A WORLD WHERE TWIN PEAKS is the center is horrifying and moral because there is, obviously, no God. There’s no sense of God, no shadow or presence. There’s not even a church, astounding for a town with a diner, a roadhouse, a hospital, woods, waterfalls and rivers. There is a church in the unincorporated community of Twin Peaks, California. There are three churches of the Mormon kind by the foot of the Twin Peaks range in Utah. A work so wholly American, American as Underworld, as A Face in the Crowd, and yet not Christian exists nowhere else. But in Twin Peaks, Washington, in lieu of a creator, there is a dreamer, and we don’t know who it is.
The first time around (in 1990–91), we wanted to know who killed Laura Palmer, and David Lynch thought knowing would kill the show. Overruled by the network, he lost interest, leaving things to his cocreator, Mark Frost, and the show faltered, collapsed; the show couldn’t go on when the showman had left. This is Lynch’s second chance—to climb the dread heights, as John “Scottie” Ferguson does in Vertigo (1958). It’s Cooper’s chance, too. MacLachlan’s MacLachlanaissance is in doubt, since between the dream-locked Cooper, the absent Dougie, and the evil-incarnate Mr. C, he has yet to play human, a writing choice that begins to seem like an excuse for the actor. He once played a man becoming more than that, the youthful quester Paul Atreides, in Lynch’s ill-fated, fantastic, misunderstanding 1984 adaptation of Dune. Lynch had him imbibe what’s called “the water of life” and, rather than “drink full and descend,” ascend to being a god, whereas in the novel he’s only playing at godhood. (Imagine if Francis Ford Coppola, adapting Heart of Darkness for the cinema, had turned Kurtz into a literal deity and cast Paul Newman. The horror, etc.) Though Lynch retracted his authorship of the film after the studio made sense-destroying edits, it’s unclear that, had he been given the control he wanted, it would have been what we could honestly call great.
When I said the dreamer could be us, it was the simplest and not the best solution; I think the question should be answerable, not answered. “One does not offer an ethics to God,” says Simone de Beauvoir in her Ethics of Ambiguity (1947), and so “far from God’s absence authorizing all license, the contrary is the case, because man is abandoned on the earth, because his acts are definitive, absolute engagements.” (We can add “creative” before license, if we like.) Together, she continues, men bear “the responsibility for a world which is not the work of a strange power, but of [man] himself, where his defeats are inscribed, and his victories as well.”
And when the show ends, if you can believe it, this Sunday, we’ll want a sense that the dream of the show is not over, even we are not to see, for real this time, another new minute. I pray not, since Twin Peaks: The Eternal Return would be too ungodly. In the picture as it fades there should be a dreamer who is like us, made in our image as gods always are, in my god-averse view, but not us. A Godardian “perfect image,” like I said. Afterimage, maybe. Face without an “I.”
Cooper, a dreamer, cannot be the dreamer. An early episode in the original Twin Peaks was called “Cooper’s Dreams,” not “Cooper’s Dream” (or even “Cooper Dreams”). In episode sixteen of The Return, having put a fork in the socket and in Dougie, the hero awakes from both his medically induced coma and his once-interminable limbo. “You are awake,” says Phillip Gerard (Al Strobel), aka the Man from Another Place. “One hundred per cent,” says Cooper. Dale Cooper. Special Agent Dale Cooper. “Finally,” says Gerard.
What proceeds is as pure and fun an action sequence as any in a Bond movie (and I’ve seen every Bond movie), set—finally!—to the Twin Peaks theme. He’s starving. He’s talking, all determination and cheer. He borrows a gun from his boss (he knows the exact make and model, which says he’s been watching, as in sleep paralysis, from inside Dougie) and tells the Mitchum Brothers to get the private jet ready. “What about the FBI?” says Bushnell Mullins (Don Murray), because the FBI is looking for Mr. Jones. Cooper turns, a familiar turn. “I am the FBI.” He’s suave, driving the white Beemer, another man’s wife, Janey-E (Naomi Watts), looking at him with lust and adoration. Leaving wife and kid tearful at the casino, he promises, “Dougie . . . I will be back.” (It’ll be a figure named Dougie but, for Janey-E’s sake, more like Cooper, made with a strand of his hair and a “seed” of some kind, conjured by Gerard.)
