Blue Fifth Reviews – Twin Peaks: Another Dossier (April 2018 / #13)
Any conscientious critic who has ever had to review a new volume of poetry in a limited space knows that the only fair thing to do would be to give a series of quotations without comment but, if he did so, his editors would complain that he was not earning his money.
–W. H. Auden, “Reading”
Each month the editors select collections of poetry, flash, and short fiction to present to our readers. We will be heeding Auden’s advice, listing, without comment, key passages that we consider representative of the featured works. Our hope is that readers will also be moved, and will seek out the books.
Sam Rasnake, ed.
“This special issue of Reviews focuses on the grand saga and mythic world that is Twin Peaks. And the bottom of the story? It’s owls – all the way down.” – SR
A link to an earlier issue of BFR – the blue collection 8: Twin Peaks (Winter 2017): A Blue Rose Case … in Eighteen Parts.
DeMisty D. Bellinger Spencer Chou
Kolleen Carney-Hoepfner Collin Kelley The Lees of Memory
Derek Peters Kailey Tedesco
Case# 009-073-0120 Bureau File# TP-04/17
Twin Peaks as a Quest for a Good that No One Will Never Know
It wasn’t until I began teaching my students about the archetype of the witch in literature that I realized I truly understood Twin Peaks.
Or, more accurately, I truly understood an aspect of Twin Peaks.
We were reviewing the Joseph Campbell monomyth and after asking for examples of stories that employ the traditional hero cycle, I asked for examples of stories that do not. This proved to be a much more difficult question. Instinctually, I began to say that Twin Peaks, in all its plot-abandoning non-linearity, does not adhere to the monomyth narrative structure. But then, I thought, wait!
Perhaps it does! And not only that, but perhaps it adheres to this narrative structure completely and totally, so much to the point where you forget that what you’re viewing is a hero on a quest in the name of good in a world possessed by a primordial evil. But let’s back up a bit.
Initially, Twin Peaks was intended as pastiche of soap operas or serialized television. The traditional soap, while pot boiling, abandons linearity in favor of impermanent deaths (Laura, in a sense), untied or seemingly irrelevant plot webs (James leaves TP and meets Evelyn Marsh), and never to be re-visited cliff hangers that viewers all but forget about in the thrall of tangled character arcs (how is Annie?).
By season 2 of TP, the typical soap threads are still present, but they are beginning to feel bigger, mythologically significant in a way that soaps usually are not. This pastiche is then challenged further with the added installments of Fire Walk with Me, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, The Complete History of Twin Peaks, and finally Twin Peaks: The Return. What may have begun as commentary on television, and more specifically that way viewers consume it, has become more of a commentary on storytelling or more specifically the way in which stories are born. For it takes a meta-viewer to engage with all the intricacies of Twin Peaks. The inclusion of multiple-modes and mediums of information and “secrets” gives the viewer a certain perception of agency over not only the story that is Twin Peaks, but also the myth that extends from it.
The television show, much like religion, posits ostensible truths about the implications of good and evil through archetypal characters living in archetypal story structures. The ultimate result of this is an origin story — how was evil born? And a didacticism — how can evil die, and does it even matter?
Of course, at the very heart of this story is Dale Cooper, a man, who unless you’ve read The Autobiography of FBI special Agent Dale Cooper, viewers know very little about. This, I believe, is intentional. Dale is not necessarily intended to be round (though we love him deeply anyways), but instead archetypal — he is perfect, he is inexplicably mystical, he is an embodiment of the lawful good. While we get glimmers of his past, it is mostly irrelevant. He is the story’s hero. And he is placed right into the very thesis of the show: Evil is older and stronger than good. Evil is already inside of you. What are you going to do about it?
The question is never answered because it has no answer, or more succinctly, the answer is there is no answer. Typically, the hero will cross the threshold between the ordinary world and into the world of the unknown. Dale is a stranger to Twin Peaks even in its most ordinary sense, and only considers it normal because it is codified as such. The unknown world (the Black Lodge) is therefore far more intentional even in-text, and because of this, Coop maintains awareness over his journey. Whereas a more traditional hero is said to initially refuse the quest, Coop not only embraces it, but announces it deliberately: I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.
