Criminal Culpability

“Black Lodge/White Lodge” is the 25 Years Later version of the popular point/counterpoint style of debating, wherein two sides take opposing views and hash it out on stage. Here, we’ll be debating the finer points of Twin Peaks lore, in writing, for your reading pleasure.

Today’s debate features: Ali Sciarabba and Mat Cult

The topic is: Who killed Laura Palmer?


Black Lodge: by Ali Sciarabba

FWWM leland cry

It is an indisputable fact that Leland Palmer was possessed by BOB since his childhood. It is also true that BOB is real and not just someone created in Laura’s mind as a defense mechanism to suppress the knowledge that her father was her rapist. BOB exists in the world of Twin Peaks, and he is the embodiment of the evil that men do. That said, I cannot and will not absolve Leland Palmer of all responsibility for the things that he’s done. I think there’s ample evidence in Fire Walk With Me that he was partially aware of his actions. There is evidence to suggest that BOB was not always behind the wheel when Leland shed the Mr. Nice Guy façade.

The original series asks us to give Leland a pass. It asks us to consider him only a victim. It asks us to believe BOB when he says that Leland knew nothing and to believe Leland when he says he didn’t remember. Many people choose to believe this because it is the easy answer to an awful question. No one wants to think about the alternative—that there are men who can wear one face in public and another in private. But these men exist in our world, with no BOBs inside them. To excuse Leland all his transgressions in light of evidence presented in FWWM—which was Laura’s story—is to be willfully ignorant.

The original series presents us with a Leland who is grieving and has no memory of any of his actions. We see him fully possessed by BOB at times, most hauntingly during Maddy’s murder. But Fire Walk With Me presents us with an entirely different Leland—a Leland who, at times, remembers what he has done. He’s not able to fully repress everything, and this invalidates the original series’ claims that BOB was in full control and that Leland knew nothing until BOB left his vessel just before his death. Leland may have been able to repress some things, with BOBs help or without it, but the memories of his actions did surface.

The most obvious example of this is his sexual relationship with and murder of TeresaFWWM leland and teresa Banks. He is not in BOB-mode when he seeks out Teresa Banks in Fleshworld and meets up with her for sex at the motel. Consensual sexual encounters aren’t historically BOB’s thing so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that this is just Leland Palmer cheating on his wife. One of the most disturbing things about this is that he says of Teresa Banks, “you look just like my Laura.” Leland compares a woman he is having sex with to his daughter in a way that suggest that perhaps his desire for Laura was not just BOB’s will.

When Leland arranges a “party” with Teresa and other girls, and one of the other girls turns out to be Laura, it is not BOB but Leland who is terrified of being seen by her. He also doesn’t want Teresa to know his real identity. So he runs away, and he later murders Teresa. BOB may be behind the wheel during the murders, but it seems awfully convenient that Teresa is the victim. It certainly makes Leland’s life easier if she’s out of the picture because she knows too much.

And we know that Leland remembers this because he has flashbacks of it in the car after the incident where Phillip Gerard/MIKE chases them. There’s not a lot of ambiguity here and the implication of the flashbacks placed in this context is that Leland remembers being with Teresa, seeing Laura and Ronette, and killing Teresa. And yet he manages to keep it together in the car with Laura. There is no outburst of horror and disgust as there was in the jail cell in the original series when, supposedly, all the memories came back to him at once.

According to FWWM—which is Lynch’s own work—Leland has some level of control and knowledge over his behavior. He’s not the perfect husband and father. There is a darkness he hides, which comes out in that house. The memorable and haunting scene where he obsesses over Laura’s dirty hands is another example of Leland-as-Leland being cruel and terrorizing his daughter. His obsession with which one of her “lovers” gave her the heart necklace is particularly disturbing.

FWWM leland drugging sarahAnd, again, he knows what he’s done. He remembers it later that evening and goes into Laura’s bedroom to apologize. He is “himself” again in this scene, but this doesn’t mean that the cruel Leland is BOB-specific. Nice Guy Leland is one side to the coin; Dirty Hands Leland is the other. Dirty Hands Leland is the one who drugs Sarah so he can rape his daughter undisturbed. BOB is in there but it could be argued that he’s just along for the ride. It’s an unfortunate truth that there are people in this world who can turn on a dime—one moment kind and the next terrifying. And there’s always an apology afterward. It’s the way of the abuser. Leland Palmer is no different, and we watch it happen in FWWM.

Finally, there is Leland’s own admission during the train car scene. It has stuck with me and haunted me since I first saw FWWM: “I always thought you knew it was me,” he says to Laura, just before he kills her. And we know that it’s Leland because he then says, “Don’t make me do this.” There’s zero ambiguity here. He knew what he did to her and he thought Laura always knew as well.

I don’t believe that Leland wanted to kill Laura but he killed her all the same. I think he was forced into it by the knowledge that, if he didn’t, BOB would take Laura. Because Leland loved Laura, but it was in that sick and twisted way that an abuser loves their victim. Knowing what we know about Leland Palmer from FWWM, which in my mind is more canon than Season 2, I can’t absolve him of his many, many sins.


White Lodge: by Mat Cult

Leland Palmer is no saint. Let’s be clear. He has been party to some terrible things, but on that night, in that moment, when Laura was brutally stabbed to death in a train carriage in the woods, BOB was in the driving seat. The demon was in control. BOB killed Laura.

