In less than three months, Twin Peaks will return after 25 years off the air, finally satisfying the craving fans the world over have for more of the story ... and more of that damn good coffee.
Given that the show's return is so close, I think it's possible that you might be pondering a re-watch of all 30 original episodes to get all the juicy details and loose ends fresh in your brain before Agent Cooper and company are back. I had the same thought, and so I embarked on a marathon mission to see Dale, Harry, Audrey, Shelly, Donna, Laura and everyone else again, searching for the best episodes, the worst stories, and all the strangeness in between.
The list below is the result of that marathon, a complete ranking of every Twin Peaks episode from the original run. Before you go any further, please note that everyone's individual Twin Peaks taste varies widely, so the storyline you loved might be the one that I hated. Also, note that this is not a Beginner's Guide to which episodes to watch, as anyone attempting to jump into the middle of this show will only be confused.
Oh, and obviously, there are SPOILERS ahead for the whole series.
Now then, as The Man from Another Place said ... Let's rock!
30. "The Black Widow" (Season 2, Episode 12)
There's a point during the middle of Twin Peaks' second season, after Laura Palmer's killer is revealed but before the Black Lodge stuff really picks up, when the show feels a little aimless in its search for a storyline to really serve as the engine again. Several episodes are victims of this drifting, but "The Black Widow" takes the worst damage. Some arcs are boring, others feel half-baked, and the series doesn't have the fire it once did. Still, even the worst Twin Peaks episode is still pretty fun in places.
29. "Masked Ball" (Season 2, Episode 11)
Despite a few interesting developments, including the return of the long-thought-dead Andrew Packard and the appearance of DEA Agent Denise Bryson (David Duchovny), this episode suffers by lingering too long on a couple of storylines that serve as very poor replacements for the Laura Palmer arc. I never found Nadine's reversion to super-strong, super-horny teen girl very amusing, and you will never get me to care about James outside of the realms of Laura and Donna. Sorry, that's just how it works.
28. "Double Play" (Season 2, Episode 14)
I enjoy the Windom Earle story, and Cooper's story abut his former partner is the most compelling part of this episode, but I always felt like the Earle stuff moved too slowly, and the rest of the episode can't quite hold it together. Ben Horne's mad descent into Gettysburg general seems like it's just weird for the sake of weirdness and doesn't really connect until it ends. Meanwhile, Leo's awake, the fallout from the mill fire just won't end, and James finds himself caught in a trap, but it's still not very interesting.
27. "Wounds and Scars" (Season 2, Episode 17)
Oh, the pine weasel. Just when you thought Ben was getting back on track, along came the pine weasel to make things slow down again. As with the Gettysburg stuff, this felt weird without reason in a bland way, despite a clear in-story reason for it. Meanwhile, the episode is salvaged by the arrival of Norma's sister Annie, who gives Cooper a new driving romantic force that really clicks.
26. "Slaves and Masters" (Season 2, Episode 15)
James' tangle with a femme fatale finally comes to an end, and we finally get a few fireworks as a thanks for all the time we had to spend watching it. Elsewhere, Nadine decides to leave Ed for Mike, leading to the most enjoyable moment of that entire story (pictured), and Pete joins in the Windom Earle investigation by using his prodigious chess talents to help Cooper face his old friend. I'm not sure it quite makes sense, but Pete is just so winning as a character that I don't care.
25. "Dispute Between Brothers" (Season 2, Episode 10)
The town gathers to lay Leland Palmer to rest, and the show begins exploring new stories now that its trademark plot has been resolved. Some of these new directions work, and some really don't. The feud between the town's newspaper publisher and the mayor, who are brothers, feels a little out of place here even though it produces some amusing comic moments later. Elsewhere, the stuff with Norma's mother doesn't work for me, I don't find Hank very compelling, and the apparent resolution of the Cooper/Audrey pseudo-romance leaves the show all the poorer until Annie shows up later in the season. On the bright side, the Lucy/Andy/Dick love triangle hasn't worn out its welcome, the twist of Cooper's FBI suspension really drives us into the next episode, and the mystery of the two supernatural Lodges in the woods deepens.
