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Reincarnation & The Return Part 3 Ding. Dong. Cooper’s Dead.

For those of you 25 Years Later fans, you know by now my love for the character of Special Agent Dale Cooper runs very deep.  Which makes writing this third installment of my Reincarnation & The Return so heart wrenching.  I am going to make a very bold statement, one in which may get me into a lot of trouble with some, applauded by others, and even more asking, “What are you talking about J.C.?”  After re-watching S1, S2, Fire Walk With Me, and a first viewing with some re-watching of Parts of S3, I have come to the deduction that Special Agent Dale Cooper is dead.

surprised dale

Now before you bite my head off, let me make my case.  Throughout writing this series, I have read, researched, and reread different theories on reincarnation and Tibetan Buddhist mysticism.  The Tibetan Book of the Dead, also known as The Great Liberation upon Hearing in the Intermediate State is a guide for the dead “during the state that intervenes death and the next rebirth.”1  It is a little like Beetlejuice and the Handbook for the Recently Deceased.  What made me gasp upon reading passages from a condensed version of the book was the following explanation:

“The Bardo Thodol teaches that once awareness is freed from the body, it creates its own reality as one would experience in a dream. This dream occurs in various phases (bardos) in ways both wonderful and terrifying. Overwhelming peaceful and wrathful visions and deities appear. Since the deceased’s awareness is in confusion of no longer being connected to a physical body, it needs help and guidance in order that enlightenment and liberation occurs.”2

This brings us back to Gordon’s Monica Bellucci dream, “We are like the dreamer, who dreams, and then lives inside the dream.  But who is the dreamer?”  While I do still believe we are all the dreamers, in this realm of discussion there is yet another answer: the dreamer is Dale Cooper, and the reason he’s our dreamer is because he is going through the states of bardo just as the Tibetan Book of the Dead instructs.


The first stage of Bardo comes at the very moment of death. Where do I think Cooper died?  Cooper dies at the end of S1, when Josie shoots him.  He is visited by two beings, the Giant and the waiter (which I know have been considered one and the same, but I think the Giant just communicates through the waiter, or the waiter is indeed a Lodge being).  They both are trying to get him to see things in a certain way, spiritually, but one more literally than the other.  The Giant tells him many things, while the waiter listens to Cooper’s call for help, but ignores his request.  Both of these being are trying to teach him something about descending into the first stage, but Cooper being Cooper, does not ‘see’ what he needs to and is put into the second stage, Secondary Clear Light.  This level constantly repeats the instructions needed to be able to go onto the next level. The Giant returning to Cooper and telling him, “It’s Happening Again” would be one example.


“But, J.C. would this mean that everything in S2 is part of Cooper’s reincarnation and is not really happening?” Yes and no.  This is where you have to bear with me and keep an open mind.  When Major Briggs visits Cooper, he shows Cooper the print out that says, “The owls are not what they seem”, followed by three Coopers.  In the Return only two Coopers are mentioned; the reason for the three Coopers is because there are three Coopers at this point: Good Cooper, – the dead one – who is in the Red Room, Pre-Mr. C Cooper, who is also in the Red Room, and the Bodhisattva emanation of Cooper, still in the realm of Twin Peaks.  On His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet’s web page it states:

“Ordinary sentient beings generally cannot manifest an emanation before death (ma-dhey tulku), but superior Bodhisattvas, who can manifest themselves in hundreds or thousands of bodies simultaneously, can manifest an emanation before death. Within the Tibetan system of recognizing Tulkus there are emanations who belong to the same mind-stream as the predecessor, emanations who are connected to others through the power of karma and prayers, and emanations who come as a result of blessings and appointment.”

Cooper, with the guidance of the Giant, emanated a version of himself so he could continue trying to solve Laura’s murder and truly embrace what being a Bodhisattva meant.  “So, J.C., wouldn’t that be considered a Tulpa?” Yes, you’re getting it now. It is almost exactly like what we have been finding out about tulpas.

The Second bardo is the bardo of becoming. writes,

“…a stage in which the desires of the individual are said to carry the largely helpless soul through a great variety of intense emotional states. Good thoughts bring great bliss and pleasure, and hateful or negative thoughts bring great pain and desolation.”

This to me is the other Coopers,  Mr. C and Dougie.  As Dougie, his soul is broken and feelings of  bliss and pleasure control him like that of a child.  Mr. C, on the other hand is mean and maniacal.  Both represent two opposite thoughts of an afterlife, heaven and hell.  In the Buddhist religion, heaven is not a permanent state and neither is hell.  Thus, Cooper must make his subconscious recognize the changes of states.  When he’s Dougie, he feels things Mr. C has done, as evidenced by such moments as the ‘face massage’, mirrored by Bushnell.  Cooper, as I’ve said in Part 2 of my series, is a Bodhisattva, needing to be awakened.  Therefore, he may not recognize he is in fact dead, even though he is feeling and remembering his negative, evil self.

