We finally reach the conclusion of the “Who Killed Laura Palmer” storyline that had America caught up in Peaks-fever in this week’s installment of Twin Peaks Revisited. This episode was written by series co-creator Mark Frost, along with Harley Peyton and Robert Engels, and directed by Tim Hunter. I remind all new followers of these recaps that you can find all the previous Twin Peaks: Revisited columns right here and catch up. And this is, as always, a spoiler-free recap for anything that takes place after the particular episode we’re recapping.
Episode 17: “Arbitrary Law” – Aired December 1st, 1990
The episode opens on the dead body of Maddy Ferguson, wrapped in plastic, just like her cousin Laura Palmer. We then cut to the morning after the discovery of her body, and we see Cooper, Truman, Albert and Hawk are walking sadly along a path in the woods, looking very defeated. Albert tells Coop that Maddy was murdered by the same man who killed Laura, and that there was a letter “O” under Maddy’s ring fingernail, and she had strands from the fur of a stuffed white fox in her right hand. Cooper tells Truman not to make any phone calls reporting Maddy’s murder “I need 24 hours…to finish this.” Albert, in a rare moment of genuine concern, tells Cooper to “bag this beast before he takes another bit.” It’s a cheesy-ass line, but delivered with such total sincerity that you really don’t care. Albert means it.
At the Double R Diner, Donna and James meet up, and seem happy finally. James says his bike’s engines sounded like “a thousand people singing” on the way to meet Donna, and she says “they could sing about last night.” So what happened last night Donna, hmmm? Oh wait, I get it. These two finally boned.. .moving on. James gives Donna a ring (a “we’re going steady” ring, not an engagement ring. They are in high school after all. But then, so was Shelly, so ignore me.)
Norma’s mother complains about the food at the Double R, and Norma finally gets fed up with her, and the fact that nothing she does is ever good enough for her, and she finally lets her know it. Meanwhile, Andy is sitting at the counter talking to himself, and is trying to say the words “J’ai une âme solitaire” and Donna overhears him; when she asks him about it, Andy tells her about Harold Smith’s suicide note, which had that phrase written on it. Donna recognizes the phrase as something the strange little boy who lived next door to Harold told her before she met him, and she leaves to find Agent Cooper.
As Donna, Cooper, and Andy go Mrs. Tremond’s apartment, Donna tells Cooper about Mrs. Tremond’s telling her about Harold in the first place, and her magic trick performing grandson’s saying the exact same French words to her as in Harold’s note. But when they knock on the door, a totally different, younger woman answers the door instead. She says that’s she’s Mrs.Tremond, and Donna assumes the old woman she met must have been her mother, but the woman tells Donna she could not have seen her mother, because she’d been dead for years. When the woman recognizes Donna’s name, she gives her an envelope that she found in her mail the day after Harold’s Smith committed suicide; it’s addressed to Donna in written in Harold’s handwriting. Inside the envelope contains pages torn from Laura’ diary. Cooper asks Donna to read it out loud.
“February 22nd; Last night I had the strangest dream, I was sitting in a red room with a small man dressed in red and sitting across from an old man. I tried to talk to him, I tried to tell him who BOB is, because I thought he could help me, but my words came out slow and odd. It was frustrating trying to talk. So I got up, walked over to him and whispered the secret in his ear. Somebody has to stop BOB…he’s only afraid of one man,he told me once. A man named MIKE. I wonder if this was MIKE in my dream? Even if it was only a dream, I hope he heard me, because no one in the real world would believe me.”
“Febraury 23rd. Tonight is the night that I die. I know I have to because it’s the only way to keep BOB away from me, the only way to tear him out from inside. I know he wants me, I can feel his fire. But if I die he can’t hurt me anymore.”
“Laura and I had the same dream.” Andy says that’s impossible, and Cooper simply says “yes, it is.”
