Twin Peaks international pilot (1990) review

And so we come to the end of Twin Peaks week on That Was A Bit Mental. To ensure you haven’t missed out on anything, be sure to read back on my reviews of season 1, season 2, Fire Walk With Me and The Missing Pieces. Hope you’ve enjoyed my reviews!

twinpeaks_internationalpilot_posterDirector: David Lynch

Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Sherilyn Fenn, Lara Flynn Boyle, Madchen Amick, Dana Ashbrook, Richard Beymer, Peggy Lipton, James Marshall, Eric DaRe, Everett McGill, Joan Chen, Piper Laurie, Ray Wise, Sheryl Lee, Al Strobel, Frank Silva

“Through the darkness of futures past, the magician longs to see. One chants out between two worlds, fire walk with me.” (Mike, Twin Peaks international pilot)

When David Lynch and Mark Frost originally pitched the idea of Twin Peaks to TV network ABC, they agreed to fund the pilot episode on one condition.

Since the pilot was going to cost $1.6 million to make, ABC wanted Lynch and Frost to write and film an ending, revealing Laura Palmer’s killer and drawing a line under it all by the end of that single episode.

"What? You think I'M the killer? Come on, I'm armless enough"
“What? You think I’M the killer? Come on, I’m armless enough”

The reason for this was simple. The pilot would be broadcast as originally written (without the ending), and in the unlikely event that it ended up being shit and ABC chose not to pick it up for a full series, they would stick the ending on it and sell it to Europe as a standalone movie.

The result, then, is a sort of alternative reality version of Twin Peaks in which Laura Palmer has a different killer.

Before I go on, here’s a little disclaimer of sorts: I realise there are still a lot of people who haven’t seen Twin Peaks yet, and as such this brief review will stick to the ‘no major spoilers’ rule I followed with my reviews of Season 1, Season 2, Fire Walk With Me and The Missing Pieces.

In other words, I won’t nonchalantly reveal who actually killed Laura Palmer in the actual series during this short review.

So you're safe for now, DEPUTY ANDY. DA DA DUMMMMMM. Nah, I'm kidding, Andy didn't do it
So you’re safe for now, DEPUTY ANDY. DA DA DUMMMM. Nah, I’m kidding, he didn’t do it

However, given that we’re essentially dealing with a mere 19 minutes of alternative footage here, I will indeed be revealing who kills her in this, non-canonical version. Also, some characters who aren’t properly fleshed out until Season 2 are introduced here, so I will be mentioning them too.

Right then. The original US pilot ends with Laura’s mum having a vision of her necklace being dug up. She screams, credits roll, the audience goes “oooh, what’s going on there then”, hype is built for the second episode. Lovely.

In the international version though, Laura’s mum instead has a vision of a mysterious man peering out from the bottom of Laura’s bed. This man, named simply Bob, appears in later episodes of the canonical show, but here he’s introduced much earlier.

"Who? Me? Um... I'm just the local... bed inspector. Yes, that's it"
“Who? Me? Um… I’m just the local… bed inspector. Yes, that’s it”

Laura’s dad phones Lucy, the receptionist at the sheriff’s office, at her home (which we get to see for the first and only time). He tells her that his wife has seen the killer and wants Deputy Hawk to help her draw a sketch of him.

Meanwhile, Agent Cooper receives a phone call from a mysterious man at the hospital who claims to know who killed not only Laura, but also Teresa Banks the previous year.

Coop, Hawk and Sheriff Truman all head to the hospital to find a one-armed man claiming to go by the name of ‘Mike’ (this will be familiar to those who’ve seen the second season of Twin Peaks).

Mike informs them that Bob is the killer, and is down in the basement of the hospital performing a ritual. Everyone legs it downstairs and Bob confesses, at which point Mike shoots him dead then seemingly dies himself as a result. Odd.

"In an unusual turn of events, it turns out the killer was former WWE superstar X-Pac"
“In an unusual turn of events, it turns out the killer was former WWE superstar X-Pac”

The whole thing then ends with Agent Cooper’s dream, as seen in the show’s third episode, in which he meets the pint-sized Man From Another Place and Laura Palmer. However, here it’s presented not as a dream, but as actual events that take place 25 years later.

