ARCHIVIST’S NOTE: The staff at 25 Years Later are delving deep into The Secret History of Twin Peaks, exploring the secrets and mysteries to be found within (and between) its mix of fact, fiction, history and mythology. Today, Mat Cult tackles the pages covering Nixon, Doug Milford, and Project Bluebook.
When I read the Nixon-era, Project Blue Book section of Mark Frost’s excellent Secret History of Twin Peaks, just weeks before The Return was due to air, I became really worried about the direction the show was going to take. Were they planning to replace the Lodge mythology with a bunch of UFOs and government cover-ups? Was Twin Peaks about to morph into The X Files, with Cooper spending the next 18 hours hunting aliens? I needn’t have worried, obviously. But, having seen how the show panned out, I was keen to revisit this short section of the book – to see how it really related to The Return. And I’m glad I did – my re-read led me down several fascinating rabbit-holes of research that seem to resonate powerfully with events in the show.
This section of The Secret History (which runs from somewhere around page 260 to 280-something, for those following along at home) is told primarily via the memos and journals of Major Douglas Milford. It details the development and transformation of government UFO investigations in the US –from Projects Sign and Grudge to Majestic 12 and into Project Blue Book, the operation run by Milford himself. The documents record several encounters with President Nixon, who is presented in an entertaining manner, as a hard-drinking, hard-talking guy, constantly using colourful language and making inappropriate comments.
The text makes it clear that Nixon takes a special interest in UFO phenomena, and one of the first powerful parallels to The Return comes in a conversation when the president presses Major Milford to give an explanation for the UFO phenomenon, based on his years of investigation. Milford responds: “I don’t think they’re just one thing, sir. Some of them may be, but I don’t believe they’re exclusively ‘extra-terrestrial’ … It seems to me these things have been with us a lot longer than we know, taking different forms at different times. I think some or all of them may also be ‘extra-dimensional’.” This idea that so-called ‘aliens’ may actually be a result of travel between dimensions rather than across the dark void of space, is powerfully linked to much of what we saw in The Return.
From early in the series, viewers were speculating on the possibility of parallel dimensions in The Return – citing shifting timelines, strange continuity glitches and other onscreen oddness. By the time the final credits rolled on Part 18, it was almost certain that multiple dimensions were in play. Detailed theories about “pocket universes” and “collapsing realities” are now rife on forums and blogs. Looking back with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight, it seems Frost was planting a vitally important seed in this passing reference to “extra-dimensional” beings.
A little research reveals this theory, that UFOs may be interdimensional rather than interstellar, actually had some traction in official US government circles. A document pertaining to be a US Department of Justice memo from the 1940s states the following in discussion of a ‘flying saucer’ incident:
“They do NOT come from a ‘planet’ as we use the word, but from an etheric planet which interpenetrates with our own and is not perceptible to us.
“The region from which they come is not the “astral plane”, but corresponds to the Lokas or Talas. Students of esoteric matters will understand these terms.”
Not being a ‘student of esoteric matters’, I had to do some more reading to make sense of the terms ‘Lokas’ and ‘Talas’, but I immediately struck gold when I followed this particular rabbit-hole. It turns out these words originate in Hindu cosmology and are also found in Buddhist texts. This is immediately interesting in terms of The Return, which explicitly references Hindu scriptures and concepts. According to these spiritual systems a loka is a world. And each loka has a corresponding tala – an inferior world. In some interpretations, the tala represents the material world, while the loka is the world of the spirit. These two worlds are overlaid, intertwined and impossible to separate.
This idea that there are two layers to reality is perfect for Twin Peaks, a show in which so much is doubled and twinned. Just as Cooper has a doppelganger in Mr C, so now the entire world can have ‘an inferior twin’. The two are different, separate and yet identical and overlapping. Perhaps the violent, aggressive town of Twin Peaks we saw in The Return, was the tala of the original. Or perhaps the universe in which Cooper brings Carrie Page to the Palmer house is the tala – not the loka. Maybe they would have found Sarah Palmer at home in the original, parallel reality. And could this theory explain why consecutive shots of the RR Diner showed two different sets of customers?
