American Weird

notes on the finale of a third season of Twin Peaks


1.

Twin Peaks is border town. Its name declares the motif of doubling.

Lynch and Frost double its border town status, putting it across an invisible line not only from Canada, but also from a twin reality.

2.

One form of doubling that recurs throughout is the doubling of names. There are multiple Mikes, multiple Bobs, multiple Richards, and so on.

Doubling names allows Frost and Lynch to undermine audience attempts to anticipate narrative turns and revelations. When the Fireman tells Cooper to "Remember 430, Richard and Linda," (ep. 301) we do not know who he means. As the season unfolds we're misleadingly introduced to characters by those names, but the more precise significance only becomes apparent in the final episode.

3.

In The Weird and the Eerie (Repeater, 2016), Mark Fisher differentiated between genres by drawing a locative distinction. Absence is central to the eerie: What -- or more critically, where -- is the agency behind a given phenomenon or circumstance? The weird, by contrast, is defined by intrusion, by that "which does not belong." (p. 10)

In either case, the audience's attention is directed toward some space, real or figurative, that the work situates as "outside." It is from the outside that the weird obtrudes upon the familiar. When an absence produces the feeling of eeriness, outside is where the agent has gone. In order for the effect to work, we must witness these absences and intrusions as though from inside, from within the perspective of normalcy.

4.

The hook on which marketing for the first season hung was the tagline: "Who killed Laura Palmer?" That mystery was ostensibly solved in the first half of the second season. But the identity of the killer was, itself, a portal into the deeper mystery of the relation between the ostensibly normal world and what lay "outside."

5.

What passes for normalcy in Twin Peaks? In what perspective does the narrative situate its audience? What is the disposition of the world which the eerie haunts and the weird invades?

The "inside" of the narrative world is characterized by kitsch Americana. Its characters inhabit trailer parks and Native American-themed hotels. They frequent diners and roadhouses. Their clothes are flannel and denim, their offices wood-paneled. Our hero thrives on drip coffee and fruit pie. When, Odysseus-like, he is for a time lost, it is as an insurance salesman in Las Vegas.

6.

A semblance from weird literature: Algernon Blackwood.

There is first of all, the image of the primal forest, which recurs in some of Blackwood's best stories. In no small part, the weird in stories like "The Wendigo" is achieved by the meticulous emphasis Blackwood placed on the immensity of the natural world. The outdoors becomes the outside in an ontological sense, deep enough to contain forces both hostile and utterly alien.

Then there is "The Willows," perhaps the first weird tale built on the conceit of radically different dimensions becoming permeable where they abut one another. Here, too, the border land is a wilderness, and weird entities penetrate into our reality with deadly effect.

The aerial vortexes that sometimes open in Twin Peaks echo the spirals that announce the intrusion of the entities in "The Willows."

7.

The Red Room is a staging ground. It translates the alien significances of the outside into forms that are recognizable, if not entirely comprehensible, from the inside perspective.

As such, the Red Room can generate either the weird or the eerie, depending on what it receives and returns.

8.

The traditional figure of the doppelgänger is the self made different. It dramatizes the conceptual dissociation of personality from its embodiment, and so embodies the possibilities not realized in our own behavior. In every externality, the other might be oneself, but they move according to a different set of principles.

On their own, the doppelgängers in Twin Peaks appear to be just bodies boiled down to possibility. They must be animated, as with Bob's possession of the Cooper doppelgänger, in order to express real difference.

9.

Tulpas may be distinct from doppelgänger. Whereas doppelgänger appear to have a priori existence, tulpas are "manufactured" using material collected from the person on whom they are patterned. Thus, Cooper provides a lock of hair for the creation of a tulpa of himself from Janey-E and Sonny Jim. (ep. 317)

And while doppelgänger express the indeterminacy of the self, tulpas are bound by the roles they were created to play. Yet, they retain the memories of their originals. When the memory of who they were contradicts with the designated purposes, the tulpas grow defensive or self-destructive. This may explain Dougie's philandering and gambling, as well as the Diane tulpa's venom.

Tulpas are eerie; doppelgänger are weird.

10.

The kitsch specific to Americana is the embodiment of a nostalgia born of nuclear anxiety. The pivotal historical moment in the creation of the narrative world of Twin Peaks is thus the 1945 detonation of the first nuclear device at White Sands, New Mexico. Its characters are haunted by the prospect of a death dispatched by an agency both remote and indifferent. Their response is earnestness about a culture characterized by impermanence even as it recalls a time before the bomb.

11.

A second semblance: H.P. Lovecraft, renowned as the pioneer of “cosmic horror.”

