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TWIN PEAKS REVISITED: Episode 3- “Zen, Or The Skill To Catch A Killer”

Welcome to the third installment of Twin Peaks: Revisited! This week, we’ll recap and review the third episode of the series, “Zen, Or The Skill To Catch A Killer“. This is the third episode in a row written by both series creators, Mark Frost and David Lynch, and the second episode directed by David Lynch. Thanks to its infamous dream sequence at the episode’s end, it is maybe the most famous and talked about chapter of Twin Peaks.

As I mentioned last week, if you’re a newbie who is watching the show for the very first time and following along, don’t worry–there won’t be any spoilers of any significance for future episodes in this recap. And if you’re new to the show and still wondering which character is which with this huge cast, and what the actor’s name is, etc, then I refer you to this link and this one, which have the old CD soundtrack scans that contain the entire season one cast and who plays them.

Episode 3: Zen, Or The Skill To Catch A Killer – Aired April 19, 1990

The episode opens with a long, awkward dinner with the Horne family at the Great Northern Hotel. The family eats in total silence for about a minute of screen time while the credits rolls, until in busts Ben’s younger brother, Jerry Horne, just back from a business trip in France. He orders all the hotel clerks to open all his bags until they find a single item – a baguette sandwich with brie and butter. He and Ben then tear into them with the glee of excited, hungry children, laughing and talking with their mouths full, much to the annoyance of the rest of the family. Ben then informs Jerry of Laura’s murder, to which Jerry merely says, “Well now I’m depressed.” Ben realizes he can fix that, as there’s “a new girl at One Eyed Jacks” ready for them to try out.


Ben and Jerry then hop in their boat and head across the border to Canada to this One Eyed Jacks, which turns out to be a brothel/casino covered in red-curtained decor, and the girls who work there dress like some kind of “sexy Alice In Wonderland“-type lingerie from the Hustler store. We are introduced to Blackie, the brothel’s Madame, who quickly sets up Ben Horne with their latest employee, a young blonde girl. The “ick factor” is high in this scene.

We then join James Hurley and Donna Hayward on their dinner date at Donna’s parents’ house, who are proclaiming their love for each other again, and giving each other a pass for “betraying” Laura by being together again. YAWN. it’s all old info at this point, and it begins a series precedent for having the Donna/James scenes be boring and painful unless directly tied into the Laura Palmer investigation. Luckily, this scene is over quickly and we don’t see James at all for the rest of the episode.

Agent Cooper then walks into his room at The Great Northern and, for some reason, blows into a duck caller. When the phone rings, it’s Deputy Hawk, and he informs Coop that coma victim Ronette Pulaski worked at the perfume counter at Ben Horne’s Dept. Store. He also tells him that he caught a one-armed man wandering around the morgue, but he vanished before he could question him. Cooper then hears a knock at the door, but when he goes to open it, no one is there. Instead, he finds a note in cursive writing that says “Jack With One Eye.” Cooper sniffs the note and smiles.


Next Bobby Briggs and his best bud, Mike Nelson, head out into the woods at night to pick up their stash from local drug dealer/trucker/wife-beater Leo Johnson. He’s supposed to leave their cocaine in an deflated football at the base of a tree, but only leaves part of it. Then Leo himself appears, and asks where the rest of his money is. Bobby explains that Laura had the other half in her safety deposit box, and he was supposed to get it today, “but then she went and checked out on us. How am I supposed to anticipate something like that?” How indeed, Bobby. “Laura was a wild girl,” says Leo. He then starts going on about how he knows his wife Shelly is cheating on him, “steppin out in our damn bedroom”, but he doesn’t know with whom…yet. Bobby gives enough nervous gulps in this scene that should have given him away as the other man instantly, but then again, Leo ain’t too bright.

