“Traces to Nowhere, Then to Normal: Twin Peaks Episode 1” is also available in audio-visual format on the 25YL YouTube channel. Join us every day from January 30 to February 28, as we look at every episode of Seasons 1 & 2 for Twin Peaks Month.
Those of you who have followed 25YL for a while know that my heart and soul sing when it comes to Twin Peaks. It’s a show I constantly go back to for comfort and to get lost in. I theorize, I pick apart, and I attempt to possibly make some sense of what it all means. I went into this Twin Peaks piece on Episode 1 with that in mind, and guess what? I have many thoughts about what I have rewatched, of course through the gaze of knowing what happened during The Return. 2020 was as BOB a year as there ever was, so I decided I was going to remember all the things I loved (and somewhat disliked) from this episode—the cinematography, the music, remembering what I felt when I first watched it 31 years ago—God, has it really been that long?—but partly through the looking glass of the 18 hours in which Lynch/Frost gave us the gift of The Return. Did this rewatch prove that we actually did return, or did we just end up at starting positions?
“And who really pulled the trigger on JFK?”
We begin at the Great Northern Hotel; I adore this one long, sweeping shot of the interior of Agent Cooper’s room. Not only does it reveal his nightstand and a rather interesting rack above his bed, but it also shows Cooper hanging from his ankles in full ankle straps, boxers, and white tank undershirt, speaking to Diane about his accommodations. I know I have said this several, several times, but it bears repeating: No one, and I mean no one, could have played Agent Cooper as skillfully as Kyle MacLachlan does. Not only is Kyle one of David Lynch’s Agents of Fortune, but he also played one of Lynch’s most memorable characters, one who I like to affectionately call “Baby Dale,” Jeffrey Beaumont from Blue Velvet. Anyone who has seen Blue Velvet should know what I am talking about. For those who don’t, Jeffrey becomes a crackerjack detective after finding a severed ear in a field walking home. Similarities to Cooper: Boyish innocence with a dark side—check. Taste for a case of a traumatized woman being overtaken by a monstrous male—check. White Knight syndrome—check. But the most important trait I relate to is the way in which both characters have this strong sense of curiosity about everything. In Cooper, it’s the curiosity of wanting to know who killed JFK and what happened to Marilyn Monroe. It made me believe my brain is more normal than I thought, with its grandiose thoughts first thing in the morning.
Another side note: Anyone ever realize that “Dance of The Dream Man” always plays when the scene features Cooper? Really, listen—it may not always be Angelo Badalamenti’s original, but a version thereof. That to me is beyond interesting (and telling). Season 3 has us asking the question, “Who is the Dreamer?” If Agent Cooper is the Dream Man, could he also be the Dreamer? Is Laura the Dreamer? Or is it someone else?
“Bacon, super-crispy. Almost burned. Cremated.”
To continue with the Cooper love (and I am looking right at you for this one, Mark Frost)…Cooper’s breakfast-and-coffee musing is one of the all-time best monologues ever written for television. I know I cannot be the only one who quotes this constantly. One thing that I hadn’t really noticed before was the way in which Cooper has the recorder sitting on the table. It is sitting right on the table, not laying down but upright, right next to the coffee cup. Knowing that Diane is an actual person in Season 3…or was she? Wait a minute, that is a completely different deep dive—I digress. Still, it makes the thought of her “joining” him for breakfast interesting, even more so when we are introduced to Audrey. My palms itch just thinking about it.
Completely random observation: Andy, Lucy, and Harry all have their mouths full of doughnuts upon Cooper arriving at the Sheriff’s station. It’s just funny to me for some reason. Also, “urinate” is a funny word. We needed this bit of comic relief before we get to Doc Hayward’s reading of Laura’s autopsy. Then we get the biggest red herring there was in Twin Peaks, Leo. Eric Da Re plays the hell out of a big-rig wife-beater, but I cannot help but look at this now and just cringe at Leo, how we were supposed to believe this guy was the one who took our Laura out. Nope, did not buy it then, not buying it now. It was too obvious: the trucker on the road all the time, with the bad attitude and bad curly mullet. I do not believe that Frost or Lynch ever had Leo in mind as the actual killer, especially with Frost writing some of the best ’70s television. He was just another innocent-but-not-so-innocent bystander of Twin Peaks. The only thing I wonder is if someone ever finds Leo after he’s mauled by Windom Earle’s spiders. That would have been an interesting Season 3 development: Andy and the crew go looking for Jack Rabbit’s Palace and come across the dead, decomposed remains of one Mr. Leo Johnson. I’m well aware that in Frost’s The Final Dossier, Albert Rosenfield reveals the autopsy of one Mr. Leo Johnson, but if we are only accepting that as alternative canon, then I can still wish, can’t I?