The pictures above are from White City Cinema’s excellent article on The Possibility of Parallel Realities in TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN
Further research led me to uncover discussions in the field of physics in which science is exploring concepts that mirror these spiritual beliefs – raising the possibility that perhaps the entire universe has a twin. Theoretical physicists attempting to determine what existed before the Big Bang at T=0, have posited the theory of ‘quantum bounce’, which suggests our universe was born from the collapse of another universe. Building on this theory, there are now suggestions that the universe which preceded our own was actually its twin – “a mirror image of itself, with the Big Bang (or bounce) as the line of symmetry”. Again – this theory seems a perfect fit for the mythology of Twin Peaks where everyone and everything is mirrored and twinned. It is apparently no coincidence that the very first image we saw in the pilot episode of Twin Peaks was a character reflected in a mirror.
There is a movement in UFOlogy that agrees with Milford’s belief that so-called ‘aliens’ can actually be explained in inter-dimensional terms. Paranormal researcher Brad Steiger wrote that “we are dealing with a multidimensional paraphysical phenomenon that is largely indigenous to planet Earth”. This ‘interdimensional hypothesis’ suggests that UFOs are just one modern manifestation of a phenomenon that has occurred throughout human history, which was once ascribed to mythological or supernatural creatures.
UFOlogist Nick Redfern said: “They’re not at all unlike multiple accounts that one can find in numerous religions. In fact, they’re near-identical. Lives are radically changed, and people find themselves on new paths. Gods, angels, demons, the ‘little people,’ and—today—aliens: it’s all one and the same. A force that we presently don’t understand and which impacts upon us—and manifests before us—in a fashion that is relevant to the people of the particular era in question.” Angels, demons, little people – it’s like Redfern has taken a wander through the Red Room! The ‘interdimensional hypothesis’ seems to sit very comfortably with the supernatural events of Twin Peaks and The Return.
But the rabbit-hole doesn’t stop there. As I was researching the terms ‘loka’ and ‘tala’ I uncovered references to a race called ‘The Tiamat’. These are believed to be humanoid creatures that enter our reality from a parallel world. So far, so crypto-zoological. But a couple of phrases used to describe these beings made me sit up and take notice. John Rhodes calls them: “Shape-shifting guardians of the threshold,” adding: “These are also likely to be the beings who have left marks on contactees, or have used holographic imagery to alter people’s lives”.
“Guardians of the threshold” sounds spookily reminiscent of Hawk’s line about the “dweller on the threshold”. Are these the same creatures he was referring to? And the idea of these creatures leaving marks on those who encounter them seems to echo the strange markings on the bodies of both Major Garland Briggs and Margaret Lanterman in the original run of Twin Peaks. Perhaps these marks do suggest contact with creatures from a parallel plane – we know Briggs now seems to exist in a completely supernatural context and the Log Lady was always in tune with ‘the other side’.
There are plenty of real life tales of apparent inter-dimensional travel, but one of the most compelling I found was the story of Lerina Garcia Gordo, a Spanish woman who woke up one day confused and disorientated by her own existence. She found that six months of her life, in which she left her partner and found a new boyfriend, had apparently been erased. She awoke sharing her house with the man she believed she was separated from. Her new partner was nowhere to be found, even with assistance from a private detective. At work, Gordo found she was now part of a different team within the same company. While the big picture – family, location, national news – remained unchanged, many details had shifted. Her bewilderment and sense of confusion are powerfully reminiscent of Cooper’s distracted state as he wakes up to find Diane has gone, leaving the ‘Richard and Linda’ note on the bedside table.
