The Trouble with Timelines

“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: Erik Otterberg and John Bernardy

The topic is: When in the world is Dougie Jones?


Black Lodge: by Erik Otterberg

Let us be clear right from the start – the scenes set in Las Vegas does not take place in 2003. Indeed, why would they? Nor do I believe that they take place in an alternate timeline or in a different reality from the rest of the show. We have had a few weeks of all sorts of interesting, strange, exciting and really creative theories on these matters making their way around the Twin Peaks online community and I have thoroughly enjoyed them as a sort of fanfic. It is a testament to the show and its creators that their work continue to inspire our minds, our fantasies and our dreams in such a way that we continue the act of creation even when as this week’s instalment of the show ends. This is what the French theorist Roland Barthes referred to when he talked about art as a text and not as a work – the piece of art is not a fixed artefact but a process that is forever changed as we interact with it.

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However – beyond the joys of making things up – there is really very little actual support for any of these theories, if we are to look at the text as it in fact is presented to us. Fan fiction is a worthy endeavour but it is not criticism, as in the art of critical analysis aimed at understanding what a text is trying to say or do. If our intention is to understand what is going on in the show that latter thing just might be more important. In biblical studies and in the study of literature this is the distinction between exegesis, where you draw out meaning from the text, and eisegesis, where you bring meaning in to the text from outside sources. Again, I’m not saying this to be a party pooper, or, White Lodge forbid, a Chad – I have full respect for any attempts to shoehorn in time travel narratives in the story. But I personally can’t see it when I am watching the show.

Where does the notion that we are dealing with alternate realities come from? It seems that some people have been looking for clues to that effect since before The Return premiered. As far as I can gather it started when Mark Frosts’ novel The Secret History of Twin Peaks was published. As we all know eagle eyed readers pretty quickly spotted some major inconsistencies between things stated in that book and things that we are told in the old show. A lot of them seemed to form around the story of Ed, Norma and Nadine. The account given of the history of their relationship, written down by Hawk, does not line up neatly with the story told by Ed in the opening of season two. Norma’s mother is a completely different character. A stamp on a postcard is in fact an anachronism, that stamp wasn’t published until sometime later than the date given on the card. And finally, Annie, who is supposed to be Norma’s sister after all, is never mentioned.

Now, the last of these things never struck quite as strange as it did some other readers. No mention of Annie doesn’t mean that there is no Annie after all. The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. It doesn’t strike me as more of an inconsistency than say the fact that we never see Donna’s sisters again after the first episode of season two, even though we get many scenes set in the Hayward house. Whenever a table is set there are only three plates. No one ever suggested altered timelines or that Harriet was a manufactured being then, did they. (Obviously the difference is that we care about Annie in a way we don’t care about Harriet.)

The other thing I have no good explanation for, although I do have a bit of a quibble with those who say that neither this nor the post stamp could possibly be mistakes. In fact, they very well might have been. Trust me, as someone who has both written and directed extensively for the stage – you will make odd mistakes like this. You will forget things, change your mind or just screw up. Now, if these are mistakes I don’t they reflect badly on Frost as a writer or The Secret History as a book. Even Shakespeare made slip ups like these (in the first scene of Much Ado About Nothing he has a mother character appear that he then just forgets about for the rest of the play). And I for one won’t blame Frost if he simply didn’t remember the whole M.T. Wentz sub plot. It was not one of the finer moments of Season Two.

Nor is this the first time we have had inconsistencies like these in “the Twin Peaks canon” – if such a thing can even exist. The second season has things that don’t match up with season one. Fire Walk With Me does not line up perfectly with the show. The tie in books all contradict both the show, the film and each other on various points. But somehow, probably because we knew the new show was coming, this time around it sparked the idea that we were getting different timelines, that these were not mistakes after all, that it was all intentional. And once that idea was planted in social media it became almost unstoppable. We were all trigging each other, letting our collective minds wander and this in turn has made us look for things in the show that may not be there at all.

Take for instance the spark of the whole notion that the Las Vegas scenes are set in 2003DBh4Go3UMAQnlGX specifically – the closeup we get in part 5 of the license plate on Dougie’s car. Someone spotted a sticker that said “03” on it, and that was enough to get the avalanche of theories started. At that point, it doesn’t matter that the idea was rather quickly debunked – it turns out the Nevada license plate stickers have the month printed with big numbers on them while the year is given in fine print to the side. The notion was already started and many fell in love with the theory. As I said above, I can understand why – it is a fun possibility – but the problem is that at this point you are not watching the show anymore. You are watching another show, one you just made up in your mind. You are clearly ignoring that we are seeing many examples of present day technology: at the insurance office, at the control room in the casino, Jades car. You are subconsciously choosing not to notice these things but you do notice that Lorraine has an old BlackBerry, because that fits the narrative you are building for yourself. Which is fine for sure, but it may not be the narrative of Twin Peaks: The Return.