24. "Variations on Relations" (Season 2, Episode 19)
This is the weakest of the episodes that close out Season 2, but it's still fairly entertaining. The pine weasel arc finally yields some decent comedy, Annie and Cooper deepen their romance, and the Owl Cave mystery is ongoing. It's all entertaining stuff, but the episode as a whole feels a little like it's waiting on the really good plot to come along next week. Lucky for us, though, this episode also features my favorite piece of Twin Peaks comedy ever: Gordon Cole (David Lynch) flirting with Shelly Johnson and praising her magical ability to render his hearing aid unnecessary.
23. "The Condemned Woman" (Season 2, Episode 16)
James finally rides off into the sunset, ending perhaps the most boring story the show ever told (yet even that had its moments), while Norma and Ed take a welcome new step and Earle makes a big move. The poems sent to Audrey, Donna and Shelly were always interesting to me, which kinda makes up for Audrey's new beau, who I never found that fun at all. At the center of the episode, though, is the ultimate fate of Josie Packard, who goes out with one of the best displays of in-story strangeness the show ever mustered.
22. "Checkmate" (Season 2, Episode 13)
This episode is anchored by the final confrontation with Jean Renault (featuring David Duchovny in a waitress outfit), the first deadly move of Windom Earle, and new details about the White Lodge as Major Briggs returns. That's enough to keep the episode entertaining, though it still suffers due to James' new romance, Ben's Civil War insanity, and the ongoing saga of Andy and Dick vying for Lucy's affection. At least Nadine's superhuman strength came in handy when Hank showed up to take out Ed, though.
21. "Rest in Pain" (Season 1, Episode 4)
The weakest episode of Season 1 is still pretty damn good, thanks to Leland's despair, Bobby's anger and Cooper's eager interpretation of his powerful dream from the third episode. Unfortunately the funeral makes the show tread a little water for the first time, even as bigger things are brewing and the concept of the Bookhouse Boys is introduced and Laura's cousin Maddy shows up.
20. "The Man Behind Glass" (Season 2, Episode 3)
I always thought the show found the Maddy/Donna/James triangle a little more interesting than it really is, but it works in this episode, as most things do. At this point, even Dick Tremayne is still quirky and interesting. Donna's meeting with Harold Smith adds an intriguing new layer to the Laura mystery, but it's overshadowed by two even bigger developments: The emergence of MIKE when Gerard goes too long without his medicine, and the revelation that Leland knows BOB's face. That's enough to make this episode thoroughly entertaining, even as Nadine and Ed's journey languishes a bit (until the end of the episode, that is) and Audrey's captivity at One Eyed Jacks starts to wear out its welcome a bit.
19. "Realization Time" (Season 1, Episode 7)
Audrey finally schemes her way into One Eyed Jacks, using her now-iconic cherry trick, while Cooper and Big Ed get to play James Bond and infiltrate the casino in search of their suspect. This is the spine of the episode, and it's great fun to watch, from Audrey's sultry determination to Cooper's bespectacled cool. Bobby's quest for vengeance isn't all that fun to me, though, and Maddy, James and Donna's attempts to play detective don't quite land, as impressive as their twisted little plan is.
18. "Traces to Nowhere" (Season 1, Episode 2)
This episode suffers because it has the misfortune of falling between two of the best episodes the series ever produced (more on those later), making it feel weak by comparison. Still, there's a lot to love here. Audrey sets her sights on Cooper, the suspect list grows longer and, most importantly, Sarah Palmer's visions give us our first hints at the presence of BOB. It's packed with plot, and yet it still feels slow compared to what follows.
17. "The One-Armed Man" (Season 1, Episode 5)
Of all the characters involved in the Packard Mill story, I always found Hank Jennings to be the weakest, just a collection of threatening looks more than anything else. So, his entry into the saga weighs this episode down a bit. That said, the hunt for the one-armed man actually produces results, and they're intriguing if not definitive.
