This article contains serious spoilers, and probably won’t make much sense if you haven’t already watched the show to its conclusion.
‘Twin Peaks’. The show’s name alone conjures an image of two corresponding mountaintops, matching snowcaps and stern gradients rising out of mutually mysterious forestry. And true to the name, Twin Peaks is a show about doppelgängers, doublings, dualities. Doubles and doublings have a rich history as a literary trope, most notable in works like Nabokov’s Despair and Dostoevsky’s The Double (for more on this theme, see Polly Dickson’s excellent essay “Butterflies, Mimesis, and “The Double” in this publication). Doubles are a way of getting at the dual character of human nature and morality, of the split between good and evil present not just between different people, but within individual minds and bodies. The writer and director David Lynch, one of the show’s creators, draws on the theme of doublings across his work, finding and presenting the same uncanny horror and ‘vision of terror’ in doubles that Freud describes (Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny, 1919). Below, I offer some brief thoughts on the ways in which Lynch’s televisual masterpiece Twin Peaks might fit in with such a project of doubling, ahead of the release of the long-awaited third series.
The motif of doubling in Twin Peaks first becomes truly apparent, I think, in the striking visual similarity between two of its main characters: Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) and Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle). On screen together, they look alike right down to the stage-left flick of their weightless hair-dos; immaculately turned-out, pale as snow, eyes deep and soulful, they are of a type, of a height, and of one appearance. It is therefore less surprising than it might have been with other characters when it is later revealed that the two are, in fact, step-sisters, both born of Ben Horne. In an early scene, A.H. and D.H. stand side by symmetrical side in a bathroom, discussing Laura’s death — the one who dislikes her, the other her best friend, but both claiming to understand her better than anyone else, and both drawn, mothlike, towards the fiery mystery that is Laura Palmer. Reflected alongside one another in the bathroom mirror, like some human Rorschach test, they are a fourfold image of visual consistency, a doubled doubling that resonates with significance in the eyes of the viewer.
Lynch and Frost are inviting us to compare the two, to notice not only the visual similarities, but the spiritual parallels, and the jarring but corresponding difference that cuts the pair in half. Lynch and Frost want us to notice that they are Laura; each is a piece of the puzzle that adds up to the enigmatic, fragmentary, dualistic Laura Palmer. Doctor Jacoby is good enough to explain for us the nature of Palmer’s soul, as well as one of the early symbols in the series: “The necklace, a divided heart. Laura was, in fact… well she was living a double life. Two people.” Donna is the good girl, the one who knew Laura as a kindhearted and generous friend, who, like Laura, plays a central and supportive role with her family structure (though she, like Laura, has a sundown side to her self, always ready to slip out of an upstairs window after nightfall to pursue some line of inquiry or whim of the heart). She is the part of Laura ready to embrace tenderness, she is that pure part of Laura which James loves and which loves James. To be expected, then, that she should replace Laura as his lover the night directly after Laura dies, and even less surprising that the dualistic Laura also had an opposing, aggressively macho lover in the form of the belligerent Bobby. Donna, lady, Laura the Lady. “It’s like I’m having the most beautiful dream, and the most terrible nightmare, all at once.”
Audrey, meanwhile, is that side of Laura which is attracted to wild transgression (though Audrey will never go quite so far as Laura). She is in love with Special Agent Dale Cooper (the superb Kyle MacLachlan), and in love with the idea of a love that will overstep and overflow the boundaries of age, of professionalism, of society. Unlike Donna, she circumvents and undermines the closeness of the family, sabotaging her father’s business deals, and sneaking around between the walls of the Great Northern to spy on him, falling into the gaps between domestic spaces. Audrey claims to be investigating the shadowy business at One-Eyed Jack’s on behalf of her ‘Special Agent’, but she, like Laura, is fatally attracted to dangerous flames, vice-ridden vileness the likes of which she uncovers in the casino and brothel. She seems to want to be Laura at her worst, to follow her into her world of darkness. Audrey quickly realises she has gone in too far, submerged herself too deeply, praying to Cooper and telling him ‘I’m in over my head’.
Remember that Donna, too, takes up the investigation of Laura; not by following in Laura’s dark footsteps, but by tracing the trail of the benevolent and caring Laura. She briefly takes up Laura’s old Meals on Wheels round, fulfilling Laura’s commitment to the community to uncover clues about her demise; she, like Audrey, is irresistibly drawn to living one aspect of Laura’s multifaceted existence. It is on these rounds that Audrey finds Laura’s diary — not her regular diary, but ‘the Secret Diary of Laura Palmer’. Two selves, two diaries; one overt, the other occult. Audrey and Donna both face physical and psychological dangers during their individual investigations, but only Audrey faces a farcical and repellent reenactment of Laura’s eventual destiny. At One-Eyed Jack’s it is revealed that ‘The Boss’ is none other than her father, Ben Horne, and that horny Horne has one eye on the body of his own daughter, The New Girl. Catching no glimpse of her face through the drapes around the outside her bed, he tears into the interior lustily and lasciviously, only to discover that The New Girl has put on a mask. This masqueraded reimagining of Laura’s own incestuous abuse, at the hands of Bob-controlled Leland, plays out in disturbing fashion, and is finally (thankfully) interrupted by Ben’s own double, the boisterous brother Jerry. Audrey’s mask never slips; for Laura, Cooper’s investigations across the show are the slow and posthumous removal of her own mask — the one Laura obfuscating the presence of another.
