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Episode Studies by Clayton Barr

Twin Peaks: Checkmate Twin Peaks
Episode 20: "Checkmate"
TV episode
Written by Harley Peyton
Directed by Todd Holland
Original air date:
January 19, 1991


Major Briggs is questioned about his disappearance; Dick and Andy investigate little Nicky’s past; Nadine puts the moves on Mike; Ben plays war games; Cooper is deputized.


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


Dale Cooper

Major Briggs

Dr. Hayward

Sheriff Truman

Colonel Riley (mentioned only)

Ernie Niles

Agent Bryson

Jean Renault

Lucy Moran

Deputy Andy

Dick Tremayne

Windom Earle (mentioned only)

Norma Jennings

Ed Hurley

Shelly Johnson

Leo Johnson

Bobby Briggs

Chet (on Invitation to Love, heard only)

Jade (on Invitation to Love, heard only)

James Hurley

Evelyn Marsh

Jeffrey Marsh (heard only)

Malcolm Sloan

Nadine Hurley (née Butler)

Mike Nelson

Hank Jennings

Josie Packard

Catherine Martell


Audrey Horne

Ben Horne

Jerry Horne (mentioned only)

Deputy Hawk

Nails, Nestor, and Netherbey (mentioned only, orphans at Dorritt Home for Boys)

The Brunstons

Donnie (mentioned only, orphan at Dorritt Home for Boys)

Woody (an alias applied to Andy by Dick)

Donna Hayward

Preston King 




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.


"My husband died in a fire. No one can know my sorrow. My love is
gone. Yet, I feel him near me. Sometimes I can almost see him. At
night when the wind blows, I think of what he might have been. Again
I wonder: why?

"When I see a fire, I feel my anger rising. This was not a friendly
fire. This was not a forest fire. It was a fire in the woods.
This is all I am permitted to say."


Didja Notice?


This episode opens on Friday, March 17, 1989. March 17 is St. Patrick's Day in Ireland and most of Great Britain's territories and former colonies. According to Twin Peaks: An Access Guide to the Town, the Caribou Festival is held instead in Twin Peaks:

A robust and spirited event to which people from miles around flock, all dressed from head to toe in the fur of dead animals. Roaming the town shortly after the bars open, bands of roisterers compete for the most accurate imitation of the caribou mating call. The contest is unofficial; the winner is usually determined by a fist fight. Beer and ale flow, jokes are ribald and Sheriff Truman cancels all leave for his deputies.

However, there is no indication in this episode that such a celebration is occurring.


Dr. Hayward uses a Polaroid camera to take photograph of the tattoo found behind Major Briggs' ear. Polaroid is the company that introduced instant film to the camera community in 1948 and the photos taken on this film were often referred to as Polaroid prints or just Polaroids. The Polaroid company has not manufactured instant film since 2008 due to falling sales as a result of the popularity of digital cameras.


As he tries to recall information regarding what happened to him after his abduction in the woods (in Episode 17: "Dispute Between Brothers"), Major Briggs tells Dr. Hayward that his memories are immune to regression techniques.


    Major Briggs remarks that Project Blue Book, the Air Force's investigation into unidentified flying objects (UFOs) was officially disbanded in 1969. Project Blue Book was an actual U.S. Air Force investigation of unexplained aerial phenomena from 1952-1970, ending with the claim that most UFOs were misidentifications of conventional craft or natural phenomena and that the few remaining unexplained sightings did not constitute a threat to national security.

    Briggs goes on to say that some personnel have continued the study in an unofficial (read "covert") capacity. We see this born out in The Secret History of Twin Peaks.


Two Air Force MPs arrive at the sheriff's station to take Major Briggs for debriefing at the command of Colonel Riley. Riley was seen investigating Briggs' disappearance in Episode 19: "The Black Widow".


After Briggs is taken away from the sheriff's station by the MPs, Cooper picks up the Polaroid photo of the triangular marks found behind the major's ear and drops of water begin to fall on the photo from the fire sprinkler in the ceiling. Is this an indication of "fire" present, as in a spiritual force connected to the White or Black Lodge?


At 5:39 on the Blu-ray, notice that the donut on top of the stack next to the telephone in Truman's office has a bite taken out of it. Shortly after this, Cooper walks in and picks up the donut and discards it with a look at Ernie, implying Ernie took a bite and set it back down on the stack!


The sweater Ernie wears has a zig-zag pattern in the gray areas, looking like a representation of jagged peaks.

Ernie's sweater


Truman's office has undergone a temporary redecoration for some reason in this episode. The couch under the window is gone, the picture of President Truman is missing, and the deer's head labeled "The Buck Stopped Here" that is normally hanging from the wall is now sitting on its side on top of the file cabinets! The deer head is later seen set next to the corpse left by Windom Earle in Truman's office...I guess Earle figured he should make use of it in his new display.


An ad for Metro Ford is seen in the newspaper being read by Lucy at 7:30 on the Blu-ray.


Lucy's sweater has small triangular designs that could be seen as peaks. Also present are a couple of star-like designs.

