Lost in the Movies: Sarah Palmer (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #24)

Sarah Palmer (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #24)

*A revised entry will be published separately in 2024 or 2025 for an updated character series (which will be collected here). This is the original entry written before The Return.

The TWIN PEAKS Character Series surveys eighty-two characters from the series Twin Peaks (1990-91) and the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) as well as The Missing Pieces (2014), a collection of deleted scenes from that film. A new character study will appear every weekday morning until the premiere of Showtime's new season of Twin Peaks on May 21, 2017. There will be spoilers for the original series and film.

As a wise man once said, "The home is a place where things can go wrong," and Sarah stays close to hers.

Thursday, February 16, 1989
Sarah Palmer, a middle-aged housewife in a small Pacific Northwest town in the late eighties, arrives home from the grocery store. She is clutching two full bags - it's a struggle to open the door - and a cigarette, as always, is perched between her lips. Her teenage daughter Laura, an only child, comes bounding down the stairs and removes the cigarette at Sarah's request since her own hands are full. Laura breathlessly asks permission to take the car - she needs to pick up her books from school. Sarah chuckles as Laura forgets to take the car keys and then frowns when she sees how naturally Laura holds her mother's cigarette between her own fingers - as if she's forgotten it's not her own. As a flustered, distracted Laura returns the cigarette, Sarah scolds her: "Remember, you'll never be a smoker if you don't start." When Laura slinks back that evening, Sarah is furious. She went up to Laura's room to retrieve a sweater that Laura had borrowed, and discovered her schoolbooks on her bed. Sarah demands to know what her daughter was really up to. Laura admits that she was visiting her boyfriend Bobby, whom she knows her mother doesn't like. Sarah bangs the piano keys in frustration and tells Laura not to be afraid to tell her anything. They sit down to dinner as Leland, Sarah's husband and a lawyer for a local big businessman, stomps in, declaring his hunger and then launching into a Norwegian phrase nobody understands. He explains that Ben Horne, his employer, is welcoming a delegation of Norwegian businessman in a few days and he wants them all to practice introducing themselves. The recitation turns into a ridiculous singsong chant as the Palmers hold hands around the table and repeat the same line over and over again until they break down in infectious giggles. Tonight they are a happy, if daffy, family.

Friday, February 17, 1989
The mood is entirely different when Sarah enters the dining room the following evening. Leland is hovering over Laura, holding her hand aloft and staring angrily at her fingernail, declaring how dirty it is. There's something oppressive and uncomfortable about his behavior and Sarah gets jittery and nervous. He can't be stopped - clutching at Laura's half-heart necklace he sneers, "Did you get this from a lover?" "They don't call them lovers in high school," Sarah tries to explain. Laura stares desperately at her mother, hoping for help and Sarah tries to explain to Leland, as if he's just confused and doesn't understand, that his daughter doesn't like what he's doing. "How do you know what she likes?" Leland spits back at his wife. Finally she shrieks, "Stop it!!!" and Leland lets Laura's hand go, storming back to his seat and scowling as Sarah tries to smoothly transition into normal family mode. Laura is practically in tears. Leland stops Sarah short as she sets the table and insists that no one is going to eat anything until Laura washes her hand. In tremendous pain, Laura leaves the room. Sarah looks at Leland, but it's no use. She's just a spectator. That night, a still-furious Leland rocks back on forth on their bed as Sarah smokes and stares in the mirror. She hears sobs and turns to see Leland weeping. Her heart goes out to him - "What is it?"

Saturday, February 18, 1989
Sarah finds Laura on the stairs staring at the ceiling and, in a short-tempered voice, asks her daughter what she's done with her blue sweater - it's missing again. "Mom," her daughter responds, "What are you wearing?" Sarah looks down and sees...the blue sweater. Instead of rolling her eyes or chuckling, she begins to tremble, wandering helplessly in the living room as Laura tries to comfort her. She fears the return of a condition she hoped was behind her.

Tuesday, February 21, 1989
Sarah and Laura sit down to breakfast as a suited Leland races past the room, cheerfully reminding them to attend Johnny Horne's birthday party. Sarah good-naturedly mocks him: "Don't forget..."

Wednesday, February 22, 1989
Sarah gazes into the mirror as Leland brings her a glass of milk. She begins to drink it and as she hesitates, he calmly but forcefully nudges her to continue. This is a routine. He leaves their bedroom. She knows, to the extent she can remember what happens whenever he brings her milk, that he won't be back for a while...and that the ceiling fan will be on, its constant white noise lulling her into a blank state where she can disappear from the dull ache of this household. A book, How to Speak German, laid out across her chest as she drifts away, she looks up to see a vision of a white horse emerge in the corner of the bedroom, snorting before it disappears...and she fully fades away.

Thursday, February 23, 1989
Laura is in quite a state the following morning. Hands shaking, she can barely eat her cereal...hell, she can barely look at her parents. Leland and Sarah express concern but she flees from breakfast without taking a bite. Sarah starts to get up but Leland stops her: he'll take care of it. He always does. Left behind, a family of three suddenly transformed into a lonely island, Sarah turns to her smokes to manage that familiar ache. In the evening, she's in a slightly better mood (these things come and go, after all) but Laura is still sullen. Expressing her disgust at asparagus and a hesitant curiosity about her father (he's working late at the Great Northern Hotel with Ben Horne), Laura excuses herself to finish some homework with Bobby. Sarah sighs, says goodbye, and returns to her cigarette pack and glass of wine, lately her only constant companions. When Laura returns, Sarah is nestled on the couch with a blanket, reading a book. Laura passes by numbly and says goodnight as she trots upstairs. "Goodnight, sweetheart," Sarah says absentmindedly but warmly. Things aren't so bad, really.

