“Black Lodge/White Lodge” is the occasional 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 debaters are: Caemeron Crain (alternate reality/timeline), Murphy Hooker & Tom Wubker (dream), Lindsay Stamhuis (real world), and Simon Baré (all of the above)
The topic is: Did the RichardCooper and Carrie scenes exist in a dream, another timeline or other?
Black Lodge: Caemeron Crain
Recall the scene in Season 2, after Leland has died, wherein Cooper, Harry Truman, Albert and Major Briggs debate the existence of BOB. Is he just “the evil that men do” or an actually real being/demonic force? Is it any easier to believe that a father would rape and kill his own daughter?
No, it is meaningfully easier to believe that Leland was possessed by BOB. This is more comforting, even if it is also more metaphysically baroque. I have found myself thinking about this quite a lot over the years, as I have always thought it important to not let Leland off the hook (particularly given the events of FWWM). And, while it seems to be well-established that BOB is a real force within the Twin Peaks universe, we are also consistently shown more mundane human evil as well. But I digress.
Regardless, I see something similar going on when it comes to interpreting the status of Richard and Carrie in Part 18. Here is a deflationary interpretation:
There is a guy named Richard, who has become increasingly delusional. He has dreams in which he is Special Agent Dale Cooper and caught up in a grand metaphysical drama. He is the dreamer, and all of the events we have seen up to this point were his dreams. He has now had a psychotic break and believes them to be real. His girlfriend, Linda, thus no longer recognizes him, and decides to get away. Richard may be an FBI agent, tasked with something boring that involves a lot of paperwork, or perhaps he is an insurance agent, and the badge he shows Carrie is a fake. He dines regularly at Judy’s, and this waitress there has taken on a very important status in his delusion. Thus, he basically kidnaps her – believing her to be Laura Palmer – and drives her across the country, only to find a reality that punctures his delusion. Carrie screams because she realizes he is insane.
This would be, metaphysically speaking, the simplest explanation, and yet no one wants to believe this. I certainly do not, but I do think it is important that it is there as an interpretive possibility. Once again there is the meta-commentary on the fact that we would prefer to believe in the existence of strange forces, etc. We are left to ponder what this says about us, and if reality truly is as mundane and boring as we often take it to be.
The other option is that Dale Cooper has traveled to another timeline/alternate dimension, in which Laura Palmer is Carrie Page. This is the position I will be defending, although to make this possibility consistent, things get pretty metaphysically baroque pretty quickly. The events of Twin Peaks all happened, culminating in Cooper traveling back in time to 1989 to keep Laura from being killed. At which point, he splintered time.
There are various ways of getting at the thought of parallel universes, including the Many Worlds hypothesis in physics. Potentially, the number of parallel realities would be infinite: each choice each person makes would implicate another reality, although each of these would be constrained not only by logical possibility, but by internal consistency. Twin Peaks presents its own version of this possibility. There are many – perhaps an infinite number – of realities. There is one in which Laura Palmer was murdered, another in which she disappeared, and another wherein she lives in Texas and is named Carrie Page. At what we might call a fifth-dimensional level (beyond the four dimensions that define space-time as we experience it), though, all of these various versions of Laura hang together. It is worth noting that, in behind the scenes footage within the Red Room, Lynch cues Sheryl Lee as “Carrie Page” – the Lodge is precisely a representation of something like a fifth-dimensional level of reality.
Let’s approach this through the claim made by both Jeffries and Cooper about living inside a dream. Perhaps our dreams provide a window into alternate realities. One might dream, for example, that a loved one who died actually did not, but merely disappeared and has now resurfaced. If our dreams provide access to other worlds, then our reality itself would be a dream from the perspective of any other reality – it would be dreams all the way down. In which case, the only answer to “Who is the dreamer?” would be something like God. (I read it as a kōan)
Of course, these realities are generally held apart from one another, dreams notwithstanding. But what if Cooper’s actions messed this up, and they now bleed into each other? This would provide a way of explaining all of the inconsistencies that crop up in the Twin Peaks universe, from those within the show itself to those that involve the books.
Splintering time allows Cooper and Diane to cross over into an alternate timeline, namely, the one in which Laura Palmer was deposited after disappearing from Cooper’s grasp in the woods. Cooper is still trying to kill two birds with one stone: save Laura/dispel Judy. Exactly how this is supposed to work is a bit unclear, though it does seem to involve Cooper and Diane attempting some sex magick.
