Watching Part 16 of Twin Peaks: The Return, I couldn’t help but feel moved by FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper’s “100-percent” awakening and, perhaps even more so, by his expressions of love and appreciation for the people who cared for him in his “DougieCoop” incarnation during the preceding few days. As he knelt with Janey-E (Naomi Watts) and Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon) amidst the slot machines in the Silver Mustang Casino, and as he told them, “You’ve filled my heart with such joy,” I felt such wonderful gratitude for David Lynch and Mark Frost, both of whom recognized from the beginning that we needed to take this long and frustrating journey with Cooper. They understood that for a proper appreciation of Cooper, and of the virtues he represents, we would need to see how his essential goodness has gradually changed all those around him. And yet, even in the moments that our heart’s desire is granted to us–the moment when Cooper “awakens” from his transition-induced stupor–we marvel that our special agent’s first order of business is gratitude for the myriad characters in Las Vegas who have exercised great love and patience during their interactions with DougieCoop.
It’s a sincere and heartwarming affirmation of the generosity of the human spirit that we need so desperately right now–not just as fans of Twins Peaks, but as citizens of a world where genuine expressions of kindness, virtue, gratitude, and love are becoming increasingly rare, even mocked.
What impressed me most from a narrative point of view was the fact that the real Cooper seems to have been “absorbing”–even cataloging–the positive emotions and good will showered on DougieCoop over the preceding week (depending on our perceptions of the timeline here) by the likes of Janey-E, Bushnell Mullins (Don Murray), the Mitchum brothers (Jim Belushi and Robert Knepper), and even Anthony (Tom Sizemore). The fact that Cooper recognizes the essential goodness of people comes as no surprise; well-known for his intuition and his astute judgement of character, Cooper has always excelled at giving others–even strangers–the well-intentioned benefit of the doubt (a good lesson for all of us during the troubled and divisive times we face today). What does come as a surprise, however, is the fact that Cooper seems to have absorbed and cataloged acts of love and selflessness unconsciously. The larger message seems to be that love–true and genuine–has the capacity to transcend borders of consciousness, time, and even dimensionality.
This idea is, of course, not new; but that doesn’t mean it’s an idea that gets old, either. While watching Cooper’s awakening, followed so deliberately by his earnest expressions of gratitude, I thought deeply about the climax of Jerry Zucker’s Ghost (1990). In that film, as the ghost, Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze), bids a final farewell to his lover, Molly (Demi Moore), before “passing on” to what appears to be heaven, he intones what I believe to be one of the most profound of all thoughts about the nature of love: “It’s amazing, Molly,” Wheat smiles with amazement. “The love inside? You take it with you.” Anyone with a dry eye at that moment in this film must be made of rusted, corroded steel. Even I, at a cynical 19, choked on my own tears when Wheat uttered these words back in 1990. Why do we respond to this moment in Ghost this way? We cry because we recognize an essential truth about human emotions and what makes them so powerful. The thought of those emotions continuing beyond our own mortal coils inspires in us a joy that can’t fully be captured in words or contained by pragmatism. We recognize the limitless capacity of love to not only confirm humans as something more than just evolved stardust, but also to overcome the very nature of time and physics themselves.
Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) also came to mind as I watched Cooper’s awakening, primarily because of that film’s commitment to a similar idea about love. In Interstellar, Matthew McConaughey’s astronaut–also named Cooper, interestingly–must leave his daughter, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy), behind in order to journey to the stars on a mission to save the human race. Separated by vast gaps of time, space, and even dimension, Cooper finds he can still communicate with Murphy via manipulations of gravity–a force that exerts power across those same gaps. But as many critics argued at the time of the film’s release, love is also shown in the film to be a force that can manipulate reality and persist as a force of power across those gaps (as espoused by Natalie Zutter here or by Aaron Stuart-Ahn here, for example).
So, as we see, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper’s ability to absorb the love of others, even when his consciousness is in a state largely subdued by DougieCoop’s wide-eyed passivity, has cinematic precedents. But realizing that Cooper has absorbed and cataloged the love and good will of others while in that subdued state makes me wonder whether Cooper has actually been more active in his own recovery than I had at first assumed. While we know that Phillip Gerard (Al Strobel) works in many cases to help facilitate Cooper’s re-awakening (steering him to winning slot machines in Part 3 or to the purchase of the cherry pie at Szymon’s in Part 12), has Cooper actually been helping to steer DougieCoop, as well? I’m thinking in particular of the insurance fraud story line involving Anthony. Is Cooper, not so passive as DougieCoop’s cluelessness might suggest, behind the accusation that Anthony is lying to Mullins in Part 5? When we see Cooper scribbling illegibly on insurance case files in Part 6, is Cooper–more active than we realize–actually guiding DougieCoop’s hand? Certain people who have experienced comatose states testify that they could hear and understand conversations taking place around their inert bodies. Is that the state in which Cooper’s consciousness finds itself during the greater part of The Return–active mentally and emotionally but incapacitated physically? It’s an interesting question to consider, especially in retrospect, because the assumption of such a state certainly changes interpretations of events that have preceded Cooper’s re-awakening–not to mention our understanding of the power of Cooper’s love and virtue during the same period.
As we remember seeing DougieCoop cry in Part 5, we can now easily recognize that Cooper is still very responsive to extreme external stimuli–especially when he recognizes that Sonny Jim is now fatherless, save for whatever Cooper, in his DougieCoop incarnation, can provide. The love that Cooper “takes with him,” to borrow Sam Wheat’s phrase, transcends his DougieCoop shell and even radiates from him, constantly affecting the lives of all he encounters for the better (with, perhaps, the exception of Christophe Zajac-Denek’s Ike “the Spike” Stadtler and his now-missing palm).
And isn’t this true of good and positive people in our own lives? Their selflessness, their tolerance, and their willingness to assume the best of others almost always creates a contagious aura of love that they carry with them everywhere. The concept sounds sentimental, I realize; but such people do exist, and their influence is strongly felt by all of us, if we are lucky enough to share their company and likewise spread their kindness. In a time when racism, fascism, white supremacism, selfishness, greed, and apathy plague us like never before in most of our lifetimes, what greater blessing could we have than the return of a character like FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, whose purity of heart stands as an example to follow? When real-world leadership fails, sometimes fictional leadership can buoy us in remarkable ways.