Agent Cooper surprised many with his actions at the end of Part 17, going back to the night that Laura Palmer died and attempting to alter the course of events that night. The question is why? Many very plausible explanations have been given by Twin Peaks theorists and scholars but none have completely convinced me. The Twin Peaks narrative is deep and often hard to work through and I became obsessed with the question of “why” in this particular situation. As I began to weave through the narrative, I came across ideas I never imagined would be a part of this quest and over time, the question of “why” evolved and I continued to fall deep into the rabbit hole that is Twin Peaks. Please join me as I explore the interweaving journeys of both Laura Palmer and Agent Cooper, as well as several other characters integral to their stories.
Don’t Take The Ring Laura
The mythology of the ring is a complex one and can certainly be debated. In Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, we see Dale Cooper warn Laura Palmer not to take the ring, a warning she does not heed. In her final moments, the One Armed Man throws the ring into the train car and as Laura puts the ring on her finger, Leland screams out before delivering the fatal blows to Laura, accompanied by BOB in the act. Upon her death, Laura enters the Black Lodge/Waiting Room where she will reside until Part 2 of Season 3, when she is pulled out by an unknown force.
Season 3 showed us examples of characters wearing the ring as they died and being transported to the Black Lodge/Waiting Room, which we can assume is a direct result of wearing the ring at their time of death. Why else would Agent Cooper be instructed to slip the ring on the finger of Mr. C if it wasn’t a surefire way to transport him to the Lodge? While Mr. C’s motivations for wanting Ray Monroe to go to the Lodge are less clear, the end result was still the same. So what does this tell us about Laura Palmer and Cooper’s warning to her in Fire Walk With Me?
Let’s take a step back for a moment. Laura, ring or no ring, was likely going to die that night in the train car. Despite Leland’s pleas of “Don’t make me do this!”, BOB was in control and he wanted Laura but Laura wasn’t giving into BOB’s demands to take control over her. She had fought him off for years and wasn’t giving up her fight. That night in the train car was the climax of that battle, with or without the ring. Leland/BOB knew that Laura was onto him/them and for that reason alone, she couldn’t live. Leland was always careful to cover his tracks with BOB in control. Loose ends were met with untimely fates, as depicted in both Fire Walk With Me & in the original series. Even if Laura didn’t take the ring, she was going to die that night if she didn’t give into BOB, and she wasn’t going to.
So that takes us back to Agent Cooper’s warning of “Don’t take the ring Laura”. Was Cooper aware in that moment that taking the ring meant you were damned to the Lodge for the rest of time after your death? While much has been made of Cooper trying to save Laura at the end of Part 17, Cooper and Laura’s journeys had been intertwined for years before. Why else would Cooper appear to Laura in a dream to warn her not to take the ring unless he knew that it would trap her in the Lodge after death? The question now becomes how would Cooper know of the ring and it’s capabilities. The most logical assumption to be made here is The Fireman, who has been acting as a guide to Cooper dating back to when he was shot in the Great Northern. Then known to fans as The Giant, he provided Cooper with clues that would assist Cooper put all the pieces together in solving Laura Palmer’s murder, establishing a further connection to The Giant / The Fireman, Agent Cooper and Laura Palmer. To continue with this connection, we saw Cooper in the beginning of Part 1 receiving instructions from The Fireman and finally, in Part 17, Cooper had knowledge of Freddie Sykes and his role in the upcoming confrontation with BOB prior to it happening. Who was it that started Freddie on his journey towards Twin Peaks to complete his destiny? The Fireman. While nothing in the narrative ever gives us direct proof that The Fireman gives Cooper any knowledge of the ring and it’s capabilities, we can certainly establish motive and intent. As to when Cooper could’ve learned about the ring and its capabilities, Fire Walk With Me and Season 3 both have shown us that time is a pretty fluid concept in Twin Peaks.