When they arrive to the motel, Diane sees herself. This is a version of herself in another reality that is very close to this one; perhaps the only difference being that she got out of the car to wait in that one. The realities are bleeding into one another, and this might be a hint that Cooper’s plan will not be successful.
They go to sleep in one motel, and Cooper awakes in another to read the note from Linda. Diane has lost herself in the person of Linda at this point – the version of Diane that exists in the Odessa universe. Cooper is saved from this due to the guidance he was given by the Fireman, and is thus able to remember who he is. Nonetheless, he awakes in a different reality from the one in which he and Diane performed sex magick, and it is not entirely clear to what extent he realizes this.
To be clear, my claim is that in entering this alternate reality, Cooper and Diane take over the bodies of the versions of themselves – Richard and Linda – that exist within it. Cooper is able to maintain his consciousness as primary; tamping down that of Richard. Diane, however, is not: she gets lost in Linda, as a part of her subconscious mind only to be accessed through dreams. What this means for Diane is another question, but it is worth noting how this parallels in certain ways her rape by Cooper’s doppelgänger, and what came after.
Cooper does not seem terribly fazed by the question of what happened to Diane. He gets into the car to drive, and then stops at Judy’s, where a waitress works who looks almost exactly like Laura Palmer. In this world, he is Richard, and she is Carrie, but from the extra-dimensional perspective of the Lodge, all of these versions of self hang together. Now that time has been splintered, what happens in one reality can impact the totality of them. And to be clear: I take it that we are here dealing with the full Cooper, and not another distinct RichardCooper, though he may have absorbed the knowledge of Richard when he took his place in this reality. In other words, my primary explanation for Cooper’s behavior at Judy’s is that he has now re-incorporated his doppelgänger, with all that implies.
Carrie, though, is not Laura Palmer; or, she is in another reality, but she is unaware of this. The Fireman stashed Laura’s soul in her, too, after snatching her from the woods, which makes her an inverse of Cooper. The latter has taken Richard’s place and tamped down his consciousness, whereas Carrie has Laura’s consciousness in her unconscious, in a way that at least resembles what has happened to Diane.
Cooper takes Carrie to the Palmer house for her to confront Sarah. His exact plan is hard to pin down, particularly since I believe it to have failed (his last line: “What year is this?” and the scream that follows do not portend well, but that’s another story). Yet, Laura is triggered; all of the trauma she experienced comes flooding into Carrie’s mind. Of course she screams.
To go back to that scene in Season 2, Briggs asks: “An evil that great in this beautiful world; does it matter what the cause?” And Cooper replies, “Yes. Because it our job to stop it.”
Clearly Briggs is the enlightened one. Cooper is hellbent on carrying out his mission, no matter what the cost. He even ignores the dead man in Carrie Page’s house.
So, either Cooper has taken the place of another version of himself named Richard by crossing to another reality, in line with the kind of many-worlds theory articulated above, or Richard, Linda, and Carrie are the real people, and Cooper, along with the rest of Twin Peaks, is just Richard’s dream, or delusion. Either way we are being shown an alternate reality from that which forms the bulk of the show, and should think about how the deflationary reading of Richard as psychotic leaves us cold in the face of the possibility, both wonderful and strange, that the Lodge is real, and all the rest.
White Lodge: Murphy Hooker & Tom Wubker
The further we go down the Part 18 rabbit hole, the more we live inside a dream. Odessa is a dream Laura Palmer lives inside as Carrie Page, just as Special Agent Dale Cooper lived inside a dream—first, as Douglas Jones in Las Vegas—then as the mysterious Richard in Odessa. How did we get here?
Decoding The Return’s ending is like trying to explain an abstract piece of art in 280 characters; it’s just not happening, Buster! Lynch and Frost constructed The Return to have many holes, like a Swiss cheese multiverse of mystery. But there’s one secret Lynch alluded to (in the guise of Gordon Cole) that may be the lynchpin to not only understanding the meaning of Odessa but The Return—namely, the ancient phrase: “We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream.”
