Movies · TV


By  · Published on May 17th, 2016

If it is anything, TWIN PEAKS is a show about duality. Even the name suggests it, as does pretty much everything about the premise: its basic struggle is between the polar forces of good and evil, which manifest themselves in dark and sinister, and quirky and offbeat fashions in the people of Twin Peaks, and more so in the metaphysical realms into which the town provides passage, the Black and White Lodges, that themselves offer a dual reality in and out of which the show meanders. As for the characters who populate the cast, they too are often diametric, their public personas clashing with their private or internal selves. The theme of duality has become a prominent one in Lynch’s oeuvre, with traces of it seen in BLUE VELVET and WILD AT HEART before moving to the forefront in TWIN PEAKS, LOST HIGHWAY, and most especially MULHOLLAND DRIVE. But nowhere is the theme of duality more heavily referenced than in TWIN PEAKS, in which Lynch explores opposing natures using such broad strokes as characterization and storyline, as well as more minute touches like setting, dialogue, and even costuming.

Laura Palmer, the show’s entry point, is presented to us as two sides of a marred coin. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Jacoby, says as much when talking with Special Agent Cooper and Sheriff Truman in episode 8 after his heart attack: “Laura…was in fact, well she was leading a double life. Two people.” On the one side, the side shown to the world, she was a bright and beautiful young girl, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, a homecoming queen dating a football player with two loving parents and a social network of caring friends. She tutored foreign speakers in English and the mentally-handicapped, delivered Meals on Wheels to shut-ins, and generally embodied everything her fellow townsfolk considered good, pure, and wholesome. But on her other side, the hidden side, Laura was also a chain-smoking, liquor-swilling cocaine addict, a one-time brothel worker and several-time participant in BDSM sexual experiences who was two-, three-, four- and more-timing her boyfriend; she was also a victim of sexual abuse and incest, an accessory to at least one murder (see FIRE WALK WITH ME), and her mental state could have best been described as “fractured,” or split in two.

The duality of Laura is a perfect circle: it is created by both the wholesome nature and inherent depravity the town emits, the former crafting her in its own image and the latter ultimately setting in motion the forces that will so heinously destroy her. The opposing forces controlling Twin Peaks never begin and they never end, they simply always are, have been, and will forever be, and Laura is just a leaf like others caught in the cyclone they create, tossed from extreme to extreme by a volition not her own but that she can feel all around her, inside even. Perhaps the most telling manifestation of this dichotomy of self in Laura is her pair of diaries, the one she keeps hidden at home and the alternate one she gives to Harold Smith for safekeeping. The former is what we’d expect from a teenage girl’s diary and the secrets it might contain – boys, partying, general if slightly-extreme rebellion – while the latter chronicles a harrowing and horrifying descent into madness propelled by unbelievable attrition and unimaginable perpetrators. In Laura, this duality cannot thrive and so it is extinguished – not entirely against her will – taking the girl with it.

From Laura Palmer however the duality echoes into other characters, most obviously that of her identical cousin Maddy Ferguson who comes from Missoula, Montana to attend Laura’s funeral. Maddy signifies another side of Laura, the “what-could-have-been” side perhaps. Maddy noted that as children the girls were very close, but as they grew older they grew apart. In hindsight, we know that this is because as Laura entered adolescence, BOB’s torture of her truly began, along with her fracturing of self. This duality is flipped back on itself when James and Donna dress Maddy up as Laura to lure Dr. Jacoby from his office so they might ransack it for a tape Laura made. This confusion leads not only to Jacoby’s assault and heart attack, but also serves to further fuse the two girls in the eyes of BOB. The ultimate irony is that though Maddy and Laura travelled life by different paths, and though Maddy’s was mostly free of the influence of the forces at work in Twin Peaks, the lives of both girls ended in the same horrific way and by the same hand. All it took was Maddy entering town limits for those paths to reconverge; she would pick up where Laura left off and as a result lose a bit of herself along the way. During her stay in Twin Peaks Maddy changes from naively supportive to proactively skeptical, she assumes Laura’s place in the Donna-James love triangle, and seems willing to change her personality to more mirror Laura’s for the affections of James until it becomes obvious he doesn’t want her to, at which point she plans to leave and stumbles into the same fate as her cousin. Even the name Madeleine Ferguson represents duality: it’s taken from characters in Alfred Hitchcock’s VERTIGO, which with its plot of an obsessive man trying to replace a lost lover in the form of a new woman is most certainly an influence on TWIN PEAKS and David Lynch in general.

