Twin Peaks terrified me to my very core the first time I saw it. I had nightmares for weeks. Even now, I still get slightly nauseated every time I hear the theme song. To be fair, I saw the series not long after it came out in the early ‘90s, when I was a tad too young to have been allowed to do so. Despite that, I was—along with everybody else—hooked.
There’s simply no denying that David Lynch and Mark Frost’s masterpiece was no ordinary TV show. Even by today’s standards, the show is groundbreaking and unapologetically weird. It reveled in the formulaic and the mundane, but immortalized the bizarre, all without taking itself too seriously. And no other show ever put its audience on such an emotional rollercoaster, plunging viewers into a cycle of amusement, sadness, distress and horror all in a single episode.
So when it was announced that Showtime had commissioned an 18-episode continuation of the series, fans hurrahed. After all, if there’s one show from the ‘90s worthy of a resurrection, it’s Twin Peaks. In anticipation, here are the seminal series’ 10 most surreal moments, in chronological order. Proceed with caution, MAJOR SPOILERS ahead.
The moment Pete Martell said the words “The lonesome foghorn blows,” we knew that Twin Peaks wasn’t going to be your run-of-the-mill soap opera. The freaky ride, however, doesn’t really start until a little later, and the show’s pilot is pretty mild compared to the ensuing shitstorm. Although it does have its moments of eccentricity, offering audiences a preview of what’s to come.
At the very end of the episode, we see Sarah Palmer lying on the couch with a cigarette in her hand, clearly grief-stricken over the death of her only child. She gets a vision of a pair of gloved hands unearthing the other half of Laura Palmer’s necklace that James Hurley (James Marshall) and Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle) had buried earlier. It may be a little vanilla compared to the rest of the moments on the list, but it’s a great and very intriguing signal that we’re at the start of a sinister journey.
One of the most surreal and symbolic scenes in the series might be Agent Cooper’s (Kyle MacLachlan) very first dream sequence. Here, Cooper, as an old man, meets a dwarf in a red suit (Michael J. Anderson) and Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), both of whom are moving and speaking very oddly. The dream itself, set in a venous blood-red room with a strange shadow moving behind the curtains, is ominous and unsettling. It’s here that Mike (Al Strobel) makes his first appearance, and BOB (Frank Silva) menacingly threatens to kill again.
This also happens to be the series’ most iconic moment. When people speak of Twin Peaks, they often speak of this scene. It not only offers several clues that eventually help tie up the series in Season Two, but also utilizes a gloriously analog technique—Lynch had the actors speak their lines backwards to obtain their disjointed, almost alien-like speech.
Season One may have its wonderful bizarre moments—Mike (Gary Hershberger) and Bobby’s (Dana Ashbrook) unexpected howling in their jail cell, for example. It’s in the second season, however, where the series really takes the strange to a whole new level. The first episode gets a big chunk of that, starting with The Giant’s (Carel Struycken) first visit.
The episode starts weirdly enough. Our favorite FBI agent is lying on the floor bleeding from a gunshot, and the old man from room service happily delivers the milk he ordered without bothering to call 911. It gets weirder still as a giant suddenly appears before Cooper in a dreamlike manner to tell him three cryptic things that would help with the case. A supernatural giant hovering over you is creepy enough; how would you feel if he tells you that “the owls are not what they seem”?
Towards the end of “May the Giant Be With You,” The Giant pays Agent Cooper another visit, this time to offer some words of wisdom along with more cryptic messages. The Giant comes to Cooper in the dark hotel room as the agent sleeps, waving his large hand over him.
The Giant then tells him not to search for all the answers at once, and that even though three people have seen the third man (the killer) the night Laura died, only one has seen the man’s body. Before disappearing once again, The Giant tells him that he’s forgotten something and produces a flash of light from under the bed where Audrey’s (Sherilyn Fenn) note lay unread. This scene just makes you wonder what kind of entities hover over us when our eyes are closed, and gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “while you were sleeping.”
This episode might just have the best, if very harrowing, ending of all Twin Peaks episodes. Before leaving the audience to reflect upon every single mind-screw that happened, the episode can’t resist giving our already vulnerable brains a good scare.