Because Coop is an FBI special agent/coffee enthusiast and pseudo-soothsayer/hero, he embodies all sides of Jung’s four cardinal orientations at once, making him the archetype of archetypes within the story. And it is from this intentional awareness of narrative structure that everything else falls into place.
Dale Cooper arrives to Twin Peaks with his tape recorder/talisman in tow which doubly functions as Diane Evans (aka Tulpa aka supernatural aid) in order to save, though he doesn’t exactly know it is a savior mission, Laura Palmer. He crosses thresholds and interacts with other aids and allies (The Fireman, Garland Briggs, the Man from Another Place) to collect crucial keystones, each communicating a new layer of the meaning of good.
Laura does not fall into any typical tropes of young females in stories: no temptress, no damsel in distress, no orphan, not exactly. Instead, she is Christ-like in both her inherent good and her martyrdom — she suffers so that both Jowday and Bob are satiated, and therefore somewhat controlled. She takes agency over her own death to save herself, and Dale Cooper, for the benefit of humanity, tries to bring her back home.
Home for Cooper is a literary ending, a hero’s quest completed; home for Laura is metaphysical hell, a reminder of trauma. It is ironic then that these stories’ endings are mutually exclusive. One character’s ending is the other’s beginning. There is no exiting the dream within a dream with a click of a heel.
Good for all, just like in most religions and parables, means the suffering of at least one. And, the story wonders, when Richard (Coop’s most literally evolved form) tries to bring Laura back to her place of suffering, is that really good at all? The Supreme Fiction offered from Twin Peaks, possibly articulated best through Sarah Palmer’s smashing of Laura’s iconic photograph, is our institutions and belief in good itself which is formulated from the stories we are told and our ability to empathize with them. Like many hero journeys, we are left pondering how our own flaws might lead us to thresholds that test our morality. The only difference here is we are not gratified with a happy or even clear ending — because Twin Peaks isn’t just a story; it’s an allegory for both our faith in and quest for good, and this will always leave us where our questions begin: with the deaths that originate our quests as our quests’ only possible ending.
Case# 009-073-0120 Bureau File# TP-04/15
‘Just You’ was always cool
There are many iconic scenes in Twin Peaks which demonstrate that trademark combination of the absurd, the disturbing and the hilarious. It isn’t always clear if you’re laughing because you’re in on the joke or because something is unintentionally funny, a failed attempt to provoke a reaction other than laughter. One scene that definitely falls into this second category is the infamous performance of the song ‘Just You’ by James Hurley (episode 9, season 2). This song has attracted much derision over the years and is usually considered to be nothing more than an irritating throwaway soap opera moment, an interruption of plot to wallow in self-indulgent sentimentality. However, I think despite it being an awful, cloying song, there is a hidden beauty to it, and a lot that needs to be taken into account before dismissing it as something only worthy of ridicule.
First, it’s worth noting that the scene immediately preceding the song is the one where Major Briggs informs Cooper that within the radio waves and gibberish he’s received from deep space, he’s found a message stating ‘the owls are not what they seem,’ plus Cooper’s name repeated over and over. There’s a lot to take in here. A new mystery has been introduced, and while we’re still reeling from this information, we’re suddenly presented with an apparently harmless establishing shot of James Hurley’s motorcycle outside the Hayward house. It might be assumed that this is the introduction to a relatively calm moment, where the plot is being put on hold to allow the audience to gather their thoughts. It isn’t as simple as that.
Although it only lasts for a second or two and might usually go unnoticed, there is a definite shake to the camera in that brief glimpse of the house, introducing a feeling of malevolence before we’ve even gotten inside. The eye-level viewpoint of this makes us as viewers feel that we are the source of this malevolence, that we are the voyeurs standing outside Donna’s house waiting to peep inside. This is the perfect foreshadowing of what is to come, and only increases the feeling of awkwardness when the song begins. It’s not only that we don’t want to be witnessing this embarrassing situation, but that we also feel like we shouldn’t be. We’re intruding on a rather personal moment between three young people locked in a love triangle. This feeling carries over as we get inside the house.
