The Time Travel Trial: Should Cooper have gone back to 1989?

“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 and Brien Allen

The topic is: Should Cooper have gone back in time to 1989?

Black Lodge: Caemeron Crain

We will have to reconcile with the question that if someone from outside our familiar world gains access to our plane of existence, what ramifications will that entail? There might be forces at work from deep dimensional space, or from the future…or are these one in the same? Think of the events that could have splintered time? The things that could have laid the seed for a starting point for this development? Perhaps technological innovations or the assassination of President Kennedy? – Bill Hastings (

Cooper traveled back to 1989 as part of his plan to kill two birds with one stone: save Laura/dispel Judy. This was an act of hubris on his part, which disrupted the very fabric of space-time, and thus, no, he ought not to have done it.

Cooper’s action splintered time by creating a paradox. Laura Palmer is dead, and yet she lives. If we accept the notion of other timelines/realties in general this would not necessarily be a problem in itself. That is, there is one timeline in which Laura was killed, and another in which she disappeared. The paradox stems from Cooper’s involvement in both realities. It was Laura Palmer’s death that brought him to Twin Peaks, leading to the events that culminated in him entering the Lodge, where he spent 25 years. After he exited, he returned to Twin Peaks for the showdown in the Sheriff’s station, and then went with Philip Gerard to see Phillip Jeffries to travel back to 1989, at which point he kept Laura from being killed. Thus, Laura’s murder was a precondition for the prevention of Laura’s murder. The past dictates the future.

This paradox caused time itself to splinter, or break. The various timelines of alternate realities began to bleed into one another. This is evidenced by the various temporal inconsistencies presented in The Return, and Mark Frost’s books. Wally Brando’s birthday (April 3rd) is impossible if the events of the original run occurred in late February/early March, and he is the child with whom Lucy was pregnant at the time. Annie is said, in The Final Dossier, to have been born in 1973, while she was clearly older than 16 when she came to Twin Peaks. There are many more, but the biggest might pertain to the dossiers themselves. The one that forms The Secret History is dated 7/17/2016. There is thus the question of how this relates to the timeline of The Return. And, while for the most part the year of these events is withheld from us, and “25 years later” led many to surmise it was 2014, we do get one clear piece of evidence on this question. When Tammy interviews Bill Hastings, he says that he is 43 years old, and writes a date in late September. His drivers license had been shown previously, with a birthdate of 8/15/1973. Thus, if Bill is 43, it is September of 2016.

hastings ID badge

This would mean that the dossier of the Secret History was found before the events of The Return. However, in the Final Dossier, Tammy informs us that it was found during the investigation into Ruth Davenport’s death, which would mean it was found in the midst of what we were shown. Further, this dossier is dated 9/6/2017, which would be more than a year later, although it also seems apparent that Tammy is compiling it immediately after the events of Part 17. Also, the published Secret Diary of Laura Palmer contains entries up to 10/31/1989 (N.B. I think this may have been an error originally, but also the source of everything else I am talking about).

Then there are the inconsistencies with regard to the timestamps on Diane’s text messages, the shifting of patrons in the Double R at the end of Part 7, etc. Why? Because Cooper splintered time. The events of the narrative of Twin Peaks occur, but when they occur is in flux, or is indeterminate. Time has been thrown out of joint. So, Laura died in 1989 or 1990 or 1991 or 1992 or 1993… (moving in the direction of Annie being born in 1973 but in her 20s at the time she came to town, by shifting the year of Laura’s murder), and Laura didn’t die, but disappeared. The events of The Return are equally, then, either in 2014 or 2015 or 2016 or 2017….

The most direct personal cost we are shown of all of this is that to Audrey. Her scenes with Charlie are repetitions, or versions of the same conversation. She wants to go to the Roadhouse, she does not want to go, she both wants to go and does not want to go. She wants to do both. “Which’ll it be, Charlie, hm – which one would you be?”

Audrey is trapped in some kind of Lodge-space because of the way that Cooper messed with time. Bear in mind how intimately her life was affected by Cooper coming to Twin Peaks, and all that followed; including Richard. That she is in the Lodge in some way is most directly evidenced by the fact that her song plays backwards over the credits of Part 16.

audreys dance plays backwards in the roadhouse

I take it that, when the Arm repeats Audrey’s line (“Is it the story of the little girl who lived down the lane? Is it?”) to Cooper, this parallels “That gum you like is going to come back in style.” Cooper does not know what it means when he hears it, but will discover its truth later. This time, that truth is that his actions displaced Audrey from linear time. And perhaps Billy, now, both exists and does not?