Friday, February 24, 1989
On the last day of the schoolweek - and only a four-day week at that! - Laura won't get out of bed. Sarah knows the drill. After calling up to her a few times, she declares, "I'm not gonna tell you again!" and mutters with familiarity, "Yes I am." She'll have to wake the sleepyhead herself. With the ceiling fan whirring overhead (maybe Laura can't hear her over its noise?), Sarah ascends the staircase and opens Laura's bedroom door. She's not in bed. She's not in the bathroom. She's not home. Where is she? Sarah is starting to get worried. She calls Betty Briggs, Bobby's mother and asks if Bobby is with her. Bobby is at football practice. When Sarah calls the school, the coach tells her Bobby hasn't shown up for practice all week. Sarah tries the Great Northern - maybe Leland dropped her off on his way to work. But Leland doesn't know where Laura is either. He doesn't seem worried, explaining that she's probably with Bobby, but then his voice drops when he recognizes the sheriff in the hotel. Sarah listens, terrified, as every parent's worst nightmare unfolds. Leland is not responding and she begins to cry and scream. What is the sheriff telling him? At this point Sarah doesn't even need to hear the words, or the clattering of the phone as Leland drops it to the floor, to know the horrible truth. In unremitting agony, Sarah screams, grabbing her hair, wailing so the whole neighborhood can hear. It doesn't matter. Laura is dead.

Sarah is sedated by Doc Hayward, but the pain still throbs even as her energy recedes. Sheriff Harry Truman gently questions her about Laura's last night. He reassures her that the footsteps she hears upstairs are her husband's. Every new moment brings a realization that she'll never see Laura again, that her death is final, real, and Sarah winces with each awful prick, each heavy blow. She remembers that someone called Laura after she went upstairs, but she doesn't know who. If Sarah could barely remain conscious during the day, she can't quite fall asleep at night. She "rests" on the couch, her thoughts elsewhere, when images begin crowding her field of vision: grass, bushes, and trees, illuminated by a flashlight; a hand digging into the dirt; a necklace - Laura's necklace! - retrieved from its hiding place. Sarah leaps up and screams again, but with new feeling: not bottomless sorrow, but confused terror.

Saturday, February 25, 1989
Still in her bathrobe, miserably crouched on the couch, Sarah is tended to by Leland, who has remained a rock, as composed and calm as she is not. Leland brings Donna Hayward, Laura's best friend, to Sarah's side and all Sarah can do is proclaim that she misses Laura, repeating it over and over like a mantra. Then she sees Laura's face in Donna's and embraces her. As she hugs the poor girl and moans Laura's name, Sarah sees something else even thought it couldn't possibly be in this room: a man with long gray hair and a jean jacket, kneeling behind Laura's bed and staring right at her with a piercing, uncompromising, foreign gaze. Not scowling, not laughing, not even smiling or frowning, just asserting his hideous presence in her home. Sarah screams, and screams, and screams, and screams...

Sunday, February 26, 1989
Music is playing - a record of Glenn Miller's "Pennsylvania 6-5000" - as Sarah rushes into the living room. She's not prepared for what she sees: Leland, groaning as he dances in a circle with Laura's portrait. Suddenly Sarah has to be the sane one, and she's not quite up to the task, struggling to arrest Leland's endless cycle and cutting her hand when he smashes the frame on the table. Leland cries as he caresses Laura's picture - which means he's spreading blood over her face. Sarah violently rips the needle from the turntable and demands to know what is happening. No answer is possible.

Monday, February 27, 1989
At Laura's funeral, Sarah stands mournfully by her daughter's fresh grave, the coffin suspended above its final resting place. She is flanked by Leland and Maddy Ferguson, her niece who has come to stay with them and take care of her relatives in this difficult time. As a fight breaks out between Bobby and another boy, Leland throws himself onto Laura's coffin. The lowering mechanism malfunctions, rising and falling as Leland gnashes his teeth and wails, riding the coffin up and down as Sarah drops to her knees and demands that he stop ruining this event too.

Tuesday, February 28, 1989
It is morning in the Palmer house and Maddy is serving refreshments to Donna and some men from the sheriff's department. Sarah describes the man from her vision (Deputy Andy is drawing a sketch). Leland, who has now fully replaced Sarah as the disheveled wreck of the family, wanders through the living room and mocks Sarah's visions. Truman asks her to describe her other experience, and she tells them about the hand clutching the necklace in the woods.

Wednesday, March 1, 1989
Sarah calls out to Leland late at night, but he isn't home.

Friday, March 2, 1989
Sarah is seated in a comfortable chair in the living room while Maddy sits on the couch. For the first time in a week, Sarah doesn't look utterly miserable - she even seems slightly relaxed, at peace. She asks Maddy if she misses her mother, but Maddy is preoccupied by the carpet, explaining that she had an unsettling dream the other night where something happened in this exact spot. Before she can further explain, Leland bursts in, joyfully singing "Mairzy Doates." Even more shocking than his sudden shift in mood is his hair: overnight, it's turned shock-white. In the evening, Leland and Sarah attend "the Hayward Supper Club" with their close friends, Donna's parents. One of Donna's sisters plays the piano while another recites a poem about seeing Laura in the forest. Sarah is moved. During dinner, Leland declares that he's turned a corner and wants to sing "Get Happy." And so he does. At first Sarah is dismayed but she gets into the performance as Leland's energy rises - at least until he grows manic and collapses. Her concern turns to exhaustion when Leland regains consciousness and insists that everything's fine.