The large empty space behind them and the stillness of the room feels like a threat, something unseen yet present is just waiting for the right moment to strike. As soon as James opens his mouth and sings, the absurdity of what you’re seeing suddenly dawns on you. The song, perhaps written by James about Laura originally, now feels like it could be about either Donna or Maddy. The ugliness of the song doesn’t just come from the horrible vocals, banal lyrics or overly-earnest delivery, but from the looks they exchange and their expressions throughout the performance. Viewers are faced with many questions during this scene: Why the hell does his voice sound like that? Why can we hear a bass and drums playing? Why is this going on for so long? Why can’t I look away even though I want to?
The opening line (“That was really good, let’s try it again”) brings up even more questions. How long exactly have they been doing this? Have they been playing this song all evening? Has Donna’s dad been upstairs listening to it the whole time? There’s no denying that it’s a terrible song, but it’s because of this aural unpleasantness that the awkwardness of the scene becomes all the more compelling. The scene just wouldn’t be as powerful if it had included a better song, not even if the vocals were enjoyable to listen to instead of being inadvertently amusing.
In the years since Twin Peaks first aired, we’ve learned more about the origins of the song. James Marshall gives an interesting account of how he, Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch got together on set and composed it on the piano located in the Hayward house. Ultimately, the background story doesn’t really matter. The beauty of this scene is in the contrast between the heartfelt, sentimental performance, and what lies beneath – the feelings of the characters, the love triangle, and the greater threat that is revealed after the song, or perhaps because of the song – BOB. The feeling of voyeurism introduced at the start of the scene is reversed at the end. BOB climbs over the sofa and looks directly into the camera, at the viewers. We’re the ones being watched now.
Lynch, who must be all too aware of how the song had been received over the years, made the brilliant decision to revisit it in Twin Peaks: The Return (part 13). It would be easy to see this as yet another joke, included simply as something to please or annoy fans. However, this is Lynch, so we can assume there is far more to it than that. Even if there isn’t, half the fun of discussing Twin Peaks is in assuming there’s always something going on below the surface. I believe that the new performance of ‘Just You’ not only justifies the existence of the original performance, but acts as a conclusion to it.
James performs the song on stage at the Roadhouse. What was once a private moment between three people is now being brought out in public. We’re no longer intruders, but part of an appreciative audience. There is a sadness to this scene as we realise that nothing has really changed for James. He’s still living in Twin Peaks. He’s still unlucky in love, still singing the same song. His t-shirt looks the same, he’s using the same guitar and microphone. The song is even the same recording used the first time we heard it, and the artificially high-pitched vocals manage to sound even more disturbing when we hear them coming out of a middle-aged man’s mouth. Like many others living in the town of Twin Peaks, his life never quite moved on.
We learned previously that James is fond of the married Renee, and later, that Renee’s husband Chuck is very aware of this. For this new performance, the viewer is represented by the character of Renee, who is drinking in a booth with an unseen companion. She’s initially distracted by her conversation, laughing as the song begins. But soon her laughter fades and she becomes transfixed. Her expression moves between confusion and amusement, and as the song continues, she’s eventually moved to tears. She laughs again when she realises how it’s affected her. Renee’s reaction here is how we were supposed to react when James first performed the song with Donna and Maddy. Yes, it might initially make you laugh, but if you give it a chance you’ll realise that it stands for so much more.
But while nothing has changed, everything has changed. Although no longer the confused centre of a love triangle, James remains part of one in the role of the rival. As he looks into the audience, we can assume he’s making eye contact with Renee. This time there is only one object of his affection. Unlike the dramatic ending of the original performance, where the song is halted as Donna runs off at the realisation of his divided attention, there is now a hint of optimism. He manages to finish. He smiles when he sees Renee’s reaction and the audience responding positively. The crowd goes wild. We finally get it: James is still cool, and so is his song.
The Lees of Memory
Case# 009-073-0120 Bureau File# TP-04/16
Three songs from Sisyphus Says (SideOneDummy Records, 2014), the band’s first release – in double vinyl, limited edition album, and digital format
“We Are Siamese” & “Landslide” written by John Davis / “Deliquesce” written by Brandon Fisher / all © 2014 John Davis brand Music (BMI), administered by Words And Music, a division of Big Deal
John Davis writes: “There were several songs on the first Lees LP [Sisyphus Says] with the
goal in mind of evoking a bit of the Twin Peaks mood and world. I got the flu and had to miss 3 days of work back in… 2012? All I could do was lay on the couch and watch both seasons of Twin Peaks… then I got better and wrote 4 or 5 songs.