We then cut to the home of Ed and Nadine Hurley the next morning. Nadine is doing exercises on one of those rowing exercise machines, when Ed comes in covered in grease from a mishap at his garage. He then steps on Nadine’s cotton ball covered drape runners lying on the floor by accident, and totally covers them in grease. Nadine then Flips. The. Eff. Out. “I was up all night working on that invention,” she hisses. “I was going to make the world’s first completely silent drape runner! Ed you make me SICK!!!” In the previous two episodes, we knew Nadine was tightly wound and a bit off…now we found out that, in fact, she’s totally batshit crazy. Ed goes off, tail between his legs, and Nadine takes out her anger on the poor rowing machine. Wendy Robie is flat out brilliant as Nadine, just bursting at the seams with anger and resentment in the most delightfully manic way.

Bobby then goes to visit his secret lover Shelly at her home, despite the fact that Shelly’s husband Leo made it very clear to him last night that he suspects his wife is cheating on him. Shelly calls Bobby out for being crazy for coming over, despite the fact that he saw Leo gas up a few minutes prior, getting ready to leave town. “If Leo finds out about us…he’ll kill us both” says Shelly. This is when Bobby sees the evidence of the soap-in-a-sock beating he gave her the night before. “If he does this to you again…I’ll kill him” Yeah, Bobby is a punk jerk kid, but in this scene you can tell that, in spite of that, he really does care about Shelly.


We then cut to the woods, where Agent Cooper has a chalkboard and table set up outside (with ample amounts of coffee and donuts for everyone, of course) and begins his tutorial to Sheriff’s Department crew on the country of Tibet. He also explains how, after having a dream three years prior about the plight of the Tibetan people, he emerged realizing that he’d “subconsciously gained knowledge of a deductive technique involving mind/body coordination working hand in hand with the deepest levels of intuition.” And to demonstrate this technique, they’re all going to play a game of rocks and bottles.

“Today, we’re going to focus on the J’s,” says Cooper – a reference to a passage in Laura Palmer’s diary on the day of her death, which read “Nervous about meeting J tonight.” Cooper then writes the name of each series character with either the first or last initial J on the chalkboard, and sets up a glass bottle on a log several feet away. As Sheriff Truman reads aloud the names of each character, Coop throws a rock at the bottle. He misses completely when mentioning the names of Shelly Johnson, Johnny Horne, James Hurley, and Josie Packard, but hits the bottle when Dr. Jacoby is mentioned. However, the bottle doesn’t break, it just falls of the log. The bottle does break  after the name of Leo Johnson is read aloud, putting our pony-tailed drug dealing trucker at the top of the suspect list.

Our next scene has Donna Hayward and her folks having breakfast at the Double R Diner when Audrey Horne walks in. She pops a quarter into the jukebox and Angelo Badalamenti’s “Audrey’s Dance” comes on (I wish all jukeboxes had my theme music at the ready). Audrey seems spaced out and generally out of it (more so than usual), and asks Donna if she likes coffee…”because, you see…Agent Cooper loves coffee.” The two schoolgirls giggle about Audrey’s crush on the dashing FBI Agent, but then things turn awkward when Audrey asks Donna if Laura ever talked about her father Benjamin. Donna asks Audrey what she means by that question, and Audrey deflects, simply saying that her father used to sing to Laura. Audrey then gets caught up in the moment, and says, “God I love this music…isn’t it too dreamy?” and begins to dance and sexily sway by herself in the diner. It’s a quintessential Audrey moment, and one that cemented actress Sherilyn Fenn as the breakout sex symbol on the show from that moment on.


Next comes the third major new character to make his debut this episode, Albert Rosenfield, the FBI forensics expert who is here to perform the proper autopsy on Laura Palmer. He busts into the sheriff’s station and is, to put it mildly, a complete asshole. He’s so damn caustic to everyone and everything around him that you sort of can’t help but love him in a weird way. Within a minute of meeting him, Sheriff Truman vows to knock him out if he spouts off like this again. Cooper gives this a smile and solid “thumbs up”


After the grease n’ drape runners incident earlier that day, poor Big Ed tries to sneak into his own home and avoid the wrath of his insane, one-eyed wife. But Nadine hears him come in, screams his name, and run towards him — only to give him a giant hug. “Oh Ed, you big lug, you don’t know what you’ve done for me.” Turns out the grease from the garage is just what Nadine needed to complete her invention of noiseless completely silent drape runners, which she is now convinced are going to make her so very rich. Did I mention yet how brilliant Wendy Robie is as Nadine? Because she is.