Thursday, March 9, 1989
Things have, if not exactly returned to normal in the Palmer house, settled into a comfortable routine. Unfortunately, Maddy jars this comfort one morning by announcing her impending return to Missoula, Montana. She has a whole other life there and after eleven days in Twin Peaks it's time to go back. Sarah and Leland say they understand but their expressions suggest otherwise. She has been so supportive; in her absence, will the lingering tragedy continue to tear them apart, will old wounds open even further? That night, Sarah is in her state again...Leland brought her a glass of milk for the first time since Laura died. But Sarah doesn't want to sleep tonight. She crawls downstairs, slithering across the floor and calling out to her husband. She is able to reach the living room where she sees, again, that dazzling vision of the white horse. And with that, her head drops to the ground. She's out. But perhaps in her narcoticized haze, she hears the muffled cries of a young woman and the murmurs of a distraught Leland: "Laura, Laura..."

Friday, March 10, 1989
Sarah is up and about, still in the ubiquitous bathrobe but ready for a busy day. She calls to Leland from the staircase and reminds him to sign them up for Glenn Miller Night soon. Maddy has left, but things are okay.

Wednesday, March 15, 1989
Things are not okay. Five days later, Leland is dead. Maddy is dead (killed by Leland). Even worse than that, what Sarah may have always subconsciously suspected, but repressed, has been confirmed. Her husband killed her daughter. Understandably, Doc Hayward suggests that Sarah take a sedative before Leland's wake (which will be held at his house) but Sarah bristles before he can inject. She insists that she wants to be fully present. "Today I bury my husband next to my only child. Her grave is still so new there's only a little bit of grass on it." FBI Agent Dale Cooper, who came to town nearly three weeks ago to solve Laura's murder, who captured Leland and was by his side when he died from a self-inflicted head wound, speaks to Sarah in a soothing voice. He acknowledges that "there are things dark and heinous in this world," but reassures her that "the Leland you knew" "did not do these things." "No," Sarah agrees. "That man I saw...long, dirty, disgusting hair..." Without explaining exactly who this man was, Cooper assures her that Leland fell victim to "one of these" dark and heinous things when he was young and innocent, but that now that figure is gone forever. Reinforcing her decision to dispense with drugs, Cooper tells her that Leland had been dosing her for years so she would sleep through his actions. Unspoken but implicit in this dialogue is what those actions were: Leland had been sexually abusing Laura. Cooper tells Sarah that before he died, Leland confronted this horror and saw Laura's spirit, welcoming and forgiving him. Cooper escorts Sarah to her husband's memorial, but not before she remembers one last poignant detail: Leland was always able to find her missing earring. The ceiling fan continues to cycle ominously overhead... At the reception, Sarah sits with Audrey Horne, Ben's daughter, and Eileen Hayward, Donna's mom. They are able to smile when a deceitful ne'er-do-well offers Sarah a full plate of food, trying to impress the onlookers. Sarah remembers a time when Laura and Donna vowed to be best friends for life. "I need to remember all of this," she insists, her lower lip trembling.

Monday, March 27, 1989
Dr. Lawrence Jacoby, a local psychiatrist, escorts Sarah into the RR Diner where she hopes to deliver a message to Major Garland Briggs, Bobby's father. Seated across from him, clutching his hand, Sarah intones in a very weird voice, "I'm in the Black Lodge with Dale Cooper."

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Twenty-five years later after these traumatic events, Sarah speaks with a man who has called to her through the ether. He gently questions her and she answers as best as she is able. She can't dwell on the past, claiming that some memories have faded, but suggesting that in fact it's still too painful to focus on (she's "seeing people...some in the medical profession"). When the topic gets too raw, Sarah shifts to discussing football, billiards, snooker, and bowling, which she likes to watch. But she still lives in the same house, alone, and when she goes out in public she "puts on the happy face" - not that anyone knows or cares what she's thinking. "Inside, one thing," she attempts to explain, "then...step aside! Separate."

Characters Sarah interacts with onscreen…

Laura Palmer

Leland Palmer

Betty Briggs

Doc Hayward

Sheriff Truman

Donna Hayward

Maddy Ferguson

Deputy Andy

Agent Cooper

Hank Jennings

Audrey Horne

Eileen Hayward

Dr. Jacoby

Major Briggs

Spirits who appear with/to her


Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Sarah
What have we seen before we meet Sarah Palmer, eight minutes into the pilot? We've experienced the town abstracted into images of industry and nature under the opening credits, so we have a sense of place. We've met a handful of characters: Josie, Catherine, Pete, Truman, Lucy, Andy, Doc Hayward - some of the sturdiest members of the ensemble, so we have a sense of the bedrock community. And we have observed Laura Palmer as an iconic object, a peaceful, beatific body wrapped in plastic, so we have a sense of what this story will be about. But in that moment, Laura's significance is her aura of unknowable mystery. Sarah, casually calling upstairs to the daughter she doesn't yet know isn't there (isn't anywhere anymore) is the first to offer a sense of who Laura might have been as a person. And what strikes us - especially after that initial larger-than-life presentation of the body - is a feeling of ordinariness, of the everyday. This, more than the unveiling of a pristine corpse, is where the heartbreak begins. Sarah begins to pull us away from a consideration of Twin Peaks purely as a moody fairy tale of the dark woods and toward consideration of it as a domestic drama set in a home. Its emblem will be the droning ceiling fan as much as the majestic Douglas fir.

