“Black Lodge/White Lodge” is the 25 Years Later version of the popular point/counterpoint style of debating, wherein two sides take opposing views and hash it out on stage. Here, we’ll be debating the finer points of Twin Peaks lore, in writing, for your reading pleasure.
Today’s debaters are: Aidan Hailes & Lindsay Stamhuis
The topic is: Are Naido and American Girl helpful or harmful to Agent Cooper?
Black Lodge: by Lindsay Stamhuis
At the start of Part 3, Agent Cooper falls through space and lands in a kind of Lavender World, where time proceeds non-linearly and the inhabitants lack the ability to communicate their wishes and goals clearly. This is far from the first time that characters in Twin Peaks have been forced to communicate in code; nor is it the first time that a character’s motivations have been called into question. When I first watched this intense, astonishing scene, I was enraptured…and confused. Where is Agent Cooper? Who are these people he’s with—Naido and American Girl? What is banging on the door and trying to get in? It is my contention that the inhabitants are bent on steering Agent Cooper away from his rightful place in the world, and aren’t the helpful beings that my esteemed colleague Aidan (below) would have you believe.
The first thing that strikes me is that this place that Agent Cooper enters is only accessed when he drops through the floor of the Red Room that is shaken apart by the Evolution of the Arm’s [EOTA] doppelganger (Fun idea: read that sentence to a non-Twin Peaks fan and see how long it takes them to commit you!) There seems to be no doubt that the EOTA’s doppelganger isn’t here for fun and games; it stands to reason that the place he sends Coop to isn’t either. Whether or not it is some kind of Black Lodge extension remains to be seen; all we know is that it doesn’t seem like a good place to be.
The first person Coop encounters is Naido, a woman with her eyes sealed and who is incapable of effective verbal communication. While trying to explain…something to Agent Cooper, he spies a panel on the wall: a steampunk-esque electrical socket with the number 15 above it. Blindness in literature often symbolizes a kind of “second sight”, with blind characters acting as everything from literal seers and mystics to revealers of deeper insight about the themes of the work. Here, it seems as though Naido does possess knowledge that Cooper does not—she knows not to let him through the #15 electrical socket which he’s drawn to, and knows to take him up to the top of the box a few moments later—seemingly in order to get him away from the creature banging on the door. Ultimately, Naido appears to sacrifice herself after flipping the large breaker on the top of the box, at which point she is flung into outer space. It is easy to read Naido as selfless, a character who serves our hero in his time of need.
When Cooper returns alone to the interior of the box, something has changed. Time progresses linearly; there is no more shuffling back and forth in time. There is a new woman on the couch where Naido once sat (this, we learn in the credits, is American Girl, played by Phoebe Augustine.) And the number above the electrical socket now reads 3. The obvious significance of this is that the two numbers represent Agent Cooper’s room number at the Great Northern. 3 is also the smallest factor of 15, the only other factor being 5, a number which comes up often in Parts 3 & 4. There is a likely numerological explanation for this, but it’s probably far too early to know the full story and this is not my wheelhouse, so I won’t even attempt to figure it out. Suffice it to say, this electrical socket is the one that Cooper is encouraged to go through by American Girl, who—like Naido before her—fears the wrath of the unseen entity banging on the door outside, whom she refers to as “Mother”.
The idea that a character named “Mother” would be after Cooper seems to also be particularly strange. Various theories abound, such as that “Mother” is the white/grey “alien” being that appeared in the box in New York in Part 1, which would be sufficient cause for alarm. But we simply don’t know who “Mother” truly is. Mothers aren’t usually depicted as evil unless they fall under the trope of the literary stepmother—they are nurturing, loving, and are often used to represent elements of birth or rebirth, as mothers are literally givers of life. As this is a scene that precedes a kind of rebirth for Cooper, the presence of a “Mother” character is not odd; what is odd is that “Mother” is characterized as evil. In his argument below, Aidan will argue that this scene is perhaps set within Cooper’s subconscious. If so, this leaves a lot to consider. Cooper’s own mother did not have an evil influence on him, based on the stories he tells in the autobiography My Life My Tapes; indeed, his mother was a protective influence, right up until her death. If we are in a realm constructed of Cooper’s subconscious, why would he create a veritable monster out of something that he holds in high regard? Alternately, if we are in a real place, what does it say that Naido and American Girl are afraid of “Mother”? What if it is because “Mother” is actually, literally, some Black Lodge/Red Room/Lavender World version of his own mother, there to stop them from carrying out their plan, and this is the source of their fear of her?
The simple fact is that we just don’t know.
What we do know is that the world Cooper exits into through the #3 socket is not the world that he was supposed to go to: he supplants a man named Dougie Jones instead of his evil doppelganger Mr. C. We learn that Dougie was “manufactured” for a purpose, and that this purpose has now been fulfilled. Was that purpose to act as a decoy, a substitute for Mr. C, to enable him to stay out of the Lodge when it was Cooper’s time to return?
It is also not a particularly safe world for Cooper to be in: Dougie is, for lack of a better turn of phrase, being hunted by nefarious nogoodniks and appears to have gotten himself into financial trouble with someone—whether these two events are linked remains to be seen, but it hardly seems a stretch to assume that Mr. C orchestrated at least some of the mortal danger in which Cooper was to find himself, possibly to ensure that Cooper would die and he would live.
