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Spoilers up to S2E13 and also mild spoilers for Blue Velvet, Bride of Frankenstein and some Buffy. (Rosemary, don't read until after "Checkmate"!)

So I've been watching Twin Peaks for the first time lately. [livejournal.com profile] beer_good_foamy asked for a little commentary -- and, well, I think I'm just scratching the surface of this fascinating show. But here's a few things that have come to mind while watching so far. The thing that really compelled me to write this is a bit of dialogue at the end of "Checkmate":

"Before you came here, Twin Peaks was a simple place. My brothers sold drugs to truck-drivers and teenagers. One-Eyed Jack's welcomed curious tourists and businessmen. Quiet people lived quiet lives. Then a pretty girl dies. And you arrive. Everything changes. My brother Bernard is shot and left to die in the woods. A grieving father smothers my surviving brother with a pillow. Arson, kidnapping. More death and destruction. Suddenly the quiet people here are no longer quiet. Their simple dreams have become a nightmare. Maybe you brought the nightmare with you. And maybe, it will die with you."

Of course, Renault is telling only one small portion of the greater story. The "quiet lives" that Renault describes are fundamentally lives which include corruption, violence and rot. Leo Johnson, one of the people within the drug-criminal empire, beat his wife daily. Kids had affairs. Laura Palmer's death was preceded by rape and violence for months. Cooper is not solely responsible for the unraveling of the secrets, anyway -- he is hardly the only investigator, with Donna and Audrey in particular running their own investigations, and with, in a sense, the entire string of events following Laura's death being preceded by Laura quasi-deliberately pushing the boundaries of her world with the expectation that she would be killed.

But there's a point in this. Renault is an evil man, but he's also partly right that, fundamentally, Twin Peaks was not a town of constant death right before Laura died, and in the roughly two weeks of story time since her death and the beginning of Cooper's investigation, the death count has gone through the roof, with more murders, suicides, comas than ever before. People were suffering in quiet before, and in some cases suffering unimaginably. And yet the veneer of civilization and normalcy protected most people's lives, in the sense of, protecting most people from being dead.

Cooper is as close to the protagonist of Twin Peaks as anyone, though especially in season one it was possible to argue that absent Laura is the "real" protagonist, the person whose actions before her death drove the story forward more than anyone else. The two are linked, in fact, in that Laura's deliberate descent into the underworld is part of an overall effort to expose BOB and also to understand, for herself, the darkness that lies in this town; this is the same overall journey that Cooper, rather obviously in a different way, is starting now. The famous dream sequence at the end of episode 3 (the one so frequently parodies, the one coming most clearly to my mind being the "BURNS' SUIT! BURNS' SUIT!" Wiggum dream in The Simpsons' "Who Shot Mr. Burns, Part 2") ends with Laura, or possibly a cousin (presaging Maddy Furgeson's arrival) whispering her secret quasi-seductively into Cooper's ear, a communication meant for his ears only, and even then only when he was ready for it. I feel like all the names in Twin Peaks are significant in some way or another, but in this scene especially I really did think that Laura was named after the title character in the novel and famous Otto Preminger film Laura, in which a detective falls in love with the woman who was murdered, and her spirit haunts the story until it's finally revealed that she's actually still alive. Twin Peaks doesn't go in quite that direction, though Laura is reborn as Maddy, and if Cooper doesn't fall in love with her there is nevertheless the odd sense that Laura died partly so that she could communicate with Cooper -- that on some intuitive level this is the story of a connection between a victim and the investigator who finds her, that she is an underworld guide for Cooper, an outsider, to expose and unravel the deceptions and lies and traumas that infect Twin Peaks.

