Without End, Amen
Laura, Vertigo, Double
Indemnity: In Twin Peaks, the clue's the thing...
By Jim Emerson
(NOTE: This article was written in preparation for the two-hour
premiere of the first episode of the second season -- the eighth one in all, not including
the pilot -- of the ABC-TV series Twin Peaks in September, 1990. So much was still
Do we really care who killed Laura Palmer?
Well... yeah, we do. But Peakies -- as devotees of
David Lynch and Mark Frost's serial-thriller series Twin Peaks have taken to
calling themselves, with characteristically Lynchian irony -- know one thing for sure: The
question of who killed Laura is far less important (and certainly less interesting) than
the myriad questions that have arisen surrounding her untimely demise.
There are now enough clues littering the woodsy landscape of Twin
Peaks to build a case for virtually anyone (or everyone) in the show being arrested for
Laura's murder. And each new piece of evidence seems to raise more questions than it has
Like, what is the significance of Hank Jennings' double-trey domino?
Just another of the show's many doubles? And is Josie really in cahoots with Benjamin
Horne, or is she acting as a double-agent in a town known for duplicity? (Remember: the
pilot began with the double-image of Josie, seated at her mirror, impassivley applying
make-up as if she were putting on a mask...)
Why does Leland Palmer keep dancing to express his grief over
Laura's death? Will his latest step start a new dance craze? And what sort of dancing did
he and Laura do at home while spending quality father-daughter time?
Take off the eye patch and add make-up and doesn't Nadine look an
awful lot like Blackie, the proprietor of One-Eyed Jacks? Doesn't Waldo's voice sound like
Lucy? And Waldo's "Don't go there" is what comatose Ronnette Pulaski said, too.
And how does Audrey do that erotic oral trick with the cherry stem without getting
There are so many other compelling mysteries stashed in and around
the town of Twin Peaks -- any or all of which may or may not have anything to do with
Laura's death. But like the roots of Douglas firs that have become intertwined in the
forest, you can't unearth one of them without exposing a tangle of others.
In the season finale tonight at 10 o'clock on ABC, we're expecting
to uncover more missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of Laura Palmer's murder. But the
definitive answer? No way. What makes Twin Peaks so much richer than any
conventional detective show is that it is dedicated to the proposition that there's no
such thing as one single solitary solution to any puzzle, no explananation that (by
definition) can fully account for any true mystery. After all, it's the possibilities
-- not the resolutions -- that make mysteries so alluring.
The mysteries of Twin Peaks aren't there just to be solved
or explained away. Their primary function is to pique (or, uh, Peak) your curiosity.
As series co-creator David Lynch told US magazine:
"It's human nature to have a tremendous letdown once you receive the answer to a
question, especially one that you've been searching for and waiting for. It's a momentary
thrill, but it's followed by a kind of depression. And so I don't know what will happen.
But the murder of Laura Palmer is... It's a complicated story."
Twin Peaks is about the very idea of mysteries, and how we
can never be certain that we know everything there is to know about anything -- or anyone.
You may think you know someone, but everybody has their secrets.
This theme is worked into the very texture of the series, from the
story and character developments to the unusual (for television) look of the show.
Twin Peaks is photographed in a soft light resembling the
golden glow of a log fire or a dim, 40-watt bulb. Artificial electric lights --
flashlights, traffic lights, neon signs, the occasional bluish flickering fluorescent tube
-- are all the residents of this remote outpost of civilization have to keep the ancient
darkness of the surrounding woods at bay. Drapes are opened in the daytime to let the
yellowy-white light pour in... and closed at night to keep the pitch-black darkness out.
One of the central motifs in Twin Peaks is that of partial
vision -- people who perceive a little portion of what's going on, but are incapable of
apprehending the big picture. And so, there are flashlight beams illuminating little spots
in the dark forest, peep-holes in hidden rooms, evesdropping intercoms and radios,
fragments of clues (a single letter of the alphabet under Laura's fingernail; another one
in her stomach), a woman who wears an eyepatch, a place called One-Eyed Jack's, a
psychiatrist who wears glasses with one red lens and one blue one (which may be designed
for dyslexia or to help him see in 3-D)...
In a place like this, only one thing is certain: Whenever you think
you can see where you're going, you'd best assume that there's another plot/character
twist just around the bend.
So far, the most important set of clues we've recieved regarding
Laura's murder has been Agent Cooper's dream with the dancing dwarf. And the most credible
eyewitness testimony has come from a minah bird and a log.
So let's get unreal for a moment. Forget about alibis and
motivations and conclusive proof. This show (thank goodness) isn't limited by those
mundane rules. Otherwise, we could just assume that evil Leo Johnson and depraved Jacques
Renault did it and leave it at that. But that wouldn't be very interesting, would
Given the dreamlike nature of Twin Peaks,
figurative/associative clues are bound to count at least as much as any hard evidence
Sheriff Truman could dig up. So if you want to keep from flipping off the deep end like
Leland, you should follow Agent Cooper's advice -- sit down, have a cup of hot black
coffee and a donut, give yourself a little present -- and consider some uncanny
circumstantial evidence that has been accumulating over the last seven weeks:
* The Laura Connection: In Otto
Preminger's 1944 classic Laura, the title character (Gene Tierney) is thought to
be dead at the beginning of the movie, but it turns out that the victim (whose face was
blown off with a shotgun) was actually mistaken for Laura. In the movie, her older,
"platonic" friend and mentor Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) is implicated in the
In Twin Peaks we also have an apparent victim named Laura;
a veterinarian with the last name Lydecker, and who treated a myna bird (who mimmicks
Laura's voice) named Waldo!
