Of all the information and revelations that come out of FIRE WALK WITH ME – about Laura, about BOB, about Leland – perhaps the most confounding, and I think certainly the most important, is the introduction of the “Owl Cave ring,” a gold band with the Owl Cave symbol (a squared diamond with twin peaks like wings coming off its upper half) etched in some sort of jade-like stone. This ring does not appear nor is it mentioned in TWIN PEAKS the series, however the symbol on it does factor into the final episodes of season two. It is the tiny petroglyph hidden on the end of a stone rod in the cave wall that’s revealed when Andy accidentally strikes another petroglyph of a flame with a pickaxe. This same symbol will be discovered later by Windom Earle etched in the ceiling across the cave, only inverted. By turning the rod so its symbol matches this other in the ceiling, the great petroglyph map that will eventually lead everyone to The Black Lodge is revealed. In FIRE WALK WITH ME, this symbol appears again on a ring that is inferred to be a most powerful totem, one that can mean the difference not only between life and death, but also between eternal salvation or damnation. The clues to the ring’s meaning and purpose are all in FIRE WALK WITH ME, but like much else about the movie, they are not always obvious or straightforward and must be interpreted as much as they must be discovered.
Obviously, the ring being left out of the series doesn’t mean anything other than it wasn’t thought of until after the series ended. The ring isn’t some grand Easter egg, though there are some important references to rings in general in the series. The most obvious of these is Cooper’s ring, which really isn’t even a noticeable detail until it’s gone. When Coop is lying gut-shot on the floor of his room at The Great Northern in the second season premiere, the Giant appears to him and takes his ring, saying it will be returned if and only when Coop correctly interprets the clues given to him by the Giant. True to his word, following the stormy séance at The Road House later that season during which Coop learns the true identity of BOB, he finds his ring – a simple golden band – at his feet.
Elsewhere in the series, the entrance to The Black Lodge at Glastonbury Grove is located within a ring of sycamore trees, particular attention is paid to a ceiling fan and a record player in the Palmer house, Josie has her soul trapped in a drawer knob, Laura’s eye holds the clue to who shot a video of she and Donna, the round glow of a stoplight hints at horrible secrets, and the three biggest food references in the series – doughnuts, pies, and cups of coffee – are each circular in a fashion. While there are copious ways to interpret the artistic intentions of rings, circles, spheres or general roundness, it seems to me in the case of TWIN PEAKS this ring-referencing is temporal, it refers to a perfect circle, or an ouroboros if you will, of time, and seeks to evoke a sense of how the past influences the present and the future and the same in reverse, how the end is the beginning, the way that FIRE WALK WITH ME makes the narrative of TWIN PEAKS a perfect circle by going back a week before the beginning of the series to show us the most important facet of this story we’d yet to see: Laura Palmer. The end of the movie is the beginning of the series, which of course came years earlier. With that as a perspective, TWIN PEAKS the series contains many character arcs or smaller storylines that circle back to themselves: Donna starts off a simpering sidekick of Laura’s, becomes emboldened by Laura’s death and James’ love, then loses this love and the truth of her identity (or at least her paternity) and reverts to a spineless crybaby; Ed and Norma start the series as illicit lovers, fight for legitimacy and attain it the briefest and happiest of moments before being relegated to their former emotional imprisonment; Bobby and Shelly live in fear of Leo until Leo is rendered harmless, only to be later empowered again; Andy and Lucy are divided by an unplanned pregnancy of dubious paternity and eventually reunited because of the same; Cooper comes to town healing from the hurt of love, finds love again then is hurt even worse. All of these stories are circular and operate inside the larger circle of the TWIN PEAKS/FIRE WALK WITH ME narrative like cogs behind a clock face.
But onto the matter at hand. There’s a lot here in a variety of places, so I figure the best way to tackle the ring is chronologically, as Lynch and co-screenwriter Robert Engels intended. The ring first appears in FIRE WALK WITH ME in what is known as The Deer Meadow Prologue, or the first half hour of the film in which Agent Chet Desmond (Chris Isaak) is investigating the murder of Teresa Banks. This sequence takes place a year before the murder of Laura Palmer, and culminates when Desmond makes his second visit to the Fat Trout Trailer Park, where Teresa lived. Already at this point the existence and absence of the ring has been noted by Desmond thanks to a tan line on a finger of her corpse, and a picture of Teresa he saw in her trailer upon his first visit to the park. His second visit comes at dusk and its primary purpose is to locate the trailer of a Deer Meadow deputy he suspects of possible wrongdoing, but in the process a dirty, derelict trailer captures his attention and lures him over. After first peering through the lighted windows and seeing nothing of note, Desmond kneels and looks under the trailer where he sees a mound of dirt with the ring atop it, turned so that its symbol is inverted as in the Owl Cave ceiling. Desmond reaches out for the ring, and the scene fades to black.