This semblance comes into focus only with Gordon Cole’s confession to Albert after the destruction of the Diane tulpa. The mystery character referred to as “Judy,” he reveals, is an ancient entity formerly known as Jowday (or, perhaps, Jiào dé). On this account, Judy bears comparison to the Elder Gods of the Cthulhu Mythos, ancient and fantastically alien beings who embody the cosmic indifference characteristic of Lovecraft’s approach to horror.

12.

During the third season, there are three occasions where we may be shown Judy:

First: During the sequence following the White Sands nuclear test, a figure is shown vomiting out the eidolon of Bob. (ep. 308)

Second: On his way back from the Red Room, Agent Cooper is briefly waylaid by the glass booth in the New York experiment. After his departure, a dark and violent figure follows, killing the caretaker and a reporter. (ep. 301) This, it seems to me, is the least certain of the three.

Third: Sarah Palmer orders a drink at the Elks Point #9 and is accosted by a sexually aggressive trucker. Sarah removes her face and either she, or an entity she hosts, kills the trucker. (ep. 314)

13.

The third season not only elaborated the cosmic significance of Killer Bob, but also recast Laura as a cosmic entity, dispatched by the Fireman in response to Bob's irruption into our reality. If the principle embodied by Laura Palmer is meant to counteract the influence of the principle embodied by Bob, then her murder is not merely an expression of "the evil that men do." (ep. 209) It is, in effect, a preemptive strike.

14.

For narrative reasons, Bob's is the face by which we recognize the principle vomited out by Judy, but it is not Bob necessarily. Likewise, Laura's is the face by which we recognize the principle sent by the Fireman, but only because we, as the audience, were introduced to it by way of Laura Palmer.

The inverse also appears to be true: Laura Palmer is the eternal Laura as a matter not of necessity, but of historical contingency.

15.

Jeffries sends Cooper back to 1989, allowing him to interrupt the sequence of events leading to Laura's murder. As Cooper guides her toward the passage "home," though, Laura disappears.

At home, an enraged Sarah Palmer defaces Laura's high school portrait. If my reading of the Elks Point #9 scene (ep. 314) is correct, this is actually Judy, and the ritual defacement extends Cooper's unraveling of the past. Laura has not merely disappeared from Cooper's intervention in 1989. Rather, the Laura principle has been altogether removed from Laura Palmer and relocated to another host.

16.

A third semblance: Michael Moorcock.

An inveterate world-builder, Moorcock stitched his various fantasy and science fiction milieus into a network of parallel universes. Literalizing the thesis of Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Moorcock linked each of the heroes of his books as incarnations of the Eternal Champion, a figure that exists across dimensions and whose function is to maintain the Balance between Law and Chaos in each.

17.

By the final episode, Cooper has already prevented Laura Palmer's murder. The Laura that the Red Room Leland enjoins him to find is presumably the eternal, not Laura Palmer. Cooper's quest to return her home to Sarah suggests less a mother-daughter reunion than a final confrontation with Judy.

Cooper himself seems unaware of that implication, both because he has difficulty distinguishing the eternal Laura from its specific incarnation as Laura Palmer, and because he is unaware that Sarah is inhabited by Judy.

18.

Cooper and Diane drive 430 miles from Twin Peaks and pass through an invisible fissure where "everything may be different." When they arrive at a motel in Odessa, Texas, they themselves are already in the process of becoming other people: Richard and Linda. Diane sees her former personality as though from outside, covers Cooper's face during sex, and finally signs her farewell note "Linda." Armed with the Fireman's warning, Cooper clings to his previous identity.

19.

Who is the dead man in Carrie Page's apartment? One of Bob's former hosts, most likely.

20

"What year is this?" The answer may be: Some year before the Palmers move into their house. It may also be: The present, only in a timeline where the Palmers never move into that specific house. There may be no practical difference between the two answers.

21.

Cooper's refusal to change with the world, to become Richard and acknowledge that Carrie Page is only incidentally the same Laura that he knew, may account for his slow arrival at the pivotal question. The only stable continuity between him and the Dale Cooper who has yet to arrive in Twin Peaks is his role as guide to the eternal Laura.

22.

Refusing resolution seems, to me, a characteristically Lynchian narrative strategy. In Poetics, Aristotle theorizes that the function of art is to allow the discharge of intense emotions within the safely proscribed boundaries of narrative. By refusing conventional methods for closing their narrative, Frost and Lynch in effect leave open the gate. The operation of discharge is left uninterrupted. The story ends, but the emotional and intellectual processes it initiated remain ongoing.