Thursday, June 16, 2011

Twin Peaks - The Definitive Gold Box Edition

Created by Mark Frost and David Lynch, 1990 - 1991
Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Lara Flynn Boyle, Michael Ontkean, Madchen Amick, Joan Chen, Richard Beymer, Eric Da Re, Sherilyn Fenn

Twin Peaks is one of my favorite television shows - maybe my favorite - and those of you who haven't gotten around to watching it absolutely must. At its core, the show is about FBI Agent Dale Cooper (the wonderful Kyle MacLachlan) who comes to the small town of Twin Peaks, Washington to investigate the murder of teenage beauty queen Laura Palmer. It is more of a mystery than a crime drama, full of side plots, absurdist comedy, surrealism and soap opera mockery. There are also a lot of genuinely terrifying moments that borrow directly from supernatural horror films. Like a lot of Lynch's other early works, it focuses on the gulf between wholesome suburban life and its seedy underbelly. If you've seen it all or don't want to spoil it for yourself, skip down to the end. There are two seasons made up of 30 episodes, roughly 45 minutes each, including a 90 minute pilot. It initially aired on ABC, who cancelled it after dwindling viewership for season two. Each episode is supposed to represent a single day in Twin Peaks.

Season One: Though only 8 episodes, this is undoubtedly one of the best single seasons in television history.

Pilot: Northwest Passage
A body, wrapped in plastic, is discovered on the riverbank. To everyone's horror, it turns out to be high school prom queen Laura Palmer. Good hearted Sheriff Harry S. Truman works with FBI Agent Dale Cooper, who has been called in because another of Laura's classmates, Ronnette Pulaski, has gone missing. Ronnette turns up, catatonic, very much the worse for wear and soon slips into a coma. After finding a cut-out letter jammed under Laura's fingernail, Cooper stays to work the case due to its connection with an earlier murder. Laura's mother has an emotional meltdown and a strange dream, which alludes to the future importance of psychic or otherworldly dreams in the show. Sheriff Truman arrests Bobby, Laura's volatile, football star boyfriend, who has been secretly dating the married, but abused Shelly.

Episode 1: Traces to Nowhere
It turns out Bobby wasn't the only one with something on the side as suspicion falls on James, Laura's secret, motorcycle-riding boyfriend. Her innocent best-friend Donna decides to undertake an investigation of her own with the unlikely help of vixen/misfit Audrey Horne, whose father Ben is a prominent local businessman with plenty of secrets of his own. Suspicion also falls on ex-con and trucker Leo Johnson, Shelly's abusive husband, and weirdo Dr. Jacoby, who was secretly Laura's psychiatrist.

Episode 2: Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer
We begin to see some of Cooper's more flamboyant eccentricities manifest themselves when he shows Sheriff Truman and his team an inspired way to discover the murderer. Ben Horne and his brother Jerry visit a casino just over the border, One-Eyed Jack's. We learn more about Josie Packard, a young, beautiful widow who has inherited the local mill. Her bitchy sister-in-law, Catherine, plots against her. We also meet FBI forensics specialist Albert, whose over the top cynicism offends Sheriff Truman and his team. Agent Cooper has a mysterious dream that sheds new light on Laura Palmer's death.

Episode 3: Rest in Pain
Laura's funeral gives a number of people a chance to air their emotions, while Cooper tries to unlock the code of his dream. It involves a one-armed man named Mike, who tells Cooper that Laura's killer is another supernatural being like himself named BOB. Bob is terrifying. Laura's identical, dark-haired cousin Maddy shows up to support her aunt and uncle. Her aunt is still prone to fits of hysterics and her uncle Leland is slowly losing his mind. Drama unfolds at the Double R Diner. Its owner, Norma Jennings, discovers that her con-man husband Hank may be up for parole. She is actually in love with her childhood sweetheart, Big Ed, who returns her feelings, but has to conceal them from his manic, one-eyed wife, Nadine. Sheriff Truman tells Cooper about a secret society that has been in Twin Peaks from many generations, the Bookhouse Boys. We learn that James and Big Ed are also part of this group that was initially established to protect Twin Peaks from a mysterious evil in the woods.

Episode 4: The One-Armed Man
A character from Cooper's dream, a man with one arm, turns out to be real. Cooper and Truman find him in a local motel, though he is a shoe salesman, nothing more sinister. At the same motel, Ben Horne and Catherine have an affair and discuss their plan to double cross Josie and destroy the mill. Josie, working on some of her own back-stabbing, gets a message from Norma's husband Hank, who will soon be out of prison.