At the conclusion of the next sequence, known as the Phillip Jeffries scene, we learn that Agent Desmond has been reported missing and was last seen at the trailer park. This introduces the idea of the ring as a some sort of device for trans- or teleportation. The support for this idea had been set up earlier in this very scene by Jeffries who, in explaining the status of the Judy case (the subject of a separate essay in this series) says the lines, “I found something…and then there they were.” Between these lines that made it onscreen, “the ring, the ring” was written into the original script along with dialogue that further indicates Jeffries found the ring at Judy’s place in Seattle, and when he touched it he was suddenly transported – either physically or psychically – to the room above the convenience store where the denizens of The Black Lodge were having a meeting. In conjunction with these spirits, the ring then, we understand, is not just a means of dimensional relocation, it is also a device for the collecting of human souls, as that’s the business of BOB and his ilk. This would explain why the ring was found in the trailer park: Teresa Banks was the last to wear it, and her soul now claimed for The Black Lodge by BOB via Leland, it was free to lure its next victim, seemingly Chet Desmond.
Cooper himself visits the trailer park investigating Desmond’s disappearance, but the derelict trailer and the mound of dirt beneath it are both gone. When he asks about who last rented the lot, he’s told by park manager Carl (Harry Dean Stanton), that the last tenants had been an elderly woman and her grandson. Though the last names don’t match up, the viewer is meant to infer the Tremonds, Harold Smith’s neighbors, are the duo being described here as the Chalfonts, especially as we just saw them in the room above the convenience store in the Jeffries scene. Given who last wore it and how she died, we the audience have already attached the ring to BOB, but as yet there’s no actual proof it’s his. The Tremonds/Chalfonts – who also disappear without a trace in TWIN PEAKS the series – however now have a direct connection to the ring, and whether they are its protectors, its collectors, or its administrators on a permanent or temporary basis is too early to tell at this point in the film, but for now they seem to be in possession of it and as such will serve as the link to the ring’s next appearance in FIRE WALK WITH ME.
While loading up her car for Meals on Wheels, the elderly woman and her grandson appear to Laura and gift her a framed painting of an empty room. The next night, Laura dreams she has entered the painting, and by walking through its open door (as coaxed by Mrs. Chalfont and her grandson) eventually she winds up in the waiting room of The Black Lodge. Across the room on a white column is the ring. Cooper enters the room to find the Man From Another Place standing by the column. After a brief and cryptic monologue, the Man picks up the ring and offers it to Laura. As on the cave ceiling, as found on the mound of dirt by Desmond, and as worn by Teresa Banks, the symbol is shown to us inverted. Cooper tells Laura, implores really, not to take the ring, and this is quite clearly because of its ability to capture souls for The Black Lodge. This is when Laura awakes and finds her left arm numb and a bloody Annie Blackburn in bed next to her. Annie tells her she’s been with Laura and Dale, and the good Dale is trapped in The Black Lodge. She tells Laura to write it in her diary, which Laura will forget to do. Annie disappears but in Laura’s hand is the ring from her “dream.” She gets out of bed and sees an image of herself in the painting given to her by the Chalfonts, and that’s when she wakes for real. It is morning, the painting is normal, and there is no ring in her hand or anywhere, for that matter.
So then if the ring is a metaphysical teleportation device that delivers souls to The Black Lodge, then it has to be introduced on a metaphysical level, like in a dream or a vision. The emphasis in this dream seems to be on Laura making a decision: the Man From Another Place offers her the ring, he doesn’t force it on her; and Coop doesn’t try to swat the ring away, he tries to convince Laura to make a decision regarding it, namely not to put it on. Even the way it is presented, with the symbol inverted as it was on the ceiling of Owl Cave, hints at willfulness: the map to the Lodge entrance wasn’t revealed until Earle decided to twist the rod so the symbols matched.
Furthermore, now we’ve seen three agents of The Black Lodge try to push the ring on Laura: the elderly woman, her grandson, and the Man From Another Place, which means it is not the possession of one particular spirit. The question at this point becomes how does BOB factor into any of this, and it’s a question answered by his one-time killing pal and current-nemesis MIKE.
Technically, it’s Phillip Gerard, MIKE’s Earthly host who provides the insight, though his delivery could use a little work. After a night of drinking, drugging and screwing strangers in Canada, Laura is picked up by Leland at Donna’s house. While driving to meet Sarah for breakfast, they are accosted by a reckless driver who corners them when stopped at a crosswalk. This is Gerard, and he starts screaming ferociously at Leland about stealing the corn, and throwing in mentions of the room above the convenience store. It isn’t Leland Gerard is screaming at, though, it’s BOB. We know this for certain by Laura mentioning twice the stench of burnt engine oil, which we recall is what constitutes the puddle
at the entrance to The Black Lodge and signifies the presence of BOB. Gerard as MIKE knows what BOB is cultivating in the Palmer house, and he wants to stop it. Which is why he shifts his screaming to Laura: “It’s him! It’s your father!” Pretty blatant, this, but there is a more subtle element to the scene. Once Gerard starts screaming at Laura, he shows her the ring, he’s wearing it on the pinkie of his right hand. He doesn’t say anything about it, he doesn’t warn her not to take it as Coop did, but the simple act of showing it to her in this alarmed context links the ring with BOB, making him the fifth (behind MIKE at #4) spirit of The Black Lodge now connected to the ring. Interesting to note that in this instance, the ring isn’t shown with the symbol inverted, nor is it shown right-side up, rather Gerard presents it on its side, which can be seen as another indication of a decision to be made: does Laura accept the ring right side up, or upside down? And is there a difference in implication? Short answer: yes.
