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Cooper’s Time Loop Isn’t Just His

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I thought I’d start out my column proper taking on the Big Two: Dale Cooper and Laura Palmer. Specifically, their situation at the end of The Return. I’m not saying I’m solving it, but I am going to explore the possibility that both Laura and Dale are stuck in Lodge-related time loops and that they’ve gotten theirs tangled together.


There’s a theory out there that the Fireman and Briggs created a pocket universe to trap Judy in with Laura as the bait. It’s an interesting one, with a ton of plausibility in it, but it’s missing one character point: Cooper’s involved in this plot and using Laura as bait is nothing Cooper would be willingly complicit with.

If Cooper wasn’t into tarnishing the high school version of Audrey Horne, if the first thing he thinks of when he comes out of a coma is to supply his surrogate family with a father/husband for the role he’s vacating, he is not going to use a victim of incest and murder as bait no matter how “evil” this Judy is. The only way this theory is happening is if Cooper has no idea what he’s involved in, but the first thing we hear him say in The Return is “I understand” to the Giant/Fireman, and again too when he wakes from that coma he refers to a gold ball that used to be Dougie Jones as “the seed.” Cooper knows enough to know if Laura was being used as bait or not. And he’s too upstanding to go with it.

If there is a pocket universe to trap Judy, it’s part of Dale Cooper’s Lodge trial, which to my most educated guess is still happening throughout The Return, from the first minute to the last minute. He never made it out. I subscribe to the idea that Cooper is stuck in a time loop. He lives through his Lodge experience and exits Groundhog Day-style until he chooses the correct path out.

I base this take on Laura whispering to him again in the final credits. Cooper decided instead of getting out of the Lodge that he needed to save Laura Palmer, the last part of his last case before he entered the Lodge. When Cooper came to Twin Peaks he became extremely tied to Laura beginning in shared dreams, and when he went into the Lodge, they shared their situation as well. And he’s too much the white knight to let an injustice like Laura’s slip past him.

Where else are there time loops? Let’s look to Audrey Horne. How is she Lodge-related? The backwards music playing ”Audrey’s Dance” (which is the vibes version of ”Dance of the Dream Man” in the first place, let’s not forget). The fact we don’t know what that all-white place is doesn’t matter to me. It’s Lodge-adjacent one way or another. What did Audrey do in The Return? She had the same conversation over and over with Charlie, and subtle changes got her out of the door to where she thought she wanted to go: the Roadhouse. What happens when she got there? All hell breaks loose. It isn’t the salvation she thought it was. And it sure wasn’t the way out, it was just the way to the Roadhouse.


What was Cooper’s motivation after he got out of the Lodge? Help Laura Palmer. Was that the answer? He pulled her out of her life right before she was killed, but the events in Cooper’s life afterward didn’t seem to change one bit. He still knew who Laura was, still went to Twin Peaks, and based on the way Diane was covering his face and reliving trauma when she and Cooper “made love,” he still made a switch with his doppelganger who still raped Diane, and also Audrey, bringing both those women into some sort of Lodgespace prison (for Audrey, likely sometime around Richard Horne’s birth). Audrey might have been able to be retconned out of existence by Cooper’s Laura “rescue” in Part 17, but his reunion with Diane was after that. Removing Laura from her moment of murder did not fix what Cooper thought it would. And bringing Laura back to her house did not fix what he thought it would either. Fixing trauma is not as easy as merely confronting it, just like confronting your doppelganger isn’t a situation you win by strong convictions alone.

The major problem with Cooper walking into Laura’s problem as if he can finish his last Blue Rose business is that he’s not leaving his cycle, he’s joining into Laura’s. And Cooper entered the cycle literally: when Jeffries formed the 8 from the Owl Ring symbol, found a point on it, and sent Cooper there. Cooper chose to enter this circle instead of completing his journey. And he ends up listening to her whisper in his ear one more time.