Besides Maddy though, there’s another resident of Twin Peaks who decides to use the revelation of Laura’s duality to influence her own. Donna Hayward was the dandelion to Laura’s rose, she was “the other one,” the slightly-more demure and less-outgoing of the girls and thus relegated to Laura’s shadow. As revealed in FIRE WALK WITH ME – which at essence is all about Laura’s duality – Donna had been idolizing Laura’s mischievousness and “maturity” long before Laura died, and the void that her murder opened was one Donna was all too willing to fill, starting by adopting Laura’s secret boyfriend James as her own – pretty much immediately – then moving past James through Harold Smith into a frame of mind where she started chain-smoking and even wearing Laura’s sunglasses to indicate her change of character from a docile little lamb into a would-be stalking lioness. Ultimately, though, Donna is too much herself to be Laura and reverts to her quivering damsel-in-distress persona, but the message of her brief jaunt into duality is clear: Laura occupied a role in Twin Peaks, she was emblematic of something the town requires for balance, and this role would need to be refilled.

Annie Blackburn – Norma’s little sister and Agent Cooper’s love interest, fresh from the convent – would eventually come to occupy that role. Annie’s duality isn’t so much internal as it is reflexive: she represents both the purity and sacrifice of Laura, as well as the ability to act as a conduit for Cooper’s love and fear much like his last lover, Caroline Earle. Like the former, Annie would be drawn into the Black Lodge by a man perverted by its influence, she was an innocent seduced by the depraved into a most unholy state, and like the latter any harm to befall her would ravage the steely emotional intellect of Cooper, causing his position in the balance of things to shift, thus tipping the duality of town towards darkness. In this way Annie is a reflection of both women, her personality strongest when it is a reinterpretation of theirs; instead of just being a goody-two-shoes like Laura is perceived to be, Annie was a the ultimate good girl, a nun-to-be, and instead of being Cooper’s forbidden love like Caroline, she was his true. This is not to say, however, that Annie doesn’t have her own inherent duality. Though she leaves it to come to Twin Peaks, Annie was following a calling that supports a belief in life eternal; she came to that calling by attempting to end her own life. Annie is an innocent, that much is true, but she is not one ignorant of guilt, shame, or regret. It is where these disparate halves become whole that Annie exists, and it is this combination of traits that makes her such delectable bait for luring Cooper into the ultimate manifestation of duality in TWIN PEAKS: the Black Lodge

The Black Lodge is comprised of basically two types of inhabitants, both dependent upon duality: parasitic spirits who need hosts to move around our world, and doppelgangers, shadow selves wrenched away from the persons they represent by the evil of the Black Lodge and held captive for time immeasurable. In terms of the former group, BOB is the most active. When he manifests in the world, it is in the body of Leland Palmer, a duality quite literally represented by BOB’s reflection when Leland looks in the mirror at certain times, usually before bouts of violent murder. When Leland dies and BOB is expunged from his body, BOB returns to the Lodge where Leland’s doppelganger, no longer half of a whole, will now roam the corridors for eternity, as will doppelgangers of Laura, Maddy, The Man From Another Place, and Caroline. It would seem death or some other similarly-traumatic experience generates the doppelgangers, some instance of absolute fear conquering perfect courage. Of the doppelgangers mentioned, only those of Laura and The Man From Another Place co-exist with their other halves. In Laura’s case, this can possibly be explained by considering that the White and Black Lodges are open to spirits from both, and when Laura appears to Cooper in the Black Lodge she is merely strolling over from the White Lodge where her spirit was presumed to have gone at the end of FIRE WALK WITH ME, while her doppelganger resides in the Black Lodge because it was born of her fear of BOB. In the case of The Man From Another Place, this coexistence is because he is the only
resident of the Black Lodge who is both in part an inhabiting spirit and in part a host. In FIRE WALK WITH ME it is revealed that The Man From Another Place is the result of MIKE cutting off the arm of his real-world host Phillip Gerard. MIKE amputated the arm to rid himself of a tattoo he shared with BOB, thus breaking their murderous bond. The essence of MIKE contained in that arm returns to the Black Lodge, where it becomes The Man From Another Place. The Man says so himself at the beginning of the movie – “I am the Arm” – and then demonstrates as much at the end when he and Gerard appear together in the Lodge, the Man’s hand on Gerard’s shoulder nub and the two speaking in unison to BOB. The other parasitic spirt who resides in the Lodge is known to the audience as the Giant who first appears to Coop at The Great Northern after he’s been shot. In the real world the Giant is represented by the elderly room service waiter who initially appears to Coop that same night, immediately preceding the Giant’s appearance. Though the Giant appears to Cooper in the Black Lodge, he is generally thought to be an agent of the White Lodge. Again, his presence in the former could just be a visit.

