By Lindsay Stamhuis and Eileen G. Mykkels
“A lot of people will say about the show, “I don’t get it and I don’t understand it.” And I tell them it’s like a dream. A lot of indigenous cultures, we believe that the dream world is just as real as the physical world. And a lot of Twin Peaks is like a dream. Sometimes when you’re dreaming, it doesn’t move at the same pace as the real world. Sometimes when you wake up, you go, “What does that mean?” Watching Twin Peaks sometimes is liking watching somebody else’s dream. It can be very uncomfortable. But it’s extremely fascinating. A lot of answers to questions are revealed to us in the dream world. I think that’s what Twin Peaks does.”
– Michael Horse
One of the most confusing, frustrating, and potentially alienating aspects of The Return so far—at least if you judge by fan reaction on social media and in the roughly bazillion thinkpieces that have been published thus far—has been the storyline involving Dale and his life in the Las Vegas suburbs. Fans seems roughly equally divided, with half of us enjoying what we’re seeing and half of us wanting to know when (or even if) “Our Coop” will return to us.
We have been examining these scenes through a slightly different lens, one which we hope to share with you over the course of our two-part article series, exploring one theoretical avenue for the Dale story to travel down: what if this is all a dream?
Of course we don’t mean this is literally a dream. Dale Cooper is not asleep in his bed a la Bobby Ewing; he won’t wake up next to a Suzanne Pleshette-lookalike in the final hour of The Return (…or will he? We kid, we kid). Seasons 1 and 2, Fire Walk With Me, and the ensuing 25 years that we’ve gotten hints of in the last 6 hours of television won’t be erased in one stunning (and likely disappointing) ante meridiem moment of clarity: Dale rousing from sleep, rubbing his eyes, turning to the person next to him. “Oh, Audrey, I’ve had the most terrible nightmare…” 1
But what if Agent Cooper—the Good Cooper, the one we know and love—has not yet left the Lodges, and is somehow still in limbo somewhere, left to sort through the memories of his life and the world he left behind in order to prepare himself for his eventual return? Or what if he is out, and what we’re seeing is the good part of Cooper’s bifurcated essence reasserting itself within the utterly corrupt and morally bankrupted Mr. C?
“But Lindsay and Eileen,” you may say, “How in the world can you possibly assert that what is happening to Dale is not happening in the real world?”
The evidence is mounting, but let’s “Fraulein Maria” this discussion and start at the very beginning: with The Autobiography of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes.
My Life My Tapes (MLMT) features the recorded ramblings of Dale Cooper from his pre-teens in the late 1960s right through to his assignment to the Laura Palmer case in 1989. Though the tape recorder itself changes throughout the story, the format remains the same throughout: Dale gives narration to significant events in his life, and as such we are able to frame the backstory of our protagonist using his own words in a fun quasi-epistolary fashion.
The novel has never sat as well with fans as the much more popular Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, which has been continuously in print since it’s original release in 1990 and was recently given the full-on Audible audiobook treatment by Sheryl Lee herself; but its outright dismissal by many fans may have been hasty, as keen viewers of The Return—including Stewart Gardiner, whose Twitter discussion with Lindsay last weekend prompted this article in the first place, and EW’s Jeff Jensen, among many others—have found several instances where elements of MLMT have crept into the Dougie narrative.
Some of the autobiographical references are more obtuse than others, but the ones that stand out the most are very intriguing indeed. Dale is forced to hold his urine on two separate occasions (so far) because he’s forgotten how to relieve himself (p. 61); this calls to mind an experiment Dale performed as a young man wherein he attempted to see how long he could go without urinating, and documented his findings. Dale is also extraordinarily lucky at the Silver Mustang Casino, and his weaving journey through the sea of one-armed bandits as he learns how to play the slots mirrors nicely an early scene in MLMT wherein Dale accompanies his uncle Al (a Bible salesman and magician) to a poker game and learns how to count cards (p. 14), a skill which his uncle likely hopes will come in handy in the future (and which does net Dale a healthy windfall at One Eyed Jack’s near the end of Season 1—during which he even admits that his mother “always said [he] was born lucky.”—in much the same way that he amasses his winnings in Part 4 of The Return). The gunslinger/cowboy statue he sees looks strikingly similar to the character played by James Stewart in The FBI Story, which is named explicitly as Dale’s favourite film and the inspiration for his future profession (p. 2).
Dale also inherits the clothing of the man he replaced in The Return: a lime-green sport coat, tan trousers, and brown shoes. This matches, word for word, a description of the first dead body that a young Dale sees in the streets of Philadelphia (p. 16). Surely this is not just a coincidence; if it is, the odds of it happening are astronomical, as Lynch and Frost do nothing, it seems, without purpose.