At the same time, Sarah not only anchors the story in a recognizable reality, she becomes our primal conduit - before Cooper even - into a world of dreams, visions, and visitations. By introducing us to both of these modes, she suggests they are linked. House and mind, inward realities each, are two sides of the same coin. This slippery realm, not the social world of the town, is where the true, profound answers are discovered. Sarah is the first character in the series, after a full ninety minutes of offbeat but down-to-earth drama, to experience anything remotely supernatural, and she's also the first to see BOB. Her description of BOB later confirms that Cooper's dream was not simply a private reverie, and she will be present - if unable to participate - when BOB is revealed as the reflection of her husband. Cooper comforts Sarah after Leland's death, telling her what really happened, but somehow this feels backwards. The root of Laura's tragedy was in this space, a space Cooper never came into contact with during his long investigation (except, when Sarah wasn't present, to arrest Leland for a different crime). Shouldn't Sarah be explaining to him what happened in her family?

At times, Cooper and Sarah feel like the yin/yang of the narrative, a gendered division that reflects the Cooper/Laura combo in simpler, more concrete terms (since Sarah is a literal presence rather than an idea, but also because Laura is ambiguously active even when she's absent, whereas Sarah remains a receiver). This dynamic is especially true in the pilot. The episode's first half is dominated by Sarah's overwhelming grief, her screams, her air of mournful helplessness that characterizes the whole community in the wake of Laura's death. Cooper, on the other hand, drives into town and dominates the episode's second half with an energy and sense of purpose that liberates us from the fog of sorrow. She is stasis, he is forward momentum. She experiences, he investigates. In a way, she is his destination, the embodiment of Laura's mystery because the answer is buried in her subconscious, bubbling up in strange clues that she herself can't decipher. How curious that (aside from standing across from Sarah at Laura's funeral), Cooper never reaches her until it's essentially too late; he skips one opportunity precisely because he is so active and she is so passive: "I'm a strong sender." And then, once he finally shares a moment with Sarah, she is gone, whisked away from the narrative like an inconvenient reminder of how the story began. But her memory, and all she represents, lingers. The tree has many branches, but Sarah is one of the roots.

Sarah’s journey
Sarah's story begins - on the series anyway - when she is allowed to be a typical parent, participating in a routine so familiar that it grounds the tragedy to come. That moment is short-lived; within several scenes, Sarah's touchstone becomes her heightened hysteria rather than her everyday earthiness. To many observers, especially as the first season develops a quirky flavor, Sarah's constant screaming is an almost cartoonish flourish: the eyepatch lady loves drapes, the psychiatrist dresses like a Haight-Ashbury transplant, and then there's that Palmer family with their wacky grief! Adding to the perception of eccentricity, Sarah's visions lend an air of near-witchery to Twin Peaks' unsettling vibe (isn't that a witch on her kitchen counter in the first scene?). As Leland becomes the maniacally mourning Palmer of choice, Sarah starts to fade (she's onscreen as much as him in the first half of the season but virtually disappears in the second half). Yet we keep returning to the character, touching base early in season two - when a grim disorientation has supplanted her frantic angst - and of course, anchoring the show's climax in her futile struggle to remain conscious of what is going on in this house.

Any discussion of Sarah's "arc" has to dwell on her scene with Cooper. Without it, she doesn't really have an arc at all...her purpose is usually to provide a passageway to some important sensation or discovery, or to act as a sounding board for more active characters like Leland and Maddy, or to keep reminding us of where we began. As such, she doesn't usually "make a move." But in this scene she does, refusing to take Doc Hayward's drugs and facilitating Cooper's explanation of what happened to Leland. The scene feels odd for a few reasons. It seems strange for Sarah to become so assertive all of a sudden, kindhearted as the creators' intentions may have been. That Cooper offers an essentially sanitized version of events precisely when she says she's ready for the hard truth only heightens the sense of contradiction. The scene is also unusual in what actually works about it: Sarah, allowed to linger over Leland and Laura after the investigation has concluded, is given an opportunity almost no other character has. No matter how many times I've seen the episode, I can never quite shake the feeling that I'm watching an alternate-reality version of the series for the first time, an incarnation allowing the characters to react to the mystery's resolution as they were allowed to react to its initiation.

Unlike many characters with more dramatic arcs (who nevertheless disappear without full closure), Sarah's journey is invisible until it receives a solid, emphatic conclusion. And yet of course, Sarah's story continues past this point. First in that finale appearance, and then in the film which provides her with a whole new, extremely revelatory beginning: viewed chronologically, Sarah appears even more trapped in a cycle - Laura's murder doesn't interrupt a routine so much as escalate a process of perpetual sensing, forgetting, and wallowing in numbness. And then Lynch brings her back for several minutes in 2014, shooting a black-and-white interview which he scripted himself, carefully asking one of his favorite characters how her life is going and looking genuinely sad when she conveys a loneliness and depression so great she can only express it with deflective side glances. This essentially undoes the rather pat, if humane, resolution provided by the series without denying its existence. Instead we get a sense that for that one moment, Sarah was able to release and recognize some of her trauma. But life goes on, past our artificial climaxes, and Sarah has continued to carry a heavy burden the only way she knows how.

