SPOILERS: This article tells you more than just how “damn good” the coffee and pie is at the RR. Read on if you’re familiar with the show!
Through analysis of the television series, and the subsequent prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, this article will explore how the binary oppositions of Blue Velvet are furthered into realms of consciousness and dreams through the dual worlds in the town of Twin Peaks. This article will also explore how the mystery of “Who killed Laura Palmer?” acts, like the mystery that engulfs Jeffrey Beamount in Blue Velvet, as an entrance into these two worlds of darkness and light. The doubling of characters and symbols will also be discussed, as will the Black and White lodges that dwell in the dark woods of Twin Peaks, where the owls are not what they seem.
Welcome to Twin Peaks
Blue Velvet foregrounded Lynch’s twin worlds of light and dark into the reality of small-town America, exploring issues of subconscious desire in an idealised dreamlike setting. Four years later, Lynch would revisit this theme and further the dream motif, expanding these worlds into the realms of dreams and consciousness. His return to Lynchtown, came in the guise of the television series Twin Peaks.
Lynch’s works contain a constant thematic of dreams, and the prime example of this is Agent Cooper’s dream of The Red Room, a bizarre dream that provides a wealth of clues that help him in his effort to solve the murder of Laura Palmer. This dream is not only Lynch’s ‘unique take on that perennial narrative theme’ of revelatory dreams as a means to solve a crime (see Spellbound (1945)), it is also the example of Lynch’s first implementation of these dream worlds into the central narrative of one of his projects. Cooper’s dream sets the precedent of the dream motif as an important key to unlocking the complexities of his work, leaving Lynch’s audience to be ‘compelled to pay close attention to the enigmatic dreams [of his characters] as their best hope to understanding what is happening in the story’ (Bulkeley). The dream also establishes the theme of doubling into the world of Twin Peaks, a theme that would drive the plot line of the series both before and after the reveal of Laura Palmer’s killer. As well as introducing the character of BOB (the supernatural killer of Laura), “the Man from another place” introduces the dream Laura as his cousin, foreshadowing the arrival of Laura’s real-life cousin Maddy to the town of Twin Peaks for Laura’s funeral.
Cooper’s dream- Twin Peaks, (1990)
Twin Peaks is full of doubles; Laura and Maddy, Mike and BOB, The Man from Another Place and the Giant, Leland and BOB, Cooper and BOB, Laura’s double life, the Black and White lodges and their inhabitants, the doppelgängers of Cooper and Laura and Leland which live in the lodges, and there is even a ‘reference to a double… in the name’ of the town, Twin Peaks.
The supernatural world that establishes itself through Cooper’s dream opens the town up to ‘caverns and worlds of light and darkness’, otherwise known as the Black and White lodges. There are no subtleties in the portrayal of these worlds, they are not thinly-veiled fantasies as in Blue Velvet, they are bizarre dream worlds, but they are spelled out in black and white and they exist inside the woods of Twin Peaks. Concentrating on the duality of the strange worlds of the Black and White lodges, with specific reference to episodes fourteen, sixteen, and the final episode of Twin Peaks; as well as the infamous scene with Agent Jeffries (David Bowie) in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me; this article will discuss how the dualities of Lynch’s worlds of good and evil are foregrounded into reality and exist symbiotically within the residents of Lynchtown.
On November 10th 1990, the identity of the killer of Laura Palmer was revealed as her father, Leland Palmer, who was inhabited by the Black Lodge spirit of BOB. According to Nicholas Birns though, this revelation ‘does not mean that the question has been fully decided’, highlighting that there ‘was a primary [and] very dramatic ambiguity in the way the question was overtly answered’ The show, in revealing the killer ‘in the classic style of the romantic doppelgänger…maintained interest in what is basically a received convention by the rigor with which it held out the possibility of both a natural and supernatural solution’. Birns surmises that ‘by focusing on the indecisiveness of the uncanny rather than its possession of an occulted truth, Twin Peaks explored both levels without ever firmly adhering to them’ (Birns).
The dual answer to the central mystery of Twin Peaks creates an assimilation between the dream world of the Black lodge and the real world of the Palmer household. Previous to this revelation, the character of BOB has remained a menacing and horrific presence both in Cooper’s dreams and the uncanny visions of him in the Palmer home, seen by Maddy Ferguson (Laura’s cousin) and Sarah Palmer. The moment of realisation of
Leland/BOB becoming one, is presented to us via Leland’s mirrored reflection, in
which we see the face of BOB, just before he murders Laura’s cousin Maddy.
Leland/BOB- Twin Peaks (1990)
The evil entity BOB is literally the mirrored self of Leland, like Frank Booth is to Jeffrey Beaumont, and represents the inherent evil that is within him. This sentiment is echoed by Agent Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) after the arrest and subsequent death of Leland in episode sixteen, he ponders “maybe that’s all BOB is…the evil that men do”.