Laura Is The One
As we saw in Part 8, The Fireman sent a golden orb with Laura’s face in it to Earth after he saw forces of evil, including BOB himself, arrive on Earth. There are many ways that scene and what it means for the character of Laura Palmer can be interpreted but given what we saw, Laura has a connection with The Fireman’s home (which I infer is the White Lodge but if you disagree it’s not a deal breaker for the rest of this article). Laura’s energy, her light, her essence and her fighting spirit has an origin in the White Lodge, which was part of The Fireman’s plan to combat BOB and other forces of evil. Laura’s origins in the White Lodge means that could be considered “home” for her, the place she was supposed to reside after her time was up, alongside Major Briggs and whomever else may be there.
Agent Cooper was told by Leland Palmer twice — once in Parts 1/2 and then again in Part 18 to “Find Laura”. Those were marching orders that Cooper took very seriously. Later in this article I will go more in depth on Cooper and his journey but for now let’s skip to the point in Part 17 where Cooper sees Phillip Jeffries. He gives Jeffries the date of Laura’s death and Jeffries replies that Cooper will find Judy there. We learned earlier in Part 17 that Judy was the part of Cooper’s mission that Gordon Cole was aware of but to find Judy and Laura would truly be “two birds, one stone”. One assist from Phillip Jeffries taking Cooper back to that night and he can accomplish both goals.
When Cooper does find Laura and offers his hand and she asks where they’re going, he responds “Home”. Before Laura is pulled away, they’re walking through the woods and Jack Rabbit’s Palace is shown. I don’t believe for a second that we saw that location for any reason other than that’s where Cooper was taking Laura. The “home” he intended to take her to that night was the White Lodge, the place where her energy and light originated in Part 8 and where I believe she would have gone the night she died had she had not taken the ring like Agent Cooper warned her not to.
I know the logical argument here is that Cooper would eventually take Carrie Page to the Palmer home and not the White Lodge and that if my scenario were true, it does nothing to address the Judy problem. The first point I will address soon as I explore Cooper’s part of the story more. As for the Judy part of the equation, I think Cooper simply wanted to get Laura where he thought she was supposed to be before dealing with the next problem at hand.
The Role Of The Lodge Inhabitants
Another frequent debate among Twin Peaks fans is whether all Lodge Inhabitants are bad, are some good or are there shades of grey? For the purpose of this article, further insight into the One Armed Man is required. If The Fireman was waiting for Laura to come “home” after her death, then the One Armed Man stopped that plan from coming to fruition by giving Laura the ring. As seen at the end of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the One Armed Man was interested in garmonbozia (pain and suffering), the same as The Little Man From Another Place. Despite being BOB’s opposition, his appetite was still there. In these closing moments of Fire Walk With Me, BOB was shown almost in a subservient manner, feeding his “superiors”. Was this always the dynamic between the Black Lodge inhabitants or did BOB perhaps lose this particular battle because the One Armed Man was the one who ultimately brought Laura to the Black Lodge with the ring?
In Season 3 of Twin Peaks, the One Armed Man assisted Agent Cooper greatly during his time as Dougie. We also saw the “Evolution of the Arm” assist Dougie when Ike the Spike attempted to murder him. This had many wondering why the Lodge denizens were assisting our hero character. The simplest explanation is the one that makes the most sense to me: In the battle of Cooper vs his shadow self, the Lodge was backing Cooper because they wanted BOB back in the Lodge to do what he does best: bring them garmonbozia. BOB ultimately served the Lodge and he wasn’t doing his job by being off with Mr. C for over twenty five years. He was needed back home, yet much like Mr. C, BOB didn’t want to go back in. BOB, we have been told was eager for fun and was in no hurry to be under the thumb of the Black Lodge hierarchy anytime soon.
If 10 Is The Number Of Completion, What’s 9?
It’s no secret that David Lynch has a thing for numerology. Several times, we were reminded that 2:53 adds up to 10, which is the number of completion. Another often repeated digit was the number of Dale Cooper’s room key to the Great Northern Hotel, room 315, which adds up to a 9. Right now there may be some of you questioning why I’m bringing this up, wondering what these numbers might have to do with anything. Allow me to continue. A Google search lead me to find many of the numerological characteristics of a person who’s numerology equates to a 9 match the Agent Cooper we know and love — being globally conscious, never going to hesitate to help rectify an injustice, a martyr. As I learned to be true about all numbers, 9 also has a dark side, whose characteristics sound a lot like Mr. C — cold, apathetic towards the suffering of others, untouchable. 9 is not only next to 10 numerically but is also the closest thing towards completion. Close, but not quite there yet.