Cooper is assisted in going back in time by Phillip Gerard (as Al Strobel is consistently credited in The Return). I surmise that Gerard is not truly a distinct being from MIKE. BOB is presented as a possessing spirit, but the relationship between MIKE and Gerard seems to be different. This does not seem to be a matter of possession, but rather two aspects of the same character. Without chemicals, he points. It is an open question as to whether he moves between the Lodge and mundane reality, or is split in some way. Regardless, let us not forget the scene in FWWM wherein he and the Arm combine to say, “BOB, I want all my garmonbozia.” Why is Gerard helping Cooper?

It is worth bearing in mind that the terms Black Lodge/White Lodge are given to us by Hawk and Windom Earle, and in both cases they are recounting legends. This is not to say there is no truth in them – certainly there is some – but it is to caution against taking these words as giving us the Truth.

I am as suspicious of the motives of the Fireman as I am of those of Gerard. Let’s not forget he appeared in the Red Room at the end of season 2 to say “one and the same” with the Arm. There is a tendency to view him as benevolent, or on the side of the Good, but I think it is more appropriate to think of him as on the side of enlightenment (“The things I tell you will not be wrong”) as opposed to that of corruption. He fundamentally will not intervene, telling Cooper that he will need medical treatment as he lies bleeding on the floor; in contrast to the Woodsmen who show up to tend to Mr. C’s wounds in Part 8 (when he is shot in the same place).

The Fireman doesn’t care about Cooper so much as he cares about the Truth. This is what he offers. When he tells Cooper to “remember Richard and Linda” it is only to remind him of who he is, or will be, or was, when he takes Richard’s place. At the end of this exchange, Cooper says that he understands, but the Fireman replies, “You are far away.” He is far away from Enlightenment. And what is it that is “in our house now” if not that extreme negative force known as Judy? Perhaps this is another repercussion of Cooper’s actions.

It was the Fireman who snatched Laura away from Cooper in the woods; not because it was a part of their plan, but because Cooper was violating the rules. The Fireman then deposited Laura’s soul into another reality, as we saw in Part 8, not in accord with Cooper, but in opposition to him.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

Cooper was trying to use the Lodge in much the same way as Windom Earle; if for opposite purposes. Both display a hubris that cannot be tolerated. And, on this note, it is worth thinking about the extent to which Cooper and his doppelganger are viewed as one and the same from the perspective of the Lodge. Certainly they are by Jeffries. And they both seem to share the same goal: to find Judy. We are left to speculate as to why.

I see no reason to trust Phillip Gerard – his bit about seeing the face of God is undermined by the aforementioned scene in FWWM. He wants his garmonbozia. He helps Cooper to that end, and the related one of eroding the boundary between the Lodge-space and the “familiar world.”

The former is a fifth-dimensional reality. It is not that time does not exist there, but that time is experienced along the lines of how we experience space. In all likelihood, there are other dimensions beyond that. I think String Theory posits twelve. These fifth-dimensional beings have always been there, and there is evidence of them in Frost’s Secret History. The Trinity test opened the door for them further, and if that’s right, so too did the 2000+ other nukes humanity has set off. But Cooper’s action of going back in time and “saving” Laura throws the door wide open: time is now a paradox.

He may well know the risk, but think it worth it. He wants to dispel Judy, and may think it is this temporal indeterminacy that gives him the opportunity to do so. It is hard to know what his plan was, since it so clearly failed. He ends, bewildered on the street, exclaiming, “What year is this?”

Dale and Carrie walk up to the Palmer house

Note that he does not ask what year it is – that would imply a consistent timeline – his question instead implies that he is lost in the temporal indeterminacy he has created. He is adrift. And then, Carrie Page remembers being Laura Palmer. The house triggers it. So, she screams, as of course one would.

We cut back to the Lodge, and Laura/Carrie whispering in Cooper’s ear. It is a repetition of the scene we saw so long ago, in the original run. This time, we never get to hear what she whispered, but I think it is the same thing she said back then: “My father killed me.”

Cooper is aghast because he thinks he has undone that event. He is wrong.

