“I’m Not Me”: Cooper’s Plan and the Illusion of Identity in Twin Peaks, Season Three

I want to elaborate again on what I understand to be Cooper’s plan to confront Judy in the season finale of Twin Peaks. But I also want discuss what I believe to be one of the central themes of the Season Three. It’s an aspect of the show I haven’t seen discussed much. Namely, the issue of identity. In a season which deals with dopplegangers, spirit orbs, tulpas, dopplegangers posessed by spirit orbs, zombified characters who take the place of tulpas, whatever Nadio is, and characters who have turned into electric trees and smoke-spouting machines, the question of identity looms large. So I want to take the opportunity to discuss it. Coupling it with a detailed look at Cooper’s plan to confront Judy might seem like a strange fit, but I believe there are strong links between the two.

I’ll start with Cooper’s plan:

Near the end of Part 17, Cooper travels back in time, to the decisive point where Laura and James arrive at the stoplight at Sparkwood and 21. We’ve already seen this moment in the film Fire Walk With Me. Before leaving, Jeffries told Cooper that he would find Judy there. A Sparkewood and 21, Laura jumps off of James’ bike, and we know that she will soon run off into the woods to meet her fate.

Cooper intercepts Laura though, before she gets to Jacques, Leo, and Ronette. A man in a business suit in the woods, in the middle of the night, is a strange sight. But Laura recognizes Cooper from a dream. He offers his hand, and she instinctively takes it. Laura asks where they are going, and Cooper replies, “We’re going home.”

Cooper leads Laura through the woods, towards the portal near Jackrabbit’s Palace. I believe this is the entrance to the White Lodge. In Part 8, we saw how The Fireman created the Laura orb at that place and sent it to Earth.

After walking for a bit, we hear the sound The Fireman played for Cooper at the start of the season. We also hear the same sound of curtains fluttering and the same scream as we heard in Part 2, when Laura was pulled out of the Black Lodge. Cooper looks in Laura’s direction and she is gone.

It’s notable that when Laura is pulled away, there are two Lauras, and two Coopers –one each in the woods, and one each in the Black Lodge. We see the same act of Laura getting ripped away from both perspectives. I believe this confirms the theory that characters exist on two different planes–a material plane, and a spiritual plane.

We jump to a new timeline, at the point where Cooper is about to emerge from the Black Lodge, having spent 25 years there. Cooper talks with Mike, just as we saw him do in Part 2. In this new timeline though, Laura wasn’t murdered–she disappeared.

This time there is no visit from Laura in the Black Lodge. Cooper notices the empty chair where Laura sat in Part 2.

Cooper and Mike go to see The Arm. This time The Arm asks if this is “the story of the little girl who lived down the lane.” Coop then remembers Laura getting ripped away in Part 2, from his Black Lodge perspective. (Notably, Audrey asks this very same question of her Black Lodge tormenter Charlie earlier in the season.)

Cooper then sees Leland in the Black Lodge, who tells him to find Laura.

Also absent in the new timeline is any mention of  Cooper’s doppleganger. In Part 2, it was clear that the doppleganger needs to return to the Black Lodge before Cooper can leave. If the doppleganger had gotten out in this new timeline, it seems logical that the same rule would apply here. But he is not mentioned this time. I think we can conclude that the doppleganger didn’t get out in this timeline. Perhaps he is gone for good, having been sent to the Black Lodge in Part 17, and shown burning there in Part 18.

Cooper shakes his hand in a strange way, causing the curtains in the Black Lodge to rustle. This allows him to exit the Black Lodge. In Part 2, the dopplegangers blocked Cooper from exiting. But Cooper now seems to have a power that was unavailable to him in Part 2. I’d speculate that he’s now integrated the power of his doppleganger, his shadow self, and is now using it in his mission to stop Judy.

Cooper emerges from the Black Lodge in the woods. Hawk had looked for Cooper in this spot in Part 2, but of course Cooper wasn’t able to exit. This time Cooper exits and, instead of Hawk, Diane is waiting for him.

