Twin Peaks is a phenomenon that not everyone gravitates toward. For those who do, David Lynch and Mark Frost create a world, a community, and an environment where people feel completely at home. Within that home, the characters they create place themselves snuggly into our orbits, especially the women. In re-watching the original run of Twin Peaks, although the character of Special Agent Dale Cooper steals the show many times, it is the women of Twin Peaks that capture our hearts. David Lynch teaches us lessons we do not even know we want. One is that all the women of Twin Peaks have a darkness and a light, and it is within these two constructs that we as the voyeurs of Twin Peaks see parts of ourselves. As Lynch is quoted in his book, Catching the Big Fish, “I love seeing people come out of the darkness.” (Lynch, 2016) We see this in Margaret as she reveals herself and her log to Cooper. We see it in Shelly when she finally gathers the strength to shoot Leo, who is physically and emotionally abusive. We see it in Laura, in the moments where her trauma fades for just a moment as she helps others in the community of Twin Peaks. We see this in Laura’s mother, Sarah, who will always hold onto her pain and guilt. The reason we love the women of Twin Peaks is that they come in and out of the darkness so we can witness their light. It is within that light that we find our own, and we have David Lynch to thank for that.
One of the most prominent women we come to love in the Twin Peaks universe is obviously ‘The One,’ Laura Palmer. Although from the very beginning we only know her as the prom queen wrapped in plastic, over the course of the original series, Fire Walk With Me, and The Return, we see her inner workings, her secrets, her darkness, and literally in The Return, her light. Laura, for many, signifies trauma at its most raw. The way in which she chooses to metabolize that trauma comes forth in both darkness and light. She is a true yin-yang in the ways in which she embraces the trauma of her abuse and delves into sinister behavior, but also the ‘angelic in her.’ Even though she worked at One Eyed Jack’s, Ben Horne’s secret brothel, she also runs the Meals on Wheels program for Norma. Even though she chokes her pain and anguish down with cocaine, she also tutors Johnny Horne and really connects with him throughout her visits. Even though she gets involved in Bobby’s dealing of cocaine in Twin Peaks, she takes the time to visit with shut-in Harold, so that he feels he has a true friend. Lynch has a way within his work to showcase the good and bad of many instances through his characters, as well as in his overall narrative; this is a completely realistic way to showcase the inner turmoil of most human beings.
The trauma may not be as devastating within ourselves as it is in the case of Laura, but we’ve all had moments where we may have made decisions based on what our souls are feeling at the moment, basking in the optimistic sunshine or hidden under a guise of darkness and pain. Lynch’s genius at work is his ability to follow this yin/yang, good/evil, black/white formula throughout many of his films, and also in his art. He continues this trend in the rest of the female characters of Twin Peaks. The women I am choosing to expand upon, I have my own kindred connection toward. Now, some of the other ladies in Twin Peaks have their unique problems, but it is funny how those problems stem from the same seed. Lynch is a tricky one; just when we think we have a handle on what is going on and think we have something figured out, we soon realize we have no idea. With Laura, we have her trauma and her reckoning. The others have a simpler explanation, but it is one equally as important as Laura’s to understanding how Lynch sees women. Lynch ‘undresses’ these women, actually all of them, to their primal level. He showcases their abilities to love and be loved by themselves. He shows that these women have nothing to be ashamed of, their feelings or their sexuality.
Their essences are all owned by them and no-one else. They may not get to this deduction in the most morally immaculate of ways, but they get there on their own once they allow themselves the freedom. They do not get it from the men that surround them, from their mothers, or their family members. But rather, they take it from their strength and inner voices. Let’s take Audrey for example; when we first meet her, we see a little rich girl meddling in her father’s affairs, trying to be acknowledged by her father, Ben Horne, as something other than a bratty teenaged daughter. She plays the part on the surface well. We soon discover that deep down she is looking for his approval, though she comes to figure out she does not need it. He is not the man she thought he was, and she has the strength to fight back. Even though she does play the damsel-in-distress when getting in a bit over her head, Cooper knows she has gumption that makes her unique, strong, and capable of great things. We see this come to great fruition throughout the growth of her character. Lynch lays down the groundwork, like planting a tender seed, and we get the chance to watch it grow into a beautiful flower.
Then, we have women like Shelly and Norma. Neither of these ladies is leading what most would call a simple life. Both Shelly and Norma are married to men who do not appreciate the women they are or the loving natures they both possess. They both have strayed from their marriages to men who long to take care of them, but they are also trying to show them how much they need and want them in their lives. Lynch likes to impose this inner turmoil for his ladies to be able to get out of it. We’ve seen very destructive relationships throughout many of his works, and I believe this is to show us that no matter what these women are up against, they will come out of the other side better for what they have been through. These destructive relationships also allow them to realize that they have the power to change their ways and have their unique paths to redemption, just as every person has an opportunity to change the outcomes of their individual situations. As we learn, the difference is in whether or not one listens to their inner voice and decides to take its advice.
