[Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers for the original Twin Peaks series]
My husband and I just finished watching Twin Peaks, and now my sleep’s gone to shit/the Black Lodge. About a decade ago, I unknowingly watched the final episode, and so I knew that (spoiler alert even though this happened in circa 1991) Agent Cooper would become BOB, and I had no interest in going back to the beginning to watch the unfolding of this tragic trick. Two months ago, frustrated with our dwindling Netflix queue, we decided to check out the first episode. Admittedly, the opening credits sequence is pure sawmill mechanistic glory. But the first ten minutes of Episode One had me severely bummed. It opens with a shot of a wispy-voiced Asian woman applying makeup in the mirror with a look of seductive devastation. Five minutes later, we find the washed-up corpse of a homecoming queen, naked and presumably raped before her murder. These tired tropes again. So tired again.
And yet, by the end of the first episode I was hooked. Eric too. Anyone who’s watched the show knows why: the camp, the sincerity, the doubling, the mystery, the set decoration, Audrey Horne creeping through motel walls, pretty much everything said by Agent Cooper. I’d watch Coop projected on our basement wall, glance over at Eric, whose profile looks like his, and wonder if my husband, too, could get possessed by Murderer BOB.
TV series have a way of interrupting our lives. When The X-Files were on, my Sunday meals were planned around each episode, and my dreams consisted mostly of Mulder (shout out to Denise, David D’s clever trans* character—one of Lynch’s many doubles in the series), Scully, aliens, bounty hunters, and those inbred mutant brothers from the episode “Home,” you know—the one when Mulder tells Scully she’d make a really good mother. Incest remains a taboo directors love to investigate. David Lynch used it to unnerve Twin Peaks viewers, while taking a fairly annoying say-little stance when talking about the show. True, we shouldn’t need an explanation for art. But. When my sleep gets interrupted by the vision of Leland Palmer staring in the mirror at Murderer BOB’s face, someone’s got some explaining to do.
Since I knew the show’s final revelation before watching it through, I thought for sure my emotions would stay nice and tidy throughout the twenty-nine episodes leading up to the finale. Not so. The first sight of BOB utterly unnerved me, and I had two full-fledged nervous breakdowns throughout the series. The first one was BOB-related, but I can’t peg the moment. Must have blocked it out. Maybe it was that first sighting, when he was crawling around the Palmers’ sitting room carpet. The second was the horrible murder of Maddy by Leland/BOB. After that, Eric had to peel me off the floor and put me to bed, where I’d wake up from nightmares only to look over at Eric who would be looking like Agent Cooper so then I’d have to worry that Eric was possessed by BOB and maybe if I looked at his reflection in the glass pane of the bedroom door I’d know for sure if that was the case, but I definitely was not about to start looking for reflections of BOB in my very own bedroom so I’d better just close my eyes and think about ponies-in-the-daytime. In a fictitious world of doubles—Black Lodge/White Lodge, Laura/Maddy, Twin Peaks itself—Agent Cooper reminds us that there is no justice. If Coop is corruptible, susceptible to BOB, then no one can possibly be immune. Of course, at the time of his possession, Cooper was made weak by love, and once again off his guard (as when Windom Earle killed his wife/Cooper’s lover). Yet my night fear is that Eric will be possessed, not that I myself will become BOB and therefore be susceptible to murdering someone I love. As viewer, and female, I’m positioned as victim.
Now Eric was, of course, freaked by BOB too. But no peeling him off the floor was necessary. I don’t chalk this up to the stoicism of men, because who would buy that? BOB only murdered through the bodies of men, and all of his victims were women. The cards are stacked against us girls, as they are in most horror cases. Men dominate the air, and they don’t tend to make movies or TV shows about men being raped by men possessed by demons. So while Eric found the whole incest/possession/murder thing disturbing, I found it terrifying. The dynamic is similar to that which we see in responses to real-life acts of race-based or gender-based violence. There are those who feel “how horrible that that could happen,” and those who feel “how horrible that that could happen to me.” In this case of responding to fictionalized, though visceral violence, Eric could conveniently be positioned as the one to offer comfort and strength to my weaker nerves. By the end of season two, however, Eric woke up with his own nightmares of Windom Earle. Of course Earle was, at this point, enslaving and torturing Leo, the formerly terrifying male abuser now reduced to a groveling electric-collared lapdog. It took a white man-as-victim to keep Eric up at night.
While David Lynch has unbelievably little to say about his show, it doesn’t take much to see the perception differences in women and men viewers, which seem to line up to my and Eric’s varied viewing experiences. For instance, In Andrew Goodwin’s not-worth-reading article “On TV: What’s Going On in Twin Peaks?,” he questions, “Isn’t the crypto-feminist critique of Twin Peaks for its image of violence against women (Laura, Madleine, Shelley, Catherine, Josie, Audrey, Blackie—half the women in the show, it seems) a mistake? Aren’t we no longer distanced from these women through intertextual joking, and instead required to feel?” Line up Goodwin’s “requirement to feel” against Cynthia Arrieu-King’s worth-reading assertion that the show “is nakedly pushing those emotional sexual violence id buttons to their unbearably absurd extremes.” Doesn’t seem that feeling was merely a “requirement” for Arrieu-King. Yes, it’s much easier to coolly observe violence with dis/pleasure when you’re not identifying with the victim. Compassion versus empathy.
While Eric’s and my nightmares ended up syncing up in time, their intensity was still vastly disconnected. As a survivor of sexual violence, my BOB terrors resonated way deeper than the hypothetical. The chances of Eric being lured into the woods by a psychopath who will electrocute him every time he doesn’t comply are pretty slim. The context of each terror is different, and, as we know, sexual violence is not confined to fictions and anomalies. That said, I did somewhat relish my role as big-strong comforter when Eric woke in night sweats.
After Eric turned off the projector on the last episode, I had about a week to think about the relevance of coming so late to the Twin Peaks party, which originally aired when I was a preteen. Then came the timely announcement, coinciding with Lynch’s first major art exhibition at PAFA, that nine more episodes of the show, making up a third season, will be aired in 2016. Laura Palmer’s statement to Cooper in the final episode, “I’ll see you again in 25 years,” now makes serious sense, and leaves me nervously wondering what unanswered questions will get addressed in the next season, and whether we’ll have to endure/relish in further acts of horror. And, how will BOB manifest without the terrible face of the late Frank Silva, set decorator of the millennium?
I was able to forgive some of the blatant misogyny and racism of Twin Peaks because the show was twenty-plus years out—riding in the wake of the 1980s backlash against feminism. The trochaic “Who killed Laura Palmer?” may have been the catchy question of the year then, but I’m not sure such a trope would hold up so well now (though I may be being far too optimistic). One way Lynch saved himself then was by empowering Laura, albeit in her Black Lodge shadow-self form, to whisper the answer to her own slaying directly into Cooper’s intuitive ear. If Lynch maintains the original ethos of Twin Peaks in its production next year, I don’t think I could stomach it so (un)easily. I’m dying for women to come out of the diners and brothels and bedrooms and to stop creeping between walls and to get out into the world, not get killed, gamble at the casino, do some spelunking, ride their motorcycles all night long to blow off steam, and maybe get themselves possessed by some demons of their own. And I’m dying to find out what the owls—which seem to just be freaky slo-mo owls—really are.