Episode 5: Cooper's Dreams
The Log Lady is an older Twin Peaks resident who carries around a log that whispers secrets to her. Cooper, Truman and some others travel into the woods to ask her log a question about a new suspect in Laura's murder, Jacques Renault, a bartender at One-Eyed Jack's. His cabin may play an important role in the night of Laura's death. Audrey has developed quite a crush on Agent Cooper and is determined to help him with his investigation. She learns that Laura used to work at her father's department store at the perfume counter and weasels her way into a job. Donna, also continuing with her own investigation, has developed a relationship with Laura's secret boyfriend James.

Episode 6: Realization Time
Cooper and Big Ed go undercover at One Eyed Jack's, which we have now realized is a brothel as well as a casino. They are looking for Jacques Renault, who has become the primary suspect in Laura's death. They don't realize that Audrey Horne is also there. Her prying at the department store has led her into a "hostessing" position at One Eyed Jack's, which quickly goes bad. Donna and James discover a series of tapes Laura has made as a confession to Dr. Jacoby and become determined to steal them back.

Episode 7: The Last Evening
This episode is insane. Ben Horne and Leo Johnson set about to destroy the mill and double cross Catherine. Leo decides to throw Shelly into the mix too. Jacques Renault gets taken into custody, which turns nasty. Nadine, aware of Big Ed's feelings for Norma, decides to kill herself. Cooper has a very bad experience in his hotel room.

Season 2 is considerably longer than the first season, which makes little sense. Part of the reason it tanked so badly is because of the pressure put on Lynch and Frost to reveal Laura's killer.

Episode 8: May the Giant Be with You
A lot of crazy things happened at the end of last season that essentially all get resolved in this episode. Cooper, who has been shot, is helped by an imaginary giant. Albert returns to help with the investigation and to help find the shooter. Bobby has successfully landed James in prison and things are tense between he and Donna. Leo and Nadine are in comas, Catherine and Josie are missing, and Shelly and Pete suffered injuries in the mill fire. This episode has my single favorite scene in all of Twin Peaks, in which Leland, Ben and Jerry Horne all sing and dance a song together in the office.

Episode 9: Coma
Introducing crazy side plot number one with Windom Earle, Cooper's old, vindictive partner who has escaped from an insane asylum and is on the loose. Donna, hurt by James's involvement with Maddy, has continued her own investigation and taken up Laura's volunteer spot with Meals on Wheels as per the Log Lady's advice. She has a creepy meeting that may or may not be real and introduces the concept of creamed corn as a symbol for pain and suffering.

Episode 10: The Man Behind the Glass
Donna finally meets Harold Smith, an agoraphobic man on Laura's Meals on Wheels route. He has her secret diary hidden at his house. Audrey, who has also progressed quite far in her own investigation at One-Eyed Jack's is now being dosed with drugs and held hostage by the madam Blackie, who begins doing some plotting of her own. Nadine, who has been in a coma due to her suicide attempt, wakes up and gives everyone quite a surprise.

Episode 11: Laura's Secret Diary
Leland is arrested for murdering Jacques Renault. When he heard of Renault's hospital stay and his clear suspicion in Laura's death, he went on a crazy rampage and smothered Jacques and attacked Dr. Jacoby. Ben becomes aware of Audrey's imprisonment and Jean Renault, Jacques's brother, demands a ransom. Cooper gets involved in an unofficial capacity. Norma has drama at the Double R and several missing characters return.

Episode 12: The Orchid's Curse
Cooper decides to rescue Audrey from One Eyed Jack's, which he and Truman do off the radar. Donna's relationship with Harold gets more intense, but she plans to steal Laura's diary. Leo has come home to live with Shelly and Bobby, and Ben is put in a tricky position by a stranger.

Episode 13: Demons
Ben continues to strike deals and Leland goes back to work. Gordon Cole brings news of Windom Earle and Cooper gets more information about BOB from the one-armed man.

Episode 14: Lonely Souls
Donna's meddling with Harold Smith has tragic consequences. Ben is questioned about his involvement in Laura's death and his relationship with Audrey changes dramatically. We learn the identity of a mysterious stranger and, much to my dismay, the identity of Laura's killer.

Episode 15: Drive with a Dead Girl
Someone makes a deal with Ben to get him out of prison for Laura's murder and the real killer further implicates him. Things are difficult at the Double R, as Norma has to deal with her mother and Hank, while Shelly is having trouble with Leo and Bobby. BOB surfaces.

Episode 16: Arbitrary Law
Craziness ensues and strange dreams are once again important. Catherine, back and better than ever, gets the ultimate revenge on Ben, who is eventually revealed as being innocent of Laura's murder. Much to Donna's dismay, James leaves town. Lucy, the police station receptionist, has her own drama.