Actress: Grace Zabriskie
Zabriskie crossed many interesting paths in her seventy-five years - many linking back to David Lynch or Twin Peaks. She springs from a fascinating family. Her father owned a legendary New Orleans gay bar (Cafe Lafitte in Exile) and was acquainted with Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, and Truman Capote. Her mother was related to the 19th-century Californian railroad tycoon James Zabriskie. Her sister worked for District Attorney Jim Garrison of JFK conspiracy fame, allegedly using Garrison's Xerox to print up the first edition of the countercultural Principia Discordia in 1965, which founded the parody religion Discordianism. One of the authors of that text, Kerry Thornley (aka Lord Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst) was in love with Grace Zabriskie. Wikipedia humorously contrasts their accounts of their relationship: Thornley "claimed to have had an 'eight-year-long, off-again-on-again, affair/friendship/rivalry/ego-game/karmic unraveling' with her, though Zabriskie described it as 'four and a half minutes in bed'." Thornley started a novel about Zabriskie titled Can Grace Come Out and Play? in the sixties. Incidentally, this was not the first time Thornley based a book on the life of one of his friends; Thornley's manuscript Idle Warriors, about his buddy from the Marines, was finished a year before the Kennedy assassination. I only mention the timing because that buddy from the Marines was Lee Harvey Oswald.

A poet and artist who only began acting onscreen in her late thirties, Zabriskie has by now racked up well over a hundred credits. Her film work includes Norma Rae, An Officer and a Gentleman, The Big Easy, Drugstore Cowboy, Child's Play 2, My Own Private Idaho, Fried Green Tomatoes, the voice of Magi Lune in Fern Gully, The Crew, Bastard Out of Carolina, Armageddon, Gone in Sixty Seconds, The Grudge, License to Wed, The Judge, and My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done. (I wonder how many actors have worked with both David Lynch and Werner Herzog? Nicolas Cage is the only other name that comes to mind.) Zabriskie's television work may be even more extensive. She appears in quite a few major eighties TV movies, including the miniseries East of Eden and as Ryan White's grandmother Gloria in The Ryan White Story (the young AIDS patient, who has a cameo in the film, died the following year on April 8, 1990 - the day Twin Peaks premiered). Zabriskie has guest spots on Knots Landing, Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey, Falcon Crest, Moonlighting, Tales from the Crypt, Empty Nest, NYPD Blue, Dharma & Greg, The King of Queens, The West Wing, Charmed, and The Killing - whose story notably echoes Twin Peaks (with "Who Killed Rosie Larson?" the actual tagline). Zabriskie landed recurring slots on six episodes each of John Doe and Ray Donovan, but by far her biggest part has been Lois Henrickson, the mother of the main character (Bill Paxton) in Big Love. Her granddaughter on the show, Amanda Seyfried, will be in the new Twin Peaks and the series also features Lynch cohorts Harry Dean Stanton, Sissy Spacek, and Gary Hershberger.

Perhaps even more than Sarah Palmer or Lois Henrickson, Zabriskie's most famous TV role may be as another mother of a famously dead woman: in six episodes of Seinfeld, she portrays the sardonic, alcoholic Mrs. Ross, whose daughter Susan passes away after licking cheap envelopes bought by George Costanza for their wedding invitations. Zabriskie's husband on the show is played by Doc Hayward himself, Warren Frost. In fact, one of the Ross episodes - "The Rye" - features not only Zabriskie and Frost but also Don Amendolia (Emory Battis) and most famously, the Marble Rye lady herself, Frances Bay (aka Mrs. Tremond/Chalfont). (The final episode of Seinfeld brings back Zabriskie, Frost, and Bay, and adds Ian Abercrombie, who played a sleazy salesman in one episode of Twin Peaks). Peaks haunts Zabriskie's film career as well; Sarah and Laura Palmer are reunited at least twice after Fire Walk With Me. Zabriskie co-stars with Sheryl Lee in the B movie Dante's View and more notably, she actually plays Lee's mother for the second time in The Makings of You. Zabriskie is also part of the extraordinary ensemble in Gus Van Sant's Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, which includes four other Lynch alums: John Hurt from The Elephant Man, Crispin Glover from Wild at Heart, Sean Young from Dune, and Heather Graham from Twin Peaks (plus William S. Burroughs, originally slotted to play Dougie Milford).

Lynch met Zabriskie while casting Twin Peaks (one wonders if they discussed her connections to Oswald through Garrison and Thornley; Lynch and Frost had recently written Goddess, their screenplay about Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedys). After performing a thick Cajun accent in her audition for Peaks, Lynch wrote her into Wild at Heart where she plays the terrifying wooden-legged murderess (sister of a character played by Isabella Rossellini, who is similarly unibrowed). She is also one of the few Twin Peaks cast members who appeared in a Lynch project after Twin Peaks and On the Air. She makes an uncanny, vaguely terrifying cameo in Inland Empire, kicking off the whole narrative (or "narrative") as an old Polish woman whose full-blast Lynchian monologue is accompanied by ever wider lenses distorting her face in extreme close-up. (Lynch found room for one prominent Twin Peaks cast member in each of his subsequent features: Jack Nance in Lost Highway, Everett McGill in The Straight Story, Michael J. Anderson in Mulholland Drive, and Zabriskie in Inland Empire; in Nance's and McGill's case, these are their last recorded credits.)

