One of my favorite Twin Peaks moments happens in episode 2, and no, it isn’t Cooper’s weird dream. It’s the scene where Bobby and Mike go into the woods to meet with Leo.
To me, this scene is a good example of what Twin Peaks is all about. It’s got that balance of twisted humor, strange atmosphere, and horror that makes the show so great and unique.
The scene begins with Bobby and Mike pulling up at the edge of the woods where they’re to meet Leo and give him his money for the cocaine he supplied. Unfortunately for the boys, there’s a hitch: they only have half the money, because Laura Palmer had the other half and now it’s in police hands due to her death. Already, there’s a sense of foreboding to the scene, because we know how dangerous and violent Leo is thanks to his interactions with Shelley.
The two, armed with a flashlight and Mike’s hidden switchblade, enter the woods. In an extended, memorable sequence, we look out through their eyes as the navigate the trees in silence, their flashlight the only source of light as it shines across tree branches and underbrush. As far as I can tell, this scene is a series of short shots rather than a single take, and it seems to go on for much longer than it actually does, which really adds to the feeling that they’re going deep into the woods, and the viewer is being lost with them. It’s disorienting, and the way that the darkness seems to swallow all but the single beam from their flashlight adds to the menace of the scene.
They finally reach the spot where they’re to leave the money in a deflated football, only to find that Leo is there waiting for them, and with a shotgun, no less. And he’s not pleased. (As an interesting aside, he makes a comment about how “Leo needs a new pair of shoes!” that alludes to a subplot in the second season, though I’m not sure they planned it that way.)
The dark humor comes into play when Bobby—always the smooth-talker—begins to speak. Up until this point in the series, Bobby has been the menace, not the menaced, so we know that Leo is an especially bad dude when even Bobby seems afraid of him. Once Leo reveals that he knows that Shelley is seeing someone else, Bobby becomes especially desperate, since this soon-to-be-dead person is in fact him. I like the way he continually tries to get Leo to say if he knows who it is (and what would he have done if Leo did know and did answer the question? I’ve always lived by a philosophy of not asking questions that you don’t want to know the answers to, but me and Bobby are two different people), but Leo never takes the bait. He finishes off with some self-destructive bravado, assuring Leo that he’ll find this guy and teach him a lesson, perhaps realizing that it’s his own grave that he’s digging.
Finally fed up with them, Leo ends the conversation by telling them to go out for a pass, and becoming increasingly manic when they don’t obey. We get a throwback to the initial scene of Bobby and Mike walking through the woods, only this time the light is shaking wildly, mirroring their desperation as they escape from Leo. And when they finally reach the car, the deflated ball bounces onto their hood. Either they were a lot closer than the walking and running scenes would have you believe (which would increase the disorientation factor), or Leo’s got one heck of a throwing arm.
But for me, the most memorable aspect of this scene is the strange man that Bobby sees watching them from behind a tree. I don’t think it’s ever revealed who it actually is, which makes it even creepier. In a scene that’s already spooky and tense, you get the addition of a mysterious watcher.
Who is it? He seems to be dressed in all black and resembles Dr. Jacoby’s attacker from a few episodes later, who is presumably Leland Palmer, though it’s never made explicit. But it doesn’t really make sense for him to be watching this scene. What purpose would it serve? He does have some relationship with the drug trafficking, as we find out much later in the series, but I don’t think he’s interested in the financial aspect. The other candidate would be Benjamin Horne, who is involved with Leo and would be interested in money exchanging hands. But it hardly seems his style to watch from afar, and duck behind a tree when noticed. He’s more flamboyant and egotistical than that.
I prefer to think it’s neither of them, and that there’s no real answer to the mystery. A shadowy stranger in the woods, watching with no clear motivation or purpose, is more frightening than the possibility of him being any character we know. That’s what makes the first season of Twin Peaks, and some of the second, so great: strange, unsettling things happening for unclear reasons. And not all mysteries in those woods surrounding Twin Peaks have answers.