At the Great Northern, Cooper talks to a bed-ridden MIKE, while Dr. Hayward urges that he be given his drug, or the One Armed Man could die. He tells him that BOB has killed again, and Cooper begs MIKE to tell him how to unlock the dream, because he knows the answer is inside of him. MIKE tells him that when he and BOB were killing together, it was a perfect relationship, “appetite, satisfaction, a golden circle.” The word circle makes Coop thing of his ring, and he tell MIKE that he gave his ring to the Giant. “He is known to us here…he can help you find BOB, but you must must ask him first.” MIKE says. As Cooper leaves he encounters the old room service waiter, who carries a glass of milk and says, “I know about you. That milk will cool down on you, but it’s getting warmer now.” He gives the thumbs-up sign to Cooper. ”
In Ben’s office, Truman tells Cooper about finding a record of the telephone call Leland reported, a call to Laura Palmer’s number the night she died. He notices the stuffed white fox in Ben’s office, and concludes that Maddy must have been there. Albert reports that Maddy died the night before last between 10PM and midnight, and Truman says that fits, “we didn’t arrest Ben until after midnight.” Albert then gives Cooper the results of Ben Horne’s blood test.
Back In the Sheriff’s station, a workman adjusts the sensitivity of the office’s sprinkler system while Andy tells Lucy he wants to talk about her pregnancy. Lucy tells him she’s not certain if the baby is his or Dick Tremayne’s. Andy calls Tremayne and tells him they all need to get together and talk about what they all need to do next.
Catherine Martell, disguised as Tojamura, goes and visits Ben’s cell with the Ghostwood Contract for him to sign. Ben says he cannot deliver on the Ghostwood contract, and Tojamura asks for the return of the $5 million she gave him. As Ben tries to weasel his way out of the situation, Catherine extends a pedicured foot through the bars and Ben recognizes her finally as who she really is. “Benjamin Horne, you’re a slimy rat bastard, and I intend to make whatever remains of your pathetic existence a living hell.” Regardless of what she says, Ben is thrilled that she’s alive, and asks her to tell Cooper and Truman about his being with her the night of Laura’s murder, so he can be released. Catherine agrees, on the condition that he sign over the Mill and the Ghostwood Estates project over to her, which Ben instantly does. As she walks off, she tells him she’ll consider telling the Sheriff, after all, “we’ve spent our entire adult lives lying to each other. Why spoil it with the truth now?”
At the Palmer home, Leland welcomes Donna in, who has come to deliver the audio tape of the song she, Maddy, and James recorded together, so that Leland could maybe mail it to her in Missoula. Leland instantly recognizes Laura’s sunglasses on Donna, and becomes unnerved by them. Donna then tells him about the discovery of Laura’s secret diary at Harold’s, and Harold’s subsequent suicide. Leland gets a phone call from Maddy’s mom Beth (his sister? Sarah’s sister? They never tell us) who reports that her daughter never came home. When Donna becomes upset, Leland suggests lemonade and they’ll “sit down, give it a think, a work the problem out together”
Donna becomes freaked out when Leland returns with the lemonade and creeps up behind her. “I know the cure for what ails you. It’s simple, really; it always makes me feel good” and he puts on a phonograph record of some old music, and asks Donna to dance along with him. As Leland plays the record, we see flashes of BOB taking over, and as the two dance in the living room, Leland suddenly grabs Donna and pulls her towards him, just as he did with Maddy, just as the doorbell rings. It’s Truman, who tells him he needs Leland’s help because there’s been another murder. Donna starts to put the pieces together, realizing finally the horrible truth of it all.
Donna walks through the woods. crying. James drives upon his motorcycle, and Donna tells him that Maddy’s been killed. James says they could have helped her. “How??” Donna aks him. “This is no good.” Says James, and rides off, leaving Donna crying and begging him to stay.
As a thunderstorm starts brewing, we see Ben is in a booth at the Roadhouse, handcuffed. Cooper and Albert are at the bar, and Truman brings Leland in. Ed Hurley joins them, as does Bobby Briggs, who wheels in Leo. Cooper tells them to clear a space in the center of the room. “I have reason to believe the killer is in this room. As a member of the FBI, I’ve employed guidelines, deductive technique, Tibetan method, instinct, and luck.But now I find myself in need of something new, that for lack of a better word, we shall call magic.”
