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Bobby Briggs & Laura Palmer: A Love Story

Here at 25YL, we love The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. Jennifer Lynch gives us a masterful glimpse into Laura’s inner life that enriches any viewing of the series and the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Over the next few weeks, we will be doing a deep dive into the Secret Diary as part of our month-long celebration of all things Twin Peaks. This week, join Ali Sciarabba as she looks at what the Diary reveals to us about Laura’s history with Bobby Briggs, and how it changes how we view him (and her).


When we meet Bobby Briggs in the Twin Peaks pilot, he’s a real jerk. He is filled with the type of cockiness, bravado, and insolence typical of teenage boys. We learn very quickly that he was cheating on his longtime girlfriend, the dearly departed Laura Palmer. Bobby’s secret relationship with Shelly Johnson and his attitude in general make the viewer turn against him almost immediately. We are set up to love Laura, to mourn the poor dead girl even before we know anything about her, and it’s clear right away that Bobby Briggs simply isn’t good enough for her.

Of course, we learn relatively quickly that Laura was not what she appeared to be on the surface. She’s full of secrets, one of which is her own affair with James Hurley, who is the opposite of Bobby in terms of disposition. Bobby is the Bad Boy and James is the Good Guy—at least, until he immediately starts dating Laura’s best friend, but that’s a whole different subject. Regardless of his hidden feelings for Donna, James loved and cherished Laura while Bobby took her for granted and neglected her. This is where we find ourselves at the beginning (or what was once the beginning) of Laura Palmer’s story.

But Twin Peaks was never really the beginning of Laura’s story—it was the story of a dead girl and the town that killed her, and the man sent to solve the crime. One of the reasons I love The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer so much is because it gives Laura a voice and the ability to tell her own story. It teaches us, in Laura’s own words, who she truly was. But an underrated and overlooked part of the Diary is that it also teaches us who Bobby Briggs really was and sheds light on why he is the way he is in the original series (and why he will become the man he is in The Return).

Bobby Briggs gives cocaine to Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Young Bobby Briggs was always chasing after Laura. He was the “pull her hair to show her you like her” type of boy, which Laura initially found irritating. But as the two grew a bit older, she began to see Bobby in a different light. A few years of maturity turned him from the hair-pulling little boy into a young man who was kind and gentle and in touch with his emotions. They began seeing each other at age 14 and almost immediately Laura began asking him to get her drugs—first just alcohol and pot, but later the cocaine she would become horribly addicted to. Even though she did genuinely care for him, Laura used Bobby from the very beginning. “He is anywhere I want him to be, with anything I want him to bring,” she writes. [1] Bobby was someone who Laura could completely control, and control was something she desperately needed to feel.

Bobby Briggs was the first person Laura chose to have sex with. She had fooled around a bit with the older Canadian boys when she was 13 but had not gone any further with them. Laura struggled with the fact that she had to let Bobby think she was a totally inexperienced 14-year-old girl when it came to sex—a Herculean task considering she had for years been forced to endure the most horrifying and brutal sex acts. Laura’s sexual development was and could never be that of a normal adolescent girl; the abuse twisted up her perspective on sex and she was never given a chance to develop sexual appetites and preferences untainted by the abuses she suffered. She had certain desires—for example, rough sex with older men—that she felt were wrong, but she had no control over the things she fantasized about.

With Bobby, though, she wanted to make love; she wrote, “I…was for the first time beginning a sexual experience with interest, and affection. A little control of my own.” [2] It wasn’t just about herself, though. She wanted to make Bobby happy, too. She felt he deserved to be treated well for all he did for her but, since she was terrified of the vulnerability that comes with the emotion of loving someone, all she knew how to do was give him the physical act of love. She was free with herself physically, but emotionally she was an impenetrable fortress.

Regarding the experience of consensual sex with Bobby, Laura wrote that for the first time she felt satisfied.

