation. When I made my video series on Twin Peaks, I expressed that uncertainty, devoting an entire chapter to this episode to detail its flaws as well as its many strengths. Episode 8 is the only Lynch entry I considered placing below a non-Lynch entry on this list but ultimately I elevated it by the same criterion I apply to Twin Peaks as a whole: I value the highs of a work more than its consistency.

So many classic moments are stuffed inside this double episode: the aforementioned waiter and his equally slow compatriot, the giant; Lynch’s nightmarishly visceral spin on the purely conceptual Ben-walks-into-Audrey's-room cliffhanger from the season finale; Leland popping out from behind a dresser with white hair and show tunes on his brain; the Horne brothers dancing gleefully to their demented lawyer's ditty; Maddy snapping her glasses as a hilarious gesture of Lynchian revolt (or so I assume); Maj. Briggs in that same diner a half-hour later, gracefully extending his vision of a familial palace to his wayward son, in a scene that singlehandedly flips your perception of both characters (especially the formerly one-note father); the vaguely unhinged Hayward supper club, captured with what appears to be a queasy Steadicam (used in several spots during this episode, adding a new texture to Twin Peaks' visual repertoire which will predominate by Fire Walk With Me).

And of course the final flashback reminds us of the pitch darkness at the heart of the story, bringing back the forgotten Bob and Ronette in one fell swoop while giving us what feels like the closest look at Laura we've ever gotten. She's all over this episode in a fashion unusual for this rewatch (the only similarly saturated episodes so far might be 16 and - more indirectly - the middle of episodes 3 and 5). Even though she is frequently referred to throughout non-Lynch episodes, somehow she always feels more like a device there, whereas here she feels like a presence. This season premiere emphasizes how important she was to Lynch's conception of Twin Peaks, the most overt manifestation of a dark cloud overhanging the entire melancholy town. Her ghost even seems to haunt scenes in which she isn't explicitly mentioned.

Episode 8 is characterized by that distinct feeling Lynch evokes in his work. Impossible to verbalize or codify, it envelops the viewer from the first frame of the show. Tonight that mood capture me completely, like a long-needed massage or a drink of cold water at just the right moment. After twenty-four non-Lynch episodes, many very good, I was more than ready for my slice of Lynch, and so I ended up enjoying 8 as much as I ever have. However, I still see its flaws even if they didn't particularly bother me on this viewing. Practically every other scene contains lengthy descriptions and explanations of events that have already transpired. This emphasis on reiteration rather than plot advancement, combined with Lynch's woozy, glacial pacing, slows the episode to a crawl only occasionally as purposeful as the opening sequences. I can totally see why people would love this, considering it their favorite episode and the turning point toward a much deeper and richer series, and I can totally understand why others would feel very disappointed, assuming the show was not going to live up to the distinctive promise of its pilot. For me, the notorious season two premiere belongs at the bottom of the Lynch episodes and at the top of everything else.

#5 - The Pilot
(s01e01 - season 1 premiere a/k/a "Northwest Passage")

Summary: The murder of popular teenager Laura Palmer shocks a small town in Washington state and the brilliant, offbeat Agent Cooper of the FBI shows up to investigate.

More than any other part of Twin Peaks aside from Fire Walk With Me, the pilot is its own beast. It looks, feels, even seems to smell different from the rest of the series. This isn't unusual with TV pilots, often shot under different circumstances than subsequent episodes, closer to the form of a film production, on existing locations rather than a soundstage set, and with different actors playing the parts (a fate Twin Peaks does not share, except for minor roles like Johnny Horne or Ronette's father), or the same actors with different hairdos (bingo! - and all the more noticeable since the following episode is supposed to take place the very next day). With Twin Peaks there are additional factors to consider. The locations are not just preexisting but also far from Los Angeles: the gray, moody ambiance of the Pacific Northwest is a palpable presence in every scene. For example, notice the visible scenery outside various windows, whereas on the series these panes will often be filled with bright light or large out-of-focus photographic backdrops.