The Purple World scenes in Part 3 of The Return feature a character named “Mother” who bangs on the door while both Naido (Nae Yuuki) and American Girl (Phoebe Augustine) react in horror to the sound. American Girl’s fear of “Mother” breaking down the door recalls a scene in MLMT where Dale accompanies his girlfriend Lena to her childhood home and, after being warned that Lena’s mother Joan successfully seduced Lena’s last boyfriend, has a brief nocturnal encounter with Joan which is thwarted by Lena and a well-timed house fire (pp. 63-64). It seems as though these scenes could be a kind of rehash of this fateful event in young Dale’s life.
Further following the “Mother” angle, most alarmingly, is the idea that Dale and his own mother were both plagued by disturbing dreams about people trying to get in through their bedroom doors. Dale’s mother dies early on in the book, but one of her warnings to him is that he must not let “him” in (p. 15). Hearing a character referred to as “Mother” trying to get into the room with Cooper seems too eerie to be ignored.
Aside from the references to MLMT, there is also the particular nature of the ‘Dougie’ storyline. Think about all the dream-like elements that feed into it: it’s been remarked that the colour palette is vastly different in these scenes than to those of the rest of the series, and feature bright, citrusy colours, with a particular emphasis on primary colours, as well as warm, vibrant tones which are anathema—almost—to the rest of the show cast in gloomy greys or dusty browns. This could just be a visual representation of Las Vegas itself, a place that is, admittedly, a little unreal: a Day-Glo acid trip baked in the southwest sun, with no clocks to tell time by and fresh oxygen pumped into every air-conditioned, artificially-lit room. But that seems to be an easy cop-out; rather, to us, this feels like a visual tip-off to the viewer that, like Dorothy’s Technicolour trip to Oz or Alice’s to Wonderland, Dale’s visit to Las Vegas is different. Since dreams are characteristically more full of life and colour that the real world from which the person dreaming originates, could this be indicative of a dreamlike state for Dale?
Dale’s ‘Lodge-given luck’ is also typical of a dream. In dreams, we are often able to do impossible things to save ourselves, to get out of situations, etc. Superhuman feats of strength or convoluted actions that break the laws of physics are par for the course. Dream logic allows for Dale’s drawings to make sense to Dougie’s boss (while simultaneously making none to us, although many are trying, ultimately saving his job. It allows him to win thirty megajackpots in a row, something which is so far outside the realm of probability as to be absurd. It allows him to walk out of the casino with his winnings and no investigation by the casino manager into how he managed to swindle them out of nearly a half million dollars. It allows him to hit a speedbump, drop the key, and avoid being seen and shot by a sniper sent to kill him immediately after he and Jade leave the house in Rancho Rosa.
Dreams also often borrow from the events of the dreamer’s real life. Twice in Part 4, Dale is in the direct presence of an owl: on the first occasion as one flies overhead after he’s brought home from the casino, and in the second by the precisely placed owl-shaped cookie jar on the counter behind where he sits at breakfast in the Jones household. In Dale’s waking life back in Twin Peaks, owls represented some unknown danger that he had been warned about; their presence here is therefore extremely dreamlike in origin. It makes perfect sense that he would dream of them here. Likewise, the vision of the white horse from Sarah’s visions and Dale’s own time in the Red Room is hearkened to again when we discover that the Casino name is the ‘Silver Mustang’.
In a similar vein, the Great Northern key, which did not originally contain Dale’s phrase “Clean Place, Reasonably Priced”, is found with this slogan embossed on the back, part of the Great Northern’s marketing strategy. Could Dale’s requirement for accommodations have somehow made its way into his dream to become linked indelibly with his home away from home in the town of Twin Peaks? Dale is also drawn to the security guard’s star-shaped badge, which could be a reminder of his past as a law enforcement officer, his friendship with Sheriff Truman, or how he felt when he was deputized. Even the door of Dougie’s home and Janey-E’s purse are both red, the same red as the curtains of the Black Lodge. A bit on the nose if this were reality.
Music is something else that could signify that this is a dream. Remember, what we know scientifically about dreams is that they are composite creations from memories and the previous day’s thoughts, activities, and experiences; the inclusion a famous jazz standard by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, could easily fit into this motif. “Take 5” is an extremely popular song—one of if not the biggest selling jazz single of all time—and the first and only previously famous piece of music to be heard around Dale in his Dougieworld surroundings. For a common piece of music to make its way into one of Dale’s dreams would make sense. Think about the rest of Dale’s surroundings in Dougie’s life and the plot that is happening around him. He has a stock job which is, as of the publication of this article, unknown except to say that he works in insurance. He has a stock wife—Janey-E is a nag but loves him—and a (maybe?) stock kid—Sonny Jim has no real personality except to say that he is kind and gently understanding of his father’s situation. It even has a stock plot: Dougie was a cheater, a gambling addict, about to lose his job, and owed some bookies a lot of money. If this sounds to you like the plot of at least seven different films, you wouldn’t be wrong. If this is a dream or a fabricated world created from elements found in Dale’s subconscious, it’s going to be created from things with which Dale is familiar: stereotypes and half memories, the forgotten faces of the dozens of people he’s seen but never interacted with over his lifetime, a piece of music he’s heard on the radio a hundred times over.