And if that's why Cooper is there -- and, for that matter, if Laura's example sets Donna (and James) and Audrey and Bobby and so on onto the path of investigating and unraveling -- is the purpose for Cooper (et al.) to do Twin Peaks a favour by finding and exorcising the town's demons, possibly at the cost of more and more bodies? Or is this for Cooper (et al.) himself? I actually didn't even recognize Kyle MacLaughlan from Blue Velvet for some reason, maybe because he was so obviously playing up the teen angle in Blue Velvet, but in some senses Cooper is a grown up version of Jeffrey, who is in way over his head and doesn't have the almost superhuman emotional maturity or equilibrium that Cooper mostly maintains. In Blue Velvet, there's a real sense that the purpose of uncovering this underworld is primarily just for Jeffrey's benefit -- that he's curious, and, as a coming of age thing, he needs to see the adult tangle of sex and violence, dip his toes into it, and then get the hell out once he's gotten some kind of boon for his low-key hero's journey. In other words, great for him -- well, maybe not so great -- but does his uncovering the truth actually do any good, for those he's uncovering the truth for? Twin Peaks overall keeps Cooper as a more admirable character than Jeffrey, I think, someone who in spite of the Formative Traumas introduced in season two via the Windom Earle plot, is mostly an adult, who doesn't seem to need other people's traumas to define himself. Which makes the argument even more interesting -- because then it's not even for Cooper's benefit, exactly, that he investigates, so much as for the abstract idea of the truth, as an enacting of the heroism of investigating and truth-discovering. And then the question once again is raised of whether he's actually doing any good, or making it worse. And in general, is sort of asks whether uncovering the truth about the corruption in the town, or finding out the evils that men (and women) do, actually does any good. Donna's investigation drives an emotionally unstable recluse to suicide. Maddy's desire to understand and even appropriate Laura's life leads to her own death. Audrey's investigation leads to her seeing her father as a monster, and nearly leads to her own father raping her, before she's drugged out of her mind as a pawn in a money game. Audrey especially is inspired to investigate partly by Cooper's example.

It's not as if the things that Cooper et al. uncover are things that were "okay" on their own. The drug deals mean that Leo is continuously empowered to beat his wife, in part because Leo is a coward who is actually made more dangerous and more afraid by the possibility of his illegal activities coming to light. One Eyed Jacks is a brothel, but the sin here is not people having illicit affairs, but that women are exploited -- even women who volunteer to go there are soon placed in a position where they simply can't get out. Blackie, we learn, was pretty clearly hooked on drugs against her will so that she'd be beholden to them forever -- a fate which is pretty horrifying. And yet, there's still the fact that Blackie was killed as part of Cooper's raid to get Audrey back. If Laura hadn't started her own investigation into the underworld by going to One Eyed Jack's, if Cooper hadn't started his gradual uncovering of everything rotten in town, if Audrey hadn't followed up in order to help her hero/crush/love, if the other Renault brothers hadn't already died as a result of Cooper's investigation and Leland's increasing insanity leading to Jean Renault's arrival, would Blackie still be alive?

I don't know. I think that the show's perspective, and my perspective, is that it's mostly better to try to uncover truths; that preventing more women from being forced into prostitution the way Blackie was is the priority, and that turning a blind eye to the "orderly" way in which people are gradually, bit-by-bit, destroyed is not really a good option. But the show is really honest about this: learning the truth comes with a price. There is an order to the world, and it's corruption covered up with a veneer of civilization. But try to disturb that order, and the veneer of civilization falls away and some horrors can become even more horrifying. You have to pass through the Black Lodge to get to the White Lodge.

====

There are two very weird reversals that happen between seasons one and two, in two of the relationships: the fates of Nadine and Leo. Nadine and Leo are actually surprisingly similar in terms of their plot function; they are the impediment to the relationship the show superficially wants us to root for (Norma/Ed and Bobby/Shelly). The reversal is in the way in which they serve as an impediment. Nadine goes from pathetic to strong, Leo from strong to pathetic, and the bonds of marriage somehow keep their reluctant lovers tied to them. Rather obviously the reasons are different.

In season one, Nadine is fundamentally pathetic -- she's depressive, obsessive, fixated on a dream of quiet curtain rods. The thing that ties Ed to her is her weakness and her need for him -- that he shot her eye out on their honeymoon, that she seems unable to function without his emotional support, that he feels intense pity for her. She eventually attempts suicide, and there is a kind of passive-aggressive element to it: the suicide attempt ensures that if she survives, Ed will be bound to her forever, because leaving her will spell her death even more. Then, Nadine goes into a coma, and wakes up a high school girl (?) with super-strength (!?), which is one of the weirder turns this show has taken. This also similarly means Ed is even more beholden to her, because she's now literally insane. But now Nadine is filled with the optimism of youth, and super-strength she seems almost unaware of -- which suddenly changes the whole equation. She starts going after Mike, the handsomest boy in school, because Ed is nice and all, but he's old enough to be her father! Gross! The transformation totally reverses their earlier dynamic, in which she worshiped Ed and he stayed with her out of guilt; the moment she no longer sees herself as vastly inferior to him, she is pretty fine to cast him off or cheat on him. Rather similarly, her relationship with Mike so far has an element of abuse and fear in it. Unlike Leo, there is not malice and anger in it -- but she not only beats Mike up in wrestling, but continues to push for a relationship when Mike keeps saying no, and takes a kiss from him he didn't ask for using her tremendous physical strength. I think Mike is kind of turned on by it -- but he is also pretty clearly, I think, genuinely scared, because she's unpredictable, unhinged, and has super-strength. Ed is pretty similarly confused and baffled and actually-frightened. Then again, of course, it's sometimes handy to have super-strength: look at how she took out Hank when Hank was going after Ed, for instance.