In fact, nobody ever does conclusively identify the body that washes
up on the beach, wrapped in plastic, as Laura's. Grief-stricken Leland just says
"That's my baby." (Does Laura perhaps have a twin sister somewhere?) Eerily,
there are echoes of incest here -- paralleled by hints of some sort of unsavory
relationship between Laura and Leland's employer and semi-lookalike, Benjamin Horne.
Dr. Hayward, who has known Laura all his life and whose daughter
Donna was Laura's best friend, says he was too distraught to conduct the autopsy himself,
so he brought in someone from outside to do it. And Albert, the testy FBI forensics
expert, was rushed through his tests on the body and unable to complete many of them. We
may wonder, then: Is "Laura" really dead, after all? Or could that body actually
belong to someone else's daughter/lover/best friend...?
* The Vertigo Connection: In Agent
Cooper's dream, the Man From Another Place (or dwarf, for short) introduces a Laura
lookalike as his "cousin." Cooper insists that she is Laura. At the end
of the dream, Cooper and Laura kiss passionately. Shortly thereafter (in waking life),
Laura Palmer's lookalike cousin shows up and she's named Madeleine Ferguson. In Alfred
Hitchcock's 1958 Vertigo, Kim Novak played a character named Madeleine whose
death causes detective Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) -- who, like the investigator in Laura,
falls in love with the "victim" -- to have a nervous breakdown, marked by a
bizarre dream sequence. Then Novak reappears as Judy, who Ferguson remakes in the image of
Madeleine (who, like Preminger's Laura, turns out not to be dead after all!).
* The Double Indemnity Connection:
the most recent episode, an ambitious insurance salesman identified only as Mr. Neff
reveals that Benjamin and Josie Packard are apparently taking out a big life insurance
policy on Catherine Martell. The scheme would appear to be similar to the one in Billy
Wilder's 1944 Double Indemnity, where insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred
MacMurray) conspires with Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) to kill her husband and
collect on a phony life insurance policy. The murder scheme involves one of the killers
impersonating the victim. (And, of course, there's a "double" reference right
there in the title of the picture).
* The Sunset Boulevard Connection:
Cooper's FBI boss, who appears only as a voice on the phone, is Gordon Cole -- the name of
the man from Paramount who keeps calling movie star Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder's 1950 Sunset
Boulevard. She thinks he's interested in buying her script; really, he just wants to
rent her old car for a period picture the studio is shooting.
All these clue-patterns involve mistaken identities, perhaps a hint
that cousin Madeleine (or someone else who looks like Laura) may be the real victim and
Laura (who may or may not have been in on it) is now impersonating her cousin (who is, in
turn, impersonating Laura). Was Laura in such deep personal trouble that a new identity
was her only way out? Was this part of her clandestine "therapy" with Dr.
Jacoby, with the cockeyed glasses? Is "Jack With One Eye" -- the note Audrey
surreptitiously slips under Cooper's door -- actually a reference, then, to JAC-oby? Is
this driving you coconuts, like the Doc himself?
Bobby Briggs, Laura's double-dealing boyfriend, says at her funeral
that everybody in town murdered Laura, because they didn't recognize how troubled she was.
And Bobby may be closer to the truth than Sheriff Truman or Agent Cooper.
Laura would seem to have been "killed" more than once, in
more than one place: the railroad car, Jacques Renault's cabin, and One-Eyed Jack's. (The
latter two share the red-curtained decor of Cooper's dream)...
OK, so what if the Twin Peaks fish hatchery spawns more red
herrings than king salmon? The important thing is to appreciate the clues available to us,
no matter how things eventually turn out. Quoth the Log Lady: "My log does not
(The writer would like to thank his fellow Peakies from around
the country for their obsessiveness and diligence.)
"I'm in the middle of a mystery..."
The impulse that gave birth to Twin Peaks can be
found, perfectly expressed, in this scene from David Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986),
between Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) and Sandy (Laura Dern). Blue Velvet takes place
in the fictional East Coast town of "Lumberton" -- clearly based on
Lynch's upbringing in Montana and Eastern Washington, and was shot in and around Dino
DeLaurentiis's facilities in Wilmington, North Carolina. It serves as a sort of
introduction to the world, and methodology, of Twin Peaks -- just as the
post-Peaks prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and Lost Highway continue Lynch's
exploration of doppelgangers and the very idea of "mystery"...
I can't believe what you're finding out.
Are you going to continue with this?
Until when? I mean, what're you gonna do
with this stuff?
Well, I -- I don't know.
You're not going back to her apartment...
I'm seeing something that was always
hidden. I'm involved in a mystery. I'm in the middle of a mystery. And it's
You like mysteries that much?
Yeah. You're a mystery. I like you. Very