The song itself has extra meaning. It is written in 5/4 or quintuple time, which is an odd time signature. It is not entirely uncommon, and is found throughout many different cultures’ folk music, but in jazz and Western popular music it was almost entirely unheard of until after World War II. Its inclusion on The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s 1959 album Time Out is notable as this is an album almost entirely dedicated to unusual meters. It was purposefully written this way so that musicians and listeners alike had to pay more attention to it and its altered swing tempo, and it was written on purpose to be adventurous. It’s atypical. Can we then extrapolate meaning from this? Does this world exists outside of the norm? A dimension adjacent, created to be used by Cooper to regain himself?
There is also an aspect of unreality which creeps into Dale’s world in much the same way that it creeps into our dreams. This world is populated with people who help Dale a little too much, but not enough to figure out what’s actually wrong with him. Dale essentially pilfers a man’s coffee, calls his co-worker a liar, doodles all over his case files, and suffers no serious repercussions from anyone for any of it; in fact, with the case files, he’s openly praised by his boss and taken into the man’s confidence as they move towards solving what appears to be a massive case of insurance fraud involving another employee. At home, Janey-E doesn’t stay too mad at him about his rendezvous with Jade; she takes total control of situations that she had previously asked him to handle2. Dale moves as if he’s in a dream, plodding through his day at Lucky 7 Insurance or through his model-perfect showhome in much the same way that a dreamer might do, as if underwater. At one point Janey-E calls him a ‘dreamweaver’ due to this fugue-like state; in another scene, his co-worker Phil asks if he’s off in dreamland again. These aren’t accidental. This whole thing really does feel, remarkably, like a dream
There’s also the unreal situation with the vomited garmonbozia that both Dougie (before he’s sucked into the Lodge) and DoppelCoop expel. In DoppelCoop’s case, the substance is so vile it hospitalizes two state troopers who respond to the South Dakota car crash site, and who are in contact with the car for a matter of seconds before succumbing. However, in the empty house where Jade and Dougie had their rendezvous, and where Cooper emerges to take Dougie’s place, the vomit is gross but not harmful; both Jade and Cooper are physically fine after prolonged exposure to the same stuff. Now, perhaps it is us stretching a bit in assuming that the substance is the same in both cases, but if it is, it’s interesting that only characters in the one location are harmed by the substance, while characters in another are not.
Sonny Jim is also a character worth talking about at this juncture for the way in which he appears to be unreal: it has been noted in several places that he, at times, appears to act in reverse. In Part 5, while alone and sad in his mother’s car, his blinks appear to happen in reverse, and in Part 6, Sonny Jim lifts his head to observe his father walking down the hallway and when he lowers his head again, it is clear that this is the same shot as before which has simply been reversed. If this is indeed the case, whether it means Sonny Jim is another lodge spirit, or maybe manufactured, it could also be considered Red Room bleed through of a sort.3
Dale’s interaction with the environment around him is also dream-like and strange. He only responds directly to those who engage with him. When he has his first encounter with Sonny Jim, he mimics the action of the thumbs up, going so far as to face in the same direction as the boy. He repeats this sort of scenario when the boss at Lucky 7 goes in for a handshake. He only learns words from those who speak directly to him, and makes no effort to engage with those around him spontaneously—they must make the first move. His later “evolution” to mimicking gestures that are not explicitly meant for him (imitating both the gunslinger/cowboy statue in the outer courtyard of his workplace and the boxing stance seen in Bushnell Mullins’s old boxing advertisement poster) signify a kind of growth for Dougie-Cooper, one that has many fans hoping that Philip Gerard’s command to “Wake up!” will happen sooner rather than later. Our guess is that this may happen within the next two episodes before the July holiday break.
That is the last point of observation that leads us to believe this is taking place in a dream: this explicit command from Gerard that Dale must “Wake up!” It seems a little on the nose for David Lynch, a man whose inclusion of the bracketed, subtitled, clear as day definition of garmonbozia in Fire Walk With Me was seen as a marked departure from his normal guarded approach to explaining his films.
Whatever the reasoning, we’re hardly the first to notice the unreality of the Las Vegas scenes, and become aware of the possibilities it opens to. All these things provide us with a look at the substance behind this argument, but not the reasoning why it might be, or how it has come to pass. Join us tomorrow to answer those questions in the follow up article, No More Yielding But A Dream.
1 The fanfiction practically writes itself, but that’s for our other part-time jobs as fic writers…
2 This could be some kind of comment on the capability of women/the incapability of men to handle day-to-day hiccups, especially within marriage, but that’s an argument for another article.
3 The book that Sonny Jim is reading in Part 6, The Case of the Old Mill, may also be considered a kind of call back to Dale’s life in Twin Peaks, as it deals with a case of money-laundering in a town with a mill. Certainly this was a deliberate choice.