Twin Peaks Rewatch: Series Premiere: “Northwest Passage”

Thirty seconds into the show, and already I’m smiling. The theme music by Angelo Badalamenti is a slow, sugary mix of synth and strings that’s, well, goofy. Along with the green neon credits, the music practically screams 1990. But what the hell, there’s no shame in screaming 1990. (The beginning of Casablanca screams 1942, etc.) These credits go on for a surprisingly long time, though, and the longer they go on, the more interesting the music becomes. Or perhaps a better way to put it is to say that by the end of the credits, I’m not so sure they scream 1990 anymore. Yes, they seem very much of their time, but there’s also a deliberate oddness to them, an almost stubborn insistence on pathos that I am shortly to learn will be a consistent quality throughout this pilot episode.

We begin with the discovery of a dead girl, naked and wrapped in plastic next to a river in the logging town of Twin Peaks, Washington.  Ah ha. “Who killed Laura Palmer?” The line itself floats up from the past like a question from a game of Trivial Pursuit.

The mysteries begin to layer on as we learn of the disappearance of another girl on the night that Laura died. The girl reappears, stumbling bloody and incoherent from the woods. Were she and Laura abducted together? What happened that night?

We’re introduced to the sheriff (is his name really Harry Truman?), and to the parents of Laura Palmer (the great character actors Ray Wise and Grace Zabriskie). These early scenes are unusually painful—and I mean that in its most literal sense. They are full of pain. We’ve been conditioned by decades of film and television to see family members being informed about the murder of a loved one. It’s usually over pretty quick. David Lynch, however, lingers on the pain. Zabriskie spends the entire episode in a crying fit.

What makes this emphasis on emotional turmoil interesting is that, in many other ways, the show has an almost detached attitude. Lynch is one of those filmmakers who’s often accused of being too clever, too cute, too ironic. Yet, as I watch this first episode, I can’t help but notice the way emotion is always exploding in odd places.

Of course, the quirky humor is there. Some of it is found in the performances. Lynch might well be a perfect example of a director who shapes a specific style of acting for his films. It some ways it’s a throwback to an earlier style (of say the late forties) that was bigger and broader, less naturalistic, and yet in some ways, more effective.

I suppose this is nowhere more evident than in the performance of Kyle MacLachlan as FBI agent Dale Cooper. In some ways, MacLachlan is the consummate Lynchian actor. He’s boyish and serious at the same time, like a child playing an FBI agent. Yet watch the scene of him interrogating Laura Palmer’s boyfriend Bobby Briggs (played in an effectively creepy turn by Dana Ashbrook) and marvel at how MacLachlan turns Cooper from a quirky goofball into an intimidating presence without seeing to change anything.

And that’s not a bad way of summing up the essential feel of the show’s first episode. It’s paced so oddly it almost seems arrhythmic, moving from comic bits (like Agent Cooper’s ebullient admiration for Douglas fir trees) to creepy moments (like the wide-eyed threats of Bobby Briggs in a jail cell), yet by the end, it’s almost transfixing.

One last thing to note: the two central images of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) that are shown throughout the episode. One is her picture as Homecoming Queen in the trophy case at school. The second is some secret video footage that is discovered of Laura with someone else we can’t see. She's outside, dancing.  The camera moves in on her eyes. It's a haunting moment, one that pulls us toward the next episode, toward even deeper mysteries.

Are you along for the ride with us?

Read more coverage of Twin Peaks Rewatch on Criminal Element.


Jake Hinkson, The Night Editor, is the author of The Posthumous Man and Saint Homicide.

Read all posts by Jake Hinkson for Criminal Element.


  1. Jake Hinkson

    PS. The show is available for streaming now on Netflix.

  2. Clare 2e

    Okay, I really thought I’d posted this comment yesterday, so I may be losing my mind. I believe it’s also available for streaming on Amazon Instant Video as well, free for prime members and rentable otherwise.

    I really admired, was even a bit awed by, how clear Lynch was on the directions and motifs of the show from the very, very beginning–it’s only the first episode (and because I’m rewatching) I can almost see some of these glancing elements as Easter eggs now.

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