In 2014, following the "Palmer family interview" section of Between Two Worlds, Lynch holds a long conversation with the actors as themselves. In it, Zabriskie shares a story she's told on many occasions, about a screening of the pilot where people laughed as Sarah screamed and a reporter asked if she was offended. When she said that it hovered on the edge of humor, and might have gone over at certain points, the reporter responded, "Oh, so you were playing it for laughs." Zabriskie was forced to explain that there's a space between sincerity and parody in which the scene operates. However, in the midst of this anecdote, Lynch interjects, observing that viewers sometimes laugh even if nothing's funny, because they don't know how to handle their discomfort. Zabriskie, with wry self-awareness, claims "Grace did" look a little funny, but Lynch digs in his heels, visibly wincing as he insists with an edge of testiness, "No. No. I don't think so." (film pictured: Wild at Heart, 1990)

*The Pilot - best episode

Episode 1 (German title: "Traces to Nowhere")

Episode 2 (German title: "Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer")

Episode 3 (German title: "Rest in Pain")

Episode 4 (German title: "The One-Armed Man")

Episode 5 (German title: "Cooper's Dreams") - voice is heard offscreen

Episode 8 (German title: "May the Giant Be With You")

Episode 12 (German title: "The Orchid's Curse")

Episode 14 (German title: "Lonely Souls")

Episode 15 (German title: "Drive with a Dead Girl")

Episode 17 (German title: "Dispute Between Brothers")

Episode 29 (German title: "Beyond Life and Death")

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (feature film)

Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces (collection of deleted scenes from the film)

Between Two Worlds (David Lynch interviews the Palmer family)

The grieving mother is a character type Mark Frost probably had experience with on Hill Street Blues. He writes or co-writes half of Sarah's teleplays - not including his credit on the finale, since she wasn't supposed to appear until David Lynch added her. In addition to that improvisation, all of Lynch's three co-written episodes include her, as does his screenplay for the film, co-authored with Robert Engels, and the script for Between Two Worlds, his only solo piece of Twin Peaks authorship (she also appears in his only "story by" co-credit on the series). Beyond the Lynch/Frost episodes, Sarah is included in a single episode each by Engels, Harley Peyton, Barry Pullman, Tricia Brock, and Scott Frost. She is predominantly directed by Lynch (a whopping seven times); aside from him, only Tina Rathborne directs her more than once (at the two memorials for her fallen family members). Tim Hunter, Caleb Deschanel, and Duwayne Dunham each get one scene with her, while Lesli Linka Glatter features her voice offscreen and Graeme Clifford shows her without any dialogue (at Leland's hearing). Barely a fifth of Sarah's material is credited to someone other than Lynch or Frost.

Sarah is the final character on the list whom Lynch writes as many times as anyone else. Purely in terms of screentime, however, there's no comparison: Lynch authors or co-authors three-quarters of Sarah's material, whereas Frost receives credit for a bit less than half, quite a feat considering Lynch only contributed to the first three of thirty teleplays.

Sarah is onscreen for roughly fifty minutes. She is in twenty-nine scenes in twelve episodes plus the feature film, deleted scenes collection, and Palmer family interview, taking place over five weeks - and twenty-five years later. She's featured the most in Fire Walk With Me/The Missing Pieces, in which she witnesses the last week of her daughter's life (in the show she's featured the most in the pilot and episode 8, the season two premiere). Her primary location (she only travels elsewhere for four scenes) is the Palmer home. She shares the most screentime with Leland. She is one of the top ten characters in the pilot, episodes 8 and 17, and (collectively) Fire Walk With Me/The Missing Pieces.

Best Scene
Fire Walk With Me: Although the "wash your hands" sequence is already a tour de force for both Leland and Laura, it also demonstrates the roots of Sarah's hysteria and perpetual unease (indicating that she's navigated these waters before); Laura's desperate, nonverbal appeal to her mother is as devastating as Sarah's overwhelming desire to pretend their household isn't rotting from within.

Best Line
“What is going on in this house??!”

Sarah Offscreen

Episode 2: During Cooper's dream, there are brief flashes of Sarah calling for Laura and running down the stairs in slow motion. The shot is darkened.

Episode 3: Cooper recites incidents from the full European ending (see below), suggesting that all of it was originally going to be included in the episode. This includes Sarah seeing a vision of BOB crouching behind Laura's bed and reporting it to the police.

Episode 4: Andy shows Cooper the sketch he made of Sarah's description of BOB, and Cooper recognizes this as the man he saw in his dream. (References to Sarah's vision of BOB will also be made in episodes 9, 10, and 16.) At the diner, Maddy meets James and tells him Sarah can't cook right now and she has to take care of both of the Palmers.

Episode 9: The same shots/effect of Sarah from Cooper's earlier dream are repeated in another dream, intercut with the giant, Ronette's hysteria, and an owl superimposed over BOB.

Fire Walk With Me: When Donna drops in on Laura, and sees her preparing for a sensual night out, she asks where her parents are. "You mean Fred and Ginger?" Laura deadpans. Donna sees an ashtray overflowing with cigarettes and quips, "If I had a nickel for every cigarette your mom smoked...I'd be dead."

Sarah in the alternate "European ending"
Sarah kicks off the alternate ending of the pilot (shot as a contractually-obligated closed ending which later evolved into the dream sequence in episode 2) in the same way she concludes the pilot that aired: lying on the couch and experiencing a vision. Except in this case the vision is a flashback. She remembers looking for Laura in her room and recalls a detail she somehow didn't pick up at the time: there was a long-haired man crouched behind her daughter's bed, half-hidden in the shadows! Sarah screams and calls for Leland. (The shot of BOB behind the bed is darker, grainier, and more distanced than the one later cut into episode 1.)