As for the other one, the bad one, he doesn’t dream ever, permitting the notion that what we see is his dream—but no, Mr. C cannot be the dreamer. Since minute one he’s been too in control. Dreams don’t tend to be plotted, lacking beginnings or endings; they begin in darkness and they’re over when you stop remembering, or wake. He does create—tulpas, like Dougie. He de-creates his son, duh, Richard Horne (Eamon Farr), electrocuting him on a rock, and the son’s disappearance indicates he too was/is a tulpa, or half tulpa. The one man he can’t control is Phillip Jeffries, who reappears at the old convenience store in voice only, and it would be apt for David Bowie to play the dreamer, to have, perhaps, an alter ego named Judy, and therefore to hold the answers to two questions—who’s Judy and who’s the dreamer—in one hand. However, if Judy is to be like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, played by Judy Garland, she should have once been a girl.
Kim Novak is Judy Barton in Vertigo and, as mistress to the rich Mr. Elster, goes blonde and WASPy to impersonate and frame his wife, Madeleine, as a suicide. An early episode of the original Twin Peaks has Laura’s cousin, named Maddy, or Madeleine, after Novak, played (like Laura) by Sheryl Lee, put on a blonde wig to play the dead girl’s ghost. Syllogistically, casting aside, this means Judy is Madeleine and Madeleine is not Laura. Some fans ignore this and think Judy is Laura, pointing to the shot of a monkey saying “Judy,” followed by a shot of dead Laura, in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992). But Judy has a sister, says Jeffries in the same film, and “part of her” is there in Argentina. Laura does not have a sister, far as we know. (Can a tulpa be considered a sister?)
Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) had a half-sister, Donna Hayward, played on Twin Peaks by Lara Flynn Boyle and unreturned here. Norma (Peggy Lipton) had a sister, Annie, who was played by Heather Graham, and ditto. I suppose when Cooper asked, “How’s Annie?” the answer could have been, “Chilling in Buenos Aires,” but it’s impossible to think of Norma as a Judy. Joan Chen, writing in character as Josie Packard to David Lynch, asking, in vain, to be on The Return, said that she often thinks of her “twin sister, Judy.” A writer on Fire Walk with Me said ages ago that Judy was, at one point, meant to be Josie’s twin, and at least one fan is convinced that Judy is Josie, while another on the same fansite is convinced, via the Bible and numerology, that Judy is Naido (Nae Yuuki). On the Twin Peaks Reddit, I read that Judy is both Josie’s sis and Naido, but since Nae is very apparently Japanese and Chen is very apparently Chinese, this development would be racist, blind, and dumb. Diane (Laura Dern), we found out in part fourteen, is a half-sister to none other than Janey-E, their lives another soap-operatic double aria in this devil’s puzzle of a magnificent script.
But the Diane we have seen is not the Diane we never knew. She’s already been a double agent, working with the task force on the Blue Rose case and simultaneously texting info to Mr. C, but the latest text reveals she’s a double, a tulpa. Mr. C texts “ALL” preceded by a smiling emoticon, and the smile triggers her, as in literally triggers, weaponizes. Twenty-five years ago, on the night she doesn’t talk about, she tells Gordon, with Albert and Tammy listening, that Cooper showed up at her house. He kissed her, and it didn’t feel like a kiss. He smiled, horribly. He raped her. Dern is incredible: What could be truer than the dreamy, teenage way she says, “He kissed me,” and then, breathiness curling and solidifying into disgust with the processive control of a ballet dancer’s developpé, says, “Something went wrong.”
Cooper was, then, definitively, bad at the time Richard was conceived with Audrey, meaning either that Audrey was a tulpa and tulpas can reproduce, which is unlikely but so are a lot of things before they occur; or that Audrey was raped and the dissociation a rape produces came to stick. Finally, at the roadhouse, at the end of this sixteenth hour, Audrey dances the dance we remember, and we’re ensorcelled into grinning at the sight. But just when she seems like herself, she is interrupted by yet another bar fight over someone’s wife, and stops, runs to Charlie, screams, “Get me out of here,” and poof, appears elsewhere, in a white room, makeupless in a mirror, as in a psych ward. I have already expressed my total disdain for rape—let alone rape by a partner, lover, friend, or acquaintance—as a plot device granting a male protagonist power over the rest of a victim’s life, and I refuse to say more about it as a reason for a girl to go mad.