The doubling of Leland/BOB challenges ‘the distinction between normal and abnormal, the domestic and the uncanny’, and places the supernatural evil of the Black lodge as symbiotic with the human condition. The BOB/Leland double embodies the uncanny evil that is ‘familiar and terrible in its familiarity’ (Ledwon), the motive of Leland to kill his own daughter was controlled by an outside force which he could not control, BOB, or “the evil that men do”. Leland Palmer is a vehicle for the unstoppable force of evil that is BOB, and is thus an entrance into the domestic world of Twin Peaks from the other-world that is the Black lodge. There are other doubled examples of “real-life” conduits, or doppelgängers, for the inhabitants of the Black and White Lodges, such as Mike/The One-Armed Man and the Giant/Elderly Waiter doubles, but the Leland/BOB parallel is the most striking example of these mirrored worlds projecting themselves onto small-town
Agent Dale Cooper serves as a conduit between the supernatural worlds of darkness and light, and the real world of Twin Peaks. His intuitiveness and spirituality allow him to communicate with the spirits that inhabit the White lodge, both through dreams and in reality. In the same episode that the killer connection between Leland and BOB is revealed, The Giant appears on the stage of the Roadhouse and warns Cooper that “It is happening again”, referencing that BOB/Leland is killing again. Once BOB/Leland has killed Maddy Ferguson, cementing the evil control BOB has over his real-life counterpart, the episode ends with a slow-motion shot of Cooper in the roadhouse looking emotional and thoughtful, which fades into a moving image of red curtains, as the credits
begin to roll.
It is happening again- Twin Peaks (1990)
The red curtains appear several times; in Cooper’s dream, on the stage of the Roadhouse and most importantly in the Black lodge. This final shot visually assimilates Cooper with the dream motif of the red curtains, indicating his role as a conduit between the normal and supernatural worlds of Twin Peaks.
Furthermore, the imagery of the red curtains signifies physical locations in Twin Peaks that serve as an entrance to the Black and White lodges. The stage of the Roadhouse is a space for revelations and clues from The Giant, and has the red curtains as its backdrop . Whilst the entrance to the Black Lodge is through the red curtains that dwell within the sycamore trees of Glastonberry Grove. These red curtains are physical manifestations of the other-worlds of light and dark. The lodges that began as Cooper’s dream world have now foregrounded themselves into the real world of Twin Peaks, and are accessible entrance points for the spiritually gifted and open, like Agent Cooper.
Cooper also has a double, in fact he has two, and he encounters them both in The Black Lodge. The first double is his shadow-self, an evil doppelganger of himself which the Black Lodge creates when he enters it in the final episode. The evil Cooper chases him out of the lodge, eventually catching up and jumping on him. Cooper then emerges from the lodge seemingly unscathed as Sheriff Truman comes to his and Annie’s aid. There is then a transitioning image of a close-up of the waterfall in Twin Peaks, a staple part of the opening credits. The flow of the water pours downward as one, but as the camera focuses, the singular body of water breaks into two separate streams of water. The next scene, we are back safely in Cooper’s room at The Great Northern hotel, where Cooper awakes to find Sheriff Truman and Doc Hayward tending to him. He gets out of bed, protesting that he must brush his teeth. When he enters the bathroom he squeezes all the toothpaste out of the tube and smashes his head into the mirror, revealing that he is inhabited by BOB, his second double.
Cooper running from his evil doppelganger- Twin Peaks (1990)
“How’s Annie?”- Twin Peaks (1990)
The transitioning shot of the two streams of the waterfall separating represents the separation of the Good Cooper and Evil Cooper, as well as foreshadowing the assimilation of BOB and Cooper. The manipulation of the pre-established waterfall, a recognisable physical landmark in Twin Peaks, presents manipulative effect that the supernatural Black lodge can have on the physical world of Twin Peaks, further grounding itself within the real world. Furthermore, it mirrors the manipulation of preconceptions of Cooper’s character.
Cooper’s possession reveal harks back to the revelation of the Leland/BOB double. The motif of the mirror which was used as a trope signalling the reversal of appearance and reality, it portrays its subject (Cooper) as no more than reflections of the mirror. Cooper is merely a reflection of the darkness of the Black lodge, with which he has a connection. The doubling of Cooper, and of imagery, in the final Lynch- directed episode, is Lynch transforming ‘standard Gothic devices into Television Gothic by domesticating them. He brings the horrid and the normal into juxtaposition until the viewer is unsure what is normal anymore’ (Ledwon).
