Laura Is Not The Messiah, and Other Misgivings About Retcon Origin Stories

Part 8 of Twin Peaks: The Return has been declared an unqualified masterpiece by fans and critics alike.  The sequences with the Trinity Test, The Fireman and Señorita Dido, and 1956 New Mexico just blew everyone away.  Yet it only got an 8.0 rating with Reddit fans, not a perfect 10.0 [4].  With many of the OG Twin Peaks fans and podcasters, there were misgivings.  The main complaint was that these sequences seemed to be giving us retcon origin stories for BOB, Laura Palmer, and possibly also Sarah Palmer.

The Urban Dictionary defines retroactive continuity, or retcon for short, as “adding or altering information regarding the back story of a fictional character or world, regardless of whether the change contradicts what was said before [5].”  This was exactly one of the things I worried about in my pre-season article Comparing Reboots: What Star Wars Might Tell Us About What To Expect For Twin Peaks.  Usually Frost and Lynch are masters of taking established content and molding it into something new.  Like magicians, they were able to take happy little accidents and make them feel like they were always intended.  The idea that they might dabble in a little bit of “Lucasing” of their old content seemed not just unlikely, but probably unnecessary.

And yet, we did have reason to worry.

The Secret History

We can’t talk about retcon origin stories in this season without acknowledging that Mark Frost started it.  His book, The Secret History of Twin Peaks, has a lot of what can be generously described as “inconsistencies” [2].  Perhaps the most egregious of these concerns the origin story of the Ed-Norma-Nadine love triangle.  In the original series, Ed and Nadine marry after a drunken Ed proposes in the wake of finding out Norma had cheated on him with Hank.  Ed shoots out Nadine’s eye during a hunting trip on their honeymoon.  In the book however, Ed serves a year tour in Viet Nam and Hank intercepts Ed’s letters to Norma, breaking up their relationship so that he can marry Norma.  Ed and Nadine meet when he returns, get married, and he shoots her eye out when she follows Ed and Harry on a hunting trip out of jealousy, thinking Ed was sneaking out to meet Norma.  The high points of the story are all still present, but the details underneath are subtly rearranged.

Tangentially, or perhaps causally, Norma’s back ground story was drastically changed.  She has a different set of parents, who died and left her the diner, and no sister.  This retcon directly eliminates two characters presented in the original series, her mother Vivian and her sister Annie.  In another probably related retcon, the 1968 undefeated championship football season for seniors Ed, Harry, Hawk and Hank is changed to have Hank throw the final championship game.  Other discrepancies include Audrey and her father appearing to have still been at odds with each other when she went off to meet her fate in the bank vault.

These are not just minor changes.  These are drastic changes that rewrite the history of the town and write some characters out of that history entirely.  The initial reaction of fans ranged from confusion to outrage.  Mark Frost has hinted that at least some of the inconsistencies are intentionally planted to give the reader a sense of realism that comes from documents with an unreliable witnesses as their source.  “All will be revealed in time” he has responded, on multiple occasions [7].

One comforting thought to the Secret History retcons is that not only was the past of various characters changed, the past of real world events was also changed.  In subtly hidden clues, the date of the first moon landing is changed, guests on a certain night of Johnny Carson are different, and the Army Air Forces (circa 1941) are renamed to Army Air Corps.  These changes seem to be purposeful.  The “correct” history within this book is very well researched throughout.  Mark Frost certainly did not just slip up on these few items, nor did he forget the established history of his own creation.

In his article “Full Of Mystery” for the first issue of the Blue Rose Magazine [6], John Thorne attempts to reconcile these “alterations” between the book and the established canon of the series.  He quotes Mark Frost (from an interview with Twin Peaks Unwrapped podcast) as saying, “Canon is never a word I use.”  Frost goes on to later say “I have no problem thinking of [the other books] as part of our ongoing development of this universe, and I thought [TSHoTP] should actually continue in that vein.”  Indeed, that is exactly how it was with the original series.

The Original Series, Fire Walk With Me, and Supplemental Material

The first tie-in novel, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer [8], started the tradition of “ongoing development”.  Released just before season two aired, it was a NY Times best seller because it promised to reveal clues to “Who killed Laura Palmer?”  It actually did a pretty good job of maintaining consistency with the established facts of the first season.  One discrepancy was that BOB did possess Laura, at least to some degree, enough to write his own back and forth taunts through her in the pages.  This was more of a convenient story telling mechanism, but it does go against the established direction of the show, that Laura died rather than let BOB possess her.  Another discrepancy was that in the diary, Donna and Maddy have met and know each other prior to the events of the series, though in the show they are meeting for the first time.  This was probably just a simple, overlooked continuity error and didn’t really affect anything.

