Twin Peaks Rewatch: Episode 5: The One-Armed Man

Every character is memorable.

It’s time to talk about Invitation to Love. Throughout the first four episodes of Twin Peaks, I’ve been seeing this cheesy soap opera in the background. At first, it was easy to dismiss as a kind of goofy joke, a satire of cheap entertainment. But as the show has progressed, it has become impossible to miss that something else is going on with Invitation to Love.

For one thing, it’s simply too much of a presence to be dismissed. Initially, the show-within-the-show was just one tiny piece of the increasingly complex jigsaw puzzle that is Twin Peaks, but by episode five it has crossed over into the show proper in interesting ways. The most obvious example of this is the introduction of a “fictional” Invitation plot point into the “real” milieu of Twin Peaks: the sudden appearance of Maddy Ferguson, Laura Palmer’s lookalike cousin (both characters are played by Sheryl Lee), which seems to spring out of a plot on the soap opera involving twin sisters.

This is fascinating for two reasons. One, it is an open acknowledgement on behalf of the filmmakers that at least one inspiration for the show is the soap opera structure. And why not? If you look at most prestige television dramas—even crime shows like The Sopranos or The Wire—nearly all have at least a little a bit of the soap opera magic dust sprinkled on, either in the form of romantic subplots or emotional cliffhanger plotting, while others like Mad Men are all-out glorified soapers. My point here is not to belittle these shows (not at all) but rather to praise the craft of the soap opera itself. How do you tell a story of treachery and sex and secrets over the course of many episodes on television? Well, a good place to start would be to think about how shows like Invitation to Love have been doing it for decades. Say what you will, those cheap, disposable entertainments know how to set up a story and get it moving. When you look at Twin Peaks—for all its surrealist images, and layered meanings, and brilliant grotesquery—you are looking at a story that, it its rough outlines, would not have been out of place on network television in the middle of the afternoon in 1975.

This leads to the second source of fascination, the way that the distinctions between “high” and “low” art get swept away when a truly inventive team of collaborators puts together a project without regard to those distinctions. Consider for a moment the way that Twin Peaks avails itself of melodramatic devices of the cheapest kind: eavesdropping through holes in the wall, clandestine meetings, hidden doorways, secret compartments, doppelgangers. This kind of thing not only wouldn’t be out of place on The Young and the Restless, it wouldn’t be out of place in Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys. Not only are Lynch and his crew fully conscious of this, they go out of their way to highlight it. Near the beginning of the episode, Sheriff Truman arrives at work and asks his receptionist Lucy (played by the dependably hilarious Kimmy Robertson), “What’s going on, Lucy?” She looks up from the television beside her work station and says:

Well, thanks to Jade, Jared decided not to kill himself, and he's changed his will leaving the Towers to Jade instead of Emerald, but Emerald found out about it, and now she's trying to seduce Chet to give her the new will so that she can destroy it; Montana's planning to kill Jared at midnight so the Towers will belong to Emerald and Montana, but I think she's going to double-cross him and he doesn't know it yet. Poor Chet.

The sheriff leans and says, “I mean, what’s going on here?” Oh, Truman, don’t you realize, that is what’s going on here?

Later in the episode, Agent Cooper and Truman manage to track down the one-armed man that Cooper saw in his dream (and Deputy Hawk saw at the hospital). At the same hotel where they find the one-armed man, Ben Horne and Catherine Martell are having their affair and plotting to burn down the sawmill. The mill is owned by Josie Packard, who is out front spying on them. Meanwhile, back in the room with Agent Cooper, the one-armed man is (I think) revealed to be a traveling salesman with no involvement in Laura’s murder.

I’m not sure what to make of these developments. The Horne-Martell-Packward subplot in particular is something that I haven’t commented upon much yet in these recaps because thus far it hasn’t been particularly intriguing. Later in the episode, however, Horne meets with Leo (the abusive drug dealing husband of Shelley the waitress) and hires him to burn down the sawmill. This pulls together two more plot threads and should be interesting.

As for the one-armed man, here’s what I think: everything in Cooper’s dream in metaphorical, and thus, nothing can be taken literally. I could be proven wrong on this, but although the one-armed man is as real as Cooper, in the dream he functions as a symbol of something or someone else. Thus leads me to think that the mysterious Bob from the dream is both a real character and a dream symbol, as well.

For a soap opera, it’s all pretty metaphysical.

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.

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