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Episode Studies by Clayton Barr

Twin Peaks: Arbitrary Law Twin Peaks
Episode 16: "Arbitrary Law"
TV episode
Written by Mark Frost & Harley Peyton & Robert Engels
Directed by Tim Hunter
Original air date: December 1, 1990


Catherine blackmails Ben; Leland sets his sights on Donna; Cooper assembles all of the suspects at the Roadhouse to discover who really killed Laura Palmer.


Read the episode transcript at


Didja Know?


For the titles of the Twin Peaks TV episodes, I have taken the unique approach of using both the episode numbers, which were the only titles given the scripts by series creators David Lynch and Mark Frost, and the translated German titles of the episodes that were assigned when the series aired in that country. Frequent readers of PopApostle know I like the aesthetic of actual episode titles, but I also wanted to honor the simple numbering used by Lynch and Frost, hence the expanded titles presented in these studies.


Characters appearing or mentioned in this episode


Maddy Ferguson

Agent Cooper
Sheriff Truman
Deputy Hawk
Albert Rosenfield

Donna Hayward

James Hurley

Norma Jennings

Vivian Niles

Deputy Andy

Harold Smith

Mrs. Tremond

Pierre Tremond

Dr. Hayward

Phillip Gerard



Lucy Moran

Dick Tremayne
Ben Horne

Mr. Tojamura

Catherine Martell

Leland Palmer

Beth Ferguson (mentioned only)

Mr. Zipper

Ed Hurley

Leo Johnson

Bobby Briggs

Major Briggs
Room service waiter

The Giant

Laura Palmer

Man from Another Place

Dr. Jacoby 




Notes from the Log Lady intros


When cable channel Bravo obtained the rights to air reruns of Twin Peaks in 1993, David Lynch directed all-new introductions to each episode featuring the Log Lady, portrayed by original actress Catherine E. Coulson. These intros also appear as options on the DVD and Blu-ray collections of the series.


The Log Lady's intro here almost seems to me to be a mild chastisement of the audience by David Lynch (who wrote the intros). When he and Frost originally conceived of Twin Peaks, the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer was not intended to be solved, it was just the framework of the doorway to lead the viewer into the enigmatic, cryptic, mystical world of the environs of Twin Peaks. But casual viewers and even fans proclaimed their frustration with the drawn-out mystery of the murder and its nearly incomprehensible clues, until the ABC network on which it aired demanded that Lynch and Frost provide a resolution to that particular plotline, which began with Leland's revelation as the killer in Episode 14: "Lonely Souls", and ends with his apprehension and death in this episode. In this Log Lady intro, Lynch seems to be asking if having the answer is really better than contemplating the unknowns. But he goes on to say that having this particular answer still leaves new questions for us to ponder and for us to be wary of demanding all the answers, because then there are no more questions to think about.


"So now the sadness comes. The revelation. There is a depression
after an answer is given. It was almost fun not knowing.


"Yes, now we know. At least we know what we sought in the beginning.
But there is still the question: why? And this question will
go on and on until the final answer comes. Then the knowing is
so full, there is no room for questions."


it was almost fun not knowing.wav

now we know.wav


Didja Notice?


This episode opens on Saturday, March 11, 1989 and goes into the morning of Sunday.


The letter "O" in the plastic evidence bag held by Albert at the beginning of the episode is on a larger snip of paper than the one we saw Leland place under Maddy's fingernail in Episode 14: "Lonely Souls".


Albert tells Cooper that Maddy was clutching fur from a white fox, laced with formaldehyde, indicating a dead, stuffed specimen. We saw Leland grab a small hunk of this fur from the stuffed fox in Ben Horne's office in Episode 13: "Demons"; he must have then planted the fur in Maddy's hand to implicate Ben.


Donna and James' conversation at the RR Diner implies they slept together for the first time the previous night.


At the RR, James gives Donna what appears to be a diamond ring and slides it on her left ring finger. A jeweled ring worn on the left ring finger of a woman generally connotes an engagement ring in Western culture. Though he doesn't ask her to marry him, has James just proclaimed their engagement to be married?


James remarks that he got the ring at a jewelry store. This implies there is a jewelry store in town. If he had bought it in the jewelry section of Horne's Department Store, he would have said Horne's.