Now it’s nighttime at the Packard home, and after Catherine yells at her forlorn husband Pete to take his tackle box and go to his room, he sneaks the key to Catherine’s wall safe to Josie. Key in tow, she discovers two sets of books to the Packard Saw Mill-one showing a healthy profit, and one showing bankruptcy. Two sets of books, one fraudulent and one not, can only mean someone’s up to no good.

We then go to the Palmer home. When last we saw it in the previous episode, it looked like Laura’s mother Sarah was the one who was going to lose her mind with grief. In this episode, however, it appears that it’s Laura’s father Leland who is becoming unhinged. He turns on the record player and plays Glenn Miller’s “Pennsylvania 6-5000“, picks up the portrait of his daughter Laura, and begins dancing with it, going around in a circle, crying and screaming. His wife Sarah comes and tries to grab the picture away from him, and the two struggle over the portrait of their dead daughter while big band music plays in the background. This is another perfect example of what Twin Peaks does so well (especially when David Lynch is at the helm): taking the heartbreaking and the tragic and finding the humor in it. By the end of the scene though, it goes back to just being tragic as Leland breaks the glass in the frame and cuts his hand, spreading blood all over the smiling picture of Laura. “What is going on in this house?!” Sarah Palmer screams. What indeed.


And now, we come to the most important part of the episode – and probably the entire series – Agent Cooper’s dream. It’s only seven minutes in length, but it defines the rest of the show in such a huge way, and instantly became a part of the enduring iconography of Twin Peaks.

Coop goes to sleep, and we see flashes of of him in old age makeup, sitting in a chair in a red room while a dwarf with his back turned shakes uncontrollably. We see other quick flashes — Sarah Palmer running down the stairs, the long-haired man from her vision, and the murder scene. Then we see the One-Armed Man who has been skulking around in the background for the past two episodes appear to Coop and explain who he is…as cryptically as possible. He begins with a strange poem: “Through the darkness of future past, the magician longs to see. One chance out between two worlds, fire walk with me.”

The One-Armed Man then says that his name is really Mike, and that he “lived above a convenience store” with another killer, whose name is BOB (yes, the name “Bob” in all caps is Twin Peaks canon). Mike claims he “saw the face of God” and stopped the killing by taking off his own arm. Then BOB appears, saying that he’d “catch you with his death bag.” If that wasn’t creepy enough, he also says, “You may think I’ve gone insane. But I promise, I will kill again.”

Catch you... with my death bag

We then cut back to the red-curtained room, and see Cooper is sitting across from two chairs. In one of them sits Laura Palmer, alive and well. The dwarf turns around, stops shaking, and shouts, “Let’s rock!” (All the dwarf’s and Laura’s dialogue is said backward and played forward, giving everything they say a very off-putting, creepy quality.) He tells Cooper, “I’ve got good news! That gum you like is going to come back in style.” He says that Laura is his cousin, and that she’s “filled with secrets.” Coop asks if she’s really Laura, and she answers “I feel like I know her…but sometimes, my arms bend back.”

The dwarf then continues on: “Where we’re from, the birds sing a pretty song and there’s always music in the air.” At this point, Angelo Badalamenti’s jazzy music kicks in, the dwarf gets up and does a little dance, and Laura moves over to Cooper, kisses him, and whispers something in his ear. Then Coop finally wakes up (with the best bed-head ever.) He dials up Sheriff Truman and tells him to meet him at the hotel for breakfast. “I know who killed Laura Palmer. Yes, it can wait till morning,” says Coop.


This brief sequence is the turning point for the show in so many ways. Everything the Little Man From Another Place (as is the dwarf’s proper name) says is a clue to the overall mystery, and crucial to how everything plays out. The idea that Cooper is receiving messages, maybe from some other dimension, takes the hints dropped in the first two episodes that there’s a psychic element to this series, and all but confirms there is more going on here than meets the eye.

