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After 25 years, it’s happening again. Twin Peaks, the TV series created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, is returning with an 18-episode season on Showtime, reuniting the creators with their original cast and a slew of newcomers to pick up where the bizarre, scary and groundbreaking series left off.
Given that the drama only lasted two seasons (for 30 total episodes), it might come as a surprise that Twin Peaks became as influential a show as it did. Given the talent involved in pulling it off though, there’s no wonder why it became a cult classic that has stood the test of time — and a series whose fingerprints can be seen on a number of programs that came after it, including The CW’s Riverdale, among others.
To celebrate the arrival of a new season of Twin Peaks, bowing Sunday on Showtime, The Hollywood Reporter went on an epic binge back through the series and ranked all 30 episodes, from worst to best. Everything from the way the Horne brothers eat sandwiches to the curiosity that is Nadine’s superhuman strength is accounted for. It should be noted that while Lynch’s 1992 film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is set in the same universe as the show and serves as a prequel, it is not accounted for in the rankings. That said, were it being ranked, it would certainly land somewhere in the five best episodes.
30. “The Black Widow” (Season 2, episode 12)
The middle of the second season was a weird time for Twin Peaks. In the aftermath of Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) being revealed as the killer of his daughter Laura (Sheryl Lee) but before the show dove head-first into the Black Lodge mystery, the series relied on plots that weren’t all that interesting. Nadine (Wendy Robie) joins the wrestling team — as she thinks she’s 18 and went back to high school — Ben (Richard Beymer) is going insane and staging a Gettysburg reenactment and Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) wants to buy a house.
29. “Masked Ball” (Season 2, episode 11)
While Masked Ball is notable for the introduction of David Duchovny as trans DEA Special Agent Denise Bryson, who arrives to help Cooper after he’s suspected of trafficking cocaine, there’s little else to get excited about. Nadine, convinced she’s a teenager, falls for a high school boy. Meanwhile, James (James Marshall) has left Twin Peaks and ends up in moving in with a married woman.
28. “Checkmate” (Season 2, episode 13)
Cooper is held hostage by Jacques Renault (Walter Olkewicz) and Ben thinks he’s a Civil War general. The major moment from this particular episode sees the stage set for the introduction of Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh), the former partner of Cooper who becomes a major antagonist in the second half of season two.
27. “Double Play” (Season 2, episode 14)
Windom Earle arrives, as Cooper opens up about his past with the villain. It’s at this point that Twin Peaks finds a new lease on life with a new mystery to investigate. It’s not all great, though, as James finds himself tangled up in a murder thanks to the married woman he’s involved with.
26. “Dispute Between Brothers” (Season 2, episode 10)
The episode that signaled a new phase for Twin Peaks, “Dispute Between Brothers” saw the funeral of Leland and gave viewers new insight into his wife, Sarah (Grace Zabriskie). It also set the wheels in motion for what was to come. Unfortunately, for a few episodes, that meant a lot of frustration as Twin Peaks searched for its next great arc.
25. “Slaves and Masters” (Season 2, episode 15)
At long last, James ends his story with the married woman that got him wrapped up in a murder investigation. Elsewhere, Nadine leaves her husband for the high school boy she fell in love with and Cooper’s investigation into Windom Earle found a new ally in Pete (Jack Nance).
24. “Wounds and Scars” (Season 2, episode 17)
After toying around with the idea that Cooper has feelings for high school girl Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn), Twin Peaks finally gave him a legitimate love interest with the arrival of Annie (Heather Graham), Norma’s (Peggy Lipton) sister, who has recently left the convent. It wasn’t all good, though, as Ben storyline sidetracks into his using an endangered pin weasel to stop real estate development.
23. “Variations on Relations” (Season 2, episode 19)
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with this episode. It delivers little bits of story development here and there, including evolving Cooper’s romance with Annie. Overall though, it simply plays like a filler episode that’s meant to pass time until the next big event. The moment fans will remember, though, is Gordon Cole (David Lynch) meeting and becoming enamored with Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick).
22. “The Condemned Woman” (Season 2, episode 16)
After no end of drama, James and Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) finally break up, with James making his exit from Twin Peaks. He would later appear in voice only, via a letter sent to Donna. Windom Earle sets his sights on Audrey, who gains a new love interest in the episode. This particular installment is all about Josie (Joan Chen), though. She dies, her soul becoming trapped in the wood at the Great Northern hotel. It’s one of a number of trademark Twin Peaks moments that’s so weird it makes perfect sense.
21. “The Man Behind Glass” (Season 2, episode 3)
This episode suffers from the storyline of Blackie (Victoria Catlin) holding Audrey hostage at One-Eyed Jack’s. It’s also the episode where Nadine wakes up from her coma believing she’s 18 years old, kicking off a bizarre and uninteresting story.
20. “Rest in Pain” (Season 1, episode 4)
Laura’s funeral is an incredibly emotional affair, which sees Leland fall into the grave with his daughter’s casket. Unfortunately, while a strong episode, it suffers from following the installment “Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer,” which is one of the show’s very best.
19. “The One-Armed Man” (Season 1, episode 5)
Cooper tracks down the one-armed man from his dream, who happens to be named Gerard (Al Strobel) and plays a major role in the reveal of BOB (Frank Silva) in season two. That said, there’s not a lot else happening in this episode. That they were setting things up for what would come a year later is impressive, though.