After Albert makes yet another snide remark,Cooper says someone is still missing. The clock strikes, and then Major Brigs enters with the old room service waiter, who had flagged him down while and asked the Major to drive him to the Roadhouse. The waiter gives Cooper a stick of gum. Leland recognizes the gum from his childhood , saying it was his most favorite gum in the world. The waiter says, “that gum you like is going to come back in style.” Suddenly, Cooper recalls his entire dream, and we see as Laura whispers to him, “My father killed me.” The Giant then appears and drops Cooper’s ring to the floor. Cooper puts a stick of gum in his mouth , picks up the ring, and tells Ben Horne to accompany him to the sheriff’s office, and to bring along Leland Palmer as his attorney. As they leave, Cooper flashes the thumbs-up sign to the waiter.
As they arrive at the Sheriff’s station, Cooper tells them to take Ben Horne into an interrogation room. Leland says he wants to begin bail proceedings as soon as possible for Ben, and Coop assures him he’ll have his day in court, and then quickly whispers something to Truman. When they open the door of the interrogation room, they push Leland inside and lock the door. Leland starts to scream and wail, and bangs his head against the walls. Cooper tells Hawk to take Ben upstairs and release him. Ben can’t believe it, and just says, “Leland?” Hawk says “that’s not Leland.” When Cooper explains to Truman what Laura told him in her dream, Truman remarks they’re going to need much stronger evidence than a dream. “How about a confession, Harry?”
They cuff Leland in a chair while Hawk keeps a gun aimed at him. Truman reads him his rights. Leland laughs and says, “I suppose you want to ask him some questions.” When Cooper asks if he killed Laura Palmer, Leland hoots like an animal and says, “that’s a yes.” He admits killing Maddy because he has a “thing for knives, just like what happened to you in Pittsburgh that time, huh Cooper?” Coop seems genuinely taken aback by this. “Oh, Leland, you’ve been a good vehicle, and I’ve enjoyed the ride, but now he’s weak, and full of holes, and now it’s nearly time to shuffle off to Buffalo.” When Cooper asks if Leland knows what BOB has done, he describes Leland as babe in the wood, “with a large hole, where his conscience used to be. And when I go, children, I will pull that ripcord, and you just watch Leland remember…just watch him.” Truman says “that’s enough for me,” and they leave Leland alone in the cell.
Dick Tremayne arrives at the station, and Lucy takes him into the conference room, where Andy is waiting. She tells them she’s going to keep her baby, and it’s not open for discussion, and will depend on a blood test to determine who the father is once the baby is born. In the meantime, the two men need to agree to cooperate until Lucy’s baby is arives. As they’re discussing this, Dick’s cigarette smoke rises toward the smoke detector.
Outside the interrogation room Cooper says “Harry the answer was right in front of me from the very start. What did the little man do in my dream? He danced. After Laura’s death, Leland danced compulsively. We were told that BOB was a gray haired man, after Leland killed Jacques, his hair turned gray overnight.Leland said when he was a child, the gray haird man was named Robertson, and MIKE said the vessels they inhabited were their children. “Robertson” is what the letters were trying to spell- “a signature on a demon’s self portrait.” Truman says “Now this BOB…he can’t really exist; Leland is just crazy, right?” As he says that, Leland repeats the entire poem that MIKE recited in Cooper’s dream: “through the darkness of future past, the magician longs to see, one chants out between two worlds, Fire, Walk With Me.” BOB vows to kill again, and at that moment, the sprinklers go off, drenching Leland/BOB as they both scream.