“James has always been cool”
Oh, James. Simple and sweet James—wanting to save Laura, but not strong enough to handle Laura’s using and her trauma. People either love or hate James. I have a different love and hate with a particular Twin Peaks character—more on that later. Cooper’s questioning of James does showcase that James did in fact love her for who she was. James did not want anything from Laura except her love. That makes me love James for that. Something that bothered me, after watching The Return, is what they did to James. We get this cool intro, Shelly claiming James was always cool, and then we see him as a security guard at the Great Northern with Freddy Green Glove, and we just forget that he was a big deal in Laura’s storyline? Looking back on this now, it does seem to fall into more of that “this is all part of someone’s dream because I don’t ever think Shelly would call James cool,” but again he was important, in his way, to Laura. This is what also makes Bobby hate James, as we see from our continued watch of Episode 1. The extended glare we get as Hawk brings back James to the holding cell…if looks could kill. Gosh, I love Dana Ashbrook, and I am so glad Bobby got the redemption in The Return that he did, because this episode made me not like Bobby—and not like Mike even more. What a whiner! I know he is Bobby’s sidekick, but seriously—let’s just say that growing up and becoming a car salesman in The Return made a whole lot of sense for Mike.
Unpopular opinion: I hate Donna Hayward. There, I said it. Thirty-one years ago, I tolerated Donna because I did not know what I know now, but watching Episode 1 for the umpteenth time, I cannot stand Donna and this scene as far as I can throw them. Lara Flynn Boyle comes across as so boring and as a truly horrible best friend and selfish person. I am sorry for anyone who is a Donna fan, but I am thankful we were not given any Donna mentions in The Return, and that is all I have to say about that. OK, maybe I have a little more to say: Donna was a horrible best friend because she only saw that Laura was tortured by something after her death. I am not taking into consideration Fire Walk With Me for this discussion—that is a whole other Donna, literally. I am simply saying Donna’s story was over before it began in the original run, so trying to continue her story in The Return would not have made any difference, in my eyes.
“Long live the fighters!”
Lynch gave us Stilgar and Paul in this episode, and I am forever grateful for that. If you do not understand that reference, don’t worry, only Lynchaphiles, Frank Herbert fans, and anyone who has ever chosen to watch Dune anytime it is on the SYFY network will know what I am talking about. We get an Albert phone call, not knowing the genius that will be coming from the late, great Miguel Ferrer, a great Big Ed/Hawk secret-eye moment that we soon find out references the Bookhouse Boys, even if at the time we have no idea what that is, and another great Cooper line (“…a cherry pie that’ll kill ya!”). We are introduced to a character by the name of Jacques Renault. The Big Ed love triangle gains a cotton-ball moment with Nadine and Norma. Gosh, Big Ed must love women named with the letter “N.” Fast-forward, and Cooper is playing bad cop to Bobby and Mike, scored by yet another version of “Dance of The Dream Man.” Coincidence? Knowing what we know in Season 3, I do not think so. Is this part of Richard? Is this part of Mr. C? I rewound and watched this scene again, and this Cooper has the same bravado as Richard and Cooper at Judy’s in Odessa—he’s more the confident Cooper and less the wide-eyed, coffee-loving one we are soon to see with Harry at Pete and Josie’s.
“Fellas, don’t drink that coffee!”
One of my top-10 favorite Peaks moments ever: the fish in the percolator. We see up close Josie and Pete’s friendship, which is the cutest. I love witnessing Cooper’s FBI body language reading at its best…and the fish in the percolator. Michael Ontkean and Kyle sell this to the very end. God, I wish we were able to see this friendship again in The Return. Cooper and Harry went together like peanut butter and jelly, Holmes and Watson, and coffee and pie. I would have loved to see this friendship and how time had passed for them. Yes, The Return gave us Frank Truman, but in my heart, Harry would have made the better choice and could have brought us down a plethora of avenues to continue and expand Twin Peaks. And to see Jack Nance in all his “ah, shucks” Pete-ness makes me happy. God bless David Lynch for always finding characters for his friends to play. This brings me to everyone’s favorite power couple, Ben and Catherine. I must admit when first watching, I had forgotten how much I loved Piper Laurie as Catherine Martell. She and Richard Beymer are like watching Hollywood royalty. Their storyline was not what kept me riveted, but their “baddie” plotting helped make Twin Peaks what it became.
“Doesn’t get any bluer.”
Now to a masterclass in acting courtesy of Ray Wise and Grace Zabriskie. Twin Peaks would not be the same if either of them were not involved. Even though we only get Leland for three minutes in The Return, I am glad we have any Leland at all. And it needs to be said that Sarah Palmer is one of the most underrated characters in all of Twin Peaks. As we learn in The Return, it may have all started with her. In this episode, we get the first taste—and jump from what Sarah Palmer sees. We get BOB—even though we do not know what BOB is yet—and I don’t know if you remember what that was like, but I was beyond scared seeing the man in denim crouching down and staring at Sarah. Still freaks me out a bit. So many questions, watching then and watching now. Is BOB really the evil that men do? Was he born from the Experiment or, more importantly, an experiment? Why I find this one particular choice interesting: the Experiment, the Trinity Nuclear Test, happens on July 16, 1945. Do you know who was President of the United States on July 16, 1945? Harry S. Truman. Does this play more into Twin Peaks being all someone’s dream, or could BOB be in all of us, just waiting for the explosion so he can come forth with his death bag? On the opposite side, we have MIKE, the One-Armed Man who is spotted as Hawk is questioning Ronette Pulaski’s parents. Quick observation: MIKE is wearing a red shirt and black pants. Does that remind you of a certain room we know? As he makes his way down the hallway and opens the door leading to the morgue, what color is the light that escapes? Blue. A bright blue that continues to illuminate Hawk when he stands there wondering which way the One-Armed Man has gone. A Blue Rose case, perhaps?
Audrey’s Dance is a fan favorite, and this moment in Episode 1 brings me back to watching the same dance in The Return. I had an interesting thought during this scene: Could Ben, by saying, “We lost Laura two weeks ago, but I lost you years ago,” be talking about Audrey’s mental capacity? Father-daughter relationships are something I think need to be explored more under the lens of Twin Peaks. Father-son relationships, too, as the next scene we are blessed with the brilliant Don Davis and Charlotte Stewart trying to get through to Bobby. I love knowing what we know in The Return and how Bobby would have made Major Briggs so happy. It is a full-circle moment upon this review that makes me smile. Don Davis, you are missed, but we’re so glad we were able to visit the magic of Major Briggs again with you, just one more time.
“My log saw something that night.”
Double R goodness in the way of cherry pie, non-fishy coffee, and The Log Lady is what Twin Peaks does best. Catherine Coulson, you are also so, so missed. I am beyond grateful for what we were able to have of you in The Return. I only wish we had a moment of you and Agent Cooper together, with him telling you the log was correct. It did see something that night. If only Agent Cooper was ready to listen, right, Margaret? We jump to Shelly and Leo, which I will not talk about, because to this day this scene upsets me so much. The only thing I will say is “plastic sheeting,” but again a red herring, if there ever was one.
I will also say, Shelly does not know how to move forward, and The Return should have kept her with Bobby if they were not going to clue us in on Red and what his M.O. is. It was a waste of a plot point and the incredible Balthazar Getty. James and Donna at dinner…blah, blah, blah. Then last but definitely not least, Dr. Jacoby. I have loved Russ Tamblyn since I was a little girl watching musicals with my grandmother. To have Russ Tamblyn play Dr. Jacoby here and in The Return is nothing short of a miracle. I loved watching the twists and turns he took, throughout the original run, and most definitely in The Return. Here we get him at his most creeptastic, really showing how many people were affected by the loss of Laura. Here and in The Return, he is staying true to his most authentic self: eccentric but trying to come from a place of care and compassion. We get more of this Jacoby in The Return. He very much stays the same, calling out hypocrisy when he sees it, but here it is his own hypocrisy, while in The Return, it’s others. This final scene hammered this whole rewatching of “Traces of Nowhere” home for me.
There are things we love and hate about everything in our lives. For us Peaks fans, there are things that feel like home when rewatching, and some things that are forever changed due to The Return and knowing what happens at the end, after that blood-curdling scream. What year is this? We do not know. Occasionally it feels like we are back at starting positions, watching with naked eyes back in 1990. Sometimes, it feels like the hurried excitement of 2017 and the anticipation of Twin Peaks: The Return after 25 years. And sometimes, it is 2021, after a year of ups and so many downs, and all we can do is sit down in the Red Room and wait for our turn to walk through the red curtains back to a sense of normalcy. There are three things I know for sure: Coffee will always be damn fine and hot; Agent Cooper will always be my favorite character of all time, and Twin Peaks will always be that sense of normalcy for me. Oh, and one more thing: Laura is the dreamer, and Agent Cooper is her dream man.