I see fingerprints of Twin Peaks all over all kinds of more recent shows, especially genre shows, but I wonder in particular whether Spike's wheelchair-bound period in season two and chipped period from s4-7 of Buffy owes something in particular to Leo's fate in season two? There is something similar, here, where Leo -- basically a totally unsympathetic wife-battering murderous drug dealer -- gets hurt badly, stuffed into a wheelchair where he has no ability to communicate or self-advocate, and then is treated comically badly for a long run of episodes. Bobby and Shelly aren't exactly Angelus and Drusilla, here, and Shelly in particular has every reason to hate Leo and no reason to care for him. And yet, the long-running humiliation and poor treatment of Leo, who now becomes the dependent grown-up baby for Bobby and Shelly who prove themselves really not up to parenthood, who had planned to exploit his decrepit state for monetary gain and then get angry mostly at Leo when it fails through, sort of makes him a sympathetic figure, not so much because he's become a better person as that it hurts to see anyone suffering so much. The same process goes on which went on with Spike -- in which a villain becomes softened and a little more sympathetic by "comic suffering," being rendered helpless and us being somewhere between laughing at him getting his just deserts and feeling kind of sick on his behalf.

On some level, Leo gets a taste of his own medicine: he finds himself as helpless as Shelly was before him -- and so if he were a more enlightened person than he is, he might be able to extrapolate from that how horrible his own actions were. However, his fate is different because it's more horrifying in some respects -- he doesn't even have the ability to speak on his own, let alone carry on a life separate from his "caretaker" the way Shelly could at least have her friendships at her work and secret affair with Bobby. It's also, in some respects, less the result of malice. Bobby treats him pretty badly, and Shelly seems to be pretty inadequate in caring for him -- but she is also pretty genuinely trying, I think. More to the point, it's hard to imagine the horror of Shelly's fate, at this stage. For entertaining for a few days the idea that she can use her former abuser and tormenter's injury to make it rich, she has to now take care of said abuser, maybe for the rest of her life -- and Bobby abandons her at that point. I feel terribly for Shelly here -- and what's amazing is that now she can't even leave Leo because she feels responsible to him. Back in season one, there was no doubt whatsoever that leaving Leo would be justified, if she could only find a way to get away and avoid the risk of retaliation. Now that he's helpless and dependent on her, and can't request anyone else, and she is now legally responsible for his care because of her and Bobby's hare-brained scheme, she really can't get away from him. The horrifying end shot of Leo ready to face her is a darker version of Spike's triumphant stand in "I Only Have Eyes For You"; Leo's a monster, and he was before his injury, but there is something subtly different about his reasons now that he's come back from days of paralysis and mistreatment.

====

David Duchovny! I wonder if part of what makes Denise work is that she is, like Cooper I think, basically an integrated person: she can switch between female and male as the situation demands, which saves the day in this particular episode -- male while posing as a drug buyer, female while providing the distraction required to sneak a gun to Cooper. The integration of male and female is something of the yin-yang sense of wholeness that I think Cooper strives to, and brings to Twin Peaks. Talking about names, how about the fact that Cooper is DALE, which is the opposite of twin PEAKS? In terms of symbology, peaks are kind of phallic, stereotypical male, symbol of power and domination, and the concept of twin peaks represents the struggle for primacy between different powers, who of course can never entirely conquer one another -- c.f., for instance, the various wars between Catherine and Josie, Catherine and Ben Horne, Ben and Jean.... Dale is the opposite, a broad calm valley, and a cooper is a maker of vessels -- images which are very traditionally calmer, feminine. Power and compassion in one integrated person -- rather than the extreme cases that we see elsewhere in the series, of people flipping from one to another, The other character who exhibits some mastery of gender-flipping is Catherine Martell, though I still don't quite know what to think about her stint as an Asian man. Ben Horne seems right now to be dividing himself between two sides of a Civil War, and doesn't seem to be functioning too well.

