Twin Peaks, David Lynch and Mark Frost’s seminal series, comes out on Blu-ray today for the first time in its entirety as Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery, which will include all 30 episodes of the series as well as the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me collected together for the first time. Twin Peaks was a lot of things – soap opera, screwball comedy, murder mystery – but it also had deeply surreal and disturbing elements that would pop up throughout the show’s run…the kind of things that got under your skin, and stayed there, almost entirely due to the influence of show co-creator David Lynch. Here are but ten of the show’s most memorably disturbing moments, listed in chronological order, from the pilot to the final episode.
By the way, if for some reason over the course of the last twenty-five years you haven’t seen Twin Peaks, then please…go do that and THEN come back and enjoy this list. It’s filled with massive spoilers that would ruin the series for you, and I’d hate to do that for anyone. I know there are still youngsters out there still discovering the show on Netflix for the first time. If that’s you…go do that, then come back. We’ll still be here.
10. Sarah Palmer’s Vision: Episode 1
The pilot episode of Twin Peaks, for all of its pervasive moody score and creepy shots of wind blowing through trees, mostly plays out much as a real-world, grounded mystery would. At the end of that first episode however, we are clued into the fact that there is indeed a supernatural element to the series, when murdered homecoming queen Laura Palmer’s mother Sarah, laying on her couch, chain smoking and dazed less than 24 hours after finding out her child was murdered, has a psychic vision of a flashlight beam moving through the woods at night, and a gloved hand lifting a rock and pulling out Laura Palmer’s half-heart necklace from beneath it. Sarah then jolts up and lets out a shrill scream, and that’s where the pilot ends, leaving the audience with the impression that there is much more going on with this murder investigation than a standard episode of Murder, She Wrote.
The scene has secondary importance to the entire series, as it is the introduction of Killer BOB to the series (name always in all caps in official stuff), the long, gray-haired spirit who killed Laura Palmer, who looks like every unsettling wino vagrant who ever stared at you and gave you the creeps as kid…although you have to look hard to see him. When Sarah Palmer screams and sits up on the couch, behind her is a mirror, and crew member Frank Silva’s reflection was accidentally caught in that mirror. Instead of re-shooting the scene, director David Lynch decided to keep it, a set decorator became an actor, and thus Killer BOB was born. In the European ending to the pilot, included in this set, he is revealed more fully at the end.
9. Agent Cooper’s Dream: Episode 3
For most people, this is Twin Peaks‘ defining moment, coming at the end of the show’s third episode. Agent Dale Cooper goes to sleep after a long day of investigating, and has one of the most surreal dream sequences in television history. Even if you’ve never seen Twin Peaks, it’s likely you’ve seen this five-minute sequence somewhere, or referenced on shows like The Simpsons.
Dale Cooper finds himself in a red-curtained room with an oddly enunciating dwarf (an effect created by the dialogue being spoken backwards phonetically, and then reversed) and the not-as-dead Laura Palmer, each giving him cryptic clues to help unlock the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer. This dream sequence drives the narrative for the next fourteen episodes, and has become a symbolic part of the series.
8. Ronette Pulaski’s Flashback: Episode 9
The entirety of Twin Peaks (the series) takes place after the discovery of the body of Homecoming Queen Laura Palmer, so we never catch a glimpse of the actual murder itself..until the second season premiere, which was directed by David Lynch. At the tag at the end of the episode, we see Ronette Pulaski, the unfortunate survivor who was witness to Laura’s murder and has been in a coma during the entire first season, suddenly wake up and flashback to the events of Laura’s murder. We see BOB running at the camera, Laura Palmer’s face contorted and screaming like a banshee, BOB bearing down on her (Stabbing her? Hard to tell) and finally BOB laughing maniacally after he’s dealt the killing blow. It comes out of nowhere at that point in the episode.
The prequel movie Fire Walk With Me goes into greater detail for Laura’s murder in its own disturbing (and longer) way, but it can’t top this brief flashback to Laura’s killing from the series when it comes to disturbing.
7. The Couch Scene: Episode 10
You are going to find a lot of these most disturbing scenes from Twin Peaks have one thing in common – the demonic entity named BOB appears in nearly all of them.
In this particular scene, Laura’s lookalike cousin Maddy is sitting alone in the living room of her friend Donna Hayward’s house, when she suddenly has a vision of BOB slowly walking through the house, climbing over the couch, and then coming straight for her (or more to the point, straight at the camera, as if he were going to come through your television set ready to kill you) leaving poor Maddy screaming, and leaving the audience squirming in their seats.
6. Agent Cooper’s Second Dream, “The Owls Are Not What They Seem”: Episode 10
While much has been made out of Dale Cooper’s dream sequence from episode three, he has yet another dream at the end of the second episode of the second season that is almost as creepy as the first one was. After having been told cryptically that “the owls are not what they seem” by both an otherworldly Giant and Major Garland Briggs (who got that message from space!) Coop begins to put the pieces together in a dream about the connection between the owls in the forests surrounding Twin Peaks, the “darkness in the woods” that Sheriff Truman once mentioned to him, and the entity BOB.
