What Year Is This?: Returning to Twin Peaks

What did you do, Coop?

This is a guest post by Beau Deurwaarder. He recently presented this paper at the Australiasian Society of Continental Philosophy (ASCP) conference at the University of Tasmania. 25YL is thrilled to be able to publish it here in a slightly edited form.

With the imminent release of the Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series boxset, this article will return to The Return, so to speak, to consider what kind of resolution can be recovered from a necessarily irresolvable text like Twin Peaks.Like much of Frost and Lynch’s signature work, each instalment of Twin Peaks: The Return is designed to ask more questions than it answers, and refuse any coherent interpretation or privilege one reading over another. Lynch’s expert delivery of the postmodern form at once invites discussion and dispute, but it seems to me that any commentary, in order to be constructive, needs to be framed in a particular way. As always, with Lynch, we need to prioritise affect over explanation, and consider what the text makes us feel, rather than what it means, or what it could mean. In his 2005 book of interviews with Chris Rodley, Lynch warns of the danger of overanalysing abstract ideas, or giving the text more thought than it deserves. With the reception of a cult series like Twin Peaks, Lynch worries of the viewer’s possibility of thinking or of “talking something to death”. He warns that “[if] you start thinking about articulating a certain thing, and then you suddenly see it for what it is [then] the magic goes away a little bit. It’s tricky. When you talk about things—unless you’re a poet—a big thing becomes smaller”.2 So by way of introduction, then, I want to warn you all that I am not a poet, and that I found, in the early drafts of this writing, that the more I said about the narrative of The Return, the less interesting it became. The challenge I’ve set myself now, with this article, is to discuss The Return without attempting to rob the text of its mysterious or magical quality, or turn its peaks into anything other than they should be—fragments of an incomplete mystery.


When preparing to return to Twin Peaks after 25 years, Lynch offers his viewers the following advice: “there’s the donut, and there’s the hole, and you should keep your eye on the donut, and all the other things that go on, they don’t matter. What matters is falling in love with the story, or ideas, and realising those…”.3 By this, Lynch is suggesting that we should pay attention to the stories and ideas that take place on screen, and realise how they work together on their own terms. We should not lend too much thought to the details that are missing; the holes in disclosure are what keep us guessing, they are the gaps that the mystery gravitates around. Like Lynch’s wider work, the intrigue of Twin Peaks relies on the information omitted by strange narrative cues, the disorientation that follows, and the connections that we are forced to make, either by ourselves, with friends, or in late night reddit discussions. It’s up to us to arrive at our own conclusions. In a recent interview, Lynch surmises, whilst grinning at his audience, that “that’s the whole thing. You know, there’s lot of things in life, and we wonder about them […] and we have to come to our own conclusions. And then there’s books that you might be reading […] and you’ve got all these questions, and you want to talk to the author, and then you find out that the author passed away a hundred years ago, so it’s up to you, it’s up to you all”. Lynch’s response, in 2017, echoes another reply he gave in 1993, when he argued that it doesn’t matter what a dead author might have thought, but rather what the audience gets from their work.4 It is up to the viewer, he says, to become “a participant”, to accept the hints offered and “dream the rest” themselves.5 “If things get too specific”, he warns, then “the dream stops [… w]hen you only see a part, it’s even stronger than seeing the whole [and] the fragment takes on a tremendous value of abstraction”.6 Lynch submits that his intentions are “irrelevant” to their reception, and what he thinks “really doesn’t matter” to the work itself.7 He is committed to the mystery his offerings contain.