The matrilineal nature of madness, more accurate to my paradigm, is supposed in Vertigo and echoed in Twin Peaks. Other fans, in a theory I enjoy, say that the girl who is asleep when the Woodsmen come, into whose mouth the tumescent insect crawls, must be the dreamer; that is to say, some percentage of her never woke up. More than the other female characters, the girl looks like Mädchen Amick, enough so to have been her mother, making Becky (Amanda Seyfried) her granddaughter and analogous to the character of Madeleine Elster, with the insane, suiciding grandmother of lore, in Vertigo. But that’s perhaps my superficial reading and the fans who think the dreamer is Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie), the desolated would-be matriarch who alone is the right age to be that girl as a woman if she’s still alive, are onto something more. She’s been nuts as long as we’ve known her. She’s only more so. She has a sister, one we’ve never seen: Beth Ferguson, mother of Maddy, though again if we are following the plot of Vertigo, this would make Maddy the Judy. Maybe I just want Sarah to be the dreamer because she is the character in Twin Peaks I most hope is somehow immortal.
Zabriskie had the greatest scene of the show so far, or so I said, in part twelve; she had a greater one in part fourteen, when Sarah goes drinking alone at an unfamiliar dive bar. Harassed by a man in a TRUCK YOU T-shirt (where’s Richard with Billy’s truck when you need him?) who accuses her of “looking like one of them bulldykes” (he may be excused for not knowing what a bulldyke looks like, there being a total of no lesbians in Twin Peaks), she takes on an attitudinal freeze and hiss, becoming precisely as touchable as nitrous oxide. He says he’ll eat her cunt. She says she’ll eat him. Removing her face like a paper moon from a collage of the galaxy, she emits the voice of a Woodswoman, saying do you really want to fuck with me, and a hand appears, and something bites, so that the next thing anyone sees is him dead on the floor with a missing jugular. A half-second. A return to her human form. Then a scream, which, in Zabriskie’s throat, has wit. I laughed the first, second, third, time I watched it. The bar owner approaches her with suspicion, and she plays helpless, stricken, then drops her voice to a mere chill and says: “Yeah. It’s a mystery.” Her alloy of the deadpan and sangfroid supersedes even that of Diane, and I wonder whether tulpas can have this much self-possession, congenitally; no other tulpa has gone off her head of her own volition.
Few other options are left for the dreamer’s identity. Gordon Cole (David Lynch), whose name is the last thing Cooper-as-Dougie hears, the final trigger, cannot be it either. You wouldn’t say to the dreamer, as Monica Bellucci does to Gordon Cole, “We are like the dreamer.” If we’re not the dreamer and the characters aren’t like us, who are they like? Do we want to know what we’re like? Maybe it’s someone we’ve never seen. The original, human Diane, the invisible presence the old Cooper was always addressing, perhaps. Or someone we mysteriously can’t see, on the verge of disappearing, an old authority figure in the hospital, sick, someone people are always asking to see and can’t—the actor unavailable, retired. Sheriff Harry S. Truman, that is. Horrible to think we’re just in Truman’s show!
Go back to Vertigo, Lynch’s favorite. I had forgotten whether it ended with a fate—and it did, a punishment for interfering with fate. But the plot is set into motion by cynical people, not “forces.” There is no “strange power” at work. People on The Return die of common causes, like being shot, but not for very good reasons: Chantal (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Hutch are riddled to bits by, of all people, an accountant in an act of mutual road rage. Steven (Caleb Landry Jones), in the fourteenth hour, was heard to die by his own handgun, startled, like Judy Barton atop the belltower, erroneously at the approach of a stranger. People also die in what are deemed paranormal or “not natural” ways, and these autopsy-defying deaths seem yet less “senseless,” less amoral than the picayune, indubitable ones. Morality, said de Beauvoir after Kierkegaard, is no more relevant than language is to nature, and is perhaps supranatural; it’s easy to make the slip to supernatural, then to sense good and evil as something no longer above but beyond us, something out there. Lynch is a true believer that some things can’t be explained. Yet Scottie, the detective in Vertigo, believed in the inexplicable for a time, and was institutionalized, and when he solved the case and beat his agoraphobia, almost in one breath, it was because he saw, like Paul in Dune, that “fear is the mind-killer.” I suspect the best reason not to say who killed Laura was that people already knew, only they were afraid to think it.
Sarah Nicole Prickett’s individual recaps of Twin Peaks: The Return:
Twin Peaks: The Return plays Sundays at 9 PM on Showtime.