“[Bobby made me feel] how it would be when someone really wanted me. Not because they wanted me to weep or to die slowly of a sadness I could not name. Someone who cared how it felt to me, wanted to make sure it was nice. I felt like I should feel, like all girls should feel… but I could not forget that there were other worlds to think of. Other moments. Rude awakenings at the darkest hours of night.” [3]

Those intrusive thoughts—thoughts of BOB—crept into Laura’s mind as she made love with Bobby. She couldn’t stop them. They were far too powerful. And so she did something horrible, something she knew was horrible while she was doing it but that she could not stop herself from doing. When Bobby opened up to her and professed his love and loyalty to her, able to be vulnerable in a way she could not allow herself to be, she laughed at him. After all, there were two Lauras at this point. One was “the Laura who loved him back, the young girl who so desperately hoped he would come after her, when the time was right.” But she was keeping that Laura shielded to protect her; that Laura was “inside resting. Deep inside, cradled in the braver half.” This second Laura, the one she considers braver and stronger, was also crueler—forced to be that way to protect the first. Yet Laura wanted to keep Bobby with her, to “save him for [the first Laura], when it is safe for her to come back.” (131) And so she laughed at this young, innocent, honest boy who loved her.

“I had to laugh at him. Hard. Laugh until his eyes lost their light. I had to shoot him down, couldn’t let him be so appealing to the same young Laura that BOB wants. The one I’m sure he’s waiting for. To save myself, I had to laugh in the face of a boy, who now may never be honest again.” [5]

This is something we learned in the original series (though in much less detail and without Laura’s perspective) and that scene stands out as the first time that Twin Peaks presented us with a different Bobby Briggs. He begins the scene in Dr. Jacoby’s office with his parents, totally closed off, but once they leave and Jacoby starts in on him—revealing the things that Laura had told him—Bobby starts to break down and that emotional wall he had built cracks wide open.

In The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, we see exactly why Bobby built that wall. We already knew that Bobby cried after sex and that Laura laughed at him, but the Diary presents us with a much more detailed and contextualized version of the story. We are inside Laura’s head as she does this terribly cruel thing to the boy who loves her, who allowed himself to be vulnerable and who gave freely and honestly of his emotions. This version of Bobby Briggs ceased to exist after that day. That is the kind of wound that, when suffered in one’s formative years, does not heal. And yet Bobby stuck with her, even apologized for expressing his honest feelings the very night Laura laughed at him.

Bobby was the one to introduce Laura to cocaine for the first time—a little gift to her, he must have thought, but one I’m sure he regretted for the rest of his life considering the road it led them both down. Along with the cocaine came shady dealings with Leo Johnson and all that followed from there. Bobby introducing Laura to Leo—the dangerous older man she was immediately drawn to—was the catalyst for her descent into the world of illicit, loveless sex. Laura was able to act out her darker sexual urges with Leo (and later Jacques Renault), she participated in orgies with an unknown number of strangers, she got involved in sex work via Fleshworld and at One Eyed Jack’s. Laura Palmer was never going to have a normal sex life, but I have to wonder how far she would have gone exploring the darker side of her sexuality without Leo and Jacques in the picture. I’m sure Bobby asked himself the same question many times.

Bobby Briggs and Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Laura kept Bobby around because he was safe and because she hoped that one day, if she could defeat BOB, the Good Laura could come back and be with the boy who loved her. But this didn’t happen. Instead, she continued to use and humiliate Bobby, flaunting her sexual relationship with Leo in front of him. What the Diary does not give us is insight as to why Bobby seemed to accept this without question. It made him uncomfortable, yes, but he just sort of let it happen. My best guess is that they were so tied up with Leo because of the coke, and Bobby was (understandably) afraid of Leo, so he felt he had no choice but to go along with what Leo (and Laura) wanted. Because she did want to be with Leo, and she didn’t hide that fact from Bobby.

At this point, Bobby knew that Laura was a wild girl, but he loved her anyway. He knew there was a darkness in her and that she was harboring a terrible secret, but he also believed that the Good Laura was still in there somewhere—at least he believed that for a while. I think by the time he took up with Shelly he had given up on being able to break down Laura’s wall (and had a pretty sturdy one of his own). Though she likely never told him this, Laura supported Bobby and Shelly’s relationship. Deep down she did love Bobby; she knew what she had done to him and what she was continuing to do and she believed he deserved happiness. At this point, as broken and shut down as she was, allowing Bobby to be with Shelly without comment was one of the only kindnesses she was able to give him.

