'Twin Peaks' Refresher: Everything You Need To Know Before Season 3

I'm still shocked that David Lynch and Mark Frost's Twin Peaks aired on a major television network – let alone in primetime. The series heavily influenced a lot of prestige TV that followed its cancellation after its second season back in 1991, but I can't think of another show that's ever run the gamut of styles and genres quite the way this one did. The original run of episodes was thrilling because we had absolutely no idea what kind of show it would be from one moment to the next. Twin Peaks was the absolute king of tonal shifts, often whipping from surreal to comedic, from melodramatic to genuinely heartbreaking, from profound to eye-rollingly dumb. This show contained multitudes. But through it all, it remained enigmatic, eccentric, exciting, and distinctly Lynchian – even when Lynch himself scaled back his involvement during the show's questionable second season.

With the limited series revival heading to Showtime this weekend, now's a good time for a refresher about what you need to know, some questions left unanswered, and a bit of good old-fashioned speculation about what we might see in the future. Grab a cup of damn fine coffee, a slice of cherry pie, and join me for a whirlwind trip to small town America in the Pacific Northwest.

Laura Palmer plastic Twin Peaks

Brief Recap: A Body Wrapped in Plastic

Warning: I'm giving myself room to spoil everything between the pilot and the season 2 finale, so keep that in mind if you haven't seen a single episode yet. Proceed at your own risk.

As anyone who's seen a David Lynch film knows, the filmmaker is fascinated with exploring the seedy underbelly of seemingly-perfect small town America. In Twin Peaks, that idea is represented in the character of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), a blonde-haired high school homecoming queen who we soon learn wasn't the perfect hometown girl she appeared. Laura was into some serious shit, including heavy drug use and working as a prostitute at a gentlemen's club across the Canadian border called One-Eyed Jacks. We see a lot of this in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Lynch's prequel film that he made after the show was cancelled.

The show kicks off with Laura's naked body, wrapped in plastic, washing up on the shore of a local lumber mill. The town's mild-mannered sheriff, Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) is out of his depth, so the FBI is called in to help.

Enter Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), a perpetually optimistic and genius investigator who discovers a hidden letter "R" under Laura's fingernail that fits the pattern of a killer who murdered another girl the year before. Cooper joins forces with Truman and other Twin Peaks cops – including the goofy, lovable Andy (Harry Goaz) and the strong, quiet Hawk (Michael Horse) – in an attempt to find Laura's killer, which was the driving force of the narrative throughout its eight-episode first season and into the start of its 22-episode second season.

Cooper's methods are unorthodox. He's visited in a dream by an inter-dimensional being named Mike who inhabits the body of a one-armed man named Phillip Gerard (Al Strobel), and Mike tells Cooper that Laura's killer is a greasy-haired, denim-clad demonic being named Bob (Frank Silva), who also has the ability to inhabit people's bodies. Cooper's dream location shifts to a room with a black and white floor and red curtains. This is the Red Room within The Black Lodge, a mystical portal between dimensions. Cooper finds himself 25 years older as he meets a dancing dwarf and a vision of Laura, who whispers something in his ear. When the younger Cooper wakes up, he knows he must analyze the dream in order to figure out who Bob is inhabiting.

The special agent explores a number of leads, including a local drug dealer and a real estate magnate, but they turn out to be dead ends. In season 2, we discover that Bob has actually been inhabiting Laura's father Leland Palmer (Ray Wise), and Bob had been sexually abusing Laura against Leland's will since childhood. (This is what led to her heavy drug use.) Once that revelation happens, the show begins to lose steam as it stumbles to find a narrative hook as juicy as the one it just resolved. Cooper is framed for smuggling drugs and is suspended from the FBI, although his name is eventually cleared.

twin peaks miguel ferrer

The back half of season 2 largely centers around a lengthy confrontation between Cooper and a man named Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh). Earle was Cooper's former partner at the bureau. We learn that when Cooper was charged with protecting Earle's wife, Caroline, the two fell in love, driving Earle so crazy that he murdered Caroline under Cooper's watch – she died in his arms – and abandoned his job, becoming a maniac obsessed with harnessing the mysterious power of The Black Lodge for himself. Earle comes to Twin Peaks and begins playing a metaphorical chess game with Cooper, using human beings as the pieces and killing someone every time he captures one of Cooper's pieces.