The journey of Agent Cooper in Season 3 was about seeking unity between his divided halves so he could not only be whole but ultimately progress as a being towards completion. When we first see Agent Cooper in the Red Room in Parts 1 and 2, he’s unsure of himself. He’s following along but he doesn’t know what’s about to happen next. After his detour as Dougie (which is a subject that deserves its own essay), Cooper finds himself back in Twin Peaks, ready to get back to his tasks at hand, to “Find Laura” and also to find Judy, his “two birds, one stone”.
I found it quite noteworthy that Cooper needed the room key to move on from the Sheriff’s station to what was next. Lynch and Frost were doubling down here on Cooper being a “9” and not a “10” spiritually, as he moved in between two worlds.
As previously discussed, Cooper’s attempt to take Laura “home” failed…and where do we see him next? Back in the Red Room, repeating the scenes from Parts 1 and 2, only faster, with more confidence this time. Cooper is caught in a loop that demands he learn from his experiences to escape. He navigates the beginning of the loop easily this time as he has learned from his previous experience. He’s also learned that going back in time isn’t going to help him accomplish his goals. Other means are required. The loop that Cooper is caught in is spiritual in nature, as he tries to not only break the loop and transcend from being a “9” to finding completion and to also help Laura Palmer. I am not of the belief that helping Laura will free Cooper from his cycle, as I will discuss later, but that is a debatable point. Something that can’t be debated though, is that Cooper has guides helping him as he attempts to escape his loop. We’ve already discussed The Fireman as a guide of Cooper’s but equally as noteworthy is Diane.
Diane is an interesting figure in this narrative. Her true self seems to have a strong interest in helping Cooper move forward in his personal journey. In Part 3, as Naido, she’s there to guide Cooper through his experiences in the Mauve World. In Part 17, when Diane’s true self is revealed and she and Cooper embrace, that’s when we see the second Cooper face appear on screen. I believe that Diane’s presence is a constant for Cooper during all of his traveling between worlds and back and forth in his loops, a way to keep him rooted in some sense of reality. The second Cooper face could in fact be him at the end of Part 18, sitting in the chair after Laura whispers in his ear, looking back at his course of action and seeing what he should do differently as the loop begins again. Diane’s emergence, her touch and her presence, is what allows him to remember that, to come back to that moment. Mirroring her role as his assistant at the FBI, she seems to be some kind of spiritual assistant for Cooper on this journey he’s on. She always seems to find him, whether it be in the Mauve World, in the Sheriff’s station or outside of Glastonbury Grove, much like how Cooper and Laura’s paths have continued to cross paths in dreams, in the real world and between worlds.
Diane’s reluctance in the car scene before she and Cooper hit the 430 mile marker in Part 18 is quite telling. Could the reading here be that she knows that this plan won’t work but she also knows that she can’t stop him? Regardless, she goes along with the plan because Cooper at this point is acting on pure confidence and isn’t going to change his plan of action no matter what. For most of Part 18, he is very calculated and doesn’t hesitate at any point. Diane seeing her double in Part 18 reads like a confirmation that she knows she doesn’t belong here, that her intuition is correct and that she needs to leave Cooper here for her own well being, since he can’t be reasoned with. Out of love, loyalty, or both, she sleeps with Cooper in what is obviously emotionally painful sex for her but appears to be both ritualistic and part of the plan.