Additionally, David Lynch - whose entire experience up to this point had been in film production or one-off projects like music videos and TV commercials - is fully in charge of the pilot in a way he never was during the series. "Fully in charge” is not to say fully responsible because Mark Frost is clearly an equal partner here, given the pilot's clockwork revelation of its world. It’s merely to point out that Lynch, as the on-set director of a story written beforehand with his full involvement, was carefully managing and toying with every little detail. Once the narrative train pulled out of the station, Lynch was more like an occasional tour guide than a full-time conductor and when it became a runaway train he was gone altogether. This Twin Peaks, however, feels as polished as Eraserhead or Blue Velvet, if also more lo-fi and unglamorous in its presentation (this may be very cinematic television for 1989, but it's still more television than cinema).

Most interestingly, the pilot exists in a state very likely shared by no other episode: the killer of Laura Palmer is undetermined, the nature of the darkness surrounding her life remains ambiguous, and anyone onscreen could be the culprit. Obviously the creative team maintained that sense of uncertainty for fourteen more episodes but even an episode or two after this you can start to feel the options tighten and the direction become more certain. Yet even when we already know the show's secrets, the pilot sustains a mood of eerie openness (maybe because, by Frost’s admission, he and Lynch did not yet know the answer themselves). Anything is possible and that freedom is as unnerving as it is exciting. I sometimes imagine that an alternate universe exists in which the series wasn't picked up by ABC leaving this one unfinished yet self-contained fragment behind, forever unresolvable, a portrait of anguished grief and eccentricity and sudden terror and sadness with no name. Perhaps this is what Lynch means when he says that the killer never should have been revealed?

The pilot certainly deserves to be called one of the best episodes of Twin Peaks, arguably its most perfectly-constructed and executed. A good case can be made for ranking it, bare minimum, in the top three. But this is a favorites list, and I admire the pilot much more than I am moved by it. My enjoyment is detached, cerebral - especially during the first third, devoted almost entirely to the town receiving the news of Laura's death. While I consider Laura Palmer one of the greatest characters in fiction, and the film devoted to her life an absolutely devastating piece of cinema, these early scenes in Twin Peaks do not really reach me on an emotional level (an occasional exception being Donna's reaction to the girl who runs screaming across the courtyard). I always breathe a big sigh of relief when Cooper arrives to lighten the mood and move the investigation forward.

I have also noticed a bit of a generation gap when it comes to this episode. Younger viewers tend to be a bit alienated or confused by the soap-operatic intensity of the music and performers, wondering if they are supposed to feel weird or if these stylistic tics are relics of an earlier era. Older viewers remember how radical this pilot appeared in the context of network television of 1990, noticing the realistic touches while also appreciating how the air of slight exaggeration makes it purposefully surreal. Perhaps for these reasons, and the different methods of viewing, original viewers seem more likely to rank it as a high-water mark that the series never or only occasionally reached again, whereas first-time viewers in 2015 often regard this as a memorable introduction which hasn't quite hit its stride yet.

For me personally, there’s another factor to consider: Lynch's first-stage films (Eraserhead through Wild at Heart) impress me but are not among my all-time favorites, whereas his second-stage films (Fire Walk With Me through Inland Empire) overwhelm me on a visceral level. The pilot belongs very much to the Blue Velvet phase of his career, whereas the finale feels closer to Mulholland Drive. This is a great beginning, but there's so much more to Twin Peaks and David Lynch and I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface yet.

#4 - Episode 9
(s02e02 a/k/a "Coma")

Summary: Donna learns about Harold from his neighbors, Ronette and Leland recognize Bob’s picture, Maj. Briggs delivers a coded message to Cooper, James sings with Maddy and Donna, Bob climbs over a couch to terrorize Maddy, and Blackie discovers Audrey's identity.

David Lynch never directed an episode that seemed less significant to the overall series. Episode 9 is not a pilot, premiere, or finale, and it doesn’t contain any massive twists or big reveals. This is also the only time Lynch tackled a teleplay that Frost did not write (the pairing with Harley Peyton, Twin Peaks' most verbose and playful scribe, provides a surprisingly delicious clash: like salt with chocolate). But the casual appearance is decieving. Aside from the finale and Fire Walk With Me, this episode may contain the greatest concentration of the supernatural in all of Twin Peaks. Psychedelic flashes of owls flit across the screen, the giant speaks again, the Log Lady links up with Major Briggs, and Cooper gets a message...from outer space?