We wanted to create songs that sounded like Snoqualmie Falls looked. So, I guess it could be argued that there might be a very tenuous connection to the mood/setting, but lyrically there’s no connection between the songs and the plot or the characters.
Brandon’s ‘…deliquesce into the night’ lyric is very Julee Cruise ha ha but my guess would be that it was totally subconscious.”
We Are Siamese
Case# 009-073-0120 Bureau File# TP-04/13
The Dark Within, or, a Look at the Trauma of Twin Peaks
Without Once Referencing Pie or Coffee
Spoiler Warning: Every Iteration of Twin Peaks
CW: rape, violence, abuse
My most remembered viewing of Twin Peaks was in the early 2000s, when I, eating disordered, drug addled, sad, fell asleep at my best friend Brian’s house, watching a marathon I recall being called The Laura Palmer Is Still Dead Marathon. He had never seen it, but I had, first as a young child and then as a teen, buying Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me on VHS to see if 1. it was as weird as I recalled and 2. if it really had anything to do with “Monkey Gone to Heaven” by the Pixies (one of the first internet theories I had ever read—remember, these were dial-up days, and no, I don’t think the movie and the song are related). I woke up at dawn, dazed, not having meant to stay out all night, Brian snoring next to me. I thought about Still Dead Laura and positive minded Buddhist- leaning Dale Cooper as I drove home. Twin Peaks has always hollowed out my soul, a mixture of grief and exhilaration (and, if we’re being honest with season 2, anger and frustration). I thought of Laura, her trauma, her short life, her memory reduced to an object—objectified in life, objectified in death.
Twin Peaks is a series bookended in trauma, steeped in trauma, built log-by-log (thank you, Margaret) of heavy, wooden trauma. It begins with Laura washed ashore, iconic in her plastic tarp trappings, and ends with Laura-as-not-Laura screaming as she stands in front of her home, the home Dale Cooper, ever steadfast in his quest to fix what is broken, has brought her to—a home she no longer remembers, until she hears her mother’s voice, and breaks the silence with her patented Laura scream. Laura never doesn’t suffer, even in escaping to an alternate timeline/dream cage as Carrie Page (consider: the dead man in her home, never acknowledged, festering away in a chair. Consider all the things that man implies).
As a woman who has suffered domestic and sexual violence, Twin Peaks has always offered a sort of catharsis for me; in accepting that trauma is cyclical and can often infiltrate in strange ways, that repetition of cycles is, somehow, normal (Shelley’s love for bad-boys, for example). Things that have hurt me and left marks on my psyche feel more understandable. A comfort in the familiar, that you are not alone, that there is hope, like an angel in a painting come to life. When things cannot be explained easily, perhaps it’s best to accept that fate and circumstance are working behind the scenes to lay a path for us that is, at the moment, unattainable and unable to be understood, or even imagined. Maybe for every BOB/Judy, there is a Laura, soaking up all the horror like a sponge, her existence meant for something otherworldly, bigger than a human life. Or a Dale Cooper, trying and failing and always still trying to save Laura, to battle evil with goodness, no matter the timeline or plane of existence. Maybe, like the giant tea kettle David Bowie’s Phillip Jeffries became, we have to just… go with it.For some reason I am reminded of Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend in a Coma. It has been a long time since I’ve read that book, and I may be misremembering the details, but: a woman emerges from a seventeen-year coma, paralyzed from the waist down, to find her friends and daughter living lives that are in shambles. She regains her ability to walk, the world ends, they all survive, but nothing about them has changed; they’re still living in their worst lives. To save them, she sacrifices herself, returning to her coma, and they return to the moment the world ended, bright with new purpose—a second chance. It’s a strange book, and probably a little silly thinking back on it, but Coupland has, as my friend Emily says, “the same weird tropes [as Lynch], sort of slipstreamy not really magic realism”. Laura is this same magical entity; her existence was the heartbeat of the town of Twin Peaks. Everyone loved her. She was kind, empathetic (starting the Meals on Wheels program and tutoring Johnny Horne). She was beautiful, loved. She was complicated and she was secretive and she was being abused, not just by Leland/BOB, but by many other men and women. She was completely and monumentally failed by everyone, and her death was a harbinger for bad things to happen, as if she were the cork that plugged the evil that so desperately wanted to infiltrate. Present day Twin Peaks is corrupt, drug addicted, murderous, and generally just plain unnerving (recall the scene with Bobby Briggs staring worriedly at the young boy in camouflage, how bizarre the whole thing was).