Following the Giant’s second visit is Ronette Pulaski’s (Phoebe Augustine) terrifying nightmare, which occurs in the hospital where she’s been in a coma for most of the first season. In the scene, we see Ronette dreaming about Laura’s murder in the train car. The dream is terrifying, with alternating vignettes of Laura with blood in her mouth and looking like a tortured hag, and BOB brutally beating her with a rock as he lets out unearthly screams. The experience leaves Ronette awake but unable to speak—pretty much how I was after watching it. And because it’s Twin Peaks, the scene is followed with a clip of Gersten Hayward (Alicia Witt) playing a happy tune on the piano.
You have to hand it to Twin Peaks for knowing how to convince us to let our guards down and scare us shitless when we least expect it. Take “Coma,” for instance. The second episode of the second season sets us up with James recording a song with Donna and Maddy in Donna’s living room.
We watch it and think, “Well there’s nothing bizarre about this scene, except perhaps James’ singing and smoldering.” Then, things quickly take a drastic turn when Maddy’s left alone in the living room and BOB makes a sudden appearance. As she watches, creepy BOB takes a couple of strides into the living room, jumps over the couch, and crawls over the table towards her. Before we realize what’s happening, his entire face has taken over the screen and we’re all screaming bloody murder. It has to be the most terrifying scene in the series.
Nothing overly strange happens after that… until the sixth episode, that is, when MIKE finally makes himself known to Agent Cooper. Having caught Phillip Gerard (Al Strobel), a.k.a the One-Armed Man, Cooper and company deny him his medication to get his “other personality” to manifest itself. And sure enough, within seconds, Gerard starts convulsing and MIKE comes out on the other side.
MIKE explains, in his echoing, phantom-like voice, that he’s an inhabiting spirit, reformed after seeing the face of God, and that Gerard was his vessel. He also reveals that BOB is a parasitic spirit that feeds on fear and pleasure. While the scene is not necessarily scary, MIKE’s revelations are certainly of the surreal nature and a little unnerving—as well as satisfying, because we finally get some answers! The creepiest part might be when he recites a poem about BOB: “He is BOB, eager for fun. He wears a smile, everybody run.”
While it almost physically hurts not to include the incredibly disturbing scene in which the killer is revealed, it’s more shocking than it is surreal. And so we must fast forward to Leland’s death. In “Arbitrary Law,” Cooper and Sheriff Truman (Michael Ontkean) manage to lock the now deranged Leland into the interrogation room, where he finally confesses to killing both Laura and Maddy.
There are several surreal moments in this scene: the series of purplish stills of the men Cooper had gathered at The Roadhouse, reminiscent of that old French short, La Jetée; Cooper remembering what Laura had told him in his very first dream; Leland looking like an evil dwarf when they read him his rights; and Leland hauling his head into the door over and over again. The whole scene does end on a tender note, however, with Leland redeeming himself and Cooper guiding him into the light.
There seemed little point in continuing Season Two after the Laura Palmer case had been solved and her murderer had been revealed. Still, there were some minor storylines that needed to be resolved. Besides, evil BOB was still floating around, probably looking for a new vessel to occupy. Enter Josie (Li Chun Fung), master manipulator-cum-victim of men, whose past finally catches up to her in “The Condemned Woman.”
Having been set up by the Packards, Josie ends up killing Thomas Eckhardt (David Warner) and mysteriously dying herself, which both Cooper and Harry witness. Unbeknownst to grieving Harry, Cooper gets a vision of BOB appearing from behind the bed, laughing maniacally and screaming, “Coop, what happened to Josie?” He also sees the Man from Another Place dancing on the bed, before the camera pans onto the bedside dresser knob where Josie reappears, trapped, screaming and seemingly in pain.
No Best of Twin Peaks list is complete without the show’s incredibly twisted and unforgettable ending. Some say that the show has one of the strongest endings in TV history. Not only does the show come full circle, tying up loose ends in a creative way, it also leaves audiences wanting more.
It’s hard to decide which part of the ending is the best. It’s so full of trippy and downright petrifying moments that if you look away for even a second, you will miss something. Laura’s evil doppelganger shows up, and so does BOB, who is at his most terrifying. Even Leland comes back from the dead, claiming he never killed anyone. Ultimately, BOB manages to possess the agent’s body, and we are left with the image of a corrupted Cooper, face bloodied and expression malevolent, with BOB looking back at him in the mirror.
Twin Peaks premieres Sunday, May 21 at 9 p.m. on Showtime.
Michelle Rae of Another Spur on the Road is a Los Angeles-based writer, photographer and traveler with a bad case of wanderlust.