Denise's mastery of her male and female sides, and Cooper's in a less literal way, is a contrast to Twin Peaks residents' inability to control their two sides. The way Nadine and Leo flip, for example, is a rather big contrast to this. But the biggest candidate for dissociation is one Leland Palmer. Leland -- according to thinkbabynames.com, it means "one who lives by unseeded land." Leland, who as a child was a blank slate, who had an evil seed planted. Leland, who obsessively dances and cries; Leland who hugs his daughter's casket nearly as it's going into the ground. Leland, who is also BOB, murderer and rapist with no remorse or conscience.

Is BOB really Leland, or is it an entity possessing him? Certainly, the idea that BOB entered Leland at a young age and then that led to Leland's monstrosity represents cycles of abuse -- passed down from generation to generation, Leland's childhood sexual trauma from a neighbour near his cabin makes him into a person with a monstrous side and an urge to repeat his abuse on someone else. Or, BOB is a monster who possesses him in a supernatural way. The two are not really mutually exclusive interpretations; this is still a show with metaphors embedded in it, and if nothing else, and as the (somewhat heavy-handed) dialogue between Coop and the other law-enforcement men indicates after Leland's death, maybe BOB is just the evil that men do -- which is on some level still a little beyond our rational understanding. Giving him/it a name allows us to fight him when need be, and protect ourselves against it, even if it's still something that we can't fully grasp. We can know that people do horrible things, but can we really know this, without going insane ourselves? Our empathy-organs demand that we on some level live through what others live through for us to understand them, if only in our minds, and maybe there are some instances in which we don't want to.

But I think the show really does advocate for Cooper's moment in which he reads the Tibetan Book of the Dead to Leland as he is dying, and hopes that Laura can forgive Leland on some level. Maybe that's wrong -- maybe, if BOB doesn't really exist except as a conceptual representation of Leland's damage, we need to separate Leland out from the other humans and discard him. But I don't know. I think that statements about forgiveness are much stronger when about people who have sinned beyond imagining -- beyond the point at which it's possible to imagine some kind of restitutionary act. As he's dying, Leland is no longer a threat to anyone -- and Cooper can take that moment to see the good in the man who clearly was torn up by his own actions, or maybe by actions which he had no control over. Maybe there is some way to separate out Leland, the man who should be remembered fondly, and BOB, the monstrous version of him.

I read on a Twin Peaks AV Club comment that Laura's refusing to let BOB in, and knowingly dying for it, is Laura ending the cycle of abuse before it starts; that she knows that she will become a monster if she survives the process. That's not entirely how abuse works, but it's something that a lot of people fear. I'm reminded of, in a less-sexual case, Xander's father's line in "Restless" in Buffy: "The line ends here, with us." And for that matter I'm reminded of the Monster's final words in Bride of Frankenstein: "We belong dead." Abuse and corruption so deep that it's hard to get out sometimes seems like it's impossible to deal with except through death. Maybe there are things that no living soul can truly understand, all the way down, without being driven mad by it, or turning to stone like after seeing Medusa. BOB can only be seen in reflections. Cooper is integrated, able to balance upside down, can recognize parts of himself everywhere without ever letting the wrong part of him dominate, but even he can only understand so much at once.

He does what he can and then has to move on.

====

OK, so, name-wise, why Harry S. Truman?

I really love Audrey.

I don't think I care about the James storyline. I hear it gets worse. Ditto the Andy/Lucy/Dick stuff, though I liked Andy & Lucy in season one.

Maddy, I think, is named after Madeline from Vertigo -- who I think is the character after whom Madeline Costley, the real name of November, was named in Dollhouse. Maddy's arc is heartbreaking and one of the best things about the show.

On a somewhat related topic, has anyone seen Lynch's Dune? I recently read the first two Dune books, and it's got Kyle MacLaughlan, Patrick Stewart, Virginia Madsen, Sean Young, Max von Sydow, Sting, Brad Dourif, Everett McGill, Jack Nance, Linda Hunt.... I also hear it's very hard to get through.
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