The next set of extra-canonical material came out roughly at the same time, mid-season two, and contained elements that were clearly presented to set up elements of the season two finale and a possible season three.  These were the books “My Life, My Tapes” [9] and “Twin Peaks: Access Guide to the Town” [11], and the Twin Peaks Trading Cards (see my article The Twin Peaks Trading Cards – Another “Missing Piece” of Twin Peaks).  “My Life, My Tapes” placed Caroline’s murder much earlier than in the show (1979 versus 1985).  “The Access Guide” places the ground breaking for the Great Northern Hotel in 1927, instead of the 1950s when Ben and Jerry were present as kids.  The trading cards mention Windom Earle as Cooper’s former partner, but state that he’s coming to Twin Peaks to head the Internal Affairs investigation of Cooper.  These three sources represent a snapshot in time of the writers’ thinking about the upcoming events in the second half of season two.  Ideas that clearly evolved as the “ongoing development” of season two finally took shape, especially after Frost and Lynch reassert Ed themselves firmly back at the helm.

Fire Walk With Me modified a few facts established in “The Secret Diary”.  In the book, Laura knew Mrs. Tremond and her grandson, but in the movie she seems to be meeting them for the first time when she gets the picture from Mrs. Tremond.  The book says Bobby killed someone in a drug deal gone bad, but much earlier and it was not Deer Meadow deputy Cliff Howard.  Some people resolve this by saying that Bobby has killed two people, but it’s obvious that this is just an evolution of the idea of Bobby killing someone in a drug deal.  This how “canon” works in the world of Twin Peaks.

Fire Walk With Me also tosses much of the established facts of Teresa Banks’ murder and investigation out the window.  In “My Life, My Tapes”, Agent Cooper himself investigates the case, but out of necessity (Kyle MacLachlan wanted a smaller role in the film) this could not be how it played out in the prequel movie.  So Chet Desmond and Sam Stanley were invented and they ended up investigating Teresa’s murder.  While it is obvious this was a necessary evolution of the history of this event, diligent fans started coming up with theories about how all of the Deer Meadow scenes were just a dream Cooper was having [10].  Frost and Lynch, however, did not seem to feel the need to clean up their mess.  This was just another one of those instances of “ongoing development”.

What we know of preliminary plans for the original season 3 and/or follow on movies continued this trend.  Rumors have it that Sheryl Lee was potentially going to return as yet another clone of Laura Palmer, this time as a redhead.  The now infamous Judy was potentially going to be a twin sister of Jose Packard, allowing Joan Chen to return to the town.  Yes, we are going to talk about Judy, here in a bit.

BOB

There are things we know about BOB from the original series (including FWWM and the books).  He possessed Leland at a young age.  He feeds off of human pain and suffering.  He can only be seen by the gifted and the damned.  He was once MIKE’S familiar.  The trading cards explain him as having “survived as long as man has been on earth” and “able to inhabit human souls and, through them, act out evil.”  He is the embodiment of “the evil that men do”.  In short, he is a Lodge spirit, like MIKE who possessed Philip Gerard and the Giant who possessed Señor Droolcup.  These Lodge spirits “rule man and nature”, per Hawk’s explanation.

This was our understanding of BOB at the end of the series.  In that final scene, we understood that BOB was possessing Cooper, we just didn’t know which Cooper until Annie’s dream message to Laura in FWWM.  The Lodges have existed at least back to pre-settler times in native American legends, even Frost acknowledged this in The Secret History.  And we presumed that the Lodge spirits have likewise always existed.

Then came Part 8.  BOB’S face is superimposed on one of many eggs spewed forth by the Experiment, an entity theorized to be Babalon, the Mother of Abominations.  She appears to be seeding the Earth with her children in response to the Trinity explosion of 1945.  This would seem to be the birth of BOB.  We later see one of these eggs, maybe the BOB egg, maybe not, hatch and release this weird frog-roach monstrosity 11 years later.  This thing crawls in a girl’s mouth as she is put to sleep by the Woodsmen.  Is this what possession looks like, at least with today’s modern CGI available to David Lynch?

When MIKE manifests in Cooper’s dream, he says that he and BOB lived above a convenience store.  When Philip Gerard is under interrogation in a later episode, he further adds that they had been living together, committing murders, for 40 years.  That part would line up with the time frame starting just after the Trinity test.  Maybe BOB hasn’t always existed?  Maybe BOB has only recently taken up residence in the Black Lodge?  These are tough pills to swallow, but not as tough as the potential retcon for Laura.

Laura Palmer

After the Trinity explosion sets off an alarm, The Fireman views the events going on in the world and elsewhere, freezing on the image of the BOB egg in the Experiment’s spew, and positions himself stage left to float up to the ceiling.  Señorita Dido walks in as he floats upwards and also looks worriedly at the frozen image of BOB on the screen.  Upon reaching the ceiling, The Fireman begins to spew himself, a golden flow that streams from his forehead not his mouth, while the image on screen changes to a starry background.  Within this golden flow, there can be seen many sparks and orbs of various sizes.  Eventually, one golden orb separates from the flow and floats down to Señorita Dido, alighting in her hands.  She looks at it lovingly, gives it a blessing kiss, and sends it off on its way to Earth.  Seen in that golden orb is the face of Laura Palmer.