18. “Realization Time” (Season 1, episode 7)
This is the episode that sees Audrey, in an attempt to impress Cooper, land a job at One Eyed Jack’s brothel and casino by tying a cherry stem into a knot with her tongue, which is a piece of dark character development for a high school girl. The major oddity of the episode has to go to Nadine, though, who falls apart when her patent for silent drapes is denied.
17. “The Orchid’s Curse” (Season 2, episode 5)
In one of the most exciting action sequences in the entirety of Twin Peaks, “The Orchid’s Curse” finds Cooper and Truman (Michael Ontkean) sneaking into One Eyed Jack’s to rescue Audrey, leading to a battle to escape, in which it’s Hawk (Michael Horse) that’s the true hero, saving their lives. Seeing Cooper and Truman spring into action as they did is a nice change of pace from their normal investigations.
16. “On the Wings of Love” (Season 2, episode 18)
Audrey finally moves on from Cooper when she lands a new boyfriend and Cooper begins the investigation of Owl Cave. The cave, filled with Native American petroglyphs, became an important part of Twin Peaks‘ spiritual side as the show delved into the Black and White Lodges that drove the end of the series.
15. “Traces to Nowhere” (Season 1, episode 2)
“Traces to Nowhere” introduced a lot of major pieces to the Twin Peaks puzzle, from Audrey’s affection for Cooper to the first little hints of BOB. After such an insane introduction to the world of Twin Peaks, this is the episode that helped build the foundation for everything that was to follow.
14. “Laura’s Secret Diary” (Season 2, episode 4)
With Audrey being held hostage at One-Eyed Jack’s, quite a bit gets put on hold with Cooper’s investigation. However, what makes this episode stand out is the opening, in which Leland confesses to Cooper and Truman that he killed Jacques Renault. The interrogation in which Leland breaks down, admitting that he killed the man he’s convinced murdered Laura, is tough to watch.
13. “The Path to the Black Lodge” (Season 2, episode 20)
This is where the endgame for season two becomes clear and it’s all in the episode’s title. Cooper is on The Path to the Black Lodge where Windom Earle will eventually be waiting for him. Before that, though, the FBI special agent continues his romance with Annie. In some ways, some of the episode’s moments are a reprieve from the darkness, including those of Cooper and Annie in the Double R Diner.
12. “Cooper’s Dreams” (Season 1, episode 6)
“Cooper’s Dream” puts the spotlight on the citizens of Twin Peaks as their roles in town, and possibly Laura’s murder, come to light as the town’s secrets are revealed.
11. “Drive With a Dead Girl” (Season 2, episode 8)
This is the episode where it becomes clear that BOB has taken over Leland’s soul, giving Wise the chance to play a truly maniacal character, rather than the intensely grieving father, in the aftermath of murdering his own niece.
10. “Demons” (Season 2, episode 6)
This episode leans heavy into the surreal as Shelly and Bobby throw a welcome-home party for a comatose Leo, which ends with him face-planting in his own cake. Strange as that is, though, “Demons” stands out due to the introduction of Gordon Cole, Cooper’s boss. Viewers also learned more about BOB, thanks to Cooper’s interrogation of Gerard.
9. “Miss Twin Peaks” (Season 2, episode 21)
The penultimate episode of the series is a huge one for Twin Peaks. With the arrival of the Miss Twin Peaks pageant, Windom Earle is ready to make his final moves and ends up kidnapping Annie, taking her to the Black Lodge. That sets up the epic showdown between Cooper and Earle in the finale.
8. “Coma” (Season 2, episode 2)
Viewers first learn about Windom Earle in this episode, with the news he’s escaped a mental hospital. Meanwhile, Audrey gets in even deeper at One-Eyed Jack’s as she looks into Laura’s secret life to help Cooper’s investigation. After the jam-packed season-two premiere, “Coma” put a lot of pieces in place for what was to come.
7. “The Last Evening” (Season 1, episode 8)
Had Twin Peaks not been renewed, the season-one finale would have been a torturous thing to watch. With so many twists and turns, it left a lot of pieces in the air. Renault’s role in Laura’s death is revealed, and Leo (Eric Da Re) is shot after attempting to kill Bobby, leaving him in a coma for much of season two. The episode ends with Cooper being gunned down in his hotel room with his fate uncertain as he bleeds out on the floor.
6. “May the Giant Be With You” (Season 2, episode 1)
After the season-one cliffhanger that saw Cooper gunned down and bleeding out, the season-two premiere packed in a lot of story as it picks up moments after the previous episode ends. Most importantly, though, is the appearance of Giant (Carel Struycken), who gives Cooper three clues into the death of Laura that all end up being true.
5. “Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer” (Season 1, episode 3)
While nothing about Twin Peaks was normal, it was this episode that really gave fans an idea of how confusing things could get. Whether it’s the incredibly disturbing way Ben and Herry Horne (David Patrick Kelly) eat sandwiches to Leland Palmer’s crying dance routine with a photo of his dead daughter, the oddness was in full effect. It’s Cooper’s dream at the end of the episode that pushes this one over the edge, though.
4. “Arbitrary Law” (Season 2, episode 4)
One of the show’s most significant episodes, “Arbitrary Law” solves the mystery that kicked the show off with the revelation that Leland — under the influence of BOB — killed his daughter Laura. His final descent into madness and his death that quickly followed close the first chapter of the Twin Peaks story in an emotionally devastating fashion.
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