Dale Cooper: A White Knight in a World of Grey

What did you do, Coop?


The suburbs of London were a very interesting place to grow up in the ’80s and ’90s. I grew up in one such suburb, a leafy neighbourhood full of families or people at least trying to start a family. This being the ’80s there was a lot of concern about status, two cars in the driveway and two-point-four children. Back then if you didn’t have these things then you were something of a pariah.

Nonetheless amongst the haves in town there was a sense of community and this community seemed to revolve around football, or soccer if you are in the States. I joined a team at age seven, a team my dad co-managed and eventually managed. The problem is I wasn’t terribly into it. I was into reading, drawing and films. My parents, however misguided, pressured me into being part of the team where eventually, even though I showed up every Wednesday and Sunday for four years, I was never first picked and consigned to the side-lines of a team my father was in charge of. There was something about this that troubled me, and then generated a kind of apathy that I wasn’t aware of until much later. Seeing middle-aged men shout and rage at children under ten for not playing well didn’t strike me as a great way to raise a child. The pressure and the taunts from the other kids made me withdraw, reject the notion of community and head into pariahdom.

I was twelve years old when Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks aired on the BBC in the autumn of 1990. I didn’t pick it up straight away but you couldn’t avoid it—it was in the press, on the talk shows and the soundtrack was all over radio and initially my parents were really into it. I believe it was Episode 15 where I actually ended up watching a whole episode and it wormed its way into my brain like nothing—not even Star Wars—had done previously. The soundtrack was jazzy and strange, there was a murderer looking into the mirror and seeing a hairy denim-clad demon and then there was the “Hero” Special Agent Dale Cooper. I was somewhat lost by a lot of the plot threads but I couldn’t get enough, I watched the remaining entire run of the show and sat there dumbfounded as Episode 29 haunted me and left me devastated. Although the story of an investigation into troubled murdered teen Laura Palmer, the character of Cooper fascinated me. With a lack of adults in my life I admired, here was someone who was good, forthright and working for the benefit of everyone even with his own demons. I would remain obsessed with the show and the soundtrack would be on constant rotation on my Walkman for years as I grew into an apathetic teen and moped around the suburbs.

In 1993 I met someone, let’s call her Natasha. Natasha was strange, beautiful and possessed intelligence and wit I had not encountered before. On the flip side of that, Natasha was troubled. She had a wildly inconsistent mood, was prone to aggression and would call me obsessively at all hours of the day and night. I would remain in contact with her even as she moved towns and got worse. It was later that I realised her parents were going through a messy divorce and then a lot of the behaviour made sense in retrospect. Some time later when we lost contact, I learned that Natasha had gotten pregnant, dropped out of school and was being supported by her single mother and her new boyfriend. It was a pivotal event in my life and would affect me for years to come.

In 1995, thanks to cable channel Bravo, I managed to watch the episodes of Twin Peaks I had missed on its initial run when it repeated the show. I felt like my journey with the show was then complete but, in reality, I had only scratched the surface.

With the advent of DVD and the very nice Gold Box edition of the entire show, I got to watch the whole saga again through the eyes of a twenty-something with the beginnings of that suburban lifestyle everyone so craved at my inception. Watching it again was like an epiphany, seeing Agent Cooper and how he related to the world as a whole and the compassion he had for people made me realise how much I had taken and learned from this character. This was brought home further when a work colleague unprompted told me how much I reminded her of that character. It was around this point that I started to realise something about Twin Peaks.

Twin Peaks is a story about darkness, the fight against that darkness and more specifically the journey of one character into that darkness. When Dale Cooper rolls into the town of Twin Peaks, he isn’t necessarily a shining star of goodness. His flaws have caused his own trauma, flaws that lead to an affair with his partner’s wife, her murder and the creation of a nemesis. Nonetheless Cooper is possessed of an intuition and a link with the world and his mission is to fight the evil he encounters as an FBI agent. As Episode 29 closed upon the re-watch on my 32-inch TV back in 2007, something hit me, something that stayed with me and invaded my thoughts for years. The whole story was Cooper’s story; if this wasn’t the intent, ten years later it would become clearer. Cooper’s goodness and willingness to fight evil had caused his flaws to become more pronounced and had led to his downfall. Cooper didn’t see the world in the constant shade of grey that we all encounter every day. He saw things in black and white; the thought that a man could rape and murder his own daughter wasn’t something he could comprehend and had caused a kind of schism. The overwhelming urge to fight evil on the terms of the good and just was never something that was going to work. The world doesn’t work that way.

In 2003 I met someone, let’s call her Heather. Heather was interesting, deep and also had a good sense of humour. I wasn’t someone who really had ‘girlfriends’ back then so she was appealing to me and would have been even if I had all the confidence in the world, which I really didn’t. Heather would see me for a couple of months and then break things off. The problem is, after I had moved on, she hadn’t, and wouldn’t really leave me to get on with it. In 2004 Heather was raped after a night out and would later tell me all about it in detail and indicate she blamed me as I was not with her on that night and had ignored her calls. The six months after that event are kind of a blur, but something stayed with me never to leave.

When it was announced in 2014 that Twin Peaks was returning, I was filled with excitement. Something was happening again, and better yet it was something that I never thought was possible. I had long since resigned myself to the fact that Cooper was not getting out of the Lodge and evil had won in both the fictional and real worlds. I was at the stage where I was resisting the suburban life which had brought misery to so many, so having something to look forward to was an incredible gift. I would devour every single nugget of information there was about the new show, was crestfallen when David Lynch left and then elated when he returned. I read the Secret History of Twin Peaks book by Mark Frost and waited with high hopes…

In early 2017 I met someone, let’s call her Mary. Mary was beautiful, studying for a degree in psychology and an extremely nice person. She was there for me at a She had been plagued by eating disorders her whole life; she was also raped when she was 15. A predator then took advantage of her vulnerability thanks to this trauma and tortured her as much as it’s possible to torture a person for four years. In between this was she was also date raped by another man. Despite all this, Mary was never angry, always looking for the opportunity to do good and help people. She was, in short, a miracle. Mary made me look at the world differently, made me see that I had everything backwards and made me realise that true evil is out there. I was filled with an overwhelming need to help Mary, to meet her and know her is to want to help her. You can ignore the news, the hate and fear you see on TV every day for only so long, eventually it’s going to end up facing you or someone you love.

The third season of Twin Peaks was an experience I will never forget. I stayed up until the early hours to watch the broadcast as it premiered and it felt like Christmas morning. Getting to watch it week in week out and read comments and theories over the summer of 2017 was a really good time and one I will always be grateful for. This experience though brought with it a lot of interesting issues for me. There were moments of surreal brilliance as expected and certain ones caught fire in my brain. Something was indeed happening again, but what it was wasn’t clear to me until some months later.

For me, Season Three was about a series of key moments that would come to define how it affected me. The scene in Part 2 when Cooper asks Laura “When I can I go?”: her subsequent response is to whisper to him something that makes him react in almost disgust at whatever it is she says. I believe that what she whispered to him feeds into where he eventually ends up. Another key moment with Laura in the Lodge is when she opens her face to reveal a bright light. I believe that this indicates something that Cooper needed to be aware of; importantly, Laura Palmer as she is now and as indicated in the final scene of Fire Walk with Me is at peace.

We don’t know if the beings within the Lodges are ever really on the side of good or evil. We don’t know their intentions; they are mischievous and vague; they seem to be working towards something but their motivations are not always clear. David Lynch will never tell us the answer and I wouldn’t have it any other way. During the bulk of the episodes of Season Three, there was a lot of dissatisfaction with the Dougie Jones storyline and a yearning for old Coop to return to us. I believe however that the Dougie Jones plotline is very important, not just to the interpretation of what it all means but to the character of Cooper. My theory is that Dougie Jones was a final opportunity for Dale Cooper to live a normal life, or at least find some kind of peace. He had a loving wife, a stable insurance job and at least the beginnings of a normal suburban existence. Although Philip Gerard seems to want Cooper to get out in the real world and defeat his Doppelganger, I believe that as we saw in the original show in some places and as the first scene indicates, something somewhere within Cooper yearns for stability and happiness. Cooper perhaps, should not have woken up.

Another debate I have had with fans is the lack of time spent in the town itself. There was a lot of chatter around too much time spent in Las Vegas and South Dakota and not enough time in the titular place. The time we did spend in Twin Peaks indicates a town in a kind of flux. Strange things happen as they always do but now it has a kind of edge to it that wasn’t permitted on network television back in the day. There are affairs, a new drug killing kids and strange events in traffic jams outside the Double R. We don’t get any kind of resolution to a lot of the plot threads conjured here and this is another important thing: in a world that is less black and white and more a constantly shifting grey, an easy answer is not possible. Time has moved on, yet the town yearns for a simpler time.

Before going any further, I want to use a quote from The Power of Now by Eckhart Toll:

‘End the delusion of time. Time and mind are inseparable. Remove time from the mind and it stops – unless you choose to use it. To be identified with your mind is to be trapped in time; the compulsion to live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation. This creates an endless preoccupation with past and future and an unwillingness to honour and acknowledge the present moment and allow it to be. The compulsion arises because the past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation, of fulfilment in whatever form. Both are illusions.’

Season Three went on thrillingly, bafflingly, but always compellingly. When it came to early September 2017 and the two-part finale, I was jet-lagged and stuck in a hotel. Through my haze of exhaustion, I found my hotel had Showtime and so I got to watch the finale with everyone else. In my tired state, I absorbed something about what this all meant and then Hurricane Irma hit and I was confined to the hotel, so I watched the two Parts twice more.

For me there are again key moments that lead to my interpretation of what it all means to me. In Part 17 after Bob is defeated by Freddie and Cooper sees Naido, his face is superimposed on to the background as the rest of the scene plays out. To me this moment indicates when it all comes back to Agent Cooper. Naido represents everyone he has ever loved and failed to protect. Naido is Laura Palmer, Audrey Horne, Caroline Earle, his mother, Annie Blackburn and, most importantly, Diane Evans. Seeing Naido in her current form brings it all back and his mission suddenly comes into sharp focus. At the end of Part 17 we see that Cooper has failed to protect Laura; Jow-Dei is too strong, too omnipresent, a massive negative force. Cooper doesn’t save Laura Palmer and thus prevent what happens to Diane, Audrey Horne and Annie Blackburn, all he does is remove her from one existence into another filled with suffering; the grief and pain remains with us. Cooper has failed, but more importantly he has failed to realise that this is no longer the story of “The Little Girl That Lives Down The Lane”; this is now Agent Dale Bartholomew Cooper’s story and he has not heeded the warnings expressed by the Giant/Fireman seen not only in the first scene of The Return but in Episode 8 of the original run when he was told: “The real question is where have you gone?”

At the start of Part 18 we see a scene that closely mimics the last scene of Episode 17, with Cooper guiding Laura through the woods in 1989 and then losing her to Judy. It has always struck me that considering these episodes were broadcast back to back, why repeat this more or less beat for beat. I believe that here Lynch is showing us that Cooper went back to 1989 more than once. Perhaps twice, but more likely a thousand times with the quest always ending the same way. Cooper then tries something new, now able to exert a certain amount of control over the mysterious forces of existence. Cooper and Diane travel to a parallel world, a world perhaps almost too much like our very own rather than the fictional world of Twin Peaks. Diane loses herself almost immediately and Cooper doesn’t really act like himself anymore, perhaps because of the tulpa’s found in different worlds but perhaps because a kind of weariness has set in. He finds “Laura” alive, but living out a similarly troubled life in Odessa, Texas. He convinces her to travel with him to Twin Peaks and the journey is a long, haunting one that mimics the exhaustion the fight against evil can cause. When Cooper meets Carrie Page on her doorstep and informs her that travelling with him to Twin Peaks is “very important” the way he says these words is really all I needed to know. The mission, the need to do good has consumed him and he has a singular focus, but as we know from countless fictions, time-travel is a dangerous thing.

Cooper realises too late his mistake; the white knight he longs to be cannot exist in the real world; the fight against evil isn’t something you can “win”. If anything he has made the situation worse and the experience has driven him to a point of madness. I realised this on the sixth rewatch and then it hit me what was happening and I have never cried so hard. Cooper didn’t win. There is no winning in a world of grey. The story was the story of the fight against evil and the toll that can take on a good person.

Cooper’s mistake mirrored my own ill-judged notions six months before Season Three began. I couldn’t save Mary; I tried and I failed. The horror that befell her was too horrific; the scars ran too deep. All I could really do was be there, you cannot change the past. You cannot save victims when they have already become victims. All you can do is offer them love and understanding. It was a harsh lesson I had to learn and one that has fundamentally changed me as a person. I am grateful I got to be there for a time at least and do what I could.

Like many of you I wonder where the story goes now and it is interesting to think about, but I believe that it may be done. I believe any further story there is to tell involves Cooper’s quest to resolve matters leading him to become the vapor that Philip Jefferies became on his own quest. The story had no resolution just as life doesn’t always have a happy ending. Acceptance of this is my own happy ending, or as happy as life can be considering anyway.

Written by Christopher Holt

Christopher Holt currently fights hypocrisy and evil on the fringes of reality whilst producing and co-hosting the Lunch Hour Geek Out podcast. He has spent twenty years writing a novel which will do nothing less than change the world...when it's finished.

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