For Shelly, that means attempting to leave Leo permanently. For Norma, it means to honor her commitment to Hank, even though she knows that Ed loves her for who she is, not what he would gain by being with her. Lynch has a way to make you feel empathy for these women, which surprises me occasionally as we have always rooted for Norma and Ed to be together, even though both cheat on their spouses. Even though we see Nadine try desperately to hang on to the shred of love she still believes is there for Ed, and she appears so mousy and meek, there is strength in how she communicates this to him, strength in confronting her fears about the relationship she is having. Nadine is another Lynchian character we tend to root for, even though we may not know why immediately. It is much clearer in Twin Peaks: The Return, because even though Dr. Amp inspires this fire in Nadine, she already realizes that the reason for her unhappiness is not caused by Ed but by her selfishness in keeping him from his happiness. She even tells him this,
[NADINE] Ed, I’ve come to tell you something.
[ED] Honey, where’s your car? How’d you get here?
[NADINE] I walked.
[ED] You walked? What’s with the shovel?
[NADINE] That’s what I want to talk to you about.
[ED] It is?
[NADINE] Yes, Ed. I’ve come to tell you I’ve changed.
[ED] You have?
[NADINE] Yes, and Ed, you know I love you so much.
[ED] I know you do, Nadine.
[NADINE] But I’ve been a selfish bitch to you all these years, and you’ve been a saint.
[NADINE] Listen to me. I’ve known since forever you love Norma, and she loves you. I kept the two of you apart because of my jealousy. And I manipulated you, Ed.
[ED] No, no, you haven’t, Nadine.
[NADINE] Oh, no, you know it’s true. I guilted you to stay and you’re so good you stayed and gave up your love. Oh God, Ed, I want you to be free.
[ED] [sighs softly]
[NADINE] I’m fine now. You asked about this shovel. Well, I’m shoveling myself out of the shit.
[ED] Have you been watching that show of Jacoby’s?
[NADINE] You know I have.
[NADINE] Don’t worry about me. Run to her! Enjoy the rest of your lives together. I am so happy just thinking of you two being happy. Ed, I love you and always will, but true love is giving the other what makes them happy. Jeez, you big lug, how beautiful is this! (Lynch 2017)
She finally understands what being happy for her entails; this moment put smiles on many of our faces because we finally feel the validation that Nadine has sought for the entire run. She decides after soul searching within herself. This is the message Lynch continues to send to women: own up to what you are feeling; do not be ashamed; do not hide it from the world; be the beautiful, unique, and strong women you were always meant to be; uncover yourself for the world to see, and do not be afraid of it. There are parts of them, as there are parts within us, as women that may not be all bright and shiny but that are what make all of us the women who we truly are. Women are worthy of all love, but especially our own; this was shown to us by a man who understands this more than most because he writes from a place of love. It may not be the romanticized or commercialized kind, but do not confuse it — Lynch is a loving human who wants to showcase all types of women and the love and life that surrounds them. Sometimes it may be brutal or violent; that’s real life. Life is neither easy nor kind at times, though sometimes to see and realize the love, you have to bear witness to the pain and suffering first.
Sarah Palmer is another woman who has had to deal with pain and trauma. Sarah envelopes the shock from her daughter’s death only to find out her husband caused it. Sarah has to internalize an immense amount of pain. When we see her in The Return, she continues to live, but what is she living with? Who is she living for? It seems she is still mourning her daughter these 25 years later. I also believe she is still internalizing an immense amount of guilt as well. When finding out that the death of her daughter was at the hands of her husband and the years of abuse before that, how could she not feel a sense of guilt? A mother’s intuition is a powerful medium. In Sarah’s case, it fails her. Seemingly, this is something she will not ever be able to forgive herself for. Lynch uniquely captures Sarah because she is the one surviving member of the Palmer family. Her pain is not new. She has carried it all these years, along with her guilt, but she is not like the others. Sarah does not need to make excuses for herself. She is in pain. She is still in shock. In her grief and sorrow, she even manifests another side to herself, and she does not have to apologize for this. I would go as far as to say that neither would anyone else who had gone through such a situation.
