Few characters in Twin Peaks have inspired as much discussion and debate as Annie Blackburn. Initially conceived as a late-Season Two romantic partner for Agent Cooper, she has turned into something of a lightning rod for fans of the series. She arrives right out of central casting, appears in only a handful of episodes at the very end of Season 2, is very quickly shuffled through the plot in which she was planted, and we go through the motions along with her. We know from her first appearance how her story is going to end because we’ve heard it so many times before; there is nothing new or particularly noteworthy about Annie. And yet her name is the last word uttered on screen at the end of the harrowing cliffhanger Season Two finale. Love her or hate her (but really, how can you hate her?) Annie is an integral part of the Twin Peaks mythos.
Speaking personally, our relationship with Annie is a bit fraught. When we at Bickering Peaks first watched Twin Peaks, we were big fans of Agent Cooper and Audrey Horne’s budding friendship. But while we didn’t want to see a romantic relationship develop immediately, we had high hopes that the friendship—replete with smouldering chemistry and very clear mutual attraction—would grow and blossom into something more as the series went on; this was, after all, what the creators of the show intended to happen, and were it not for the (supposed) behind-the-scenes drama, it almost certainly would have happened. Alas, any Cooper/Audrey romance was kiboshed mid-way through Season Two.
But Cooper always needed a love interest—the endgame required it—and with Audrey out of the picture and few available women in Twin Peaks fitting the bill, the writers of the show turned their collective eye outward, introducing Annie six episodes before the end of the series’ run.
We wanted to like Annie from the start because we wanted Cooper to have some semblance of happiness in his life. And Annie seemed perfectly sweet. There was nothing about her (initially) to turn a person off. But she seemed too convenient, too bland, too much like a plot device or, even worse, a dreaded Mary Sue1. Being writers ourselves, we knew that she was the kind of character we have long been warned to avoid; if the writers of Twin Peaks broke that rule, they must have had a good reason for it.
(Or…maybe not. Harley Peyton was very clear on this point when he answered the burning question behind Annie’s purpose on the alt.tv.twin-peaks Usenet board back in the day2. She was merely a damsel in distress, nothing more and nothing less. A disappointing answer, to be certain.)
Our indifference to Annie became intrigue a few years ago during a rewatch in which we tried to make sense of her purpose on the show. It still struck us that Annie seemed to be designed for one purpose, which was to make Dale Cooper fall in love with her. But what if that wasn’t simply bad, uncreative writing? What if the design of Annie’s character came from within the world of the show itself, instead of from without?
Annie is introduced in Episode 23 through a conversation between Annie and her sister, Norma Jennings, during a brief phone call. We learn that Annie has been away at a convent for an unspecified period of time, and we hear Norma reassure Annie that everything will be all right as Annie cries on the other end. Upon ending the call, Norma makes a pointed observation to co-worker Shelly Johnson that Annie always seemed like she was from “another time and place”, which struck us as an odd thing to say and becomes eerily prescient as the story continues. At this point, all we have is a general impression of a troubled young woman, obviously seeking comfort from family in a time of great need. She arrives in town the next day, to very little fanfare, except insofar as Coop is concerned. He predictably falls for her almost immediately.
As her story unfolds, we discover that Annie made an attempt on her life some years prior because of a relationship gone bad; she left Twin Peaks for the convent, and this is where she’d stayed in order to heal herself, mentally and spiritually, until the moment she realizes facing her fears in the place where they came true is the best path to true healing. It’s a timely message for Agent Cooper, who for most of the second season has been hell bent on avoiding the pain and hurt of his own past, even as it totally surrounds and threatens to consume him. Cooper decides to help Annie face her fears, and comes to a few realizations about himself in the process, just in time for Windom Earle to kidnap Annie and use her as bait to get Coop to Glastonberry Grove and into the Black Lodge.
The evidence of Annie’s oddness adds up quickly. From missing basic social cues to being largely ignored by the town around her (a place in which she grew up, and where her sister runs a popular business) she is marked off as distinctly ‘Other’ from the start.
This in and of itself is far from smoking gun evidence; after all, she’s meant to be paired up with the ultimate ‘Other’, Agent Cooper. And a certain amount of oddness is certainly to be expected from someone who has been through what Annie has. But the level of “weird” that she presents goes beyond what anyone might expect. Chief among them are her conversational skills, which seem stilted at first, growing increasingly fractured as the series continues with her arc. During a memorable scene in the diner, Cooper and Annie discuss philosophy and their budding relationship, with the conversation seeming more like a series of platitudes spoken at one another instead of a dialogue between would-be lovers. At the Miss Twin Peaks opening night dance later that evening, Annie gives another speech to Cooper. She doesn’t face him but instead angles her body to the side, speaking past him, eyes laser-focused away from him as she talks about him, around him, but not to him. Both of these speeches feel rehearsed, almost scripted, as if she were reading lines written for her by someone else.