But consider this: Cooper’s saving of Laura, removing her from her current trauma, which in turn means her murder never happened, and placing her into a dream-cage-placeholder, changes Twin Peaks itself, the town. In the book Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, which serves as a much-needed epilogue, FBI Agent Tammy Peterson, trying her best to untangle this bluest of rose cases, is baffled to find Laura’s death is now and, seemingly, has always been a missing persons case. Residents and law enforcement become foggy and confused when pressed for details. Cooper, unable to find her, leaves unceremoniously. Removing Laura-as Laura serves to tame the undercurrent of evil in the town of Twin Peaks, and placing her in a new reality serves to defeat the evil that is seemingly infecting its citizens.
Laura, indeed Margaret!, is the one.
But of course, that trauma still existed: the abuse, the rape. The trauma exists still, on the other plane.
Or, maybe, we can try to take back what has been taken from us when we’ve been abused: power. Agency. Diane and Cooper’s sex scene—Diane in control, having sex with the man who raped her. Or a version of that man, anyway. Trying to reclaim as much power as she can, even though she breaks while doing it. Generating the pain and suffering that Judy feeds upon. Processing abuse and pain is deeply personal for everyone, and often bubbles to the surface in ways that may seem strange or even dangerous to others. But with every action, there is a higher meaning, a deeper power. Every single action. More than we’ll ever be able to know. This scene was horrifically difficult for me to watch, and of course Lynch, who I feel is often personally trolling me, let it go on and on and on.
I am not going to try to rationalize or pretend to understand every meaning of Twin Peaks (though, admittedly, I have spent a lot of time on Reddit, reading fan theories, and I find “Twin Peaks Finale: A Theory of Cooper, Laura, Diane, and Judy,” an article by David Auerbach, to be a fantastic write up of what is a definitely a convoluted series). And one could argue that the manufactured Dougie Jones (or, rather, Coop-trapped-in-an-undeniably-improved-version-of-Dougie-Jones) is really “the one”—he manages to manufacture joy and light and honesty in everything around him. Perhaps that’s the drive of Dale Cooper, to set things right, his life’s mission, so much that he is in there somewhere, struggling to the surface. What more Dale Cooper is the fortune of the old woman in the casino, thanking “Mr. Jackpots” for giving her a life back? How fortunate we would all be to have a Mr. Jackpots to save us. But perhaps that’s another essay altogether.
In any event, for me, and for you, if you’re still reading this, I will end here: Twin Peaks is a love letter to the abused, for the broken. It may not seem that way, but it is. That we are not alone, that somewhere there is peace, there is solidarity, there is hope. Even if we have to make it for ourselves. The stars turn and a time presents itself. I hope the stars will turn for you, for me.
For Fritz, who still gets my coffees with “Dougie” written on the side
DeMisty D. Bellinger
Case# 009-073-0120 Bureau File# TP-04/18
James plays this weird, off-chord that doesn’t sound like it’s at the root. It sounds off. Then James sings and the discomfort of the scene and the song gets more uncomfortable.
You can hear about the genesis of the Twin Peaks song “Just You” on a Youtube link to Twin Peaks Fest 2013, Q & A1. It’s at a convention, and the audience erupts when someone asks about the song. James Marshall (on the show, he’s James Hurley) says the song is in C, which doesn’t sound quite right to me. I go back and listen to it again and again, my spine tingles. I let it play and the character James, his face serious as it always is, sings those simple words in that antiquated falsetto. I try playing it on this online keyboard, sounding it out slowly. It’s hardly in C. I think: that’s about right. Why would it be in something as safe as the key of C?
The scene takes place at the beginning of the second season, episode nine. It is an awkward ménage à trois played out in song, full of high school love, angst, and jealousy. Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle) and Maddy Ferguson (Sheryl Lee) sit on the floor, both rather close together. We see the two girls briefly, who look towards James. Then the camera cuts to James, and he begins to sing. The singing is subito piano—suddenly soft—and eerily high. It could be deemed high school sexy or bad boy gentle. But mostly, it’s awkwardly intimate. And though James hits all the right notes, he is clearly emulating something else. The falsetto matches his jacket, his hurt, tough boy image.