One interpretation of what we witnessed is that this is the creation of Laura Palmer.  She has been created, or perhaps selected, and sent to Earth specifically to battle BOB.  Laura is the one alright, the *chosen* one.  She sacrifices herself to defeat the evil one.  She is a messiah.

The main problem with this idea is that it robs Laura of her agency.  She is merely following her destiny.  Her pain and suffering becomes a means to an end, and loses much of its meaning.  What she went through, her garmonbozia, lies at the core of the original series, and is the entirety of the prequel movie.  Turning her into a prophesized messiah, some sort of Saint Laura, invalidates everything Frost and Lynch have built.  I simply cannot believe this is the path they have taken.

The fact that the Laura bubble is sent in response to the BOB egg might be a clue to quell some of our misgivings.  In the events of the original series, and FWWM in particular, Laura defeated BOB.  She thwarted his plans by sacrificing herself, choosing death rather than become his new vessel.  In fact, she was more effective than Agent Cooper in this regard.  If this is not a BOB origin story we are witnessing, then neither is it a Laura origin story.  For she is being sent as a weapon against her old foe.  It would be precisely *because* they have a history with each other that she has been called upon.  This would not be a birth, but rather a rebirth, for her character.

This could also be the creation of a tulpa that we are witnessing.  The golden orbs coming forth from The Fireman are not too dissimilar to what we now understand to be “seeds”, the little gold balls that both the Dougie tulpa and the Diane tulpa were reduced to when returned to the Red Room.  A tulpa version of Laura could exist somewhere else, outside of Twin Peaks, and never interfere with the events of the original series.  There are even theories that Judy is a tulpa of Laura, or that the Laura that Cooper has been interacting with in the Lodge is a tulpa (“I am dead, yet I live”, she says).

The point being that Laura’s pain is real, and it matters.  Same as it does for her mother.

Sarah Palmer

After the events of 1945, we are taken to New Mexico in 1956, where a girl and a boy walk home after a dance.  They exchange an innocent kiss, and she goes up to her room to pine away while listening to the radio.  Then things take a dark turn, as Woodsmen literally descend upon the town, take over the radio station, and put everyone, including the girl, to sleep.  Under the influence of their spell, she opens her mouth wide and allows the frog-roach thing to crawl inside her.  Many fans believe this girl to be a young Sarah Palmer.

Let’s ignore that the ages don’t quite line up (Sarah’s age, born in 1945, is only given in the trading cards and The Secret History).  Let’s ignore that there’s never been mention of her growing up outside of the northwest (her sister lives in Missoula and The Secret History says she went to University of Washington).  Let’s ignore the obvious ethnicity difference between the younger and older actresses.  The real problem is the idea that Sarah was corrupted in some way at a young age.  A corruption that she either passed on to her daughter, or that allowed her to turn a blind eye to the horrific events that were happening under her roof.  It undermines the suffering she went through, same as it undermines Laura’s suffering.

With the 2014 Blu-ray release of “Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery”, Lynch included a 10-minute short titled “The Entire Mystery”, in which he sits down with the entire Palmer family, Laura, Leland and Sarah, and interviews them, in character, in the present day.  This short gives us a preview of what’s to come, and most pointedly for Sarah.  She reveals that she is still living in the same house.  She’s alone.  Lots of things are falling apart.  It is dark, and it is grim.  Sarah is the sole survivor of the whole ordeal, having lost both her daughter and her husband in the course of a few weeks, along with discovering the incestuous abuse that had been going on for years right under her nose.  If she is not human, if she was replaced or possessed during the events of the original series, everything is invalidated.

And now, just before the final episodes of The Return, we have seen that Sarah’s pain, Sarah’s suffering, has opened her up to something dark within.  Something keeping her medicated with booze, something ushering her out of the store, something defending her from other predators.  Something waiting, biding it’s time.  We can catch glimpses of the real Sarah, but the Other is largely in control.  I choose to believe this is a recent development.  The Sarah Palmer of The Return is not the Sarah Palmer we saw in The Entire Mystery.  Something had not yet happened to that Sarah, a mere two years prior to The Return.  That short film gave us clues to this third season of Twin Peaks, as did other content on that Blu-ray release.

Judy

Another extra on that 2014 Blu-ray was a full-length feature “Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces”, a compilation of deleted scenes from Fire Walk With Me [1].  Included in this treasure trove were several scenes related to Philip Jeffries and Judy.  Philip starts out in Buenos Aires at the hotel desk.  As he checks in, he asks the clerk if there is a “Miss Judy” at the hotel, and the clerk responds by giving him a note left for him by “the young woman”.

