On Cooper

Diane, 11:30am, February 24th. Entering the town of Twin Peaks.

What is most devastating about the opener is not that Laura Palmer is dead; Laura Palmer has been dead since the beginning. You will never know her and never love her. She is a blank, a lovely corpse, but no longer a girl. Not a girl you will ever know as they did. 

Flat on my comforter rests the external DVD drive, precisely the diameter of a CD, awkwardly cording its way into the side of my laptop. Black box, white line finding its way into sleek silver, the precision of modern technology. 

This is where we open: there are ducks in a brook, there is a morning yawning over a little nowhere. Something terrible exists in this town. Whatever it is, it’s happening again. It’s always happening again.

How can these images fit together? How can this be on my TV? This reputation of deep-seated oddness and unsettling critiques of American culture shouldn’t mesh with silly quotes about coffee and melodramatic acting performances. This is what strikes people most when watching it—that it is so very earnest and so very outrageous all at once.

The first time I watched the air of a new city tasted fresh on my tongue. I did not know New York. I had made up a fantasy of reading books, seeing movies, and creating illusions all tailored around this place which has been just out of reach my entire life. Instead, I watched TV. Stumbling, as I did, somehow, upon Twin Peaks, a place so far and so opposite from New York, this tiny town in the middle of nothing, seething with surreal and inexplicable violence. New York is unfathomable in that world

This is how I got through the summer.

Now it is my nostalgia. As the DVD comes to life in the late-night present, whirring and humming to itself, I am greeted with a familiar sight—the old-fashioned selection screen. Twin Peaks is split into seventeen discs to display forty-two hours of content; the first disc only contains the pilot, ninety minutes of scenery. Its introduction screen is a saw, mechanical and foreign, slicing a piece of lumber. The echoing sound of machinery against metal rings in your ears through the tinny headphones. 

The episode launches after a fumbling double-click of the button to make it begin; it is not built for this kind of software, not built for this Frankenstein of a system. The metal slices against itself once more before we fade to black, then into color again.

Captions on, surround sound. It is bizarre to say that it is an easy return into a place that feels like home, but it is.

The initial person we see: an outsider—a beautiful young woman, pursed red lips, coiffed black hair. It is not until twenty minutes into the episode that we will find out her name is Josie Packard.

A working-class man in flannel who will introduce himself as Pete Martell. “Gone fishing,” he says to his wife, Catherine, whom he kisses diligently on the cheek on his way out the door. He says nothing to the beautiful girl. A rod thrown over his shoulder, he walks with heavy footsteps through the foggy morning, a normal man doing his morning routine, in a beautiful little town nestled into nature. It is dreadful that each and every time that Pete Martell exits his house and peers over to the beach, he sees a corpse wrapped in plastic. Your stomach cannot help but drop every time. 

The population of Twin Peaks was, in the year 1990, 51,201, but it was initially a clean 5,000 in its inception. Upon complaint from the producers about the town appearing too small for marketability purposes, the creators simply added one more figure, increasing the population tenfold. This change does not erase the fact that small-town Americana is written into our DNA, a fact which becomes obvious when the coroner-slash-local doctor turns over the corpse on the beach five minutes after it’s been discovered and says, “Oh God, Laura.” He has not only known her her whole life, tending to her childhood scrapes and bruises, but has delivered her as a baby, has sat with her at the kitchen table, and has hugged her close to his chest. Everyone knows her, everyone loves her. 

Laura Palmer. Homecoming queen. You cut away from the body to her mother, Sarah Palmer, calling for Laura to come downstairs. 

In my second attempt at showing my friends this anomaly of a show, during which I had three people obediently sitting in front of the television in my bedroom, one of them had asked, “How does the mother know that something’s wrong? Couldn’t Laura just be out of the house or doing something?” I do not look away from the screen, as Sarah Palmer’s fingers curl around her lips, gasping.  “Just a mother’s intuition, I guess,” I say.

Among this madness, a girl who has been missing since yesterday, Ronette Pulaski, is found walking across train tracks in Idaho. Because she has crossed the state border, the FBI must be called in and Special Agent Dale Cooper appears in Twin Peaks.

There is an invisible thread tying me to Special Agent Dale Cooper. It begins somewhere in my chest and fumbles its way through the computer screen, knotting itself around him and around the place where my heart beats frantically. I know him in a way that I should not, in a way that confuses me even as I type it up now. “What is it about Dale Cooper?” I write, I repeat. Slick black suit, shining eyes, combed-back hair. He nags at me like a mantra.

