Twin Peaks Episode 3 Can’t Bury Laura Palmer Deep Enough

S1E4 “Rest in Pain”

Maddy and Donna hold Sarah as Leland rides on Lauras coffin

Tina Rathborne had never directed an episode of television. Harley Peyton had yet to tag his name on a produced TV script. What they both had in common was a degree from Harvard, along with a sense of trust and goodwill with David Lynch and Mark Frost. Rathborne had previously directed (a shirtless!) Lynch in the 1988 film Zelly and Me, while Peyton was a fledgling screenwriter in Frost’s fantasy baseball league. The choice to hire Rathborne to direct Twin Peaks Episode 3 and for Peyton to write it feels reckless, unpredictable…and calculated. A few of my favorite qualities of this charmed first season.

Audrey Horne in red top smiling

The episode commences with Audrey Horne cornering Agent Cooper at breakfast in the dining room of the Great Northern, one of the first installments of their ambiguous and muddled attraction. Audrey is taken with the special agent, and because of Coop’s spider senses, he’s already well aware. Coop also knows Audrey is clued into the high school scene and could prove valuable to his investigation of Laura Palmer’s murder…until Sheriff Truman and Lucy Moran show up. And he’s just got to tell them about the dream he had last night.

Cooper has Harry and Lucy on edge, retelling his vision of sitting in a red room with a dwarf dancing and Laura whispering her killer’s identity in his ear. It’s another priceless moment in the infallible bromance of Cooper and Truman. Truman simply likes Cooper too much to want to wring his neck when he can’t remember who killed her. For all of Cooper and Truman’s differences, the pair only grows closer and closer until the bitter end.

(For those keeping score, Cooper recalls that MIKE shot BOB in the dream—an event that only happens in the international version of the Pilot and not in the Episode 2 dream sequence. Why this oversight? David Lynch was directing Wild at Heart during the first-season production of Twin Peaks and had not yet filmed nor edited his preceding Episode 2.)

Cooper’s breakfast of champions is cut short, ‘cause there’s trouble brewing at the morgue. Laura’s body is set to be interred today, and the callous and caustic Albert Rosenfield isn’t done examining Laura’s body for clues as to who killed her. (If one follows Harley Peyton on Twitter, I suggest reading his posts in the voice of Miguel Ferrer. Try it.) It’s another classic chapter of Truman v. Rosenfield, and the sheriff ends up punching out Albert. To think that the pair can hug it out by the middle of the second season gives all of humankind hope as 2021 dawns.

In one scene, Sheryl Lee is lying dead on a gurney as Laura, and in the next, she lives and breathes again as Laura’s cousin, Madeleine “Maddy” Ferguson, when she walks into the Palmer living room. Leland is visibly stunned to see his daughter reincarnated with dark hair, and their relationship will come full circle several episodes down the road in that same room. Lynch and Frost found a way to bring Sheryl Lee back to the TP fold, and it makes one wonder if Maddy started out as an inside joke or if she was meant to be the sacrificial lamb all along. It’s a wonderful mystery of the original TV run. Maddy is very much a symbol of Cooper’s failure, the eventual human cost of Cooper unable to stop the killer before striking again.

Maddy Ferguson arrives in Twin Peaks

In a moment of privacy, Cooper confides to Diane how much Twin Peaks is growing on him and how he might use his pension to buy some local real estate. Coop, it’ll cost you nothing except your very soul. This thread pays off later in Episode 18 after Cooper solves the murder of Laura Palmer but still can’t find a good reason to leave the town. His coordinates were set on Dead Dog Farm for quite a while.

The pilot episode of Twin Peaks harbored on the shock and grief surrounding the murder of the town’s most popular girl, and this episode is intent on tearing off all the emotional scabs. There’s been dreams of red rooms, a fish in the percolator, and a delightfully cuckoo spectacle of a federal agent throwing rocks at a bottle in the woods. True grief and trauma can get lost in translation until the community must stand over Laura’s corpse as it is lowered into the ground.

The town of Twin Peaks gathers in a circle, listening to scripture, wondering what could have been done to prevent this tragedy. Only the Miss Twin Peaks pageant can gather a crowd this big onscreen, more than 20 episodes later. This cauldron of personality bubbles to the brim. Secret lovers give each other cutting glances. A multitude of suspects mingles with the do-gooders. None of this is lost on Dale Cooper.

Bobby Briggs has just been a drug-dealing punk until this moment, and then he rightly blames everyone for turning their cheek during Laura’s gradual descent into hell. Everyone knew she was in trouble, and they did nothing. It’s a dynamic moment that teases another side of Bobby. His teenaged tantrum is an indictment of the elders who failed his girlfriend. One can point back to this moment and see that maturity and some embryo of responsibility dwelled within him from early on. He’s the son of Major Garland Briggs, after all.

James Hurley hasn’t always been cool, especially when it comes to his secret girlfriend’s burial.  (Plus, he’s already dating Laura’s best friend, and he’ll fall for Maddy within a week’s time. Smooth.) Bobby told the truth, and James couldn’t handle it. A royal rumble breaks out, and it sends Leland Palmer over the edge—literally—into his daughter’s grave. The hydraulics on the casket go haywire, and Leland cries it out, lying on top of his daughter. It’s all a fitting punctuation on the life and legacy of Laura. The foundation of the Twin Peaks Pilot is grief, and from here on, Leland seems like the only one willing to hold onto it in a visceral, physical sense. Sarah just huffs and puffs and grits her teeth, reprimanding her husband: “Don’t ruin this, too.” What else had he ruined?

Night falls. Laura’s body is in the ground. And Shelly Johnson stands behind the counter of the Double R, mocking Leland’s grave-diving behavior. Her joke brings the laughs, teasing a sinister side of Shelly we never really see again. Something more provocative is about to go down in the corner booth.

shelly mocks leland jumping on top of lauras coffin

It’s time for the Bookhouse Boys to reveal themselves and tentatively welcome Cooper into the fold. A secret society has formed over generations, fighting an evil force that emanates from the woods. I highly doubt Lynch and Frost had mapped out a 30-episode arc that would lead to an actual freaking portal into the Red Room of Cooper’s dream, but it’s always a genuine thrill to revisit this episode and hear Sheriff Truman authoritatively claim, “There’s a sort of evil out there. Something very, very strange in these old woods. Call it what you want, a darkness, a presence. And we’ve always been here to fight it.” Of course, the Sheriff isn’t willing to recognize how deep this river is until he’s neck-deep in it. If he only knew. Cooper’s path to the Black Lodge officially begins at this moment.

The specific evil of the moment that Truman is speaking of is tagged onto a drug ring that might be implicated in Laura’s death. Bernard Renault is a mule, the brother of Jacques, who is about to become a prime suspect of the murder. The Bookhouse Boys usher Cooper to the Bookhouse in a long, captivating Steadicam shot directed by Rathborne that leads through a front door, deep into a realm that feels far removed from the outside world. Cooper, who seems to play it all by the book, is about this life. The unofficial interrogation begins, and Bernard admits to nothing. The citizens of Twin Peaks have no problem taking justice into their own hands, and it eventually results in the deaths of both Bernard and Jacques. Their big brother Jean will have a receipt waiting for Agent Cooper.

Cooper’s jam-packed day leads back to Laura’s grave, where Dr. Jacoby has emerged to mourn the passing of his patient. Sadness and failure fill his face upon review. Laura was someone he couldn’t save. Jacoby is painted as a possible suspect early on, but he’s really just another custodian of Laura who failed to help her.

 doctor jacoby wears a showy trench coat and holds flowers before a grave.

Episode 3 is capped off with a 90-second scene of pure brilliance, inviting intense discussion and scrutiny. Cooper’s had a hell of a day, and now he’s camped out in the lounge of the Great Northern, sipping a tall cool one with Deputy Hawk. The special agent has his tie loosened and antenna up, desperate, and perhaps lured toward an area where people are dancing, per his dream the night before. “Do you believe in the soul?” He asks Hawk. “Several,” the deputy replies. Hawk informs Cooper of a Blackfoot Legend. A dream soul that wanders.

As Hawk breaks open another sphere of Twin Peaks for Coop to consider, Leland Palmer is also unwinding after his no-good, very bad day, soaking in the energy of the dance floor with his eyes closed, looking to the ceiling. This little scene sits in the middle of hours and hours of mystery in Twin Peaks, begging to be put under a microscope. Every viewer can come back to this episode and decide for themselves whether Leland is the dream soul Hawk is talking about. Or maybe it’s Coop. The only two people in the series look into a mirror and have Killer BOB staring back at them. Leland can’t stop dancing, can’t stop crying out for help, can’t stop himself from wanting to have a younger girl in his embrace. And none of these clues click with Cooper until it’s too late.

After a slow dance breaks into a jive, Leland loses it all over again, begging every last girl to dance with him. The party’s over, and Coop and Hawk have to carry Leland out of the bar, his arms slung over their shoulders. It’s another night in Twin Peaks, and with the luxury of crystal-clear hindsight, I still wonder if Leland is truly distraught, or if the whole day was one big publicity stunt by Killer BOB—mounting Laura one last time in front of everyone who loved her, then later rubbing Cooper’s face in his own failure to decode the dream he had just one night before. (Think of Leland’s behavior whenever he’s alone later in Episode 15.) Cooper was taunted plenty of times after this, but Episode 3 leaves a tiny window of hope that Leland was just a grieving father, drowning in his feelings. Whether he was at the mercy of his demons or whether he was the vehicle of an outsider is for the viewer to consider.

Leland crying and dancing

Episode 3 is a crucial domino in the Twin Peaks canon, ceremoniously bidding farewell to Laura Palmer and allowing most everyone to move on with their life, except for those who are never going to let go of her.

Written by Brad Dukes

Brad is the author of An Oral History of Twin Peaks and China Beach: A Book about a Tv Show about a War. He is a contributing writer for 25YL

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  1. In Laura’s diary ,she writes that she is pleased when she overhears Shelley complaining to Norma about Leo at the Diner. Then later in the show Shelley drops Laura’s name when Andy asks her about Leo . It made sense that they would not particularly like each other.

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