By Eileen G. Mykkels and Lindsay Stamhuis
So where does this leave us? We have what we feel is an abundance of evidence to support a claim that this is taking place in some kind of liminal dream space. We are not about to speculate on exactly what kind of dream space this is—it would be an exercise in folly to try—but it may be possible to determine the hows, whys, and wherefores. If Dale is dreaming, then what are the constraints of this world? There are several theories currently, but the following take precedence.
As Lindsay wrote earlier in her examination of Dale Cooper’s Heroic Grail Quest, it is possible that the exit from the Black Lodge that we witnessed in Part 3 of The Return was, like the owls, not what it seems. In strict literary terms, Dale is only about half way through his Hero’s Journey; there are many miles left to go. Dale is not slaying dragons here, but his sojourn through Las Vegas within the life (and suit) of Dougie Jones could still be considered a series of trials on par with those of Knights of old. These trials may be imposed on Dale by the Black Lodge or manufactured by a Lodge entity, inside another dimension, possibly the NON-EXIST-ENCE of which the Evolution of the Arm’s doppelgänger (DoppelEOTA) speaks.
Since we don’t know exactly what was meant by the DoppelEOTA when it ejected Dale from the Red Room, we can speculate that, as a guardian of that particular threshold—not unlike Grendel’s mother in Beowulf—the DoppelEOTA was placing in front of Dale an obstacle that he must first overcome before he can actually leave. This is a process that the Hero must undertake to be a Hero; if Dale is the hero of our story, he must also do the same.
Now, if this is true, then perhaps everything we’ve seen is manufactured—from the Purple World to Lancelot Court—as part of this trial. But what then is the ultimate end goal? Dale could be facing elements manufactured from his own past and remembrances, with added danger—a team of hit men, a gambling debt, being trapped within his own mind—thrown in for him to evade in order to escape. He is receiving help in the form of otherworldly signs, and one of the more popular theories is that it is the Lodges which are guiding him to safety. But it is also possible that this is his own intuition rising to the challenge so he can save himself and Return, as it were, to the world.
In this case, that ultimately means that Cooper has yet to actually re-enter the real world. Of all theories this seems the more likely so far. Phillip Gerard is imploring Dale to “wake up” to the unreality of his existence, aware that, if he does not, he will die. For as we know so well from so many, many pieces of literature and film, if you die in a dream, you could die in real life.1 If this ‘dream’ is another dimension, Dale’s demise there would mean his demise anywhere, for good.
It is also possible that Cooper’s reentry into the real world didn’t really happen the way we saw it. This theory supposes that when the cigarette lighter in DoppelCoop’s car was buzzing with electrical charge and he held off vomiting, Dale was not—as we saw—simultaneously going through an electrical socket in a Rancho Rosa housing development at all, but was actually rejoining DoppelCoop as a submerged personality. Which in turn means that Dougie, and all therein, are part of Dale’s psyche as he struggles to combat not just DoppelCoop’s personality but also BOB’s. Dougie’s manufacturer would then be, in fact, Dale, or Dale’s mind, as part of an attempt to protect himself. BOB and DoppelCoop might then literally take the form of Dougie’s enemies, trying to do him in; or they could be creations of the host’s personality, sent to do battle with Dale on his current plane of existence. We could view BOB and DoppelCoop’s personalities as the equivalent of Osmosis Jones—that is, if white blood cells were the enemy in a body, and Dale were the infection. They don’t want Dale to take back his body, and are attempting to ‘kill’ the submerged personality. It would certainly account for the combination of “Wake Up” and “Don’t Die” phrases from Phillip Gerard.
If Dale has not truly exited the Lodge into the real world but rather into some kind of Lynchian dreamscape, it is possible that he is there of his own volition as well. Similar to the above, in this model, Dale’s current stasis is being imposed from within to protect his psyche which has, after all, been trapped within the hellish limbo of the Red Room/Black Lodge for a quarter century. This is a trope that has been applied in many places, in TV and film and literature, and has its roots in psychology, where terms such as “dissociative fugue” are applied. If Dale has imposed a fugue state on himself, what could the reasoning behind that be? If protection is the key, perhaps he has to rebuild his world, from past to present, in order to properly acclimate to life outside the Lodge. Using elements from his childhood and common tropes from the collective unconscious that we spoke about in Part 1, Dale could be repopulating his world with familiar things in a safe way—not terribly unlike the trauma survivor who dissociates when threatened—before proceeding to “snap out of it”. Of course, when that snap occurs, who will be the Dale that stands before us?