Another reason Lynch writes and directs women so well is because he knows quite well that a mother will not get over the death of her child; she will have guilt, even if the death is not by her hands. A mother is like an artist in that she takes great care in housing, caring for, and birthing a beautiful creation. She wants to protect this life with everything she has, whether that be a child, a sculpture, or a great novel. When you give birth, a part of you, which you never thought was possible to exist on this outer plane, becomes one. It is a part of you and remains a part of you. It just becomes a part that lives outside your body. It may have come from your mind, your heart, or your womb, but it is an extension of you, and you created it. Sarah’s pain and sorrow are real and raw, and very much makes one empathic to her being and who she is. This is what makes her so real, and reality is something that Lynch is sometimes belittled for. Still, in the case of Sarah Palmer, it is so real that it hurts. Whether a mother or not, whether a woman or not, this type of pain and guilt is something any one of us could feel at a time in our lives, and it is a real and human feeling that Lynch showcases well.
The last lady that I believe Lynch helps to make us fall in love with in her entirety is Margaret Lanterman, our beloved Log Lady. From the first frame she is in, you are completely intrigued by who she is. Even Special Agent Dale Cooper inquires to Harry who she is. The Log Lady is an interesting case when it comes to what Lynch reveals in her character. I mean, the woman holds a log, but this could be the most outward choice to explain why it is we love her. The Log Lady is every woman who ever felt misunderstood. She is considered an outcast, called crazy even, but she still stands tall in her ways and does not try to change herself at all. She has darkness, but with a sense of humor. This wit and wisdom become her shining beacon of light. She is who she is, no excuses. She embraces the fact that people speculate about her and her log. Let them talk. She knows the truth about herself, about life, about her log, and about living. Lynch makes specific cues about Margaret’s character that lead you to this deduction. Her log does not judge, and neither does she for that matter. She offers assistance and guidance when warranted–and when unwarranted as well–but that is just another reason to love her so.
I believe that The Log Lady was fashioned after a powerful woman in Lynch’s life–at first thought, his mother–though there seems to be many women in Lynch’s life that have been strong in their convictions. I would like to think Margaret is a little piece of each. She shows she has wisdom, is in tune with her spiritual nature, and is even a little abrasive when needed. To me, this shows what is called moxie. The definition of moxie is ‘force of character, determination, or nerve.’ Margaret Lanterman has lots of moxie. She is here to show us to love ourselves differently, to make no excuses for who we are as women, and to let our inner lights shine. Embrace your quirks. Own who you are. March to a different drummer. Carry a log. Well, maybe not that last one, but you see where this is going. Lynch marches to his drummer. Through this character, he teaches us that it is okay for us women to advance in this way as well, which is another reason we should love Lynch.
There is a quote from David Lynch in the documentary, David Lynch: The Art Life, which has stuck with me. In it, he tells of the first time he saw a naked woman: It was in the fall, and it was pretty late. Usually, my father would go out and yell, ‘John, David…,’ and that would bring us home. But this night, it must have been, I don’t know, close to that time, it seemed to be pretty late. I don’t know what we were doing, but from across Shoshone Avenue, out of the darkness, comes this, kind of like, strangest dream, because I had never seen an adult woman naked. And she had beautiful pale white skin, and she was completely naked, and I think her mouth was bloodied. And she kind of came strangely, walking strangely across Shoshone, and entered into Park Circle Drive, and it seemed like she was sort of like a giant, and she came closer and closer, and my brother started to cry, something was bad wrong with her, and I don’t know what happened. I think she sat down on a curb, crying, but it was very mysterious like we were seeing something otherworldly, and I wanted to do something for her, but I was little. I didn’t know what to do. (Lynch 2017)
He may not have known what to do then, but through his work, his art, his films, and his writing, he helped her and hundreds of the other female characters he has chosen to showcase in his illustrious career. He has given a voice to the voiceless. He has given strength and determination to the forgotten. He has given agency to the beaten and tortured. He has made it, so his characters have a story to tell and that they get to share that story from their heart. He has shown us darkness, only to have us revel in the light. These women, his characters, have taught us the most about Lynch and how he views and sees women. He sees them as being worthy of love from many, but mostly from themselves. He teaches us to love our log ladies and the other ladies, and see the beauty and love that resided within them. In the process, he also helps us recognize not to be afraid of the dark. It will make us understand the light and love within all of us. For that, I will be ever grateful. Thank you, David Lynch. Thank you.
Lynch, David. Catching The Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity. 10th Anniversary Edition. “Light On Film” Pg. 129. New York. Penguin Random House, 2016.
Lynch, David. David Lynch: The Art Life, special ed. Blu-ray. Directed by Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, and Olivia Neergaard-Holm. New York: Criterion Collection, 2017.
Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series, Part 15, “There’s some fear in letting go,” directed by David Lynch, written by David Lynch and Mark Frost, featuring Kyle MacLachlan, Sheryl Lee, and Catherine Coulson, aired August 13, 2017, on Showtime.