Despite the title, the fourth episode of the second season of Twin Peaks doesn’t contain that much of a focus on Laura’s diary, nor on Donna’s relationship with the reclusive Harold Smith, who provides her with the diary in the first place. Instead, the centrepiece of this episode revolves around Jacques Renault apprising Ben Horne of Audrey’s kidnapping and demanding that Dale Cooper hand over the ransom money. That ties in quite neatly with Leland Palmer’s confession that he has murdered Jean Renault in hospital, resulting in his arrest by Cooper and Harry Truman, who, despite understanding his motives, set up a hearing to decide whether or not he will be granted bail before appearing at trial.
In many ways, however, the bulk of “Laura Palmer’s Diary” is displaced from those key narrative events, since this is one of the first episodes in the second season in which you can really feel Mark Frost experimenting with taking on a new direction and outlook for the series as a whole. As a result, alongside those major developments are three subplots on the very fringes of the Laura Palmer investigation: firstly, Andy decides to get a second fertility test, leading to a comic opening sequence in which he confronts Lucy on the way to the bathroom with a copy of Flesh World; secondly, a renowned restaurant critic, who always reviews in disguise, is rumoured to be hitting Twin Peaks; and, thirdly, Dick Tremayne suggests an abortion to Lucy, who responds as might be expected.
All three of these plot strands seem to be consciously experimenting with widening the genre cues and tonal palette of the series even further, with Andy’s debacle feeling like a scene from a mild frathouse comedy, Lucy’s tiff with Dick playing as straight romantic comedy and the restaurant critic creating a workplace sitcom vibe as the Great Northern and RR Diner prepare for his arrival. That transition and transformation is all the more noticeable in that it’s set in place by the copy of Flesh World that Andy takes with him to the bathroom in the opening scene – a publication that, up until this point, has been utterly inextricable from the horror of Laura’s assault and murder, as well as a critical node in the procedural investigation into her last twenty-four hours.
By remediating a critical component of the case as a springboard for a world beyond the case, “Laura’s Secret Diary” thereby offers a glimpse of how the series might have looked if Laura’s killer hadn’t been revealed – or had only been revealed at the end of the second season, as Lynch and Frost had always hoped. From what I understand, it hadn’t been decided – at this stage – to reveal the killer so early, and you can really feel Frost contemplating how he might devote an entire season to filling out the tones and textures of the town in the background of the investigation, resulting in a hokey, quotidian, sitcommy vibe, and an intensified normality that just wouldn’t be possible in the same way after Laura’s killer was revealed.
This process doesn’t just involve the addition of new characters, but an increased plasticity amongst the established characters, who seem increasingly prone to shapeshift and appropriate components of each other’s identities. Although they only share a short scene here, that tendency is most pronounced in the ever-evolving relationship between Donna Hayward and Maddy Ferguson, who both seem to embody different traits of Laura as they circle around James Hurley, who is conspicuously absent from this episode, despite a brief hint that he might appear as part of the Bookhouse Boys in the final scene. Along the way, the characters becomes somewhat soapier, so it’s apt that the references to Invitation to Love start to drop off from this point, as the daytime television logic seeps fully into the surreal dreamscapes of the series itself.
Yet there’s also a darker subcurrent here as well – a more brooding and maleficent soap aesthetic – encapsulated in the thunderstorm that presides over the second half of the episode, and over Leland’s hearing in particular. Chaired by a judge who seems straight out of American Gothic literature, this sequence obviously anticipates events to come, just as the flickering lightning flashes on Leland’s shock of white hair prefigures the strobescape of the Black Lodge, which starts to emerge in the series at this point as a stylistic horizon if not a clearly defined or even directly named space. In a strange way, then, the soapy asides only serves to contour this intensity at the heart of the episode, with the more “trivial” transformations – of Lucy’s attitude towards Dick, Andy’s attitude towards his own fertility, and the rebranding of the RR Diner in preparation for the arrival of the restaurant critic – finding their counterpart in the seismically spiritual transfigurations that seem to grip so many characters over the first part of this season.
Alongside the comic expansion of the townscape, there’s a more concentrated and insular sense of foreboding that gradually expands into a full-blown horror atmosphere in the final sequence, in which a knock at the door of the RR Diner is followed by a sudden blackout, during which Hank Jennings finds himself beaten up by an unknown (at least to us) Japanese assailant. It’s part of a general influx of Chinese and Japanese characters during this episode that more or less betokens horror, right down to Josie’s return under a much more noirish, vampish guise than we have ever seen her take on before. For the first time, she seems fully identified with the reflection of herself in the mirror that opens the first episode – the first face we see in the entire series – and almost orientalist in the way in which her languorous postures and gestures embody the spiritual suffocation that seems to be closing upon the entire town.
Like so many of the other characters, then, Josie starts to collapse back and commune with the primal self we witnessed in the hours before and around Laura’s murder, which means that, for all her exoticism and absence, she also embodies Twin Peaks itself in an even more visceral way this time around. On the one hand, her heightened Orientalist elegance works naturally as a kind of logical end point to the series’ own histrionic languor, while the obsessively minute and reticulated spaces of the town often take on an Orientalist vibe, especially given the signature use of warm, pearl tinting, which is perhaps why she so often seems to be their natural inhabitant, despite being the only character, along with Cooper, who doesn’t hail from Twin Peaks originally (there is a reason, after all, why she is the first person in the town that we see).
At the same time, Chinese and Japanese characters were often used in American cinema at this time as a cipher for the East Asian capital that was gradually colonising and making inroads into the West Coast. It’s not surprising, then, that the shadowy figures that start to proliferate in the wake of Josie’s return are all associated in some way with the sawmill – the motor engine of the local economy as well as the town’s one real link to the wider world of big business – and yet it would be anachronistic to describe Twin Peaks as a direct economic critique either. Instead, the presence of Asian businessmen function in much the same way as the Giant’s missives – as an indication that, for all its cosy insularity, Twin Peaks is somehow in touch with global, even cosmic forces, that offset and invest its unique particulars with ramifications beyond what any of the characters can properly imagine. Of course, that sense of inscrutability is what also gives the series such a noir vibe as well, aligning it with the Orientalist outlook of what would become the 90s erotic thriller – the end-point of neo-noir – and often seeming to anticipate films like Jade and China Moon which conflated East Asia and the West Coast into a xenophobic hallucination of the globalised future.
Aesthetically, that vertiginous alternation between local and global (or cosmic) scales of reference will mobilise the second season more and more with each episode, but here’s it’s wonderfully encapsulated in the most expressionist and abstract opening so far. In a throwback to David Lynch’s opening to Blue Velvet, director Todd Holland starts by pulling the camera back from what appear to be a series of dark, dank tunnels, only for it to be revealed – after a surprisingly long time – that what we’re looking at is the cladding on the hospital ceiling. It’s both a marked contrast to the warm, wooden textures of the rest of the film, and a powerful abstraction of space that – once again – anticipates the Black Lodge as the stylistic endpoint of this disorienting cascading of different scales of perception and perspective. It’s a cacophonous moment, more redolent of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me than any other point in the series so far, not least because it is also presented as a visualisation of Leland’s mind as he commits Jacques Renault’s murder, although, as we will soon know, there is much more than Renault’s murder on his mind.