Lucy's sweater


The school bus that drives past the RR Diner at 8:14 on the Blu-Ray is for Snoqualmie Valley School District. The town of North Bend, WA, where the exteriors of the RR were shot (the Mar T Cafe at the time), is within the boundaries of the Snoqualmie Valley School District. (Notice that the "RR" sign is also missing from above the "Cafe" sign in this shot!) 


At 9:14 on the Blu-ray, a sign in the RR advertises one of its specials, called, appropriately enough, the "Double R", featuring two eggs, two strips of bacon, two sausage links, and two slices of toast for just two dollars. The Double R


It is often said that no episodes of Invitation to Love appeared in the second season of Twin Peaks, but that's not strictly true. As Shelly tries to feed Leo and Bobby makes a jerk of himself, the opening theme of Invitation to Love can be heard playing on Shelly's TV and even some lines of dialog between two of the characters (may be Chet and Jade).


At 9:29 on the Blu-ray, notice that numerous jars of what appears to be Gerber baby food are seen sitting on the kitchen table in Shelly's house. It seems likely that these are what Shelly and Bobby are feeding to the incapacitated Leo.


During his phone call with Ed, James tells him that the bar called Wallie's is on 96. There is a short State Route 96 in Washington, but it is located in the western part of the state near the Seattle area, not "a couple hours" out from the Twin Peaks region in the east.


James tells Evelyn that after two girls he knew got murdered, he just wanted to get on his bike and ride away. He told Maddy he sometimes feels like he should just take off on his bike and ride away in Episode 10: "The Man Behind Glass".


At 15:12 on the Blu-ray, the day's Stockpot Soup at the RR is spring wheat and barley.


The woman Audrey calls Sam, who Ben chases out of his office, is his secretary Samantha, last seen in Episode 17: "Dispute Between Brothers". Notice that she is carrying a ketchup bottle along with her drum and papers, probably used as fake blood on the bandanna around her head.


This episode begins a brief subplot is which Ben Horne thinks he's General Robert E. Lee fighting the U.S. Civil War alongside such Confederate stalwarts as General Jeb Stuart. Robert E. Lee was a Confederate general and commander of the Confederate Army, who unconditionally surrendered to U.S. forces at Appomattox Courthouse, VA in 1865, ending the U.S. Civil War. J. E. B. Stuart was one of Lee's generals. In the following episodes, Ben thinks Jerry is General Stuart.


As Audrey enters her father's office, he's playing with miniature Civil War figures on a miniature battlefield landscape he's built there, and he's commanding someone to lead the charge up Little Round Top. Little Round Top is a small, rocky hill that was a pivotal battle of the larger Battle of Gettysburg on July 2, 1863.


Ernie explains to Hawk that he suffers from hyperhydrosis, causing his nervous perspiration. Hyperhydrosis is an actual medical condition.


With Cooper temporarily suspended from the FBI, Truman makes Cooper a deputy of the Twin Peaks sheriff's department in this episode. His badge number is 13.


Trying to back out of the drug deal setup he's in on with Cooper and Truman, Ernie pleads that he's just a CPA. CPA stands for Certified Public Accountant.


This episode reveals that little Nicky lives at the Dorritt Home for Boys. Most likely, the "Dorritt" name comes from the 1857 Charles Dickens novel Little Doritt and the title character, a girl who grows up as the daughter of a man in London's debtors' prison.


In the child placement office of the Dorritt Home for Boys, notice there is a bumper sticker or something on one of the file cabinets that says "CHILDPOWER!" There is also a copy of Mad magazine sitting on the coffee table; it appears to be issue #299, December 1990, with Bart Simpson on the cover.
Mad magazine Mad #299


This episode reveals that little Nicky's last name is Needleman. As Dick fingers through the office's alphabetized file folders to find Nicky's, he rattles off the other names he passes, Nails, Nestor, and Netherbey.


At 25:02 on the Blu-ray, notice that Big Ed's belt has "Big Ed" etched into the leather!


During the fight in the Hurley home, notice that there are figurines and small statues sitting on various shelves and tables besides just the ones frequently seen on the five shelves near the foyer. Nadine must be an obsessive collector of them.


As Nadine shoves Hank up against the wall and then throws him through the figurine shelves into the foyer, notice that a cat painting falls off the wall as Nadine shoves him against it, but it's hanging there again a split second later as she throws him.


At 28:50 on the Blu-ray, Ben remarks on the defeat of Colonel Lawrence at Little Round Top and accepts the surrender of General Meade (Bobby Briggs). Both Lawrence and Meade were involved on the Union side during the battle at Little Round Top. But, Ben has altered history in depicting them as the losers in that battle. Bobby tells him he has to go talk to President Lincoln before getting back to him on this whole surrender thing. Lincoln, of course, was the U.S. President during the Civil War. 


At 29:07 on the Blu-ray, notice that Ben's photo of Laura Palmer is resting in the antlers of his golden elk statue.