Unexpectedly, the girls sing back-up. They come in after about eight measures of James singing, maybe more—a full verse and chorus. Their voices are deeper than James. Maddy seems to really move into the performance of it, her eyes closed and leaning towards Donna and the mic. Donna is apprehensive, unsure, and jealous. Yeah, it’s hardly in C, a key that all (and yes, I’m going to stand by that all) musicians are confidant in, a key where most singers feel at home. The first chord is a D flat nine. I’m sure of it. And it’s an unsettling chord on which to build a song.
During their living room performance, Donna mostly keeps her eyes on James. She’s enthralled and worried. For the most part, Maddy keeps her eyes closed, her face towards the mic and Donna, except for once, while singing the words “and I,” she looks at James. And there is, of course, something in that look.
It is not clear who James is looking at. Maybe he’s not worried about girls and love at this point. Maybe he only cares about his music. Oddly enough, we don’t know that James plays and sings prior to this moment and there’s really nothing of it later. But when the scene happens, it is not unfitting; it seems to come just in time.
Donna believes she sees something between Maddy and James at the end of the song, when it is only she and Maddy singing “Just you and I” repeatedly to the close. Before the song is completely over, Donna gets up and runs away. It is this song more than anything prior to this moment that builds up tension between these three, and the performance of it shows some insight to what is at stake for each character. For Donna, it’s probably the love of James. For Maddy, it’s probably acceptance and friendship. But for James? I believe his devotion to the song keeps his motivations with the two women hidden.
James, Donna, and Maddy do not sing together again per se, but there is kind of another trio when Maddy dies. In the episode “Lonely Souls,” James and Donna are together at the Roadhouse. Julee Cruise sings the 1950s-esqe, dream pop song “Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart” on the stage. Donna and James sit across from each other at a booth. During the chorus, Donna mouths along with singer Cruise, “I want you rocking back inside my heart.” But soon, the song changes to something slower, dreamier. The song is “The World Spins,” and the lyrics are more ethereal than the first song Cruise sings; the music is more gauzy and whimsical. Here’s a sampling of the lyrics 2:
Moving near the edge at night
Dust is dancing in the space
A dog and bird are far away
The sun comes up and down each day
Light and shadow change the walls
Halley’s comet’s come and gone
The things I touch are made of stone
Falling through this night alone
Briefly, we see Maddy dying, screaming for help. Her cries are like a tortured bridge in the song.
Donna cannot know that Maddy is dead at this point—she has only just learned that Maddy was leaving the town of Twin Peaks—but she is crying. It feels as if she is crying for Maddy, and it seems, since there is music and singing still, that the three of them—Maddy, Donna, and James—are singing together again. Although Donna and James will never see Maddy again, they share a final song.
James Marshall said that when David Lynch, Angelo Badalamenti, and he originally wrote James’ song, they did it with the piano on set. I imagine that the piano was out of tune, but this is a good thing. The result was a recording that Marshall was uncomfortable singing with a key that is abnormal in pop music. It fits perfectly into the world of Twin Peaks and extends the sense of unease. Also, it sets up the scene of Maddy’s death, which comes much later, excellently.
Like the theme song and the rest of the soundtrack, no music is incidental in Twin Peaks. David Lynch obviously knows how to use music to help tell a story. The style of music here—contrasting to the jazz standards Leland Palmer sings—the pop music sung by James and Julee Cruise harkens to bubble gum rock, 1950s music that is often associated with good times of plenty, but with the weird keys, falsettos, and dreamy lyrics, they show that there is something more beneath the seemingly sleepy town.
1. In the reboot of Twin Peaks, James performs the song again. This time, the two backup singers are two young brunettes, but this time the song is for Renee.
2. As for “Just You,” David Lynch wrote the lyrics.
Case# 009-073-0120 Bureau File# TP-04/14
Exit Screaming: The Inconclusive Fate of Laura Palmer
Laura Palmer’s scream is what I will remember most. Her wide-eyed, open-mouthed horror at her circumstance and fate – perhaps her entire existence – a heart piercing, mind-shattering howl ripping through the darkness. That scream kept me awake 25 years ago and again in 2017. I cannot shake the sound, or the image of her face morphing into terror, then unleashing like a dam breaking open. Laura Palmer has been to hell and back, purgatory and back, non-existence and back. She was preyed upon by men who sought to possess her, rape her, murder her, rescue her, and somehow she confounded them all. She rose from the dead, became immortal, her scream a jarring reminder that she would not go quietly in the face of evil.