Once you begin to uncover and unravel the doublings of Twin Peaks, you realise it is the central impulse of the show, and twins and mirrorings become quite impossible to avoid. Maddy Ferguson, Laura’s cousin, is introduced to the show in case anyone missed the subtlety of the Audrey-Donna mirroring. Played by Sheryl Lee, who also played Laura, she is a crucial device in the series. Doctor Jacoby (he of the dual-tinted spectacles) is deceived into thinking he sees Laura when really he observes a disguised, wig-wearing Maddy. Maddy’s plot arch is completed with the darkest pronouncement of the series: “It is happening again. It is happening again“. Leland, under the spell of Bob, murders Maddy — murders, in his own mind, his own daughter, again, twice sacrificing her to his own insane and insatiable desires.
Laura might be two people in the sense that she is one self eclipsed behind another; a private and a public persona dramatized in the Lynchian obsession with daylit suburban spaces and jovial coffeehouses (the doubling in ‘Double-R-Diner’!), and darkened and ruddily tinged domestic interiors. But Leland, by distinction, is something else. He is truly two people in one body, at conflict with himself, self-destructive, emotionally fraught. His frenetic, frantic dancing belies his grief but bespeaks the joy of his inner demon, Killer Bob. Who killed Laura, Leland or Bob? This is, of course, a question central to the second series, and one which must remain unresolved — the surrounding clouds of uncertainty more powerful than any possible answer. It ties into a larger question, though, one which animates all life and causes all death in the town of Twin Peaks: is there not a Bob in every one of us?
Bob is that evil side of Laura, the part that we might imagine was killing her before anyone else had a chance to do so. But that evil exists elsewhere in Twin Peaks, and Bob can inhabit any body, anyone. The other ‘Bob’ of the series — Robert Briggs, bratty Bobby –reminds us, on the inappropriate occasion of Laura’s funeral, that we did this, all of us. “Who killed the Prom Queen? You did. We all did.” The townsfolk of Twin Peaks that saw her suffering and failed to save her, yes. But also ‘us’, the viewers, we are culpable too. Because Bob is in a part of all of us, a part of us we all have, an inner countenance capable of mischief or malice or murder. The darker side of human nature made corporeal, realized in shocking lank grey hair and a crooked maniac’s smile. Agent Cooper is a force for good in the universe, but what would you get if you took that refined, rational mind and geared it towards the cause of evil? Lynch and Frost supply the answer: Windom Earle. Calculating, cruel, the creator of supremely sadistic riddles way before Saw was on the screens, he is an exact inversion of the beloved special agent, the man who must solve those riddles, who takes pleasure in doing the duty of the good. The two become poised for a final dualistic dual as the show winds to a close: Black Lodge, White Lodge. We cannot be certain of the exact fate of Cooper come the end of the original show, but we know in our heart of hearts that the wicked grin, the self-harming madman doubling his own blood-smeared image in the bathroom mirror — that cannot be our Cooper. We saw the strangeness of the double-Coopers in the Black Lodge, and we know it must be the evil inversion which has escaped. Bad has triumphed over good as it did for Laura, this time in the collision of two bodies, not the inner turmoil of one.
What new ground will be trodden in the long-awaited reprisal of the show? How will Cooper have escaped his own double, how did White conquer Black like some final, fateful game of chess between Cooper and Earle? The original show offers no answer, but it has always confronted bigger questions. If we hold our hands up to our screens and trace, childlike, the patterns of the doubles, the twins, the mirrors, the dualities of Twin Peaks, we might catch sight of ourselves reflected in the gentle curve of the television set. The basic function of art is to mirror the world, to mirror our inside worlds; when we see Audrey and Donna in front of the mirror in the bathroom, we may well sense that we are also watching our own twin-selves, engaged in an encounter with the artwork. We might think about what we hide in our own selves, what we confront, what we will ourselves to be, what we wish ourselves not to be. That of which we know we are capable, and that of which we fear we might be capable. We might, if we are honest, discover two selves in our selves; two of us, two inner landscapes. “Two worlds: fire walk with me.”
Chris Townsend is a Ph.D. candidate in English literature at the University of Cambridge. He writes about art and popular culture, and blogs about cycling here: www.marmeladrome.co.uk and writes for the Huffington Post. He tweets at @marmeladrome.