But who is The Dreamer? Backwards drumroll…The Black Lodge
The Black Lodge is an infinite void where time/space is nebulous, where doppelgängers exist and Tulpas, dreams, and (oh yes) nightmares can be manufactured. Even more disturbing, The Black Lodge can seemingly penetrate (then inhabit) the dark recesses of not only Agent Cooper and Laura’s subconscious minds but the collective unconscious of humanity, which is evident throughout The Return.
When Cooper sees Laura, again, 25 years later in Part 2, she whispers a secret that will lead Cooper to ‘saving’ her in Part 17, causing an immediate rift in time not only within The Black Lodge but the world outside. With Laura now “saved,” her presence in The Black Lodge becomes (like Cooper) “non-existent,” and she is sucked into a manufactured Lodge dreamscape, which is represented (visually) by the infinite void revealed beyond the red curtains, foreshadowing—not only Cooper’s Vegas journey—but Laura’s Odessa nightmare. Just as Cooper couldn’t leave The Black Lodge until his doppelgänger returned, a dead Laura cannot return to our Earthly realm, until the alternate timeline (when Laura is saved) becomes the “official version.”
While Las Vegas is a fairly benign dreamscape for The Good Dale—for Laura, Odessa is the symbolic continuation of her tragic story, the nightmare she lived through as an adolescent in Twin Peaks. There are signs of physical abuse and death. The white horse (symbolizing Death) Sarah saw in the original series and Fire Walk With Me manifests, not only outside Judy’s diner but inside Carrie’s home, where the corpse of a presumably abusive partner could be a substitute for Leland/BOB. Note the distended stomach & black residue as if the BOB bubble had recently left his body. More ominous is the #6 electrical pole outside Carrie’s house, which suggests the presence of Lodge spirits, with one of them seen at the end of Part 18 in the guise of Alice Tremond.
When Cooper and Diane drive to the 430 mile marker, Diane reminds Cooper he doesn’t have to go through with this—but Cooper is resolute. He knows he screwed up in Part 17 by not returning Laura “home” safely to the portal near Jack Rabbit’s Palace (The White Lodge). So Laura is alive (now) but she’s in Odessa, a Black Lodge nightmare reality, and it’s all Cooper’s fault. The clues The Fireman gives Cooper in Part 1 are a reminder of his failure to save Laura (“Listen to the sounds”) and a warning about Odessa—“you are far away”—suggesting Cooper is not only (physically) in another dream world but also far away from figuring out this Gordian Knot.
Before they take the 430 plunge, Cooper tells Diane, “Once we cross, it could all be different.” Cooper is speaking from experience; he was just in a Black Lodge Vegas dreamscape! This may be hard to believe, but Agent Cooper (as we knew him from the Original Series) is barely awake, whole, and out of the Black Lodge for 5 minutes before he and Diane go full Lost Highway at the 430 marker —that’s it!
As they cross, there’s a telling moment where we see mirror images of Cooper and Diane on opposite sides of the car; Diane will soon see her double (hello Black Lodge) outside the motel where Cooper is checking in. Cooper’s double is nowhere to be seen but his presence is felt throughout the twists and turns along this dream journey. As they travel down a lost highway, Cooper and Diane don’t speak. They don’t even look at each other. There’s a feeling of dread in the air. It’s all different. They have entered Laura’s Black Lodge nightmare.
When Cooper wakes in Odessa the next morning, Diane is gone. Post-ritualistic coitus, she decided it was better to wake up than continue this nightmare journey with the clearly conflicted Coop. He reads a letter from Diane/Linda addressed to Richard. Who is Richard? Cooper is still Special Agent Dale Cooper to both Carrie Page and Alice Tremond (and has the FBI badge to prove it) so why Richard? Could it be a reference to his demon seed son that his dark side recently electrocuted back on Earth? Anything’s possible in a dreamscape nightmare manufactured by The Black Lodge—but it is clear Cooper is coming to grips with the destruction caused by his doppelgänger.
Memories, names, and places from his past are influencing everything he sees and feels. The sex scene with Diane evokes her rape by Mr. C. ‘Richard’ evokes Richard Horne, the “never been right” offspring of Mr. C and Audrey. The Eat at Judy’s diner evokes Judy, the extreme negative force Major Briggs mentioned to Cooper and Cole. The name Carrie evokes Caroline, Cooper’s first love who was murdered by Windom Earle, while ‘Tremond’ and ‘Chalfont’ are reminders that Lodge Spirits are pulling the strings of this nightmare. Is it a coincidence that a Tremond lives in the Palmer house?
