After writing about the pilot I decided to learn more about the collaboration between Mark Frost and David Lynch, and how ABC came to air the show. I began reading Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks and learned how the series was always meant to be about the town, its people, and their secrets. Laura Palmer’s murder was just a device to introduce the viewer. By widening the action and following the townspeople, Episode One, ‘Traces to Nowhere’, takes us deeper into the soap opera while also pursuing the killer.
To me, Twin Peaks is quintessential film noir that also plays with and reforms tropes. There is no anti-hero cop or detective; Agent Cooper and Sheriff Truman are straight-shooting law men. Instead of one femme fatale, there are several. As town secrets are uncovered, hope replaces cynicism.
The character who intrigued me from the beginning, for how she bends character conceits, is Audrey Horne. She is an ingenue and a femme fatale; a detective and a damsel in distress; a problem child and a daddy’s girl. She’s also Laura’s foil.
Raven-haired Audrey doesn’t write her secrets in a diary. In the pilot, she enjoys sneaking a smoke at school while changing into her red pumps, which her mother or father probably doesn’t want her to wear (red being such a trashy color for a shoe). The Norwegians can’t learn about Laura’s murder, so she plays the sad coquette to explode the deal. A mentally challenged son is probably not something Ben Horne brags about, but Audrey tells Agent Cooper about him the first time they talk. She doesn’t even try to deny ruining her father’s business deal; she admits it and mocks his attempt to discipline her. While she may not be a good girl like Donna, we can already tell Audrey is just pretending to be a bad girl like Laura.
On my re-watch of ‘Traces to Nowhere’, I was struck by the two doctors who knew her: Dr. Hayward and Dr. Jacoby. Up to this point, we haven’t seen either of them mourn Laura, although Dr. Hayward showed appropriate shock when discovering her murdered. He keeps his composure until he reads the autopsy report. He experiences a second round of shock over what Laura experienced in her final hours — bites on her shoulder and tongue, repeatedly beaten, and bleeding to death — as well as her sexually activity. When Dr. Hayward looks at Laura’s photo we can see how much he loved her. But when he calls her beautiful is he buying into the same façade others in the town believed?
Before this episode, it was hard to think Dr. Jacoby could cry for Laura. His one scene in the pilot saw him acting strange and fondling his hula girl tie when talking about her being his patient. He even seems to fetishize her so much that he wants to go to the morgue to see the body. It appears, though, that Jacoby was one of the rare people trying to help Laura. She sent him tapes where she talked honestly about the people in her life. He knew and kept her secrets. So where do his tears come from? Was he another man enchanted by her spell? Or is he crying because he couldn’t help Laura enough to save her? At this point, I think the answer lies somewhere between.
It’s said that times of adversity show a person’s true nature. If the pilot highlighted the true natures of Twin Peaks’ teenagers, then this episode spotlights the parents. How they react to the news of Laura’s murder, how they engage with their children, provides a picture of how they’ve dealt with their kids all along.
The Haywards are loving and trusting. Even when their trust is broken (Donna breaking curfew to go to the Roadhouse), Dr. Hayward’s anger is momentary. He’s more worried about his daughter’s safety than her disobedience. When he picks her up at the station Donna apologizes immediately. He doesn’t yell at her; instead he talks to her and reestablishes their trust for each other. The next day Donna doesn’t just talk to her mother, she confides in her. The Haywards are the parents each of wants because of the safety they provide.
Benjamin Horne provides no such safety for his children. Johnny is described as 27 and in the third grade, an indication that he perhaps has something more than “mental problems”, as Audrey describes them. Johnny is cared for by others; neither his mother or father have time for him. We never find out why Mrs. Horne is checked out, but we already know why Benjamin is withdrawn. He’s preoccupied with work and women. As mentioned earlier, he’s such a non-entity in Audrey’s life that, when he threatens to send her to a Bulgarian convent, she mocks it as the empty threat it is. But what’s interesting about their relationship is the stalemate they’ve reached. Audrey is so desperate for his attention that she acts out by ruining his business and playing music so loud it disturbs the hotel guests. Benjamin wants her respect that he compares her disobedience to Laura’s death. “Laura died two days ago. I lost you years ago.” As Brian Adams once sang: cuts like a knife.
In between the Haywards and the Hornes are Major and Mrs. Briggs. Mrs. Briggs has the same pleasing demeanor as Mrs. Hayward (and is also given less to do since Twin Peaks is all about Oedipal relationships), while Major Briggs is patient, tolerant, and respectful of his son. And he does put up with a lot from Bobby. In the past 48 hours Bobby has been arrested twice, once on suspicion of murdering his girlfriend and the second for joining a fight at the Roadhouse; but Major Briggs doesn’t punish Bobby. Instead, at a nice family dinner, he tells Bobby that he understands and respects his son’s need to rebel. Then, as the major is explaining how he’ll always be available, Bobby sticks a cigarette in his mouth and — WHACK — the major is not having it. He can put up with the bar fights, but not smoking at the dinner table. Major Briggs slapping his son is still as alarming now as it was when the episode first aired. Up to this point, he has been a model parent; is this sudden violence what Bobby is rebelling against? If it isn’t, then why does Bobby act out?
This then leaves the Palmers. Their daughter used cocaine, had two boyfriends, and ten thousand dollars in a safety deposit box. Yes, their daughter has just been found murdered, but the question still needs to asked: what did they know about her life? Of everyone in Twin Peaks, they seem to be the two most blind to her secrets. Even sadder, it doesn’t seem like they’ve been given details of her death or the time leading up to it. They love their daughter, but they are as ignorant about her as ever.
Like any good noir, the story deepened in ‘Traces to Nowhere’. More importantly, it was a strong follow-up to the pilot, which not many shows get right. Story continuity is owed to the episode being written by Mark Frost and David Lynch (who I really hope started calling each other Bobber and Snake). By the end of the first season we’ll see that their writing partnership created some of the best episodes of the series.
As for the episode’s direction, Duwayne Dunham creates a strong impression of Lynch’s style from the pilot. For instance, the scene between Benjamin and Audrey is one take. Watch the scene again and pay attention; the camera moves up, down, and side to side, but there are no edits. Audrey keeps her face from Benjamin for most of the scene, while Benjamin is trying to get her to look at him. Their eyes tell us what they are really thinking. Then, when Audrey finally looks at Benjamin, her back is kept to camera. A scene like this shows trust in your actors to hold the viewer and faith in your audience to notice.
For me, the end of the episode brings the same questions I had in the pilot and then some: Who exactly was Laura to these people? Did anyone really know her? Could anybody see she was in trouble? Could she have been saved?