The trick of a show that continues one long, evolving storyline is to slowly—even teasingly—advance the main plot (Who Killed Laura Palmer?) while delivering enough episode-by-episode pay off to keep the viewer from feeling overly manipulated. In other words, you gotta keep ‘em coming back.
In the last episode, Lynch and his collaborators (namely series co-creator Mark Frost) gave us Agent Cooper’s strange dream, and ended the proceedings with Cooper excitedly calling Sheriff Truman to report that he knew the identity of the killer. Were we poised to see the case solved in this episode? Of course not. Agent Cooper kicks off this episode by reporting that the dream was riddle he must decipher. The dream, he is sure, holds the solution of the mystery. About this, we can have little doubt.
The central event in this episode is the funeral of Laura Palmer. Let me pause here to say that there’s something hypnotic about the slow rhythm of the show. Here we are in the fourth episode, and we’re just now getting to the funeral. This pace allows the filmmakers to develop nearly every character we see onscreen. The weight of several different stories come into play in the scene around her grave.
About that funeral itself. In what is by now distinctly Twin Peaks fashion, it is both moving and grotesquely comic. It begins by lingering over the words of the priest as he commits Laura’s body to the earth and her soul to heaven. He talks about a soul-sustaining belief in Christ. All of this is part of a Christian ritual ironically juxtaposed with the freak show in attendance. Like almost everyone else in town, the priest seems to have been touched by Laura in some deep, troubling, way. Since every character on this show appears to be living some manner of double life, as the mourners gather around her coffin, it’s almost impossible not to reflect that Laura Palmer seems to have been at the center of nearly every secret in town.
The funeral is disrupted by Bobby Briggs, Laura’s drug-dealing creep of a boyfriend. His outburst is, in one sense, par for the course with Bobby. He’s proven himself to be, both in public and in private, pretty much an asshole. But his outburst also hints at some unplumbed depths:
What are you looking at? What are you waiting for? You make me sick. You damn hypocrites make me sick! Everybody knew she was in trouble, but we didn’t do anything. All you good people. You want to know who killed Laura? You did! We all did. And pretty words aren’t gonna bring her back, so save your prayers. She would have laughed at them, anyway.
The first notable thing about this speech is its apparent honesty. Bobby is directly confronting the hypocrisy of the town, the ritual of Christian burial as a mask for all manner of turmoil and wrongdoing. Presenting a character who up until now has seemed motivated almost entirely by obstinacy, lust, and self-entitlement as, well, the voice of reason is striking. Note his disgust at the very notion of “good people.” Is this the disgust of an antihero? Have I misjudged this guy?
The other notable thing about Bobby’s furious eulogy is his assertion at the end that Laura would have laughed at the prayers of the mourners. Hmm… Bobby doesn’t seem to be lying here. This seems to be a tantalizing clue to what is, in some respects, the real central mystery of the series. “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” is just the hook. The deeper mystery, it is becoming clear to me, is really “Who Was Laura Palmer?”
The funeral ends in a grotesque fashion, with Leland Palmer, Laura’s father, diving onto his daughter’s casket. As some hydraulic function goes haywire, he and the casket are lowered up and down. This is pure dark comedy, almost a mockery of family anguish, the grieving of a father for his murdered daughter reduced to gross slapstick. It’s also, dare I posit, something of an incestuous image—like some kind of wicked counter-ritual to the Christian prayers.
The other big event in this episode is the revelation of a secret society, The Bookhouse Boys. Sherriff Truman, Big Ed, and Deputy Hawk meet with Agent Cooper and tell him that they belong to a group that was formed long ago. Truman explains:
There’s a sort of evil out there. Something very, very strange in these old woods. Call it what you want. A darkness, a presence. It takes many forms. But it’s been out there for as long as anyone can remember. And we’ve always been here to fight it. Men before us, men before them. More after we’re gone.
The Bookhouse Boys (so named because they meet at The Bookhouse café, which seems to have been damn near built out of books) combat the evil in the mountains. What “evil” does this refer to? I having a feeling we’re going to find out.
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