Of particular interest is the way Cooper responds to Annie’s presence. Throughout Season Two, as mentioned above, he has been struggling with his history and the baggage he’s brought with him to Twin Peaks. His investigative skills are suffering (largely because they solved the central mystery in the first third of the season and there hasn’t been much to investigate since then, but also, it seems as a result of his distraction). He’s in the midst of a serious threat, both to him personally and toward this town he’s come to love. He needs all available talent at his disposal in order to solve this; the romance should not be on his radar, especially considering that he knows better, as his tragic history with Caroline attests.
Annie’s arrival throws what’s left of Cooper’s investigative skills into the trash3 and could not have come at a worse time from the standpoint of the investigation (or the best time, if you’re Windom Earle seeking the power of the Black Lodge, or BOB who seems to have been seeking Cooper for a long time.) Where once Cooper was beholden to his intuitive abilities when it came to cracking cases, now that skill disappears from his toolbox entirely…but only as long as Annie is nearby. In one rather pointed scene early in their relationship, Cooper meets Annie at the Double R and misses the fact that Windom Earle is sitting, facing him, across the bar. It’s only when Annie gets back to work that Cooper picks up on the hint his subconscious certainly felt and looks in Earle’s direction; alas, he’s already left the diner.
Our last glimpses of Annie in the series come in the finale when she first struggles against Earle, then is magically transfixed upon entering the circle of sycamore trees at Glastonberry Grove, as if entranced. With all the fight knocked out of her, she becomes pliable to the whims of the evil forces that have captured her; Windom Earle seems to know that this will happen, further suggesting that Annie’s compliance is part of his master plan. Once inside the Red Room, she reveals herself to Cooper as both Annie and Caroline, blurring the line between the two of them to point that it seems they—like the Giant and Señor Droolcup, the room service waiter—are one and the same. Is it possible that Annie has somehow been imbued with the essence of Caroline, and that this is what brought on such strong attraction between Annie and Cooper? Is this how Cooper was ultimately drawn to the Lodges? If so, who is responsible for this? BOB? MIKE? The Black Lodge? The White Lodge? Windom Earle? Laura Palmer herself?
Annie appears briefly in the 1992 film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, in a scene where she interacts with Laura some five weeks prior to her return to Twin Peaks and ultimate kidnapping by Windom Earle (chronologically speaking). Here, she provides a crucial bit of information to Laura: she tells her that she has been in the Lodge with Laura and Dale and that the “good Dale” is trapped there and can’t leave. She implores Laura to write this in her diary. We don’t actually see Laura do this, and it doesn’t figure into the series at a later date (although, in the book Lynch on Lynch, David Lynch makes it clear that Laura did, in fact, write this warning down). But it is noteworthy to us that Annie’s actions seem to be aimed at helping Dale escape whether they ultimately proved helpful or not4.
Her final appearance though, in the confusing chronology of Twin Peaks releases, is actually in The Missing Pieces. There, she appears in a comatose state in Calhoun Memorial Hospital following her rescue from Glastonberry Grove, wearing the Owl Cave ring (and, curiously, not the black dress she wore when she went into the Red Room but Caroline’s floral dress that she was seen wearing inside). She is repeating the same phrase she said in Laura’s dream five weeks earlier. Perhaps this an indication that she actually remains (mentally at least) in the Lodge, and her body is all that was sent back to the real world of Twin Peaks. Could this be because this is her natural state? Was the body of Annie Blackburn just a vessel, like Philip Gerard for Mike? Is her comatose state the “natural” state of Annie, perhaps something akin to her state of existence following her suicide attempt and her subsequent arrival at the convent?
There are a competing theories as to what this all might mean. Of course we have Harley Peyton’s own assertion that Annie was never meant to be anything more than a damsel in distress, but as Twin Peaks fans are wont to do we feel it’s possible to dig deeper and reach a more satisfying conclusion. There are competing theories here:
- One is that Annie is herself an agent of the Lodges (White or Black) in much the same way that Philip Gerard and Leland Palmer seem to be. Her true nature could be evil, benevolent, or neither. In much the same way that, at the end of FWWM, Mike and The Arm seem to be focused primarily on getting their garmonbozia, so too Annie may be a Lodge entity whose true allegiance is only to herself.
- Alternately, she—like the Tremonds/Chalfonts, who are interpreted by some to be guides at best or harbingers of evil at worst—may be a simple agent of fate. If Cooper’s ultimate and unavoidable fate is to end up trapped in the Lodge, that fact may be morally neutral; Annie may inspire Cooper to put himself into a risky situation, but there may not be any evil or malevolence inherent in that process. It is simply something that had to happen.
- A third theory suggests that Annie could be an unwitting pawn in a grander scheme. Her past suicide attempt could have left her vulnerable to suggestion, if not outright possession. She could have been selected for her perfect Coop-catching attributes in order to lure the enigmatic FBI Agent to his fate, and discarded when her purpose was fulfilled5.
The fact is, however you want to spin this, we have no history of Annie beyond the few snippets she shares and Norma’s comment about “another time and place.” But her ability to influence Cooper’s intuitive detection skills, her otherworldly presentation on screen, and her connection to Caroline are strong and deliberate, and whatever her ultimate purpose is it ties directly to Cooper’s fate in the Red Room.
