Twin Peaks Episode 2: David Lynch’s Dance of the Dream Man

S1E3 “Zen, or The Skill to Catch a Killer”

Cooper sits in the Red Room for the first time, accompanied on his left by The Little Man and Laura Palmer, sitting on a couch

There are many brilliant episodes of Twin Peaks, and Episode 2 is definitely in the top five in terms of quality. Although it can be argued that a few may be stronger, this one will always mean the most to me because it was the first one I ever saw. My dad watched the first series when it originally aired, telling me about how he and his friends would watch it together week to week with an Indian takeaway and then go to bed and have weird dreams. Ironically, he still had this particular episode recorded from the TV on an old VHS tape, and it deals with the theme of dreams more so than any other. I distinctly remember him showing it to me at a young age, and it made an indelible impression that hasn’t faded since.

The iconic, earth-shattering dream sequence at the climax of the episode was unlike anything I’d seen on TV before or since, and I remember my dad laughing at how stunned I was by it when it finished. I can only imagine how much more of an impact it must have had on audiences some 10 years or so before I got to see it. However, although the infamous dream sequence is certainly the highlight, the whole episode is packed with memorable moments and other scenes that accentuate its dreamlike feel. The Log Lady sets the tone from the start in her intro, where she explicitly states, “Some ideas arrive in the form of a dream,” something she feels the need to repeat and emphasise.

This is a vital part of the first series. The Pilot (a film in itself) and the first episode have already introduced the characters, along with the titular town, and established the tone. The show is still building up at this point, but this is the first opportunity the audience gets to really settle in and immerse themselves in the mythology, the essence of Twin Peaks. It’s no coincidence that David Lynch himself is directing—he wasn’t on duty for the previous or the following episode, so there must have been something special that appealed to him about this one. He’s always been an exponent of the unconscious mind, whether it’s through dream logic that helps him to create or transcendental meditation, for which he is a global ambassador.

Blackie's entrance at one-eyed jacks

This feeling is established from the very long, drawn-out opening shot of the Horne family eating dinner in silence. Simply allowing the scene to linger with no dialogue (just the ambient sounds of cutlery against plates) for so long says so much without any unnecessary words uttered. It tells you all you need to know about the family’s dynamics and their tense relationships, juxtaposed by the irritating bravado between Benjamin and his annoying brother Jerry when he bursts in—although their childish behaviour does offset the darker themes of the episode nicely, albeit in a quirky way. The dark undertone is present though, especially as they make their way by boat to their brothel/casino, One-Eyed Jack’s, to the backdrop of Laura’s theme, one of my favourite pieces of the score.

The way the girls who work at Jack’s parade out to display themselves and the cavalier way the Horne brothers toss a coin to see who gets the new girl is unsettling, especially after the statement that she’s “freshly scented form the perfume counter,” having been poached from their very own department store. It’s sinister, predatory behaviour that you don’t expect to find in this pleasant town. This is just one of a few ways the episode begins to reveal the seedy underbelly of Twin Peaks. Another is Bobby and Mike’s nightmarish meeting with Leo in the woods. The former venture out at night, therefore it’s pitch-black aside from their torchlight.

It’s hard to convey to other city folk like myself just how dark it gets in these small American towns at night. When my partner and I went to visit the filming locations for the show, we often got lost trying to drive back to where we were staying, as the roads were barely lit; so try to imagine the intense fear and isolation you’d feel wandering around in pitch-black woods at night with nothing but a torch that would only attract attention. We find out that they’re out there for a drug deal that’s gone wrong, and tensions are high. Leo greets them with a shotgun and tells Mike to take his hand out of his pocket. It’s yet another exchange in quick succession that you don’t expect to see.

Bobby and Mike have a tense meeting with Leo in the woods, only their faces visible

During the meeting, we also get one of the biggest, unresolved mysteries in the show, as a masked man is seen prowling in the distance through the trees. When Bobby asks Leo if someone is with him, he gives a strange reply (“Never mind”) that doesn’t confirm it one way or the other. The only hint there is to the man’s identity is that he’s wearing similar attire and the same kind of balaclava that Leland wears when he attacks Dr. Jacoby in a later episode. We can then only assume this is also Leland, and that he’s been stalking residents of the town for a lot longer than we’re led to believe later on—an interesting notion indeed. This is a perfect tease to peak curiosity in the viewer.

Other triggers include Hawk telling Cooper about the One-Armed Man, Audrey’s note with a reference to One-Eyed Jack’s, and the scene where Cooper and Harry inspect the bloody rag. The other main theme of the show, that of the soap opera, is represented by James and Donna’s blossoming love affair. James is over at the Hayward house for a saccharine dinner followed by intense words and kisses after her parents have gone to bed. The closeup shots of their faces together as they’re talking are reminiscent of a similar moment in the Pilot just before they bury Laura’s necklace in the woods. This whole part of the story is echoed in the TV soap within the show, Invitation to Love, and by including this the writers are hanging a lantern on it in a meta way.

What the episode also boasts is the memorable rock-throwing scene. It’s a “deductive technique” that Cooper says came to him in a dream, directly referencing The Log Lady in her intro. Everything about the scene is exquisitely unique and surreal, from the unused seats set up in front of the blackboard to Hawk’s oven mitts with which he holds the bucket of rocks. By setting up a bottle at a distance, saying the names and relationships to Laura for each of the suspects aloud to each rock, and then casting them at the bottle, the technique utilises “mind-body coordination operating hand-in-hand with the deepest levels of intuition.” What’s more, it works, as we find out later that what happens with each throw perfectly represents how much each suspect has to do with Laura’s death.

Audrey dances in the diner

The way the scene is edited, with each character flashing up before each throw, is exciting and builds up to a climax when he smashes the bottle. It’s such an effective way to link dream logic with reality and Laura’s case; it adds yet another layer to the theme of dreams in the episode. Yet another memorable moment is Audrey’s beautiful dance in the Double R Diner. It tells us a lot about her character, and before doing it, Audrey exclaims, “Don’t you just love this music? Isn’t it too dreamy?” before getting up and gently swaying in a trance-like way to the song suitably titled “Dance of the Dream Man.” Notice a pattern at all? The episode isn’t subtle with its symphony of references to dreams in a mélange of different ways.

Leland continues the theme of dancing as he spins around his living room holding Laura’s picture. He seems beside himself with grief, and when Sarah tries to stop him, they fall and break the picture, leaving a mess of glass and blood. Sarah shouts, “What is going on in this house?!” and then repeats and emphasises it, much like The Log Lady’s intro once again. This is clearly a reference to the supernatural elements of the story and is a perfect build-up to Cooper’s dream sequence. No matter how many times I see it, it always catches me off guard, as if there’s no right time for it to emerge. It’s so wonderfully surreal and always excites me as the scene starts.

Everything about it is innovative, from the editing of the light flashes and sound effects to the dialogue. Sarah’s descent down the stairs, shouting Laura’s name in slow motion is haunting, as well as the infamous “Fire Walk With Me” poem. For the pièce de résistance, we enter the Red Room for the first time and thankfully not the last. The set design and art direction for the space also known as The Black Lodge have to be the greatest achievement in the field. From the iconic chevron floor and red drapes to the Art Deco chairs and Venus de’Medici statue, everything about it is compelling. As if this wasn’t enough, the actions and dialogue match the set with an achingly simple but effective use of actors being filmed moving and talking backwards and then playing the footage in reverse.

The Dream Man does his dance in the Red Room

What it creates is a strange, uncanny type of movement and distorted speech that requires subtitles. The Little Man From Another Place and Laura, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, provide clues to Cooper that end up being pearls of wisdom, and the former dances in an odd way, tripling the dancing in this episode (a large clue in itself). Seeing Cooper interact with the girl whose murder he’s trying to solve is a unique and metaphysical motif. The sequence was originally filmed for the European version of the Pilot, as they thought that audience needed it to have an ending for a self-contained film. The fact that Lynch and the writers masterfully weave it back in later shows they knew exactly what they were doing.

The episodes Lynch directs are the most dangerous and otherworldly, yet also playful. The dream sequence was apparently an improvised scene, like visual poetry, but it’s crucial. Not only does it drive the plot narratively, as it contains a code that will help Cooper solve Laura’s case, but the way it’s filmed makes it a revolutionary game-changer as well. The Lodge space itself will be the metaphysical place that anchors the town to supernatural forces. As the entrance to it is hidden deep in the woods that surround Twin Peaks, Cooper dreams of it soon after he arrives there, as he’s so in touch with the mystical; much of the original two series are about his journey from his own dream of it to its physical manifestation, and what trials await him there.

In Fire Walk With Me and throughout The Return, everything Cooper does is tied to the Lodge. In the former, Laura also has her own dream of entering it through The Dutchman’s, also known as “the space above the convenience store.” We see the Little Man and BOB cross over easily from one to the other, showing how there are multiple entrances to this dark dimension; this is cemented further when we see Gordon Cole find another such portal in North Dakota in The Return. Lynch uses these mysterious spaces to whip fans up into a frenzy, teasing us with just short trips into them that leave us with as many questions as before we entered. What we clamour for is a deep exploration of this other world that’s parallel to ours, but even when we get one, it’s never what we expect it to be.

This is part of the magic of Lynch’s work and what keeps us coming back for more. Twin Peaks Episode 2 will always remain special, as it’s everyone’s first foray into the heart of this world that is wonderful and strange. It has it all and was a turning point for everyone when they saw it. Either the episode was too much for some to handle—if intimidated by its artistic approach to TV and its sophisticated surrealism—or it cemented one’s love for the show forever. For me, it was definitely the latter, and at a young age too.

Written by Simon McDermott

Simon is a Script Supervisor/Script Editor. He enjoys developing and overseeing scripts to make sure that the best can be gotten from them. He also works as a Supporting Artist in Film and TV. He finds any way to get on to a set because it’s his favourite place to be.

He is also a qualified Hairdresser and a Writer. He has been writing in one form or another since having multiple poems published as a teenager but mainly writes reviews for gigs and concerts. His hobbies include Martial Arts Classes and Fencing.

Simon lives in a warehouse in Hackney Wick, London with his Swedish girlfriend and the cutest French Bulldog in the world.

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