My earliest interpretation of that sex scene was that it was her processing her feelings of her rape at the hands of Mr. C but I think there’s additional factors at play here as well. Diane appears to be more knowledgeable than Cooper about what happens outside the bounds of reality and while she wants to assist Cooper, she also knows that she has to let him go, even if he won’t understand that. She knows that he’s running serious risks by going between worlds, risking a fate similar to Phillip Jefferies if he’s not careful. She knows that by continuing to go along with Cooper, she’s running those same risks. She loves him and even while trapped as Naido, she’s been there for Cooper, but she has to let him go now. Her feelings are complicated because better than anyone, she knows the two halves of Cooper. She loves the half of Cooper that she’s known for years and wants to help him, despite what his dark half did to her. Seeing the half that she loves only makes the healing from what his dark half did to her even harder. The combination of her conflicting feelings about Cooper and how seeing him is bringing all of her pain to the surface and then also knowing that she can’t save him anymore brings her to an emotional boiling point. Diane seeing her double was her confirmation – she didn’t belong here with Cooper. It was time for Diane to chose herself over Cooper and to go her own way. She sleeps with him, knowing that it’s goodbye. Knowing that he needs that sexual encounter as part of his mission, believing its ritualistic in nature and that it’s the final time she can help him. Her trauma, her feelings over giving up on Cooper to go take care of herself, her concern for his well being without her looking out for him, her sadness over a love lost – everything comes to the surface during their final sexual encounter and then she’s gone in the morning.
What Year Is This?
Cooper’s time in Odessa seemed to indicate that he had integrated his classic Agent Cooper characteristics with those of his shadow self, Mr. C. Knowing that his previous attempt to take Laura straight to the White Lodge and deal with Judy later failed, he opted for a different approach this time. He needed Carrie Page to realize that she was Laura Palmer before she could go where she was supposed to have been all along and that would involve a showdown with Judy at the Palmer house. Two birds, one stone, once again. Carrie’s scream indicated that she did remember Laura’s pain and suffering at the end of Part 18.
Helping Laura does not appear to be the answer to all of Agent Cooper’s problems though, as realized by the final shot of him once again sitting in the same chair and her once again whispering in his ear. Cooper helped Laura get to a place where she could confront her past and hopefully move forward but now he needs to do the same for himself. His cycle is starting over again, only perhaps this time without the need to help Laura. While their spiritual journeys are connected, Cooper’s martyrdom has come with a price. Asking what year is this was his realization of exactly how much of his life he’s lost; the experiences he will never have, except for his brief time as Dougie; that by entering the realm of the magicians and constantly going between two worlds, he’s sacrificed a lot and that those sacrifices aren’t over either. As he sits in that chair and reflects back on that day in the Sheriff’s station from Part 17, he sees the friendships and the people of Twin Peaks that he may never see again. He hopes to — like he said — but he’s about to be back in starting position in the Red Room. The good news for him is that starting position is more comfortable now; he’s familiar with it. Will he ever escape? Can it ever be 2:53 for our beloved Special Agent or will the hands on the clock continue to stop just shy?
Just like everything else in life, how we choose to interpret Twin Peaks is all a matter of perception. Some might look at Agent Cooper being stuck in a loop as a bleak ending. I see it as someone who is trying to learn from his mistakes and continue to reach his potential. He’s simply not there yet. I struggled at first with the idea of Laura Palmer being hand picked by The Fireman, as depicted in Part 8. I worried that it made her journey less hers if it was all pre-destined. The more I thought about it though, lots of people — Agent Cooper included — were hand picked by The Fireman, just the same as lots of people are born unique in real life. Our actions are still our actions, our choices our own. Just because “Laura is the one” doesn’t mean she couldn’t have faltered in her battle with BOB. Laura had the gift of strength given to her by The Fireman but she was the one who chose to use it. None of my feelings about her empowerment have changed based upon what we saw in Season 3. Laura simply used the gifts she was given during her life and had a seat waiting for her in the White Lodge so she could continue to use those gifts. If she made it there was ultimately up to her, with help from people who cared about her, which is very true to life. We all need help to reach our potential.
In closing, Twin Peaks can be interpreted in numerous ways and this is one plausible explanation of many given the source material. In no way do I want to present this as a “definitive” theory or conclusion but I sure had a lot of fun diving down the rabbit hole and connecting some dots. Would love to hear your thoughts.