He’s in a loop, yes, but who’s to say Cooper’s in the primary loop of The Return? Just because he was the main focus of the series, that doesn’t mean squat. I think it’s Laura. She’s the primary character, “The One” some in the know may say, who’s in the primary Groundhog Day dream loop.

She entered the Lodge, just like Dale. Instead of her soul being devoured by BOB and allowing him access into her body, she was instead transported by the Owl Ring to the Lodge. She also has a doppelganger in there based on Episode 29 of the original series. That means Laura has a doppelganger she can confront, and therefore at one point did. And that means she’s going through a Black Lodge trial much as Agent Cooper is. And that means just like Dale she needs to find a way out.

Fire Walk With Me’s ending is closed and it gives Laura Palmer dignity, but does this new take re-victimize her? I don’t think it does. It’s not about Laura re-becoming a victim, it’s about being done to you a trauma that is massively difficult to rise through. I realize there are issues that go along with being a victim of incest that I am naturally not going to be able to understand or be sensitive to, and for that I apologize in advance, but I do believe in Fire Walk With Me she was given dignity and strength in what she did to best BOB. But in another way, just like The Return has proven that Judy is the true evil and BOB is more of a tool or aspect of part of that evil, Laura was able to best BOB but there is more to best beyond that. It’s not that Laura has been re-victimized, it’s that she has overcome her victimizer but has not overcome her own internal trauma. I assume there’s more for her to forgive within herself, that part of herself that feels guilty she “allowed” it to happen, these sorts of feelings that are nearest the foundations of her person.


To get out of the Lodge, I believe Laura has tried a few things herself. In the Lodge, Laura is presented with an angel, who offers its hand to her as it descends into the Waiting Room, just the way she writes in her diary that she wants her angel to find her and help her (and the White Lodge clips show Andy Brennan watches shows Laura’s homecoming photo possibly with both of those angels to either side of her) but her trauma was still inside her. Then she is presented with an FBI lawman with as pure a heart as you can find, and he whisks her away to some other life before she can be murdered. But she gravitates back to that house and the trauma breaks through to the surface once again. The trauma remains. The angels and Cooper are all interventions. These do not do anything but cover over the trauma. Thus she remains in the Lodge. The angel couldn’t save her, try again. Cooper couldn’t save her, try again.

The first time through, Laura anaesthetized herself through drugs and that rough night with Leo, Jaques, and Ronnette to harness the strength to defeat BOB by taking what he wants from him. Then Cooper came to town and forced BOB to kill Leland and flee the scene. This was not Laura defeating BOB, nor was it Cooper directly defeating him: it was Cooper forcing BOB’s hand temporarily. In The Return, Laura did not defeat BOB nor did Cooper. It was Freddie, by some divine intervention, rather than by either Cooper or Laura’s hands. I believe this is part of their Lodge struggle as well. Defeating BOB in person from a point of strength will be a symbol of them rising above. But like BOB is a symbol of the evil man does just as much as BOB is an entity, BOB is a symbol here of the trauma that Laura must overcome within herself.

Forgive the metaphor but it’s there meant to be had: Laura needs to shovel herself out of her sh*t, and no one else can do the shoveling for her. To get out of your own cycle you need to break the cycle yourself.

In other parts of The Return that could be used as signposts, Nadine and Norma go internal, course-correct their lives from within, make peace with themselves as themselves, and they get happy ending points in this series, finally becoming that who they always should’ve been. Low-level alchemic reactions of the non-supernatural variety sure, but fully realized souls nonetheless. Nadine didn’t need to hijack Ed’s life anymore to make sure she stayed upright. Norma didn’t need to have a giant chain of her own franchises to find value, she went back to square one and went family first. Even Lucy shot down the evil that was DoppelCooper, made peace with her inner mousiness and found a not-so-cowardly lion in there, and suddenly she was unstuck back into the flow of time and she could understand cellphones.


I’m not saying any of these signposts are on the level of Laura’s pain and suffering, but they are examples right in front of us of people looking within themselves, forgiving themselves, fixing their hearts, and thriving.

And you can’t fix your heart properly if you have other people putting bandages over it. That’s the work you yourself need to do.