Part of the lure of Twin Peaks, however, is the promise that the viewer can decode the mystery, if they work hard enough, or look to enough sources. Agent Cooper assures us that the formula is simple: “crack the code, solve the crime”. Secondary material, like Frost’s 2016 accompaniment, The Secret History of Twin Peaks, or his recent epilogue, The Final Dossier, are riddled with hidden clues and cryptic information. More specifically, Frost supplements Lynch’s abstraction with detailed exposition and hints of hyperstition that conflate the Twin Peaks mythologies with broader traditions of esotericism, conspiracy theory, and ufology.8 Close readings of Frost’s texts, however, reveal glaring alterations and inconsistencies from their televised counterparts.9 These gaps reinforce the unreliability of hermeneutics and at the same time inspire the search for subterranean connections. In the opening statement of The Secret History of Twin Peaks, the archivist of the epistolary dossier writes that “mystery is the most essential ingredient to life[,] mystery creates wonder, which leads to curiosity, which in turn provides the ground for our desire to understand who and what we truly are […] Mysteries are the stories we tell ourselves to contend with life’s resistance to our longing for answers”.10 Later on, the archivist draws a distinction between the nature of mysteries and that of secrets. Mysteries, he writes, “precede humankind, envelop us and draw us forward into exploration and wonder […] Mysteries are as much a part of nature as sunrises. They may not yield to us, but they are freely available for all to wrestle with”.11 Secrets, on the other hand, “are the work of humankind, a covert and often insidious way to gather, withhold or impose power […] The hoarding and withholding of “secret” knowledge is in the trademark of covert societies and governments, for the purpose of concentrating power and resources within a powerful elite, the few against the many. These polarities[, he continues,] stand in direct opposition to one another; mysteries enliven existence; secrets strangle it“.12 Frost’s archivist warns us not to confuse the nobility of mysteries with the malleable capacity of secrets.13 A secret, he reveals, is “only a secret as long as you keep it. Once you tell someone it loses all its power—for good or ill—like that, it’s just another piece of information”.14 A real mystery, by contrast, is a mystery because it “can’t be solved, not completely. It’s always just out of reach, like a light around a corner; you might catch a glimpse of what it reveals, feel its warmth, but you can’t know the heart of it, not really. That’s what gives it value: it can’t be cracked, it’s bigger than you and me, bigger than everything we know”.15log lady intros

The archivist’s distinction is helpful to understanding what is at stake in the narrative of Twin Peaks and its legacy.The narrative arc of the original run, let’s remember, was built on Laura Palmer’s secrets, and the irresolvable mystery of who or what killed her. In 1993, Margaret Lanterman introduced the town of Twin Peaks as “the story of many [that] begins with one”. “The one leading to the many”, she says, “is Laura Palmer. Laura is the One”.16 The centrality of Laura’s absence haunts the tortured township, and forms the “middle ground of all of the characters we stay with for the series”.17 Once the identity of her murderer was revealed mid-way through season two, the case gave way to the greater mystery, of the esoteric tension between the White and the Black Lodge. That the story of many didn’t close with the case of Laura Palmer seemed promising, but Lynch argues that Twin Peaks would have had a longer lifespan had they not felt the pressure to turn the mystery of the first series into a secret to be revealed in the second.18 In The Return, the trauma of Laura Palmer’s death has spread far beyond the community of Twin Peaks, but it all leads back to Laura, in some form or another. In Part 10, The Log Lady tells Deputy Chief Hawk that “now the circle is almost complete”. Echoing the sacred Hindu text, The Bhagavad Gita,19 Margaret asks us to “watch and listen to the dream of time and space [and that] it all comes out now, flowing like a river[,] that which is and is not”. She then repeats the refrain: Laura is the one.  

Now when the Log Lady says “the circle is almost complete”, my thoughts creep back to Lynch’s analogy of the donut. Once Frost and Lynch had offered all eighteen parts of The Return, as they did in September, the viewer needed to reconcile the holes in its narrative by dreaming their own fillings and drawing their own conclusions. As it stands, there is now no more missing information, and that which is and is not is out there for all to see. It should come as no surprise, then, that Frost and Lynch issue the most mysterious part of The Return as their grand conclusion. The final credits of Part 18 roll over a slow motion image of Laura whispering a secret to Agent Cooper, whose face crumples in distress at Lynch’s final curtain call. These sombre, slowed down images are taken from Part 2 of The Return, and are reminiscent of the conclusion of episode 2 of the original series, when Laura whispers the identity of her murderer to Agent Cooper in a dream. The difference between this secret, and the one whispered 25 years ago, is that we will not find out this time what Laura shares with Agent Cooper; it is this mystery which will secure, and I think satisfy, the entire premise and trajectory of the third series.

