Twin Peaks, Season 1, Episode 5, “The One-Armed Man”
Written by Robert Engels
Directed by Tim Hunter
Aired May 3, 1990 on ABC
“One woman can make you fly like an eagle, another can give you the strength of a lion, but only one in the cycle of life can fill your heart with wonder and the wisdom that you have known a singular joy. I wrote that for my girlfriend.” —Deputy Hawk
While Twin Peaks is easy to praise for both its alien-like atmosphere and the skill with which it constructed the Laura Palmer investigation, neither of these aspects would resonate to the degree they do if they weren’t built on the solid framework of the show’s world. The residents of Twin Peaks are all distinctly drawn characters with their own set of quirks, biases, and motivations; many of which are only tangentially related to Laura’s death. David Lynch said at the time, and in many interviews since, that he considered the murder the entry point to the rest of the town, and that in an ideal world, it would have turned into a perpetual motion machine of story as their lives progressed.
That sense of motion permeates all of “The One-Armed Man,” a feeling that with Laura now laid to rest, life still goes on. The investigation still remains the focal point—and with multiple participants working sides unbeknownst to Cooper and Truman—but equal amounts of time are devoted to the Horne/Martell conspiracy against the mill, various deals in the drug trafficking operation, and developments in the Jennings home life. It’s nowhere near as emotional or esoteric as any of the preceding episodes, but as the first season passes the midway point, it serves as a settling point for the town’s ecosystem.
“Ecosystem” is the right word for it, because “The One-Armed Man” is an episode that devotes a lot of attention to animals and their owners. Cooper, following the latest threads of the investigation, winds up at the Twin Peaks veterinary clinic of Dr. Bob Lydecker, the best friend of the one-armed man who’s been skulking around the hospital. Besides putting Cooper face-to-face with a llama (arguably the funniest single beat in the series to date), the visit also points him toward the bird identified as one of Laura’s attackers: a mynah bird owned by none other than Jacques Renault. There’s also the various stuffed animals decorating the Packard/Martell estate—a goat head mounted above, its hooves repurposed as a gun rack, a black bear seemingly posed to grab Josie—and an owl watching James and Donna try to dig up the necklace in a more than ominous fashion. With the mysterious BOB compared to a feral animal by Sarah Palmer, and Lydecker’s slogan of “Aid to the beast incarnate,” the lines between primal and civilized start to blur in a disquieting fashion.
The way Cooper and company make their way to these details—and eventually make the connection between Leo Johnson and Jacques Renault—proves that the unconventional nature of the investigation continues to work to the benefit of Twin Peaks. While the dream sequence wasn’t originally intended to be part of the series narrative, “The One-Armed Man” continues the positive trend of using its details to subtly guide Cooper along his investigation. The one-armed man proves to be a dead end on his own (even though Al Strobel gives a memorable performance as the bewildered shoe salesman), but he leads Cooper to the vet, who in turn leads him to the convenience store, enough of a detail to push him to investigate further. It’s an investigation that continues to feel grounded and out there at the same time, a not unimpressive feat for the show.
With various breaks in the case giving the sheriff’s department some breathing room, the episode lets the viewer spend time with its employees on a more casual basis. After Andy drops his gun on the Gerard stakeout, some target practice is in order, and as the lawmen walk past the station’s Christmas decorations to the range—a wonderful throwaway detail for this small-town precinct—we get to see the four shooting the breeze at the same time they’re shooting targets. Andy and Lucy’s relationship becomes common knowledge, Hawk gets to display his poetic side, and Cooper discloses some non-Tibet personal details about himself for the first time. It’s a good scene that speaks to both the dynamic of the department and how much Cooper has endeared himself to the tightly-knit group in only a few days. And the results of the shooting are perfectly in character: Andy can’t hit the broad side of a barn, Hawk and Truman are solid shooters, and Cooper displays Martin Riggs levels of accuracy.
While the members of law enforcement are busy on and off the clock, a few unofficial investigations are taking place around town. Audrey, buoyed by the idea of Cooper sweeping her off to “a life of intrigue,” decides to use her suspicions about One-Eyed Jack’s to solve the murder herself. Given prior examples of the Horne family dynamic, her interactions with her father here stand in such stark contrast that it’s easy to see how Ben could start with utter dismissal, and then move towards wanting to believe what she has to say. Possibly he’s buying her act, possibly he recognizes how good his daughter is at displaying the family trait for deceit—either way, he’s proud of her in that moment. Director Tim Hunter does solid work here with the framing, moving around both Hornes in Ben’s office to the extent that no two shots feels like they’re at the same angle.
