When I was 13 years old I made a deal with myself that Dale Cooper was going to get out of the lodge. While 13 year-old me has been doing back flips all week long, I’m not getting too cocky about this against-all-odds turn of events. I remember how bad the last finale messed me up, and I’ve been pining over this show for the last 27 years. For those of you keeping count, that’s longer than Big Ed was pining for Norma when we first met those two.
Had I first watched the show when I was older it might not have hit me the same way, I might regard it like a masterpiece like The Prisoner: recommend it to anyone who wants a good TV show, understand why it would have rabid fans, and move on to another good show to absorb. But no, I saw this at a pivotal age and it gave me that look that said “come on in, would you like some pie?” and I was sunk like I fell in love. I’ve been on the roller coaster since. Dale and Bob got in my head and brought their luggage with them. Bob finally moved out for good when I was 25 but Dale will never leave. You can My Life My Tapes him, you can Dougie him for twelve Parts if you have to, but he’s always going to be my favorite fictional character.
I first saw Twin Peaks when I was 12. ABC aired it again over the summer and my mom would tape it on the VCR. She watched the show while she was ironing and I’d watch from the top of the split level stairs. I didn’t think it would be for me because it was one of those prime time shows that was on the scary side. The guy at the end of the bed got under my skin and so did Leo behind the door when Bobby walks into Leo’s house. And let’s be frank, unhinged screaming Sarah Palmer was terrifying. The show had so many different ways of being overly intense, but it was vivid and all the characters had so much life. I was a huge fan of Pete and Big Ed, but Special Agent Dale Cooper owned me immediately the first time he said more than two sentences in a row. Twin Peaks was way out of my league. And I had to have it.
I wormed my way closer into the family room and eventually I was watching episodes on the couch and was pretty well versed in the material by the time Kyle MacLachlan hosted Saturday Night Live (which I watched at least the first half hour of for sure), and then Season Two started and I began my Bob-is-in-my-nightmares phase of my life. It took me until I was 22 before I noticed how Laura was screaming in Ronnette’s train car memory. I just remembered Bob hitting her with that rock until she was silent. This show has a darkness unlike anything else. This isn’t just Criminal Minds-level depravity, it gets in your head. Bob as an inhabiting spirit was quite the metaphor for a boy right on the edge of puberty, of turning into someone new before I had any idea what being a teenager would really be like. When part of me worried I could turn into a monster instead, and what better monster than Bob. I don’t even want to do the math on how many months I did contortions so I didn’t have to look at myself in the bathroom mirror, you know, just in case. But I didn’t watch the show because of the darkness, I watched it because I knew Dale Cooper could fight back that darkness. I had full-on hero worship that this man could figure out a way to teach that darkness a lesson.
I did stop watching for about five months, but I didn’t stop because of Maddie’s murder, I stopped because the show didn’t feel like it used to when it came back from the holiday break. I don’t remember Denise Bryson appearing, but I did remember Little Nicky almost dropping the car on Dick Tremayne. And Cooper was in his lumberjack phase. There was no darkness and he wasn’t fighting it. I needed to take a break. It was my Ed-and-Norma-break-up moment.
But five months later I did come back one last time, because I knew Twin Peaks was cancelled, and I wanted to see it for old time’s sake. It seemed like the right idea, a nice idea, to see how the show wanted to end. And it turned me into a lifer. This was my Norma-marries-Hank moment. Cooper being taken over by Bob is something you just don’t recover from when you’re worried about the monster winning.
Getting Cooper out of the lodge became a preoccupation.
I heard about Fire Walk With Me but took ten years to get around to watching it because it barely had Cooper in it. I understand it’s important and a masterpiece, but I’m just not a Laura guy. Between Bob’s extended stint in my nightmares and holding the lifetime #1 rank of my personal bogeymen, that Kyle MacLachlan didn’t want to be in it, there weren’t many townsfolk in it, and that it would focus mostly on the last depression-inducing seven days of Laura’s life, I was neither ready for it nor interested. This was my “Well Ed, Hank’s getting out on Parole, but you and I can still be friends” moment.
In ’95 I saw the Log Lady Intros for the first time, carrying on Fire Walk With Me’s grand tradition of not moving the story forward with new material. And I heard about the mythical unicorn known as the Missing Pieces around the year 2000. That Annie scene in the hospital fascinated me though it frustrated me how it only went five minutes further into the future beyond that scene in the Great Northern bathroom. But it rekindled my quest to lockpick the lodge even as it couldn’t promise me answers.
In 2006 I finally got The Autobiography of Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes and was severely disappointed by how lacking Cooper was in sensitivity, intuition and general understanding of people, not to mention how the Caroline/Cooper “romance” happened in less than six pages and it was in between chapters when Cooper somehow decided Windom was the mastermind behind the whole thing. It gave me nothing to work with in my quest to rescue Cooper.
