Pilot aka “Northwest Passage”
Twin Peaks begins with Jack Nance.
Very much like Lynch’s seminal work “Eraserhead”, Nance’s Pete Martel guides us into this dreamscape. In a similar way that he became an icon for underground film, Nance utters one of the most famous lines spoken in a television pilot ever. “She’s dead, wrapped in plastic”
Nance’s Pete Martel is however not the first character we see, just the first one we follow as viewers. That is what really struck me on this rewatch, how quickly and economically Lynch and Frost are able to establish a location and characters to the audience. Within the first five minutes (credit sequence included) we are given a solid sense of place and tone. Something which is amusing to me as so many writers on the subject tend to write off Lynch’s direction and imagery as inscrutable. The opening sequence distils the setting for us set to the calming tones of Badelmenti’s score, woods, saw mills, the great northern, waterfalls, water, greens, browns and the eponymous town sign.
The first character we first see is in fact Josie Packard, she hums to herself and applies her makeup as Pete walks into the kitchen and greets Catherine Martel, informing her that he is going fishing with a half hearted kiss. (Well he kisses his hand and touches her cheek which she only seems to tolerate.) As Pete leaves we go back to Josie, watching him leave and still humming to herself. Quickly three characters, no yet named but their relationships touched upon with minimal work. We follow Pete as he walks along the shore, we follow him as he makes his discovery of a corpse wrapped in plastic and follow him back to the lodge as he calls the sheriff’s office. Again, a very fast and efficient introduction of Sheriff Truman and Lucy, complete with Lucy’s characteristic overly precise rambling. These introductions are very, well as I have already said, efficient. They leave plenty of oxygen for the viewer to feel their way into the setting, the words that aren’t spoken speak the loudest. Pete’s show of affection to Catherine speaks volumes, as does her response silently reading the newspaper only offering a glare at his attempt. While you are told later it is a “small town”, you already know that as the first brush strokes have already outlined the setting in your mind.
The Pilot is a series of set pieces, designed to introduce a very wide cast of characters as well as the town itself. Moving from the discovery of Laura Palmer’s body, to the Law enforcement, to her parents , to the effect on the town and onto of course Special Agent Cooper.
Cooper is our central focus, and he is established as such as soon as we see him talking to “Diane” on his way to meet the Sheriff. With Agent Cooper introduced we have a fellow outsider who begins to peel back the onion of this little town with us. But even he is a slight mystery to us, who is Diane? Why does he seem to know about this case already, and in fact seems to know more about the killer than the Sheriff. (Knowing that this is the work of a serial killer and the link to the Teresa Banks murder) Cooper’s investigation is full of ingenious little hints and clues in this Pilot episode, and he is quickly established as an affable Holmes like detective.
With the possible exception of a couple of upcoming Season 1 episodes, the pilot by far has the most clues and actual detective style mystery of the whole series. From the Diary, to the Letter under the fingernail, the video taped reflection of Jame’s motorcycle in Laura’s eye and of course the broken heart necklace, clues abound here and it is easy to see how this taste of mystery worked so well. As the series goes on, the detective style mystery slowly shifts towards character drama and more surreal and psychological elements. This on one hand could be seen as a failing of the series, promising a mystery and delivering a drama. (Something we will see more of towards the end of the Laura Palmer arc) While the mystery does not transition from Pilot to series as well, the characters and setting do so very well. Laura Palmer herself is presented as a utterly fascinating character, despite never appearing “alive” in the pilot itself. We hear her words, see her in video and as we go on discover that she is the real mystery of the piece.
Like many pilots, things do change between it and the series proper. It is shot a little differently, possibly more cinematic than the rest of the series in many ways. The sense of oddness that the town and it’s inhabitants have for the viewer are possibly more pronounced as well, long silences, pauses in dialogue and bizarre symbolic (?) objects confront us. It is all draped in Lynch’s 1950′s esque aesthetic, haircuts, clothes, objects and people seeming modern but connected to some other time and some other place. I am curious to see how the 2017 series will cope without rotary telephones and incandescent lightglobes.
The pilot climaxes with Cooper and the Sheriff investigating Laura’s ties to James Hurley, her secret second boyfriend and the man possessed with the other half of Laura’s heart necklace. We are given a few strong but obvious suspects, Bobby, Leo, Ben Horne and glints of the life Laura hid below the prom queen surface. Fittingly the Pilot ends with the first appearance of the supernatural in the series and possibly one of the happiest accidents in Television history. Sarah Palmer, is woken by a vision of a gloved hand taking the necklace piece that had been hidden by James and Donna from the earth, she screams in horror, end credits. Not only do we see many of the repeated symbols of the series in this sequence; the traffic lights, Trees and the ceiling fan at the Palmer house, but we also get our first glimpse of BOB. Stagehand Frank Silva reflected in the mirror whilst Sarah Palmer screams…