The last option is the least (or most, depending on your point of view) dreamlike of the theories presented here, despite still qualifying, and also quite likely. Dougie and his world have indeed been manufactured, but exist in our world, on our plane or dimension. Dale is living in a waking dream, created to contain him. His first step would then be to realize that he’s dreaming.
But if this is all—as Shakespeare’s Puck once said—”No more yielding but a dream” how did Dale get there? Let’s return once again to the moment when the DoppelEOTA ejects Dale into the NON-EXIST-ENCE. When Dale first falls through the chevron floor of the Red Room, he is only semi-corporeal and ends up inside the mystery box. J. Denosky, in the article The Hierarchy of Dreams, and the Stages of Awakening, writes that:
“Spiritual travel experience also causes the physical world to become temporarily transparent to the psychic or spiritual worlds. One clear example of this kind of travel occurs when the person having a near-death experience enters the “dark tunnel” that leads to another world. The person is generally first looking at the outer world (in an out-of-body state) and then finds him or her self moving at tremendous speed through a tunnel as perception of the physical world fades or disappears. A more rapid kind of transition to another space occurs when the traveler shifts or skips from one lucid dream environment to another. The most dramatic example of seeing through one world into the next occurs at death where there is a permanent transition to a different plane of existence and physical perception ceases as the world of the afterlife comes into focus.”
This sounds an awful lot like Dale’s experience with the Box, the Purple World, and his entrance into the Dougieworld. The transition isn’t necessarily to an afterlife—in fact, as
several others have pointed out, it more closely resembles a kind of rebirth, which is absolutely consistent with ideas of reincarnation that exist in Buddhism as well as Theosophy—but it is volatile, especially after so many years on a different dimensional plane.
But, to move forward to the Dougieworld experience, let’s consider what we previously determined about Dale’s actions there and apply it to a concept called “perceptual transparency”, which relates to astral projection, something which articles here at 25YL have touched on in the past. Denosky goes on to say that:
“Transparency of perception occurs when an individual looks through (or shifts from) one world into another making the previous world seem illusory or dream-like. This phenomenon of transparency is something experienced when the lucid dreamer observes the process of waking up. The lucid dream body becomes transparent to waking perception and disappears all together as one finds oneself back in the physical body. The lucid dreamer knows that the seemingly solid world of his or her lucid dream is a temporary space that will disappear slowly like water as it evaporates on hot pavement in the process of waking up and returning to the physical body.”
What we could suggest is that, in this scenario, Dale is dreaming ‘between worlds’, but, being unaware of it, cannot make himself to ‘wake up’. He then has to enter into a variety of different states of awareness, and reach enlightenment before he can fully awaken to the world and finish the quest.
On a spiritual level, we can turn to the eastern philosophies which Dale (and David Lynch himself) was so enamoured of, and to the Theosophical underpinnings that make themselves readily apparent in Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks (TSHoTP). There is overlap between the kind of metaphysical journey that theosophy speaks about being necessary for every person to take if they want to reach enlightenment, and that aforementioned literary Hero’s Journey. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, one of the co-founders of Theosophy, links this journey to self-actualization with the seven-leaved Saptaparṇa evergreen tree native to the Indian subcontinent and across Southeast Asia. Consequently, Blavatsky’s Seven Principles form the basis for the journey that all humans undergo as they come to understand who they are and how they relate to the world.2
In her paper titled “The Human Journey: Quest for Self-Transformation”, theosophist Joy Mills writes that this journey is central to understanding the who of our being as opposed to simply the what, which is the problem at the crux of the “contemporary dilemma”. Dale, at this point in his journey, is deeply entrenched in a discovery of who he is. He is working his way through the Saptaparṇa, from a place of basic functioning through to higher cognition, at which point he will be able to emerge into a state of Enlightenment. If Theosophy embodies a necessary search for ultimate Truth, then Dale could be seen as being on a quest for his true self, a quest which he has no choice but to embark upon and which is, as of the writing of this article, half-finished.3
The strongest evidence that could undermine any of these arguments is, of course, Dougie’s wedding ring, which was found in the stomach of the, as yet, unidentified and dismembered body found in Ruth Davenport’s apartment in South Dakota, considered by most to likely be that of Major Briggs. It is also the only piece of the Las Vegas storyline that has come into contact with one of the outside storylines. How did the ring come to be there? What does that mean on the grand scale of things? And furthermore, how does it affect the dream theory?