Episode Trivia

-The entire dream sequence is edited together from a much longer sequence filmed during the pilot episode as an alternate ending. As a way of ensuring the producers could make their money off this pilot should it not be picked up by the network, a closed ending was required to be shot for the first episode so the movie get could theatrical distribution in Europe.

Knowing there was no way to wrap up the multitude of mysteries set up in the first 90 minutes properly, Frost and Lynch concocted a whole scenario about about how Mrs. Palmer saw the man who killed her daughter that morning at the foot on Laura’s bed, but had forgotten it somehow. The police then find this killer named BOB in the basement of the local hospital, and shoot him. We then cut to 25 years later for the Red Room sequence, which ends the pilot.

All of this footage, originally filmed as a contractual obligation, was then reformatted for the series as the linchpin (no pun intended) around which the entire mystery revolves. Lynch says he came up with the whole Red Room sequence by touching the hood of car when the engine was still on, and the entire thing came to him in a flash. For almost a decade, this alternate version of the pilot episode was the only version available on VHS, despite the fact that the ending cotradicts everything in the series that follows.

-Sylvia, Ben Horne’s wife and the mother of Audrey, appears for the second and final time in the series in this episode, aside from a cameo in the show’s final episode. No explanation is given as to where her character is during the rest of the show’s run.

-This is the first, brief appearance of Invitation to Love, the cheesy daytime soap opera. There will be a lot more where that came from.

-The scene where a grieving Leland Palmer smashes his daughter’s picture and then wipes his own blood all over it isn’t fake blood; actor Ray Wise really cut his hand on the glass and just improvised wiping his actual blood all over the photo. David Lynch liked it so much that he decided to keep that take.

-FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield is played by actor Miguel Ferrer, who also happens to be George Clooney’s cousin. He starred in Robocop with Ray Wise and future Twin Peaks cast member Gavin O’Herlihy, making the show a bit of a Robocop reunion.

Final Verdict

This is the episode where everything that makes Twin Peaks really Twin Peaks come together. From the crazy antics of Nadine Hurley and her drape obsession to Cooper’s Tibetan rocks and bottles game to Audrey’s spur of the moment sexy dance to Cooper’s surreal dream and beyond, this chapter is, in many ways, all the reasons people love the show encapsulated in one episode.

When the show originally aired, this was also the make it or break it moment for the series. This was when people either became hopelessly intrigued and hooked on it, or just shrugged their shoulders and said “WTF is this crap?” and fled to comforting arms of Murder, She Wrote. (there was a lot of both reactions.) But one thing’s for sure –nothing as surreal as this had ever aired on network TV before or since. And for a brief moment, everyone in America was talking about it. The episode’s perfect mix of soapy drama, quirky charm, heartbreaking pathos and just completely weird surrealism is Lynch at his best, and as a result, it’s easily the best episode of the first season, possibly the entire series.

Rating: 5 out of 5 burritos

5 burritos


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  1. Julie says:

    I watched the series for the first time in January/February and was reading your recaps as well (since I didn’t really “get” all of it). I was watching Murder, She Wrote when I was reading this review and spit out my drink when I read the last paragraph.

  2. Jason says:

    Quick correction from the “The One-Armed Man” Mike’s poem in Cooper’s dream:

    It’s “one *CHANTS* out between two worlds”.

    Otherwise, stellar recapping. Love revisiting this wonderful show.

  3. Matthew says:

    I recently observed, after probably my 30th viewing of the entire series, that the herringbone pattern of Leland’s coat as he smears the blood over the broken glass of Laura’s photo, exactly matches the floor of the red room of the dream sequence, which occurs moments later.  Given Lynch’s attention to detail, this must have been an early clue as to the identity of Laura’s killer. 

  4. Murray Robertson says:

    A couple of small corrections: Sylvia Horne also appears in the final episode. Also although Gavin O’Herlihy shows up as a crooked mounty, it’s his father Dan who is in both Twin Peaks and Robocop.

  5. Tomzales says:

    Such a great episode. I was a freshman in high school when this first aired. Audrey in the diner, the rocks and bottles and the dream sequence always stayed with me. I just didn’t realize they all happened in the same episode and so early in the series. Love re-watching this show and reading these recaps. Thank you.