Around this time, Cooper falls in love with a new resident named Annie (Heather Graham), who enters the town's Miss Twin Peaks contest. When she wins, Earle – who knows about her love affair with Cooper – kidnaps her and takes her into The Black Lodge, where she's badly injured. Cooper goes in after her, and agrees to give Earle his soul if Earle allows Annie to live. But Bob appears and essentially says Earle doesn't have the jurisdiction to be able to steal souls, only HE does – so he takes Earle's soul and kills him. When Cooper emerges in the final episode, it's revealed that Annie survived but Cooper looks at his reflection and sees Bob mimicking his movements. This either means that the real Cooper is still trapped inside The Black Lodge and the one we've seen is a doppelgänger, or that the real Cooper has been inhabited by Bob the same way Leland Palmer was. Either way, it's a devious ending and makes for a hell of a final image.

So that's a recap of the main storyline, but here are some other groups of characters you should probably remember in case they pop up again in the new season:

Twin Peaks guys

Law Enforcement

I've already mentioned a couple of these folks, but the friendship between Cooper and Twin Peaks Sheriff Harry S. Truman is worth singling out for its genuinely heartfelt appeal. Those two were always legitimately great together. Also in the department:

  • FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole (played by David Lynch himself). He's Cooper's boss, and occasionally stops by Twin Peaks to check on his progress. Cole's primary characteristic is that he's very hard of hearing, and thus yells everything he ever says. That may sound amusing, but if you've seen the show, you know its novelty wears off quickly.
  • Lucy (Kimmy Robertson), the police station secretary. She dated the "aw shucks" Deputy Andy and the suave Dick Tremayne (Ian Buchanan), and when she became pregnant and was unsure which of them was the father, basically held a multi-episode contest between the two men to see which could better handle the role of fatherhood.
  • FBI forensic analyst Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer). Cooper calls him in to help with Laura's autopsy, and his dismissive and abrasive nature rubs many Twin Peaks residents the wrong way – especially Truman. Eventually Albert warms up to the town and its people.
  • DEA Special Agent Denise Bryson (David Duchovny). Formerly known as Dennis Bryson, Denise began wearing women's clothing during an undercover investigation and felt more comfortable with that identity, so she adopted a new name. Remember that this happened in the early '90s, so this was a hugely progressive move for a major television show to make. Denise is called in to aid Cooper in a drug bust and saves his life during a sting operation.
  • Major Garland Briggs (Don S. Davis). A U.S. Air Force officer who has intimate knowledge of both The Black Lodge (which is focused on fear) and The White Lodge (which is focused on love) because of his work with the mysterious Project Blue Book. He often aids Cooper during his investigations involving anything supernatural.
  • twin-peaks-pilot-2007-transfer-1

    High Schoolers

    The pilot gives a good look at the town's high school, but even though its students are ostensibly supposed to be attending classes over the course of the series, we almost never see them there. In any case, here's the rundown of main characters in that age range:

  • A sensitive biker named James (James Marshall), who was secretly dating Laura at the time of her murder. He's accused of killing her before being proven innocent.
  • Laura's kind-hearted best friend Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle), who conducts her own investigation into Laura's death and falls for James in the process.
  • Maddy Ferguson (also played by Sheryl Lee), Laura's lookalike cousin. She comes into town for Laura's funeral and gets into a love triangle with James and Donna. But she's not around for long. Bob – who was still inhabiting Leland Palmer at the time – brutally murders Maddy and shoves her body in a golf bag. Yikes.
  • Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), Laura's classmate. Audrey has a crush on Agent Cooper and spies on potential suspects in order to get make herself valuable to him in the hopes that he'll reciprocate her feelings. At one point she gets involved with Billy Zane, who drops by in a guest star capacity late in the show's run.
  • Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick), a waitress at the town's Double R Diner who's trapped in an abusive marriage with a drug dealer. She's secretly seeing Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), the constantly scheming captain of the school's football team. When Shelly's husband goes into a coma, Bobby moves in with her; though the two suffer through some hard times, they ultimately end up together.
  • Twin Peaks characters