When Donna hears that Harold Smith left a suicide note reading simply, "Jai une ame solitaire," she leads Agent Cooper to the Tremond cottage, where the grandson of the elderly Mrs. Tremond had said those same words to her. But when they get there, they find an entirely different, and younger, Mrs. Tremond living in the cottage. She says that her mother died three years ago and that she has no children. This is similar to the two different Chalfonts that are reported to have lived at the Fat Trout Trailer Park in Deer Meadow in Fire Walk With Me. In fact, the same actress plays the elderly Mrs. Tremond and Mrs. Chalfont in that film. The connection between the two and their implied connection to the Black Lodge is unknown. It may be that the denizens of the White and Black Lodges do not have names of their own (witness the dwarf, who is called the Man From Another Place, and the Giant) and they simply adopt some form of the name of the people they inhabit. This may be why "Mike" goes by that name; recall that his host, Philip Gerard, said in Episode 4: "The One-Armed Man" that his middle name was Michael.


In the scene above, notice also that not only is Mrs. Tremond different, the interior of the cottage (what we see of it through the open door) is completely different as well. So, how did Donna see that "other" cabin? Was she "taken" somewhere else psychically?


The page from Laura's diary that Harold leaves for Donna relates that Laura had the same dream that Cooper had (in Episode 2: "Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer") about the red room and the dwarf.


The page from Laura's diary reveals that BOB once told Laura that he was afraid of only one man, a man named Mike.


When the elderly room service waiter tells Cooper, "That milk will cool down on you, but it's getting warmer now," it may be meant as an indication that Cooper is "getting warmer" in the direction of his thoughts on revealing the killer.


Truman and Cooper find in phone records that the call received by Laura in her room on the night she was murdered (as first mentioned by her mother in Episode 0A: "Wrapped in Plastic") was placed from Ben Horne's office. But in Fire Walk With Me, the call she receives that night is seen to have been from James, who was definitely not in Ben Horne's office!


At 13:36 on the Blu-ray, as the sheriff's deputies haul away much of the contents of Ben's office as evidence in his arrest for the murder of Laura Palmer, notice that a couple of deputies are taking away the large stuffed swordfish that had been mounted above the office fireplace!


At 18:44 on the Blu-ray, Ben begins using his handkerchief to clean the cell bars he clutches, just as he did earlier in Episode 15: "Drive With a Dead Girl".


Donna wears Laura's sunglasses while visiting Leland at his house and she lights up a cigarette while there. She only seems to smoke when she is wearing Laura's glasses.


At 22:21 on Blu-ray, the red tag on BOB's jean jacket identifies it as Levi's brand.


Does anyone know the instrumental piece Leland plays on the record player when he dances with Donna? I haven't been able to nail it down.


In addition to previously seen generic versions of the beer brands, a neon sign for "Fine Kugel on Tap" is seen in the Roadhouse at 26:55 on the Blu-ray. This may be a generic reference to Leinenkugel beer.


At 26:59 on the Blu-ray, notice that Albert is pouring himself a drink at the Roadhouse from what appears to be his own personal flask while waiting for Cooper's revelation to begin.


According to the clock seen in the Roadhouse, the meeting among the suspects/investigators of Laura Palmer's murder is taking place at 3 p.m.


Cooper asks the assembled men to help clear the floor of the Roadhouse for what's to come. But notice that he himself does not help to clear the space!


Cooper says he finds himself in need of a new tactic to determine the identity of the killer, "which for lack of a better word we shall call...magic."


When the crew arrives back at the sheriff's station with Ben in custody and Leland along as his attorney, the clock on the wall shows it is almost 4:00 now. Why did it take them nearly an hour to get from the Roadhouse to the sheriff's station??


At 32:09 on the Blu-ray, notice that Lucy's book on Tibet, not seen since Season 1, is sitting on her desk still!


Isn't it more than slightly odd that Leland is agreeing to be Ben's attorney in the charge of murdering Leland's own daughter?! Yes, Ben is Leland's friend and employer and we all know Leland/BOB is the actual killer, but shouldn't he at least be pretending that he is not willing to defend the man charged with murdering Laura?


When Leland runs smack into the wall of the interrogation room in his rage at 33:10 on the Blu-ray, notice that the wall vibrates with impact, an indication of the relatively flimsy set wall as opposed to a real wall.


During the interrogation, Leland begins hooting...possibly like an owl?


Leland/BOB taunts Cooper with the remark, "I have this thing for knives. Just like what happened to you in Pittsburgh that time! Huh, Cooper?" He is referring to Cooper's stabbing that took place there while he was assigned to protect Caroline Earle in 1979, as related in The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper. It's not clear exactly how BOB knows about this event; it was the insane Windom Earle who attacked Cooper at the time. Was Earle also possessed by BOB? Or is BOB just aware of Earle because of the man's investigations into the existence of the Black Lodge (we learn about his role in Project Blue Book and investigations into the Black Lodge in Episode 27: "The Path to the Black Lodge")?