Before the new show started David Lynch himself gave us a warning of sorts. He told us to keep the eye on the donut and not on the hole. I think this is a very important advice from Mr. Lynch. We all like to go over the scenes of each part with a fine-tooth comb and taking advantage of our ability to freeze frame and blow up parts of the screen digitally to find more information. We all do it. But it is important not to lose our sight of the story as a story, the flow and the narrative thrust of the whole. Sometimes we must take a few steps back. And that is one of the reasons why I am hesitant to any of the theories that would place the Dougie storyline outside of the fictional reality of the rest of the show. It just doesn’t feel right to me. We are getting so many threads that connects the events in Las Vegas with the rest of the plot – the ring in what we assume is Major Briggs stomach, the fact that both Lorraine and Mr C. calls the same mystery box in Argentina, the key that Jade put in the mail. Granted none of these have really paid of yet but they are clearly setting us up for something. Nor does the Las Vegas scenes to me suggest any higher degree of dream logic than the scenes set elsewhere. Yes, it is true that no one reacts to how weird Dougie/Cooper is in a way that you would expect from a naturalistic drama, but Twin Peaks was never naturalistic to begin with. It has always mixed moods and genres and the Dougie stuff is so clearly rooted in both sitcom and silent movie comedy. They are neither more nor less absurd than anything else.

The final reason why I resist these theories is that David Lynch simply does not seem to me to be a director that deals in twists. I know, I know, look at Lost Highway or Mulholland Drive, right? Yes, those are movies that take very sharp turns but none of them are based on twists in my opinion. A twist is the sort of thing that you might expect from someone like M. Night Shyamalan or Christopher Nolan – a story where you were being withheld information that once given makes you go back and see the previous events in a different light. They are the kind of storytellers who may try to trick you. But Lynch doesn’t strike me as that guy. He is in fact always quite upfront and honest. What we get in Lost Highway or Mulholland Drive is a story that changes itself, that transforms in front of your very eyes. It is confusing and it is upsetting yes, but in a very different way. Whereas Shyamalan, before he lost his touch, could give you a really skilled illusionist trick, Lynch is interested in something else. He gives you the real magic, the kind where the creamed corn suddenly is no longer on the plate or where the spinning coin suddenly ends up in your mouth and then is gone again.

Of course, I could be all wrong. Maybe each of the main stories of the show take place in their separate timeline/reality for all we know. Only time and the rest of the episodes will (hopefully) tell. And whatever we get I am along for the ride. As we go though, I will keep trying to focus on the donut, and so should you. We have a long road ahead still.


White Lodge: by John Bernardy

There are good reasons why Dougie’s scenes are happening in 2015, but then there’s the reasons why it could be happening in 2003 as well.

First of all, let’s verify that the lodge isn’t perfectly synced with our reality, and that it allows for time travel: Major Briggs is abducted during a camping trip and returned a day later, wearing major stubble and World War I Pilot garb, showing more time had passed for him than the time he was abducted. Also, in Fire Walk With Me Phillip Jeffries recognizes Cooper as something possibly not Cooper. This shows Jeffries is aware of DoppelCooper before DoppelCooper existed in the timestream.

And let’s not forget how Laura Palmer and Dale Cooper, months apart from each other, share the same “dream” that’s actually happening 25 years in the future, or that Annie Blackburn appears in Laura Palmer’s bed to deliver her “write it in your diary” lines months earlier than Annie enters the Lodge.

Now let’s verify that the 2003 exit date is not intended (nor necessarily important): The Lodge would not allow the Cooper substitution until 25 years have passed. Regardless of when he exits, Cooper has served his sentence. His boarding pass was already approved before the exit gate was changed.

When Dale enters the Purple Room, time is stuttering and the exit outlet reads 15. After Naido pulls the lever (for whatever her reasons) the number changes to 3 and the stuttering time issues are gone. So you’re thinking it must’ve been the crank that fixed the time stutter and corrected the exit outlet, right? Nope. What made the time stuttering stop was when Naido and Cooper touched. Breaking through Cooper’s fear to touch Naido is what stopped the time stutter. The number on the outlet was completely irrelevant, and in this case is the complete luck of the draw.

Now that we’ve verified that the lodge time frame does not have to match one for oneIMG_6138 with our reality, let’s now verify the most important tell that he exited in 2003: the complete lack of smartphones. Cell phones exist in Dougie’s portion of the world but I bet if you got a better look at them you’d see a ton of blackberries and flip phones. Unlike with Frank Truman’s phone and DoppelCooper’s recorder, smartphones are just not present. Lorraine, who appears to be in the same time frame has her black and white model Blackberry, as noted by Lindsay Stamhuis of the Bickering Peaks Podcast. The Jones household has a landline. And not once, not ever, does anyone say “text me”. You don’t even hear dings of texts coming in at the Lucky 7 Insurance office.

But try being out of contact with your spouse. Go ahead, count how many hours that might be able to work for. Why didn’t Janey-E say “Why didn’t you call me? I could’ve picked you up.” In fact, why didn’t she just call Dougie?  It’s because they don’t have cell phones yet.  I didn’t have a cellphone either, not until 2005. And I wasn’t the last person to get one that I knew, either. I think the full turn was in 2007, the year the iPhone debuted. Now we have people asking their phones for directions and constant calendar updates. But we didn’t in 2003. Back then this type of behavior was totally alien and half-impossible. It’s a world that looks an awful lot like the world Dougie is living in.


Do you have a topic for Black Lodge/White Lodge? Do you want to write it? We want YOU! Send an email to Lindsay and let us know your ideas and you could be featured in an upcoming Black Lodge/White Lodge debate!

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