16. "The Orchid's Curse" (Season 2, Episode 5)
Twin Peaks was never a show known for its harrowing action sequences, but this episode delivers on that front, giving us both the rescue of Audrey from One Eyed Jacks and the attempt to steal Laura's secret diary from Harold Smith's house. One ends in safety, while the other culminates in suicidal terror, marking one of the most pronounced tonal contrasts the show ever pulled off.
15. "On the Wings of Love" (Season 2, Episode 18)
The exploration of Owl Cave begins, and we're one step closer to the fascinating new mythology that would so memorably close the season. Elsewhere, Audrey ignites a new romance, while Donna begins to wonder about the relationship between her mother and Ben Horne. I'm not a huge fan of where that Donna story takes us, but I really love the Owl Cave stuff, and it's pretty great to see Harry finally begin crawling out of the shadow of Josie's death.
14. "The Path to the Black Lodge" (Season 2, Episode 20)
The title says it all. The journey to the season finale is becoming clearer and clearer, and the connection between Earle, Major Briggs and the supernatural darkness surrounding the town is put firmly in place. Add to that the continued Cooper/Annie romance and a surprisingly touching moment between Audrey and Pete and you've got a very fun episode that mostly only suffers by comparison to what comes after it.
13. "Laura's Secret Diary" (Season 2, Episode 4)
The re-emergence of Catherine Martell disguised as a Japanese businessman still makes me cringe, but other than that this is a pretty great episode. The rescue of Audrey begins to take shape as it becomes more and more clear just how dangerous Jean Renault is, and the impending arrival of travel writer M.T. Wentz provides an interesting distraction for the rest of the town, even if the eventual payoff is underwhelming. Then, there's the real key: the revelation that Leland Palmer's madness runs deeper than simple grief. This man is dangerous, and it's the first step to a devastating reveal.
12. "Cooper's Dreams" (Season 1, Episode 6)
The Log Lady is one of the show's best assets, but you have to use her both sparingly and carefully. Here, she gets to actively assist in the Laura Palmer investigation, and it's great stuff. Meanwhile, Audrey's own investigative scheme grows more complex and reminds me why she's one of my favorite things about Season 1. I wish the show had used that side of her more. I would've watched a whole show just about Audrey Horne, Girl Detective.
11. "Demons" (Season 2, Episode 6)
I never cared all that much for Bobby and Shelly taking care of an apparently brain-dead Leo, but the welcome home party they throw for him redeems that at least momentarily with its pure surreal comedy. Meanwhile, Audrey's coming out of heroin-induced fog, Josie gets the upper hand on Ben, and Mr. Tajamura's still around making me uncomfortable. The key to the episode, though, is the interrogation of Gerard, who is taken over by MIKE in one of the show's most memorable scenes.
10. "Drive with a Dead Girl" (Season 2, Episode 8)
There's a lot going on in this episode. Ben's in jail on suspicion of killing Laura and Catherine's trying to manipulate him through her position as his only alibi. Lucy's sister is in town, as is Norma's mother, and Cooper and Truman disagree about their new suspect. It's a busy hour, and what makes it work is the specter of a BOB-possesed Leland, driving around town with his dead niece stuffed in his golf bag. It's a perfect visual metaphor for how the whole series works.
9. "Coma" (Season 2, Episode 2)
There's so much to love here. Audrey gets even bolder at One Eyed Jacks, Maddy has a vision of BOB, Cooper learns that Windom Earle is on the loose, and Donna has a very strange Meals On Wheels visit in which creamed corn is introduced into the Twin Peaks mythology. It's a delightfully weird episode, a great follow-up to the season premiere, and an excellent harbinger of what's to come.
8. "Miss Twin Peaks" (Season 2, Episode 21)
The penultimate episode of the series sets a number of characters -- including Andy and Lucy -- off on new paths, while leaving other plots intriguingly open for Season 3. Central to making this hour work, though, is the titular beauty pageant, which is a delightful bit of Twin Peaks curiosity until Windom Earle crashes the party in spectacular fashion.