At 32:41 on the Blu-ray, Evelyn refers to James as "Jim" and he says, "Don't call me Jim." Does he have a problem with being called "Jim"? I once that that maybe "Jim" was the name of his father and he doesn't like it because his father has not been around. But The Secret History of Twin Peaks reveals that James' father was named Billy Hurley.


As James unveils the repaired Jaguar to Evelyn at 32:57 on the Blu-ray, notice that his motorcycle is parked in front of the garage in the background.


At 34:07 on the Blu-ray, the champagne bottle James had set down on the car seat is suddenly gone! 


At 35:41 on the Blu-ray, notice that some windows at the Dead Dog Farm house appear to be painted over with a peace symbol and some other colorful, strange images. There is also a peace symbol and what may be "No War" graffiti-painted on the wall inside the house at 39:04.
Dead Dog Farm painted windows peace symbol


Jean Renault tells Cooper that when he (Cooper) arrived, the simple life of Twin Peaks ended, the dream ended, bringing a nightmare that resulted in the deaths of his brothers, drug dealers Bernard and Jacques Renault. But that is really only a nightmare from Jean's point of view. It could be that Cooper's arrival is signaling the end of a nightmare, with the deaths of several bad guys.


Agent Bryson wears what appears to be a RR Diner waitress uniform to bring food to Jean Renault and Preston King. Was Norma brought into the know on the siege at Dead Dog Farm and she agreed to lend a uniform and food to the law enforcement effort?


It seems highly unlikely that any law enforcement group would allow an actual waitress to bring food to holed up suspects under any circumstances and Mountie King and Jean Renault should know that; King and Renault should not have fallen for the ruse.


The food platters Agent Bryson brings in appear to have the Meals on Wheels stickers on the heat covers!


The gun Cooper pulls from Agent Bryson's garter is a Walther PPK.


Why is Shelly sleeping on the couch instead of her bed? Is it because she has to keep an eye on Leo in his convalescent bed in the living room?


At 44:00 on the Blu-ray, there is a Chinese take-out container on Shelly's kitchen table.


When Shelly discovers Leo conscious and on his feet in the kitchen, why is his face smeared with food and why is he wearing a party hat? Was she toying with him while she fed him that evening? Or did he do it to himself to let her know he remembered how she and Bobby treated him while he was "brain dead" and convalescing? When the scene picks up again in the next episode, the smeared food is gone! It seems the shot must have been borrowed from Episode 13: "Demons", when Shelly and Bobby had Leo's welcome home party.


Notice that the corpse left by Windom Earle in Truman's office appears to have one clouded-over eye and one green eye. Why? In Fire Walk With Me, a photo of Teresa Banks looks as if it depicts her with one green eye (the right) and one blue (the left).


The man portraying the corpse at the end of this episode is Craig MacLachlan, brother of Kyle MacLachlan (Cooper), and a production assistant on Twin Peaks


Pawn takes Pawn (Earle) Earle's chess move at the end of the episode is PxP (Pawn takes Pawn). This would be considered the appropriate move to make as the board currently sits. The chess board set up in Truman's office in front of the corpse does not actually match the game in progress at all! Why would Earle have left it set up that way? It's never explained (or even remarked upon!). Presumably, Cooper simply surmises Earle's move from the fact that the dead man has a Pawn in his mouth and he knows Earle had a white Pawn in a position to take his black Pawn. (See "Patterns and Conflicts: An Analysis of the Windom Earle/Dale Cooper Chess Game", Wrapped in Plastic #4, April 1993, which includes input from chess expert John Jacobs, former chess columnist of the Dallas Times Herald. Diagram is from that article.)


Unanswered Questions


Whose voice is it that is heard whispering "Cooper" at the beginning of the episode? Presumably, it is a being associated with the White Lodge.


    The mark of three triangles that are found behind Major Briggs' right ear is similar to the emblem for signs indicating a fallout shelter in the United States. Is there any intentional relation?
   When I worked at a comic book store called Four Color Fantasies during the initial run of Twin Peaks, I made the acquaintenance of artist and graphic desinger Larry Hunt when he came in looking for Peaks-related material and I turned him on to the TP fanzine Wrapped in Plastic, to which he subsequently contributed some art, including the third image below, "Briggs's Tattoo Interpretation"...a symbolic representation of a flying owl.
triangular marks fallout shelter sign Briggs's Tattoo Interpretation
Triangular marks behind Major Briggs' ear Fallout shelter sign (by Ericmetro, from Wikipedia) "Briggs's Tattoo Interpretation" by Larry Hunt (from Wrapped in Plastic #9)


This episode is the last we see of Dead Dog Farm (though it is mentioned in passing in a couple of later episodes). Is Cooper still interested in the place? Will we find him living there in the new Showtime series when it debuts? Of note is the fact that the actual house used as Dead Dog Farm (in Sylmar, CA) was torn down around 2002 (see Brad Dukes' account of his visit to the site at


Memorable Dialog



a giant owl.wav

are you familiar with Project Blue Book?.wav

unidentified flying objects.wav

the Earth below.wav

we are searching for a place called the White Lodge.wav

little Donnie is dead.wav

kiss me, General Lee.wav

the nightmare.wav 


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