“This would look nice on your wall.”
The painting Mrs. Tremond gives to Laura in Fire Walk With Me allowed Laura to enter a dream, The Black Lodge via Convenience Store, where she encountered no other than Agent Cooper & his first attempt to ‘save’ her.
“Don’t take the ring, Laura.”
Remember, Odessa is Laura’s dream. Cooper has learned how to penetrate Laura’s dreamer loop, just as Phillip Gerard penetrated Cooper’s dream in Vegas. But Cooper isn’t a Lodge spirit or even a black magician—so he’s at the mercy of (not only) Laura’s manufactured Black Lodge nightmare but his own troubled subconscious.
When Cooper leaves the motel it’s not the same motel he and Diane checked into. There’s even a different car parked outside the motel—the same car Mr. C was driving in Part 3—yet another reminder of Cooper’s shadow self. Cooper appears lost in Odessa with no GPS. He has no urgency to find Laura; he only stumbles on Judy’s diner, or was he lured there?
Perhaps Cooper was expecting a visit from Phillip Gerard or the Fireman to give him a clue? But they are nowhere to be found. Cooper is alone on this mission, and he’s failing miserably. This is Hell—Judy style.
When Cooper finally finds Carrie, the name Laura Palmer has no meaning to her. It’s actually Sarah’s name that triggers Carrie’s memory—just like Cooper is triggered in Part 15 when he hears the name ‘Gordon Cole.’ Carrie doesn’t have the luxury of a fork and wall socket to “end her story” —so it’s during the long silent drive to Twin Peaks that Laura’s memory begins to creep back into her consciousness. “In those days I was too young to know any better.”
Ultimately, Part 18 isn’t about Coop’s plan to kill Judy (you can’t kill evil); rather it’s about his salvation. As Richard and Carrie pull up to the Palmer house it becomes clear they are the “two birds” The Fireman and Gordon spoke of – and Cooper’s plan all along was to “kill” the past. Yes, Cooper is trying to save Laura (again) but he’s doing it to save himself. Cooper thinks if he can just get Laura to the Palmer house in Twin Peaks, she’ll wake from her Carrie Page stupor into the ‘official’ version (timeline) where she wasn’t murdered. The Black Lodge dream will be over, and Laura will finally be free.
Presumably, the plan is Cooper will awake (too) in the same timeline as Laura where he never came to Twin Peaks. Since Laura wasn’t murdered, there’d be no crime for Cooper to investigate, so he would (conceivably) never enter The Lodge, and the 25-year nightmare of Mr. C will cease to exist. But what Cooper doesn’t realize is, no matter how many times he saves Laura, whether by time-travel or Black Lodge dream penetration—she was murdered. That timeline will always exist. You can’t truly erase the past. Once a soul enters The Black Lodge, no matter if they are dead or alive, a part of them remains… forever. Loop de loop.
Cue whisper. End credits.
Red Room: Lindsay Stamhuis
A man enters a diner. We recognize him as having the same face, the same gait, the same air about him as the man we’ve been waiting for, the one whose triumphant return was supposed to fix everything, was what this was all about after all. But he’s different. He’s collected but uneasy. Eyes hard, voice controlled, emotions in check. He’s looking for someone; she isn’t there. But that doesn’t stop him from intercepting a trio of brutish men as they sexually harass their waitress; with the same level control, he fires his weapon and disables theirs with casual indifference to the other customers in the diner, the staff behind the counter, the waitress he’s just “rescued”.
He goes to a house. The woman inside looks an awful lot like someone else we should know, but she’s both softer and harder than we expect she’d be. She doesn’t answer to the name he gives her, but that doesn’t matter. He wants her to go with him, and she has no reason to stay, especially not with the corpse of the man she presumably shot and killed rotting on her living room sofa. We think she must be a survivor of domestic violence. At the very least, her life doesn’t seem to be all that great. She leaves with the stranger, on their way to Washington. State, that is.
