Thursday, 14 August 2014

TWIN PEAKS, 1.1 – 'Traces to Nowhere'

Thursday, 14 August 2014
COOPER: You know, this is, excuse me, a damn fine cup of coffee. I've had I can't tell you how many cups of coffee in my life and this, this is one of the best. Now I'd like two eggs over hard. I know, don't tell me, it's hard on the arteries, but old habits die hard, just about as hard as I want those eggs.
Saturday 25 February 1989. It's reassuring to watch FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) investigate the murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), even though we're first acquainted with him suspended upside-down wearing gravity-boots, detailing the minutiae of his progress into his trusty micro-recorder. He's a weirdo, for sure, but his eccentricities pale in comparison to some of the Twin Peaks residents (not least the iconic Log Lady who cradles a piece of timber like a baby), and at least Coops peculiarities include the ability to judge strangers with incredible accuracy. The Bureau actually sent the perfect man for the job...

"Traces To Nowhere" is less dense than the TV Movie version of the pilot, edited for European audiences (which actually solved Laura's murder!), and slightly straighter in its attitude and style. Here, Cooper and Sheriff Truman interview Laura's secret boyfriend James Hurley (James Marshall), deducing the kid had no part to play in her death. We're also introduced to waitress Shelly's (Mädchen Amick) trucker boyfriend Leo (Eric DaRe), who passes her a bloodstained shirt to wash Knowing the significance of the garment, Shelly stashes it somewhere safe, and later takes a beating from her violent lover, who brandishes a soap-in-a-sock weapon and attacks her in a part of their home undergoing renovation and swathed in plastic sheeting (not unlike that used to wrap Laura Palmer's corpse...)

Cooper and Truman are giving Laura's parents time to grieve before they interview them, so our only glimpse of Laura's mother, Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie), features one of the episode's freakiest moments, when she flashes on a sinister Julian Sands look-alike, crouched at the foot of a bed. It's an astonishingly effective, bone-chilling moment. Together with Sarah's climactic vision of someone unearthing the necklace James buried in the pilot's climax, it's evident she has some form of psychic ability. Has this manifested through the trauma of losing her child, or has she always been so gifted?

While interviewing Chinese immigrant Josie Packard (Joan Chen), who was being taught English by Laura before her death, Cooper again proves his heightened perception to Truman by casually revealing he knows the pair are secret lovers. It's almost comical how accurate Cooper's intuition is right now, which subconsciously primes us for a swift, easy end to this whole case. After all, how can someone this focused and shrewd fail to solve a simple small-town murder? Of course, we're gradually suspecting that there are supernatural undercurrents and Byzantine machinations that will test our hero to breaking point.

Elsewhere, the arrested Bobby and James are allowed to go free from jail after brawling at the Roadhouse, knowing that half the money Leo gave them for a drug transaction is in Laura's safety deposit box, to be kept under close surveillance; sultry troublemaker Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) is scolded by her father Ben (Richard Beymer) for frightening away the Norwegian businessmen by mentioning Laura's murder; her father is earlier seen having a secret affair with Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie); Big Ed Hurley (Everett McGill) reveals he was drugged by bartender Jacques Renault while at the Roadhouse last night; and the man who took the buried gold necklace is revealed to be Laura's Hawaii-obsessed psychiatrist Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn), who ends this episode listening to the audio confession his late-patient sent to him... where she mentions a mystery man I the woods. Laura's voice turns inaudible after Jacoby puts on his headphones, but her words provoke tears...

written by Mark Frost & David Lynch | directed by Duwayne Dunham | 12 April 1990

Notes from the Black Lodge

  • A problem facing Twin Peaks is one encountered by all fledgling soaps; having to introduce a believable society, sketch the relationships of its inhabitants, and let us sample their personalities in an entertaining way. The show could easily get bogged down in less skilled hands (especially as, unlike a soap, a drama doesn't have months to settle) but it's handled well in Twin Peaks by Frost and Lynch. I doubt anyone will have a firm grasp on all the families and characters just yet, but it's all coalescing nicely, even though this episode throws even more new faces onto the pile.
  • This episode introduces notable character "the one-armed man" (an obvious homage to The Fugitive.) Here, the red-shirted enigma was noticed by Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) as he guards Ronette, exiting a hospital elevator and disappeared into a black-lit morgue.
  • By the way, while Twin Peaks never had official episode titles, some fans use the English translations of titles used when the series aired in Germany, so that's what I'm doing. I know some fans hate using these unofficial German-to-English titles, but it's much easier to refer to titles instead of episode numbers, sorry. You'll thank me the deeper we get into the show.
Images from the Red Room:

(This review was originally posted 9 July 2009, and has been republished with new HD-sourced vidcaps and amendments to celebrate the release of the Twin Peaks - Entire Mystery Blu-ray box-set.)