The Basics: “Who Killed Laura Palmer?”
In the Washington State town of Twin Peaks, Pete Martell (Jack Nance) heads out to fish early one morning, and spots a large object, washed up on the river bank. As he approaches, he realizes it’s a plastic-wrapped corpse. Having reported his find, the scene is examined by Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) and his deputies, while Dr. Will Hayward (Warren Frost) identifies the body as local teen, Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee).
Laura Palmer was the beloved Homecoming Queen, and her murder sends shockwaves through the small community. FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) arrives to investigate and, while examining the body in the morgue, finds a tiny square of paper under her fingernail, bearing the typed letter ‘R’. He reveals that he suspects this crime matches the murder of a young woman named Teresa Banks in southwestern Washington the previous year.
As Agent Cooper and Sheriff Truman dig further into the circumstances surrounding Laura’s death, a second victim – Ronette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine) – walks into town in a deeply traumatized, badly injured state. She collapses and is hospitalized – and local law enforcement discovers that the crime occurred in a secluded, disused train car, deep in the woods. Here, they find evidence of extreme violence, along with half a heart-shaped necklace, and a note – written in blood – saying, “Fire walk with me.” It soon becomes clear that this picturesque, mountain idyll holds some very dark secrets.
The Deeper Cut: Twin Peaks And Its Secrets
The beauty of Twin Peaks lies in the fact that, when we arrive, the complicated lives of the residents are very much in progress, and we have to pay close attention in order to get up to speed – just as Agent Cooper does if he is to uncover the identity and circumstances of Laura Palmer’s death. Cooper begins his investigation by learning everything he can about Laura, which not only leads to the discovery of her secret double life, but also results in the peeling back of layer upon layer of corruption and intrigue among the townsfolk – because Laura had positioned herself at the centre of many of these connections.
As well as being a High School student, Laura was a tutor, a meals-on-wheels volunteer, a perfume counter assistant at the local department store, a drug addict, a prostitute, and a patient of the local psychiatrist (Dr. Lawrence Jacoby, played by Russ Tamblyn). These roles she played in her local community placed her at the heart of situations both legal and illegal; both benign and highly dangerous. She maintained relationships with people ranging from the elderly and the vulnerable, to the corrupt and the homicidal. In this respect, there’s initially a long list of potential suspects in her murder case, and it’s in the methodical whittling down of that list that Agent Cooper discovers something much darker, and much more terrifying at work in the town.
There’s an undercurrent of fear that runs through the community, and it’s one that residents choose to distract themselves from, lest it overwhelm them. From the students in High School, to the loftiest heights of the local business owners and politicians – each Twin Peaks resident is embroiled in their own, all-encompassing melodrama. All of these subplots – delicately intertwined – are systematically laid bare by the investigation into Laura Palmer’s murder, and its wider ramifications.
By discovering that she had two boyfriends – the innocent James Hurley ( James Marshall) and the drug-dealing Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) – we learn about James’ secret love for Laura’s best friend, Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle), and the illicit affair between his gas station-owning Uncle, Ed (Everett McGill), and Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton) – owner of the local diner. We also learn of Bobby’s secret affair with diner waitress, Shelly Johnson (Madchen Amick), who is married to wife-beating, drug-dealing truck driver, Leo Johnson (Eric DaRe).
By discovering that Laura Palmer was employed as an English tutor by local mill owner, Josie Packard (Joan Chen), we learn that Josie inherited the Packard Saw Mill from her husband, Andrew, who is thought to have died in a mysterious boating accident five years earlier. We also learn that Josie’s engaged in a secret romance with Sheriff Truman, much to the distaste of her sister-in-law (and wife of Pete Martell), Catherine. In addition, it’s revealed that Catherine is engaged in corporate espionage to destroy the mill at Josie’s expense, in cahoots with local business mogul, Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer) – with whom Catherine is secretly sleeping.