Welcome to Twin Peaks:/\/\ First-Watch Recap: Season 1: Ep. 1.1 “Pilot/Northwest Passage” (Original airdate Sunday, April 8, 1990) — a review (Part 2 of 2)


Welcome to my First-Watch of the original 30 episodes of the 1990-91 television series Twin Peaks. Below are the bulletpointed notes I jotted down while watching the second half of “Pilot/Northwest Passage.”

  • It seems a little late in the narrative to keep introducing new characters and settings, but that’s what we’re doing.
  • In fact, FBI SPECIAL AGENT DALE COOPER (Kyle MacLachlan) seems to be a main character, not merely another colorful side character, potential suspect or red herring. Agent Cooper will prove to be a character with agency, in that he directly affects the direction of the plot through his investigation.
  • Let me pause for a moment and rewind briefly. During my last entry, I mentioned that James Hurley gave his uncle, gas station proprietor Big Ed Hurley, a note to give to Donna Hayward if she shows up. As he does so, while talking about the late Laura Palmer, James tells Ed that “she was the one.” Which implies James and Bobby Briggs were competing for Laura’s affections.
  • Even when alone, Agent Cooper gets to provide a film noirish voiceover through the messages he’s dictating to someone named DIANE.
  • In the first message he dictates, as he arrives in Twin Peaks at 11:30 AM, he places the town of Twin Peaks 5 miles south of the Canadian border and 12 miles west of the state line. There seems to be more than a hint of wide-eyed aw-shucks-ma’am about Agent Cooper as he prattles on about the trees and the weather and the cherry pie he enjoyed along the way.
  • Agent Cooper meets up with Sheriff Harry S. Truman and immediately lets the sheriff know that the FBI is in charge of the investigation and that the sheriff is now working for him. There’s no real rancor in his words and Sheriff Harry doesn’t seem to take offense, which is not how these things usually go in police procedurals.
  • The two men go to see Ronette Pulaski in her hospital room at Calhoun Memorial Hospital. She’s being attended by DR. SHELVY (Tawnya Pettiford-Waites), who tells Cooper that the girl is in shock, suffering from exposure. Dr. Shelvy also tells the FBI agent that Ronette was raped, more than once. When Agent Cooper asks if he can question the girl, Dr. Shelvy tells him the Ronette may have neurological damage and is not responsive at all.
  • There’s also no known connection between Laura Palmer and Ronette Pulaski.
  • Agent Cooper looks at Ronette’s hands and under her fingernails, but doesn’t find whatever it is he’s looking for.
  • Ronette says, “Don’t go there . . .” But, that’s her only line of dialogue so far.
  • Cooper and Harry go to an elevator. There’s a ONE-ARMED MAN (Al Strobel) in the elevator. He may be important, or I may be having flashbacks to The Fugitive.
  • They also have a weird run-in with DR. LAWRENCE JACOBY (Russ Tamblyn), an eccentric psychiatrist who drops the bombshell that Laura Palmer was one of his patients as he asks if he can assist in examining the body. The answer’s “no,” of course. Before he leaves the two men, Jacoby also lets them know that Laura’s parents didn’t know she was his patient. This is one strange dude.
  • Down in the morgue, they ask the attendant, JIM (Jim, last name unknown), to leave while they examine Laura’s body. Agent Cooper examines Laura’s fingers the same way he did Ronette’s. He finds a piece of paper under the nail of her ring finger. It is the letter “R.”
  • Ah. My dear Watson, this is what those of us in the profession call a “clue.”
  • We cut back to Big Ed’s Gas Farm. Donna Hayward shows up, as expected, and Ed gives her the note left by James Hurley, asking her to meet him at The Roadhouse at 9:30 that evening. Mike Nelson, Donna’s boyfriend and Bobby’s best friend, shows up and angrily tells her to go to the sheriff’s station because Bobby is in trouble. Big Ed steps in between the two. There seems to be bad blood here. Mike tells Donna to get to the station “right now.” Then Ed’s eyepatch-wearing wife Nadine yells at her husband from the house, something about the drapes again.
  • At the Sheriff’s Station, Agent Cooper goes over the possessions taken from Laura Palmer’s bedroom. He breaks the lock on her diary. In the diary, they find a safety deposit box key in a plastic envelope also containing a trace amount of white powder the FBI agent seems certain is cocaine, though Sheriff Harry doubts it. The diary entry for the final day, February 23, yesterday in story time, is about Laura being nervous about meeting “J” tonight.
  • Who could “J” be? James Hurley? Josie Packard? Leo Johnson? Norma Jennings? Janek Pulaski? Dr. Lawrence Jacoby? Jim, the morgue attendant? Smart money says James, but there’s no shortage of “J” names so far. Probably not an accident.
