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

1.3. The Setting in 'Twin Peaks'

The isolation and rationality of the classical detective are in a way mirrored in the constructed nature of the setting. Seclusion is not merely limited to geographical aspects. As we have seen the secluded setting can be read as a metaphor for the detective's mind. The very nature of the setting in the classical detective story is to function in accordance with the logic of the crime. The place of the investigation does not allow for illogical or irrational behavior, inhabitants and suspects have to behave according to the rules and the rationality that is needed for the detective to 'unriddle the riddle'.

It should be remembered that TP presents the above described scenario on the one hand, yet now, just as with the role of the detective, the viewer is confronted with a strange and ambivalent (con)fusion of the 'inside' and the 'outside'.9 A small town near the Canadian border in midst of gigantic woods, Twin Peaks is at the same time secluded from the outside world, yet it also represents in a metonymical fashion the entirety of middle class America. Late consumer society and archaic nature conflate in a seemingly harmonious way. This place seems to fit the conventional setting of the murder mystery tradition. Expectations are set on upcoming solution of the murder case, i.e. the death of the local homecoming queen Laura Palmer. However, we will find that the concept of presenting a single individual as the murderer does not seem to work anymore in TP. Society itself, no matter how secluded it might be, is invaded by evil. These evil forces will take forms that leave the confines of the traditional murder mystery.10

In TP everything strives for the revelation of a 'Truth' (yes, with a capital 'T') that seems to go beyond the solution of the murder case. The search for that Truth is initiated by the detective whose investigation merely concerns the murder mystery in the beginning, but whose agenda will grow bigger and expand the concerns of the traditional detective, i.e. the need for closure and a finite solution.

Thus, the analysis of the detective in TP has to be seen in close connection with the setting. In contrast to the traditional detective's seclusion, the detective in TP has a tendency to open himself to new experiences. The detective in TP is a character who crosses various borders, including the border of traditional formulae and patterns. Agent Cooper believes in the purity of TP's middle class world, trying not only to maintain this puritan order, but also striving for a general unity of all things, whether they are good or bad, artificial or natural etc.. Thus, he leaves the confines of the classical detective's controlled mind game. Cooper's aim lies beyond the search for and incarceration of a single killer, which will enable society to live in peace until the next murder happens.

Cooper's merging with the town is foreshadowed in the way the narrative introduces the setting. Cawelti distinguishes two opening moves for the traditional detective story. The most traditional way is to introduce the detective first, and then confront the reader with the details of the crime. This common practice is employed both by Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle, as it inevitably points to the central role that the detective takes within the narrative. In TP the victim, the scene of crime and the characters of the town are presented before the arrival of the detective. This opening is, of course, an important hint towards the significance of the setting itself. Usually, as Cawelti points out, this "change in the sequence of the pattern ... tends to place greater emphasis on the intricacy of the puzzle surrounding the crime and less prominence to the detective's initiative in the investigation" (Cawelti, 84). In TP the reversal of this pattern appears to be natural, as the show is not only a detective story, but also a 'Soap Opera'11 and the detective is the tool to bring the characters within the setting closer to the viewer.

Usually the detective, as sole hero and omniscient persona, arrives at the scene of crime, solves the case, demasks the doers of the deed and then leaves. The essence of TP is exactly that: in order to keep the series moving, the detective has to get involved with the characters in a way that prevents his departure. Thus, Cooper's character develops into what Nickerson calls a "serial detective" (Nickerson, 271). The show starting with the murder mystery and introducing the detective afterwards resembles the opening of a conventional (televised) detective story.

In the following I will demonstrate how the series establishes Cooper as a relatively conventional detective in the show's 'pilot'12. He appears both a 'to the books' FBI man, yet in a slightly parodied fashion, and as the familiar analytic detective. However, in the following episodes the Cooper character will develop into a different direction altogether.

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9 The confusion of inner & outer will persist as a constant motif throughout TP, not only with the detective's specialty of crossing various boundaries, but most of all within the aesthetics of the show: "Richard Hoover, the production designer...created a look for the show in which, he says, the concepts of inside and outside where conflated. A massive use of wood gives an outside feeling to the interiors. The interiors burgeon with dead animals and their parts...and nature drawings that are often photographed as if they were theatrical backdrops for the action." (Nochimson, 148)

10 As I will point out in chapter three the Gothic element is persistent in TP from the very beginning. Elizabeth MacAndrew comments on the setting in the Gothic story: "They necessiate a structure that makes a closed-off region within an outer world. To create both these worlds, the outer and the closed ... a special narrative mode is used. A sense is created of entering a strange and wonderful place, a closed world within the everyday world ... The closed world is not entirely cut off. Indeed, its effect often depends on the sense of moving in and out of it. Narrators and characters move from one closed world to another, or from the open, everyday world into a closed one or vice versa. Such movements enhance the sense of the static and the strange." (MacAndrew, 110)
The setting in TP resembles the environment in gothic fiction, i.e. it is sealed off from the 'real' world, but also metonymically represents this real world (in our example middle class America).

11 The American Heritage Dictionary defines a Soap Opera as "a drama...typically performed as a serial...characterized by stock characters and situations, sentimentality, and melodrama". Considering all of the various sub-plots and generic (con)fusions of the Soap Opera world of TP would lead too far away from my goal of analyzing the role of the detective as the protagonist. Thus, I will leave out relatively important story elements, such as the relation between Audrey Horne and Agent Cooper. I will further elaborate on the term Gothic Soap Opera in Chapter three. I will employ the expression solely in association with the Windom Earle revenge plot.

12 To explain the term 'pilot' I want to use the following dialogue from the movie "Pulp Fiction":
Vincent: What's a pilot?
Jules: Well, the way they pick TV shows is, they make one show, and that show's called a 'pilot'. And then they show that one show to the people who pick the shows, and on the strength of that one show, they decide if they want to make more shows. Some get accepted and become TV programs, and some don't, and become nothing. (Tarantino, 18)

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