The City of Absurdity Papers & Essayes
The Detective in 'Twin Peaks'  by Andreas Blassmann

0. Introduction

"Twin Peaks" is a series that first aired on American television from April 1990 to June 1991. Very successful in the beginning its popularity decreased towards the end of the series.

Before the very first episode of the show aired on the ABC television network TP had basically been announced as a detective series, i.e. a 'murder mystery'. David Lynch and Mark Frost, the creators of the show, initially had the idea of a body wrapped in plastic washing up on the shore of a lake. The dead body turns out to be TP's homecoming queen and femme fatale Laura Palmer and both the show and the viewers started to focus on the question 'Who killed Laura Palmer?'.

However, the creators and, as I might add, the detective within the series had a different agenda in mind. They wanted TP to be about mystery in general; the dead body had been the initial idea, but the narrative was supposed to lead into various directions. Both the dead female victim and the detective in TP were designed to lead the viewer into the secluded small town; a town located in midst of a dark and gloomy forest that contains bigger secrets than a simple murder mystery could ever pervade. The murder of Laura Palmer should have lingered in the background, while other plot developments were planned to spread out and develop. The introduction of plot elements that functioned as a distraction from a 'cut and dry' police investigation (e.g. the introduction of 'fantastic' and supernatural elements) did not help to divert viewers from their desire for a solution of the murder mystery plot. Both the audience and the television network forced the creators to solve the crime.1

After the revelation of the killer's identity, Lynch and Frost managed to maintain the mystery through a concentration on the supernatural aspects that had been introduced in TP's second season.2 However, the popularity faded and the teamwork between Frost and Lynch decreased. Frost, who is essentially a writer for television serials, focused on plot developments that are rooted in traditional story-telling, e.g. the Windom Earle revenge plot, while Lynch basically retreated from the project. However, Lynch returned to TP in order to direct the very last episode of the show.3 Lynch can be considered as the creator of Agent Cooper, the detective in TP. As I will concentrate on that character in this thesis it seems fair to admit that I will mainly focus on Lynch's contribution to the show. The scenes that I will analyze further in this thesis are thus almost exclusively directed by David Lynch.4 (comp. appendix with scene breakdown).

In the following I will analyze how the character of Dale B. Cooper fits into the role of the traditional detective and compare his techniques to the ones employed by the classical detective. This will happen in chapter one. I will show to what degree the character of Agent Cooper draws elements from the classical detective figure. Using the example of the very first literary detective C. Auguste Dupin, as created by Edgar Allan Poe, I will compare and contrast the conservative, traditional detective in Poe's story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" with his heir in TP. Hereby I will not only stress the psyche of the detective figure, but also his overall role as protector and savior of society.

Putting Cooper into the tradition of the classical detective we will find that he contrasts his predecessors in two major aspects: first, his general openness and obliqueness which identify him as a serial detective operating within the postmodern world of a television series.5 His inclusion of various methods, most importantly the Tibetan method which incorporates Eastern and Western thought, stress his position as an open-minded seeker; second, the schizoid split that becomes overt in Cooper's eccentric behavior stands in the tradition of the classical detective's 'Bi-Part Soul'. The classical detective's split into a 'creative' and a 'resolvent' does merely concern the case that has to be solved. Instead, the 'new detective' in TP seems to develop this split in account of his admiration for the ordinary middle class. He seems not so much interested in the murder case, but more so in the society of Twin Peaks itself. In contrast to the classical detective's Bi-Part Soul Cooper not only exposes a creative and a resolvent side, but also a diversion of the 'consuming' and the resolvent. Cooper appears as a highly ambivalent mixture of open seeker and comic subversion of a conservative FBI agent, a role which, after all, identifies him as a detective trying to protect middle class America.

