Controversial opinion: I wonder if there’s actually anywhere real-Dale Cooper would fit into the new Twin Peaks. His chipper attitude, fixation on quaint detail, and generally hurried air would all be completely out of place in a series that’s reconfigured itself as an experience stripped specifically of those qualities. As we now reach Part 9 with Cooper still trapped in Dougie-brain — able to shuffle around, repeat words people say, draw childlike illustrations of the figures from the Black Lodge, and occasionally squeeze the palm off his attempted assassin at the behest of a talking blob-tree — it’s easy to wonder if indeed this isn’t so much a plot about a man slowly coming back to himself. Who knows — he might! But if Cooper proper didn’t arise from the deadened Dougie depths, say, until the last episode, would that be so bad? What if he never did? Wouldn’t that be kind of a triumphant bit of tragic storytelling?
Because once again, a scene of Cooper-Dougie simply staring longingly at an object was the emotional zenith of a Twin Peaks: The Return episode. As Cooper-Dougie sits silently (of course) in the waiting room of a Vegas police station with his wife Janey-E (Naomi Watts) — awaiting information about his de-palmed attempted killer — he spots a flaccid American flag in the corner. Before showing us what he’s looking at, the camera gradually zeroes in on his face — simultaneously blank and fiercely desirous. For the nearly pre and/or post-verbal Cooper-Dougie, yearning is both vivid and contextless, though for the viewer the things that catch his attention create a patchwork evoking a fallen, hollowed American illusion of greatness. In Episode 5, Cooper-Dougie became fixated with a bronze statue of a uniformed man with a gun:
The Cooper-Dougie narrative is a strange, elegant series of hyperboles of aging and obsolescence. In Episode 5, Cooper seemed mesmerized by this hoary ode to the type of person he was – and the type of person society saw him as: this young, intellectually and physically agile male savior. In the ways that, as we get older, we retell the same stories that aggrandize our past, Cooper-Dougie likewise seems to be searching for symbols that evoke those stories he cannot tell (and responding to them with distant hints of vitality and arousal), even if he only knows it in the abstract. The optimism that Cooper-Dougie — and that the very tone of the original Twin Peaks, amidst all its nightmarishness — once had has been leeched, leaving a hardly-animate shell. (Albeit one that’s oddly great.) Cooper-Dougie is to The Return as Cooper was to the original series: The Return‘s silences and stillness create a fascinating, effective and sometimes unbearable sensation of stagnation, whereas the original was so alive with music, youth, and overwrought emotionalism.
So when, in this episode, Cooper-Dougie fixates on an American flag, and a string version of “America the Beautiful” faintly plays, the metaphor of rotted optimism (and an optimism that was perhaps, itself, partly misguided or illusory) seems to cast itself outward. Last week, Twin Peaks implied that the root of its multidimensional evils was the first successful test of the atomic bomb, in Alamogordo, New Mexico in 1945. The grandeur and strength of this empire was felt by the capacity to inflict mass death and destruction. The country may now seem like its own evil late-capitalist self parody regurgitated by another dimension. And this somber, almost pathetic sight of a once optimistic and adept person who’s now near-vegetative, staring at a symbol whose blaring, violent optimism has similarly been emptied, is potent as hell.
It comes early in the episode — and it is by far the best part. For much of the rest of it, following last week’s operatic experimental super-villain origin story (?), is a retread of information we already know — as characters start to understand information the series has already provided to the audience. The episode sees revelations — for characters, if not for the audience — happening in three settings: Vegas, South Dakota, and for the first time in a while, predominantly in Twin Peaks itself. Diane, Gordon Cole, Albert Rosenfield, and Tammy Preston are off to South Dakota to check on the decapitated (and 25-years-too-young) body of Major Briggs. They catch up with William Hastings, who was one of the focuses of earlier episodes — with his arrest for the murder of a certain Ruth Davenport (another person whose head was severed.) The one major new detail here is that Hastings had long run a blog about another dimension he called the Zone — which we all refer to, at least in part, as the Black Lodge. He and Davenport entered that dimension, saw Briggs — and this is right before both Briggs and Davenport ended up headless. (And 25 years younger than he should’ve been.) And while all of that info is surfacing, one other huge thing happens: Diane receives a text, seemingly from Mr. C, aka evil Cooper. We do not yet know what this means, of course, and likely won’t for a while.
Meanwhile, something else we already do know: Dougie was fabricated by Mr. C in a seeming attempt not to get sucked back into the Black Lodge. We now see three detectives in Vegas beginning to become aware of that information, as well. They realize the fact that Dougie has no records, and wonder if he might have come out of the witness protection system, or somewhere else. They also manage to track down and capture the now half-handed Ike “The Spike.” It’s kind of fun seeing three goofy detectives in this random place starting to get let in on the weird world of Twin Peaks, but the episode does devote a lot of time to ensuring the investigating characters and the audience get on similar footing. The upside is that the episode does see the many plot points converging, as detectives in the three areas central to the season focus on on the intertwined aspects of these cases.
And thus we come to Twin Peaks itself, where Bobby, Hawk, and Truman are looking into the disappearance of Dale Cooper — which they now know is tied into the death of Major Briggs. Thus, they go to Bobby’s mom’s home — and it turns out that Mrs. Briggs was expecting them all along. For the prophetic Major had told her, after having met with post-lodge Cooper (aka Mr. C) that someday, Bobby, Hawk, and Truman would show up looking for answers; he instructed her to give them… a metal tube. And it turns out this tube, when struck the right to make the right sound, opens, revealing two notes: one, that says “Cooper/Cooper” — thus hinting at the existence of two Coopers. And another: coordinates and an arcane map pointing, seemingly, to entry, in two days’ time, into the other dimension with which Twin Peaks viewers have certainly become acquainted.
This episode moved the plot along by catching everyone working on the puzzle up with a lot of factors of which viewersare already aware (and peppering those scenes with new details that’ll propel the now-equally-knowledgable audience and detectives forward.) These parts seemed crammed into one episode, while perhaps the series could’ve avoided this episode altogether, or condensed it into 15 minutes leading to something else. Oddly, it wasn’t one of the informative moments, but rather an even slower, more ruminative moment that justified the episode’s existence, and perpetuated what’s so interesting about this show right now: that its most real, sympathetic character is essentially a tired toddler with occasional emotions, spare, repetitive verbiage, and the body of a character audiences once loved. This isn’t a criticism — quite the contrary: it’s a feat. Cooper-Dougie grounds the show emotionally and thematically, exposing the untapped potential of what “revival” shows can do: draw on the voids left by time, and the slow process of losing oneself that is the human life cycle. Especially in this episode, he also evokes a numbed and vacated patriotism. As a body that looks the same but has been rendered futile, he’s also a fascinating embodiment of any symbol whose meaning has turned to mush, and is achingly, and perhaps ineffectively, looking to the past to reconstitute itself.