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TWIN PEAKS’ 10 Most Essential Episodes Ever, Ranked

TWIN PEAKS’ 10 Most Essential Episodes Ever, Ranked

In just a few weeks time, David Lynch and Mark Frost‘s cult classic Twin Peaks returns to television after 25 years on Showtime. We are, to put it simply, beyond excited. With anticipation at an all-time high, it’s time to look back at the original show and count down the series’ ten best episodes. Because, unfortunately, not all of us have time to rewatch the original series and subsequent film before the new iteration comes out—so here are the ones you really NEED to watch to prepare yourself for May 21.

(And yes, before you ask: all the David Lynch directed episodes are on here—how could they not be??—but to see in just what order, you’ll have to read on to find out.)

Oh, and fair warning Peaks newbies — there are spoilers throughout this list!

#10. “Realization Time” Season 1, Episode 6


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“Realization Time” is one of the stand-out episodes of the premiere season, directed by Caleb Deschanel and written by Harely Peyton. This one features Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and Big Ed going undercover to One Eyed Jack’s to find out the truth behind Laura Palmer and fellow victim Ronnette Pulaski’s connection to that sleazy Canadian brothel. Meanwhile, Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) also goes undercover at One Eyed Jack’s, where we get her infamous cherry stem trick, and a Twin Peaks sex symbol is born.

#9. “Coma” Season 2, Episode 2


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Of the six David Lynch directed episodes, this one is talked about the least, maybe because it didn’t feature a major turning point in the overall narrative. But it’s still a Lynch episode, and therefore better than most in the series. From the opening barbershop quartet humming along soothingly while FBI agents discuss details of a murder, to a sugary 1950’s-inspired love song interrupted by a terrifying moment featuring the demonic BOB, this episode is filled with iconic Lynchian moments.

#8. “Traces To Nowhere” Season 1, Episode 1


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The first regular length episode of the series, “Traces To Nowhere” was written by Frost and Lynch, and directed by Lynch’s longtime editor Duwayne Dunham. In many ways, this sets the tone for the series more than even the pilot did—certainly from a visual standpoint (unlike the pilot, the series was shot in Southern California). This episode introduces us to an even quirkier Agent Cooper than the pilot, not to mention the Cooper/Audrey Horne dynamic that was the original TV ‘ship, and our first real scene with the Log Lady.

#7. “May The Giant Be With You.” Season 2, Episode 1


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The first season of the show ended on several major cliffhangers, not to mention the show’s central mystery still nowhere near being resolved. So when the show returned for its second season some four months later, anticipation was high. The season two premiere saw the return of David Lynch to the director’s chair for a 90-minute episode, which introduced several new supernatural elements to the show, including a mysterious and helpful giant, and deepened the show’s central mystery in new ways. Also, the flashback to Laura Palmer’s murder at the end remains utterly terrifying.

#6. “Beyond Life And Death” Season 2, Episode 22


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Once Twin Peaks solved the murder of Laura Palmer, it’s no secret the quality of the show took a nosedive. By the time we get to the last six episodes, the show did start course correcting, but nothing in the final 12-episodes matched the brilliance of the first 17. Nothing, that is, except the final episode of the series, in which David Lynch returns to direct a script by Mark Frost, and the show goes out with a bang.

Lynch takes the surrealist elements and cranks the volume up to 11, leading to one of the strangest 20 minute sequences to ever air on broadcast television. The final episode is disturbing, funny, terrifying, and ultimately, also kind of infuriating, as it leaves our central hero in a horrible predicament. But it’s also absolutely unforgettable. The clamor for the return of Twin Peaks might not have not been nearly as loud these past 25 years had this finale not been as memorable as it was.

#5. “Arbitrary Law” Season 2, Episode 9


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This is the episode where everything came together and Agent Cooper finally solves the Laura Palmer murder case. Directed by Tim Hunter, and written by Mark Frost and series writers Harley Peyton and Robert Engels, this is maybe the last truly great episode of the series until the series finale almost a dozen episodes later.

This episode features some truly incredible acting from Ray Wise in some of the series’ most powerful and emotional moments, as Leland Palmer takes his final bow on the show. Some people felt this episode resolved things a little too cleanly, but I found it to be the perfect ending for the saga that propelled the narrative. In fact, some fans think the series should have ended here, and while I don’t agree, I can’t say I don’t see their point. In many ways, Peaks peaked (har har har) right here.

#4. “Rest In Pain” Season 1, Episode 3


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The fourth episode of the show centers around Laura Palmer’s funeral, as the entire town gathers to pay their final respects. As one can imagine—this being Twin Peaks and all—the funeral does not exactly go down in a regular fashion. This is the first episode of the show to not be written by Lynch/Frost, being penned by Harley Peyton and directed by Tina Rathborne.

That said, the episode still keeps that Lynch/Frost edge, wit, and craft. It’s an incredible episode from start to finish, and proves that when you get the right creatives in sync with Lynch and Frost’s vision, the outcome is just as amazing as anything the duo could produce themselves.

#3. “Lonely Souls” Season 2, Episode 7


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After eight months and 14 episodes, and serious pressure from ABC, Lynch and Frost finally revealed the killer of Laura Palmer in this episode, once again directed by Lynch and written by Frost. Although there are many damn fine moments peppered throughout the episode, the reason this installment stands out is the final act, where the truth about who BOB really is revealed, and in turn, so ends the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer.

During this reveal, we lose a main cast member in  one of the most brutal and visceral scenes to ever air on network TV. Lynch juxtaposed the terror of that scene with a sad, haunting denouement set to music of Julee Cruise. One of the most powerful episodes of TV ever, this installment is David Lynch and Mark Frost firing on all cylinders.

#2. Pilot, “Northwest Passage”


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Up there with Lost and Breaking Bad, the pilot for Twin Peaks is one of the greatest premiere episodes of a series of all time. David Lynch directs from a script he co-wrote with co-creator Mark Frost, setting the mood for the entire series going forward. Lynch brilliantly used the discovery of the body of murdered homecoming queen Laura Palmer as a conduit for introducing the nearly thirty main characters of the series in the opening half hour.

Lynch and Frost expertly jump from raw, powerful grief to absurdist humor to good old fashioned detective story, and make it all look easy. So many of the things that make Twin Peaks great and remembered so fondly today are in this very first episode, from Kyle MacLachlan’s Agent Cooper, to the slo-mo shots of trees swaying in the wind, to Angelo Badalamenti‘s iconic score. Had history played out differently, and Twin Peaks never gone to series, the pilot episode would still be one of Lynch’s finest films.

#1. “Zen, Or The Skill To Catch A Killer” Season 1, Episode 2


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It was extremely difficult deciding between this episode for the #1 slot or the pilot, but the way this episode wraps up seals the deal. Why is this David Lynch-directed episode the the most iconic of the entire series? It’s has a lot of signature Peaks moments to be sure: from Agent Cooper’s game of rocks and bottles, to Audrey’s iconic slow dance in the RR Diner, to crazy Nadine’s silent drape runner invention.

But the real reason this is the greatest episode of Twin Peaks? The final few minutes, in which Dale Cooper has a surreal dream about a one-armed man, a killer named BOB, and strange red room with a dancing, backwards talking dwarf, and the spirit of Laura Palmer giving him clues on how to solve her murder. It’s the most bizarre thing to ever air on network TV up until that point, and the defining moment of the entire series. And it never fails to not get under your skin, even a quarter century later.

Do you agree with our ranking? Be sure to let us know down below in the comments!

Images: CBS Television

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