“All of us on this great big Planet Earth live at only a fraction of our potential.” – Dale Cooper.
David Lynch’s vastly influential TV series Twin Peaks redefined the potential of television storytelling by traversing the mysterious landscape of surrealism in a way that captured mainstream attention. Over the years, the show has managed to garner a cult-following of avid fans who adore the show’s simultaneous investigations of various genres. Famous for its modernist vision and surreal humour, Twin Peaks will always remain one of the best television shows of all time.
At the centre of Twin Peaks’ bizarre experiments with reality and fantasy is FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), who arrives in a small town to order to make sense of a strange murder case involving a young girl named Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). Deceptively structured as a simple mystery narrative, Twin Peaks branches out into unexplored territory and asks questions that are somehow visceral as well as metaphysical at the time.
Even after all this time, the show generates debate and controversy about the various possible interpretations of the show’s events. “I don’t ever explain it. Because it’s not a word thing. It would reduce it, make it smaller,” Lynch clarified. “A film or a painting – each thing is its own sort of language and it’s not right to try to say the same thing in words. The words are not there. The language of film, cinema, is the language it was put into, and the English language – it’s not going to translate. It’s going to lose.”
Cooper is a fascinating intersection of optimism, wisdom and infectious enthusiasm for food which acts as the translator for the audience. Just like us, he is also an outsider to the isolated community of Twin Peaks and he undertakes the gigantic task of deciphering its elusive dialectics. Endlessly charming and unperturbed by the weird things happening around him, Cooper is our reliable guide who holds our hands and takes us into a world where logic has been relegated to the realm of redundancy.
As he oscillates between the hallucinogenic landscapes of dreams and the beautiful mountain town, we travel with him and accept him as our chosen navigator. On top of that, Cooper’s philosophy of life is pretty reassuring when compared to the artistic visions of the filmmaker who created the baby from Eraserhead. He says: “I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it, don’t wait for it, just let it happen. It could be a new shirt in a men’s store, a cat nap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black coffee.”
According to Lynch, Cooper’s name is a reference to the infamous D.B. Cooper, who hijacked a plane and parachuted out with $200,000 (equivalent to $1,260,000 in 2019). He was never found, and his case remains the only unsolved case in the history of air piracy. Like D.B. Cooper, Agent Copper jumps headfirst into a hostile world and finds himself in a situation where the rules do not matter anymore. The metaphysical mysteries of the universe do not care about FBI guidelines, as Cooper himself admits:
“In the pursuit of Laura’s killer, I have employed Bureau guidelines, deductive technique, Tibetan method, instinct, and luck. But now I find myself in need of something new, which, for lack of a better word, we shall call magic.”
MacLachlan views the iconic character as the logical conclusion of his role in Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet where he played Jeffrey Beaumont, a teenager who gets caught up in a psychosexual carnival of human depravity. “I see my character as Jeffrey Beaumont grown up. Instead of being acted upon, he has command on the world,” the actor explained, and he is absolutely correct.
In Twin Peaks, the amateur sleuth of Blue Velvet has grown up to become a competent detective as well as an interesting philosopher who can articulate the absurdity of the world without being impotent. MacLachlan reprised the role of Cooper in the 2017 revival of the show, but he wasn’t the same young and quirky agent we had come to love and admire. That version of the character is immortalised in the first two seasons of the show, perpetually delighting us with his witty aphorisms.
In many ways, Agent Cooper changed the way that artists approached the mystery genre. It was a common practice to pose questions and spend the rest of the time trying to get to the answers, but Twin Peaks was different. It focused on the mystery itself, insisting that it was extremely insolent to hurl unsatisfactory answers at grand questions that we were incapable of answering. Cooper eloquently summarised all of it when he said: “In the heat of the investigative pursuit, the shortest distance between two points is not necessarily a straight line.”