5.”Mike” the One-Armed Man Emerges: Episode 13
A one-armed man named “Mike” sent cryptic messages to Dale Cooper via dreams, talking about how he once killed alongside BOB until he saw the “face of God” and was changed, dedicating his life to hunting BOB down. But when Cooper and the police catch up to the one-armed man in real life, he’s just a nobody, a travelling shoe salesman named Phillip Gerard (presumably a reference to The Fugitive), who seems to know nothing. In episode thirteen of the series, the entity Mike finally emerges in Phillip Gerard, after he is denied his use of the drug haloperidol, which he has been using to suppress him.
What follows is a very unsettling scene where Gerard is slowly possessed by Mike, and begins to point Coop and the gang to the where BOB is now…hiding in plain sight. Mike’s little poem about BOB is one of the creepiest things ever uttered in the series. “He is BOB/eager for fun/he wears a smile/everybody run.” Ok, when written out it seems silly, but really, I swear, it’s creepy as hell when the One-Armed Man says it.
4.The Real Killer Revealed – “It Is Happening Again”: Episode 14
This isn’t just one of the most disturbing scenes in all of Twin Peaks…it’s one of the most disturbing scenes in television history, period, and in the nearly twenty-five years since it aired it hasn’t lost its ability to deeply disturb. How David Lynch and Mark Frost got away with this level of violence on network television in 1990 is still baffling, but it speaks to how much “Who killed Laura Palmer” was a question everyone in America was obsessing over that ABC allowed it to air the way it was with no edits.
In this scene, we see Leland Palmer drug his wife Sarah (who has a vision of a pale horse in her living room before passing out, which alone is creepy enough) and we then see Leland Palmer adjust his tie gleefully while looking in the mirror…only to see BOB staring back. And when we do, the implications of everything hit us – the demonic entity who was molesting and ultimately killed teenage Laura Palmer…was her own father. When Laura’s cousin Madeline comes home and BOB/Leland pummels her and alternately kisses her before murdering her, it’s a whole new level of skin-crawling. The way David Lynch filmed this, with the audio of the screams and groans pitched to sound like wailing animals just adds to the pervasive horror of the scene. For me personally, this sequence is up there with anything in Kubrick’s The Shining or the original Exorcist.
3. Leland Palmer’s Death Scene: Episode 16
In episode sixteen of the series, Dale Cooper finally puts all the pieces of the puzzle together and discovers that Leland Palmer is really BOB, the murderer of Teresa Banks, Laura Palmer and Maddy Ferguson. When he locks Leland away, he drops all pretense of being “Leland Palmer” anymore and we get to see actor Ray Wise cut loose as BOB, without the help of Frank Silva doing most of the heavy lifting.
Now realizing that Leland Palmer is a useless vehicle, BOB abandons his body…but not before doing something truly horrific,a nd allowing Leland to remember all the horrible things he’d done while possessed. Leland promptly tries to kill himself due to the burden of such awful memories, and what follows goes from truly disturbing to devastatingly sad. This is where Twin Peaks peaked, and although some great stuff came later, the series had a hard time sustaining their usual level of genius after this episode.
2. “Coop, what happened to Josie?”: Episode 23
After Leland Palmer dies and the Laura Palmer case is solved, Twin Peaks as a series became instantly rudderless. They simply didn’t have enough story to cover a then-standard 22 episode season, and to be fair, the story that David Lynch and Mark Frost wanted to tell was over. So for the next six episodes or so, you get some of the worst Twin Peaks episodes ever, all of which lean on the silly far too much.
But at the end of episode 23 of the series, the series course corrects when the character of Josie Packard suddenly dies, and on her deathbed Dale Cooper has a vision of BOB and the Little Man, followed by an image of Josie Packard’s soul trapped in a wooden drawer pull (using some very primitive CGI, but hey, it was 1991). It was all super unsettling at the time, and a signal to fans that the darker aspects of Twin Peaks were rearing their ugly heads again. And thank goodness they did.
1. Enter the Black Lodge: Episode 30
Over the course of the series, we learn of several seemingly disparate supernatural elements throughout the series; the “Darkness in the woods” that Sheriff Harry Truman tells Cooper about, the old Native American legend of the Black Lodge, and of course the Red Room of Agent Cooper’s dream. In the final episode of the series, we learn these things are not separate, but one – as Dale Cooper enters the Black Lodge to rescue his girlfriend Annie (Heather Graham) and it turns out to be the Red Room from his dream in episode three.
But if you thought that dream sequence was trippy…it can’t prepare you for the sheer mind fuckery of what Lynch concocts in the final episode, as Coop sees visions of the dead, their evil doppelgangers (including a demonic and white eyed Laura and Leland Palmer) and, of course, BOB at his most terrifying. In the end, BOB takes Cooper’s body and evil wins, a tragic yet ballsy way to end a beloved series. Every Twin Peaks fan who was around back then will always remember where they were when they heard Agent Cooper say “How’s Annie? How’s Annie?? and laughing hysterically over and over again. Nearly twenty-five years later, and I’m still not over it.
Honorable Mention: All of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
While the series had moments of disturbing imagery bubble up throughout, it was still only an occasional thing. The show played out like the aftermath of a horror movie…Fire Walk With Me WAS that horror movie. There are too many disturbing scenes to even mention here, as I see it…the whole movie is a disturbing scene. But it deserves an entry all its own.