Episode 17: Dispute Between Brothers
Laura's killer is buried (sort of) and Cooper's case is closed. He is unable to leave Twin Peaks because he is being investigated. More of the ridiculous subplots continue, like Nadine's amnesia and subsequent re-enrollment in high school. Major Briggs, one of my favorite characters on the show, has an unfortunate run in with the woods.

Episode 18: Masked Ball
The investigation against Cooper continues. This episode is full of stupid subplots, like Nadine is a high-schooler, James goes to stay with a troublesome blonde and Catherine tortures Josie in more ways than she knows.

Episode 19: The Black Widow
We learn more about Major Briggs's trip in the woods, which reveals more about the mystery of Twin Peaks and the secret evil. Bobby tries to advance himself in the world and, much to my dismay, Ben Horne looses his mind.

Episode 20: Checkmate
Cooper and Renault have a face off and the side plots continue, particularly with James, who is falling for the treacherous blonde. Nadine begins a relationship with Mike, which allows Ed and Norma to finally be together, though Hank, up to as much trouble as he can possibly be in, doesn't approve. Windom Earle ups the ante.

Episode 21: Double Play
Lots of little elements unravel. We learn about Windom Earle's past, Ben travels further down the path of crazy and Audrey takes over, making some business decisions. Leo wakes up, James realizes he's a big huge moron and we meet Thomas Eckhardt. He is Josie's ex-lover and ex-boss and orchestrated the plot to kill Andrew Packard, which we now learn failed.

Episode 22: Slaves and Masters
Pete, one of my favorite characters, is given a bigger role in this episode when he helps Cooper with a serious chess problem. More minor plots unravel. Donna gets involved with James's problems, Ed and Norma have hope for the future and Catherine faces off against Eckhardt.

Episode 23: The Condemned Woman
Relationships pay a major role in this episode. Some come together, some fall apart and Audrey meets the man who will potentially distract her from Cooper's unrequited love. Audrey, Shelly and Donna may be in danger from Windom Earle. Josie succumbs to tragedy.

Episode 24: Wounds and Scars
My least favorite character of the entire series is introduced in this episode. Annie Blackburn, Norma's younger sister, comes to Twin Peaks after leaving a convent and attracts Cooper's attention. Ben comes back to his senses a bit, while Catherine continues to run the show. Everyone gets excited for the upcoming Miss Twin Peaks contest.

Episode 25: On the Wings of Love
Truman tries to recover from Josie's loss and gets into some trouble. John Justice Wheeler heats things up with Audrey and Cooper explores Owl Cave, which may lead to some clues. With his newly restored sanity, Ben seeks to correct old wrongs in his life.

Episode 26: Variations on Relations
Cooper and Annie get closer while Gordon Cole loudly declares his appreciation of Shelly, which helps Bobby rekindle their love. Cooper struggles with the clues found in Owl Cave and Catherine struggles with the puzzle box left to her by Eckhardt.

Episode 27: The Path to the Black Lodge
Major Briggs gets captured by Windom Earle and Audrey finds love, though it is unfortunately fleeting. The mysterious power in Twin Peaks begins to have a bigger influence.

Episode 28: Miss Twin Peaks
The women of Twin Peaks gear up for the pageant as Cooper and Truman figure more out about the Black Lodge with a little help from Andy. Predictably, Windom Earle chooses the Miss Twin Peaks contest to strike his final blow.

Episode 29: Beyond Life and Death
Cooper will risk anything to save Annie from Windom Earle, who has taken her to the Black Lodge. Everything goes wrong for everyone else as well. Nadine wakes up, Donna's life takes a turn for the dramatic, things go wrong at the bank and BOB refuses to be banished.

I cannot express how much I love this show. There's great writing, great characters and a great score by Angelo Badalamenti. It's a risque show with themes of sex, drugs, pornography, prostitution, rape and murder, as well as regular use of the surreal and absurd, elements of horror and the occult. There is also the implication that everyone has a double life and a dark secret. I think the show's most important element is that it presents the refreshing idea that not all questions can be answered or problems can be solved.

It's amazing that in a mainstream television show, plot frequently doesn't matter. Sure, genre fans are used to going out on a limb on a regular basis, but the fact that the average viewer was so enthusiastic about season one is astounding. Twin Peaks won and nominated for many awards and has found its way into popular culture. Here's the most wonderful example of that:

Watch it. Love it. Get the gold box here, which includes plenty of special features when you are finished with the hours and hours of Twin Peaks episodes. There are deleted scenes, the Log Lady intros, a feature length documentary and more.

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