In the first chapter I will put a stress on the social implications of the detective's involvement with the setting of TP. In chapter two the comparison with the classical detective will be continued under psychological (and psychic) aspects. There we will find that Cooper widens the detective's canvas through a contact with the supernatural: this includes contact with the (dead) female victim in a dream that takes place in a room draped with red curtains - henceforth referred to as the 'Red Room dream'. I will stress the subconscious and the physical aspects of Cooper's liminal experience. With his intuitive approach and his acceptance of the subconscious and irrational, Cooper offers a refreshing contrast to the classical detective's ratiocination. In order to understand Cooper's involvement with the otherworldly realm, I will compare the new detective with C. Auguste Dupin once more at the beginning of chapter two. At that time I will use a psychoanalytical approach to demonstrate that the classical detective entombs himself into his own mind, whereas Cooper starts to process an understanding for the feminine and the supernatural, a process that, however, will not take him very far.

Aside from dream analysis, Cooper also incorporates visions into his investigation. Being physically wounded, Cooper uses his concept of mind-body-coordination to make contact with the supernatural. A Giant appears to him and delivers some rather cryptic clues that will help Cooper to keep the investigation going. Cooper is receptive to the otherworldly apparition on account of his 'freedom from fear'. Cooper's acceptance of the body works as an opposing force to the classical detective's rational mind games and his overall denial of carnal elements. The vision of the Giant helps Cooper to solve the murder mystery. However, this is no classical solution but a transfer of the show onto another formulaic level. With the solution of the murder case TP seems to move more into a Gothic tradition.

Restoring the order (usually the sole purpose of the detective) brings along a great deal of problems for Agent Cooper, as he gets more and more involved with the society he is trying to protect. On the other hand he may put too much trust into the fantastic element, without really understanding what the metaphysical habitat is all about.

With the murder mystery solved, the detective character, as well as the show's plot, shift towards another direction. The appearance of Cooper's fatherly nemesis Windom Earle will confront the detective with his own past (an element missing in the traditional detective story). The omniscient role of the detective gives way to the revenge plot initiated by the Earle character, a revenge plot that I will examine closer in chapter three. Cooper appears to become a character in a mutated genre that I will call the 'Gothic Soap Opera'. Cooper's intuitive methods are confronted with Earle's urge to control (a mixture of the traditional male detective and the mad gothic villain). Cooper is forced into a game which rules do not match his detectional methods. The infinite player and serial detective Cooper is confronted with the finite player and serial killer Earle; the show's leitmotif of closure vs. openness reverberates in the encounter between Earle and Cooper. It becomes clear that the narrative is aiming for something bigger than a simple murder mystery. The writers of TP subvert the comforting convention of the classical detective story in which the detective can protect and save society. Again, the tradition of the Gothic comes into play. The main feature of the detective story might be the reassurance of order within the system, an order that is missing in the narrative world of the Gothic.

TP works towards a restoration of the Gothic tradition, it dupes the viewer into watching a detective story, when it is really stressing story elements that stand in a Gothic tradition. Gothic devices pervade the universe of TP, but more importantly, they are the basis for Cooper's changing role from the omniscient detective figure to a character in a different genre pattern. With the detective being thrown out of his tracks, with him being involved into the 'Soap Opera' world, he loses his powers and becomes part of the scenario and unable to control his weaknesses and fears. Instead two other characters take control both over the narration and the fate of Agent Cooper. On the one hand, the earthly villain Windom Earle who forces Cooper to confront the past and who will be compared to Cooper in chapter 3. On the other hand, the supernatural spirit BOB, the epitome of the evil in the woods and a diffuse 'return of the repressed' who will finally take control over the weakened Cooper's soul. I will attempt to explain the BOB figure and his relation to Cooper in chapter four. At that point I will also return to the supernatural as I observed it in chapter two. In fact, chapters two and four are intended to mirror each other. All of the new detective's positive experiences with the other sphere are now turned into the opposite. Cooper's contact with the supernatural does not take place within the confines of an openminded subconscious, but in a state of fear. We will find that Cooper has transformed into a character that, similar to the superficial Windom Earle, combines elements of the Gothic protagonist and the traditional detective.

