“Traces to Nowhere”, Twin Peaks, Season 1, Ep.1 - Duwayne Dunham (1990)

“Traces to Nowhere” is the opening episode of the TV series Twin Peaks (1990-91) following the two-hour series pilot.  It continues with the investigation of a precipitating event that took place prior to the events described in this series – the murder of a highschool girl in the fictional town of Twin Peaks, Washington (state).  This episode was directed by Duwayne Dunham, and it was scripted by series co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost, who also scripted the series pilot and the subsequent Episode 2 ("Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer”).

In the pilot it was revealed that the local highschool homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), was brutally raped and murdered, and her battered corpse had been found wrapped in plastic on the banks of a local river.  FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) was called in to supervise a local investigation led by Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean), and much of the series pilot is spent introducing the local characters of Twin Peaks who will figure in the  story.

This “Traces to Nowhere” episode doesn’t really have a self-contained narrative, and its time is primarily spent “thickening” the plot by introducing more obfuscating evidence and expanding on the contexts of some principal characters.  The viewer does learn a few things of interest.

Agent Cooper and Sheriff Truman had arrested Laura Palmer’s boyfriend, Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), and her secret lover, James Hurley (James Marshall), both of whom we know separately saw Laura on the night of the murder. But Cooper now becomes convinced that both are innocent of the murder, and he has them released.  Now evidence is uncovered, though, (sometimes only to a few) that points in other directions.

The autopsy of Laura Palmer reveals that she was taking cocaine and that on the night of her murder, she had sex with three different men

An abusive trucker, Leo Johnson (Eric Da Re) rudely orders his wife Shelly (Mädchen Amick)  to wash his clothes.  When she discovers his shirt has bloodstains on it, she hides the shirt away from him, and the shirt’s disappearance causes Leo to give his wife a brutal beating.  We also learn that Leo is embroiled in some presumably criminal operation with Bobby Briggs and his friend Mike Nelson that involves a missing $10,000 that Briggs and Nelson now owe Leo.

Also ,James Hurly’s uncle, gas station owner Ed Hurly, claims he was given a knockout drug by  bartender Jacques Renault at the local bar, The Roadhouse.  In addition, the viewer gets glimpses  of two additional mysterious characters.  One is a strange one-armed man who wanders into the police station and disappears into the morgue.  And Laura Palmer’s mother, Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) has a hysteria-inducing vision of a mysterious, sinister man hiding behind her bed.

At the episode’s end, psychiatrist Dr. Lawrence Jacoby, one of whose patients  had apparently been Laura Palmer, is shown dreamily listening to an intimate cassette tape that is one of a series of tapes that Laura had secretly been sending to him

But apart from this specific information concerning the murder investigation, the episode spends a fair amount of time providing more background on four beautiful women in the narrative.  Since the murdered girl, Laura Palmer, was a beauty queen, one might suspect that these four women are also at risk.  All four of these women are magnetically attractive, and the viewer is drawn into following their fates as the series progresses.  In fact one could say that these four women are, along with Agent Cooper and Sheriff Truman, the major protagonists of the series.
  • Shelly Johnson is an innocent young girl and works as a waitress at a local diner.  She is married to the abusive Leo Johnson, who I have already mentioned is a murder suspect.
  • Jocelyn Packard (Joan Chen), a beautiful young Chinese woman, is the widow of the recently deceased Andrew Packard, who owned the local sawmill in the town.  She now legally owns the sawmill, but the land on which it is situated is greedily coveted by wealthy and corrupt local landlord Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer).  He is scheming with his paramour, Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie), who is the sister of Andrew Packard, to arrange a hostile takeover of the property.  Jocelyn, we already know, is having a semi-secret romantic relationship with Sheriff Truman.
  • Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) is the comely daughter of unscrupulous businessman Benjamin Horne.  She uses her feminine wiles to assert her independence and defy her father’s ways.  In this episode she seductively approaches Agent Cooper for some small talk, suggesting that she is attracted to this handsome newcomer in town.
  • Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle), who was Laura Palmer’s best friend, teams up with Laura’s secret lover, biker James Hurly, to try and solve the murder mystery.  Soon, however, they find themselves falling in love with each other.
Despite these separately fascinating threads concerning the four women, though, this episode has some weaknesses due to the dramatically over-the-top presentations of some of the other characters.
  • Bobby Briggs and Mike Nelson are unbearably obnoxious and behave like rabid jackals foaming at the mouth.
  • Benjamin Horne and his lover Catherine Martell are ludicrously avaricious. 
  • The grieving mother, Sarah Palmer, is almost continuously in a hysterical state.
  • Ed Hurley’s wife, Nadine (Wendy Robie), is so persistently and outrageously eccentric that she defies believability.
  • The Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson), who asserts that the log she always carries around has magical properties, is another character who seems to have no other purpose than to project further eccentricity.
Nevertheless, this episode does provide fuel for further developments.

