67) Pilot – AKA Northwest Passage (Twin Peaks)

Twin Peaks is weird in the way that Salvador Dali was weird. And, much like Dali himself, it constantly wavered between stupidly goofy and uniquely brilliant. The pilot very much fell on the brilliant side of the line. David Lynch constantly kept the feel of a somewhat traditional small town, while making sure that it felt as isolated and alien to the viewers as he could manage. In case you’ve never seen anything by David Lynch, weird and alien are absolutely within his wheelhouse.

This image from his film Eraserhead submitted without comment.



The pilot is really the most “in control” the show ever managed to be. It’s all done as a set-up, posing the question for the rest of the series, “who killed Laura Palmer?” The beginning of the show is the finding of the body of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), wrapped in a plastic sheet. The FBI agent sent to investigate, Dale Cooper (Kyle “Kwisatz Haderach” MacLachlan), starts to look into this “small Northwest town.”


The main thing that is revealed immediately is that almost everyone in town is connected, not just publicly, but in other clandestine ways. This quickly makes everyone in the cast a suspect.  Palmer’s boyfriend, Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), is revealed to be cheating on her with a married woman, Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick), whose husband, Leo (Eric Da Re), is Bobby’s coke dealer and had been sleeping with Palmer. Palmer’s best friend, Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle), has been attracted to Palmer’s secret other boyfriend, James Hurley (James Marshall). Another classmate, Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) begins a revenge plan on her father for neglecting her in favor of Palmer. With each of these stories unfolding, every character is revealed to be somewhat off-kilter, with just a subtle hint of the supernatural creating an underlying sense of conflict in the town.

Meanwhile, a friend of Palmer’s, Ronette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine), the last person known to see her alive, is found in a fugue state before lapsing into a coma. The death of another girl the previous year is revealed. Pieces of paper with letters on them are found shoved under Palmer’s fingernails. These clues ultimately pan out later, but it’s a long journey.



One of the most interesting things about the episode is that David Lynch decided to adapt some of the shooting errors into the plot of the show. In one shot, a fluorescent light malfunctioned, but Lynch decided to edit it into the episode to create a disorienting feeling. A set designer’s face (Frank Silva) was caught in a mirror during one shot, seen above, so Lynch decided to hire the set designer to play the role of a demonic presence throughout the series… who usually appears in mirrors. It made everything in the show seem a little more unusual and, ultimately, more interesting.

I still haven’t checked out the reboot, but it’s on my to-watch list.

PREVIOUS – 68: Law and Order: Special Victims Unit

NEXT – 66: The Fugitive

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Enjoy the intro:

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11 thoughts on “67) Pilot – AKA Northwest Passage (Twin Peaks)”

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