Cooper's promising new detectional methods have to fail: the mind-body coordination will tumble, the concept of freedom from fear will turn into a return of the repressed. Fear will take control over the Cooper character during his visit in the 'Black Lodge'. This center of supernatural activity will turn out to be a realization of Cooper's Red Room dream, a sort of negative counter image of Cooper's initial experience. In this realm, Cooper will encounter the dead female victim again, but also his new love Annie Blackburne who has entered TP in the 'Gothic Soap Opera' section. Cooper's emotional weakness will enable the evil entity BOB to turn Cooper into his own doppelganger. The double, as I will point out in the Chapter four, functions as another central Gothic element in TP. Upon being possessed by the evil spirit BOB, Cooper will lose his character traits as a detective completely. The fatal consequences for the middle class 'Soap Opera' world of TP will finally have to be considered.

In my closing statement I will try to avoid closure, very similar to the series itself. At the end, TP leaves many plotlines hanging in 'narrational dead air'. The viewer is not sure whether he is presented with a finite or an infinite ending. Finally, we face the dichotomy of closure vs. openness once again.

Similar to the motif of openness vs. closure I will employ the opposition of the inside vs. the outside as a leitmotif, or subtext, in this thesis. This division functions as a central structural component of TP.6 I would say that most of the aspects examined in this thesis point toward the division, or the dualism, of the 'Inner' and the 'Outer'. In terms of genre, the 'Inner' seems present in the detective story with its confined setting. In TP the 'Outer' constantly intrudes into the concealed setting, e.g. in the form of the Gothic that tries to bring something hidden back to the surface. In terms of psychology, we find the traditional male detective who seals himself off from the outside world in contrast to Agent Cooper, the new detective who opens himself to new experiences. In terms of social and cultural aspects, we are confronted with a civilized middle class that tries to fight an archaic nature. Outer forces will finally intrude into the inside of a closed social system and, thus, eventually destroy that system.

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1 "I liked the idea of a continuing story that sucks you into a deeper world. But Laura Palmer's killer was never meant to be discovered. The mystery was meant to float permanently above the action. Once it got solved, something beautiful was lost." (Lynch,

2 The first eight episodes of TP ran from April 8 1990 to May 23 1990. This 'trial run' was followed by a complete television season that stretched from September 30 1990 to June 10 1991 and included 22 episodes. Both periods started with a so-called 'pilot episode', i.e. a ninety minute long episode as opposed to the usual forty-five minute episodes.

3 "Frost focused almost exclusively on a Holmes/Moriarty antagonism ... a narrative direction that can best be understood in the context of Frost's identification of Cooper with Sherlock Holmes, an identification not shared by Lynch." (Nochimson, 'Passion', 76f.)

4 Lynch comments on the actor Kyle MacLachlan, who portrays Special Agent Cooper in TP as follows: "Kyle loves little gadgets ... And he's got a lot of perky, childlike faces - when he's left alone. And those things fitted into Cooper. So, by being Kyle, he brought a lot to Cooper. But then there's another part of Kyle that fights Cooper. I'm not saying that he wasn't Cooper when other people directed him - but sometimes I would have to kick him up to another gear. It's right inside of him, but he might get laid back, or kinda serioso or something, and not have the energy, alertness and the spark that Cooper has." (Rodley, 168)

5 I will not engage into a lengthy discussion of the term 'postmodernism'. In any case, my brief remarks on the terminology are mainly influenced by Fredric Jameson's "Postmodernism and Consumer Society" and Ihab Hassan's "The Culture of Postmodernism".

6 The series continually plays with a confusion of outside and inside. Interiors are all bare wood; large stage heads rest on a table; the Lodge with its red curtains is in the depths of the forest, etc. It's raining inside the room when Leland confesses/realizes about killing his own daughter.
Was that something that was on your mind?

Lynch: "Not really. The inside/outside thing is ... I've never really said that, but that's sort of what life and movies are all about to me." (Rodley, 169)

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