There are four visions of Bob - two in a poster, one in a dream, and another (unforgettably) as the Haywards’ living room turns into some sort of transdimensional portal or psychic hotspot. Bob crawling across the couch is the episode's most unforgettable image, and it had a profound impact on me the first time I witnessed it. I still experience an involuntary shudder - especially that split-second before the cut when every instinct available to us says he’s going to stop and he keeps going - but tonight my favorite moment may be Donna's hypnotic visit to the Tremond family. It’s as if David Lynch himself was discovering something he didn't expect to find in the creaky old room (and indeed he was: "gar-mon-boz-ia..."). The scene’s uncanny quality reminds me a bit of Lynch's Rabbits "sitcom" (and other digital shorts like Darkened Room). More than anything we've seen on the show so far, this scene calls up the spirit of "later" Lynch: cryptic, immersive, terrifying, irresistible.

For many viewers, the other big Donna scene is a blemish on the episode, at best something cheesy to laugh off, at worst the most horrible thing Lynch ever created. I speak, of course, of the "Just You" singalong. Well, I love it. It reminds me of the lip-synced 50s ballads in Mulholland Drive, evokes a disoriented sense of nostalgic reverie, and provides the perfect set-up for Bob to materialize and scare us out of our wits. Episode 9 is always teetering between abject terror and dry absurdist humor, heightening the seesaw tonality already established in the pilot. For example, Ronette flailing and screaming "train car!" cuts directly to Ben and Jerry's smoked cheese pig. So much is churning under the surface of 9, a transitional work for the filmmaker (along with the season 2 premiere, which was shot concurrently). Lynch is feeling his way from the playful perfection of episode 2 (his next entry on our rewatch) to the profound gamechanger of the killer's reveal (his next entry on Twin Peaks itself).

#3 - Episode 2
(s01e03 a/k/a "Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer")

Summary: Albert arrives in Twin Peaks, Leland starts to lose his mind, and Cooper dreams of Laura and the Little Man in the Red Room.

It is no exaggeration to say that this is THE episode of Twin Peaks. Episode 2 is iconic with a capital "I". The Red Room. The Hornes talking with their mouths full. The introduction of One-Eyed Jack's. Coop throwing rocks at bottles. Audrey dancing alone in the diner! Albert's grand entrance. The drug deal in the woods, lit only by flashlight. Leland dancing with, smashing, and rubbing blood all over Laura’s portrait (the first time we've seen him act crazy and, I like to imagine, possibly the moment when Lynch and Frost realized they had their killer). Nadine's silent drape runners. Coop toots the whistle. Pete's intonation of "I didn't want to get mink oil on my bedspread!” And did I mention the Red Room? In a way, it's easy to take this episode for granted. When I sorted out my rankings, I wondered if maybe I should bump up the distinguished pilot or eerie episode 9 but I'm so glad that I didn't. Episode 2 is just perfect. The only conceivable false note, for some, might be the James-Donna sequence but, me being me, I like that too. This teen couple might not be up to the standard of Jeffrey-Sandy in Blue Velvet but they serve a similar purpose. Their aw-shucks naivete offsets the more corrupt elements in the narrative (their doe-eyed sofa make-out session is brilliantly juxtaposed with Ben and Jerry leering at the new girl in their woodland whorehouse). And Lynch shoots it all so well, with that awkward wide-lensed "goodnight" at the start - it seems like Doc Hayward is waiting for James to take the hint and leave, but the dopey suitor never does - followed by the close-ups isolated in black, presenting the nighttime as warmth and comfort in this little corner of Twin Peaks’ dark world.