We know that Cooper was supposed to replace Mr. C, but the EOTA’s doppelganger sent him hurtling into what could be inferred as “non-exist-ence” instead. Once there, he is pushed along towards the exit that leads him into Dougie’s manufactured life and away from where he should have gone, which is to replace Mr. C and restore his place in the here and now after 25 years in the Red Room. Why would Naido (through, perhaps, the throwing of the switch) and American Girl push him towards a world that is obviously hostile towards him? What was behind socket #15 and why was he warned away from going near it? And who is this “Mother” figure that they are so afraid of?
These questions lead me to view Naido and American Girl with suspicion. Until more evidence is to be had, I can’t simply accept that they are helpful agents in Cooper’s Return.
White Lodge: by Aidan Hailes
After Agent Cooper’s descent from the Red Room and travails through the mystery glass box in New York, he arrives in a second supranormal world that’s, well, purple (or Lavender, as my esteemed colleague would have it). The events and characters within the Purple World are not easily interpreted, as the world itself is dreamlike and alien. Instead of a brand-new world, it seems like Cooper is a mere colour shift away from the Red Room; a halfway space between the dreaminess of the Red Room and the strict logic of the real world that’s starts him on his journey back home. Yet one thing should be clear watching the Purple World scene: the actions of the characters he meets there are intended to protect him and aid him along his path.
Since the launch of Part 3 of The Return, there have been many interpretations of the Purple World. That it’s a part of Cooper’s mind, that it’s another world similar to the Red Room, that it’s literally what it looks like: a Tardis-like spacecraft that’s bigger on the inside. Regardless of the interpretation of the events of the scene itself, perhaps the clearest way to think of the scene is in terms of David Lynch’s favourite film-making tool: mood.
Lynch is a master at manipulating the mood of the viewer, usually by music (or in this case, sound more broadly), camera work, visual setting, and the facial and body language of his actors. In terms of mood, the Purple World goes through two distinct phases: disorientation and stuttering in the meeting with Naido, and more realistic, but still vaguely threatening and surreal, in the second half with American Girl. The emotional progression is clear: Cooper moves more and more towards the understandable and identifiable, led and urged on by the two women. The two halves are combined by the presence of an ominous figure, never seen but most certainly felt, in the form of “Mother.”
In Lynch films the mood a character evinces out of the viewer is often just as important as their spoken lines or actions. The Mother creature pounding on the wall is therefore perhaps the most important character in the scene, owing to the way the other characters react and the sense of unknown she represents. American Girl and Naido act as protectors for Cooper, keeping him shielded from Mother’s implied threat.
Although American Girl’s warnings are more easily understood – able, as she is, to speak – Naido’s are far more visceral. Not just with respect to Mother, but also her warnings away from the electrical outlet then labelled “15”. Again, in Naido’s time-stuttering, improbably lit and voiced version of the Purple World, the tension of the scene is raised purely through mood, especially the repetition and supernatural movement of time in the scene itself. Compared to American Girl (who, played by Augustine Phoebe, may even represent a type of prophet or seer, since that was the role Ronette Pulaski often played in Lynch episodes of the original Twin Peaks), Naido is a creature of Cooper’s nightmare, and her warnings imply a far greater nightmare awaits him should he try to push through the “15” electrical outlet. If Naido would rather Cooper stay and risk running into Mother (assuming it’s the same creature shaking the wall in both iterations of the Purple World) than enter “15” the viewer is led to assume an even more terrible fate awaits him inside there.
All this is implied without any real logical motion at any stage, or, in Naido’s case, even any dialogue. What dialogue we do get from American Girl is still rooted in dream logic and the Red Room magic. Mother is given a name, but no substance or presence beyond the primal fear of something large enough to shake walls. And primal is what this scene is all about.
The two women act as guides for Cooper and the viewer in this world, and Lynch is counting on us sticking with our gut, and counting on these women to protect and guide us through this in-between place. And while it’s possible everything Cooper experiences in the Purple World will actually prove to be a negative thing for Cooper, Lynch’s use of otherworldly fears and hidden terrors in the scene seem genuine: he expects you to be afraid of Mother, and he wants you to trust Cooper’s intuition to follow Naido, and listen to American Girl.
Then there are the facts as we have them. Yes, the Arm’s doppelganger sent Cooper into the Purple World, and yes, the Purple World itself is potentially dangerous. But that makes Naido’s transformation of the Purple World (via the switch), and American Girl’s warnings all the more positive in terms of keeping Cooper safe. Without the women, perhaps Cooper meets an unsightly end by going through “15”, or Mother successfully appears and devours him.
What we do know is that Cooper successfully (or at least semi-successfully) comes out into the real world through the “3” electrical panel. What awaited him out “15” is up for conjecture, but thus far we know “3” has been a (relatively) safe path for Cooper. Similarly, since we never see Mother, but Cooper does seem afraid of her, we can probably assume that she’s not actually a caring, nurturing mother type.
Finally there is a bit of numerology worth examining in the “3” and “15” panels. While I’m not a numerology guy, and definitely not a Tarot expert, Twin Peaks (and the Secret History especially) are loaded with references to occult practices, of which Tarot could be included. The wonderful folks at Counter Esperanto Podcast pointed out that the 15th card in Tarot is The Devil. So not primarily a positive connotation, as the card is associated with bondage, addiction, and materialism. All things that Lynch and Twin Peaks have connected with evil characters and practices.
3, on the other hand, has many positive connections in Tarot, most notably with The Empress Card. That card is associated with beauty, nature, and fertility, so an altogether excellent choice for someone wishing to be reborn into the world, as Cooper is. In that light, American Girl’s insistence to hurry away from Mother and towards The Empress should be read as a step towards rebirth, and away from the primal fear of death that haunts Cooper’s every movement.
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