In their landmark text, A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari lend five pages to discussing the nature of secrets in their ‘Memories of the Secret’ passage in the Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible plateau. Given the psychoanalytic context of A Thousand Plateaus, it should be noted that the content of the secret that Deleuze and Guattari are referring to could be the submerged terrain of the psychodynamic iceberg, but we need not restrict our reading here to an interrogation of the unconscious. The secret, Deleuze and Guattari tell us, “has a privileged, but quite variable, relation to perception and the imperceptible. The secret relates first of all to certain contents”. This content, they continue,

is too big for [the secret’s] form—or else the contents themselves have a form, but that form is covered, doubled, or replaced by a simple container, envelope or box whose role it is to suppress formal relations. These are contents it has been judged fitting to isolate or disguise for various reasons.20

Glass Box

To pause Deleuze and Guattari for a moment, let’s consider what this might mean for the secrets of Twin Peaks. In the first part of The Return, at a secret location in New York City, we are literally shown an empty glass box, the mysterious content of which cannot be resolved by one reading or another. A young man, Sam Colby, is instructed to record what takes place in this box, as well as sit on a couch, drink coffee, and watch the glass box, alone, although he does not know what he is watching for. Clearly, on a metatextual level, Sam is standing in for the lone audience member watching the first part of The Return. However, in a different metatextual register, and following Deleuze and Guattari, we can read the glass box as the form of the secret of The Return‘s content, a box devised to suppress formal relations.21 The glass box, we find out later, has been created by an anonymous billionaire in order to capture or at least lure what fans have cryptically called ‘the Experiment’. Who or what the Experiment is, of course, is a secret whose content is decisively too big for its box,22 and is fittingly isolated and disguised within the metatexture of The Return‘s reception.

Tracey Barberato, an acquaintance of Sam’s with little backstory to motivate her curiosity, sneaks into the secure location to accompany Sam in watching the glass box. While Sam’s attention is diverted to welcoming Tracey, the apparition of the Experiment smashes the box and mutilates their bodies. At this moment the horror of The Return comes to fore—stop attending to the secret and violence ensures. In line with Frost’s archivist, Deleuze and Guattari argue that the secret and its contents have “limited value as long as the secret is opposed to its discovery”.23 The “perception of the secret”, they continue, “is [anecdotally] the opposite of the secret” but “is [conceptually] a part of it[;] what counts is that the perception of the secret must necessarily be secret itself”.24 What they are saying, in other words, is that when Sam and Tracey witness the evil within the glass box, their witness and murder become part of that secret, “a perception of the secret [that is] imperceptible itself”.25 This perception, lost to all aside from the viewer, “is no less secret than the secret” that it succeeds; its disclosure marks, rather, a spreading of the secret, a secretion “that is in turn shrouded in secrecy”.26 In short, Deleuze and Guattari surmise, “[t]he secret is not at all an immobilised or static notion. Only becomings are secrets; the secret has a becoming”.27

At this point, I’ll merely note that much could be made of the role of doppelgängers, doubling, and fractured identities, and how these themes permeate Lynch’s wider work, from Lost Highway to Mulholland Drive to Inland Empire.28 Much more could also be said of the Black Lodge and of the astral entity, the Dweller on the MoonchildThreshold, both of which hold a firm place in esoteric and theosophical literature.29 Unfortunately, today, we’ll abridge this discussion to consider how the absent Dale Cooper might overcome his double, Mr C., and thereby escape the grasp of the Black Lodge. To do so, I’ll point to the philosophical message of Alistair Crowley’s 1929 text Moonchild, which is arguably where the mythology of the White Brotherhood and the Black Lodge was first fully formed. In this novel, Simon Iff, a White magician, and stand in for Crowley, finds himself in close magical contact with a Black magician or sorcerer known as Douglas, a personification of Crowley’s former chief, MacGregor Mathers, the head of the Golden Dawn.30 Douglas belongs to an order of fifteen sorcerers that carry out the instruction of the Black Lodge. Moreover, he occupies the “highest rank in the Lodge”, the Thaumeil-Qeretiel, alongside his superior, a mysterious women known only as Annie, or A.B.31 According to their rank, Crowley writes, both ‘Annie’ and Douglas “were alone in possession of the full secrets of the [Black] Lodge”, a knowledge “always seething with hate”, whose pursuit “is like a cancer, which indeed grows apace, but at the expense of the [one] on whom it feeds, [which] will destroy both [it’s victim] and itself in the long run”.32 This cancer, I submit, is that same dark force that drives Mr. C. and his followers in The Return, an extreme negative force, known in olden times as Joudy, which is now known by secret FBI agents as Judy.33 This is a rank of evil that David Foster Wallace in his writings on Lynch has described as a haunting or an inspiring of evil, a possession of “a Darkness way bigger than any one person”, where evil becomes “environment, possibility, force”.34 Portraying evil as a force, Foster Wallace rightly argues, has “unsettling implications” for Lynch’s narratives and their occupants. “People can be good or bad, but forces simply are. And forces are—at least potentially—everywhere. Evil for Lynch thus moves and shifts, pervades; Darkness is in everything, all the time—not ‘lurking below’ or ‘lying in wait’ or ‘hovering on the horizon’: evil is here, right now”.35

