Thoughts on Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer:
• Welcome to the episode that ignited a phenomenon. The first two episodes of Twin Peaks sparked excited discussion among its initial audience, but the transcendently strange Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer kicked that discussion up several notches as all over America, people turned to one another with enormous “what-the-f*ck-just-happened” looks on their faces. I literally cannot believe that a major television network aired this. Whoever greenlit this has the sort of testicles ordinarily found on pachyderms. You want truly daring television? You want to experience dislocation and elemental fright? Watch. This. Episode.
• Twin Peaks killed Laura Palmer.
That’s the dark, unspoken secret at the heart of this show. It’s becoming increasingly clear that many of these people had a hand in escorting the girl toward Oblivion, that few of the characters we’ve met can be called blameless.
• This opening scene – a comically banal, silent dinner among the members of the Horne clan – is one of my favorite episode openings of all time. The whole thing possesses a demented genius, and that dreamlike sensation hovers mondo-effectively over the proceedings as the credits flash by, the silence ending immediately after “Directed by David Lynch” fades from the screen.
• We’re introduced to Jerry Horne, Ben Horne’s brother, played by David Patrick Kelly – a guy I never see in anything anymore despite enjoying his performances. Where’s he been? Probably wearing a gorilla outfit in a Richard Foreman play. Kelly’s one of those love him or hate him guys; he’s got a very particular performance style, one that’s most advantageously harnessed by oddballs like Lynch and Foreman. You probably recognize him as one of the greasy lowlifes that helped kill Eric Draven in The Crow.
• How weird is the whole Brie and butter sandwich thing? It’s another of those weirdly dreamlike moments, and it’s strangely funny to me. It’s also interesting to me on a thematic level. This is one of those allow-me-to-reel-off-on-a-tangent moments. Hold onto yer hats and glasses:
It seems to me that, among other things, Twin Peaks is deeply interested in Appetites. On the most obvious level, the show is totally freakin’ obsessed with food. This makes two episodes in a row that we’ve watched people stuff their mouths so full that they’re barely able to communicate. Here, we watch as Ben Horne tears into that sandwich like a man starving in the desert. He seems to breathe it in (when’s the last time you saw someone do that?) before eating it. There’s a curious animalistic relish to it all. Then there’s the fact that he’s got a full plate of food in front of him that his wife’s prepared, presumably, that he’s ignoring in favor of the sandwich. It’s a kind of culinary infidelity. But on a larger scale, the kind of raw hunger and deep appreciation for food we see in Twin Peaks is echoed on a lot of levels within the narrative. There’s hunger for illicit sex, for narcotics, for violence, for sin. There’s hunger for a faded National ideal, for great cherry pie and fresh hot black coffee, for simplicity and truth. And there’s deeper hunger than any of that, which we’ll discuss as we go. Absolutely none of this is intentional in all probability. But it’s an interesting undercurrent in the show, and those of you who read my Back to the Island columns know I enjoy mulling this stuff over.
Ben: “Jerr, I didn’t come here to lose my shirt; I just came to take it off.”
— One-Eyed Jack’s manages the feat of being completely surreal and utterly implausible yet somehow perfectly appropriate within the context of the series. A log cabin brothel with a large number of elaborately-costumed Ladies of the Evening that apparently lies empty until Ben Horne shows up? Sure! Why not! The setting serves to add a whole new layer of sleaze to the proceedings, and further emphasizes the carnality of much of the bad behavior in this town. Notable clue/fact: Ben’s mention to Jerry that the new girl at One-Eyed Jack’s being “freshly scented from the perfume counter” hints that Ronette Pulaski, who we learned last episode also worked the perfume counter at the Horne store, may also have worked in this backwoods bordello.
• The curtains here hint at the curtains that appear at the end of the episode, creating a nice bookend effect. They also hint at being an enormous vagina. Do you think this completely slipped the notice of Standards and Practices? Or were they too bewildered/engrossed to care?
Leo: “Go out for a pass.”
• Bobby and Mike (or “Snake” and “Bopper,” as they apparently like to call themselves in a moment that’s hilarious and truthful to the wannabe-badass status of these characters) head into the woods to their business with Leo, reinforcing for us again the dark and unsavory aspects of that place. Their scene with Leo has a proto-Blair Witch feeling to it (the shots of the camera moving through the trees eerily capture the sensation of being deep in the woods late at night) and introduces an element that I honestly don’t remember the resolution to: The shadowy figure observing them from behind a tree. Way to consistently creep me out during this episode, Lynch.
• Nadine is revealed to be a very, very strong woman here. The hell is up with her ability to bend her rowing machine like a pretzel? I honestly don’t remember whether this was ever explained, but I’m presuming it’s related to what we learn by the end of the episode.
