Rewatching the original run of Twin Peaks is an illuminating experience, especially alongside the third season. The show establishes joins the surreal and magical to an increasingly traumatic series of scenes in a way that suggests the traumatic material forms the axis of the series. More than that, it suggests that there is a kernel of suffering and cruelty at the center of the ‘mysteries’ that distract us from it.
Every time I think I have a handle on what that trauma is, it deepens and broadens itself, encompassing a wider gyre. There is a question that opens here about the nature of time that necessarily entails asking after the particular shape time takes in relationship to human consciousness. Part of the temporal patterns of repetition have their roots in an inability to confront our culpability in suffering, that we repeat certain patterns precisely because we use them as a form of distraction, a dream from which we dread waking. There is a hint of Freud in this, but in many ways Freud performs this distraction more than he is able to grasp it.
One of the criticisms to make of Freud is that he failed to see clearly how the traumas he saw were rooted in painful realities like child abuse, dwelling overmuch in the symptoms and misidentifying their cause. There is more than a little Freud in surrealism and more than a little surrealism in Lynch, but within Twin Peaks I am seeing the misattribution of trauma criticized. This is an important dimension to a healing operation. Until we see how the spirit and soul have been mutilated, we cannot properly heal them.
“He met the devil. The devil took the form of fire. Fire is the devil hiding like a coward in the smoke.”
By the time I came to this the scene the second time, I could see how Laura Palmer’s sexual abuse had been flagged in the series. The strange behavior of her parents isn’t just weird reactions to her death, but them struggling with the dark secret of her abuse. When Sarah pleads with Leland not to ruin everything at the funeral, I could hear the chain of denial and awareness animating that phrase. As the coffin rose and fell from the grave with Leland on it, we are subjected to a gruesome parody of his molestation of Laura (a too-close proximity that is also marked by their shared initials, L. P.). That the scene itself seems to reference both the Hierophant and Judgment trumps of the Tarot only intensifies the bleak horror.
And in the midst of that, Bobby Briggs (B-B, a doubling which is quite proper to Bobby’s character and also suggestive of certain Kabbalistic operations) accuses the whole town of killing Laura Palmer, of knowing what was going on and turning a blind eye (more than a few blind eyes, right? One-Eyed Jacks, Nadine, Laura Palmer winking in the Red Room, the women shot through the eye in the third season).
In this light, Cooper’s introduction to the Bookhouse Boys a darker cast. When Sherriff Truman explains that Twin Peaks is different from the rest of the world, that they like it that way, but that difference comes at a cost of having to deal with darkness, it starts to sound like Laura Palmer is part of that cost. The dark turn Hank (formerly “one of the best” of the Bookhouse Boys) takes also underscores this, with Hank and Harry serving as minor chord to Windom and Dale. So, too, we have reason to think that the Bookhouse Boys are themselves mirrors to the FBI. Magicians, right?
The final scenes of the first series that close with Cooper’s descent and entrapment within the lodge then become the natural trajectory of Cooper’s growing complicity. We are shown how clearly Windom Earle is unable to barter for Cooper’s soul, but Cooper is nonetheless trapped. At its root, he may be trapped because by the end of the first series he has committed himself to the town of Twin Peaks and unwittingly entangled himself with their dark bargain.
Consider the message Cooper relays to Sarah Palmer after Leland’s death, that he believed Laura forgave Leland, presumably because she forgave he was under Bob’s control. If the narrative itself can’t sustain that message, if we can see Leland’s awareness of his guilt manifesting well before that, what we see with Cooper’s message is him deepening his commitment to the devil’s deal of Twin Peaks, a deal that displaces evil perpetually into dangerous outside figures without actually absolving or healing it.
When we see Leland in the Black Lodge, this false innocence is the message he shares. “I did not kill anybody.”
The strangeness of Twin Peaks is the smoke, the devil the deal that the town has made with itself to cut itself off from the outside world, the fire the human cost of that (pain and suffering).
And what is it the Arm eats?
Through the darkness of futures past
The magician longs to see
One chants out between two worlds
Fire walk with me
Twin Peaks, and its connection to a Black and White Lodge link the setting of the series with the place from which the magician “chants out.” But let’s dig deeper into this. The “darkness of futures past” is an evocative paradox, but when read against the series’s narrative the paradox may resolve itself. Most acutely, futures past refers to the futures people like Laura Palmer will never have. Their futures are past because their lives, the means through which the future comes to be, have past.
Less acutely, we also have all of the missed opportunities that structure the life of Twin Peaks. More than a few of the love triangles that animate the series are premised on choices that made once viable futures past. Big Ed’s marriage to Nadine demands the passing of his future with Norma (the doubling “N” suggests the link the darkness that opens between the gap created by these two characters).
Laura Palmer herself has a gift for producing these futures past, having what Dr. Jacobi describes as a corrupting influence on those around her. As if calling forth the great absence of her oncoming death, she displaces Bobby from the vision of uprightness seen by father into a world of criminality.
Consider, too, the lengthy and uncomfortable subplot of the second season in which Ben Horne re-enacts the Civil War in order to give Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy a victory. That is itself an effort to summon up a past future on a grand scale, a past future that suggests something of the nature of the world that Twin Peaks aspires toward, a past future that continues to destroy present futures.
Remember when Sheriff Truman decks Albert? Remember how Albert greets Truman’s promise of violence the next time he appears in Twin Peaks? Albert identifies himself with Gandhi and Martin Luther King, accepting the violence inflicted upon him but protesting it through official channels.
However much we may like Truman, Lynch is suggesting we consider him alongside the law enforcement officials battering those standing up for their civil rights. Who doesn’t look at Deputy Andy Brennan and think of Mayberry? Which summons up that dreamy, never-was world of ‘good’ Jim Crow law enforcement. There again, we see the movement for freedom and equality precisely by its absence from Twin Peaks.