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Peeking at Twin Peaks with a professor of David Lynch’s films

With this much knowledge of the TP dreamscape we are approaching peak Twin Peaks.



Before its revival this spring, Twin Peaks fans spent more than a pair of decades wondering whether anagogic detective hero Agent Cooper (played by Kyle MacLachlan) had been taken over by an evil doppelgänger.

In an attempt to boost ratings back in the ’90s, ABC pressured the show’s creators, David Lynch and Mark Frost, to resolve the mystery of Laura Palmer’s murder midway through the second season. The reveal left the paranormal whodunit series scattered and directionless. It was pulled from the air after that season, but Palmer had promised to see viewers in 25 years.

Whether or not it was part of the writers’ master plan, the show is now airing as an 18-episode limited series on Showtime, which Lynch has said he regards as a single 18-hour movie.

Since its hiatus, the series has attained intergenerational cult status. Dalhousie’s Cinema of David Lynch professor David Nicol introduced the course five years ago, and has been recruiting students to fandom ever since.

Depending on how the current season turns out, Nicol may one day teach a course entirely about Twin Peaks. He says fans are attracted to the mysticism of the town’s dreamscape.

Not to mention twins: From the name of the fictional Washington based town to the Double R Diner, the series is brimming with dualism. Nicol attributes the theme to Lynch’s obsession with film noir: “Film noir is all about dualities; it’s all about light versus darkness; it’s all about the femme fatale versus the nice girl, that kind of thing.”

In the show, Palmer’s dark-haired doppelgänger cousin Maddy Ferguson is an allusion to Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo. Hitchcock’s detective protagonist John “Scottie” Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) is obsessed with a woman named Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak), who he believes has died after jumping off a bell tower. He later meets Judy Barton, Madeleine’s lookalike, who has a different hair colour and accent. Judy eventually confesses to posing as Madeleine as part of a murder plot, but—spoiler alert—she ends up falling from the bell tower, just as Scottie believed Madeleine had.

Ferguson “is not quite sure if he’s in a strange dream, if he’s going mad or if there’s some kind of logical explanation,” says Nicol. “I think the whole question of if there’s a logical explanation or if it’s a dream is a fundamental part of Twin Peaks.”

In Lynch’s series, Maddy Ferguson too meets the same fate as her doppelgänger cousin Laura. While characters project their relationships with deceased Laura onto her lookalike, Maddy plays a key role in revealing the mystery of who killed her cousin.

The new series hinges on audience frustration that although Cooper has returned, he is no longer whole. He’s been fragmented into doppelgängers, and an evil version of him is roaming the country.

“Twin Peaks, the town, has this surface goodness and this darkness underneath,” says Nicol. “This season is really bringing out the idea that this entire show is really about how things can be both good and evil.

“The idea of split personalities and divided selves and that sort of thing is fundamental.”

In the original series, Cooper appeared to be untouchably good. But an evil Cooper is especially troubling to audiences because—if you recall the episode when he throws stones at a log and cites the Dalai Lama—his approach to detective work is based on unifying his mind and body with the universe.

“It’s not just the desire to have a character back but our human desire for everything to make sense and be unified,” says Nicol. “It’s our desire for there not to be doppelgängers that’s driving the whole thing forward.”

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