Announcer: “Each day brings a new beginning, and every hour holds a promise of an….Invitation to Love.”
• Our introduction to “Invitation to Love” arrives in this episode, even if we don’t actually see any of the show itself. Invitation to Love is the Soap Opera that Twin Peaks’ residents watch throughout the run of the series, and its existence (and its absurdity) highlight for us the idea that Lynch and Frost are both commenting on/satirizing the Soap genre, and celebrating it at the same time. Want definitive proof? Shelly’s shown watching the show’s breathless introduction, then shutting it off disdainfully, verbally dismissing the Romance Novel-quality of the announcer’s words, as if to say that in “real life,” Invitation to Love is pure bunkum. She then promptly answers the door for Bobby, her Soap-Opera-style secret lover, and the two proceed to act out exactly the sort of emotionally-heightened scene that would be included on a show like Invitation to Love, complete with dramatic turns, whispered aggression, and forbidden passion.
Cooper: “By way of explaining what we’re about to do, I’m going to first talk to you a little bit about the country called Tibet.”
• Zen begins heading deeper into weirdsville with this inspired scene, introducing us to Cooper’s utterly unorthodox deductive methods, which he claims were bestowed on him “subconsciously” in a dream connected to the plight of the Tibetan people (and this is, in a way, important information for us. All of this is. Keep it in mind for the future). Following the “skewed Sherlock” analogy established in the last episode, Zen elaborates further, making Cooper a Metaphysical Detective. There’s no rational way to justify a deductive technique involving throwing rocks at a bottle, but rationality is very much beside the point here. Twin Peaks isn’t concerned with what’s rational – it’s concerned with what’s irrational but nonetheless “true.” To quote a little Sandman up in here: “This is magnificent … and it’s true! It never happened, yet it is still true!”
Cooper: “Would you please put on the kitchen mittens?”
I mean, really. I have a love for total goofiness when it’s this dry and done this well, and this scene might as well be a Snickers for how it satisfies me. From the way the Sherriff’s Dept. all leans forward in their seats at the start of Coop’s lecture, to the confusion over whether to put a check next to “the Jack with one eye,” to Lucy’s terrifically daft “Oh, I’m getting excited,” to Andy getting beaned in the head with an errant stone, this remains a marvelously off-kilter piece of acting and writing. That said, don’t let the goofy vibe distract you from what’s “true” about this scene, and how it informs what we know of the show and of Cooper. Twin Peaks ain’t your ordinary town, and subconscious deductive intuition is exactly the sort of skill set a G-Man needs around here.
• Audrey’s Diner Dance (thank you, Sherilyn Fenn) cements my observations from the Pilot and Episode One as fact: Those crazy teenagers love their spooky/sexy Jazz music. I imagine there being a whole alternate universe of beret-wearing, upright bass playing, Le Jazz Hot purveying musicians catering to the Audreys of Lynch’s Alternate-Earth, and I love that.
Lucy: “Agent Cooper will be right with you.”
Albert: “Yeah, I can hear perfectly well, Curly.”
• Special Agent Albert Rosenfeld enters the picture, played by the always-welcome Miguel Ferrer. Albert’s one of my favorite characters on the show, and it’s not simply for his amusingly brusque, insulting manner. The way that Truman steers him aside and informs him that, ordinarily, “if a stranger walked into my station talking this kind of crap he’d be looking for his teeth two blocks up on queer street,” makes me laugh and impresses on us that Truman’s a good man, but that he’s got the same no-bullshit steel in him that Cooper does. The earnest thumbs-up that Cooper flashes afterward is even funnier. And Cooper grabbing Truman’s nose and quacking like a duck? Hilarious. So, so odd.
• Touches of Eastern mysticism are making their way into this show little by little. First we get Cooper’s whackadoo deduction methods and impromptu Tibetan history lesson, and now Lucy’s huge-and-nondescript Tibet book. It’s an adorable touch to have her reading up on the country after Cooper’s earlier demonstration. We’re going to be looking deeper into this stuff as we go.
• The end of Nadine’s quest for perfectly silent drape runners is laugh-out-loud funny.
Sarah Palmer: “Leland, what is going on in this house?!”
• In Twin Peaks no one, including the grownups, listens to anything resembling contemporary music. Leland’s dance to Pennsylvania 6-5000 is a grotesquerie of grief – simultaneously heart-rending and wince-inducing. The sight of him “dancing” with Laura’s picture is a potent reminder of how important Lynch’s personal vision is to this series. In someone else’s hands this could be terrible. In Lynch’s hands it feels, emotionally, enormously complicated.