• When Dr. Jacoby writes about the Palmer case in Mark Frost's The Secret History of Twin Peaks, he reveals that Leland and Sarah were "college sweethearts" at the University of Washington, where Sarah studied political science (however, the reliability of this information is questionable - he says Leland was the only son of a wealthy Seattle family who moved to Twin Peaks in adulthood, whereas the series and other ancillary material tell us that the Palmers go way back and Leland is a lifelong local). After Laura's death, Jacoby bemoans Sarah's "slow, steady slide into alcoholism and prescription drug abuse," wondering if a traumatic background fed into her decline or if it was simply the immediate tragedy.

• Sarah Palmer is mentioned hundreds of times, in dozens of scenes, in Jennifer Lynch's The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. She appears for the first time on Laura's twelfth birthday, hanging streamers around the house, and shows up the last time when a sixteen-year-old Laura returns from an abortion (she told her mom she was going to a job interview). Sarah - or rather "Mom" - is a constant presence in Laura's life, a reminder of its surface normality and a poignant contrast with the darkness that increasingly envelops the teenage girl. She dotes on Laura, endearingly and embarrassingly, and acts the role of mother to an adolescent: sometimes clashing, sometimes offering sympathy that only a mother can (though when Laura has her first period, Sarah makes a big deal out of it and humiliates her). Compared to the series and the film, the Sarah that Laura perceives seems more normal, comforting, perhaps somewhat naive herself. Then there are the hints that Sarah knows more than she lets on.

The book mentions early what is suggested on the show - Laura and her mother share a low-key psychic gift. Elsewhere, Laura wonders what else they share. Around the middle, Laura comes home from an orgy in the woods and writes, "I had a daydream as I made my way upstairs that Mom woke up . . . and asked how the orgy had been. I gave her all the details and she began reliving her own experiences of strange evenings in the woods. She wanted to call her friends and tell them her daughter had been in an orgy . . . and wasn't that wonderful?" A few lines later, BOB is taunting her in a form of automatic writing; when Laura says her parents are better than him, BOB responds, "DOUBT IT. THEY HAVEN'T KEPT ME FROM GETTING TO YOU, HAVE THEY? NEITHER ONE TALKS TO YOU THE WAY THEY USED TO. THEY STOPPED CARING A LONG TIME AGO. THEY PUT UP WITH YOU. NOTHING MORE." A few entries later, Laura writes the following:
"I'm sorry that it is a whole day later, but Mom and I had a talk in the kitchen while I did the dishes, and it lasted almost four hours. Dad came home and joined us for about forty-five minutes before heading up to bed early. 
I guess Benjamin has him working pretty hard on some new plan. Dad just rolls his eyes when Mom and I ask how it's going. 
Sometimes I think that my mom and I could be the best of friends. Every once in a while I will look into her eyes and think, I wonder if Mom has ever felt anything that I'm feeling . . . ? I sense that some of my experiences are ones that she would understand, but she comes from a family and a generation that doesn't really like to talk about things that make them uncomfortable. 
Maybe BOB makes her feel uncomfortable. Maybe Dad knows BOB, too, but Mom won't let us talk about him because it makes everyone . . . so upset . . . ? I don't know. 
I guess we had a good talk anyway, because I know she was very happy when she went up to bed."
In Sarah's final appearance in the book, she calls up to Laura on the stairway, telling her that Maddy is on the phone. Laura writes, "In that same moment I was aware of Mom's stare - pure jealousy at my back."

Additional Observations

• Especially after watching Fire Walk With Me, many viewers who accepted the show's explanation that she was drugged and completely unaware, aside from psychic premonitions of BOB, begin to wonder if Sarah actually knew that Leland was sexually abusing Laura. In fact, the film confirms what the series already strongly suggests. Whether or not she knows exactly what's happening, Sarah most certainly knows something is happening. This is incredibly consistent with a great many, perhaps (studies seem to vary on this point) a majority of real-life mothers/wives in father-daughter incest scenarios. The key word is not "knowledge" or "ignorance," but "denial." Sarah is not so much hiding a secret from the outside world or oblivious to a crime happening behind her back as she is willfully choosing to keep the sordid reality from her mind with as many conscious and subconscious tricks as possible.

Denial takes many forms. Some mothers may actively take the father's side if a dispute arises; others remain silent or look the other way (I can't find the anecdote at present, but I recall hearing of one victim who heard her mother's footsteps in the hallway when her father was inside the room - the footsteps stopped, paused and lingered near the door, and just as she thought her mother would intervene, the footsteps turned and walked away in the other direction). Sarah, who does try to meekly stand up to Leland in the dinner scene, strikes me very much as the second type - although because Laura never discloses the abuse, we can't know exactly how she would react. There's also something else to consider. Again, studies may vary, but some show a very high frequency of women married to abusive fathers were themselves victims of incest. Jacoby vaguely alludes to this possibility in The Secret History and it also speaks to the flickers of solidarity between Laura and her mother in a few scenes in Fire Walk With Me and The Secret Diary. Whether or not she has directly experienced what her daughter is going through, Sarah can see the telltale signs and feel that something is off but she can't/won't/doesn't articulate it.