I believe Cooper’s heart is good, but he gives so much of himself to others that he leaves none of it for himself. He’d rather sacrifice himself than get out of harm’s way. Even as Dougie when Ike the Spike came at him with a gun, CooperDougie only reacted because he was blocking Janey-E, moving her out of the way and subduing the attacker, so she was not harmed. It had no instinct of self-preservation to it, just as he didn’t grab the ball Sonny Jim threw him in the backyard. Cooper didn’t wake up to catch the ball because no one around him was going to get hurt by that ball. Except him. Once he realizes to protect himself like he does those around him, once he gives himself that same level of respect, he’ll be able to walk out of that Lodge never to return, but now he’s complicated himself into Laura’s cycle and that circle’s a complicated structure. Because Laura is the one.


At the end of Part 18 of The Return, Laura is whispering to Dale once again. He is roped into her own cycle and she’s tied into his, forming a bit of a double-helix of repetition, which means they’re both stuck inside their Lodge trials until the other figures out how to break their own cycle.

Maybe Dale can get out of his cycle if he can lay off the white knighting enough that he can realize she needs to save herself, but more likely Laura will realize it on her own and will first force Cooper to stop trying to save her. And then she will be able to have a clear path to conquer her own trauma. And therefore she ends up saving both of them, but only if Cooper is willing to let himself be saved for a change. Then maybe, once they accept the trauma of being taken from the progress of time, will they be allowed to reenter it.

Dale is an idiot who needs to learn not every person he meets needs him to be their hero, but Laura needs to shovel herself out of the sh*t as well. In The Return’s final scenes she used Dale again to take her to her old house to confront her history. No angel next time, no special agent. As “happy” and satisfying as Fire Walk With Me’s ending is, the angel is an external force. So is Dale. I think the only true ending for Laura is when Laura walks out of that Waiting Room herself, on her own, like the last Dougie tulpa who eventually makes his way into the loving arms of Janey-E with no sign of struggle or return.


This has become a circular argument but the problem itself is circular, as is Twin Peaks itself. And I don’t know the way out any more than Laura and Dale do, so I’d better stop here for the night or I’ll accidentally start typing the first sentence of this column over again and then we’ll both be in trouble. If you want to read an argument where rather than time loops it’s Dale Cooper at the root of the problem (as if we were an expanded version of our Black Lodge/White Lodge feature), read Lindsay Stamhuis’ article The Continuing Education of Dale Cooper, and if you have other ideas let me know because I’d love to hear them. And probably, so would Dale and Laura.

Written by John Bernardy

John Bernardy has been writing for 25YL since before the site went public and he’s loved every minute. The show most important to him is Twin Peaks. He is husband to a damn fine woman, father to two fascinating individuals, and their pet thinks he’s a good dog walker.


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  1. I too felt the theory of the pocket universe had sufficient evidence to be plausible. I liked it aswell because I seem to want everyone to be happy. You are right that Cooper has a want to always be the hero for people, and most likely us, the audience. Lynch and Frost know this and all art is social commentary in all of its forms. They weren’t trolling us (a new word I loathe btw 🙂 ), I feel they were including us in this, as participants.

    Two great examples of acknowledging the audience (equivalent to writing’s authorial intrusion) are Coop stepping in for tulpa Dougie in part 3 and reappearing as Coop in 15, as shown on the box in the room with Naido (love that scene). The other is Coop’s face overseeing the scene in the Sheriff’s office.

    Now some time has passed I am more receptive to these theories, whereas immediately afterward I was shell shocked, not all bad, not all good. Perhaps a period of mourning was necessary before we’re ready. I do find myself tending toward your theory now. It feels more complete, but I’m also comfortable with the ambiguity because that frees us to be the dreamer. There was a podcast about literalism vs absurdism in the context of the return which I enjoyed, but while one could say Lynch loves the absurd, in his mind it’s not absurd at all, it’s his beautiful uniqueness that we love. We all have that beautiful uniqueness, we just have to figure out where we fit.

