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Defending Dale Cooper & Annie Blackburn’s Twin Peaks Romance

Late in Twin Peaks Season 2, Dale Cooper reassures John Justice Wheeler that taking a chance on love is a good endeavor by saying it “feels like someone’s taking a crowbar to my heart.”  Wheeler says it sounds bad, but Cooper says “No, I think it’s been locked away long enough.” This is great, right? Our special agent is feeling love, and we’re finally getting a chance to see what that looks like when he unlocks his heart. Except this relationship isn’t born from the slow-burn interactions between Cooper and Audrey Horne, which is a sin to many viewers even today. It’s with fast-tracked newcomer Annie Blackburn. And no matter what you may feel on the matter, I think Cooper and Annie’s relationship is a good thing. A better thing.

Sure, Annie and Cooper’s pairing reinforces some forced narrative conventions by rushing in a new romantic interest for Cooper out of nowhere. And sure, it appears to deny established characterization by not igniting the Audrey/Cooper romantic tension like viewers were demanding for quite a while. But in other ways, it absolutely reinforces Cooper’s characterization by pairing him with a much better fit for him as a person. It’s not Dale and Annie’s fault the episode count and plot had to derail them before they could win over most of the viewers. 

Why Not Audrey?

When Dale first sees Audrey in his bed back in Season 1, viewers were sold on their chemistry, but Dale Cooper turns her down gracefully. She is a girl in high school and he is in the FBI, not to mention Audrey is involved in the case he’s working on. It’s a non-starter.

To add to this, in Diane… The Twin Peaks Tapes of Dale Cooper –Which MacLachlan seemingly took to heart when he recorded it as an audiobook over the summer of 1990– Dale speaks of Audrey as an immature innocent who “wants to play detective” and “help with the investigation.” He says “I’m sure it’s a young girl’s romantic fantasy to her. She’s 18 by the way, last August the 24th. I must remain alert and cautious in this area, Diane. She clearly doesn’t understand the dangers involved, both physical and emotional.”

Dale knows exactly how old Audrey is, so there’s definitely some attraction, but right away he implies she’s not grown up enough to be involved with his dealings. Based on his previous trauma, Cooper can only feel that he would be bringing trauma into Audrey’s life for the first time. Audrey hadn’t even been in love at this point.

I understand that the Twin Peaks writers were planning to go forward with a Cooper/Audrey romance arc anyway around Episode 17. I’m not going to get into any meta issues why Kyle MacLachlan may have nixed the romance before it even began. I don’t need to. From the point of view of Cooper’s character, MacLachlan was absolutely correct. It would have gone against anything Cooper ever said about Audrey’s maturity. It would have made him interested in someone he saw as a child who was starved for friendship. He would value what it means to be that child’s first love, and how incongruous that would be for him. It would have made us all wonder who Cooper could be, for all the wrong reasons.

Seven episodes later, the writers finally give Cooper and Audrey their romance arcs, with other people. Audrey is paired with John Justice Wheeler, and Cooper is paired with Annie. From a nuts and bolts perspective, Annie is none of the things Cooper was concerned about with Audrey. Though Annie would become embroiled in Windom Earle’s machinations later, she has nothing to do with anything Dale is working on. And despite Heather Graham’s actual age, she was playing older same as MacLachlan was playing a slightly older character. 

Annie is not a child. The reasons that drove Annie to the scars on her wrist happened no earlier than her senior year of high school. Her entry into the convent happened –at the earliest– that same year, and she was at the convent for 5 years after that. This places Annie between the ages of 22 and 25 years old when we meet her, which still isn’t great compared to Dale’s age of 35, but the difference was more socially acceptable at the time, not to mention there’s an evolutionary difference of knowing oneself when graduating high school versus when they’re the age to graduate from college. Especially when the person in question spent the last five years deeply focused on learning to make peace within themselves and feels ready to rejoin the world. 

And about those scars on Annie’s wrists: she’s been hurt by love before and came through the other side. Just like Dale, who was internally scarred by his relationship with Caroline Earle. But there’s more to Dale and Annie than shared trauma and proper ages. 

Why Annie?

The fact that they’re in a TV show and Dale is the protagonist meant that drama needed to collide with their story. But from where they began, these two make a lot of sense together.

As Norma’s sister, Annie literally comes from the Double R side of Twin Peaks where love is baked into pies and cups of joe every day. She has absolutely nothing to do with any of Dale’s cases which means no conflicts of interest, and from moment one she brings him his intuition fuel.

Their first meeting is quick and above board. Cooper goes in to the Double R, and is smitten immediately, slowing down his order of “deep black joe”. He welcomes her to the town, deducts she’s Norma’s sister, and implies he hopes she stays for a while.

The next day, Harry and Cooper are back at the Double R debating finch or chickadee on the Dodge Dart in the parking lot, and Annie silently joins in and backs up Cooper’s answer. She uses his terminology and gives him a “cup of deep black joe” before offering a hangover solution of “Tea totaling and prayer” to Harry. 

Cooper loves that answer and asks her how she is, and Annie proves that she’s an overthinker. ”I’m fine. I’m weird actually. I’m disoriented, I’m not sure where I am. I mean, I know where I am but it feels odd being here. I’m okay.”  

Cooper echos an “okay,” and we see Harry verify that Cooper is vibing with Annie. Dale assures her if he thought she was strange he would tell her.

Annie says “You don’t [nose wrinkle] think so [that she was strange]?” Cooper says ”Not a bit.”   Annie is surprised and relieved. “Good, glad we got that cleared up.” It’s an odd but cute interaction. 

A lot of love energy is happening in this scene –most notably the counter esperanto between Gordon and Shelly– but Dale and Annie hold their own. While ordering lunch Dale tacks on a joke about two penguins. Annie has to leave when one penguin tells the other penguin it looks like he’s wearing a tuxedo, but when she comes back she asks “so what did the second penguin say?” She was listening, and wanted to!

“The first penguin turned to the second penguin and said, you look like you’re wearing a tuxedo. And the second penguin said, maybe I am.” The charm is all in MacLachlan’s delivery, and it doesn’t quite make sense to us, but Dale and Annie both giggle because they get it. 

The next day Cooper goes in to order donuts and coffee and invites Annie to a nature study date. She accepts and it’s all 1950s TV wholesomeness. Dale echoes Gordon’s language on Shellly’s magical ability to be heard by Gordon’s ears. “When I talk to you, I get a tingling sensation in my toes and in my stomach. I don’t think it has anything to do with coffee.”

On the date, we get Annie’s backstory when we learn about what got her to the convent, and that she’s overcoming her fear by returning to where it all went bad. But it’s not all dark backstory. She admits her intuition is telling her to trust Dale, and they kiss for the first time. Later they coincidentally meet at the Great Northern’s bar where Dale reassures Annie and commits to helping her on her path through her fear. 

Technically, the writers are spelling out a lot of things for viewers here, and Cooper could just be falling in love with protecting Annie. But he could have just as easily fallen in love with protecting Audrey. Why does it work here? Cooper and Annie are people who need intellectual safety to make crossing personal boundaries safe. And they’re able to grow together at the same rate from the same starting positions.  

From here they’re preoccupied with each other. Cooper sees her face and hears her voice when he should be focusing on his petroglyph investigation, and Annie sees his face in the eggs she makes at the Double R. They also catch each other’s intellectual quotes they use to understand reality, and they giggle when they feel recognized.   

Annie agrees to go dancing with Dale even though she’s scared to dance, and they are cute when Dale holds his hand out to her and she shakes her head no. They nonverbally get her onto the dance floor with him, and Cooper says “just think of it as a walking embrace, two people, stepping, as one would step. Follow me.” And Annie counters with a perfect encapsulation of why they work: “we’ll follow each other.”  This scene is a perfectly balanced instance where there’s plenty of telling and showing.

I just wish they could’ve continued on this trajectory.

Timing and Plot Was Against Them the Whole Time

The writers did not do the relationship any favors by coming up with it so late in the season. Annie and Cooper obviously had something, but by the time the Twin Peaks writers got to Cooper’s romance arc, there were only six episodes left in the season. Which meant it was time to ramp up towards a dramatic season finale that would absolutely hinge on the show’s protagonist, Cooper. 

It was the worst possible time to give him a romantic interest, but that wasn’t the writers’ primary concern anyway. Mark Frost said to Brad Dukes in Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks, “the character of Annie was central to the Windom Earle story and the idea was that this was an echo for Cooper, of the one thing he had done that he was most ashamed of: the affair with Earle’s wife and this presented a chance for him to redeem himself.”

So there we have it: she was created to be an echo of Cooper’s past, rather than a character on her own merits. And for storytelling purposes she was literally doomed from the start, needing to meet and couple with Cooper in five episodes so she could be a damsel in distress in the sixth. 

That’s why she ends up being an outsider who “grew up in town” yet is never recognized. That’s why their rushed courtship feels less organic and more like when Cooper fell slightly under Lana’s pheromone powers. And it’s why many fans theorize that Annie is somehow Lodge-maneuvered or could be a tulpa.

It felt incongruous because Audrey and Cooper had all that fire that was able to simmer for 23 episodes before Annie entered the show, while Cooper and Annie had a low-key cerebral slow-burn vibe that led into a physical relationship in five episodes before we as viewers had a chance to decide if we liked the pairing or not.  

If Cooper’s romance arc started when it was intended to in Episode 17, however, there would have been 13 episodes left in the season. There would have been time for some decompressed episodes where he could live in his feelings and enjoy meeting someone without needing to rush into a commitment. Annie could’ve been allowed to be a character on her own merits, and there would have been time for the audience to like her before Cooper needed to nail down his intentions to be in a relationship with her. 

Instead of getting an awkward conversation about forests and trees coded as past trauma leading to them getting into bed together after only knowing each other for 5 episodes, we’d’ve supported Annie and Cooper like we did Andy and Lucy, because they match that kind of well. But instead, we’re comparing it against the visible fire from the previous romantic tension.

The pace of TV production was moving so quickly that the producers didn’t even think of making a new love theme for Annie and Cooper. A new noir-heavy theme was made for Josie and Truman; it could have been done. It’s like the writers knew this wasn’t supposed to last so they didn’t make it grow enough on its own. Instead Cooper and Annie got the same Love Theme selection everyone else got at that point of the show: the Audrey’s Prayer music cue. And there we have that comparison mucking things up again.

Imagine how much easier it’d be to see Annie and Cooper on their own merits if they had given Annie a music cue of her own, and then it was gradually used with a saxophone (Cooper’s instrument) playing the melody during their scenes.

It would have been even easier to be on Annie’s side when she told Dale “I understand why you hesitate, why you treat me with care. The convent evokes the image of helpless women, fearful of the thought of any emotion other than those derived from scripture, and prayer. But when you hold me, when we kiss I feel safe and eager and I’m not afraid, of anything that you make me feel.” 

It would have been so much easier to see the two people stepping as one would step, following each other.

Written by John Bernardy

John Bernardy has been writing for 25YL since before the site went public and he’s loved every minute. The show most important to him is Twin Peaks. He is husband to a damn fine woman, father to two fascinating individuals, and their pet thinks he’s a good dog walker.

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