It’s not too late to catch up with the #TwinPeaksRewatch! Check the schedule at the bottom of this post!
This week’s entry on episodes 15 and 16 is written by Paul Scoones (@paul_scoones), who is also behind the original screening info we’ve been including in every post – so you can see that down below as well. Thanks Paul!
Laura Palmer casts a long shadow over Twin Peaks. The ubiquitous marketing tagline ‘Who Killed Laura Palmer?’ was as familiar as the title. A framed photograph of Laura often appears on the closing credits, a reminder that this is what Twin Peaks is all about.
Or is it? Laura’s dead before the series begins and the focus is on the hunt for her killer. That storyline effectively wraps up around the halfway point of the series, in Episodes 15 and 16. Twin Peaks’ central mystery has been solved, Laura’s killer has confessed and died.
Twin Peaks was stylish and engaging and made for compulsive viewing. Even hardened fans might concede that in the early episodes of the second season the shine had started to come off. The myriad of side-plots involving relationships and conspiracies started to overshadow and prolong the search for Laura’s killer. The series began to look like it was dragging its feet as the much-teased mystery failed to advance for weeks on end.
That is until the sixth episode of the second season. This was a game-changer. Nothing prepared us for the final minutes with the abrupt shock reveal of the terrible truth that Leland Palmer is Bob. No sooner had we processed this than we saw him brutally murder his niece, Maddy, in the Palmers’ living room.
Twin Peaks’ identity fundamentally changed at this point. After many long, agonising weeks of pondering ‘Who killed Laura Palmer?’ the question was now reframed as ‘When will Cooper find out?’.
We the viewers have just been let in on the series’ big secret but the characters who inhabit Twin Peaks are none the wiser. There are no witnesses to Maddy’s killing. Given the teasing, glacial pace of the series leading up to this point, there was a fear that we had a long wait ahead before the case was solved. That would surely have tested viewers’ strained patience so it is fortunate that the denouement was only a couple of episodes away.
Cooper: ‘The trail narrows, Diane. I’m very close. But the last few steps are always the darkest and most difficult.’
Episode 15 opens by revisiting the moment of the murder, but this time seen from outside the house at night. We hear Maddy’s screams but mercifully we are distanced from the awful event. Angelo Badalamenti’s score, always an integral component of Twin Peaks, is particularly menacing and foreboding at this point.
Cut to the next morning at the scene of the crime in Leland’s living room. The camera pans slowly across the floor, now covered with a large rug to hide the blood-stained carpet. Leland is in a genial mood, but it’s not long before the cracks begin to show. There is a moment when we see him alone on the stairs pausing to regain his composure, and then Bob appears in the mirror. We glimpse Maddy’s body, wrapped in plastic inside Leland’s golf bag; a tangible, chilling reminder of her terrible death.
Leland’s behaviour is as wildly erratic and eccentric as ever. His dancing, which once appeared to be a tragically comical manifestation of his grief, now appears sinister and threatening. Cooper’s encounter with Leland in the Great Northern highlights how our perception of the series has suddenly and irrevocably shifted. Crucially we now know more that the normally highly perceptive FBI Special Agent. This results in agonising moments of not-quite-revelation, as Cooper almost catches Leland giggling at the news of Ben Horne’s arrest, and later very nearly finds Maddy’s body secreted in the trunk of Leland’s car. All the while we are desperately willing Cooper to realise the truth.
Sheriff Truman meanwhile persists in his belief that Ben Horne is Laura’s killer, and charges him with murder. Cooper doubts that Ben is guilty and advises Truman to release him. Truman and Cooper share a moment of tense disagreement, one man guided by pragmatism, the other by instinct. Cooper graciously backs down, but remains unconvinced that Truman has the right man.
The episode ends with the discovery of Maddy Ferguson’s body, wrapped in plastic at the water’s edge, just as Laura’s was, back where it all began.
Cooper: ‘I need 24 hours’. Truman: ‘For what?’ Cooper: ‘To finish this.’
Episode 16 has a lengthy and disturbingly tense sequence involving Donna’s visit to Leland at his home. As the pair talk about Laura and later dance to music in the very room where Maddy was murdered a couple of days earlier, Leland hovers on the verge of making the unwitting and vulnerable Donna his next victim. The scene lacks the same impact knowing the outcome, but on first viewing it seemed terrifying likely that another murder was about to occur. Even on a re-watch it is a huge relief when Truman arrives, and Donna is quite literally saved by the bell.
