The Silent Presence of Diane: The Gal Friday of TWIN PEAKS
Of all the characters that populate and pass through TWIN PEAKS, one has done more with less than any other: Diane, Special Agent Dale Cooper’s personal assistant who is spoken to a dozen or more times in the series, but is never seen or heard from in return. She is more of a presence than a person – we don’t even know her last name – which has led some to speculate on the veracity of her existence, but regardless she is obviously someone (or something) with whom Coop entrusts his most personal of thoughts. Diane is more than a mere secretary, she is a confidant, a sounding board, and a silent counselor to the Special Agent, she is a way to process the madness Coop encounters in Twin Peaks and in fact in his own life, and as such she is indispensable to him, his investigations, and indeed the narrative of the series.
Though there isn’t a lot to learn about Diane the character, there are tidbits to be gleaned from the series, as well as THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF F.B.I. SPECIAL AGENT DALE COOPER: MY LIFE, MY TAPES – a paperback tie-in to the series – DIANE: THE TWIN PEAKS TAPES OF AGENT COOPER – an audio book tie-in – and the prequel film TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME. Add to this a detailed account of the theory some fans hold that Diane isn’t actually real, and speculation as to her role (as well as who could be playing her) in the upcoming season 3, and this is pretty much all there is to know about the most mysterious character in television’s most mysterious landscape.
The most important thing to know about Diane we learn from the series itself in terms of how Cooper talks to her. There are basically three routes their conversations take: professional, speculative, and personal. The first kind of conversation is the most prevalent and the most obvious. Diane is, after all, Coop’s assistant and secretary, and while he is on the road on cases in this pre-internet era she is to transcribe the tapes he sends her into reports that can be submitted to Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole and perhaps other, unnamed higher-ups. The second kind of conversation in which they engage, speculative, refers to the non-sequitur tangents Cooper passes off to Diane, such as his theories on the Kennedy assassination, or his musings on the flora of the Pacific Northwest. These are not the sort of things a man says to his secretary, but rather to a friend. While these speculative observations certainly say more about Coop than they do Diane, it does say something about her that Coop would choose to share them with her, they paint her as someone he views as an intellectual equal, someone who is able to appreciate the same idiosyncrasies as him, or at least someone who is able to appreciate his appreciation. In regards to the last kind of conversation, personal, this sort cements Diane as not just an associate but a friend, and a highly-trusted friend at that. It is Diane to whom Cooper addresses what he thinks could be his last words when lying gut-shot on his hotel room floor in the second season premiere, it is Diane to whom he expresses his innermost fears about Windom Earle and regrets about Caroline, and it is Diane to whom he confides his first emotions for Annie Blackburn. In this way, Diane is Coop’s diary, as well, she is a place to store the more meaningful events of his life, a place to hear them said out loud in his own voice, thus making them that much
In 1991 early during the run of season two, The Diane Tapes – as the audiobook is colloquially known – was released. It featured excerpts of Coop’s conversations with Diane from the series to date, as well as some newly-recorded entries that didn’t further the mythology of the show or its central mystery, nor did they delve deeper into the woman on the other end of the microcassette recorder, but it did serve to bolster all the things the series taught us about Diane: that she is someone Coop depends upon in more than a professional measure. The new entries for the audio book were written by Scott Frost, series co-creator Mark Frost’s brother, and they were all performed by Kyle MacLachlan, who garnered a Grammy nomination for his work. Though not too rare, copies of the original tapes – which are only on cassette – can be expensive to procure. But then, you know, the internet:
Later in ’91, Scott Frost furthered his exploration into Cooper’s tapes through the AUTOBIOGRAPHY paperback, which did actually give a little more insight into Diane, albeit in a way that helped fuel the speculation of some that she might not be more than a figment of Dale’s imagination. These tape transcripts reveal that Cooper didn’t just work in Philadelphia, he was raised there and educated in local Quaker institutions like Germantown Friends School and Haverford College. These transcripts aren’t work-related at all, Coop is sharing himself with Diane here, all of himself, he is using her as a vehicle to catalogue and examine his life right up to the very day he is assigned to the Laura Palmer case in Twin Peaks. He tells Diane embarrassing stories about his first experiences with love, heartbreaking stories that delve into the twisted triangle of he, Caroline and Windom, and hopeful stories about his determination to be the best Special Agent the Bureau has ever seen. He so likes the idea of Diane listening to these stories, of being his confidant, that at one point he says he will address all of his tapes to her whether she will ever listen to them or not. This is the point at which Diane becomes so trusted that she is elevated to the role of counselor, closest confidant, and someone through whom Coop can not only come to know himself, but come to understand himself, as well. But this also opens the door for the theorists who think that Diane is more of a coping mechanism than a real person.