As you can see, once you start looking into a single phrase from The Secret History, there are rich seams of material that all seem to reinforce the Twin Peaks mythology. It is easy to spin off and get lost. So let’s get back to the text for a moment. One of the major incidents in this section of the book concerns Nixon taking Milford and an anonymous celebrity, whose name has been redacted from the journal, to Homestead Airforce Base. There, the three men see what pertains to be a living extra-terrestrial being. The encounter takes place in a heavily secured room. The creature is described as having a bulbous head, large black eyes and radiating an “uncanny malevolence”. But what really struck me about this incident that that, according to Milford’s account, the figure of this ‘alien’ seemed to be strobing in and out of existence – visible one second and gone the next, appearing to blink in and out of reality.
This description reminded me of several instances in The Return when characters seem to flicker as they move between worlds. When the Fireman tells Cooper “You are far away”, the FBI agent suddenly crackles and fades out of view. Similarly, as Mr C ascends the staircase at the side of the Convenience Store, he and his Woodsman companion both strobe for a second before disappearing into the ether. Once again, Frost has taken a tiny element of The Return and planted it into the surrounding mythology.
There is plenty of material in the field of UFOlogy that supports the idea that aliens can blink in and out of visibility. In his book The How and Why of UFOs, Kenneth W. Behrendt writes:
“These other parallel universes are imagined to coexist with and actually interpenetrate our own, but, like spirit beings are usually considered to be, are ordinarily invisible to us. UFOs and their crews from these parallel realms can occasionally ‘pop’ into our universe by altering some of the physical properties of the materials from which they are constructed and then become temporarily visible to us.
“Other parallel universes can be considered to be identical to ours as far as the objects in them and their arrangements with respect to each other are concerned, but are either ahead or behind ours with respect to time. In this respect the UFOnauts visiting Earth become time travellers and their craft flyable time machines”
In this passage, Behrendt introduces the idea that movement between dimensions may entail travel through time rather than space – an idea that also reinforces the action of The Return. In the closing seconds of the final episode, Cooper is left scrabbling, asking “What year is this?” He is clearly disorientated by his apparent travel from reality to reality, just as missing FBI agent Phillip Jeffries was before him. These rabbit-holes of research run deep and long, but it seems they all lead back to Twin Peaks.
The final episode of The Return has led some to speculate that perhaps Cooper is ultimately caught in a reality devised specifically to trap him by an other-worldly power – possibly Judy or Jow-day. This entity, described by Gordon Cole as “an extreme negative force” was immediately brought to mind when I read a line in The Secret History. In one of their last interactions, an increasingly paranoid Nixon – already in the midst of the Watergate whirlwind – confides to Milford: “These things are part of something bigger, something old and dug in, and it’s been here all along. Watching us. More than that. Manipulating.” Is he hinting at some knowledge of Judy? And if so, what does this mean for our understanding of this entity? Is the president correct in thinking this force is actively manipulating our reality, or events in our world? Were we all, as far back as the 1960s, just pawns in a game being played out between Judy and the Fireman? As Cole himself might say: “THIS IS SOMETHING INTERESTING TO THINK ABOUT”.
Before I leave this article, I want to share some bonus links and lines of thinking that don’t relate so readily to the text of The Return, but may be of interest all the same:
- First up, for those of you who may have found the theoretical physics elements of this piece interesting, I would urge you to read Sezín Koehler’s fascinating articles on this blog, which you can find here and here.
- As part of my researches, I tried to establish the identity of the REDCATED celebrity who shared a love of UFOlogy with Nixon. I’m convinced that this is a clear reference to Jackie Gleason,of Honeymooners fame. He was a golfing buddy of Nixon, fascinated by stories of alien contact and allegedly told friends he had seen alien corpses with the president. Some good links here, here, here and here.
- The internet is full of articles linking Nixon to various UFO conspiracies, but the best story I uncovered, outside of Jackie Gleason’s tale, was an incredibly plausible account of a crossed-wire phone call in which a housewife apparently heard the president discussing alien contact. You can read it here.
- And there’s a really cool archive of declassified FBI UFO files here.