Ultimately, there are any number of possibilities. One theory here holds that Major Briggs was aware of the plan to capture Dale within Dougie’s body, and that Briggs took Dougie’s wedding band (and possibly gave him the Owl Cave ring in return) in order to save Dale and, knowing he himself would likely die, hid Dougie’s wedding band by swallowing it in order to tip off the authorities to Dale’s location. However unpleasant it is to consider that Major Briggs was killed, this scenario does seem very plausible.
But the ‘Dougie’s world is fabricated’ scenario could still play out while incorporating the dream world. Perhaps the ring was planted by DoppelCoop to frame the real Cooper? Maybe the ring is but one example of a piece of reality intruding on the dream world, or vice versa?
This could also simply be an example of David Lynch being David Lynch, throwing us for a loop in a way that only he can do. Lynch is no stranger to playing in this kind of liminal space between states of consciousness. Several theories abound about his films Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, and Inland Empire, which all have elements that appear to take place in a non-reality where dream logic reigns supreme. When the cast list for The Return was announced, the sheer number of crossover stars from the expansive Lynchverse (as his “related” films have been called) led many to suspect that some kind of link would be made between them all, and one of the ways this could happen is through some kind of shared conceit, like a dream world (for lack of a better term).
If we are to understand The Return as a kind of magnum opus containing elements and callbacks to the entirety of Lynch’s back catalogue, what can we glean from these other works and the ways in which they are being referenced? A scene with Dale clutching case files in an elevator strongly resembles a scene from Eraserhead, in which Henry clutches papers to his chest in the same manner. According to many, Eraserhead deals in large part with the interior space that Henry retreats to in the face of unwanted fatherhood, so could this visual callback be insinuating that Dougie-Coop, too, has retreated/been forced to retreat within himself as well? Dale has also experienced deep trauma—imprisonment in the Red Room for 25 years or worse, if he is at all aware of what his doppelganger has been up to in his stead—and may be trying to cope with this on a subconscious level, perhaps in much the same way as Fred Madison in Lost Highways. The “dream” section of Mulholland Drive features bright colours and melodramatic acting as well, much like the Las Vegas scenes in The Return. Naomi Watts’s character Janey-E has also struck many to be very similar—in terms of delivery as well as with regard to things like costume design and the role she plays in the plot—to one of her characters from Mulholland Drive, Betty Elms, who is popularly assumed to have been an idealized (and entirely manufactured) alter-ego to Watts’s other Mulholland Drive character, Diane Selwyn. Could the similarity in style and/or Watts’s presence be a signal to the viewer that we should treat these scenes as (perhaps) less real than the others, because of the similarity to Betty?
The short answer is: we simply don’t know what the answer is to any of the questions we’re asking. But half the fun of experiencing a David Lynch and Mark Frost co-production is in the not knowing. We don’t want all the answers now, as much as we may say we do. Thus, think but this and all is mended: these are nothing more than starting points for your own theories…and we’d love to hear what you think!
1 Though in other scenarios, if you die in the dream, it’s the only way to wake up. But for now we’ll focus on the former.
2 This also closely resembles Buddhist and Hindu teachings, which, on some level, is what forms the basis for Theosophy itself, so this is hardly surprising.
3 If you are looking for in-depth discussion of Theosophy, specifically, or esoterica in general, we cannot recommend highly enough Counter Esperanto Podcast and Diane Podcast.