Suddenly Leland begins to bang his head hard against the steel door, BOB having vacated him, and now Leland remembers everything that he’s done as BOB, crying that he killed his own daughter, but that he didn’t know, and he begs for forgiveness. He explains how he was just a boy, and BOB came to him and asked him if he wanted to play. “He opened me, and then he came inside me. When he was there I didn’t know, and when he was gone I couldn’t remember. But he wanted others… others they could use, like they used me. They wanted Laura, but she fought them, she fought them. She wouldn’t let him in. They had me kill that girl Teresa, and if I couldn’t give them Laura, they’d kill her too. She said she’d die before she let them, and then BOB made him kill her.” Coop tries to comfort him as he lays dying, and asks him to look towards the light…Leland sees Laura there on the other side waiting for him, and as the water from the sprinklers finally stops, as Leland dies.
The next morning Cooper, Truman, and Albert encounter Major Briggs on a path in the woods. Truman remarks that Leland was completely insane. Albert argues that says people saw BOB in visions. When Truman says he has trouble believing, Cooper asks if it’s easier to believe a man would rape and murder his own daughter. “Is that any more comforting?” Briggs asks if it matters what the cause is and Cooper replies, “Yes. Because It’s our job to stop it.” Albert suggests “Maybe that’s all BOB is, the evil that men do” and that it may not matter what they call it. Truman agrees and says that if BOB were real, and he was here, and we had him trapped…then where’s BOB now?” As he says this, we follow an unknown POV passed a wrecked car into and along a ravine until an owl flies directly at the camera.
There’s a bit of a continuity error in the show here, as Donna reads pages from Laura’s diary dated February 22nd and 23rd, the night she died. In the movie prequel Fire Walk With Me, we see Laura hand off the diary to Harold several days before that. It’s conceivable that she went back to Harold’s and wrote in the diary while it was in his keeping and the movie just didn’t show those events, but I’m reaching now-it’s a screw up basically.
This episode marks the last appearance of MIKE, a.k.a Phillip Gerard, the One-Armed Man, on the series. His fate is left somewhat unclear. Although the character does return in the prequel film, Fire Walk With Me. This episode also marks Ray Wise’s exist from the series as a regular, although he appears as well in a major role in Fire Walk With Me.
Although credited, Madchen Amick, Sherilyn Fenn, Jack Nance and Joan Chen do not appear in this episode at all.
In many ways, this is the last truly great episode of Twin Peaks until the very end. So many plotlines that have been with the show are wrapped up in this episode, most importantly the entire “Who Killed Laura Palmer” story, But it’s not just that one- the Saw Mill/Ghostwood Estates story is tied up, as Catherine pulls a fast one on Ben Horne and comes away the ultimate victor, and winds up with everything. Donna and James love story comes to a conclusion of a sort, as James rides away, realizing that their relationship is forged in tragedy, and can’t ever overcome its beginnings. And even the Lucy pregnancy story comes to a conclusion, as she basically tells both potential fathers that they need to get their shit together until the baby is born and she decides what to do.
There are still subplots of course, like does Nadine get her memory back? Does Leo ever wake up? Will Josie return? What about Hank and Norma? And who the heck shot Agent Cooper? But after this point in the series, those little side plots become the main plots, and the show struggles hard to figure out what to do with several characters, namely Dale Cooper, who basically only came to town to solve a this crime. The show, to this point, used a classic soap opera structure to tell a particular story, and now that it’s over, in many ways it becomes just another soap opera. Both co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost exit the show in a creative sense in everything but name only, leaving their writing staff to try and figure it all out as best they can.
It’s not all bad from here on out…in fact, the show gets pretty damn good again towards the last five or six episodes, but for the next few installments, the show kind of goes off a cliff in a big way, in a narrative sense. When people talk about how great Twin Peaks was, more or less, they’re talking about the first episode through this one.Having said all that, this episode is pretty damn amazing, and Ray Wise gives one final, terrifying and heartbreaking performance as Leland Palmer on the show, and goes out in style. And director Tim Hunter, who previously directed the funeral episode of the series, brings his A-game to this one, as the episode is shot beautifully throughout. If this had been the last episode, it would have been a fine way to go out for the series in many ways.
Episode rating: 4 out of 5 burritos