Mike: “Through the darkness of future past, the magician longs to see. One chants out between two worlds: ‘Fire, walk with me.’ We lived among the people. I think you say ‘convenience store.’ We lived above it. I mean it like it is, like it sounds. I too have been touched by the devilish one. Tattoo on the left shoulder. Oh, but when I saw the face of God I was changed. I took the entire arm off. My name is Mike. His name is Bob.”
• At the end of a perfectly enjoyable episode, Cooper slides into bed at the Great Northern, settles in for a good night’s rest, and promptly falls down a hellishly bizarre rabbit hole, dragging us along for the ride. It’s a moment that opens wide the “mythology” of Twin Peaks and makes clear to us that whatever is happening in this town is deeper, stranger, and less explicable than we could have imagined. I’m attempting to steer clear of spoilers and such writing these columns, while also attempting to provide context for the series as a whole. It’s a tricky balance. I don’t think I’m being unfair, or really “spoilery” at all, by telling you first-time-watchers out there that all of this has real, significant meaning within the world of the show. This is not simply a kooky, meaningless exercise in surrealism – this is our proper introduction to Twin Peaks’ weird, working-class mysticism.
Bob: “I promise, I will kill again.”
• Ladies and gentlemen, meet Bob, aka The Spooky Man In Sarah Palmer’s Visions. Wondering whether it was insanity alone causing Mrs. Palmer’s freakouts? Wonder no more. Bob is real. Seeing Bob’s discomfiting face twice now in the Palmer household clearly underlines for us that Bob was in some way entwined with Laura Palmer’s death. His words in the dream sequence all but confirm that he may have killed her. What’s ironic about the complaints of the time that Twin Peaks hadn’t solved the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer is that we’d been shown and essentially told EXACTLY who killed Laura Palmer and we’re on the third episode of the series. And yet, as with the rest of this show, the answers here aren’t really that clear-cut or straightforward. We’ve got a ways to go before we get to the heart of these metaphorical/metaphysical woods.
• The sudden introduction of this truly unusual (and brief) blue-collar mythology creates real unease and displacement here. Who are these characters? What do “Mike’s” words mean? We get the impression that Mike and Bob were once on the same side – the side of Evil – but that Mike repented, claiming to have seen “the face of God.” Interestingly, there’s a sense that Mike is grasping at human words here that he does not ordinarily use, attempting to define our material existence for himself as he speaks to/through Cooper. The implication that what appear to be supernatural beings existed above a convenience store grounds the mystic in the banal, in much the same way that Lynch & Co. have been grounding the bizarre affectations of the town’s residents in the banal. These characters names serve the same function – Mike and Bob couldn’t be more banal names for dream-entering entities (and notice that their names mirror the names of teenagers Bobby and Mike, aka Snake and Bopper). Notice also the buzzing of electricity that we hear in the background, and recall the flickering morgue lights from the pilot episode.
• The circle of candles acts as a mirror-image for another circle that will become exceedingly important to the larger story in the show. Those of you who’ve seen the show before, I’ll hint at this with one word: Glastonbury.
• Notice that there’s a mound of earth similar, if not identical, to the mound found in the abandoned train car sitting at the center of the candles’ ring. The feeling of ritual evoked by the past two episodes becomes literal in this scene as the mounds of earth take on a mystic aspect. As we go deeper into the mythology I’ll be talking more about the inspirations for it, the connections we can draw and the observations one can make about the metaphysics of all of this. That is, if you’re interested in continuing the show.
Little Man From Another Place: “She’s filled with secrets.”
• After these flashes of revelation, things settle down (so to speak) and we enter the Red Room, a place as unexplainable as it is unsettling and compelling. The shot of The Dwarf shaking horribly with his back turned to the audience may be one of the more disturbing shots I’ve seen Lynch produce. The appearance of an aged Cooper seems conspicuously obtuse, but this is yet another detail to keep in mind. And then there’s Laura – Laura Palmer. She’s there too. The show leaves open the question of how much of this is subconscious craziness and how much is “true,” and it’s a choice/tone that I admire.
• Did you notice that there’s a model of Saturn/a Saturn lamp resting on the Room’s coffee table? Saturn is known in astrological circles as a “Malefic” – a planet that by some interpretations augers bad luck and misfortune. It is associated with limitations, restrictions, depression, fear and mortality. Saturn historically governs nocturnal birds of prey – namely owls(and let’s just say that we’ll be seeing/hearing more about owls), which have traditionally been understood as symbolic of death (though this is disputed). And while all of this is more than sufficient to paint a negative picture, it’s important to note that a majority of modern Astrologers do not believe Saturn to be a necessarily “negative force,” so much as a facilitating force (although this talk seems even more New Agey to me than usual for that field; a “feel good” bromide to soften the symbolism). Saturn represents the “dark night of the soul” that we all walk through, and which gives us the opportunity to rise above it and discover the daylight. Or not. One could say that Saturn operates similarly to how the dark half of the yin-yang does. It is the necessary darkness to the light, a balancing force that gives its opposite true meaning, and gives humanity the necessary conflict to purify and improve the soul. All of this is stuff for us to keep in the backs of our minds.