    Other Citizens

    There are tons of subplots that weave in and out during the course of the show, many of which aren't nearly as entertaining as Cooper's murder investigations. Almost all of them involve older characters like:

  • Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) is Audrey's father and the owner of The Great Northern Hotel, where Cooper lives for the duration of his time in Twin Peaks. Horne is a total scumbag who's involved in drugs and prostitution; he owns the brothel One-Eyed Jacks and admits to sleeping with Laura Palmer when she worked there before her death. A huge thrust of his story involves attempting to wrest control from the Packard Saw Mill from its owner so he can build real estate on that valuable land. It turns out that he's also Donna Hayward's biological father.
  • Josie Packard (Joan Chen) is the sole owner of the Packard Mill, having inherited it after her husband Andrew died in a boating accident. The mill is run by her devious sister-in-law Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie) and Catherine's good-hearted lumberjack husband Pete (Jack Nance). Josie's backstory is too complicated to get into, but some key points are that she's romantically linked to Sheriff Truman, she shoots Cooper in the stomach at the end of the first season (don't ask), and she's killed after she murders another man, which drives Truman to go on an epic bender.
  • Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton), the owner of the Double R Diner. She's a former beauty queen who's married to an deceitful ex-con named Hank (Chris Mulkey), but she's in love with a mechanic named Big Ed Hurley (Everett McGill), James' uncle and the owner of the local gas station. Ed loves Norma, but is married to Nadine (Wendy Robie), a one-eyed depressive who desperately wants to invent the world's first silent drape runners. Ed and Norma's star-crossed affair is one of the show's most romantic and tragic pairings.
  • Twin Peaks James

    Things to Remember

    In one of the worst subplots of season 2, James leaves Twin Peaks on his motorcycle and basically gets sucked into a whole separate soap opera with a femme fatale who is being abused by her husband and is in love with her brother. It's an outright disaster that totally grinds the show to a halt.

    Speaking of godawful season 2 subplots, remember when Ben Horne had a mental breakdown and became obsessed with reenacting the Civil War in his office? He went as far as to dress in costume as Robert E. Lee, and totally lost his mind for what felt like an eternity.

    And speaking of people losing their damn minds, there's an entire stretch of this show in which Nadine regresses to her teenage self and, in the body of a fifty-something year old woman, attends the local high school and starts dating one of the teenage football players. And if that weren't enough, she somehow gained super strength in the process. Yes, I'm very serious.

    Josie's death is one of the most ludicrous aspects of a show that's chock full of them. She murders one of her long-time tormentors, but encounters Bob in the process, who apparently scares her so badly that she loses half of her body weight and her soul becomes trapped in the knob of a nearby dresser drawer. It's just as insane as it sounds.

    Don't forget about the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson), who carries a small log with her at all times and functions as a wise medium who conveys cryptic messages that she hears from the log.

    Composer Angelo Badalamenti's work on the show's instrumental score is nothing short of mesmerizing, lulling viewers into a false sense of safety with its hopeful theme and creeping us out with its eerie, unsettling cues that pop up in exactly the right places.

    And I doubt this will come into play in the new episodes, but I'd be remiss if I left out the part in which Catherine Martell fakes her own death and fools the entire town into thinking that she's a Japanese businessman named Mr. Tojamura, who drives Ben Horne's business into the ground and causes his mental and emotional breakdown. This show was bonkers.

