in the first run of the show. The first two seasons (or season and a half, if you prefer) are clearly Lynch's critique of television in much the same way that his brilliant Inland Empire is a critique of Hollywood. But both of those explanations are pretty disappointing. The realms Lynch created in those two stories are far too fertile to be explained away that easily. So why leave it there? A critique of television may have been the starting point for Twin Peaks, but it wasn’t the end game. It might have been Lynch's code, but it’s not the story he wrote with the code.
Lynch clearly loves to make stuff. He lets his subconscious drive his creation (or certainly seems to, anyway). He is motivated by dreams, meditation, myth and symbolism. He loves the editing process and does not feel compelled to make strict sense. These seem obvious to me. It's not hard to imagine him abandoning a linear narrative thread in favor of something that suggests a strong but unclear connection of plot or visual elements.
is remarkably fertile ground for theorizing. It's a fantastically blank, and busy, canvas. Equally well-delineated theories have been posited, for example, suggesting that the whole story is about petroleum dependence. As FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole (portrayed in Twin Peaks by Lynch) tells us more than once, it's all very interesting to think about. I'm more interested, however, in making the narrative work than unpacking the symbolism.
I write this with full awareness that I'm overlooking the crucial contributions of Mark Frost, who was often responsible for providing what narrative there was to the tale. I don’t do that to discount his involvement, but the enigma of Twin Peaks is the enigma of Lynch. It’s his yarn that wants unraveling, although the truly epic piece of storytelling is to both of their credit.
* * *
Food is interesting; For instance, why do we need to eat? Why are we never satisfied with just the right amount of food to maintain good health and proper energy? We always seem to want more and more. When eating too much the proper balance is disturbed, and ill health follows. Of course, eating too little food throws the balance off in the opposite direction, and there is the ill health coming at us again.
Balance is the key. Balance is the key to many things. Do we understand balance? The word 'balance' has seven letters. Seven is difficult to balance, but not impossible – we are able to divide. There are, of course, the pros and cons of division.
— Margaret Lancaster (“The Log Lady”), introduction to Episode 15
The first thing I want to suggest is that in understanding the multiple realms of Twin Peaks, it's best to give up preconceptions of right and wrong. This isn’t to say that there’s no such thing as good or bad, but that taking a stance of moral relativism helps to understand the layers of complexity at work. What’s acceptable among insects, for example, doesn’t play among people. Twin Peaks is a story about entities who shouldn't be interacting.
At the end of Season 2, Cooper is shown entering the Waiting Room, where he remains for 25 years. When he leaves, it is not as the human he was when he entered. (One doesn't leave the rooms between realms the same person they went in as. Phillip Jeffries sure didn't.) As a Lodge entity, Cooper has gained the ability to travel between realms. His re-entry is by no means simple, but I'm only considering the Cooper of the final episodes of Season 3. The beings manufactured by lodge entities are a different matter, but not one that contradicts the premise here.
Having gained the ability to traverse realms, Cooper (at the end of Season 3) goes rogue. He begins acting outside of the norms of the realm he is in, and does so for personal gain. The gains Cooper seeks are more relatable to us than those sought by BOB, seeing as Cooper (still) has the drives of a person of our realm. BOB’s drives are germaine to his realm and are, to us, barbaric. Cooper's drives are (what we see as) heroic. He is compelled to be perfect, to never do or never have done wrong. He uses the power he gains through the Lodge in an effort to satisfy that drive, to rearrange the world so that he won't be responsible for the deaths of Caroline Earle, Annie Blackburn and Laura Palmer. Because Dale Cooper is a hero. He saves women. He doesn't let them die. From a moral-neutral perspective, however, Cooper is no better than BOB. This is key, I think, to putting Twin Peaks into perspective. Good and bad are relative. Cooper and BOB both act outside their realms to satisfy inner drives. Cooper is no better than BOB.
, he is meddling with the primal forces of nature. He (apparently) saves Laura from being killed, but trips a timeline in which she (Laura Palmer/Carrie Page) is a killer. He falls into a different realm, because the divisions between realms are breaking down. And despite the fact that Cooper is (still?) a law enforcement agent, he ignores the fact that she apparently has been involved in a murder. He ignores the corpse in her living room because he has his own agenda. It's more important to him to save her (Laura) from being killed than to get involved in the killing (note: of a man) that she (Carrie) seems to be implicated in. He doesn't so much as ask a question about it. Cooper wants (he doesn't need, he wants) to be the hero that saves Laura. Carrie the killer gets in the way of Laura the innocent, so he only acknowledges the part of Carrie that might be Laura.
* * *
Here's the cop-out that makes my take on Twin Peaks undisprovable: All of the realms exist. All possibilities are real. Why are there so many inconsistencies in what we're shown? Why does Diane send a text in all caps but Mr. C. receives it in lower case? Because both of those sequences happened. The walls between realms are breaking down as a result of the atom bomb explosion and subsequent bombs that literally broke apart the fundamentals of existence.
So, then, there's a realm where Laura's mother takes off her face and kills would-be rapists with a bite to the neck? Well, maybe. But there's a meta-explanation that I like better. Some academics have suggested that the depiction of Hindu gods with multiple arms or animal heads wasn't intended as a literal depiction but was a way of showing that their greatness was beyond our comprehension, that it was as if they had eight arms or the head of an elephant. Certainly there was a thread of Hindu thought and influence throughout Twin Peaks, one of the many belief systems drawn upon in the storyline. Maybe there are certain things in the story that are too horrible, too incomprehensible, to be shown. Maybe. In any event, it's all very interesting to think about.
that once you commit yourself to a theory, you can pick and choose from hundreds of pieces of evidence in order to prove it. Twin Peaks is television and it's petroleum. This isn't the problem with the series, it's the fun of it. It's the brilliance of it. All theories become true in the symbiology of the symbolism. Twin Peaks is the water and it's the well. It's both the white of the eye and the dark within. How you see it is what it is.