Every new expansion went laterally rather than onward. It’s all enriching, and it does deepen what we know of that wonderful town, so it’s not a problem, but it doesn’t encourage anyone to unplant their feet either. I love the town (so much so that I have a disproportionate love for the Access Guide) but forward progress just didn’t happen. The cliffhanger of all cliffhangers just wasn’t something I was going to see a conclusion to. That’s just my lot. Every step forward would be a step to the side eventually; we just didn’t know it yet. And it wasn’t even pessimism on my part, it was just the way things were for over two decades. I went into that proverbial Diner every day of my life knowing full well it wasn’t going to happen, but I needed to wave at it awkwardly anyway. Because I loved it.
Don’t tell Twin Peaks, but I would analyze all the Red Room scenes to see if I would come up with any kind of internal logic to it. I’d watch all the Giant scenes, all the Windom Earle monologs, just to see if I could find the key to the lock. I wrote out scenarios to test them out. I even built my own fictional town like Lynch and Frost did where I could blend all my early influences into the foundation and grow stories of my own, but I’ve never been satisfied by the ways the Cooper jailbreak could go there. This was the greatest creative puzzle box in my life and I was starting to get nervous maybe it really WASN’T going to happen.
Every once in a while the show would give me a wink back, but only just enough to ensure I wouldn’t want to look around. I heard about the comic book version of Season Three that was going to continue the story (by Matt Haley and Robert Engels), but it was canned before it started when Lynch didn’t think it was a good idea to consider the story. And I started listening to Twin Peaks podcasts in 2013 but all it did was prove there were a few people like me who can’t let it go no matter what we do, nothing officially sanctioned. Nothing would ever amount to anything, not in any forward moving ways.
This is why I didn’t believe it right away when my wife told me Lynch and Frost tweeted simultaneously about the gum coming back in style. Even after the announcement by Showtime, I sat quietly (with a giant smile on my face and possibly a light tremble) waiting for more information. And I was not shocked one bit when Lynch made the announcement on my birthday that he was stepping back from Twin Peaks. Hank may go back to prison, but there are no bolo ties for me, there will never be bolo ties.
Except it finally did happen. Lynch came back after a little over a month, Frost announced a book. 2015 came and went, and even 2016 came and went after Frost’s Secret History of Twin Peaks was released (and immediately was dissected like the puzzle box I always wanted/needed). All these things, I’m just not sure how it happened, but we got new Twin Peaks on the air. And there was everybody I’d been missing. Not quite like we left them, and the whole show was thematically geared to say “I can never be who I was again,” but there they were. In a lot of way it seems to be preparing us for bad news.
The most obvious answer why I think this is because of that delayed gratification we got with Cooper. We can have the show, but we couldn’t get Dale back. Not right away. We only got him back after we weren’t sure if we’d ever see him at all. For three weeks straight most of the podcast hosts were wondering if we’d get Cooper at all before the literal final moments. And then we got him back last week. 13 year-old me still doesn’t believe this happened. A major part of us still thinks I need to do the job myself, but he came back and I’ve had the dumbest purest grin on my face pretty much ever since.
Also, after twelve Parts came and went we got to see what was up with Big Ed after all these years and it turns out he didn’t get what he’d wanted either in the time between Twin Peaks and the Return. He was with Norma, sure, but he wasn’t with her. And it was his own damn fault too, from the look of things. If he didn’t have that paternalism towards Nadine, if he could let her take care of herself, he might’ve been able to move on years ago into what his deepest desires needed, but he couldn’t do it until the eleventh hour. It sure seems like he and Norma are going to work out at long last, that they’re finally getting their happy ending, and I’m happy for them for sure, but there are good odds we’ll never see them again in these last two Parts. It reminds me to test my brakes, because even though Cooper’s 100% back, getting him back was only the first part of things. He has work to do. There’s darkness to push back into the woods. And I remember how that last cliffhanger went. I think we’ll get a number of important answers tonight, and that we won’t be comfortable with all the ending points we’ll see. And there will be cliffhangers. Big ones.
But I’m ready for this, wherever it’ll go. And I expect once the dust settles it’ll be satisfying. No matter the ending, no matter how much I’ll need to remind myself, somehow Jupiter and Saturn aligned and we got our Cooper out of the lodge. And if it can happen once it can happen again. Maybe it’ll be Audrey this time, or Laura. Or God help us, Cooper might need help one more time. Though now that I think about it, the answer’s been in front of us all these years and it’s way more simple than it seems: Love is the key. To the lodge, and really, to everything.