Another interesting part of the second bardo is that it is said to last for two weeks.  If you consider the timeline of the Return, it’s about ten days, give or take.   In the second bardo, there is also a part that explains Laura and her light:

Even the most wretched souls will eventually work their way out of even the deepest pit of hell, just as even the highest and purest souls will eventually lose their footing in heaven and descend again into the cycle of death and rebirth. Liberation is the only way out.”3

I am not saying the Laura is a truly wretched soul, but she has had some truly wretched things happen to her.  Laura is as important to this whole equation, as is Cooper.  Laura shows Cooper the bright, white light which inhabits her.  Cooper does not know what this means in the beginning of the Return.  Due to his lack of reaction, Laura is pulled back out into rebirth and into, as we soon find out, Carrie Page.  This can only occur because Laura was liberated at the end of FWWM, and liberation is the only way out.  Cooper has not achieved this because his ultimate need to protect and serve keeps him from liberation. Additionally, he cannot be liberated because he has yet to face the third bardo.


In the Third bardo, the soul encounters The Lord of Death, which can be seen as JowDai (Judy).  The way in which the Third bardo is explained makes my heart hurt for various reasons, the worst being that what enfolds in Part 18 sounds frighteningly similar.

“…the soul encounters the Lord of Death, a fearsome demonic deity who appears in smoke and fire, and subjects the soul to a Judgment. If the dead person protests that he has done no evil, the Lord of Death holds up before him the Mirror of Karma, “wherein every good and evil act is vividly reflected.” Now demons approach and begin to inflict torments and punishments upon the soul for his evil deeds. The instructions in the Bardo Thodol are for him to attempt to recognize the Voidness of all these beings, including the Lord of Death himself; the dead person is told that this entire scene unfolding around him is a projection from his own mind. Even here he can attain liberation by recognizing this.”

Sounds quite similar, doesn’t it?  “What year is this?”  The screen suddenly goes black.  The Void has been recognized.  All these beings and Judy herself have been a projection of Cooper.  Is this Cooper achieving his liberation by recognizing this?  Does Carrie/Laura’s scream help Cooper to recognize this as well?


This is where my sadness comes. Cooper has not acknowledged his death and this is why he does not realize the projection to be true.  He still thinks he is a living Dale Cooper and why shouldn’t he?  He is the Cooper that ‘saved’ Laura.  He is the one that brought her back home so she will once again be with her mother.  He risked everything to make sure this would happen.  He fell further and further into different lokas (or locations) of hell to escape the truth.  He believes it is Laura’s truth he must save, and that his actions as a Bodhisattva are helping Laura ascend to her greatness.  This is why we will always end by seeing Cooper still in the Lodge with Laura whispering in his ear.  He will always end up in a new hell because he cannot move forward with his own liberation.  He will always be searching, finding, discovering, never giving up, and then coming full circle back to the Red Room.  Laura will always be waiting to whisper that he is dead, his soul is with her there and if he ever wants to move on, he needs to awaken.  Cooper can control his own destiny within the constructs of the Bardo Thodol, the instructions given to him in this afterlife, he just needs to follow them.  Once he follows down this path of enlightenment, Cooper will have truly awakened.  He will have fulfilled his duty, become a superior Bodhisattva and once again will have, “Let virtue and goodness be perfected in every way.” 5

whisper laura dale

1., & 3. Williams, Kevin R. B.Sc., The Tibetan Book of the Dead and NDEs. Web. 2014.

2., 4., & 5  Williams, Kevin R. B.Sc., the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Web. 2014

Written by J.C. Hotchkiss

J.C. Hotchkiss is a Office Manager by day and Managing Twin Peaks Editor for 25YL Site the other 16 hours of the day. When she isn’t writing of her love of FBI Agents with a penchant for doughnuts, coffee and pie, she enjoys getting lost in a good book, sipping a damn fine glass of wine among friends, chatting with her "TB's" about Cevans and Fleabag's Hot Priest, and trying to keep up with the latest cartoon craze via her 6 year old. She lives smack in the middle of the Big Apple and Beantown, so for a girl with many different interests and tastes it's the perfect place to be.