Yup, everything is on point in 2 and the Lynch/Frost collaboration is firing on all cylinders. The wacky Tibet speech/"J" test were supposedly penned by Frost himself, and Lynch and the cast are clearly having a ball bringing it to life. My favorite non-dream sequence, however, wasn't in the script at all. Audrey and Donna's tense, teasing repartee at the counter, followed by Audrey's jazzy sway, is too cool for words. And then there’s that dream sequence. For some reason whenever I write about episode 2 (something I've done several times by now) I build up to this scene and then brush over it. Perhaps it doesn't feel right to talk about the magic? Well, let's take a moment to talk about the magic. The Red Room immediately carves out a space where anything is possible. The scenario is pretty simple compared to what comes (much) later but in context this is a staggeringly bold swerve - introducing a character who seems to have arrived from another universe entirely, bringing the dead girl back to life (or is it her cousin?), and creating "another place" that somehow complements but exists outside of Twin Peaks. The Red Room is the perfect way to expand upon the microcosm of the small town without losing its sense of contained definition.

When I first heard about Twin Peaks, I think the only thing I knew was "there is a dwarf who talks backwards." I pictured a bearded gnome in a cave in the forest, delivering mysterious and medieval-sounding messages in code. Well, not quite, and when I finally saw this scene I knew I was going to love Twin Peaks and also that I would have absolutely no idea what to expect from it, which only made me love it more. As most people reading this will know, the scene was originally an alternate ending to the pilot, but it works so much better in episode 2′s context. Not only because Lynch slices and dices the lengthy hospital sequence into a lean, efficient mindfucking machine but because - rather perversely - the strangeness of the Red Room somehow seems stranger when it isn't just dropped in out of nowhere like a goof-off non sequitur. That said, one advantage to seeing it as the end of the pilot is realizing how perfectly it serves as a zany parody of the whole mystery genre: questions posed, clues offered, a victim whose secret is revealed to the detective. But the premise - and the execution - of this “sleuthing” is so absurd that these tried-and-true conventions dissolve into pure surrealism. Had the show never gone forward, had the pilot ended on this note, this would have been the perfect Lynchian mockery of what we expect from a murder mystery but can never quite get in real life.

Reconfigured into the existing series as a dream, the Red Room becomes something more concrete, something that can be analyzed and broken down and eventually made sensible. But it's also still pregnant with that original intention, to defy and skewer rational inquiry. The next two episodes on the list toy with the limits and rewards of that approach. One will take Lynch to a place where answers are a necessity, bringing out his best work to date by forcing him to confront the ugly reality of the beautifully-kept secret. The other will allow Lynch to combine that grave knowledge with this respect for the irrational, crafting a synthesis that will serve him for the rest of his career. Unlike every other Lynch episode of Twin Peaks, 2 feels more joyful than melancholy, more celebratory than mournful. It's an absolute classic, the quintessence of the show's appeal, and yet when looking at Lynch's work as a whole, or even just his work on the show, this is very much the outlier rather than the archetype.

#2 - Episode 14
(s02e07 a/k/a "Lonely Souls")

Summary: Harold’s suicide and Laura’s secret diary are discovered, Shelly quits her job, Bobby discovers a tape in Leo’s shoes, Audrey discovers her father slept with Laura, Cooper and Truman arrest Ben Horne for the murder of Laura, Tojamura is revealed as Catherine, and Cooper has a vision of the giant in the Road House while Leland Palmer sees Bob in the mirror and kills his niece Maddy.

In response to my previous write-up, commentator David Locke wrote "Just as Episode 14 was Lynch's summation of Season 2 ... [episode] 2 is his summation of the more lighthearted Season 1." Watching the two episodes back to back really highlights this point. What 2 captures perfectly is the first season's sense of excitement and wonder, with characters intersecting to form a tapestry larger than themselves. Episode 14, like the second season it belongs to, is colored more by sadness and separation. If season one was characterized by a vibrant, explosive sense of possibility then season two is defined by limits. The townspeople are all separated from one another, isolated in little pockets of the narrative that no longer seem connected to a bigger picture. And 14 takes this process of removal even further: Harold Smith kills himself, Maddy tells the Palmers she's going home (to, not accidentally, Lynch's birthplace of Missoula, Montana), and Shelly quits her job with an unexpectedly poignant farewell.