And then lastly there’s Cooper himself. If the duality of Laura was our introduction to TWIN PEAKS, then Cooper’s fate was – until 2017, at least – our exit. Cooper’s duality is unique in that it is physical as well as spiritual. Following his trip into the Black Lodge in hopes of rescuing Annie, Coop succumbs to his fear and has his soul divided in two, resulting in separate selves that can best be described, for lack of more complex terms, as “good Dale,” and “bad Dale.” Annie establishes as much when she appears to Laura in a dream in FIRE WALK WITH ME and tells her: “The good Dale is in the Lodge, and he can’t leave.” The moment of Dale’s division comes in the final episode when he enters the room of the Lodge wherein he sees himself lying on the ground next to Caroline, presumably dead. He blinks, and Caroline turns to Annie, wearing the same dress and sharing, again presumably, the same fate. It is at this moment that Coop is forced to face his most ultimate fear: that his own inadequacies will inhibit him from preventing the worst thing he can imagine, the death of a woman he loves as a result of his own actions; it happened once with Caroline – him loving her caused Windom, her husband, to murder her – and now, here, it would seem to be happening again with Annie. Coop’s fear trumps his courage and these emotions are no longer able to live inside the same meat suit so they separate and race for the Lodge’s exit and the real world beyond, knowing only one of them can exist in it. It is Leland’s doppelganger that will delay the good Cooper and cause the bad Cooper to overtake the lead and exit first, leading to the most climactic series finale in television history: BOB and Cooper as dual agents of the Lodge. In the end then, Cooper isn’t only a diametric reflection of himself, he’s also a reflection of the very spirit he’d been hunting all series. We opened with a girl who had a secret life, and we close on an Agent who has a secret soul.

Outside of these more obvious and developed instances of duality, there are other examples everywhere throughout the series: Catherine Martell posing as Mr. Tojamura to get what she wants from Ben Horne; Agent Dennis Bryson expressing his feminine side as Denise before reverting to his original persona at his/her arc’s end; Josie Packard and her tri-duality as Andrew’s unfortunate widow, Truman’s caring lover, and Thomas Eckhardt’s Mata-Hari-cum-concubine; Audrey and her Hester Prynne identity when she goes undercover at One Eyed Jacks; Ernie Niles as a financial advisor on the surface and a hardened criminal beneath, and his wife Vivian’s façade as a judgmental mother masking her professional career as travel writer and restaurant reviewer M. T. Wentz; Nadine’s personality schism brought on by head trauma that takes her from the mindset of a 35-year old married woman obsessed with silent drape runners to that of an 18-year old high school senior obsessed with cheerleading; Ben Horne’s psychotic break after losing Ghostwood that transforms him from a greedy corporate scumbag into a caring and philanthropic do-gooder via a personal reenactment of the Civil War; Lucy’s struggle between deciding which of her dueling beaus will be a better father to her unborn child, regardless of paternity; Donna’s two dads; Leo’s arc from an abusive monster to a helpless, crippled, and unwilling minion; the chess game in which Earle engages Cooper; the alternating black and white chevron pattern of the Black Lodge floor; even Dr. Jacoby’s trademark red and blue spectacle lenses. All of these cues and tons more reveal the ever-present struggle between opposing forces in TWIN PEAKS.

The universe is comprised of balanced diametric forces, forces that push when others pull, forces that create when others destroy. Without this balance, chaos ensues and reality becomes warped, fractured, or otherwise flawed. It is in one of these fractures that the town of Twin Peaks exists. The death of Laura Palmer caused an imbalance that set in motion the events of the series, and Cooper was the agent – pardon the pun – through which order could have been restored, his role in the drama was the polar opposite of hers. But as we all know, Coop’s efforts only led to an even greater imbalance of the dual forces at work in Twin Peaks, one that has left the town, the series and its audience teetering on the brink of oblivion for a quarter century now. Only (Show)time will tell if that balance can ever be restored, and if this duality will be the salvation or annihilation of TWIN PEAKS.

For more trivia, tidbits and assorted ephemera between #TwinPeakTuesdays, follow me on Twitter. And until next time, may the owls be ever in your favor.

Related Topics: ,

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist