Written by Mark Frost, Directed by David Lynch
Airdate November 10th, 1990
This is, for my money, the best TWIN PEAKS ever got. Episode 14, “Lonely Souls,” is the pinnacle, the peak, not just of TWIN PEAKS but of all crime serials. Narratively, technically, and performance-wise it is a nothing short of a revelation, a tour-de-force of creativity, and one of the most memorable hours of television in the medium’s history. It is also the single most important episode of the series, ahead, even, of the finale. Everything that has happened and everything that will happen in TWIN PEAKS hinges on episode 14. As such, it was entrusted to the only two men it could have been: Mark Frost on the page and David Lynch behind the camera.
As per Gerard/MIKE’s revelation in the last episode, he, Coop, Truman, and Andy are fueling up on some java before hitting The Great Northern, where BOB’s presence has been sensed. Hawk’s there too, but he’s headed to Harold Smith’s house with a search warrant for Laura Palmer’s secret diary, which they know from Donna Harold is in possession of. Gordon Cole’s in the mix as well, and reminds Hawk about the torn pages found near the train car where Laura was murdered; they were from a diary, but not the one the police have, so maybe this new one is the match. Cole himself is off to Bend, Oregon, on a “hush-hush” assignment. Oh, if only the anthology series had been popular in 1990, TWIN PEAKS could have survived after Twin Peaks in small towns all over the Pacific Northwest.
Once they arrive at The Great Northern, Coop et al are joined by Doc Hayward and the hotel guests are lined up and paraded past MIKE to see if he can recognizes BOB’s spirit in any of them. Most of these guests are seamen bouncing rubber balls, and none of them set off MIKE’s BOB-dar. But then Ben Horne enters the room to find out what all this hubbub is, and MIKE collapses in a seizure. Tough to ignore a reaction like that.
Hawk arrives at Harold Smith’s to find the place a mess and all the orchids cut to ribbons. The secret diary too has been shredded. Harold himself is hanging dead from a noose tied around a ceiling beam.
Coffee time at the Palmer house. Maddy tells Sarah and Leland that she has to return home tomorrow. They’re distraught but of course they understand. Leland is a stronger man than we’ve seen him, emotionally-speaking. He seems to have really turned a corner in his grief, and while there might be some lingering wackiness, he’s not the puddle of despair we’ve seen him until now.
As Harold’s body is brought down, Coop and Truman find a note written in French pinned to it: “J’ai une ame solitaire,” which in English translates into “I am a lonely soul.” You’ll recall this is the same thing said by Mrs. Tremond’s grandson when Donna visits them; it was the Tremonds who directed Donna to Harold. Was the grandson predicting how their encounter would end? Among the debris Hawk locates what’s left of Laura’s secret diary.
Contrary to Shelly and Bobby’s plan to make it rich off Leo’s disability pay, the money coming in barely covers the money going out. They go through their options, and there aren’t a lot of them. But Bobby figures Leo, with his illicit drug trade, must have been stashing cash somewhere other than a bank. Just then Leo starts screaming wildly from inside his vegetative state. He translates this into actual words – “New shoes” – then spits. Leo always loved him a fresh pair of kicks. Bobby wants to see this as a clue, however, and wonders if Leo might have bought any new shoes lately. Shelly says no, but he did have her take in a pair of boots to get repaired. Bobby has her get the receipt, he’s got a feeling about this.
Audrey, recovered from her near-fatal heroin overdose, tells Ben she knows everything about One Eyed Jacks – meaning the connections between him and Blackie, Emory Battis, Ronette, and Laura. She also tells him she was “Prudence,” the new girl behind the white mask he tried to bang. These revelations leave Ben uncharacteristically speechless, and compliant. She wants to know how long he’s been the owner of One Eyed Jacks? Five years, he says. Did he know Laura had worked there? He did. Was he the one who sent her up there? No, Battis did that without his knowledge. Did he bang her? Ben attempts to let silence answer for him but Audrey won’t allow it and repeats her question. He confesses to being intimate with Laura and gazes at a picture of her on his desk. Now, I’ll admit I’m a naturally paranoid person, but I don’t think you need to be paranoid to connect a picture on Ben’s office desk of a teenage girl who isn’t his daughter to an inappropriate relationship. Has no one ever seen this picture before? We’re 14 episodes in, and he’s not exactly trying to hide it, it’s on his desk. Audrey then asks her father if he killed Laura. Ben says he loved Laura…and that’s all he says. The episode is definitely being painted his direction.
Shelly very tearfully resigns her position at the diner to take care of Leo. Norma’s cool about it, because of course she is, she’s unflappable. She tells Shelly that no matter how much time passes, her job will be here waiting for her if ever she wants it. Then this comforting mood is shattered when Ed and Nadine – still a high school senior in her mind – arrive for some chocolate shakes. Norma doesn’t understand why Ed’s going along with it, but ever the good mistress she plays along as well, even when Nadine checks to make sure Norma isn’t mad that she and Ed are going together now, what with Norma being his ex and all. It’s a weirdly awkward encounter, even for TWIN PEAKS. The climax comes when Nadine crushes her milkshake glass with her bare hands. Blood and ice cream cover the counter, but Nadine is enthused if anything. She gives Ed a painful kiss on the lips.
Bobby and Mike Nelson show up at Shelly’s with Leo’s repaired boots, but she’s at work. Leo’s just kicking it by his lonesome in his chair. The boots aren’t “new shoes,” but Bobby’s sure there’s something to them. With a hammer he knocks off the heels and finds a microcassette tape in one of them.
Coop is at the Sheriff’s station discussing the remains of Laura’s secret diary with Diane via a microcassette of his own. Most of it has been destroyed, but Coop’s found multiple references to a one-armed man and BOB, who seems to have been a presence in Laura’s life since around adolescence (remember this is the diary published for real between seasons 1 and 2, the one started on her 12th birthday), and there are intimations of frequent molestation and abuse. BOB is referred to on more than one occasion as a friend of her father’s. This is another scene geared towards the Ben Horne angle, and if you still have doubts about it, Coop concludes his analysis with the mention of an entry dated two weeks before Laura’s death in which she writes “Someday I’m going to tell the world about Ben Horne. I’m going to tell them who Ben Horne really is.” That’s the makings of a solid case right there, and just in time to hammer the final nail in Horne’s coffin of innocence, Audrey shows up to tell Coop about Ben and Laura’s intimate relationship. Coop ties all this new information together with MIKE’s collapse at The Great Northern. He proclaims it’s time to get a warrant. You can practically hear 1990 collectively gasping.
In his office, Ben and Tojamura are finishing up their business, as Ben has accepted Tojamura’s offer on Ghostwood Estates. But then the authorities interrupt. Ben tries to be Ben about it, all cavalier and dismissive, but they drop the reason they want him: for the murder of Laura Palmer. He angrily refutes the claim then tries to shoo them off, as though the matter is simply his word against theirs. When this doesn’t send them away, Ben then tries to flee and has to be apprehended. They cuff him and drag him out kicking and screaming.
At the Palmer house, a record on the phonograph has ended but still spins. The camera lingers at the foot of the stairs until Sarah’s hand enters the frame. This is an utterly terrifying moment. She is crawling down, obviously in some form of distress, and disoriented as well. She’s calling for Leland but there’s no answer.
Ben is taken to a holding cell. The Log Lady has been waiting for them because she, or rather her log, has a message for Coop and Truman. She say her log doesn’t know what will happen or when, but there are owls in The Road House. Coop says knowingly, “Something is happening isn’t it, Margaret?” She only says, “Yes.”
Pete’s making a late night cup of coffee when unexpectedly Tojamura appears in his kitchen. The Japanese man throws his arms around Pete and plants a sloppy wet one right on his kisser. Tojamura proclaims that since they met he’s been strangely attracted to Pete. Pete’s not having any of this, but then Tojamura’s voice changes to one more familiar. And feminine. Tojamura, turns out, is Catherine in heavy disguise.
Sarah is still crawling, across the living room now. The record still spins silently. She sees a vision of a white horse manifest then disappear. She passes out. Mere feet away, there’s Leland ignoring her plight and straightening his tie in the mirror with a satisfied smile on his face.
Julee Cruise and the band has them packed in at The Road House. Donna and James are there talking of Harold’s suicide. Coop, Truman, and Margaret arrive and take a table. James tells Donna Maddy is leaving town. Beers and peanuts all around at Coop’s table. Despite the log’s warning, all is chill. And then it most certainly is not. The room goes still and silent. The band dissipates and is replaced by the Giant standing in a white-hot spotlight at the microphone. He tells Cooper “it is happening again.” He says it twice.