That’s what I like to think, anyway.
For two decades and change, our final image of Laura Palmer was from Lynch’s prequel film Fire Walk With Me as she laughed and cried as an angel appeared, seemingly to take her away from the purgatory of the Black Lodge after her tortured existence and murder by her demon-possessed father. It was almost a happy ending. Or as happy as we could hope for after what we’d seen of Laura’s life. But when Twin Peaks returned, we discovered that Laura was still trapped in the Black Lodge with her would-be savior, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, still whispering secrets about the past and future in his ear.
“I am dead, yet I live,” she tells Agent Cooper right before she offers us, even by her own standards, one of the most blood-curdling screams ever then disappears from the Black Lodge. Since creators Mark Frost and David Lynch have left Laura Palmer’s fate mostly up to the viewers, let me offer up my own scenario of her birth, death and rebirth. It may not jive with your own interpretation, and that’s fine. Because we are all probably wrong. Or maybe we’re all exactly right. Or maybe we’re just dreamers creating our own dream.If you follow the visuals, sound and enigmatic dialogue, it would appear that Laura Palmer was conceived and sent to Earth as a counterbalance against demons conjured into the world by the first nuclear test at Trinity in 1945. The bomb was so powerful, it allowed Judy (yes, we’re going to talk about Judy) and her offspring Bob to slip through a rip in the fabric of reality. Judy took up residency in young Sarah Palmer (literally crawling into her mouth as she slept), while Bob got inside the head of Leland Palmer. The child they created would become Laura, her spirit coughed up (also literally) by the entity known as The Fireman inside the White Lodge – the counterbalance to the Black Lodge. The underpinning of Twin Peaks has always relied on the most basic “good vs. evil” trope, but turned inside out and shown back to us funhouse mirror style. Nothing is ever basic or easy in the world of Twin Peaks. Laura Palmer was created to be a warrior, allowing herself to succumb to sexual abuse, drugs and her own death to bring the evil into the daylight and, in doing so, bring Cooper to Twin Peaks to end its reign over the town.
In the final two episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return, Cooper is sent back in time by the very disembodied Phillip Jeffries (originally played by David Bowie, but now inhabiting a giant tea kettle) to save Laura on the night she is to be murdered by Leland/Bob. Rather than going to her fateful rendezvous, Cooper leads her away into the woods, but she vanishes with a scream. At the same time, we see an absolutely unhinged Sarah smashing Laura’s homecoming photo and destroying it – erasing her. Laura’s body no longer washes up wrapped in plastic at the Packard Sawmill, rather she becomes a woman named Carrie Page who lives nearly 2,000 miles away in Odessa, Texas. Agent Cooper is also erased from the timeline and becomes someone named Richard. Did Cooper’s actions create an alternate timeline or did the evil Judy get wise to the plan and banish Cooper and Laura to another dimension?
While Judy might have deposited the pesky do-gooders in an alternate reality, she cannot quite erase their minds. Cooper cannot stop searching for Laura, which ultimately seals their fate. Cooper/Richard manages to find Laura/Carrie working as a waitress in a restaurant called Judy’s (of course). Carrie is eager to get out of Odessa since there’s a dead guy in her living room. While waiting for her to pack, Richard sees the statue of a white horse on the fireplace mantle – a sign of impending death. The pale horse appeared to Sarah Palmer before Laura and her look-a-like cousin Maddy were murdered by Bob. But as we know, while death seems to stalk the world of Twin Peaks, it doesn’t always mean physical demise.
Richard convinces Carrie to return to Twin Peaks with him and confront, the Judy-possessed Sarah Palmer. And as we saw earlier in the season when Sarah removed her own face to show an abusive misogynist the darkness that lived inside her before ripping his throat out, you do not want to “fuck with this.” Laura also opened her face to Cooper to show the radiant light burning inside her. Cooper puts these two diametrically opposed forces on a collision course by bringing Laura back to Twin Peaks.