The place to start with this theory is at its root: why would Coop need to invent Diane (or continue talking to her once their professional relationship ended and she was no longer assisting him, which could also be the case)? The answer is another woman: Caroline Earle. In the aftermath of Coop’s affair with Caroline, which resulted in her murder at the hands of her husband and Coop’s partner, Windom Earle, the man was devastated personally and professionally. It was the single most traumatic experience of his life (until passing through a certain red curtain, that is), and it left him uncertain how to trust himself, how to continue being the man of principle he thought he was in the wake of the revelation that he was flawed, weak, and selfish. So Diane was either created or resurrected from memory, the theory would have us believe, as a coping mechanism and a route by which Coop could rediscover his strengths and virtues. The strongest piece of evidence that Diane isn’t real is, of course, the fact that she is never seen nor heard from. Coop never talks to her on the phone, he never receives any tapes back from her – or if he does they are never shown or intimated – and no one else refers to her, not Cole, not Albert, both of whom work with Coop and would presumably be familiar with his assistant. Aside from that, there are two particular scenes from the series that advocates of this theory point to as definitive proof: the “ear plugs” scene, and the “drink with Annie” scene.
The “ear plugs” scene happens in episode 5 and involves Coop rising in the morning after a particularly troublesome night’s sleep. The Icelandic investors of Ben Horne’s Ghostwood Estates development had arrived the evening before and proceeded to spend the dark hours frolicking and cavorting at the top of their joyous lungs. Fearing this will be a recurring nuisance, Coop records a message for Diane asking her to overnight him a pair of top-grade ear plugs; at the end of this narrative day, however, Coop is seen with these ear plugs. This would seem to be impossible when you consider that in order to receive them Coop would have had to mail the tape to Diane in Philadelphia, she’d have to receive it, transcribe it, procure the ear plugs then mail them back to Twin Peaks, all in a roughly sixteen-hour timeframe. To theorists, this proves Diane is little more than a diary/datebook, a forum for Coop’s thoughts as well as his personal to-do lists.
The other scene, the “drink with Annie” scene, is more subtle. It happens at the end of episode 25 when Coop is walking through the lounge of The Great Northern after returning from his first expedition to Owl Cave. He’s excitedly regaling Diane of the night’s adventures – not from a professional perspective, but more like he’s sharing the news with a friend – when he sees Annie sitting alone at the bar. He stops mid-sentence and reflexively shuts off and puts away his microcassette recorder. If you subscribe to the theory that Diane is a cognitive device and not an actual person (or an actual presence in Coop’s present life, at least), than you could infer this reaction as being symbolic of Coop discovering in reality a person (Annie) who can provide him the same things for which he’s created Diane: understanding, compassion, and acceptance. When Coop finds love again as he does with Annie, he no longer needs the support of Diane, who would have been created after the tragic destruction of his last love, Caroline Earle. While Coop does talk to Diane after this point in the series, these remaining messages become more proactive and also more distanced, personally; he is a man on two missions at that point – stop Windom Earle and keep his burgeoning love with Annie alive. Diane has been relegated to a confidant again, but no longer his counselor.
Aside from these two instances, there is one other Diane moment related to TWIN PEAKS, and it’s one that both supports and refutes the theory as to Diane’s unreality. In a deleted scene from FIRE WALK WITH ME, Coop is shown leaning into an office and talking to Diane. Diane, of course, is never seen or heard, but Coop in the scene is unusually buoyant, he’s friendly and upbeat, almost manic, and even a little flirtatious. It’s almost off-putting, how out-of-character Coop feels here, which is probably why the scene was excised from the final cut. But people point to it as proof Diane is real. However, if you’re looking for this to support the theory that Diane isn’t real, this’ll do that, too. In addition to the woman herself remaining unseen, we’re never even shown the room to which Coop is speaking, only the doorway, and with no nameplate on the door, for all we know Coop could be talking to a mop in a utility closet and calling it “Diane.” And his behavior is so over-the-top it wouldn’t be a leap to describe it as “delusional.”
Whether she’s real or not (she is), there’s no denying the importance of Diane to Dale Cooper and thus to the story of TWIN PEAKS. Many fans are hoping the character will at last be given a more significant and seeable role in the upcoming third season, and some are even speculating that Laura Dern, who has been confirmed as being added to the cast in an unconfirmed role, could be assuming the guise of Coop’s Gal Friday. If so, that would make a lovely reunion for Dern and MacLachlan, who starred together in David Lynch’s BLUE VELVET, the film he made right before diving into TWIN PEAKS. Only Showtime will tell…
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