Or rather, she never articulates it directly. She articulates it indirectly all the time. Sometimes through visions - a white horse appearing before Leland's various violations - or the flash of BOB crouching behind Laura's bed (the true scene of the crime). Sometimes through words that suggest without directly stating: "Leland, what is going on in this house?" "Don't ruin this too!" and perhaps most ominously, with a terrified look on the morning after her daughter was killed, "Who's upstairs?" (Sheriff Truman answers, innocently, "Your husband"). As Sady Doyle writes in Tiger Beatdown, "there’s a reason why Laura’s mother, Sarah, keeps seeing 'visions' of things she can’t or won’t acknowledge that she knows; there’s a reason she looks torn-up and on the verge of losing her mind from the first moment we see her, and there’s a reason she can’t stop screaming."

Sarah's hysterical grief and psychic terror on the show are larger-than-life, almost mythic qualities, pointing to something almost indescribable and impossible to pin down. The Secret Diary, the killer's reveal episode, and Fire Walk With Me go ahead and describe it, not exactly pinning it down but rather allowing us to gaze into the abyss. Sarah is present for all, the mute witness, too groggy to fully know, too sensitive to fully ignore.

• In a deleted scene from the pilot script, neighbor Janice Hogan rushes over to the Palmer house, drawn by Sarah's screams. Father Clarence also shows up, at the end of the sheriff's interrogation and comforts her, telling her Laura is at peace when she asks, "There's no more pain now, is there?" Her vision of BOB in episode 1 was supposed to be him rushing down a hospital corridor (this was apparently shot, since Lynch uses a distorted version of it during Ronette's vision in episode 8). At the end of episode 2, the script includes a scene where Leland tells Sarah that Maddy is arriving the next day and Sarah announces she's going downstairs for a while. This transitions directly into the full version of the European ending/Cooper's dream and was perhaps originally intended to trick the audience, leading us to believe that what we were watching wasn't a dream. In the episode 8 script, we see the Palmers before they go to the Hayward Supper Club. Sarah marvels at Leland's change in mood and he reminisces to Donna and Maddy, "Girls, you should have seen Sarah dance. We used to win all the dance contests down at the Grange Hall; the other couples would see us coming and just walk off the floor." At the Haywards, Sarah helps Eileen in the kitchen and plays the piano as Leland sings; there's no younger generation present in the script's version of this scene. In deleted dialogue from the scene before the wake, Cooper reminds her of happier days: "The experience we have of people doesn't leave when they do. If you close your eyes, you can see Laura blowing out the candles on her birthday cake, Leland mowing the yard, shaving at the sink...Those moments are yours, always." In the Fire Walk With Me script Sarah was to greet Leland and Laura at the diner after their traffic incident and this is followed by "OMITTED" so who knows what would have happened next...

• In the sweater scene as written in the Fire Walk With Me script, Sarah says "My God, I am going to have another breakdown. God, god." As we see in The Missing Pieces, Lynch replaced this on set with a line that conveys the same meaning (in more cryptic fashion) while directly echoing one of the series' most iconic statements: "It's happening again."

• There are some confusing dates in Fire Walk With Me/The Missing Pieces, given the way Lynch changed the screenplay's layout in editing. At times, the chronology in Lynch's assembly of The Missing Pieces can't quite align with what we see in the movie (for example, Cooper asks Sam about Chet before Jeffries arrives, even though in the finished film no one knows Chet has disappeared until after Jeffries). Wherever possible, however, I've tried to assume that they are compatible. With that in mind, the scene in which Laura comforts her mother (after the freaky fan montage) could be either Saturday or Sunday morning. It occurs after the extended dream sequence (which takes place on Friday night) and before a shot of churchgoers streaming out of a Methodist church. Because I like the idea that we don't skip a day during Laura's story (even though we do in the theatrical cut), I've decided to place this scene on Saturday morning.

• Who is speaking through Sarah in her final scene on the show? When we cut to the Black Lodge, the voice changes somewhat and sounds a lot like Windom Earle's "Lodge voice" (the subtitles on the video take this reading though I doubt Lynch concerned himself with these). This seems an odd choice, however, since Windom will be quickly disposed of onscreen. He doesn't know this of course but to the extent the scene sets up possibilities for a future episode that never aired (or rather, hasn't yet), why use a soon-to-be defunct character (especially one whom Lynch didn't seem to care for?). Other possibilities include Annie, the Man From Another Place - though I don't think he would deliver this sort of message, or in this fashion - or Laura (this is the one I like the most, and that makes the most sense, since Sarah's the messenger). Only time will tell, and the wait is closer to twenty-five days than twenty-five years at this point.

SHOWTIME: Yes, Zabriskie is on the cast list for 2017. Aside from Gordon Cole's strictly-business introduction to The Secret History book (and his donut-eating extravaganza in that one promo), Sarah is the only living character we've heard from in recent years. We know she still resides in the same house, alone, and that her experience is defined by the same gap between inner and outer world that characterized her on the series. Though I've stopped following news from the production front, I recall certain details about location slithering down the grapevine in the fall of 2015. They were consistent with what we'd expect from Between Two Worlds but I also seem to remember some surprises. Lynch may love all of Twin Peaks' twisted children, but I think he has a few favorites and Sarah is one of them. Will she heal? Will we see another side? Will she continue to linger in the stasis that has always defined her? Sarah was our first conduit to the tragedy of Laura Palmer and the trauma of the Palmer household, and it looks like her job isn't over yet.

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