A car speeds along a darkened highway, its headlights illuminating nothing but the space directly in front of it. The car’s occupants sit silently beside one another, exchanging the barest of glances and even fewer words. On the left, the woman talks about the town she just left (Odessa, Texas. Pop. 99,940). Paranoia sets in when a car behind them appears to be in pursuit, but the danger passes with lane-change swiftness; this isn’t the kind of world where one must fear close-following vehicles, but no one, it seems, has told our driver that…
Our principals stop for gas. A wide shot establishes this world for us: this is a Valero Gas outlet. Valero Gas, which currently operates some 6,800 retail outlets worldwide under various names. With genteel courtesy, he opens the car door for her before they pull out of the lot, back on the highway. The gas station fades away…
They enter a town. It looks a lot like a town we once knew, but it’s not the same. It’s dark, nighttime. They pass beneath streetlights just this side of familiar; over a bridge that tugs at our nostalgia. They pass a diner we should rightly know, but the windows are black and there are no cars in the lot; closed for the night in a way we’ve never seen it before. There’s no welcome sign here.
The car finally stops in front of a house we know, all too well. She should know it too, but she doesn’t. Still, he takes her to the front door, hoping to meet the occupant, hoping to job her memory. Instead, a woman we’ve never seen before answers. She’s not who he expects to see; she’s not who we expect to see either. Her name — Alice Tremond — lights up our recognition, but she doesn’t know the name of the person we’re all expecting to be living there. Confused, our principles turn around and leave…
“What year is this?”
She screams, and all the lights go out.
This world that we’ve been in — from Odessa, Texas to Twin Peaks, Washington — is not the world of the show. This world is the real world. We should have known this from the moment we saw the population sign in Odessa — not idealised and folksy like the one that normally greets us at the entrance to Twin Peaks, but on standard issue shamrock green reflective metal the likes of which we’d see if we actually entered the city limits of Anytown, USA. We should have known this from the moment we saw the gas station — not a Mom and Pop operation like Big Ed’s Gas Far, but a gas station chain operated by a Fortune 500 company, one of the largest in the United States. We should have known when we saw the diner in Twin Peaks, looking very much more like Twede’s Cafe that sits on the corner at 137 W North Bend Way in North Bend, WA.
We could have guessed this when we met Richard, who seemed to be the perfect blend of Agent Cooper’s idealism and Mr. C’s ruthlessness, combined in such a way that his heroic antics at Judy’s Diner felt like what we’d see if the two men were combined into one, whole person.
We could have guessed this when we met Carrie, a grown woman with a job she seems all-too-content to leave behind, and a house in disarray, and a life in shambles. She’s oblivious to the reality which we’d want to ascribe to her, which we want her to fit into. But the reality in which she lives is no less real or recognizable, is it?
Failing all of that, the biggest tip off is that the woman who answers the door is the current-day owner of the house, Mary Reber. If you drove up to this house today and rang the doorbell as Richard and Carrie did, she would open it.
David Lynch has toyed with the fourth wall before in his films. Why couldn’t Twin Peaks: The Return be his and Mark Frost’s attempt at spiralling their universe out into this last, most meta of places? The real world. Our world.
Mauve Zone: Simon Baré
I’m here to argue for the ‘other’ and in so doing take David Lynch’s lead by saying that all explanations are correct. In this spirit I will suggest that Cooper and Carrie’s scenes take place in all of the above spaces and none. This is indeed, like the rest of Twin Peaks, a space of ambiguity and paradox. Like many of you I’m still trying to make sense of The Return, and its impact on the whole of Twin Peaks. This includes the scenes we are discussing today and those immediately preceding them. I would even suggest, in contravention of Sabrina Sutherland’s disavowal, that part 17 and 18 can be watched side by side – until David says otherwise. The scenes we are discussing here however stand out in stark contrast to much of Twin Peaks. The lighting is glaring, the environs wide and unwelcoming, and unlike Wild at Heart the colour platelet and costuming drab and unremarkable. This is in part due to the change in geographical location and because of distinctive choices in design. Yes this is classic Lynch, with a picket fence framing Carrie Paige’s front yard, however the yard is dry and uncared for, unlike the Beaumont’s in Blue Velvet. Here the verdant green is gone, consumed by an arid climate, and a lack of care has left yard the littered with detritus and the picket fence derelict. In this world the darkness that swarms beneath the soil has consumed all vestiges of an idealised world, and left want in its place.
The emptiness of this world further adds to the mounting dread present in these scenes and mirrored in Richard Cooper’s strange behaviour. I would agree with many that this Cooper seems to be a combination Cooper, intent, above all else to see his final goal realised. No matter what the reason for his change in persona, we as an audience are left feeling uncertain questioning the nature of this Cooper and his reality. The mixture of real world locations and unheimlich seen here have caused many to believe the pathway that leads from the Pear Blossom Hotel to the Palmer house, places Dale and Carrie in their real world, if not our reality. Others have argued this world is a dream trap constructed by Judy, while others have suggested alternative timelines and realities located in parallel or pocket universes. As I have indicated each of these arguments seem to get at part of what is going on but not at it all. In attempting to make sense of these scenes and the totality of Twin Peaks I have been drawn to Lynch’s previous narratives to get a broader understand of what is being communicated within the text beyond plot.
For me, Lost Highway, Mullholland Drive and Inland Empire seem to provide a reference point from which to attempt to make sense of the post Return Peaks. In particular I am drawn to their engagement with the internal, and the use of fantasy and self-deception, to avoid an undesirable. In Lost Highway, Fred escapes murdering his wife by transforming into Pete, likewise, in Mulholland Drive, Diane escapes an undesirable existence in which her dreams of success are not realised by fabricating Betty and placing her into a world that conforms to her expectations. Yet the fantasies Diane and Fred construct collapse under the weight of reality, culminating in Diane’s death and an ongoing loop of self-evasion for Fred. Both of these films appear to have influenced The Return and use a language that may help in its deciphering. All we need to do it seems is to identify where reality and dream exist to break the code and to unlock the work. The problem is that we don’t know where the divide between the world of dreaming and reality is situated. As such Twin Peaks is in this instance more like Inland Empire even though The Returns narrative seems more in keeping with that of Lost Highway and Mullholland Drive – and no I am not going to sum up Inland Empire in a concise sentence because I can’t.
If realities are slippery in The Return, they are damn right fluid in Inland Empire where the actual is just as hard to identify and to distinguish from the unconscious. However Lynch and Cole confuse this differentiation for us within The Return by suggesting that “we are like the dreamer who dreams and lives inside the dream” indicating that the whole of Twin Peaks may not be what it appeared to be. Part of the problem is that we are caught up by the use of the term ‘dream’, which it can be argued points more towards an understanding of being, and the experience of consciousness and memory, than it does to actual dreaming, day dreaming, imagining, and fantasising. This is further complicated by Cole and Lynch looking over their shoulders in this dream, directly into the camera, to his younger self and to us the audience. In doing so he implies that we as spectators are participants in this process and with him fellow travellers.
While Inland Empire can be clearly framed within dream logic, from beginning to end, Twin Peaks is instead framed by the narrative of its original run. This narrative, just like Betty’s story in Mullholland Drive, seems to imbue the work with a recognisable structure that allows the audience access to the work, and to believe this is the real world, yet at the same time undercuts it, by revealing this plot to be an elaborate fantasy. The difficulty here is that Twin Peaks does not use an alternate reality like Diane’s that helps re-frame the entirety of the narrative, within one woman’s personal and psychological struggle. We are instead left with further mysteries and questionings that create more questions. Yes I hear your protest, ‘Twin Peaks original series was explored through a highly structured, and for the most part, linear narrative.’ In response I would suggest however that is my problem. Cooper’s preppy persona seems too perfect for me and reflective of the same optimism portrayed by Betty. Because of Cole’s dream we must now question every reality and experience we have witnessed in this show and our relationship with and expectations of what is portrayed. As such all of our speculation exists simply as ‘speculation’ and even wish-fulfillment within a space of unknowns. Unless Lynch or Frost tell us what is really going on we have no way of knowing what if any of this narrative is real or dreamed including the scenes with Carrie and Cooper. For all we know the real may exist beyond the world we have immersed ourselves in.
If we do take a stand and support the position that Carrie’s world is reality we are faced with a similar problem. In this world Copper does not identify himself as Richard even though Diane/Linda’s letter tells us that is who he is. He instead refers to himself as Agent Cooper, but not Richard or Dale Cooper, until he stands at Alice Tremond’s front door. When he reads Linda’s letter at the motel he seems perplexed by her use of the name Richard as if he were remembering the Fireman’s instructions. Yet when he leaves the motel in search of Carrie he is un-phased by the change in environments, probably knowing they would be changed. However when Copper and Carrie arrive at the Palmer House and are met by the fictional Alice Tremond, played by Mary Reber, the real life owner of the Palmer House, Cooper becomes genuinely confused. It seems as though he has a foot in both worlds and appears unable to distinguish between these realities. Why however could he have not foreseen that everything would be different here also? And if Cooper is uncertain of his where and when how can we be expected to make sense of it?