Later that evening Laura puts some pieces together and realizes that the ring Gerard showed her, the ring from her dream, and the ring worn by Teresa – who she knows tangentially from some hooking she and Ronette Pulaski did back in the day – are all one and the same, and in a sense it is following her, hunting her. This realization manifests a blue, sourceless light which Laura asks, “Who are you? Who are you really?” If this is the direct conversation with the incorporeal spirit of BOB or some other manifestation of The Black Lodge that it seems to be, then it signifies a shift in Laura’s attitude towards what is happening: no longer is she blindly afraid of the power coming to claim her, instead she curious, resignedly so perhaps, but she is seeking to understand what is happening, not just stop it. This understanding will eventually lead to her salvation, albeit by a gruesome route.
There are a handful of theories as to the ultimate purpose of the ring, but based on the evidence outlined above, I chose to subscribe to the idea supported by several forums and numerous sites and message boards and TWIN PEAKS books that goes basically like this: the ring is a binder that marks souls for collection; as such, it is a prize bandied about by the spirits of The Black Lodge, because whoever can get a soul to put on the ring, has claim to that soul. This supposition is best supported by the meeting in the room above the convenience store shown in the Jeffries scene in which the Man From Another Place talks of garmonbozia – which is interpreted as the essence of souls consumed by spirts of The Black Lodge to increase their nefarious power – and says the line, “with this ring, I thee wed.” This would certainly seem to be a roundabout declaration that he who has the ring accepted by another soul can claim that soul for eternity, much as a marriage binds souls in the eyes of God or some other such force. It would also explain to an extent why when Laura “woke” the first time from her dream of the ring, her left arm was numb; wedding rings, of course, are worn on the left hand.
When the ring at last makes its way to Laura in the real world, she is being tortured by BOB in the train car. Torturing her is all he can do, because at that moment the ring is not in his possession, so he can’t claim her soul. The ring is where we saw it last – with MIKE. But MIKE, knowing that the ring isn’t just a binder to The Black Lodge, but The White as well, tosses it in the train car and that’s when Laura decides to put it on; as shown to the camera, the symbol is again inverted. She knows what is coming if she does, she knows by now the ring will doom her, but she also knows that there’s more than one way to make this decision: taking the ring is one thing, but the intention behind the taking is another. Laura isn’t taking the ring as BOB’s victim, someone yielding to the will of another, she’s taking it as a mark of defiance, she is embracing the only spirit of The Lodges who sought to save her, MIKE, and by placing the ring on her finger when it is under his control she is in fact causing her own death, but by that same course of action she is empowering her soul, she is saving it and sending it (part of it, at least) to The White Lodge. BOB realizes this, and left with no other course of action now that her soul, her garmonbozia, which he has spent years pursuing, has been claimed by another, he savagely kills Laura.
Later, after Leland has set Laura’s body, wrapped in plastic, adrift in the lake, he enters The Black Lodge where BOB is separated from him and his garmonbozia is given to the rightful winner of this 40-year soul-strugggle, MIKE and his arm, the Man From Another Place. As for the soul of Laura Palmer, it is in a separate but similarly-decorated room, all red curtains and chevron flooring, but none of these predatory spirits are with her, only Coop, and he is standing over her in a comforting manner as blue light begins to strobe. But instead of heralding BOB as usual, the light softens and pales and an angel hovers over the room. Laura cries with a deranged smile on her face, as if she either can’t control her happiness, or her mind has finally wilted. The last we see her she is being overtaken by pure white light.
And in the “real” world, TWIN PEAKS the series is ready to start.
For all the ways FIRE WALK WITH ME altered the TWIN PEAKS mythology, the introduction of the Owl Cave ring in particular blew the idea of The Lodges wide open and set the stage for a much larger realm of nefarious possibilities. And if you take into consideration the first law of thermodynamics, that matter including energy can be neither created nor destroyed, then perhaps the Owl Cave ring if worn with the symbol oriented as found by Coop, not Earle, might return souls from The Black Lodge, or at least release them into The White.
Regardless, I’d wager dollars to doughnuts we see the Owl Cave ring in season three of TWIN PEAKS, maybe even on the hand of Dale Cooper, or – god forbid – in his possession.
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