Since Cooper’s doppleganger didn’t get out in this timeline, and may not even exist anymore, the Diane in this timeline was therefore not raped by him. Yet, despite the fact that it occurred in a different timeline, this Diane still seems to carry the experiences of the “unofficial version”-timeline within her. This includes the pain of the rape that occurred in that timeline. I think director David Lynch indicates this by having Diane’s fingernails and hair color reflect the color scheme of the Black Lodge. Later we will see her intensely painful reaction to sex with Cooper, the “good” version of her rapist. It is unclear though just how consciously she is aware of these experiences.

The idea that pain and sorrow transcends space and time is strongly hinted at in Twin Peaks. Earlier in Season 3, Gordon sees and feels a flash of Laura’s pain when he opens the door to his Buckhorn hotel room, despite the fact that Laura died years earlier, and in a different part of the country. We also know that the Black Lodge creatures exist outside of space and time, and feed off of pain and sorrow. The fact that these creatures seek garmonbozia, pain and sorrow, is well established in the film Fire Walk With Me, both in the convenience store scene and the end, when a voice in the Black Lodge (Judy?) demands their garmombozia from Bob. It makes sense then that pain and sorrow would exist outside of space and time as well.

Following The Fireman’s instructions, Cooper and Diane drive 430 miles and “cross over” to what seems to be another dimension. Their demeanor changes completely once they’ve crossed, and they silently drive on into the night.

They arrive at a small motel and Cooper gets out to check in. At this point Diane briefly sees another version of herself standing near the entrance to the motel. I think this implies that she is somehow aware of the other version of herself, from the timeline where she was raped. The fact that she seems unfazed by this sight is interesting, and might imply that she is consciously aware of the events which took place there.

I believe The Fireman’s plan is to have Cooper and Diane cross over into another realm. Cooper will have sex with Diane there, triggering the pain of her rape at the hands of Cooper’s doppleganger. Since we know these creatures feed upon garmonbozia, Diane’s pain will be the bait that draws Judy there.

After sex with Diane, and the release of her pain, we cut to a shot of Cooper asleep in the motel bed. We will find out that the world Cooper occupies has changed over night. The motel is different, Cooper’s car is different, and Cooper himself seems different. His demeanor seems “harder,” a stage direction Lynch gave to actor Kyle MacLachlan to guide his performance in these scenes.¹

As a viewer, I get a strong sense that Cooper has entered a new illusion, a new dream, at this point.

“We live inside a dream,” several characters tell us during the course of the series. “We are like the dreamer who dreams and lives inside the dream,” characters from Gordon’s dream tell him. But what does this mean? I think it means that the consensual reality we experience is an illusion of some kind.

“Watch and listen to the dream of time and space,” The Log Lady tells Hawk, and us, with emphasis on “the dream.” I think she’s implying that there is more to our reality than we currently understand. I think Twin Peaks makes the case that the material world as we know it is an illusion, and there is another world. For this reason, I believe Twin Peaks is fundamentally a spiritual show.

Likewise, character identities are illusions in Twin Peaks as well. The notion of identity is rooted in time and space. If time and space can be manipulated, then so can the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. “I’m not me,” both Audrey and Diane say at points during the series, and we know they’re right. We find out that Laura is not herself either. She is not Carrie Page, but neither is she the Homecoming Queen who was either murdered by her father or who disappeared in the woods. We see her true origin in the White Lodge, as a spiritual being, with her other identities illusions, rooted in timelines that are subject to change.

Laura may’ve died in one timeline, but her essence lives on: “I am dead,” Laura’s spirit tells us in Part 2, “yet I live.” Just as there are two Lauras, there are two Coopers, as described above. In Twin Peaks, characters have a material self and a truer spiritual self. Buddhism is mentioned several times in Twin Peaks’ original run. But while the notion that identities are illusions might seem to have much in common with the Buddhist concept of No Self, I think Twin Peaks’ mythology is closer to Hinduism and the concept of Atman, or True Self .²  This tracks with Lynch’s belief in Vedic philosophy and his unyielding support of Transcendental Meditation.³

In the “Fire Walk With Me” poem recited by Mike throughout the series, those who seek access to the spiritual realm are referred to as magicians. And what is a magician but one who can manipulate an illusion? In Season Three we see Red, a character who distributes the Black Lodge-linked drug Sparkle, and who is strongly implied to be a Black Lodge creature himself. He likes magic and manipulates Richard’s perception of the coin he flips in the air. He may also be the same character as little boy in Season Two who does magic tricks with creamed corn. Creamed corn is, of course, a symbol for garmonbozia.