    Twin Peaks s2 finale final scene

    Unanswered Questions

    To be a hundred percent clear: I don't think David Lynch and Mark Frost owe their audience a damn thing, and even if they don't answer a single question that was left hanging by the show's second season finale, I'm still looking forward to seeing what they do in their return to Twin Peaks. But just for a minute, let's dive into some of the unanswered questions and speculate a bit about what we might see. Obviously, guessing anything about the plot of a David Lynch property – especially one as oblique as Twin Peaks – is an exercise in futility, but hey, this is the internet, and wildly guessing things is one of the internet's favorite pasttimes.

    Q: Was that the real Cooper who came out of The Black Lodge, and if so, how will he have changed now that he’s been inhabited by Bob?

    If this were literally any other show, I'd be convinced that the showrunners would have found a way for Cooper, the series' protagonist, to be a good guy again by the start of this continuation. But since this is Twin Peaks, I wouldn't be surprised if either A) we literally never see the real Cooper again and spend the entire eighteen hours with his doppelgänger or B) the real Cooper is inhabited by Bob for the entirety of the new content. I hope it doesn't happen because Cooper is such a bastion of decency in the world and I'd love to see more from him, but I won't be surprised if he's a completely different guy because of what happened to him all those years ago.

    Q: Who, if anyone, survived the Savings & Loan explosion in the season 2 finale, and what impact did that have on the town?

    Audrey Horne had strapped herself to a bank vault door at the Twin Peaks Savings & Loan when Pete Martell and a surprisingly-alive Andrew Packard opened a safety deposit box that contained a bomb. An explosion occurred, but we never saw the aftermath of it. I have to assume Audrey is still alive since Sherilyn Fenn is involved in the limited series, but there's a chance she could just be playing a dead spirit version of Audrey Horne.

    Q: Will we ever see Josie again?

    Seriously...her "trapped in a drawer knob" fate is kind of driving me nuts. Are they really just going to leave it at that?

    Q: What ever happened to Major Briggs?

    The last we saw of him was Laura Palmer's mother, Sarah, telling him in a man's voice, "I'm in The Black Lodge with Dale Cooper." Actor Don S. Davis passed away in 2008, so unless Briggs is recast, this character won't appear in the new episodes (or "parts," as Lynch prefers to think of them). But in the years we didn't see on screen, did Major Briggs somehow save Cooper and restore him to his former self? He's one of the only people who may be able to help, considering his extensive knowledge of the paranormal activity in the area. Speaking of which...

    Q: Will we ever see the inside of The White Lodge?

    In one episode, Briggs explains that he was transported to The White Lodge, a place of love and joy. We've seen The Black Lodge represented on the show with the haunting Red Room, but will Lynch take this opportunity to explore the other side of the coin?

    Q: Is Shelly’s husband Leo still trapped in Windom Earle’s cabin with the tarantulas?

    Leo (Eric Da Re) spent most of the series in a comatose state, but near the end, he basically became a slave of the notorious Windom Earle. Though Leo was an abusive bastard, the show made you feel a bit of sympathy for him by the end, especially in his final appearance. Earle leaves him locked in a cabin and tied to an elaborate contraption; a string in his mouth is attached to a cage of tarantulas above his head. Did he die? Did he escape? I suspect we'll find out one way or another.

    Q: What the hell is up with the new cast?

    If you haven't seen the full cast list for the new Twin Peaks episodes, do yourself a favor and prepare for your mind to be blown. My question is: did Lynch and Frost suddenly decide to expand the scope of the show to include all 51,201 people who live there (according to the sign from the opening credits)? Are all of those new actors playing new residents, or have some of them been there the whole time and we just hadn't met them yet? Are some of them playing characters that don't live in town at all, and if so, does that mean Lynch and Frost plan to travel to different towns across the Northwest before or after they return to Twin Peaks proper? So many questions...


    Twin Peaks makes its long-awaited return to television this Sunday night on Showtime.