During the interrogation, BOB remarks that Leland was a good vehicle, but now he's full of holes and it's almost time to "shuffle off to Buffalo". This refers to the 1933 song "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" from the musical film 42nd Street.


Notice that Hawk looks pretty disturbed at Leland's rantings. It may be an indication of Hawk's spiritual nature and attunement to his Native American heritage and respect for their legends.


The plumber who is working on the fire sprinklers in the sheriff's station is named in the script as Zipper.


I hadn't noticed before, but at 35:34 on the Blu-ray, notice that Lucy wears a ring on the middle finger of her right hand.


Despite it being posted "No Smoking" in the sheriff's station, notice that both Dick and Albert light up!


Leland/BOB repeats the words he spoke in Cooper's dream in Episode 2: "Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer", the "Fire Walk With Me" chant. But the opening line he speaks is slightly different from the times it's been heard previously, using "Through the dark of futures past" instead of "Through the darkness of future past".  He goes on here to speak BOB's words from the dream "I'll catch you with my death bag! You may think I've gone insane, but I promise, I will kill again!"


At 38:39 on the Blu-ray, notice that Leland is immediately soaked through when the fire sprinklers go off, even though only a few seconds have passed!


Since BOB seems to be associated with fire, it may be that the water from the fire sprinklers forced him out of Leland's body sooner than he intended.


During his heartbroken confession of his crimes to Cooper, Leland starts off talking about "he" (BOB) coming to him and coming inside him and that "he" wanted others to use. Then he switches to "they", saying "they" wanted Laura, but she was too strong, she rejected "them". Who are "they"?


Note that Cooper seems to act as Leland's spiritual guide as he comforts Leland in his death throes. The words of comfort he first speaks to Leland are a paraphrasing of selections from the Tibetan Book of the Dead:

"Leland, the time has come for you to seek the path. Your soul has set you face to face

with the clear light and you are now about to experience it in its reality.

Wherein all things are like the void and cloudless sky and the naked, spotless intellect

is like a transparent vacuum without circumference or center.

Leland, in this moment, know yourself and abide in that state.

Look to the light, Leland. Find the light."


Notice that the sprinklers stop almost immediately after Leland breathes his last.


You'd think the sheriff's station would be badly damaged by all the water from the fire suppression sprinklers that went off near the end of this episode. But no evidence of damage is seen in future episodes. However, the next morning, during the men's discussion about BOB in the park, Cooper is seen carrying a paper cup of coffee, perhaps an indication that he had to get a coffee to go from the donut shop because the sheriff's station's coffee maker was not in working order!


While discussing Leland's crimes and whether BOB is real, Major Briggs comments, "...there’s more in heaven and Earth than what’s dreamt up in our philosophy." He is paraphrasing a line from William Shakespeare's Hamlet, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."


The very last scene of the episode seems to depict the point-of-view of an unrevealed figure racing through the woods away from a car wreck, and then an owl swoops in right in front of them. If you turn the volume up just before the owl swoops in there are noises that sound like a person or persons yelling unintelligibly.


Unanswered Questions


At the end of the episode, as he, Truman, and Albert walk through the park, what is Cooper carrying in the brown bag in his left hand along with his coffee in the right? Donuts?


Whose car is it that is seen crashed into a ditch as an owl flies away in the last scene of the episode? It does not appear to be Evelyn Marsh's Rolls-Royce which she reports crashing into a ditch later in Episode 18:_"Masked Ball".


Memorable Dialog


the only one of us with the coordinates for this destination.wav

find this beast before he takes another bite.wav

you're on the path.wav

the menus are very presentable.wav

Jai une ame solitaire.wav

tonight is the night that I die.wav

he is known to us here.wav

it's getting warmer now.wav

slimy rat bastard.wav

why spoil it with the truth?.wav

it doesn't matter if we're happy and the rest of the world goes to Hell.wav

the gang's all here.wav

I find myself in need of something new.wav

would you like us to hum?.wav

right on time.wav

my most favorite gum in the world.wav

that gum you like.wav

my father killed me.wav

that's not Leland.wav

Laura told me in her dream.wav

that's a yes.wav

I have this thing for knives.wav

it's almost nearly time to shuffle off to Buffalo.wav

into the light.wav

people saw BOB.wav

an evil that great in this beautiful world.wav

where's BOB now?.wav 


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