At the Palmers, Leland is still smiling into the mirror. In the mirror, though, smiling back is BOB. Take a moment to let that really settle in. He turns from the mirror, reveals a pair of plastic gloves and gently, contentedly pulls them on. Sarah is still on the floor, still unconscious. Maddy begins to calling to them from upstairs, she says it smells like something’s burning. Engine oil, perhaps? She comes down – stepping into her own spotlight – and sees Sarah. The next thing she sees is Leland/BOB charging at her, hands raised, and her death begins. The scene is brutally playful, a predator toying with its prey, taunting its helplessness. It is terrifying and horrifying, frightening and appalling. Maddy’s screams are fucking real, the terror in them can’t be faked. In reality, this scene was shot three times over several hours on the same day: once with BOB, once with Leland, and once with Ben Horne; actors Sheryl Lee, Frank Silva, Ray Wise and Richard Beymer have each acknowledged at one time or another that this was an extremely dark and emotionally-difficult day on set, and not a fond memory. Maddy pleads for help as Leland/BOB pummels her. He dances with her limp body and calls her Laura over and over and over. This is the Leland peeking through his inhabiting spirit, but BOB regains control, says he knows she’s leaving, and smashes her face into the wall. She drops, dead. With an Exacto knife he cuts under the fingernail of her right hand.
Back in The Road House, the Giant disappears and the bar returns to normal. From the bar itself the elderly bellboy from The Great Northern (the one who delivered milk when Coop was shot) comes over and pats Coop on the shoulder, tells him he’s so sorry. Everyone in the place – Donna, James, Margaret, Bobby – can sense an unknowable sadness. Donna begins to cry uncontrollably, as she did in the pilot when she realized – also untold – that Laura was dead.
Cooper stares off into space as over his expression red curtains are superimposed until they take over the frame. With this single frame, Lynch is telling us, yes, something has ended. But in its place something else has begun.
Being that this episode was directed by Lynch, there are some significant standouts, visually. Firstly, he reinforces the aesthetic he put in place by recreating images from the pilot and early episodes, both in terms of type of shot – like long, slow, pull-away tracking shots and lingering close-ups – and mirrored scenes like Donna crying, or a car racing along the curve of highway.
Then there’s the revelation of BOB as Leland in the mirror, their faces switching positions from reflecting to reflected, either in both, with the eerie ticking of the record skipping in the background like the calm heart of a practiced killer. And the death sequence. So beautiful and horrible at once, a real production as hinted by the spotlight that falls on Maddy when she comes downstairs and will follow her to the end of her life. The constant shifting back and forth of Leland to BOB, BOB to Leland, the shifting of film speed from slow motion with murky sound to the stark, unaccompanied, real-pace of the horrific moment: it is the kind of thing you never want to see but can’t look away from, and as real as Sheryl Lee’s performance feels, that of Ray Wise, too, is so convincing that it will take you out of the artificiality of the moment and plant you in it as though it were real. If you can get through this without your jaw dropping and every single hair on your body standing on its end, then you scare me. The second season would be dismissed by critics in an overall sense, but both Lee and Wise deserved Emmys, Golden Globes, and any other award they could have carried for their respective work in this episode.
ABC wanted a solution to the murder of Laura Palmer. They pressed for it to the point of insisting, and while Lynch and Frost delivered what was asked of them in a literal sense, figuratively they opened onto a broader mystery with their solution. And as for that solution, it turned out to be even more heinous than TWIN PEAKS had led viewers to expect. After all, the murder of a beautiful young woman is horrible, but the murder of a beautiful young woman by her respected father is much, much worse. And what’s worse than that? A father murdering his daughter after years of incestuous torment. After the reddest herring possible in Ben Horne, Lynch and Frost jerked the rug out from under everyone with the darkest twist in TV history. Demonic possession, incest, filicide – this is not your conventional network murder mystery, and though we all knew that going into the series, none of us suspected it was going to go this direction. Understandably, the content turned off a lot of Middle America and from here the ratings would begin their gradual decline, but whether people were fatigued, disgusted, or disillusioned, this is the peak of TWIN PEAKS, and in closing one door it opened a very ominous pair of curtains.
Whatever it was going to be from here on out, the TWIN PEAKS we knew was over, and what was to come next was anybody’s guess, even after it happened.
On a personal note, you might have heard that One Perfect Shot has been acquired and is now a part of the Film School Rejects media empire. So while technically this is my final TWIN PEAKS column for OPS, rest assured that the guide will continue without skipping a beat at FSR. Keep your eyes right here as usual and you’ll barely notice the transition. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank my friend, partner, and Editor in Chief Geoff Todd for giving me all this space to ramble on about my favorite TV show. And thanks in advance to Neil Miller, head honcho of FSR, for letting me keep the party going. We still have a lot of ground left to cover in the original series, and there’s always season three on the horizon. So stick around, things are just getting good.