• The Red Room itself is ingenious in its design. There’s a timeless, classic look to it all – my nightmares have rarely looked this effortlessly cool. The yin-yang aspect I just discussed is present in the floor of the Room, with its alternating Black and White streaks. Note also the statue of Venus that sits in the background. In mythology, Venus was the daughter of Jupiter. You’ll want to remember this too. I’ll go into detail further down the line.
• Cooper’s vision achieves (for me) a rare state of dreaming-awake. Years later, Joss Whedon would explore this state further, to admirably similar success, in the Buffy episode “Restless” (has a “cheese man” ever been so funny and eerie?). I’m going to float a kind of overarching theory on the show as a whole here – one that I started in on in the last column – based on moments like these, and on smaller “fish in the percolator” moments throughout the show. The essence of Twin Peaks, on a thematic level, is the depiction of a dreamlike state threatened by/coexistent with encroaching nightmare. When Donna remarks in Traces to Nowhere that “it’s like I’m having the most beautiful dream, and the most terrible nightmare, all at once,” it acts to sum up so much of the feel of this show and this town. When Audrey comments that “I love this music – it’s too dreamy,” it reinforces this for us. The town of Twin Peaks is, in a very real metaphorical sense of the word, a kind of subconscious Camelot under subtle siege. Lest you think me off my meds, or just spraying my pages with purpled poppycock with that last comparison, let me assure you that the show confirms this idea of itself for us with some small, choice details. For instance, the references to JFK and the Kennedys? That’s a reference to the era known as…Camelot; a time in history where a dream died.
I plan to delve into the deep end of the pool on this stuff further down the line, as the storyline becomes clearer for all of us. For now I think it sufficient to say that Special Agent Cooper is a kind of knight on this show – a knight of certain purity and faith (and eccentricity) that undergoes dire trials for the sake of his code and his “kingdom,” the good ol’ cherry pie-baking, damn-fine-coffee-makin’ US of A that exists, if it ever existed, in some misted-over long ago; a US of A that’s made tantalizingly close to (surface) reality for Cooper among the Douglas Firs of Twin Peaks.
Anyway, the point for now is that Twin Peaks as a whole operates as a waking dream. Why is there a fish in the percolator? Because there is. Because that’s what happens in dreams. You make coffee and discover that there’s a fish in the percolator. Time runs backward, forward. Spaces compress, expand. Dread is everywhere, but so are Joy, and Grace. Dreams are a form of magic – some of the oldest magic in the world. The Aboriginal people of Australia constructed their religion on the notion of the “Dreamtime,” as for instance. Dreamers and supposed practitioners of magic wield their power inexplicably, without rational explanation. Both rely on subjective input and interpretation. Both possess two sides, one light, one dark (howdy, Lost fans!) but, as in dreams, magic (as depicted in world religions, and to a lesser extent in fiction) is unpredictable. You might start out in one place, and end up in another place altogether. Sides can change without warning. If there are “rules” to dreams, or to “magic,” those rules are obtuse and unreliable. There’s a kind of weird anti-logic to the mysticism of Twin Peaks. Things add up emotionally/psychologically (in sometimes horrific, sometimes wondersome ways) but they do NOT add up “logically.” This is one of my favorite aspects of the series. Here, in this town, magic is real, is dangerous, is ultimately inexplicable – and that’s a large part of what makes it all believably “mythic” to me. At the same time, elements like the Little Man’s comments seem like sheer unmitigated nonsense, but end up making cockeyed “sense” in an again dreamlike/intuitive way.
• Whew. That’s all, folks. The time has come to play Caesar. We’ve now talked about the first three episodes of Twin Peaks. Some of you seem to be digging it, and some of you seem utterly bored by it. Will you cancel the show all over again? Or will you elect to keep it on the air? Vote “Renew” or “Cancel” in the comments below, or in the Lost & Found thread and let me know your thoughts.
The results will post on Monday. Are you not entertained?!
This week’s Twin Peaks Ephemera
Each week I’ll link to a bit of pop culture ephemera that was created around the time of Twin Peaks’ airing, or that was created due to the show’s influence/inspiration, or is otherwise related to the show. This week brings two offerings: