I hope you like Twin Peaks, because otherwise this is going to get really tedious, really fast! I’m not sure if a nearly twenty-seven year-old show warrants this, but…SPOILER WARNING! I’m going to be talking about the original series (especially the finale, Episode 29, “Beyond Life and Death”) as well as large swaths of the 2017 revival. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Full disclosure: I can’t claim to have been an original fan of Twin Peaks. My first birthday hadn’t even passed when the series was cancelled, ending with an incredibly disturbing cliffhanger. Up until late-2016, my only experience with the series had been through memes and the two Simpsons parodies. (Speaking of Peaks, memes, and Simpsons, check this one out.) That changed when my cousin turned me on to the show.
Needless to say, I was hooked from the start.
Similar to my experience watching 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time, I was immediately struck by a few things about Twin Peaks: Generally, I was surprised how well the show held up; and I was genuinely awed to see how influential and prescient it was with regard to the landscape of modern serial TV. I see Peaks reflected in things as wide-ranging as Northern Exposure–a connection noted by those involved with the series–all the way to Lost. (The murder-mystery aspect of Peaks itself seemingly owes a massive debt to the “Who Shot J.R.?” storyline of Dallas, another series I haven’t seen.) I was charmed and perplexed by the characters, fascinated by the human dramedy that was balanced between doses of the supernatural, and so I eagerly awaited the 2017 revival. In the interim, I even went out and bought copies of 1990’s The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, written by Jennifer Lynch in-between the first two seasons, and 2016’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks, written by Mark Frost as a semi-sequel to the series, bridging the gap between the original and the new and providing a lot of information. Some of it even contradictory! (Seriously.)
When the new series debuted mid-2017…well, I wasn’t disappointed. I also didn’t quite get what I was expecting. (Like with The Last Jedi, I think this was actually a good thing.) Amid the answers (and half-answers) viewers got for years-old questions and mysteries, there came a whole host of new questions–many of which were answered in 2017’s Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier (also by Mark Frost), but some of which remain (and will likely indefinitely be) unanswered. If there’s one thing I think viewers were meant to take away from the revival series, it’s that the destination isn’t as important as the journey.
…Or is it?!
Honestly–I don’t know. That’s not what I want to write about today. Plenty of other people have dissected the new series and discussed its merits (or, depending on their point-of-view, its lack thereof). Instead, I want to reflect on something tied to the finale of the original series, something that I just considered after a rewatch.
First, a little bit of set up is in order: While the “message” of the original series is something that has perplexed fans (or enlightened others, depending on what they think the answer is) for almost twenty-seven years, I do have some thoughts about what the audience witnesses in that finale from June 1991.
Within the context of the original series, I think the intent was that Cooper, like Leland Palmer before him, was physically inhabited or possessed by Killer BOB–hence the now infamous scene where Cooper smashes his head violently into the bathroom mirror of his hotel suite, revealing a reflection of BOB as he sardonically cackles, “Where’s Annie?!” (The reveal of BOB in the mirror is a callback to Episode 14, “Lonely Souls,” when Laura’s supernatural murderer is revealed to be tied to her father.) This interpretation seems entirely in-line with the information we get from both The Secret Diary and the 1992 film Fire Walk with Me, where BOB’s psychological and sexual abuse of Laura is tied to his desire to inhabit her body–something he ultimately fails to do.
The additional context provided by the Mark Frost books and the 2017 revival alter (or, perhaps, clarify) this interpretation: The Cooper that left the Black Lodge is revealed to have been the doppelgänger (hereafter Mr. C) who pursued Cooper within the Black Lodge, although the strict relationship between this entity and BOB’s is (at least, in my opinion) unsettled. (There are two occasions where BOB, encased within an orb, erupts from Mr. C’s body, but it’s hard to say whether this is supposed to mean that BOB is inhabiting Mr. C in the same way he did Leland [and thus “controlling” him directly] or if the orb is something more akin to an “aspect” of BOB, perhaps similar to the function of a Horcrux in Harry Potter.*)
What’s the deal with these doppelgängers, anyway? It’s one of the things that goes relatively unanswered in the show and the books, but it’s interesting to note that in the season two finale, the doppelgängers encountered by Cooper in the Black Lodge are all figures native to that place–so he sees one of the Man from Another Place/the Arm–or humans who have been killed by Lodge entities or people related to them–so he sees Laura, Maddy, Leland, and even Windom Earle’s dead wife Caroline.