The other high school investigations are more of a mixed bag. Bobby’s tampering with the results of the investigation by planting Leo’s bloody shirt helps to move the story along, and continues his character’s trend of being capable of more than dramatics. On the other hand, Donna and James continue to drag down the show every time they pop up, and in their frantic search for the necklace, the presence of the owl is the most dramatically compelling element. Keeping Laura’s classmates tied to the mystery makes sense in theory—as the people closest to Laura, her loss has the most direct bearing on them—but the execution isn’t there in either the writing or the performances.
“The One-Armed Man” also sees Josie taking her most direct agency in the series to date, scoping out Ben and Catherine’s latest tryst at a local hotel. The pacing of this plot continues to be glacial, to the point that the viewer is almost as impatient as Catherine for something to transpire, but by overlapping it with the Gerard raid, the episode helps reassure viewers that it’s all part of the same show. And with Ben now enlisting Leo to handle the destruction of the mill in three days—a deal made over the burlap-bound corpse of Bernard—a ticking clock is introduced that this plot sorely needed.
However, Josie appears to have more to worry about than losing her mill, if the call that ends the episode is any indication. In an episode full of animals, the being who feels the most predatory turns out to be Hank Jennings, Norma’s heretofore unseen husband, who’s up for parole on a manslaughter charge. Chris Mulkey’s performance exudes an aura of untrustworthiness from the outset, fully justifying Norma’s earlier reticence and nervous twitching at the idea that he might come home. Not as outwardly threatening as Leo—who Shelly and Norma commiserate about in another of the episode’s solid quieter scenes—he gives the impression of a predator waiting for an opportunity, twirling and sucking on a double-three domino until said opportunity presents itself. If Twin Peaks is an ecosystem, everything about Hank indicates an invasive species that may not be adequately contained.
Pie crusts and coffee grounds:
- Log Lady intro: “Even the ones who laugh are sometimes caught without an answer. These creatures who introduce themselves but we swear we have met them somewhere before. Yes, look in the mirror. What do you see? Is it a dream, or a nightmare? Are we being introduced against our will? Are they mirrors? I can see the smoke. I can smell the fire. The battle is drawing nigh.”
- Who Killed Laura Palmer?: All the usual suspects remain suspect. Leo proves himself capable of murder with the dispatch of Bernard Renault, Ben is entirely unmoved by the body, and Dr. Jacoby has many theories about sexual problems he’s keen to share with Cooper. Though that llama was certainly acting like it had something to hide.
- This Week in Invitation To Love: Lucy, an avid follower of the program, sums it up nicely. “Thanks to Jade, Jared decided not to kill himself and he’s changed his will, leaving the Towers to Jade instead of Emerald, but Emerald found out about it and now she’s trying to seduce Chet to give her the new will so she can destroy it. Montana’s planning to kill Jared at midnight so the Towers will belong to Emerald and Montana, but I think she’s going to double-cross him and he doesn’t know it yet. Poor Chet.”
- Lynch and Frost’s self-amused nomenclature continues: Philip Gerard shares the same name with the police lieutenant of The Fugitive–another murder mystery where a one-armed man played a key role—and the bird mystery is solved when Deputy Andy literally finds Waldo in the veterinary files.
- Dr. Jacoby’s golf ball trick is a delightful visual non sequitur for the show, as is his effort to engage Cooper in a discussion about their respective Eastern philosophies.
- Cooper continues to prove himself the best FBI agent ever, as he stands up to his superior Gordon Cole (voiced by Lynch himself) over Truman slugging Albert across the face. “Harry, the last thing I want you to worry about is some city slicker I brought into town relieving himself upstream.”
- Two fun moments with Maddie’s Laura resemblance this episode, as Truman does a double-take when she serves him coffee, and James is struck dumber than usual when he sees her for the first time.
- Donna is correct: there is a Western with Marlon Brando called One-Eyed Jacks, which happens to be Brando’s only directing credit.
- “I’ve been doing some research. In real life there is no algebra.”
- “Gentlemen, when two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry, we must always pay strict attention.”
Next week: We finally learn what the Log Lady’s log saw that night in “Cooper’s Dreams,” and Audrey moves up the ladder at Horne’s Department Store.