We as the audience know who Mary Reber is and can watch part 18 aware of the interplay between the fictional and the real. Cooper however does not have this insight. The question then becomes, if this is the real, is it the audiences real, or the real of Twin Peaks, and how do we distinguish between them? And if we do determine what the real is we must then ask what time frame the real occurs in, and why Cooper loses his bearings. Is it because he has become aware, of the dimensional/reality shift, or of the twenty five years lost to him, or realising that he is a player in a fictional universe? Either way the consequence are the same, he experiences a moment of uncanny thrown-ness and is confronted with the alterity of his existence? Instead of diving down this rabbit hole I would instead suggest, 1, we re-frame the reality of the entire world of Twin Peaks to make sense of these incongruities as a signal of something else and, 2, we should ask what Lynch and Frost are trying to communicate, and why they are communicating it within this slippery space?
In re-framing this reality I have argued elsewhere Twin Peaks is an absurdist narrative that mirrors Albert Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus, and is as such an exploration of how meaning should be navigated amidst meaninglessness. I am also currently exploring how liminality can be utilised within this framework to explain how reality is experienced within Twin Peaks. In short the liminal, explored by the anthropologist Victor Turner, is conceived of as threshold space utilised in traditional cultures rituals and ceremonies to mark and facilitate transition from one fixed position to another. An example of this can be found in initiation rituals children undergo when they reach puberty and become adults. During these rituals the initiates are separated from the world, and placed in a ceremonial space, separating them from the everyday, as if they were dead. Through, instruction and encounters with monstrous and disproportionate guides and tricksters the initiates are forced to see the world anew, to re-frame their understanding of themselves and of the position they occupy within society. This then facilitates re-entry and full integration into a new role within the communal structure. These transitions can be experienced as positional, personal, spiritual and psychological, and are encountered within the context of life crisis events like, puberty, birth, marriage, death, illness and war. As such the liminal is a ceremonial space of making sense and re-positioning. Transition through this space is not however guaranteed. Failure to complete liminal passage can leave the passenger trapped within a liminal state forever unable to participate fully within society again.
What we see in Twin Peaks, is to my eye, a liminal exploration of uncertainty triggered by the death of Laura Palmer and the ongoing trauma this event has wrought. Cooper himself comes to Twin Peaks to solve Laura’s murder and to guide the community back to some semblance of certainty. Except this is not what happens, Laura’s murder is solved but it leads to greater uncertainty, more deaths and Cooper being trapped within the black lodge/red room. Similarly his escape the from Lodge twenty five years later and his pursuit of Bob, Laura and Judy does not result in the world being put to right and Cooper or Laura entering a new state of structure positions but its seeming opposite.
As such Twin Peaks appears to be a failed liminal space presided over by ambiguity and paradox. What we see in the final scene of series three is Cooper realising the futility of his actions, and seemingly coming to terms with them. It was not his place, or even possible for him to rewrite history, or to take Laura’s trauma from her, because that simply cannot be undone. I do not however see this as a negative. Twin Peaks, like life, seems to give us what looks like fixed positions yet none of these positions are truly fixed. They are instead interludes that allow us to think existence can be shaped and structured before our expectations are confounded once again. The only true fixed position that can be reached to resolve this liminal journey is death – which in this instance denied to Laura . To this end I would suggest Lynch, and Frost, are having a conversation with us that speaks to the audience, and co passengers with Cooper, through the monstrous, within a space of paradox, asking us to re-frame our understanding of the world. This is evident in the shows text, subtext and meta text. In the meta space in particular Lynch’s is speaking directly to us, asking us to examine our relationship with this work and our place within it, by drawing our attention to the act of watching. He is asking us to be aware of the realities we consume, and how they are shaped by the world of dreams, within our interior and exterior worlds and how we are conscious of those worlds. We may demand answers of him but just like death we know that David Lynch will not answer. It is for this reason that I say that it doesn’t matter whether you think one moment is a dream, while another is an alternate timeline. What is important is the asking, attempting to make sense of these events, and carrying on despite a lack of clarity.
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