I have always wondered why this little moment is so moving, why it feels like such a palate cleanser and preparatory note for the violent reveal to come. Tonight, I realized one of the reasons: as Shelly hesitantly and apologetically tells Norma she can't work at the RR anymore, Norma is completely accepting. She has often behaved like a mother figure to her employee and in this situation she acts lovingly and supportively, letting Shelly go and assuring her that she can come back whenever she wants. This is the exact opposite of the situation with Maddy and Leland. Oh sure, he mouths the same words to his niece, but his polished delivery conceals the tremor of anxiety coursing through the living room and motivating the ominous camera movement. In the work of David Lynch, words can be deceiving but images seldom lie...we just have to open ourselves up to whatever reality they are conveying.

When Leland sees Bob in the mirror, does this mean that Leland is Bob? That the lovable, eccentric small-town lawyer, loving husband and father, is actually inhabited by a demon from the woods? Or does it mean that Bob is Leland, that the specter of darkness flitting along the town's periphery is in fact a tumor growing within the Palmer home, that deep down inside Laura's grief-stricken dad is rage, jealousy and maniacal pleasure in the power that killed her and now her cousin. This is truly a reveal that poses as many questions as it answers, particularly given Mary Sweeney's masterful cutting of the sequence - dissolving between Bob, drowned in terrifying oversaturation, and Leland, conveyed in sickeningly naturalistic photography. This is the only episode of Twin Peaks that Sweeney edited, and she has attributed her and Lynch's deep bond to the experience of cutting between the horror of the Palmer living room and the deep sadness of the Road House (Sweeney went on to edit and produce most of Lynch’s subsequent films, giving birth to his son and living with him for 15 years - the director’s longest romantic relationship).

This is also the last episode that Mark Frost would write solo for Twin Peaks (he collaborated on three more scripts). Compared to the more colorful Harley Peyton, Frost's teleplays tend to have a certain plainspoken efficiency to them. Like the pilot, episode 14 carefully weaves together several plot strands while complementing the main action with side stories that feel thematically linked. And in a way, despite his increasingly avant-garde flourishes (there's nothing like the ball-bouncing sailors or Sarah's vision of the horse in the pilot), Lynch's direction is also very matter-of-fact. Shelly's and Bobby's situation no longer seems cartoonish and soap-operatic, playing instead like a slice-of-life. Bills pile up as their exhausted demeanor betrays how far they are in over their heads. The Mike-possessed Phillip Gerard, commanding the camera magnificently at the end of ep. 13, now seems slightly disheveled, more like a street-corner prophet. He might be mad, he might be brilliant, he might be both - but you can't quite tell just by looking at or listening to him. Meanwhile, the real Nadine can be glimpsed beneath her adolescent delusions, as flimsy a cover as her eyepatch, desperate self-deception played for pathos as much as comedy. Like all the other delusions and attempts at escape, this can’t end well, and the violent sexual explosion of that red cherry foreshadows Maddy's own bloody demise at the episode's end.

Despite its reputation for fantastical exaggeration, Twin Peaks has always had a streak of uber-realism as well. When it premiered the critics spilled as much ink on the dead air, subtle gestures and casually naturalistic decor as they did counting Lynch's visual quirks. The depiction of Maddy's murder may be the logical culmination of this duality. Several viewers have observed that 14 (which takes us to the exact midpoint of the series) feels like it should be the end of Twin Peaks. Tony Dayoub writes, "Had the show ended with this episode, especially with the end credits roll over Cooper's face half-dissolved into the red curtains, it would have been almost a perfect TV series. The end is so poignant because of the previously superheroic Coop's utter failure to catch the right guy." And on the Log Ladies podcast, the hosts (who are both watching the series for the first time), remark to one another, "This feels so much like a series finale." The reason isn't simply that the question posed by the pilot has been answered. It's that the scene at the Road House essentially sums up the core experience of the show: an overwhelmed sense of the darkness existing in this world, an inability to accurately locate and overcome this darkness, and a cocoon safe enough to keep most of its inhabitants unharmed but thin enough for them to hear, as the Log Lady says, "the night wind ... the magic rustling that brings on the dark dream. The dream of suffering and pain."

