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A Lost Highway Revisited: 'Twin Peaks' and the Loss of Innocence

Siobhan Lyons
Kyle MacLachlan as Dale Cooper (IMBD)

While the new Twin Peaks might not be able to reclaim its former innocence, Dale Cooper somehow hangs on to his.

Twin Peaks

Cast: Kyle MacLachlan, Sheryl Lee, Michael Horse
Network: Showtime
Year: 2017

The new Twin Peaks series certainly feels like a David Lynch film. It does not, however, feel like a remake of the original '90s-era Twin Peaks show. The original Twin Peaks exuded ‘50s-era innocence, whereas the new series better resembles Lynch’s films, particularly Mulholland Drive (2001) and Lost Highway (1997) (especially with the reappearance of both Naomi Watts and Balthazar Getty respectively). With the addition of sex scenes, nudity and swearing, the new series is a far cry from the quaint, innocuous world of the ‘90s series.

Even Laura Palmer’s involvement with sex and drugs is only ever alluded to in the original series, and it wasn’t until Lynch’s prequel/sequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) that we ever saw the depth of Laura’s involvement with depravity and the horrors of her sexual abuse at the (possessed) hands of her father, Leland. We only ever got hints of the sexual nature of the town’s residents, including Ben Horne’s dalliances at One Eyed Jacks, and even Audrey Horne’s (Sherilyn Fenn) first sexual encounter, which takes place off screen. Yet through all of these events ran a campy, affectionately corny quality, where we didn’t need to take anything too seriously. The evil that occurred did so in an overwhelmingly safe atmosphere, where good was meant to ultimately triumph. In such a case, the presence of evil was transported to an exterior, supernatural force, beyond the realm of humanity.

In contrast, Lynch’s films place evil firmly within the parameter of humanity itself. Men are evil. Everyday human beings are evil. There was no supernatural buffer to alleviate the significance of evilness. In Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet (1986)humans do evil to each other. They do not have the luxury of externalising the evil into a supernatural force like Killer Bob (Frank Silva). This is what makes Lynch’s films so confronting on a moral basis and, by contrast, what made Twin Peaks, the original, such a safe haven.

In the new series, people are getting high, and not in a comedic manner. People are getting murdered, decapitated, burned alive, smothered, and stabbed (or all of the above). And when they’re not being killed, there is the overwhelming, ominous threat of death. The series has invariably lost its innocence.

With the new series featuring elements more familiar to Lynch’s cinematic oeuvre than Twin Peaks itself, we may be permitted to question Lynch’s motives. Perhaps he's just comfortable in the space of the real world, beyond the interior, close-knit community of Twin Peaks. Or, perhaps, this transition from '50s-era "innocence" to the real world is Lynch’s way of saying that Twin Peaks, too, has somehow, along the way, lost its innocence. It is and can no longer be the world we knew.

Evidence of this is seen with Shelly’s (Madchen Amick) daughter, Becky (Amanda Seyfried) in the new series, who takes drugs along with her boyfriend. The scene in which Shelly’s daughter becomes high is at once unnerving and thoroughly un-Twin Peaks-ish. And then there’s Richard Horne (Eamon Farren), who threatens sexual violence against female customers at the Bang Bang Bar, before running over a child while high in the season’s sixth episode, and savagely beating one of the witnesses, Miriam Sullivan (Sarah Jean Long). There is also a dwarf who goes on a killing rampage against several women in a single office. More bloodshed ensues.

As Clarisse Loughrey points out in her review of the 11th episode for The Independent, Twin Peaks was originally the ‘utopia of small town Americana posing as a mask for the darkness underneath.’ She writes that the abuse that occurred did so behind closed doors, and that ‘sinister impulses were suppressed within the individual -- that is, until they burst forth into brief flashes of violence.’ It was, she says, based around the ‘veneer of perfection.’ She writes that the third season, however, ‘seems to have violence knit into its soul.’