David Lynch

About David Lynch:
Films of David Lynch:
  • Twin Peaks - David Lynch & Mark Frost (1990-91)

Mark Frost

Films of Mark Frost:
  • Twin Peaks - David Lynch & Mark Frost (1990-91)

“Northwest Passage”, Twin Peaks, Season 1, pilot - David Lynch (1990)

“Northwest Passage” is the opening, pilot episode of the original Twin Peaks (1990-91) serial drama TV series created by David Lynch and Mark Frost.  The acclaimed series, set in the fictional small town of Twin Peaks in Washington state, concerns the dramatics and intrigue surrounding the investigation of a macabre murder that has taken place there.

This episode sets the stage and introduces most the cast of characters who will appear in the series.  It begins when the naked body of local highschool girl Laura Palmer is found wrapped in plastic and washed up along the banks of the local river. Laura was the highschool football homecoming queen, and the entire community is shaken by the grisly news.  Sheriff Harry S. Truman (played by Michael Ontkean) begins an investigation.  The immediate suspect is Laura’s  boyfriend, Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), who was known to have secretly seen Laura the previous evening.  The plot thickens when another local girl, Ronette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine), is found walking in a dazed state along the railroad tracks after having been clearly sexually abused and beaten the previous night.  So FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is called in to take over the investigation.

Examining Laura’s corpse, Cooper discovers under Laura’s fingernail a tiny piece of paper with the letter ‘R’ typed on it.  He connects this to the murder of another girl in the region one year earlier under whose fingernail was found a similar piece of paper with the letter ‘T’ typed on it.  So he suspects there is a serial killer lurking in the area. 

Much of this episode is devoted to situating the story in the town of Twin Peaks and introducing the large cast of characters.  They comprise the following:
  • FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (played by Kyle MacLachlan).  Straightforward and logical, he has a keen mind and an innocent demeanor.
  • Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) is an upstanding and sympathetic upholder of law and order in the community.
  • Lucy Moran (Kimmy Robertson) is Sheriff Truman’s young secretary.
  • Jocelyn Packard (Joan Chen) is the widowed owner of the local sawmill.
  • Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is the beautiful highschool girl found murdered at the start of the series.
  • Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) is the father of Laura Palmer.
  • Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) is Leland’s wife and Laura’s mother.
  • Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle) was Laura Palmer’s best friend
  • Dr. Will Hayward (Warren Frost) is the father of Donna Hayward
  • Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) is a pretty highschool classmate of Laura and Donna.
  • Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer) is Audrey’s father and is a wealthy landlord.
  • Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick) is a highschool dropout and works at the local Double-R Diner.
  • Leo Johnson (Eric Da Re), a trucker, is the abusive husband of Shelly Johnson.
  • Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie) is the conniving sister of Jocelyn Packard’s deceased husband.
  • Pete Martell (Jack Nance) is Catherine’s gentle husband.
  • Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton) owns and runs the Double-R Diner.
  • James Hurley (James Marshall) is a biker and secret lover of Laura Palmer.
  • Ed Hurley (Everett McGill) runs a local gas station and is James Hurley’s uncle.
  • Ronette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine) is a highschool girl who survived the savage attack on her and Laura Palmer, but she is in a comatose state.
  • Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) is the boyfriend of Laura Palmer
  • Mike Nelson (Gary Hershberger) is Bobby Briggs’s best friend and is a one-time boyfriend of Donna Hayward.
  • Dr. Lawrence Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn)
  • Deputy Sheriff Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz)
Already in this pilot episode, the viewer learns of a number of clandestine romantic relationships among these people:
  • Bobby Briggs and Shelly Johnson.  Although Bobby was the boyfriend of Laura Palmer, he was secretly seeing married waitress Shelly Johnson on the side.
  • Ed Hurley and Norma Jennings.  Both of them are already married to others – Norma’s husband is serving a prison sentence for manslaughter, and Ed’s wife seems oddly obsessive about home decorating.
  • Benjamin Horne and Catherine Martell. Catherine is married to logger Pete, but her greed for wealth draws her to Horne.
  • Sheriff Truman and Jocelyn Packard.  Perhaps because Jocelyn is a recent widow and Truman is a public servant, their relationship is not widely publicized.
  • Donna Hayward and James Hurley.  Although Donna is the girlfriend of  the obnoxious Mike Nelson and James apparently had a secret relationship with Laura Palmer, as Donna and James jointly work to solve the crime, they find themselves drawn to each other.
The initial evidence points to Bobby Briggs and James Hurley, who are both known to have privately and separately seen Laura on the evening of the murder.  But then further evidence is found in an abandoned railroad car outside of town – a mysterious mound of dirt with Laura’s necklace, missing half of its charm, on the top and the cryptic message “fire walk with me” placed there.  The viewer learns (but not yet Cooper and Truman) that James Hurley has the other half of Laura’s necklace charm in his possession.  So James and Donna bury that part of the necklace charm in the woods.

A skin mag is also found among Laura’s possessions that has a photo of Ronette Pulaski and also an image of a truck that the viewer knows is the one that Leo Johnson drives.  So there are multiple clues pointing in different directions.

At the end of this pilot episode, Sarah Palmer has a nightmare of someone digging up the necklace charm (the significance of which is unknown to her) in the woods.