This is what Laura whispered to Cooper in the episode I discussed last night, and if he was smiling then, he isn't smiling now. He will, however, be smiling at the end of the next and final episode of this rewatch: a sinister smile because he has come to know the darkness all too well.

#1 - Episode 29
(s02e22 - season 2 finale a/k/a "Beyond Life and Death")

Summary: Cooper enters the Black Lodge where he faces his evil doppelganger, and the Cooper who emerges sees Bob in the mirror

There are many great things about this episode: it contains the motherlode of Twin Peaks mythology, it retcons Cooper's dream into something more than a cryptic clue system, it brilliantly fuses the disparate first and second halves of the show into an intuitively cohesive whole, it manages to deliver on the Windom Earle, Caroline, Lodge, and Annie stories despite their previous weaknesses, and it completes the transformation of Cooper from a heroic guide into the narrative to the tragic subject of the narrative far more effectively than we might have expected. But the greatness of Twin Peaks’ final episode (for now) transcends its beneficial connections to the rest of the show. This is just absolutely brilliant filmmaking full-stop, up there with Hitchcock, Welles, Kubrick, whichever titan of cinema you want to name. Lynch was handed a disappointingly banal script - not up to the standards of the writers' previous highs - and transformed it into a masterpiece of avant-garde cinema, a Meshes of the Afternoon or Blood of a Poet splashed across prime-time network television, all while remaining true to the core of what that muddled teleplay attempted to convey.

Every scene is paced perfectly (if often perversely). The performances are bullseyes. The camera movement, composition, movement with the frame, and shot structure are delivered with the masterly flourishes of a painter who knows how to improvise and exaggerate while remaining true to the human form. If we had nothing else to thank Twin Peaks for (and of course we do), we could be grateful that it transformed Lynch into this filmmaker, a sharp stylist returned to his original Eraserhead mode while employing an extended repertoire and more expansive vision. What's amazing is that this beautiful little masterpiece, as accomplished an hour of television as has ever been produced, was slammed back-to-back with one of the worst episodes of the series, stuffed into the cheesy Monday movie-of-the-week spot on ABC, and lost out in the ratings to reruns of Northern Exposure. Imagine flipping the channel in 1990 and winding up in the Black Lodge! The episode is brilliant as a standalone and it is also brilliant for improving the rest of the series, especially its second half, by association. Without it, Twin Peaks would feel immeasurably more incomplete and it's hard to imagine the same demand would exist for its return.

All that 29 "lacks" (and it feels foolish to use that word, as it describes a flaw rather than a choice) is the overt empathy and humanism of Fire Walk With Me - at least after the equally defiant and distanced Deer Meadow prologue. Lynch still cares about these characters because the over-the-top delivery of the soap-opera cliffhangers is coupled with, as always, a naturalistic eye for sincere gesture and expression. But he also seems to be filled with a rage he would never quite cop to, a sense of betrayal and disgust at Twin Peaks' wayward path and perhaps his own culpability in allowing this decline to occur. Lynch's arch, dry sense of absurdity barely skins over a cold viciousness in his approach (for instance, Dell Mibbler's glasses soaring into the trees in lieu of a serious engagement with the possible deaths of Audrey and Pete), and this fury is in turn motivated by a sense of compassion and sorrow. Those deep emotions would be released (if not accepted) once Lynch finally delved into Laura Palmer's story, even offering her an angelic redemption by way of apology. Yet the rest of the town has been trapped in amber for a quarter-century, frozen in a series of grotesque, mute grimaces like Windom Earle squirming in Bob's grasp, conscious but helpless until the creator returns. How's Annie? How's everyone? We'll find out soon.

(see other rankings here)

Mostly because I have several upcoming pieces on Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, for which I would prefer to give the film a fresh viewing, separate from the series, I won't be covering it in this rewatch.

What are your favorite and least favorite episodes of Twin Peaks?

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