Trauma cannot be erased, and Cooper’s journey only redoubles it. There is now a loop he is caught in, and perhaps can never escape. Laura is dead, yet she lives. He may even have kept her from that moment with angels, now.

But, there is a truth here, about trauma. You can’t heal it; only move forward. And there is a general lesson: you can’t beat the darkness by fighting it; but only by spreading the light.

White Lodge: Brien Allen

Cooper: “God help me, l don’t know where to start.”
Hawk: “You’re on the path. You don’t need to know where it leads. Just follow.”

First of all, let’s be clear, Cooper *did* go back to 1989 and he *did* find Laura. In Part 17, we were taken all the way back to the beginning and we saw Pete go fishing this time. If any doubts lingered, The Final Dossier hammered the point home when Tamara’s investigation ran into the altered timeline unfolding in past documents and people’s memories. So, he did it. The question we are addressing is whether or not he *should* have done it.

The Ending We Wanted

The idea that Cooper was mistaken, that he should not have done it, is rooted at least partially in the idea that Part 18 ended badly. They didn’t find Sarah at the house, Cooper is confused and doesn’t know what year it is, Laura/Carrie lets out that blood curdling scream and the lights go out. It’s not hard to see where people get this idea. Then again, Fire Walk With Me had a “happy ending” wherein the heroine was murdered by her rapist father. I mean, come on, what were you expecting?

This entire third season was about giving us the show we needed versus the show we wanted. This might not have even been what the creators necessarily wanted, but it’s where the story took them. Where it had to go. The past dictates the future. So to better evaluate the ending, let’s go back to the beginning.

A Very Important Mission

The first scene of Season 3 has Cooper receiving some sort of instruction from the Fireman. He is given three things to remember: 4-3-0, Richard & Linda, two birds with one stone. These weren’t “clues” this time, these were things for him to “remember” before he was sent off “far away”. This was something they had apparently talked about before, but at the moment they couldn’t talk freely because “it” was in their house now, listening in. So the Fireman talks around the plan, reminds Cooper of a few highlights, and sends him on his mission.

This is very important, Cooper was given a mission by the Fireman. It was the first scene of Season 3, and yet it’s probably also from somewhere near the end of Season 3 chronologically. Full circle. In fact, the Fireman has several agents in the game. Andy is recruited to protect Naido. He recruits Lucy to end Bad Cooper. Freddie is recruited to end BOB. In fact, to Freddie, it’s not just a mission, it’s his “destiny” (and the fact that Cooper knew he would be there seems to confirm that). To the others, it is “very important”:

Andy: “We need to get her down the mountain. She’s very important, and there are people that want her dead.”

Andy: “Very important. Very important.”

Truman: “Take a message, please, Lucy.”
Lucy: “It’s a very important phone call, Sheriff.”

Cooper: “It’s difficult to explain. As strange as it sounds, I think you’re a girl named Laura Palmer. I want to take you to your mother’s home, your home at one time. It’s very important.”

To be sure, the Fireman’s plan extends beyond Cooper’s trip to the past. Andy is shown the number 6 utility pole three times, and the last one is the pole outside Carrie Page’s house in Odessa. So the timeline Cooper created by “saving” Laura, the one that ends with her living that other life, is part of the Fireman’s plan. He has foreseen at least that far into the future.

Now, we can argue all day about whether the Fireman’s plan is beneficial for those involved and even for humanity in general. Both The Secret History and The Final Dossier make it pretty clear that the benevolence of even the White Lodge is not necessarily something we can always count on. But my point is that Cooper was not off on his own, just willy-nilly deciding he’d pop back into the past and rearrange events to his liking. He was enacting the Fireman’s plan. He may have needed a stronger refresher than those three highlights he was given, but for the most part, he seems steady on what he needs to do and he’s getting it done.

I would even go so far as to say that Phillip Jeffries and Philip Gerard are also actively working on this plan. Gerard gives Cooper the Owl Cave ring at the hospital that he will later need to place on his doppelganger’s hand. He’s there waiting for Cooper in the Great Northern basement hallway and takes him straight away to Jeffries. Jeffries is likewise anticipating that Cooper will give him a time to go back to, he just asks that he please be specific.