After the body has been found and Pete Martell has called the police, the station’s receptionist, Lucy, has to transfer the call to the sheriff. She spends thirty endless seconds in the middle of what must be the greatest tragedy this town has ever seen explaining which blocky phone she is going to transfer the call to. “​​Um, I’m gonna transfer it to the phone on the table by the red chair,” she says. She pauses. “The red chair against the wall.” Another pause. “The little table with the lamp on it. The lamp that we moved from the corner.” And again, “The black phone, not the brown phone.” It is probably the most agonizing sequence in television that you have ever witnessed.

And Lucy is far from the only culprit of this peculiarity. In lieu of a goodbye, Laura Palmer’s boyfriend, Bobby Briggs—a handsome, blue-eyed teenager who struts around like his limbs are tied to his body with loosening thread—casually says to Norma Jennings, the owner of Twin Peaks’ diner, “See you in my dreams.” Norma, without a moment’s pause, replies, “Not if I see you first.”

Diane: 9:36pm. September 22nd. My roommate and I stand in the decorated mirror in the shared hallway between our bedrooms. I comb my hair back with a thick-tooth comb while staring at my reflection; she stares at her own on my right. “What would you do if I actually slicked my hair back?” I ask. We often play this little game of inquiries. Theorists of our own lives, we are. She looks at me in the mirror. “I would say, ‘What are you doing?’” 


She turns three-quarters of the way towards the open door to my bedroom and twists her mouth into a cruel, unusual smile. “Then I’d probably say if it looked good or bad. And I’d probably say it looked bad.”

I laugh, jaw set open, not quite meeting the eyes. Her expression is delicious severity; mine, solemn amusement.

Today, I will notice how the sheriff gives nicknames to characters, earnestly, in a way that he never will afterwards. Today, I will notice how both the portrait of Laura and her corpse do not look like Laura Palmer at all—both seem too cold, too unknown. 

When he first appears, I feel a deep tightening at my sternum. Cooper. It is such an abrupt sensation that I am inclined to be alarmed by it—”I don’t expect the surge of affection,” I write on my third page of notes in a frantic scrawl. I pause the episode for the first time to write down what he says, words etched somewhere in the recesses of my brain. “Diane, 11:30am, February 24th. Entering the town of Twin Peaks,” he announces to his tape recorder, as he stares out the window, “I’ve never seen so many trees in my life.” 

On page eight of his biography (1991), which, within the fictional universe of Twin Peaks, is actually a series of transcribed audio logs from his series of tape recorders, Dale Cooper says that he went to a Quaker school in Philadelphia. Dale Cooper says this while sitting in his childhood bedroom—at the time, simply his regular bedroom, since he is thirteen and it is Christmas and he has just been gifted this tape recorder—but he says it, articulates it, all the same. Mouth to microphone It is 1967, and the recorder is not what it will become in the portrait of him, nor in the portrait of myself, either. I have always found his statement at the beginning of his introduction ridiculous; there are trees in Philadelphia, I could say. Three seconds later, he adds, “As W.C. Fields would say, I’d rather be here than Philadelphia.”

I have always known Cooper to be a fellow alumnus of my high school, a fact so outlandish it cannot possibly be true. Eighty students per year, one thousand in total. At the bottom of our clean, pristine Wikipedia page (well-worn): The main character from the TV series Twin Peaks, FBI Agent Dale Cooper, supposedly grew up in Germantown and attended Germantown Friends School (as created by director David Lynch, who spent many years in Philadelphia). What they do not mention is how Philadelphia means rot to David Lynch, means terror, means some place for Cooper to claw his way out of. I do not find myself digging my way out of this place, this school, in the same way that Cooper did, but can see his twinkle in my eye. 

Cooper, in his bizarre known unknowability, exists in some liminal space between pure audience insert and established character. Never one of them, but never one of us, either. I want him to be one of us. I want to be one with him.

The owls, of course, are not what they seem.

As I am walking through the end of the world—flooded streets, a girl barefoot on the soaked red brick of Locust Walk, an abandoned poncho catching a garden gate—I think how Dale Cooper would react. There is a version of Dale Cooper which lives in my head. There is a version of his voice which rings in my ear. I chase after it every time I hear it. 

