II. Season One
As the first proper episode of Twin Peaks begins, we have Dale Cooper sitting in his hotel room, speaking to “Diane” on his tape recorder, and talking about how “damn fine” the local coffee is. However, something has changed: Cooper wonders aloud about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, rather than the murder of Laura Palmer, signaling a sea-change for the show.
That isn’t to say that the first season of Twin Peaks isn’t centered on Laura Palmer, or that it’s not as thematically concerned with death, evil, and violence against women as what came before, but this is now leavened by humor and diffused by a growing network of side stories. Already, Twin Peaks is a soap opera. There’s hardly any character without at least one extra love interest, and these triangles only become more complicated as things move forward. This isn’t a bad thing, though, as throughout the first season all of these stories are also tangled up with Laura, whose presence haunts the show in more ways than one with the arrival of Maddy, her identical cousin (also played by Sheryl Lee).
Violence against women is ubiquitous in this season, and every subplot concerns the possibility of its return, most overtly with the introduction of Shelley and her abusive husband, Leo. Laura and Ronnette’s tragedies were the first, but the intimation is that, with or without BOB’s assistance, the Twin Peaks area is infected with an angry misogyny that’s just waiting to kill any of the female citizens. Even within the dullest side plots, it’s the constant threat of violence that keeps the quirks in check. The oddities never feel unnecessary here, or forced. Rather, it’s matter-of-fact, the surface rippling that signals us to the beast below. This lack of subtlety is often what’s so jarring about the show’s content. In the world of Twin Peaks, an obvious doubling of a dead girl or a character breaking down into tears while dancing in public aren’t just odd, they’re necessary—symptoms of a town and world gone awry.
As the season comes to an end, we’re left with one woman nearly burned to death, and the threat of incest looming in another’s horizon. It’s easy to see how these stories loop back to Laura Palmer’s death, even as the route from there to this point is strange beyond recognition. Then Dale Cooper is shot, ending the season on a cliffhanger that’s both very real, even as it’s a commentary on soap operas and serialization as a form of storytelling. This episode essentially begs the audience and, more importantly, the network, to keep the show around for another season so we can see what will happen. The ending, like the show itself, manages to have it both ways, and the sheer audacity of both the writing and the directing (though, unfortunately, not always the acting) helps to pull off this feat.