  • The next scene is at an Old Train Car that was apparently the Laura Palmer murder scene and the place Ronette Pulaski had been held prisoner. The location is discovered by Deputy Andy and other lawmen. Deputy Andy is crying again, and he asks Lucy not to tell Sheriff Harry. This is the scene where I inferred that Andy, a sensitive lawman, and Lucy, the sheriff’s receptionist, had a romantic relationship.
  • Meanwhile, back at the Sheriff’s Station, Agent Cooper questions Bobby Briggs. Sheriff Harry and Bobby’s lawyer are also there. Bobby is volatile and not really cooperative. Cooper shows the video from Laura’s camcorder to Bobby and asks if he shot the video, which shows Laura and Donna having a nice time at a picnic. Bobby didn’t shoot the video. Cooper asks Bobby if he ever did cocaine with Laura, and Bobby says, “I don’t do drugs.”
  • During the interrogation, Agent Cooper writes a note to Sheriff Harry that says: HE DID NOT DO IT.
  • I’m not sure what led Agent Cooper to this conclusion. But, there it is.
  • Agent Cooper asks Bobby if he knew that Laura was seeing someone else. Bobby, quite wisely actually, says Donna is in the video, so why don’t they ask her who shot the video. Cooper wants to know if Bobby knows of anyone with the first initial “J.”
  • Agent Cooper tells Sheriff Harry to let Bobby go. To Bobby, he says Bobby didn’t love Laura anyway. Which seems to be an odd thing to say.
  • We cut to the Great Northern Hotel. Audrey Horne has already been suggested to be a Bad Girl archetype (what with her smoking in school and all). In this scene, she’s a bit of a Trickster as well. She ruins her father’s business deal with the Norwegians by telling them all about Laura’s murder. I’m not sure why this scene is important yet. Or if it is important, in fact.
  • Back to the Sheriff’s Station. After being released by the sheriff, Bobby runs into his best friend Mike at the water cooler. The two talk about going to find a biker with the first initial “J.” Lucy Moran overhears the conversation.
  • When Agent Cooper questions Donna Hayward, she lies and says a woman hiker operated the camcorder on the picnic video.
  • Lucy tells Sheriff Harry and Agent Cooper about her overheard conversation. The FBI agent already knows about the “biker” part. He shows a still of the video which shows a reflection of a “hog” in Laura Palmer’s eye.
  • I think we’re meant to assume that Agent Cooper leaked this info to Bobby on purpose. Maybe they expect him to lead them to the mysterious “J.”
  • We cut briefly to James Hurley and his motorcycle on a secluded rocky overlook that looks a lot like the Picnic Spot from the video.
  • I get it. Whether or not James is “J,” that’s who Bobby and Mike think it is. Doesn’t mean he’s the murderer, however.
  • Strange edit. Back to the Great Northern Hotel, a shot with all the Norwegians checking out and leaving while Audrey Horne giggles.
  • Agent Cooper and Sheriff Harry go to the Old Train Car discovered by Deputy Andy because the scene of the crime is often a good place to find clues. Inside the train car, there is a mound of dirt about a foot-and-a-half in diameter. Clues discovered: a bloodied hammer, a rag, and a necklace with a gold pendant in a half-heart shape. There’s also a note, apparently written in blood, that reads, FIRE. WALK WITH ME.
  • Well, hell. That’s a lot of stuff. We’re not talking fingerprints and blood spatter analysis here. A necklace, a bloody weapon, and a cryptic note.
  • Speaking of cryptic notes: on my legal pad (page 8) I scribbled something about Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew during this scene. There is something very juvenile-mystery about this story so far. All violence is off-screen so far. There’s a semi-whimsical tone to the investigation itself. The archetypal settings and broadly sketched characters may only be a notch above Scooby Doo, in fact. Videos, diaries, mysterious safety deposit boxes, necklaces, catatonic living victims, cryptic notes . . .
  • If this sounds over-critical, I apologize. Because I’m enjoying the episode so far. It just seems like The CW before that network existed. Also, I’m reminded of the original movie in the Scream franchise. Something meta about it all. Of course, this show preceded that movie as well. I guess this was a very influential series.
  • The train car scene ends with one of the characters, probably Cooper, saying, “We have to find out who has the other half of that heart.”
  • Cut to: Picnic Spot. James on the cliff again, making like Heathcliff on the moors or something, the romantic hero. Guess what he’s holding? Yes, the necklace that has the other half of the heart.
  • We cut to another scene that confused me. I could be wrong, but I think the Hornes live at the Great Northern Hotel (at least that’s where Audrey Horne left to go to school that morning), so we’re probably there. Audrey is sitting at a table with her mother, SYLVIA HORNE (Jan D’Arcy). Meanwhile, a young man wearing a Native American headdress is banging his head against a dollhouse. According to the Internet, this young man is JOHNNY HORNE (Robert Davenport), Audrey’s mentally disabled brother. (There’s another “J” for you.)
  • Mrs. Horne says something like “Audrey’s not going to work with Johnny.” Again, I feel like something important was cut out in the final edit. The scene made little sense to me.
  • Finally, we’ve made it to The Bank. I didn’t get a name for the bank. Agent Cooper and Sheriff Harry use the safety deposit box key found in Laura Palmer’s diary to look inside the box, which the bank employee says she had for six months, to find even more odd clues.
  • New clues: over $10,000 in cash, and a copy of Flesh World, some sort of swingers magazine with personal ads. One page is marked. Agent Cooper and Sheriff Harry find a personal ad with Ronette Pulaski’s photo. There’s also a photo of a big rig that looks like Leo Johnson’s truck. It’s unclear whether Agent Cooper or Sheriff Harry recognize this.
  • Don’t remember who Leo Johnson is? Well, you haven’t officially met him yet. You saw the truck, though. It was parked outside of Shelly Johnson’s trailer. Shelly was the Double R waitress that Bobby Briggs is seeing on the side. Remember him taking her home? Yeah, that’s Leo Johnson’s truck.
  • We get to meet him the very next scene at the Johnson Home. Leo is a jealous husband. He’s going through the ashtray and finding butts to different brands of cigarettes. He snaps at Shelly to turn off a newscast about the abandoned train car and Ronette Pulaski, then questions his wife about the cigarettes. Accusing her of messing around, you know. He commands her to begin smoking only one brand of cigarettes, threatening to break her neck if she doesn’t comply.
  • While the acting in this scene is dismal, Leo begins to look like a pretty likely “J” as well, doesn’t he?
  • I wasn’t confused enough, so the next scene has Norma Jennings, the owner of the Double R Diner, calling Big Ed, of Big Ed’s Gas Farm, and asking to meet him at The Roadhouse at 9:30 PM. You know, when everyone else is going to be there as well.
  • The implication is that Norma and Ed are sneaking around with each other also. More arrows on my bubble chart of character names.
  • Agent Cooper leads a town meeting. He believes that Laura’s murder may be linked to the murder of TERESA BANKS the previous year, and the killer may live in Twin Peaks. A curfew is put into effect for citizens under 18 years of age.
  • During this same scene, Sheriff Harry serves double-duty as Chief Exposition Officer as he points out a few of the town’s characters to Agent Cooper.
  • There’s Josie Packard, of course, whom Sheriff Harry calls “one of the most beautiful women in the state.” She came over from Hong Kong 6 years ago, and her husband died last year, leaving Packard Sawmill to her, which didn’t please her husband’s sister Catherine Martell.
  • He also points out Benjamin Horne, a local bigwig who owns half the town. Of course, that’s Audrey’s dad, who owns the Great Northern Hotel and was apparently in business was Leland Palmer, Laura’s dad.
  • Then there is a lady with a log, who he calls THE LOG LADY (Catherine Coulson). I’m sure there’s backstory to that one, but I don’t know it yet.
  • I just thought of another television series this reminds me of. Northern Exposure. Of course, that was set in Alaska, but there is a similar kooky vibe. That series premiered the same year as Twin Peaks, 1990, but about three months later. The similarities may be coincidental.
  • Northern Exposure stayed on the air for six seasons. I watched some of those episodes.
  • For the following scene, we’re at the Hayward Home. Dr. Hayward, who may or may not be the town coroner, is telling his wheelchair-bound wife EILEEN HAYWARD (Mary Jo Deschanel) things about the murder investigation that he shouldn’t. He tells her about the necklace, and the cops thinking the murderer may still have the other half of the heart (which is a bit of a circumstantial stretch), and the video their daughter Donna was in.
  • Of course, Donna Hayward overhears the conversation. She asks her sister HARRIET HAYWARD (Jessica Wallenfels) to cover for her while she sneaks out the bedroom window and borrows her sister’s bike to go to The Roadhouse to meet James.
  • Bobby and Mike show up at the Hayward Home, looking for Donna. Dr. Hayward goes upstairs to get her and discovers that she’s gone. He asks Bobby and Mike to help look for her.
  • It looks like everyone is heading for The Roadhouse.
  • Agent Cooper and Sheriff Harry are staking out The Roadhouse. Lucy patches the call through from Dr. Hayward, so they learn about Donna’s absence and the sheriff puts out an APB on her.
  • Inside The Roadhouse, Ed Hurley and Norma Jennings are discussing leaving their spouses to run off together. Remember, they were meeting at 9:30 also.
  • Bobby and Mike show up, acting as bad as they wanna be. James isn’t there, but his friend JOEY PAULSON (Brett Vadset) is. Another “J” name.
  • Donna shows up on her sister’s bike. Agent Cooper has Sheriff Harry call for back up and to report that Donna has been found.
  • When Donna goes inside The Roadhouse, Mike becomes aggressive with her. This gets Big Ed involved, leaving behind his extramarital assignation into order to get into a big Hollywood barfight (ala Roadhouse?). In the turmoil, Joey Paulson escorts Donna to safety. It turns out that he’s also there to take her to James, on his motorcycle.
  • Agent Cooper and Sheriff Harry follow Joey and Donna. But, Joey manages to shake off the pursuit.
  • Donna and James meet at the Picnic Spot. James is crying as he tells Donna he doesn’t have an alibi for last night. He was with Laura, but she was acting like a different person. She said something about Bobby killing some guy. Then, at the light at Sparkwood and 21, she put her hands around James’s neck, screamed that she loved him, then ran off and died.
  • Donna and James end up kissing. I guess this makes Donna a suspect, too, if she is in love with James. She asks for the other half of the necklace and they agree to bury it, right where they are standing.
  • As James is taking Donna home on his bike, they are pulled over by Agent Cooper and Sheriff Harry.
  • Donna is released to Dr. Hayward. James is arrested and locked up. Bobby and Mike are already in lockup, in a different cell.
  • Dr. Hayward seems to have a good relationship with Donna. He said, apropos of nothing.
  • Agent Cooper and Sheriff Harry return to the Sheriff’s Station. Lucy has set out a spread of at least four dozen donuts on a long table. The sheriff says she sets this up every night.
  • What kind of hours does Lucy work? She’s been there all day.
  • On the intercom, Lucy tells the sheriff that there are extra jelly donuts for Agent Cooper. But, I see maybe two donuts that don’t have holes, and Agent Cooper is eating a powdered sugar donut. If this means anything important, I don’t know what it is.
  • Agent Cooper asks the sheriff to recommend a good inexpensive hotel or motel. Sheriff Harry recommends the Great Northern Hotel, of course, which seems to be the only hotel in this town of 50,000 people.
  • Back in the holding cells, Bobby tells James, “When you least expect it . . .” And then Bobby and Mike begin barking at James. Um. . .What?
  • Sheriff Harry goes, without Agent Cooper, to see Josie Packard at the Blue Pine Lodge. As far as I can tell, this is a residence, not a hotel, despite its name. It’s obvious from this clandestine meeting that the sheriff and Josie are lovers.
  • While the sheriff is there, Catherine Martell is on the phone with Benjamin Horne. She tells him that Sheriff Harry is there again, and says they should get together to talk about it.
  • Wait. Does this mean Catherine and Benjamin are cheating on their spouses as well? This isn’t Twin Peaks, it’s Peyton Place.
  • Sheriff Harry and Josie Packard hold each other as they look out to the spot where Laura Palmer’s body was discovered by Catherine’s fisherman husband. The sheriff makes a remark that it must have happened about 24 hours ago.
  • Which I guess brings the first day, and episode, to a close.
  • Except for one thing. We get a shot of Sarah Palmer, Laura’s mother, lying on a couch. The way this scene is edited, she seems to be having a vision of someone wearing work gloves digging up the half-heart necklace from where James and Donna buried it. Or, she’s screaming about something else, and, in a totally unrelated scene awkwardly cut into Mrs. Palmer’s couch scene, someone is actually digging up the necklace.
  • I’m not sure what’s going on.
  • This is where the episode ends.

Thank you for joining me on this long, strange trip to Twin Pines, Washington, population 51,201. Those friends who recommended this to me over the years knew what they were talking about. While there’s plenty I could criticize in this thirty-year-old production, the bottom line is that it keeps me watching. I’m a sucker for mysteries, and mystery boxes (I’m looking at you here, J.J. Abrams). This show is, so far, the film version of a “page-turner.”

The key to an effective mystery, however, is that the solution has to be one which was worth hanging around to see unveiled. Time will tell if that’s the case here.

I can’t shake the feeling, however, that the mystery of Laura Palmer’s murder is not even the main mystery here. At the moment, I’m at a wait-and-see status.

This is a convoluted pilot, with a huge cast of characters and what appears to be enough subplots to keep this interesting for a while. I’ll be watching.


I’m giving “Pilot/Northwest Passage” a 4-out-of-5 stars score. Even though it continues to feel like a small town of 5,000 or so, it accomplishes what it sets out to do, setting the stage for the rest of the story.

One thought on “Welcome to Twin Peaks:/\/\ First-Watch Recap: Season 1: Ep. 1.1 “Pilot/Northwest Passage” (Original airdate Sunday, April 8, 1990) — a review (Part 2 of 2)

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