When Laura died, it did devastate Bobby but he was unable to feel or process his grief because of all the things she did to him. Laura was the one who turned Bobby into the jerk we meet in the Twin Peaks pilot. For years she struggled with the idea that she was poisonous to others, a cancer that infected everyone she touched, and that no matter how good she tried to be—the perfect daughter, the straight-A student, the giving community servant—she was still fundamentally rotten to her core. She was unable to get BOB’s voice out of her head and he convinced her she was all of these horrible things; he made her want to hurt others and, ultimately, herself. Bobby was Laura’s easiest target and the person she dragged down the farthest. By the end, even before she learned the truth about her father, she was committed to dying—both to defeat BOB and to once and for all put a stop to the endless pain she felt.

Bobby knew Laura wanted to die but he was unable to help her. She wouldn’t let him (or anyone else) help her. In Laura’s mind, the only Laura worth saving was long gone and the one that remained deserved to die. One of the most powerful scenes in the original series is at Laura’s funeral when Bobby takes the town of Twin Peaks to task for turning a blind eye to Laura’s troubles. He doesn’t excuse himself from this but he simply cannot stand by and watch the funeral proceed without forcing everyone to acknowledge their own culpability in Laura’s death. It’s an exercise in self-flagellation of sorts and a way for him to let out all the emotions he’s bottled up for so long, but it’s honest. Bobby is not wrong when he tells the priest that Laura would have laughed at his prayers.

Bobby knew Laura better than anyone in the world. He saw most of the parts of her that she kept hidden from others, and he loved her anyway. But in the end, that love was not enough. It was never going to be enough because Laura Palmer was robbed of the ability to love and trust long before young Bobby Briggs ever pulled her hair. Perhaps if Laura was able to tell Bobby her secret, things might have been different. Bobby would have believed her—was probably the only one who would have believed her—and maybe, just maybe, she could have been saved. But Laura was too lost—long gone, like a turkey in the corn—and she could not conceive of a world where true love could conquer pure evil.

The Diary teaches us about Laura’s inner life but it also teaches us that Bobby was in many ways another victim of BOB. This is part of what makes Bobby’s arc in The Return so moving to me. In the end, he was able to become the man that his father always knew he would be. He was able to shake off all the damage Laura had done to him and become the honest upstanding person he always should have been. He turned his life around, put Laura and all that came with her in the past, but you can see in the scene in The Return when he sees her picture, just how painful it was to have to remember. One look at her photograph and it all comes flooding back to him. “Brings back some memories,” he says, and he completely breaks down. This could read as overly dramatic until you really think about what those memories are—how dark and awful it must have been for him to think about that part of his life he’d put behind him, to be reminded how far he’d once fallen. But Bobby Briggs isn’t the Bad Boy anymore. He conquered his demons, but in that moment I believe he is grieving for the fact that Laura wasn’t able to conquer hers.

Bobby Briggs kisses a photo of Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Endnotes:
[1] Jennifer Lynch, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, p. 124 (E-book version).
[2] Ibid, p. 127.
[3] Ibid, p. 129-130.
[4] Ibid, p. 131.
[5] Ibid, p. 130-131.

 


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Written by Ali Sciarabba

In addition to her position as TV Editor and Writer for 25YL, Ali Sciarabba is a freelance editorial consultant and author of numerous nonfiction reference books for middle school and high school students. In her spare time she enjoys obsessing over various television shows, especially Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. When not overanalyzing TV shows, she is wrangling her Corgi, Cassidy, who is inarguably the cutest dog that has ever existed.

3 Comments

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  1. This is simply one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve read about the Laura/Bobby dynamic.
    The complexities between what they both considered “normal” in a relationship is heartbreaking. The struggle that Bobby had in his mind about what he loved AND hated about Laura (but wasn’t ready to let her go) shows how much he KNEW that the good Laura was in there somewhere…and it killed him that he couldn’t save her.
    Thank you for your words.

  2. I loved Bobby Briggs in the Return. He was one of the few characters who really turned their life around and yet still mourned Laura genuinely . He and Shelley were such a great team so it was sad to see how Shelley and Becky turned out. If Laura really is coming back it would be nice to see them be friends and help each other out.

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