Further complicating any Annie Theory is her complete omission from Mark Frost’s 2016 novel The Secret History of Twin Peaks. Some have suggested that Annie has been written out of the history of Twin Peaks itself by one of the Archivists of the dossier in an elaborate retcon meant to protect her from Cooper’s doppelgänger. Others have suggested that Annie’s disappearance (along with several other inconsistencies, both between the book and the TV show and the book and itself, in places) suggests that there may be alternate versions of history at play, and that it may actually be a result of timelines or parallel universes coming into play.
In either case, there is some evidence to suggest that Annie’s removal from Twin Peaks began long before her removal from The Secret History of Twin Peaks. After the chaos of the pageant, some of the regular townsfolk of Twin Peaks seem to continue on their way apparently unperturbed by the events of the night before. Shelly—Annie’s coworker at the Double R—seems unfazed about Annie’s kidnapping, canoodling with Bobby at the lunch counter as if nothing had happened. They repeat the same conversation they had with Heidi a month earlier, almost word-for-word, suggesting a kind of slip in time has occurred as well. Meanwhile, Norma spends the hours immediately after the pageant with Ed as he works out the issues brought up when Nadine regains her memories; she is more concerned with her romantic life than the safety of her innocent sister, who was abducted by a madman in front of Norma’s eyes only hours before. It seems less like the actions of a concerned big sister and more like the actions of a woman who has no sister to worry about.
Is it possible that Annie was already being erased from the memories of the people in Twin Peaks as far back as the 1991 finale? Did her contact with the Lodges facilitate her disappearance? Did she ever truly exist?
So who really is Annie Blackburn? She appears to be a woman with minimal ties to the town in which she grew up, and whose removal from it is strangely glossed over in the hours following her dramatic kidnapping. While she is in town, she acts strangely and falls in love quickly with our intrepid hero, setting him up for his ultimate tragic downfall. She seems tailor-made just for him: a naive, beautiful, spiritually pure woman with a sad backstory, the perfect kind of damsel in distress that Agent Cooper can’t seem to resist. If this were any other show, we would leave it at that, but with Twin Peaks, it seems hard to let such a paint-by-numbers character exist next to ones with rich histories and interior spaces without digging a little deeper.
As we’ve seen many time in Twin Peaks, a character may start off as a small part (think of the One-Armed Man or BOB, or even Laura Palmer herself, or the Milford brothers in TSHoTP) before emerging into a more central role as the story demands change. The way in which Annie is introduced, her odd dialogue and the way she interacts with the characters on screen, the curious fact of Annie’s apparent omission from the proceedings via TSHoTP, and the changing nature of this story over the last twenty five years all help point us in this direction. With Heather Graham not included on the cast list for The Return, this throws things into further disarray. But we maintain that whether Annie was an agent of the Lodge or a pawn, or whether she truly was a simple damsel in distress, her story—so dramatically tied up in the events of the finale episode—is likely far from over.
What are your theories?
1A basic definition is as follows: “The prototypical Mary Sue is an original female character in a fanfic who obviously serves as an idealized version of the author mainly for the purpose of Wish Fulfillment. […] She also lacks any realistic, or at least story-relevant, character flaws — either that or her “flaws” are obviously meant to be endearing (from http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MarySue)
2 For more info on Annie’s character, check out Joel Bocko’s excellent character series: http://www.lostinthemovies.com/2017/04/annie-blackburn-twin-peaks-character.html
3To be fair, Cooper’s intuition had fallen into decline earlier than Annie’s appearance: notably, in one of the first episodes to feature Windom Earle in the flesh, Windom passes right behind Cooper as Cooper is staring at a photo of Caroline in his wallet. It seems as though Caroline/Annie are the two most distracting influences in Cooper’s life, and the biggest detriments to his investigative abilities.
4 In a deleted scene from Fire Walk With Me, featured in 2014’s The Missing Pieces but long available in script format, Annie appears after having been rescued from Glastonberry Grove and taken to the hospital. She repeats the same lines about the Lodge and Cooper to a nurse, who then takes the ill-fated Owl Cave ring from Annie’s finger and puts it on, admiring herself in the mirror as she does so. It is, chronologically, the last time we see Annie Blackburn in Twin Peaks.
5In her “Annie Theory” video essay (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THcvyfwEqbQ) YouTuber The Vlog Lady posits that Annie’s injuries, seemingly sustained during her time in the Lodge, are evidence in support of this kind of corporeal possession. Annie is shown with a considerable amount of blood on her face from an apparent head wound. While we did not see Annie come to any sort of physical harm while she was in the Lodge, that does not necessarily mean it did not happen; however it is worth noting that–in an episode rife with head wounds, and especially considering the types of head wounds which Leland and Cooper sustained during their BOB states–Annie here seems to be suffering from a similar kind of injury. Could this be a sign of Annie’s possession by a Lodge spirit? Now that the evil deed is done and Annie is no longer of any use, has she been violently vacated?