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Perhaps Lynch is trying to show us that the town of Twin Peaks has become just as vulnerable to the loss of innocence as the rest of the world in an age dominated by ceaseless acceleration, corruption, and political absurdity. As Naomi Watts’ character Janey-E says to two loan-sharks, ‘We’re living in dark, dark times.’ From here we may be tempted to recall Dale Cooper’s fondness for small-town folk, where ‘a yellow light still means slow down, not speed up.’ This is what attracted Dale to the town in the first place; far from the real world there existed a quaint little town separate from the rest of society. Suddenly, the new series makes Albert Rosenfeld’s (Miguel Ferrer) initial criticisms of Twin Peaks and its residents seem more unjust than they ever did.

Special Agent Dale Cooper’s (Kyle MacLachlan) quest is similar in kind to that of Rhett Butler’s in Gone With the Wind, whose central message circulated around the war’s irreversible effect on the South. ‘I want peace,’ Butler says. ‘I want to see if somewhere there isn’t something left in life of charm and grace.’ Cooper is on a similar quest in the original Twin Peaks, particularly after losing his lover Caroline Earle (Brenda E. Mathers). Indeed, Cooper’s quest is just like ours. We may find ourselves asking the same question as Rhett Butler -- whether there isn’t anything of charm and grace left in the world.

In the new series, Cooper (aka Dougie) has finally emerged from the Black Lodge 25 years later, and appears more than a little disoriented, with obvious memory loss. Cooper himself belongs to an entirely different time and appears mismatched with his current location and predicament. Perhaps, then, Cooper can be seen as the last bastion of innocence in a time that has long exceeded it.

Cooper is immediately mistaken for a man called Dougie Jones, who was created by ‘Bad Dale’ in order to distract the powers-that-be and to keep himself out of the Black Lodge. Dougie was almost a perfect doppelganger of Cooper, the only real physical difference being his weight and the colour of his hair (along with an entirely different persona). Now that Cooper is back, Dougie is eviscerated, and Cooper unwittingly takes his place.

The fact that nobody seriously questions why ‘Dougie’ is acting strangely -- despite obvious signs of comic bewilderment -- is a well-known trait in Lynch’s work, particularly regarding ‘the double’. It’s business as usual, in which weird behaviour and odd occurrences are simply part-and-parcel of everyday life. Nobody pays it any mind, even if the audience is screaming at the television in exasperated protest.

We are waiting for Cooper to officially ‘wake up’. A few teasing moments suggested that some damn good coffee or the word ‘agent’ would bring him back to his old self. But something suggests that Cooper’s presence (however seemingly inefficient and ludicrous) will inevitably be needed in some form. In a very Seinfeld -ish manner, things still seem to just get done without Cooper really needing to do much. He already has an odd bond with Dougie’s son, and has inadvertently helped Dougie and his wife out of a financial jam (with, of course, some help from the Black Lodge). And his childish scribblings on case files relieves his boss from some sort of difficulty, the likes of which we probably won’t ever find out.

So Cooper seems to be there for a purpose, like some sort of pawn in an overarching narrative, but this doesn’t make it any less frustrating. His presence may just be needed for the time being to tie up some loose ends in a stranger’s life before he may be permitted to return to Twin Peaks and reclaim the life he had. Cooper might prove useful yet as he ultimately serves his duty for innocent people in need. While Twin Peaks might not be able to reclaim its childlike innocence, Cooper might be able to provide, in a round-about way, some much-needed innocence in the world beyond that quaint little town. Indeed, if Lynch’s films are anything to go by, Cooper’s journey back to his old self must inevitably be filled with strange and wonderful detours.

Siobhan Lyons is a media scholar and tutor at Macquarie University and The University of Technology, Sydney. In 2017 she was awarded a PhD in Media and Cultural Studies from Macquarie University. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, PopMatters, Overland, Kill Your Darlings, The Conversation, and New Philosopher.

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