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

2.4. The Solution to the Murder Mystery

The Giant and Agent Cooper The importance of the "announcement of the solution" (Cawelti, 87) in the classical detective story has been noted. The traditional detective acts as a performer, and the dramatic revelation has the highest stance for the ego of the investigator. In TP, however, the plot functions through many red herrings and cliffhangers: Cooper announcing his knowledge of the killer, after his Red Room Dream, and him forgetting it in the morning is just one example of how the show constantly dupes the narrative expectations of the audience, and thus creates an open narrative structure.

During the Roadhouse showdown in episode seventeen, an Agatha Christie like scenario is set up, where Cooper turns the solution's announcement into a self-referential staged event. Yet, in contrast to Dupin, Cooper cannot determine who will walk in the door; he does not analyze and calculate, but trusts his intuition, pure chance and higher forces. Cooper cannot solve the murder mystery himself, as it is not his nature as a character to solve problems in a finite fashion. Cooper succeeds in the Roadhouse showdown mainly because he manages to combine his philosophies with a firm belief in the supernatural orb. More than in any other scene, Cooper has to rely on magical processes during the revelation of the murder mystery, for example the occurrence of two separate events pertaining to the same object of inquiry. In this case, the old Bellhop (from the second pilot) repeats a line from Cooper's Red Room dream, which triggers of Cooper's subconscious knowledge of the murderer (he remembers the name that Laura told him in the Red Room dream).

While this scene still demonstrates Cooper's trust in the intuitive dimension and in supernatural forces, the segment also suggests that Cooper's ZEN approach and his intuition are endangered by too much reliance upon chance and emotion. Cooper is maneuvered into a dead end street, i.e. there is a solution to the murder mystery, but it comes from another plane of existence. Cooper relies on a higher sphere of mystery, a sphere that uses the detective as a tool, but does not need the detective as the center of events anymore. The series' obsessive maintenance of secrets attempts to decentralize the detective, striving for a "geometric progression of mystery that mocks every sort of serial narrative, even as it also appropriately swallows up Cooper, the figure of law and order" (Telotte, 166).

In his dream and in the vision, Cooper experienced pleasure merging with another world. Now he has to employ these elements in order to come to an end. Cooper must find a narrative solution, which basically betrays his nature as a an unconventional serial detective. Cooper becomes merely one of the many pieces within the puzzle, both within the diegetic frame of the narrative, and on the meta-level of the show. The solution of the murder mystery does not lead to a termination of the narrative itself, but it will turn out to be fatal for a positive development of Cooper as a ZEN detective.

The identification of Laura Palmer's murderer will also create a narrative plot which introduces a force that is opposed to Cooper's Tibetan method. "The world is not restored to its pre-mystery neatness; it is infinitely larger" (Nochimson, 155). According to Cawelti, in the classical detective story the announcement and explanation of the solution would be followed by a denouement of the story (Cawelti, 82). As I pointed out before, the essence of the TP story is to deny such a gesture of firm closure. The narrative structure of TP is enlarged through the introduction of the 'BOB' character.

Cooper's explanation (in episode 17) of the solution to the murder of Laura Palmer is spoken very rapidly, overwhelms the viewer with a profusion of explanation, and is not based on scientific rationality but on allegory and the language of dreams (Cooper explains that the dwarf in his dream danced and that Leland danced; he says that BOB had gray hair, and Leland's hair turned gray; and he says that the letters under the fingernails of the victims were spelling out BOB's name). Such a baroque explanation is closer to a parody of meaning than to a real explanation. (Ledwon, 266)

Breaking the code, in terms of the murder mystery, means for Cooper to realize the meaning of the sign 'BOB/Leland'. As soon as he breaks that particular code, the answer to the murder plot is revealed. However, as lies in the nature of the serial narrative of TP, breaking one particular code will merely lead to an infinity of other signs that would have to be decoded. This procedure can surely be read as a parody of common detection methods. Yet, it may also prepare for the formulaic shift, or transformation that happens within the TP plot. Leland Palmer will be identified as the murderer of Laura Palmer. However, Leland turns out as a split self possessed by an evil spirit called BOB.

As we shall see, the interest of the series will soon rely on this supernatural element, leaving Cooper and his new approaches behind. The TP plotline seems to find new shape with the introduction of BOB and the termination of the classical murder mystery. Mark Dolan points out that "the [Red Room] dream sequence was diverting but misleading [in the context of the first season]", as it "seemed to beg for a semiotic rather than a hermeneutic reading of Laura's murder" and "The Man from Another Place did not seem to be anyone in particular but a general dream symbol" (Dolan, 38). Nevertheless, Dolan states that "by introducing the Giant and having him explicitly guide Dale Cooper through his investigation, the creators of TP gave the BOB-plotline more weight and solidity" (41).

The creators of TP offer another variation of the solution in traditional murder mysteries. Usually the detective unmasks a single individual as the murderer, and thus saves society's social order. While TP keeps to the murder mystery's tradition of picking the "least likely person" (Cawelti, 101), it does not provide an easy solution, as this person is not the 'least liked' character, but a sympathetic family father and respected lawyer who was possessed by an evil spirit. Thus, middle class society's order might be restored after Leland's death, yet the initial question of 'Who killed Laura Palmer?' is replaced by the even bigger issue of 'Where is BOB (the possessing spirit) now?'

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