To be clear, Lynch has said directly that Fire Walk With Me is very important to understanding Season 3 [3], and he expanded upon that movie with The Missing Pieces.  This happened while he and Frost were working on the script for Season 3, so we can be pretty confident that this is information he wants us to pay strict attention to.

Yet one of the leading theories on who Judy could be is Major Garland Briggs.  When stated, the reasoning goes that Lynch is known to love the Wizard Of Oz, so “Judy” may come from Judy Garland, as does the “Garland” part of Garland Briggs.  “Judy” then potentially becomes a code name that Cole and Jeffries used for Major Briggs.  As of Part 16, we still do not know yet who Judy is, but if this theory turns out to be true, this would be another potential retcon, changing one of the few established facts we know for a character that we know so little about.

Conclusion

Canon is at best a loose thing for Twin Peaks.  Again, that “ongoing development” quote from Mark Frost is the best way I’ve found to think about it.  Twin Peaks is a “strange and wonderful place”, and has room for many stories.  There may be alternative timelines or realities at work, but there doesn’t need to be.  The new stories build on the old stories in a way that expands upon them and enriches the overall experience.

That said however, there are some things, some events and ideas, that are so central to the show that they form the core around which all else can flow.  Hitting the high points while the details underneath might change.  This has always been the way Twin Peaks works.

So, Laura is not a messiah, BOB was not hatched from an egg, and Sarah was not possessed or replaced as a young girl.  I have more faith in Frost and Lynch than that.  But if I do turn out to be wrong on one or more of those, I also trust that what they come up with will fit with the other puzzle pieces and be better than anything I could have done.

—–

Notes / References:

  1. Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces (Twin Peaks: Wiki): http://twinpeaks.wikia.com/wiki/Twin_Peaks:_The_Missing_Pieces
  2. The Secret History of Twin Peaks (Twin Peaks: Wiki): http://twinpeaks.wikia.com/wiki/The_Secret_History_of_Twin_Peaks
  3. Inside the Roller-Coaster Journey to Get David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ Back on TV (Variety, May 9, 2017): http://variety.com/2017/tv/features/twin-peaks-revival-david-lynch-showtime-1202419020/
  4. [S3E8] Results of the post-episode survey (Overall score: 8.0): https://www.reddit.com/r/twinpeaks/comments/6jzotn/s3e8_results_of_the_postepisode_survey_overall/
  5. Retcon (Urban Dictionary): http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=retcon
  6. Blue Rose Magazine, Vol. 1, #1, Feb 2017, pg 6-10.  “Full of Mystery.”  Scott Ryan Productions.
  7. Mark Frost (Twitter): https://twitter.com/mfrost11/status/788854512807243776
  8. The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (Twin Peaks: Wiki): http://twinpeaks.wikia.com/wiki/The_Secret_Diary_of_Laura_Palmer
  9. The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes (Twin Peaks: Wiki): http://twinpeaks.wikia.com/wiki/The_Autobiography_of_F.B.I._Special_Agent_Dale_Cooper:_My_Life,_My_Tapes
  10. Exclusive John Thorne interview!  (Twin Peaks Archive): http://twinpeaksarchive.blogspot.com/2007/11/exclusive-john-thorne-interview.html
  11. Twin Peaks:  An Access Guide to the Town (Pop Apostle): http://twinpeaks.popapostle.com/html/episodes/Access-Guide.htm

9 Replies to “Laura Is Not The Messiah, and Other Misgivings About Retcon Origin Stories”

    1. That’ll teach me to trust a wiki. I’ll have to go double check that with my copy, maybe they had it backwards, because I know there is something about Dougie’s enlistment paperwork that is wrong.

      I went ahead and corrected your other catch. Stupid spell check interference. Thanks for both catches..

      Like

  1. Canon, to me, are the televised episodes of 1990-91, the released version of FWWM, and now the 18 episodes of “The Return.” This excludes all written material (including Frost’s), the European ending of the pilot, and the “Missing Pieces.” I would also resist including Lynch-Frost interview material as decisive as to meaning, even if Lynch himself says somewhere that “X means Y.” I’d be willing however to include the 10 minute short mentioned here (“The Entire Mystery”), which I suppose I oughta watch.

    If there are any inconsistencies within the filmed and broadcast material, I’ll just chalk them off to “time quakes,” like the shifts in the now famous ending scenes in the diner and at Big Ed’s. : – ) ALL

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think ultimately it is just a result of Twin Peaks drifting after Lynch and Frost has departed in the second half of the second season.
    They tried to correct it at the very end of that season, but then in the movie Frost was absent – so Lynch probably drifted a bit as well.

    And now they have worked together to merge their visions after 24-26 years, and also update them with the reality of some actors being dead, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

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