In the supernatural realm in which Twin Peaks operates, where demonic possession is alandscape-1498578745-killer-bob real-world condition, it will always be hard to separate the actions of host and parasite. Exactly who is culpable for the terrible acts they commit together? How complicit is the host? These are knotty problems, but I think there is some compelling evidence to suggest that BOB was in control on that terrible, tragic night.

Rewatching Fire Walk With Me, in preparation for this debate, I was struck by the fact that as Leland takes Ronette and Laura through the woods, Philip Gerard appears, sensing the presence of BOB. The shoe-salesman, who is host to the inhabiting spirit MIKE, recognises his former familiar is near – the presence of Leland, the host, is irrelevant. He knows BOB is on the move and planning something horrific and he immediately reacts. Post-Return, we now know that MIKE appears to be the keeper of the Owl Cave Ring, and he deploys this tool as a lifeline for Laura, offering her an empowered escape, a way to avoid possession by BOB. All of MIKE’s actions point not to Leland, but to BOB. Mike is not reacting to a man, but to a rogue Lodge spirit.

If the man who terrorised Ronnette and Laura in the woods that night was just a man without a supernatural, demonic force in the driving seat, then the Owl Cave Ring would have no impact. This supernatural artefact would have no significance to Leland – and yet we hear her killer shout “No! Don’t make me do this” as Laura puts on the ring. The only reason this talisman has any power over the way the scene plays out is because it affects BOB’s ability to possess Laura, and therefore drives him to kill her instead.

Twin_Peaks,_Killer_BOBAlthough the host, Leland is often shown on screen during this sequence, there are also many cuts to face of BOB, especially in the climactic moments, as the knife is brought down again and again. The demon is providing the furious momentum behind this violence. His presence is made clear over and over again in visual flashes and transformations. BOB is even briefly shown in Laura’s own reflection. For his image to be so integrated into the fabric of the scene, is a clear sign that he is key to the events that take place.

Looking back at Laura’s death, in light of The Return, it is impossible to think of BOB simply as a literary device – a manifestation of, or metaphor for, the cycle of abuse. In the third season of Twin Peaks, BOB is portrayed as a bona fide supernatural entity. We have seen the story of his creation, his unholy birth, and we have seen BOB operating independently of Leland, out in the real world, using Cooper’s doppelganger as a host, with support from an a small army of Woodsmen. BOB is a demonic force with drives, desires and abilities that go far beyond whichever body is hosting him at that moment. To BOB, we are just fleshy vehicles, sources of pain – a means to an end. To believe even for a moment that Leland could control such a force of nature seems to go against everything we are shown in The Return. And so it stands to reason that BOB was in control when Laura was murdered.

But wait, does this explanation let the host off the hook? Does this version of events give giphy (1)him a pass? If BOB is in control, does this exonerate Leland from the years of horrific sexual abuse BOB inflicted on his daughter, Laura? Here’s the thing – I don’t think it does. Even if he wasn’t in control during these moments, I believe Leland was aware of the horrific deeds BOB was committing using him as a vehicle. And once he was aware, if he really wanted to stop BOB he should have taken action – sought help, taken extreme measures, anything to end his daughter’s suffering. Just as MIKE removed an arm to rid himself of the murderous force that was once a part of him, so Leland could have acted to remove BOB from himself. But he didn’t, and so he is complicit. He shares the guilt and blame. But he isn’t in control.

It will always be hard to pick apart the actions of two entities inhabiting a single frame. Where exactly does the boundary of control and responsibility lie? For me, it is clear that the responsibility is shared, but the control – that lies with BOB.


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3 Replies to “Criminal Culpability”

  1. Thanks for this gals & guys of 25 yrs later. After recently re-watching FWWM & S1 of original TP, I am leaning more toward Ali’s theory above. Though, I admit I’m a bit in the Gray Lodge still, at times.
    While watching that scene at Laura’s dining room table and the interaction with Leland, her FATHER, and her Mother made me sick again. Somehow even more so then when I saw it 25 years ago. I found myself feeling really pissed off at Sarah for not doing ANYTHING to help or protect her daughter.
    I don’t believe that she was that drugged, in that very moment, that she was completely powerless. Plus, we know that he was “having” her since she was 12 years old. I mean, c’mon Sarah! Don’t tell me you didn’t know this was going on.

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    1. It’s a problem that we all face, I think, as we start in with this show. It’s not easy to parse it simply. I think a lot of people feel very uncomfortable with Dale’s exoneration of Leland in Episode 17. You just can’t brush this stuff under the rug

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  2. I believe Leland was corrupted, and that’s why BOB could get in; I think the demonic presence in TP operates the same way as that in Lost Highway – it doesn’t go where it hasn’t been invited.

    I differ about Leland’s fleeing when he sees Laura in that motel cos he don’t want her to see him. I think he flees because he was gonna have sex with two younger girls, but not with his daughter of course, that would be horrible.
    Except when he leaves, the masked jumping man appears. Because a part of Leland does want to have incestual sex, and in fact, already has. This is, maybe, the moment when cracks start appearing in the mask. (remember that even Laura didn’t know that Leland and BOB were one until a few days before her death)
    Not much later Leland kills Teresa Banks. I’m pretty sure that was Leland’s doing, not BOB’s – in the Missing Pieces, Teresa finds out Leland is Laura’s father, and there is blackmailing going on.
    But then it was BOB who put the letters underneath her nails; it was BOB’s involvement that made Teresa’s murder a Blue Rose case.
    Maybe, by killing Teresa, by becoming a murderer by his own accord, Leland allowed BOB to take a stronger hold on him, the line beetween host and spirit became more blurry, and finally it disappeared completely when he killed Laura.
    Or something like that.

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