I’m going to emphasize that again: All the human doppelgängers we see in the Black Lodge are of dead people–that is, until Mr. C appears.
There’s been a great deal of speculation about the nature of these doppelgängers and what their appearance “means” in the context of Twin Peaks. In the real-world, a doppelgänger is an (obviously) supernatural occurrence that can be anything from “a harbinger of bad luck” to an outright “evil twin.” (That’s from Wiki, but they aren’t a bad source here.) These definitions don’t seem to clash with what we see in the show, so I think it’s fair to say they apply to one degree or another. But a more specific theory that I’ve seen before is that they are somehow a manifestation of the person’s “evil,” a representation of their anger and negative energy. For the most part, I subscribe to this theory, mostly because of the depiction of Laura in the various media: There are comments about her darkness in the show, and we see it on full display in both the Diary and the film. (The former goes into detail about how she turned love-sick Bobby Briggs into a drug dealer, and the latter shows her psychologically reeling from her abuse at the hands of BOB/Leland and taking it out on her friends and lovers.)
But there’s a wrinkle in all this, and his name is Dale Cooper.
For one, unlike all the other people who have doppelgängers we see in the original series,** Cooper isn’t dead. He’s trapped in the Black Lodge, but he isn’t dead. This could be taken to mean that the connection of deceased-to-doppelgänger is meaningless…but then, I think maybe we’re forgetting something really important in that space. Something I noticed (or perhaps re-noticed) tonight.
Someone does die, and immediately before the appearance of Mr. C: Windom Earle, Cooper’s insane ex-partner, who lured him to the Black Lodge with the intent to kill him–to harvest Cooper’s soul, as he claims in the final showdown between these former brothers. He even seems to succeed, stabbing Cooper…but then there’s a conflagration, and BOB appears. He seems to reverse what happened, and tells Cooper that “[Earle] can’t ask for your soul. I will take his.” Cooper, visibly disturbed by this, attempts to flee the Black Lodge–at which point he is chased through the labyrinthine red curtains and halls of the Lodge by Mr. C, and the rest, as they say, is history…
Bearing all this in mind–especially the notion that the doppelgängers are tied to those killed by the inhabitants of the Lodge or their vassals–I think there’s a potential answer for who Mr. C is truly meant to be a manifestation of: Namely, he represents Windom Earle’s jealously and anger toward Cooper. Within the context of the original series, Earle is already portrayed as a sort of “evil twin” of Cooper’s anyway: They both loved the same woman–Caroline Earle–and they were both top-shelf FBI agents…until their paths diverged, that is, with Cooper remaining on this side of the law while Earle became murderous and criminal. Earle hated everything about Cooper, fixating on him, escaping from a mental institution just to haunt and torture his former friend’s every move.
Windom Earle is “Evil Cooper.” He is the person from whom Mr. C is born.
The Cooper we see in the original series isn’t without his darkness, but–and this I stress–it never seems to manifest itself in a way that isn’t derived from his strict moral sensibilities, from his desire to help others and uphold justice, especially for those he cares about. Cooper’s “darkness” comes from a place of love, whereas Earle is consumed by his hate, and the actions of Mr. C (especially the rape of comatose Audrey Horne) seems more of a nature fitting Cooper’s “evil twin” than any such desire we’d ever see in Cooper himself.
*I could actually see a connection between the Horcrux Diary-Riddle becoming corporeal in Chamber of Secrets and Mr. C’s physically leaving the Lodge, but I’m not sure if Rowling was a Peaks fan or just drawing on common folklore and myth.
**I remain uncertain whether the doppelgängers in the Black Lodge are meant to be identical to the false creations made by Lodge entities, called “tulpas” in the 2017 revival. An example of these is the false Diane. While I concede that they’re very similar, for the sake of the argument I make here…I’m going to assume they’re also somewhat distinct.