This is certainly the feeling we get when we watch Twin Peaks, and especially The Return, as things take progressive turns for the worse. In a superficial nod to The Moonchild, Frost and Lynch name Agent Cooper’s host body, or ‘Tulpa’, Douglas Jones.36 Similarly, they name his love interest from season two, Annie Blackburn—note her initials here—A.B. These decisions, I posit, are not coincidental. This is not to say that the figure of Dougie is evil, but is meant to point to how he was manufactured by evil in a plot to keep Mr C. out of the Black Lodge. Likewise, the character of Annie Blackburn, let’s remember, was only introduced to lure Agent Cooper into the Black Lodge 25 years ago. The occult connections between Crowley’s work and Twin Peaks are at once compelling and complex,37 and by way of a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion, let’s turn to what Simon Iff of the White Brotherhood teaches, in distinction from that of Douglas and the Black Lodge. In a significant chapter, both Iff and Douglas encounter a mysterious “Thing in the garden”, and approach the experience in differing ways. Iff “set himself to the complete assimilation of that Thing”, and “made certain that it should be part of himself for ever”, despite the knowledge that “that Thing had [also] been a part of Douglas”.38 After the encounter, Iff reveals that the secret of magik is “[t]o have assimilated all things so perfectly that there is no longer any possibility of struggle. To have destroyed the idea of duality [in order] to be one with every thing and Nothing”.39 The White magician, Iff continues, “insist[s] upon the unity of Nature” and “asserts that all force is one in origin”, via “the steady and continuous affirmation of true unity in all diversity”.40 Douglas, by contrast, “opposed the affirmation of duality. The result was that his whole mind was aflame with the passion of contrasting things, of playing forces off against each other”.41 In my reading, the difference between Simon Iff and Douglas deliberately mirrors the difference between Agent Cooper and Mr C. If this is the case, it offers a hint as to how Cooper might overcome his double—and significantly, it does so outside of The Return‘s borders. Crowley surmises that “the plan of the sorcerer who wishes to be sole and supreme”, like Mr C., “is to destroy all rivals, enemies and companions”.42 The magician, by contrast, “attains supremacy in Unity by constantly uniting himself with others, and finding himself equally in every element of existence”.43 We see the latter candidate, of course, in the goodness of Dale Cooper, as well as in his metamorphosis as Dougie Jones, as all the people in Dougie’s life become entranced by Cooper’s special nature, and the kindness and unity that captivates his soul. The difference between the dark sorcerer and the magician, as Crowley puts it, “is the difference between love and hate”.44 This, I would argue, is what the two peaks of Twin Peaks are all about: the unity of love and hate peaking through the darkness of future past.