7. "The Last Evening" (Season 1, Episode 8)
Co-creator Mark Frost has said that he absolutely packed the Season 1 finale with cliffhangers both as a send-up of nighttime soap operas and as an attempt to keep ABC executives hooked on the show enough that they'd order a second season. It works on both counts. "The Last Evening" is quite possibly the most plot-packed episode of the entire series, giving us shootings, suicide attempts, murder and a hell of a final scene. If you like Twin Peaks when it's just pouring on the soapy twists, this might be your favorite episode.
6. "Lonely Souls" (Season 2, Episode 7)
Twin Peaks remembered best for being a strange show, but in the right moments it could become positively nightmarish, and this episode is proof. Billed as the episode that would finally reveal Laura's killer (special ads were taken out just for the broadcast), "Lonely Souls" first casts suspicion on Ben, but as the remains of Harold Smith's life give up Laura's secret diary to the police, the specter of BOB looms, the Giant warns "It is happening again," and a possessed Leland Palmer murders his niece in an absolutely harrowing sequence.
5. "Pilot (Northwest Passage)" (Season 1, Episode 1)
Pilot episodes very often reveal shows which are still trying to figure themselves out. Characters come out half-baked, plot lines picked up in the opening scenes fizzle, and by the end of the first season the show is unrecognizable. Not so with Twin Peaks. The darkness, the secrets, the strange non sequiturs, and the incredibly specific characters were all there right from the start. It's one of the best pilots ever made as it hits the ground running in a spectacular and fully realized fashion.
4. "Arbitrary Law" (Season 2, Episode 9)
Just as Episode 7 was nightmarish in its murderous intensity, so too is this episode an emotionally harrowing farewell to both the show's driving story and one of its most tortured characters. Leland Palmer, unmasked as his daughter's killer, can't believe or live with what he's done, even as he knows BOB is really to blame. Other things happen in this episode, but Leland's descent into death is what sticks with you, particularly his baptismal farewell as he's greeted with forgiveness by the spirit of his daughter.
3. "Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer" (Season 1, Episode 3)
This is the episode that earned Twin Peaks its reputation for weirdness. Hoping to move the case forward, Cooper decides to adopt a more meditative investigative method ... by throwing rocks at bottles. Meanwhile, the strange brotherhood of Ben and Jerry Horne reignites over a couple of sandwiches, and the great Miguel Ferrer arrives as Special Agent Albert Rosenfield. The clincher, though, is Cooper's red-curtained dream at the episode's close setting the stage for a number of strange occurrences, omens and eventually even the Black Lodge.
2. "May the Giant Be With You" (Season 2, Episode 1)
The only episode that might be more plot-packed than the Season 1 finale, the Season 2 premiere picks up on Agent Cooper bleeding on his hotel room floor, then carries us through the hospital, the disappearance of Catherine Martell, the arrival of new evidence for Donna's personal investigation and the first appearance of the Giant, who gives three clues that all soon come true for Cooper. It's a dizzyingly eventful episode, and Cooper's conversation with the hapless hotel employee who doesn't seem to understand that he's just been shot is an instant classic.
1. "Beyond Life and Death" (Season 2, Episode 22)
This episode, of course, closes on one of the most famous cliffhangers in TV history, and as frustrating as that is to fans who have waited years to learn what happens next, it's also a very good hour of television. Actually, there's more than one cliffhanger: for all we know, Pete and Audrey were blown to smithereens as a new layer of mill scheming is revealed.
That's not what we really came here for, though. We talk a lot about the Agent Cooper cliffhanger, but even taking that into account, the episode precedes it with a spectacular payoff. After weeks of trying to figure out what the Black Lodge is, and a year of trying to understand what the deal was with The Man from Another Place, we finally get both in one dazzling, terrifying sequence. Cooper wanders through the Lodge, confronted by a screaming Laura Palmer doppelganger, a mirror version of himself, and the terrifying true face of BOB. It's Twin Peaks getting weirder than it ever did before while still revealing new things to us. I can't wait to see where we go next.