Agent Cooper’s “Diane…” Twin Peaks tapes are an essential part of the series’s considerable lore. The real-world release of the cassette version of these tapes, right around the debut of the show’s second season was, along with the publication of The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer one of those amazing early ways in which the show would grow and build its presence beyond the just the television. That release had some recordings from the show and some which were written by Scott Frost just for the tape. What I remember most though was how the scenes in the show with the tape recorder helped establish the greatness of Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan).
Cooper was a wonder of a character from his first scene to his last, and beyond. David Lynch and Mark Frost must have had some idea of what they had on their hands here, but I don’t think anyone was really ready for the torrent of love and affection that the character has generated for over 30 years. This is due to both the fundamental earnest excellence of MacLachlan’s take on the character and the way he was developed and driven forward by the narrative.
An essential part of this was this series of dispatches to the unseen “Diane”. It allowed the character to have a past, and a seemingly innocent but also flirtatiously charged, relationship with this woman we never met. When we finally do meet her in The Return, the fact that she is played by the incredible Laura Dern (who along with MacLachlan, Jack Nance, and others is one of the elemental actors of the Lynch pantheon) only made the relationship more intriguing.
So, I thought it would be fun to list my five favorite examples of these tapes. I decided to limit myself to five, I’ve included some that aired on the show along with a couple that I believe were recorded specifically for the audio release. This is by no means a definitive list or ranking of the tapes. It is rather a recounting of a few of the examples that have stuck with me the most, both during and after viewings of the series.
Number 5: “Diane, it’s 1:17 pm. I have just concluded my second mediation of the day, in lieu of sleep.”
As the original run of Twin Peaks reached its end, there were fewer and fewer tapes from Cooper to Diane. Cooper has been drawn into the madness of the town and will soon be pulled away for good, but here in “Miss Twin Peaks” he gets one last real chance to express the Cooper that caused people to love him so much. His personality is on display, undaunted by the murders and evil of Leland Palmer and Windom Earle.
In the tape, Cooper also gives some insight into his past his lost love, and his hope to love and be happy again. It is a melancholy tape, despite the upbeat delivery. In the end, Cooper is pulled away, mid-thought by a knock at the door. While it is Annie who comes to his room, he will never be happy, he will never be with Annie, never back with the long-lost Caroline, or even with Diane.
Number 4: “Events Converge, the Theory of Concentric Thinking”
This is probably the deepest of the tapes as far as meaning, though it ranks a bit lower in this list for me because there is less of the personality of the Cooper I love on display. The tape is an essential part of the lore though. And in it, Cooper spells out the theories at the heart of the show and his own demise.
All of this strange and supernatural darkness that has overtaken the scenic town of Twin Peaks is interconnected. A concentric circle that is both the explanation for and the origin of all the dark and evil things that infest our world. Cooper here is not his light and breezy self, not focused on small details and a deeply felt, almost corny, optimism about life. As he has been drawn further into the darkness, it has begun to overtake him.
He will fight against it, but this tape has the ominous feel that the mythos is too much even for our hero. Agent Dale Cooper, we will learn, will never really escape these converging events. It will lead to the Black Lodge, the Doppelganger, and Dougie, and 25 years in the wilderness. It is all encapsulated here in this short missive to Diane (who of course will also be torn up in the darkness to come). Agent Cooper fighting to understand the darkness will be pulled into it.
Number 3: “Diane. My recorder is on the table. I’m unable to reach it at this time.”
When Agent Cooper was shot entering his room at the close of Season 1 it left the fans with an all-time great cliffhanger, and also an empty feeling. Coop getting shot was a shock and having to wait over the long summer to find out his fate was a bit much for many fans. Especially considering the show had also still not solved Laura Palmer’s murder. This is all well known as what ultimately caused the original cancellation of the series and also among the reasons the show is so beloved by the fans.
Season 2 opens with Cooper alive, experiencing dreamlike hallucinations of the hotel porter and meeting “the Giant” (Carel Struycken) for the first time. After these experiences, Cooper starts to shift in and out of consciousness and creates this recording for Diane. Cooper goes into great detail about the feeling of being shot, the regulations involved, the pain he is feeling, and his dreams for a happy life. The viewer experiences it along with him. MacLachlan’s performance is perfect. Obviously, Cooper is still trying to inject the recording with his trademark cheerfulness, both for Diane’s sake and his own, but MacLachlan’s tone of voice belies the reality. Cooper does not expect to make it out of the Great Northern after this.
The tape is also a reminiscence on, and a jolt back, from the visions Coop is experiencing. “May the Giant Be With You” takes Agent Cooper to new places and introduces some of the most essential lines and mysteries of all of the Twin Peaks tapes. But there is still something profound and most effective about those moments of Agent Cooper laying prone and bloody on the dark wooden floor.
Number 2: “Diane… 3 am. Open entering my room at the Great Northern two hours ago I discovered Audrey Horne lying in my bed, under the sheets, disrobed”
Agent Cooper’s relationship, or lack thereof, with Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Finn), is one of the central elements of the series. Audrey and Cooper were fan favorites from their first scenes and the two actors have undeniable chemistry but the two were not destined to be together (partially because of MacLachlan’s very correct notion that the upright Cooper would not be well served to be put into a relationship with a high school student.)
With this tape, the listener can hear the wavering in Cooper’s voice. Throughout the series, he has been tempted by the darkness around him and this moment of finding Audrey naked in his bed is a fundamental part of that temptation. But his goodness, and desire to actually build up and help Audrey, are what shine through. He confesses many things to Diane, but at the heart of it is—Agent Dale Cooper really wants to solve the mystery and save the girl. Audrey Horne is certainly infatuated with him, and he is drawn to her. But with this tape, we get the knowledge we need. Thankfully, our Cooper would not fall into this particular sin and instead actually does exactly what he tells Diane, tastefully dashing many fans and producers of the show’s hopes to the contrary in the process.
Number 1: “11:30am, February 24th” The First Twin Peaks Tape
For my absolute favorite tape, there is really no other choice than the very first. This was the first tape we ever heard, the mother of them all, and our perfect introduction to Agent Dale Cooper in all of his glory. It may be the single best introduction of a character ever.
In two minutes of the Twin Peaks tapes, we learn everything that makes Cooper who he is. And we learn the things about him that will make us love Coop, and by extension, his entire trip through the darkness both so compelling and so tragic. This is an odd man, one of quirks and corniness. He loves silly jokes and damn good coffee. And he is meticulous and fastidious. A perfect detective, but a man who is not yet fully formed. Agent Cooper almost seems like Tom Hanks in Big. A kid pretending to be an adult, but still reveling in everything that he loves.
MacLachlan too is at the height of his powers here. He leans into Coop’s overwhelming earnestness not away from it. This character is almost the Platonic ideal of a Boy Scout, and the performance perfectly sets up the Shakespearean tragedy to come. From these first lines of exuberance, which of course are also already tinged with a bit of darkness considering Cooper is coming to investigate a murder, we will watch this man at both his highest heights and lowest lows.
In the meantime, get out your trusty tape recorder, remember to always track your expenses. And if you ever visit the Lamplighter Inn out on Highway 2 get a tuna fish sandwich on whole wheat, a slice of cherry pie, and a cup-a-coffee. I heard one that it is damn good food.