1 This analysis was first delivered as an academic paper at the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy (ASCP) Conference at the University of Tasmania, 29 November 2017.
2Lynch on Lynch: Revised Edition (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), 27. Lynch uses this analogy again on 227, and elaborates further on 288, suggesting that “poets can catch an abstraction in words and give you a feeling that you can’t get any other way”.
3Lynch uses this analogy in differing ways in a few earlier interviews in Lynch on Lynch: see 90, 248-249.
4Lynch onLynch, 28.
5Ibid, 26.
6Ibid, 223; 231.
7Ibid, 28.
8For more on hyperstition and its role in The Secret History of Twin Peaks, see Diane Podcast, ‘Minisode: The Secret History of Twin Peaks’, originally aired 2 November 2016. The Diane Podcast expand on this idea in a much later podcast, ‘Twin Peaks The Return: Closing Thoughts’, originally aired 25 October 2017. For a detailed article on The Secret History of Twin Peaks and ufology, see Mat Cult’s “The Secret History of Twin Peaks: Milford, Nixon, and the Blue Book Years (Secrets and Mysteries Part One)”
9For a good summary article of the discrepancies in question, see John Thorn’s article ‘Full of Mystery’, TheBlue Rose Magazine, Vol 1, #1, February 2017, 6-10, as well as Pete Peppers’ YouTube video “The Secret History of Twin Peaks: 10 Things that might be important for season 3“. Frost dedicates time in The Final Dossier (London: MacMillan, 2017) to resolving some, but not all, of these inconsistencies.
10Mark Frost, The Secret History of Twin Peaks (London: MacMillan, 2016), 7.
11Ibid, 58; 125.
12Ibid, 125, emphasis added.
13Ibid, 58.
14Ibid, 350.
15Ibid, 350.
16In 1993 David Lynch wrote and directed a series of vignettes to introduce the re-airing of Twin Peaks to the Bravo network, entitled the ‘Log Lady Introductions’. This quotation comes from the very first pilot episode monologue, originally aired on 11 June 1993.
17Lynch on Lynch, 180.
19See The Blue Rose Magazine, Vol. 1, #3, September 2017, 19.
20Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (London: Continuum, 2004), 316.
21Likewise, the blue box in Lynch’s Mulholland Drive serves an analogous secretive function. Fittingly, in a chapter from his 2006 memoir dedicated to the box and its key, Lynch offers the following confession: “I don’t have a clue what those are”. Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2007), 115.
22Frost lends some vague explanatory weight to the Experiment in The Final Dossier, suggesting “the only familiar word that comes to mind to properly describe this entity is ‘demonic'”; 110.  
23Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 316.
26Ibid, 316-317.
27Ibid, 317.
28For an expert essay on the latter two films, see Mark Fisher’s ‘Curtains and Holes: David Lynch’, in The Weird and the Eerie (London: Repeater Books, 2016), 53-59.
29See, for instance, Henry T. Laurency’s chapter on the Black Lodge in Knowledge of Life Five, or the fourth section of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1842 novel Zanoni: A Rosicrucian Tale (New York: Anthroposophic Press Inc., 1990).Deputy Chief Hawk makes reference to the Dweller on the Threshold legend in Episode 18 of the second season of Twin Peaks. Frost echoes this sentiment and contemplates its significance in The Final Dossier, 111-112.
30See Alistair Crowley, Moonchild (London: Sphere Books Limited, 1972), footnote 8, 23; and footnote 3, 117.
31Ibid, 242-243.
32Ibid, 243; 118; 117.
33For more, see Agent Preston’s entry on Judy in The Final Dossier, 121-122.
34David Foster Wallace, A supposedly fun thing I’ll never go again: Essays and Arguments (London: Abacus, 1997), 204. In this fantastic essay entitled ‘David Lynch Keeps His Head’, Foster Wallace argues that “[c]haracters are not themselves evil Lynch movies—evil wears them”, and that “evil is what David Lynch’s movies are essentially about”.
35Ibid, 204-205.
36Curiously, The Secret History of Twin Peaks spends lots of a time tracing the life of another Douglas, Major DougMilford, the former mayor of Twin Peaks and publisher of the Twin Peaks Post. Frost hints that Milford encountered the Fireman from the White Lodge on a camping trip to Pearl Lakes in 1927, and details his involvement in the White Sands atomic bomb experiments of 1945, the latter of which feature in Part 8 of The Return.
37Again, Frost fosters these connections in The Secret History of Twin Peaks by making direct reference to The Moonchild, Crowley and other Thelemites, like Jack Parsons and L. Ron Hubbard. Throughout The Secret History, Frost is seeking to invite the Thelema rituals of The Moonchild into the broader mythology of Twin Peaks. In a recent podcast, Frost indirectly confirmed as much; see Twin Peaks Unwrapped 128: ‘Interview with Mark Frost on the Final Dossier’, originally aired 6 November 2017. For an article detailing the long-held theory that Dale Cooper could be the Moonchild, see Eileen G. Mykkels, “Crafty Connections: The Moonchild in Twin Peaks“.
38Crowley, Moonchild, 145.
39Ibid, 71-72.
40Ibid, 141; 146.
41Ibid, 146.
42Ibid, 264.

This paper is dedicated to the memory of Gerry Hiddink.

Beau Deurwaarder is a young philosopher practicing magic in Melbourne, Australia. His Masters thesis considered the ties between traditions of sorcery and continental
philosophy. You can contact him via email.

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