I think the Black Lodge creatures have learned to control the story; to manipulate the illusion of the material world, and the illusion of our identities within it, in order to cause suffering and extract garmonbozia from us. I think by using Black Fire, which Hawk describes to Truman with his map, these creatures have more power to manipulate reality. The Log Lady continues: “It all comes out now, flowing like a river–that which is, and is not.”

Despite the fact that time and space are illusions, we still see characters hold on to their identities tightly, as the only way to make sense of the world they are living in. “Do you want me to end your story, too?” Charlie asks Audrey menacingly at one point. “What story is that, Charlie?” Audrey asks, “Is it the story of the little girl who lived down the lane?” Audrey wants to leave her illusory cage, yet she clings to her story like it’s a lifeline. She continues, “I want to stay, and I want to go. What will it be, Charlie? Which one would you be?” She is genuinely frightened at the thought of someone taking her story away, even though she knows it might be a terrible one.

In Season Three the dark creatures manipulate the reality we perceive not only with illusions like the ones Audrey, Laura, and Cooper experience, but with Sparkle, and with strange creatures like the zombie child in lady’s car, Billy, and The Drunk–all of whom bleed from the face in some way. Hence the warning Gordon receives in his dream–“But who is the dreamer?” The question is, what evil creatures are manipulating the dream we live in? Who is distorting our understanding of our true selves, and for what purpose?

When Cooper wakes up, Diane is gone. Cooper finds a bedside note from a woman named Linda, which is addressed to Richard. It says not to look for her, that what they had is over, and that she doesn’t recognize him anymore. The mention of “Richard” and “Linda” refers us back to The Fireman’s cryptic instructions at the beginning of the season: “Remember 430. Richard and Linda. Two birds with one stone.”

What The Fireman means by “two birds with one stone” remains unclear for now, but we can take an educated guess at what it means to Cooper. Gordon, quoting Cooper, tells us at the beginning of Part 17: “‘If I disappear, like the others, do everything you can to find me. I’m trying to kill two birds with one stone.'” I thinks this means that Cooper is trying to kill the two Black Lodge demons, Bob and Judy, with one weapon, Laura.

I think Cooper’s plan in Part 18 is to get Laura to confront Judy. Judy has taken possession of Sarah’s body and is living in the Palmer residence (“It is in our house now,” The Fireman ominously warns). Earlier we saw the pure white light which lies beneath Laura’s face, and the darkness lurking beneath Sarah’s. At various points during the season, each of them removed the masks of their material identity to reveal their true natures. I think Cooper believes the light of Laura’s spiritual identity will destroy the darkness of Judy’s.

Cooper’s flaw, I believe, is his belief that darkness can be destroyed. Darkness can never be destroyed. Anger, aggression, and other dark impulses must be integrated, and harnessed for good. But they cannot be wiped out. To think that one can do so will only make these forces stronger. You either use them, or they use you.

Cooper sets off to find Laura, following Leland’s instructions. He enters the town of Odessa, Texas. While driving he sees a sign for a coffee shop that reads “Eat at Judy’s,” complete with a white horse out front. Cooper stops. He knows that Judy has taken Laura, so any sign of Judy should mean that Laura is nearby as well.

After ordering coffee, three cowboys begin harassing the waitress working there. Cooper intervenes, and has a surreal, out-of-character encounter with these cowboys. He kicks one in the crotch, shoots another, and holds his gun on the third. Eventually he disarms them, dropping their guns into the deep fryer. But Cooper finds out that Laura works there as well, and that she’s been gone for three days. He gets her address from the waitress and leaves.

Cooper drives to Laura’s home. A nearby utility pole draws dark electricity. The markings on this utility pole are identical to the markings on the poles in the Fat Trout Trailer Park, where Agent Desmond disappeared, and the pole near the intersection where Richard killed the little boy in the street.