If you treat this version of the pilot as it was intended – a standalone movie – then these final 20 minutes ruin things a bit.

After all, this is a murder mystery and as such the golden rule of whodunits is broken when the killer is revealed to be someone who hasn’t yet made an appearance.

The final ‘dream’ sequence, meanwhile, is just bizarre when presented as a proper ending with no context. Mind you, its presence was helpful in one regard: it was originally shot purely for the international pilot, but Lynch loved it so much he reused it for the show where it fit much better and became an iconic scene.

At least it explains why Cooper looks old as shit when he dreams about it in the actual series
At least it explains why Cooper looks old as shit when he dreams about it in the actual series

If you’re getting into Twin Peaks and have access to the international pilot, I’d strongly recommend you don’t bother with it, at least not at first. It will only mess with the story and will introduce some characters you aren’t supposed to meet for a while.

Watch the standard US pilot, then the rest of season 1 and 2, and then go back and check out the international pilot as a sort of curio.

My score below, then, is treating it as a standalone film for someone who’s never seen Twin Peaks before and only wants to watch this one-off story.

In that respect, this is a beautiful ‘film’ with some excellent performances, let down by an iffy final 15 minutes with a killer reveal you couldn’t possibly have seen coming and a bizarre final ’25 years later’ scene that, without context, makes no sense at all.

Ultimately, we all know this isn’t how David Lynch and Mark Frost really wanted to end the story, and it shows.


If you fancy checking out the international pilot for Twin Peaks to see what was added, the best way to do so is the recently released Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery Blu-ray box set, which features both versions of the pilot, the remaining 29 episodes, the movie Fire Walk With Me and The Missing Pieces. Here’s the UK version and the US version.

If you’re more of a DVD person, go for Twin Peaks: The Definitive Gold Box Edition, which also features both versions of the pilot and the other 29 episodes. However, it’s missing Fire Walk With Me and The Missing Pieces. Here’s the UK and US versions.


8 thoughts on “Twin Peaks international pilot (1990) review

  1. I caught this by mistake. I didn’t even know it existed until after I was halfway through the first season. It left me a bit confused, but it sort of made weird sense. Somewhere mid-season Cooper does mention something about this weird dream that he had, and Bob was in it. So I kind of took the alt-ending to be sort of his dream sequence which then solidified in his mind that Bob was indeed the killer. In some kooky-Lynch way I sorted it out in my head. And since we find out later who or what Bob really is, his appearance in this alt-pilot adds a bit more surrealism to the already strange plot. Great review. I have linked your page to my own review.

  2. The final ‘dream’ sequence is just bizarre when presented as a proper ending with no context? Well, if you have a problem with Lynch being bizarre, best not watch the rest of the series, or Fire Walk with Me,because this series is frequently bizarre and intended to be.

    The international pilot doesn’t really give away much. What BOB claims is nowhere near the full story and certainly not the answer to the mystery that you are referring to, which is still not revealed until the second season. In the international pilot, the BOB sequence is then followed by the Red Room, the dwarf and Laura whispering in Cooper’s ear. We discover a couple of episodes later that this is, in fact, a dream, and Laura has whispered the name of her killer to Cooper and he forgets it when he awakes. The name she whispers is not BOB.

    The main difference between the International pilot and the U.S one, is that the viewer of the international pilot is given far more clues as to how weird and surreal Twin Peaks is going to get. If you watch the U.S pilot instead, its a pretty standard logical narrative until episode 3 when the Red Room and dream sequence could be quite jarring for the casual viewer.

    Another advantage of the International pilot is that it can be watched before Fire Walk with Me and with no need to watch any part of the serial at all. The 2 films work together very well for those that don’t want to invest so much times in the series. Its also worth much mentioning that a lot of the series is dross, even Lynch admits this.

    So I would recommend watching the international pilot to anyone who isn’t sure if they will like Lynch or not and / or isn’t sure if they want to commit to a long, surreal and uneven series.

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