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  1. Yes, it is a hard truth that has always made the most sense. His soul running around through the Bardos. After having been killed by Earle most likely. That doesn’t lessen the adventure. It doesn’t mean that it has to be over, yet. He also could be doing real work in the other realms. But , there have always been clues toward that. And the Cooper AutoBiography book really made that seem true , along side of the first run. Like Dante’s inferno , or giving your life for the holy grail the quest to know what the soul is, or ones purpose. But, I enjoy this far more than say Jacob’s Ladder. Although they did a great job with that, this journey is deeper

  2. You are not alone. As I have said throughout TP:TR, with my daughter, the numerous (and often number-related) ‘clues’ have been there all along. We are still finding them now, mainly to support our view. We too have met with disbelief, disgust, fear and loathing when we have dared to share this view! The more attached ‘we’ are to the character of Coop, the less ‘we’ want to believe this may be the case. But to us it’s the only sense we do make of it. We can’t even remember when we came to this conclusion, other than that the main ‘protagonists’ of DL’s latest works (Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, Inland Empire) have all also, in our view, been dying/dead and I guess we had a leaning towards this possibility already, having been told the new TP was ‘of a piece’ with these.

  3. Perhaps Dale is a Boddhisatva – (in Mahayana Buddhism) a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so out of compassion in order to save suffering beings. Not a bad choice if one is willing to continue to suffer the cycle of birth and death. So this is not a bad outcome for Dale if this is his choice. Actually, I think it is an honorable choice.

      • I felt so surprised that this opinion was already published online for so long. I watched S3 as it aired and discussed it online.

        What I wasn’t sure of was whether the whole thing from S1 was Cooper’s Bardo ‘death dream’?

        I couldn’t fathom how the same guy, Cooper, could cheat on his Mentor’s Wife? To me, that sort of puts a bit of confusion on timing of this opinion.

        I thought the purpose of creating this mystery only came to be because of ABC’s demand to reveal Laura’a killer & destroy that mystery.

        At this point, it would make perfect sense to consider that Cooper may in fact be dead after Josie’s shots.

        I’m not 100% convinced when he may have died. When he enters the Black Lodge, he see’s his & Caroline’s body already dead on the floor. Then Annie turns into Caroline. That is where the most of my doubt stems from. Caroline states she knows the face of the man who killed her – which is called back to by Harold Smith as the ‘greatest mystery’. Subtle…

        The void of Windom, save for his theme during a diner timeline switch scene, also confuses how that key person in Cooper’s life seemed to be all forgotten or somehow irrelevant? I think if Windom was in S3 it would only be too obvious Cooper was dead.

        I think there is a bit more going on here in the end because of the mystery of Judy & the possible reincarnation to Richard & Carrie Page. I’m not even sure if the new project is still ongoing?

        I was also a person who read The Tibetan Book Of The Dead. I noticed the Tibetan themes & what was what I thought was a direct comparison to what reincarnation & the Bardo experience may be imagined by DL.

  4. It sounds perfect to me. Cooper is dead since Josie killed him in Room 315, but at the same time he is alive (going on with his life) until the end.
    When Carrie shouted he understood the sad true. He is dead. He was living after his own dead because the Fireman let him to live. It was a second time in Earth to achive a goal. Then he will be at White/Black Lodge for ever. No exit.
    The ultimate goal is to defeat Bob and maybe desactivate Judy (Two birds, One Stone). I think Laura can’t be saved. Neither Cooper.
    Both were sadly used by the Fireman after 25 years. How? Laura changes into Carrie, Coop into Richard. But there are no salvation or hope for them.
    So Laura was saved or not? Yes and No. She was saved in one reality, but she dissapears again. She lives in Odessa (a real city) and there is no trace of her in Twin Peaks now.
    We saw S3 without knowing Coop was dead. We thought he could save Laura but we were wrong. Her destiny was clear. Laura is the one. Only Laura can defeat Judy (or defeat her in an alternative reality like it is Odessa). After that, she will come back with Cooper, not at Palmer’s house, they will come back to Fireman’s House indeed.
    BadCooper dies too. Only Douglas Jones survives (Cooper’s Tulpa). Diane is not clear but I imagine she is alive like Annie.
    One reality is what happening when Laura died, another one is what happening when she doesn’t die. Same world but quite different.
    Audrey is alive too, but she has several problems to accept both realities. You know: “the story of the little girl who live down the lane”. So, she is collapsed after all (add bank explossion and so on).
    Sarah Palmer is the great Evil this season. Red would be another very very important role, but the following acts are unclear. Judy is defeat or only temporaly desactivated?
    Who one can go on fighting if Evil is yet in the Game? No Coop, no Laura. Only Lynch and Frost know it.
    It’s only my personal interpretation. I accept critics and refutations.