Laura answers the door, but now goes by the name Carrie Page.

Carrie initially resists Cooper’s suggestion that she is Laura Palmer, and that she should come with him to Twin Peaks. But when Cooper mentions Sarah, something resonates within her, and she agrees to go. Leaving with him will also help her out of her bad story–something hinted at by the gun and dead body in her living room.

On Carrie’s mantlepiece there is a small globe that looks like the planet Earth. Nearby there is a large round plate, which looks like a larger planet. A white horse figurine stands in front of it. Since Judy is strongly associated with the white horse, and since we now seem to be in Judy’s illusion, I think these objects indicate that we are somewhere away from the Earth. They may be a key  to understanding The Fireman’s larger plan. Perhaps The Fireman, knowing that Judy cannot be destroyed, simply wants to draw her away from our world. Perhaps sacrificing Cooper and Laura to her will achieve this goal. Two birds with one stone.

They take a long car ride to Twin Peaks, with a Sopranos finale-like build up to an anticipated conflict. The tension increases when they seem to be followed by someone. During the ride there are indications that Carrie still has Laura Palmer’s identity buried somewhere deep inside of her (Carrie Page=carrying a page from Laura’s diary, i.e., Laura’s story).

Cooper and Carrie arrive in Twin Peaks, but there are hints that the town is different from the one we’ve seen all season–Norma’s diner no longer displays the prominent “RR2Go!” sign.

Cooper leads Carrie to the Palmer house, but the house is different as well. The yard is neat and tidy, where it had been overgrown and neglected all season long. Cooper and Carrie knock on the door and find that Sarah is not there, and that the people living there have no knowledge of her. The person who answers the door identifies herself as Alice Tremond. She says she bought the house from someone named Chalfont. The names Tremond and Chalfont have been used in Twin Peaks before, to indicate that a dark entity once lived at that location, but has moved on. Cooper and Carrie, having reached a dead end, return to the street.

Cooper had tried to orchestrate a conflict between the forces of good and evil, but Judy was smarter. By leading Carrie to the Palmer house, Cooper began the process of triggering the pain buried deep within Carrie. Once they return to the street, Carrie get the final spark. As they stare at the Palmer house, Carrie hears Sarah call Laura’s name. Her former identity comes rushing back in full force. All the horror we saw in the film Fire Walks With Me floods in: the high school Homecoming Queen who was sexually abused by her father for years, who lived a double life, who resorted to drugs and prostitution to mask her pain, and who fought a battle for her soul with a demon from the Black Lodge. Carrie screams in anguish.

Cooper is left wondering where in time they are, much like Jeffries did in Fire Walk With Me. And just before this illusion ends, Judy gets what she ultimately wants. She gets what was denied her in Part 17, when Cooper saved Laura from death and changed the timeline. She finally gets Laura’s garmonbozia.

For a detailed analysis of some other themes in Season Three, read my longer essay, A Cry for Compassion: Twin Peaks, Season Three.

Notes

¹ For a discussion of Cooper being “harder” in the Odessa scenes, see Sonia Saraiya’s interview with actor Kyle MacLachlan in the September 17th, 2017 Variety article, “‘Twin Peaks’ Star Kyle MacLachlan Doesn’t Know What Happened In That Last Scene Either.”

² For a discussion of the difference between Hindu and Buddhist views of identity, see Jack Kornfield’s article in Tricycle magazine, “Identity and Selflessness in Buddhism: No Self or True Self?”

³ There are many, many examples which illustrate David Lynch’s understanding of and support for Vedic philosophy. It is often expressed while discussing the benefits of Transcendental Meditation. Many examples are found in his book, Catching the Big Fish (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2006). But here is another interesting one, from the May 14th, 2019 episode of Russell Brand’s podcast Under The Skin, which demonstrates the depth of Lynch’s Vedic knowledge: Deep Vedic Philosophy with Genius David Lynch.

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One comment

  1. Alma Canción · September 26

    Thank you for another beautifully written and informative essay! There is certainly potential for Frost/Lynch to continue this “dream within a dream” and I’m really appreciative for your insight about the story.

    Like

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