Once they arrive, Richard and Carrie discover that the Palmers never lived in their home, and it’s occupied by Black Lodge entities the Tremonds. That should have been a big red flag, but both Richard and Carrie seemed too dazed and confused to understand. As they leave the house, Richard is uncertain what year they are in. We distantly hear Sarah calling her daughter’s name from the very first episode of the series followed by the horror of realization that comes over the woman who is now Carrie Page. The memory of who she was in an alternate reality seizes her, there is a scream that blows out the lights in the Palmer house and a quick cut to black. Our final image is of Laura whispering into the ear of a flummoxed Cooper back inside the red curtained world of the Black Lodge. Is Laura telling him how he botched her rescue and to try again, or is she telling him that evil never dies and to get comfortable because it’s going to be another long 25 years?
A sort-of answer comes from Mark Frost himself in his book Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, published shortly after the conclusion of season three. The timeline in Twin Peaks was reset the night Laura was supposed to die. Rather than being murdered, Laura Palmer simply vanished without a trace. Leland committed suicide a year later and Sarah became an alcoholic and pill addict. Twenty-five years later, Laura Palmer is a nearly forgotten, unsolved missing person’s case. It is hinted that the populace of Twin Peaks has fallen under the spell of Judy and live in a hazy dream world.
Ah, yes. We shouldn’t forget dreams.
Perhaps Laura’s fate lies in the riddle of the “dreamer who dreams, then lives inside the dream” told to FBI Chief Gordon Cole by his spirit guide, Monica Bellucci. Many theories posit that Cooper is the dreamer, but what if it’s actually Laura fulfilling her destiny? In my mind, Laura created the alternate reality and other identities for herself and Cooper to get them back to Twin Peaks without Judy’s interference. Since the Black Lodge inhabitants appear to live on electricity, what if Laura’s final scream blacks out the Palmer house turning off Judy’s lights for good? In that scenario, good wins out and Laura keeps some of her much-thwarted agency.
That theory at least helps me sleep a little better. Call me a dreamer.
DeMISTY D. BELLINGER, a Milwaukee native, teaches Creative Writing, Women’s Studies, and African-American Studies at Fitchburg State University. She holds an MFA from Southampton College and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Nebraska. Bellinger is the author of Rubbing Elbows (Finishing Line Press, 2017). Her poems appear in Helen, Necessary Fiction, Driftless Review, WhiskeyPaper, Boston Accent Lit, and Former People: A Journal of Bangs and Whimpers.
KOLLEEN CARNEY-HOEPFNER is the Editor-In-Chief for Drunk Monkeys and the Managing Editor for Zoetic Press. She has an MFA in poetry which, I mean, come on. All she does is eat pasta, drink vodka, and watch Vanderpump Rules. She lives in Burbank, CA, tweets @KolleenCarney, and blogs…poorly… at Kolleen Carney.
SPENCER CHOU is a writer and editor from Nottingham, England. He edits the literary magazine The Nottingham Review, and his writing has been published in various places. In 2016 he was shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award. Recently he has started dabbling in linocut printing. You can follow him on Twitter @spencerchou.
COLLIN KELLEY is the author of the poetry collections Render and Better To Travel as well as The Venus Trilogy of novels: Conquering Venus, Remain In Light, and Leaving Paris.
THE LEES OF MEMORY is a Nashville-based band. Their first release was Sisyphus Says (OneSideDummy Records, 2014). Album credits: Drums – Nick Slack / Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Guitar [12-String Guitar], Pedal Steel Guitar, Electric Bass, Piano, Organ, Synthesizer, Sampler, Percussion, Vocals – John Davis / Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Vocals – Brandon Fisher. For more about the band, visit here and here. The band’s latest recording is The Blinding White of Nothing at All (2017).
DEREK PETERS is an engineering manager for a company which supplies telecommunications access equipment for service providers, but he also draws and paints.
KAILEY TEDESCO is the author of These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese (Dancing Girl Press) and the forthcoming full-length collection, She Used to be on a Milk Carton (April Gloaming Publishing). She is the editor-in-chief of Rag Queen Periodical and a staff writer for Luna Luna Magazine. She also performs in the Poetry Brothel. You can find her work featured or forthcoming in Bellevue Literary Review, Prelude, OCCULUM, Prick of the Spindle, and more. For more, please visit here.