    One minor note, in the paragraph that starts – Fire Walk With Me’s ending is closed and it gives… You appear to have been the victim of the ever mischievous auto correct, as it talks repeatedly of besting Bob rather than beating Bob.

    Thank you again. This is such a great site, and spectacular and smart writing.

    • I’m still processing everything myself, but I’m coming to terms with Cooper as not always correct. It’s an odd place to be.
      As far as besting Bob, I really did mean besting. Not sure where the expression came from but it felt more correct to me. Beating Bob feels more like a baseball game victory while to best someone is more of a duel word. I don’t know.

  2. I think that people are being a little hard on Coop. His primary goal as an FBI agent is to save lives. When someone is in danger he does barrel in without a second thought , he infiltrated One Eyed Jacks to rescue Audrey and never once questioned how she ended up there.
    When questioned by his FBI superiors over his actions he goes all cosmic on them , leading them to question his mental state.
    He sees a chance to save Laura Palmer after being sent back in time. Who wouldn’t do the same. In the Dr Who episode Fathers Day , Rose jumps in to save her father from being run over. It’s a very human thing to do. The only difference is that Laura and Cooper are not related (as far as we know).
    My only other question is , if Laura Palmer is now living as Carrie Page is Cousin Maddy still alive?

    • Twin Peaks Revival just called Cooper the guy you want around in an immediate crisis because he jumps in and fixes things, but that doesn’t exactly solve long-term problems. I tend to agree with them to a certain point still. Because trauma’s not exactly a quick fix issue. I’m still working this out as I’ve been a Cooper Hero Worshipper my whole life, but you can be a good guy with great intentions and be admirable yet still wrong on certain issues.
      I think this is one of those moments where you first realize your parents can’t actually do EVERYTHING.
      And as far as Maddie still being alive? Why not!

    • I think no. I saw Laura didn’t die that night but I imagine she dissapear and all could happen similar. Maddy went to visit her sad family and Leland maybe killed her in the same way.
      Even Fbi agents could investigate this actions: Teresa Banks’ murder, Laura dissapear, Maddy’s dead, and so on.

    • Very interesting point. If he is far away (from understanding), he could be used by Fireman or simply wrong himself in the suicide mission of save Laura and move her from Odessa to Twin Peaks, where Judy is. No race of Sarah in this reality.

      • I think the model of “pocket universes” is essentially correct, but I think your view that Laura needs further redemption is incorrect. Before going into why I think this, I’ll point out that Carrie Page follows Richard/Dale’s lead every step of the way, right up to the Palmers’ doorstep. If it’s her orchestrating this return, it’s very well concealed.

        I view Laura’s triumph in the FWWM finale is total. She herself is the angel she was waiting for. When she sees this and understands that the horrors of her life were as weightless as the images on a TV screen, she assumes that angelic role and the screen fades to white. Laura’s appearances in Season 3 depict her fulfilling that angelic role: when she removes her face, she’s showing Dale that she is a White Lodge agent. Laura’s whispered message to Dale must of course remain a mystery, but I think she’s telling Dale that he himself is sustaining his captivity. That’s why he reacts with dismay/revulsion.

        In Episode 2, it’s Leland Palmer who tells Dale to “find Laura.” Would you trust this guy to tell you how to set things right? Dale was baited by the Black Lodge to distract him from his true mission of emerging. In Episode 18, he doesn’t fall for the same trick, but he inadvertently repeats the same mistake. It’s not Cooper’s selflessness that causes him problems, but his fixation on his status as hero: since “hero” is too simple an identity to be wholly accurate, it doesn’t help him at all when he confronts himself in the Black Lodge. One last point about selflessness: recall that Laura selflessly rescues Ronette by taking the ring in FWWM.

        Forgive me for saying so, but I think you’ve got it exactly wrong when you say that Laura is enmeshing Dale in her own shit. How do you account for 1) the face of white light 2) taking orders from Leland and 3) the fact that Carries is taking orders from Richard/Dale?

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