The episode adopts a couple of familiar tropes from traditional detective stories. Early on, Cooper follows a trail of clues each of which leads him to the next. Later, we get a ‘summation gathering’ as Cooper assembles a group of suspects in order to finally solve the case, and asserts, ‘I have reason to believe that the killer is in this room’.
The assembled group of men at the Roadhouse includes Bobby and Leo, reminding us that these two were once key suspects in Laura’s death, but now their only purpose seems to be to bolster numbers.
Cooper initially seems lost, uncertain how to proceed and guided far more by instinct than solid deduction. Will this be yet another thwarted opportunity to solve the case? Everything changes with the arrival of the elderly Waiter, who offers Cooper a stick of gum. Leland says how much he likes that gum. The Waiter tells him, ‘That gum you like is going to come back in style.’ The exact words from Cooper’s dream, all the way back in Episode 2. The phrase acts as a mnemonic trigger. Dramatically, this is a sucker punch, Cooper’s moment of epipthany. He revisits his dream, only this time we hear Laura’s whispered words: ‘My father killed me.’ The giant materialises in front of Cooper and returns the ring Cooper gave him in Episode 8. The circle has been closed.
Back at the station, in a clever piece of subterfuge Leland is forced into a cell. Bob speaks through Leland to confess to the killings, and reveals that Leland doesn’t know what he has done, but that when Bob leaves, Leland will remember. Bob chants the same ‘Fire walk with me’ speech in his cell that Mike recites in Cooper’s dream.
The sprinklers go off, and Leland smashes his head against the cell door. By the time Cooper reaches him, Leland is dying, but freed of Bob’s malevolent influence. Leland confronts the horror of what he has done. Cooper gently strokes his face, the water continues to rain down and Laura’s theme music swells in Leland’s dying moments. The scene is extraordinarily emotional, played to absolute perfection by Ray Wise and Kyle MacLachlan.
Dramatically this is the pinnacle of Twin Peaks (if you’ll excuse the pun). Laura’s story is finally resolved. Bob may have escaped, but when Leland dies something of the series goes with him.
After this Twin Peaks was never quite the same again.
Paul watched every episode of Twin Peaks on the first New Zealand broadcast. He usually writes about Doctor Who, including magazine articles, DVD info text, and a book about the comic strips. With his wife Rochelle he co-manages Retrospace Sci-Fi Collectibles (www.retrospace.co.nz).
Listings for the original NZ screenings, also thanks to Paul.
Episode 15: ‘Drive with a Dead Girl’
NZ: 9 July 1991; Tuesday 8:30-9:30 (US: 17 November 1990)
The one-armed man helps Cooper and Truman’s search for Bob, Lucy returns home with company and Bobby sets out on a new money-making venture.
Episode 16: ‘Arbitrary Law’
NZ: 16 July 1991; Tuesday 8:30-9:30 (US: 1 December 1990)
Cooper asks Truman to give him 24 hours to prove who murdered Laura Palmer, Deputy Andy surprises Donna with his knowledge of French, Mrs Tremond disappears and Ben Horne’s fortunes hit an all-time low.
(See Paul’s full post for more information on Twin Peaks in New Zealand.)
Join the hashtag #TwinPeaksRewatch
15 Jan: Pilot: Starting at the start
22 Jan: Eps 1 and 2: Damn fine cup of coffee
27 Jan: Eps 3 and 4: Laughing at prayers
5 Feb: Eps 5 and 6: Invitation to Love
12 Feb: Ep 7*: Biting the bullet
19 Feb: Ep 8: We want to help you
26 Feb: Eps 9 and 10: Bury her deep enough
5 Mar: Eps 11 and 12: Sometimes the Can-Do Girls Can’t
12 Mar: Eps 13 and 14: Missoula, Montana
19 Mar: Eps 15 and 16
26 Mar: Eps 17 and 18
2 Apr: Eps 19 and 20
9 Apr: Eps 21 and 22
16 Apr: Eps 23 and 24
23 Apr: Eps 25 and 26
30 Apr: Eps 27 and 28
7 May: Ep 29**
14 May: Fire Walk With Me***
21 May: NEW TWIN PEAKS!
* optional: The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and The Autobiography of Dale Cooper books
** optional: The Secret History of Twin Peaks book
*** optional: The Missing Pieces