White Knight Syndrome

The other reason for doubting whether Cooper should have gone back into the past lies in his being labeled with “White Knight Syndrome”. White Knight Syndrome is defined as the “compulsive need to be the rescuer in an intimate relationship originating from early life experiences that left the white knight feeling damaged, guilty, shamed, or afraid [1].” “White knights often have a history of loss, abandonment, trauma, or unrequited love. Many of them were deeply affected by the emotional or physical suffering of a caregiver [1].”

There is little doubt that this is the setup Cooper was being given by the writers in Season 2. My Life, My Tapes details the emotionally suffering caregiver, his mother, and lays out Cooper’s young adulthood as a string of badly formed romantic relationships. In the show, we get his history with the doomed Caroline and the introduction of Annie, the perfect damsel in distress. So perfect that many fans believe her to be a lodge entity, laid out as bait to trap Cooper in the Black Lodge. But does this carry over into Season 3, and more importantly, into his relationship with Laura?

For one thing, Cooper does not have an intimate relationship with Laura. They appear to each other in their dreams, and sure, Laura lays a kiss on him once or twice, but their paths never actually crossed in the real world. Cooper rejected Audrey as being too young for him, and she’s the same age as Laura, give or take a retcon year. I’ve never quite understood why fans try to “ship” Cooper and Laura together. If anything, they are equals, two of “the gifted and the damned” who have been pulled into the orbit of the Black and White Lodges.

For another thing, if he had wanted to rescue Laura, wouldn’t he have gone back to sometime before she had ever been touched by Leland? The only thing he “rescued” Laura from was her salvation. If this is the Fireman’s plan, and we can’t always count on his benevolence, then we can only conclude that she needed to still have all of her garmonbozia intact. I won’t go all the way down the “Laura as bait for the Judy trap” theory rabbit hole, but certainly that scream at the end wouldn’t have been what it was without all of the pain and suffering of Laura’s previous life behind it.

If anything, I would argue that Janey-E is the damsel in distress that Cooper saves in Season 3. A modern kind of damsel in a modern kind of distress, and Cooper saves her without lifting a finger.

The Ending We Needed

Lastly, I want to close with a little discussion about the perfection of the ending. Now, I admit, my initial reaction to Parts 17 and 18 was one of bitter disappointment. This retcon baloney about a meeting between Cole, Briggs and Cooper. The ludicrous BOB-bubble final boss battle. The lack of resolution to so many dangling plot lines. But mostly, I was dismayed at the way Lynch and Frost crapped all over the character of Agent Cooper. In Part 18, he’s hardly recognizable, stripped of all his charm. He’s confused and bumbling his way through his mission. He uses Diane grotesquely and throws her away. He doesn’t “save” Laura from anything, but in fact uses her as well. He’s no hero. He’s been stripped of all his White Knight status from Season 2 and turned into something else entirely. Something Richard.

Taking a step back though, and viewing it from a broader perspective, the ending was an absolute masterpiece. They took us all the way back to the beginning. They seamlessly tied in scenes from the pilot and the movie in a way that was just breathtaking. Laura’s seemingly random scream when she is with James on his bike was because she saw Agent Cooper in the woods. Un-freaking-believable. We see Pete just keep on walking out to the pier and cast his line. The hair was standing up on my arms. And then, to top it off, they yank the Laura out from under us. Man, oh, man.

From there, we leapt forward 25 years to play out a completely different version of Season 3. The version presaged by the “Missing” poster viral campaign in Australia [2]. Cooper does indeed “find Laura” per Leland’s plea. He brings her back to Twin Peaks and there are Tremonds and Chalfonts living in the Palmer house. OMG. Of course there are Tremonds and Chalfonts living in the Palmer house! How could it be any other way?

“And now, an ending. Where there was once one, there are now two. Or were there always two?” – The Log Lady intro to the Season 2 finale

In the end, the lights go out on the house and on the series, and all that is left is the dream image of Laura whispering in Cooper’s ear as the credits roll. Because it’s always been about these two. This is the ending we needed. The entire series, the books, the movie – all come to this closure. Full circle, and yet still managing to be open ended. Perfection.

References / Notes:

  1. “White Knight Commonalities” (Psychology Today, May 21, 2009):
  2. “’Missing’ Laura Palmer Posters All Over Sydney Lead To Phone Number With Mysterious Voicemail Greeting” (Welcome To Twin Peaks, March 7, 2017):

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