    • May I propose that the two “birds” are Sarah and Judy, and they are defeated in the finale by Laura aka Carrie. Other than the scene of him being shot in the abdomen, is there any other evidence that Cooper died?

      • Yes. When Cooper entered the Black Lodge he is dead on the floor with Caroline.

        Cooper cheated on his mentor/partners wife. Which caused him to go mad and kill Caroline. We know Dale was significantly injured here – same as when Josie shot him.

        When S3 starts, the Fireman says he is far away. I think he meant Cooper was in reincarnation process and had to ‘watch’ S3 to be reincarnated as Richard. To learn from his arrogant decision to cheat with his mentors wife, I’m guessing?

  5. A very interesting take. What give this theory some more credence in my view is that this is a theme David Lynch seems to enjoy exploring. I have good reason to believe, after a conversation with him, that Mulholland Drive is also about a journey through the Bardos. In a less realized way, so in Lost Highway. You can similarly experience Inland Empire as the light of consciousness getting itself entangled in various identities. DL’s long devotion to meditation, and Mark Frost’ s deep studies of esoterica and hermetic doctrine put your theory well into the category of plausibility. There may well be many ways to experience Twin Peaks, but this is certainly a valid view.

    • My guess is that if you fear death, you will see only the sadness of this theory. However, it seems to be just one of the infinite ways this can help you feel. I am more delighted by the being that is Cooper all moreso.

      In my opinion, there is nothing quite as cool as a Boddhisattva – a soul existing in its imperfect form to help others find enlightenment – wow, Bob, wow. The genuis that is Lynch and Frost was able to show us every beautiful and terrifying aspect of Cooper’s path with unfathomable Art. I can’t possibly imagine what viewers who wanted some other story could have perceived as a better.

  6. There is actual comfort in realizing Cooper is dead, in that he still nevertheless exists and is still trying to figure out the puzzle. In this regard, death is not the end, and should not be something to pine over. I think it was obvious from the beginning of the season, that Cooper would never be truly home again. Enlightenment is liberation, and if he (as we) has come closer to realizing his true predicament, then there’s hope for him. He’s a smart guy and my money is still on him. Who knows, maybe Harry will be the friend to lead him through it. Three pieces of cosmic cherry pie for all. It ain’t over til Senorita Dido sings!

  7. The various “Cooper is dead” theories don’t get enough consideration, despite large amounts of evidence. I discussed some of these details in posts I published on and on back on 10/8/17 and 10/11/17. I happened across J.C.’s article today, and it’s nice to discover a theory similar to my own. Most of the forums in late 2017 were flooded with people unwilling to explore the idea that Season 3 may be occurring within Cooper’s mind. That was a conversation that could’ve gone much further. Anyway, for those looking to further discuss “Cooper is dead” theories, I post as “wowdavidwow” on those two forums. You can search for my posts from October 2017. Thanks for all the articles, J.C. I miss Twin Peaks, but I don’t think it should come back again.

  8. I just read this and completely agree. Cooper was killed by Josie and doesn’t realize he’s dead. Recently, a Buddhist friend, who was also a huge fan of TP, just died. A reading of the Tibetan Book of the Dead was read for him and it has really helped me to understand death in real life as well as that Cooper is also in transition.

  9. Without getting into any Tibetan Buddhist particulars, the idea of Cooper being dead struck me upon my recent first full rewatch of S1 and 2 (as opposed to rewatching just certain segments, which I have done off-and-on since 1991). The first reason for this thought was the episode title of the S1 finale: “The Last Evening.” The only “last” evening that would even seem to apply would be Cooper’s. At this point, I had not yet learned that the titles came from German TV, not Lynch, Frost, Peyton, or Ingalls. But one comment of the Giant’s in S2 e1 that I haven’t seen discussed much leant itself to this theory. When Cooper asks where the Giant has come from, the Giant responds, “The question is, where have you gone?” Now maybe Dale is in some way in a Lodge while appearing to be in the Great Northern. But maybe he is dead, and when dying has entered a dream state. It’s hard to say conclusively either way, as Carl Rudd had “already gone places” by the time of Chet Desmond’s arrival, and Major Briggs would soon go places as well.But it’s an interesting idea. The s2 finale adds to this if the first time we see Cooper bleeding in the Lodge it is meant to be from Josie’s gunshots, as some believe. (Personally, I always thought that was from Earle stabbing him in the Lodge, either without him knowing it just before he starts bleeding or chronologically from Earle’s stabbing him soon afterward.)

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