There are currently two Dale Coopers on Twin Peaks. One is a demon using Coop’s body as a lantern-jawed vessel for sowing chaos and misery in the mortal realm; the other is inching ever so slowly (as is the wont of new Peaks) toward consciousness and interpersonal interactions that go beyond toddler-like mimicry.
Look at it another way, and there’s currently no Dale Cooper on Twin Peaks, which goes a long way toward explaining the density of trauma packed into Sunday night’s episode.
Twin Peaks begins with the assumption that the world has more Coopers in it than it has Bobs. The series that follows sets about disproving that assumption, as the archetypes of white, small-town American life in the 20th-century crumble, revealing the rotting cores within. The Showtime miniseries begins with those cores exposed; “Part 6” puts the rottenness right there on the surface. We’ve only been shown a handful of slice-of-life vignettes from Twin Peaks circa 2017, but it’s my impression that the town never returned to burying its secrets after Laura’s murder and Coop’s disappearance. Some secrets no longer have to be buried: Thanks to evolving attitudes and progressive policy, weed is one stream of revenue that Horne Industries can actually keep on the books. And if Shelly’s concerns about Becky are any indication, the people of Twin Peaks are less willing to look past the red flags that popped up ahead of Laura’s death.
But in today’s Twin Peaks, in a world without Dale Cooper and the virtues he symbolized, we’re more likely to witness an event like the hit-and-run accident that plows through the midsection of “Part 6.” We’re more likely to meet people like the culprit in that hit-and-run, Richard Horne (Eamon Farren), or the new, wigged-out supplier in town, Red (Balthazar Getty). Beyond the city limits, shady characters make themselves more readily known. Loan sharks take meetings on a playground, and a hitman goes on a bloody rampage in a nondescript office. (Fun personal note/disclosure: The actor who plays Ike “The Spike” Stadtler, Christophe Zajac-Denek, is an old friend from my days of covering local music in Michigan. He was the drummer in a band called The Hard Lessons, I was the wannabe rock critic who occasionally worked their merch table, and it was beyond surreal to watch him get all stabby on Twin Peaks.) Janey-E Jones sums it up nicely, in a ferocious bit of monologuing from Naomi Watts: “What kind of world are we living in where people can behave like this? Treat other people this way, without any compassion or feeling for their suffering?”
It’s a “dark, dark age,” in Janey-E’s words, one that needs Dale Cooper. In his absence, the people look to other reminders of justice and decency, like Sonny Jim and the cowboy lamp he’d like to keep illuminated through the night. As we’ve previously noted, Cooper himself is fixating on the totems of his law-enforcement past, be it that statue he has trouble leaving or the sheriff’s badge he keeps reaching for. (It’s worth remembering that he was once addressed by a different Cooper’s first name, one who had a history of playing heroic gunslingers.) Those who knew Coop best are so desperate to get to the bottom of his disappearance that they’re reaching out to sources that once seemed like shadows: Enter Laura Dern as Diane, answering years of speculation in a turn so dramatic, it makes up for the inevitability of her casting as the previously unseen recipient of Special Agent Cooper’s recorded memos. That’s the urgency I heard in Mike’s dispatch from The Black Lodge Sunday night. “You have to wake up” and “Don’t die” aren’t solely for Cooper’s benefit. They’re requests on behalf of a world whose balance is tipped too far in favor of the Bobs.
Erik, I agree that the darkness you describe has a lot to do with the absence of Dale Cooper from the world of Twin Peaks. But I also think you might even be underselling just what a difference it’s making in this universe, because it’s not just on a narrative level that things are looking grim. It’s on a structural level, too.
I’m not sure David Lynch has ever filmed a sequence that felt quite as classically baroque and inevitable as the hit-and-run death of that young boy at the hands of Richard Horne. Lynch is many things, but predictability does not factor high on his list of qualities as a director. Sure, he has running themes and interests that carry over from film to film, and there are some stylistic tics that qualify as “Lynchian,” but in terms of shooting scenes, there’s never been anything in his oeuvre that leads the average viewer to say, “Oh, I know how this sequence is going to turn out.” That changed this episode. From the moment the scene began, and Harry Dean Stanton’s Carl Rodd sat on that park bench, looking up at the foliage obscuring the sky, a sense of dread and unease set in, and you just knew what was about to happen. Channeling his inner Hitchcock—or perhaps De Palma would be a more apt reference, given that we end up seeing every frame of the horrifying accident—Lynch executes a perfectly old-school exercise in dramatic tension and payoff, a series of shots that told you exactly what was going to happen, and then did precisely that. It was fascinating to watch, even as the subject material was grisly and upsetting. And I think it has everything to do with the lack of a Dale Cooper in this world.
For all the reasons you identify, it’s a “dark, dark age” in this universe, and this scene testifies to what the absence of good is doing. It’s not just that the scales are tipped in favor of malevolent forces, leading to a surfeit of evil making itself felt in all manner of places and people. It’s literally messing with fate itself, making certain things inevitable that didn’t have to be, if only someone were there to challenge them. The hit-and-run felt like Lynch’s way of demonstrating that dark forces can turn the unlikely and unfortunate into the inevitable and unavoidable. It’s a gloss on the whole “if good people do nothing” thesis, but in Twin Peaks, that takes on a much more unsettling tone. The universe is out of balance, and in Lynch’s eyes, that results in events like what we got this episode. So I’ll echo Sean’s call from last week that we could really use the return of Agent Cooper, and not just because we miss him. The balance of life in this reality misses him. Dale, you need to wake up.
Sorry, but I don’t subscribe to the idea that Dale Cooper’s absence has thrown the show’s universe off-kilter, creating some sort of rift in the fabric that’s only recently begun to manifest itself. In Twin Peaks’ original run—and in much of Lynch’s work—there is a persistent theme of “good” being just a mask for evil, of all those suburban homes and sun-dappled playgrounds and nondescript offices being the flimsy shells we create to keep out the ever-lurking netherworld. So it surprises me to hear that you guys think anything is intentionally being set up here as different somehow, or that when Cooper (hopefully) reemerges, he will become the savior who rides triumphantly in to finally restore the balance—whatever that even means.
Furthermore, Jerry Horne selling weed and Shelly making a few concerned noises to Norma don’t, to me, signify that Twin Peaks’ world has changed all that much in regard to its secrets or its sins. The parallels to its original story and characters are all there, including Becky’s potential to be another Laura Palmer (at least in terms of her loving coke and floppy-haired dickweeds), and Balthazar Getty’s Charlie-Sheen-by-way-of-’70s-Elvis drug dealer, who—despite his Criss Angel coin tricks—is part of a long tradition of resident thugs like Leo and the Renaults that now also includes Richard Horne, who’s just a more malevolent spin on Bobby Briggs’ coke-slinging hothead with obvious daddy issues. Yeah, Janey-E might call this “a dark, dark age,” but I don’t think it’s a new one that we’ve entered, and certainly not because of Cooper’s absence. I think it’s the same dark age Lynch has been showing us throughout his career, colored by the same anxieties he’s been exploring ever since America abandoned the 1950s, Boy’s Life, suburban idyll of his childhood. As that old, familiar shot of Twin Peaks’ lonely traffic light reminds us, that world continues impassively on, no matter what horrors pass below.
Now structurally, I will agree with you two, and with Mike: Cooper needs to wake up. We’re a third of the way into the new series now, and for whatever comic joys Dougie’s storylines brought us in this episode alone—Naomi Watts chewing out Jeremy Davies (still in Justified scumbag mode); Dougie becoming an accidental, Being There-esque savant with his case file doodles; his fascination with the Clapper—we’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time watching him dawdle around like Harrison Ford in Regarding Henry. That, plus the attendant, slow police investigation into his car bombing while junkie mom rants ”1-1-9!” across the street, still feels like padding to me. (It’s enough to make me wonder whether Lynch and Frost responded to Showtime tacking another 10 episodes on to its original order by saying, “Let’s just double the Dougie stuff.”) Meanwhile, the focus on Las Vegas takes up so much narrative room that everything else ends up feeling too rushed, to the point where all the other minor plot threads that have been—and continue to be—introduced seem even more like disconnected vignettes, making them easier to forget about. (Hey, remember Matthew Lillard? I wonder what he’s been up to since we last saw him, five weeks ago.) That’s the balance I would like to see restored.
That said, I still have every reason to believe these disparate threads are all destined to converge—though still perhaps elliptically, and not necessarily in a way that will justify how much time we’ve spent in Vegas, specifically. And even throughout my frustration with the pacing, I’m still delighted by how this series continues to upend all of my expectations from moment to moment. My greatest fear for the revival was that it would suck all the mystery out of the show by trying to recreate its peculiarities with too much self-awareness; that it would be Twin Peaks: The Force Awakens: enjoyable enough, but too stifled by its own need to nostalgically pander; that I would be bored. The fact that I’m sitting here with you guys, debating whether Cooper being a catatonic goofball named “Dougie” who’s unwittingly mixed up with mobsters and being hunted by icepick-wielding hitmen is detracting too much from storylines about a headless corpse tagged with Major Briggs’ fingerprints or a mysterious black box in Buenos Aires, or, or, or… Well, it’s safe to say I never could have imagined this is what Twin Peaks 2017 would look like, and every week I can’t wait to watch the next episode. It’s not such a dark age after all, in that sense.
I also don’t subscribe to the theory that the absence of Coop has made the Twin Peaks universe somehow more sinister; as Sean pointed out, the theme of decadent rot underneath the squeaky-clean surface of small-town Americana is one of the most persistent themes in Lynch’s work, up there with the alluring dichotomy between blondes and brunettes. If anything, the malevolence may be cyclical: There may have been a period of quiet somewhere in the past 25 years, but with the Black Lodge opening once again forces have been put into motion setting up another tragedy similar to that of Laura Palmer’s death. The parallels between Becky and Laura are obvious, as are those between Richard Horne and Bobby Briggs, both part of a long lineage of coke-dealing teens in way over their heads. (I couldn’t help but laugh a little when Richard attempted to wash the blood off of the front of his truck with a bottle of water and his bare hands. It was such a perfect metaphor for the ultimate foolishness of his character.)
Another character parallel, if not necessarily a plot one, that struck me in this week’s episode was between Candy Clark’s Doris Truman and Sarah Palmer. Initially presented as nagging wives, both are struggling with hidden reserves of grief that are deeper, darker, and more complex than anyone in the outside world knows. Martyred mothers and the hidden depths of women seemed to be a theme this episode, as Janey-E Jones similarly transcended her portrayal as a hectoring harpy—and not a minute too soon, if you ask me—when she matter-of-factly settled Dougie’s gambling debt, leaving the two comically slack-jawed petty enforcers in awe as she forcefully stomped away towards her car, purse swinging from one arm. And then there’s Laura Dern’s Diane, a character reveal decades in the making, with an ocean of backstory yet to be revealed.
I agree with you all that the wait for Dougie to wake up and realize he’s Dale Cooper is starting to feel interminable—although, like Sean, I don’t think Coop’s going to ride in to save the day. (I do think he’s going to make it back to Twin Peaks, though, based on an interview Laura Dern gave to Variety shortly before the season three premiere where she describes a scene with her and Cooper sitting in a car together discussing robins.) If Lynch was concerned with giving fans the satisfying endings they want from our old favorites, this would be a very different season. But if he keeps surprising us with character moments like we saw on this week’s episode, I’ll continue to hang on for the ride.