Through portraying dualities throughout Twin Peaks; (good and evil, light and dark, fire and water) the space of the town becomes a breeding ground for the ambiguities of the supernatural dream worlds of light and dark that Lynch has constructed. These worlds, the Black and White lodges, manipulate residents and physical landmarks of the town and drive the narrative of the series. The oppositions that were subtly embedded within Blue Velvet, have expanded into dream worlds of supernatural dual morality, which are symbiotic with the physical world they inhabit. These worlds can not only control the narrative of Lynch’s cinematic worlds, they are a part of it.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
The prequel film that followed the ending of the television series, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, chronicled the last seven days of Laura Palmer’s life, giving fans of the show an explicit look into the central mystery of the television show. In true Lynch fashion though, the film raised more questions than it gave answers. The first thirty minutes of the film deals with new character Agent Chester Desmond’s investigation into the death of Teresa Banks (BOB’s first victim), and his subsequent disappearance. Then we are introduced to another strange character, the long lost Agent Jeffries (David Bowie), and his uncanny reappearance in the FBI offices of pre-Twin Peaks Agent Cooper and his colleagues Gordon Cole and Albert Rosenfield, further foregrounds the power of Lynch’s other-worlds over the reality of its inhabitants. The editing, doubling and dreamlike aesthetics of the scene all mirror the tropes surrounding the Black and White lodges in the series, and further their ascension and control over the real world of Twin Peaks.
The scene begins with Cooper telling Gordon that he was worried about the date because of a dream he had told him about. Cooper then leaves to the security room and watches the security monitors of where he has just been standing in the hallway. He does this three times and on the third time his image stays on the monitor after he has left the hallway and entered the room. As he does this, Agent Jeffries enters the hallway from the elevator and walks past the image of Cooper on the screen, and into Gordon’s office. Cooper follows worried, having an uncanny realisation that his dream is being replayed in real life. Gordon relays the fact that Jeffries has been missing for a long while, and then Jeffries begins to cryptically recount where he has been. He proclaims that he had been living “inside a dream” saying that he had “been to one of their meetings”. As he says this, flashes of smoke, red curtains, television static and power lines fade into the screen, as well as images of a meeting between the other-worldly characters we have become familiar with, such as The Man-from Another Place and BOB. Agent Jeffries then disappears into thin air just as quickly as he arrived, and Albert calls the front desk who tell him that Agent Jeffries was never really there. The scene ends with Cooper and Gordon back in the security room, looking at the image of Cooper in the hallway with Jeffries, realising that Jeffries had actually been there. This scene expands the symbiotic relationship between the two worlds of dreams and reality, both through its unconventional editing, uncanny imagery and its manipulation of narrative.
“We live inside a dream!”- Agent Jeffries, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
The identification of dreams is central to the scene, Cooper relays to Gordon that he has dreamt about this date, foreshadowing the appearance of Jeffries. Also, the declaration of Jeffries himself, who states that “It was a dream, we live inside a dream”, cements the arrival of this dream world into the reality of the FBI offices. The editing is key to how this dream worlds asserts itself upon the scene, the image of the red curtains that fades in between the images of Jeffries and the spirits of the Black lodge, calls back to the entrances into the lodges from the TV series (Glastonberry Grove and the Roadhouse).
Furthermore, the red curtains and the images of the meeting of the residents of the Black lodge are superimposed over the images and audio of Jeffrey’s explanation of his
disappearance. Images of the two scenes are interspersed with each other via transitioning jump-cuts of static electricity. The images exist symbiotically with each other, both existing at the same time as the other. This editing displays Lynch’s other world and its spirits transposing themselves into his cinematic reality. Both narratives co-exist as one, just as both worlds do. Moreover, the scene displays the manipulation of both time and space of the “real-world” of the FBI offices, reinforcing the fact that these other-worlds can manipulate the worlds that they exist within.
Cooper is doubled once again, existing in the hallway whilst he watches himself on the screen. This double is caused by the appearance of Jeffries, who has lived in the dream world, and it is this security footage of the double that asserts the fact that Jeffries was actually in the reality of the FBI offices at the end of the scene. Jeffries is another emblem of the dream world, like Leland and Cooper when they were possessed by BOB, and his appearance has disrupted the conventions of reality (time and space) within the FBI offices.
This whole scene serves as a furthering of what was previously established in Twin Peaks, that the dream worlds of light and dark existing behind the back drop of Lynch’s worlds, can manipulate and control the narrative and its characters.
Blue Velvet established the dualities of light and dark inherent in Lynchtown, and melded its association with desire and fantasy within the human condition, as well as highlighting the dark underbelly hiding behind the wholesome veneer of small-town America. Twin Peaks advanced these fantasy worlds into supernatural worlds of dreaming and consciousness, centering them in the central narrative and physical worlds of Lynchtown, creating a place that is “both wonderful and strange“.
“I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange”- Agent Cooper, Twin Peaks (1990)
The evolution of these binary oppositions in Lynchtown, from subtle oppositions of fantasy and desire, into dual worlds of dreams that are central to narrative disruption, would lead to further evolution of these worlds into the realms of consciousness in Lynch’s later films. Both Lost Highway (1997) and Mulholland Drive (2001), would take what Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks started, these binary worlds would become further entrenched in the narrative, and the distinctions of dreams and reality would become more blurred. Lynchtown would become Lynch-Angeles.
Birns, Nicholas, “Telling Inside from Outside, or, Who Really Killed Laura Palmer”,
Literature Film Quarterly 21.4 (1993)
Ledwon, Lenora, “Twin Peaks and the Television Gothic”, Literature Film Quarterly 21.4
PS. Remember, there is always time for coffee.