One of the first things folks think about when they think about TWIN PEAKS – especially in terms of the show’s quirky, off-beat nature – is food. Food is everywhere in TWIN PEAKS, and like everything else in the series, it means more than what you think it means. For Ben and Jerry Horne, food is a manifestation of their wealth, they feast on exotic, foreign, and decadent delights like baguettes with brie and butter brought all the way from France, or smoked cheese pigs; while for Norma Jennings, owner of the Double R Diner, food is a path to wealth, it is a reflection of her life, ordinary and everyday with hints of elegance. But the three biggest food referentials in TWIN PEAKS, as everybody knows, are doughnuts, cherry pie to die for, and all those damn fine cups of coffee. And like everything else, they too are representative of themes and in fact people important to TWIN PEAKS.
As a food, doughnuts are a little silly. They’re frosted in bright colors and dusted in sprinkles, powdered with sugar, filled with jams and jellies and creams, and are sickly-sweet to the taste. They’re also stereotypical cop food. In TWIN PEAKS, this relationship is explored to the extreme. When you see a doughnut in TWIN PEAKS, you’re usually seeing dozens of them, comically more than the two or three people in the room could possibly consume. This sucks the seriousness out of an otherwise serious place – namely the Sheriff’s station – and helps create a colloquial vibe attributed to the Department that further paints them as quaint country folk perhaps unprepared to handle such a major case like the murder of Laura Palmer, which we remember at its incept is a serial killer case. This vibe also exists so that Truman, Hawk, and Andy may each rise above expectations in several instances, thus making them more heroic in the audience’s eyes for overcoming their perceived limitations. As a metaphor then, doughnuts represent not only the quirky, silly, and simple side of the Twin Peaks authorities, but also the sweetness inherent to them as well, the kindness, the virtue, which further establishes them as on the side of right.
Doughnuts in TWIN PEAKS also serve as a kind of absurd visual equalizer, most notably in the death scene of Waldo, Jacques Renault’s mynah bird and a possible witness to Laura’s murder. While in police custody, Waldo is shot through the station window by Leo Johnson. Though we don’t see the death itself, we are given the gist by the striking image of Waldo’s blood and a few feathers covering the elaborate doughnut display set up in the room. It’s a dark moment granted ridiculous levity by the contrast of death coating breakfast desserts.
Cherry pie is a little more lascivious as a metaphor. It too has a simplicity to it as a food, but beyond that a cherry pie in particular has certain sexual connotations that reflect its balance between sweet (or innocent) and tart (or promiscuous). If you need a better understanding of those connotations, I’ll direct you here and leave it at that. Though she is never directly associated with it in the series, mostly on account of being dead, the TWIN PEAKS character cherry pie most directly reflects is Laura Palmer. Like the pie, Laura had her sweet, innocent side, and she had her “tart,” promiscuous side. She was a powerfully sexual being but this was a side of herself also forged from violence and violation, so as such she was ashamed of her sexuality and hid it under the pretty, flaky crust of her exterior being: a wholesome, benevolent, uniquely American teenage girl. The dichotomy of Laura’s tarnished innocence is the essence of those mentioned sexual connotations of cherry pie – rebellion, recklessness, and wanton self-destruction among them – and Laura personified them to a T.
Cherry pie, or perhaps just the cherry part, is also representative of Audrey Horne, TWIN PEAKS’ would-be sultry vixen. From her attitude, flirtatious nature, and alluring physical prowess, it might be assumed that Audrey is well-versed in the art of love. The pinnacle proof behind this assumption, of course, comes when Audrey goes undercover at One Eyed Jacks and proves her potential as a “hospitality girl” to Blackie by tying the stem of a cherry into a knot. With her tongue. This is pretty much as blatantly explicit as you could get on network TV in the pre-NYPD BLUE era, and it’s also the single most sensual moment of the series. But here again, the cherry isn’t all about sex, there has to be an innocent component to the metaphor as well. So then later in the second season, it’s revealed that Audrey is a virgin, which certain wouldn’t undermine her, um, tying skills, but does cause the audience to realize that she’s more innocent than she’s portrayed or portrays herself. The cherry is the perfect food to reflect this balance.
Lastly we come to the biggest food metaphor of them all, coffee. And while coffee is tied to pretty much every character in the series from the fresh pots of the Double R to Pete’s fishy percolator, we all know who the beverage’s strong and dependable qualities are mirroring: Special Agent Dale Cooper. He is java’s strongest advocate and greatest aficionado in the series, it is synonymous with him and the only seeming chemical vice in which he partakes (he does have the occasional drink, but never more than one is shown, nor does it seem to affect him whatsoever). Like coffee, Dale Cooper is a reliable go-to to get the job done. He is efficient, direct, and bold. He isn’t complicated, he’s always alert, and he is intellectually inexhaustible, his acumen able to be refilled endlessly. And how Cooper takes his coffee, “black as midnight on a moonless night,” is a reflection of both his outward appearance – slick black hair, black suits with black ties – and how he will come to understand the hidden world within Twin Peaks. Furthermore, his choice of phrasing when describing how he takes his coffee is a reflection of the poet inside the stoic, and the man of whimsy tucked behind the man of reason.
When Cooper enters the Black Lodge in the season two finale, it is coffee that he’s offered, much like Hades offers hungry Persephone pomegranate seeds that condemn her to annual residence in Hell, one month for every seed. Could it be that the Black Lodge would have an easier time obtaining the soul of Dale Cooper if some sort of elixir or potion was willfully taken by him, the way Laura or Teresa Banks had to willingly put on the Black Lodge ring to forfeit their souls? And if so, wouldn’t coffee be the natural way to disguise this elixir or potion? If I was trying to poison Coop, that’s exactly where I’d put it. By that logic, when Cooper accepts the coffee and tries to drink it but finds it either solid or syrupy and thus unable to injest, that could be a manifestation of either his good side, the White Lodge, or both trying to save him from the inevitability of the path he has started down.
Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis, is famous for once remarking “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Freud obviously never saw TWIN PEAKS – which is a shame, because I think he would have gone nuts for it – because nowhere in this town or series is that statement true. There is meaning everywhere, in everything, even on the plate.
For more TWIN PEAKS trivia, tidbits and assorted ephemera between Tuesdays, follow me on Twitter and find out just how obsessive I can be.