Interesting trivia. Did you know that the lights in the autopsy scene were malfunctioning, but they simply kept the camera rolling, making the moment far more memorable than it would be otherwise? That they did the interrogation scene once with Cooper shouting, getting angry, and pulling Bobby by the shirt, then the second time, with Cooper just calmly telling him what’s going to happen, and at that point, everything clicked? That Sheriff Truman calls Leland Lee, calls Josie Jo, in a way that he will never do in any other episode to follow? Did I already say that?

Three in the morning. The hand reaches for the necklace, the woman screams, and there is a face behind her in the mirror—gray-haired, crazy-eyed. Cut to: Laura’s portrait. Afterward, I sleep and dream of nothing, despite the fact that I think how lovely a piece it would make if Twin Peaks appeared in my dreams as it does so for Cooper, revealing facts of itself only to be forgotten in the morning. 

I spent much of the next day thinking about the nature of the rewatch. I never rewatched things when I was younger, but not too young—in the misplaced anger of late teenagehood, I detested viewing things I had already seen, I despised nostalgia, and I scoffed at reminiscing. I thrashed out against nostalgia. 

It doesn’t matter how I feel about nostalgia. Laura Palmer is dead; Laura Palmer has been dead since the beginning. The only ones tortured by the click, whoosh, hum is the people around her, the people who love her, and the people who tweeze letters out from beneath her fingernails. 

“Diane. 6:18am, Room 315, Great Northern Hotel up here in Twin Peaks. Slept pretty well. Non-smoking room. There’s no tobacco smell. That’s a nice consideration for the business traveler.” 

Business traveler?

Season one, episode two—Traces to Nowhere. Or—nothing at all. Tricky to figure out how to call it. What to call it. Twin Peaks had no episode titles when it was released; a complex artform, the naming of things. Lynch has thrown in the towel since the top. Cooper, named after a man who hijacked Boeing 727 in 1971; Truman, after the 33rd president of the United States; the show itself after the town, the world it becomes consumed by. So, no, Lynch does not endeavor to hand-pick the episodes, select quotes, articulate themes, lay out pretty little bows to wrap the whole thing up on. It took the masses, in their collective spirit, to conjure up titles for things, things now canonized. 

Of course it took the people. Rabid, ravenous. Wiki pages—already visited, purple-blue pre-opened links—things which I have memorized. Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer. Rest in Pain. The One-Armed Man. These things don’t mean much. Or do they?

At the end of the second episode, whatever sense of idyllic small-town picture-perfect charm shatters like a shaving mirror. Shelly Johnson (waitress at the Double R Diner) goes home to her husband, Leo: Leo is twice her size, hair tightly pulled into a ponytail, cruel and unkind eyes. He needs to teach her a lesson. He says, “This is going to hurt you.” He hurts her. We do not have to see it, a small kindness, but the dry thump of it makes you itch. You aren’t hurting Laura Palmer in reliving all this, but are you hurting someone else, the reviving of the injury? Rewatch after rewatch after rewatch?

Diane, it’s October 15th, 10:57pm. This morning, we peered into the sweetest little massage joint for a twenty-second birthday gift—a friend of ours, a mutual present. It was on the second floor of the building and smelled of stuffy flowers. We paid with cash. With myself beneath a sheet, my masseuse told my friend—in Chinese, thus impossible to me—some words with a clever smile from beneath a mask; you can hear these things, Diane, and though I can never tell tones in other languages, I was sure of this one. She pulled my palm away from where it lay, flat and limp next to my shoulder, and into the unknown. I felt a tender set of two fingers press against the vein of my wrist, inching up into the flesh of the hand. 

From my friend, my roommate, and my John Watson: a faint giggle. “Anna,” she had said, and at this point, I had almost forgotten my name, “she says that your… chis are off.” 

I had hummed from this burrow, hesitant and sweaty, forehead sticking to hair sticking to tarp cloth. More Chinese: more giggles, three precise ones in a row, ha, ha, ha. She laughed differently then, differently than she does in English. It is more… divided. “She says it’s because you drink too much ice water,” I was told in belated translation, “and that you keep the AC on too much. That’s why your hands are so wet and cold.”


“Clammy,” she agreed, and my left heel was promptly pressed into the lowermost vertebrae of my spine.

It is Tibet, of course, that Dale Cooper longs for. He describes the Dalai Lama. He describes how he would very much like for the Tibetans to get their land back. Would he find it to be close enough? He would hear cryptic advice from wise women in foggy rooms and lap it up like anything. When you put your mind to it, it is very easy to trust these things, if you believe yourself to be Dale Cooper for a moment.

The only other person tortured by the click, whoosh, hum, obviously, is you.

11:15pm. October 15th. The point is that I’m not drinking ice water, Diane. Scorning it, even.

Many have said that the whole thing is an ironic soap opera; it presents its setting, its wide cast, and its relationships between the characters leaden with sticky satire and never means it. David Lynch has seen this and wanted to tear his wild grey hair out. The reason for this line of logic has always been the in-universe television series, Invitation to Love, which blares at the start of many episodes and weaves its way into other ones. It is a soap opera in its purest form, a cheesy pastiche of it. Characters eerily mimic whatever is happening in the real world of Twin Peaks, with lookalike cousins entering scenes just as Laura’s cousin Maddy appears from out of nowhere. Cousin Maddy is Laura with dark hair, with bright red glasses, with teeth that appear more crooked than they ever did on Laura.

You watch the show for its third episode. You watch a small town grieve and scream to the sky and take the show at face-value normality (as much as it can be, with these floating specters of human beings), but in the third episode—which is to say, Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer—Agent Cooper sleeps. Foolish thing, sleeping, don’t you think, Diane?

 The moonlight draws slits across his perfectly closed eyes and he dreams.

Through the darkness of future pasts, says the man with one arm and a scruffy beard, the magician longs to see. One chants out between two worlds, fire walk with me. Cooper, dreaming, shifts in sleep, the signet ring on his pinky finger catching light. My name is Mike, says the man with one arm, his name… is BOB.

I will kill again, says BOB, the ghost in Sarah Palmer’s mirror.

A little man in a red suit that matches the curtains behind him twitches in the corner. Laura Palmer, who we are just now seeing for the first time as a living human being, smiles. The man claps. Cooper, aged twenty-five years older with artificial makeup, stares. “Let’s rock,” says the man. Did you know—well, of course you know, you have been reading the same trivia notes as myself—that it’s all performed backward? Every line they say, the ghost of Laura Palmer and the little man in red, is recorded saying their lines backward, phonetically—”Let’s rock” pronounced “kor stel”—and reversed in post-production. The effect is strangely nostalgic.

The man says the girl is his cousin, but doesn’t she look just like Laura Palmer? “But, it—it is Laura Palmer,” Dale Cooper says, with his odd now-forwards voice ringing out like a bell. It is the first time he has stuttered. You ache to touch him. He looks to the ghost. “Are you Laura Palmer?” he says, having learned how to doubt himself. 

“I feel like I know her, but sometimes my arms bend back,” she replies.

 The man summons for music to begin, and the very same jazz that echoes in ears. Laura Palmer kisses Cooper on the lips and leans in his ear to whisper something; we cannot hear it, we never can. We will learn what she says in due time. After an eternity, Cooper awakes, eyes blown wide in terror. He scrabbles for the phone, dials a number he has memorized, and speaks to Sheriff Harry S. Truman. “Meet me for breakfast, 7:00am, hotel lobby,” he says, “I know who killed Laura Palmer.”

Shit. Diane, it’s 8:47pm, October 17th. I accidentally put ice in. It’s so hard to resist.

Sarah Palmer is sitting in her living room as the pilot concludes, her delicate hand arched over her painted lips, and she screams. She could be screaming about anything—but she screams. Behind her is a mirror. Reflected in it is a figure: long gray hair, denim jacket. You remember this, don’t you, Diane? The camera operator had approached Lynch and told him the clip had to be re-shot, since some of the crew could be seen reflected in the mirror, a clumsy error, so they had to reshoot. Lynch asked who it was that was visible, and was told it was Frank Silva, the actor who played BOB. It was a sign from God, Lynch had probably thought. BOB was never supposed to be this character, never supposed to be here.

What has always terrified so much about the blurry image of BOB in the mirror is how fleeting it is. There are less than two seconds spent panning on him, but for an internal eternity, he simply stares, enraptured, at Laura Palmer’s grieving mother. All you can see is the man who is somehow tangled up in the death of a daughter stare at the mother with care. You may read dark things beneath it. You may read how he wishes to take her apart next. 

Diane, it’s October 28th, 8:02pm. I feel like my lungs are falling out of my body. I’m fine, Diane, but it really makes you think. 

No one cares how you look at the pretty women. In the third episode, the sleazy casino across the border makes its appearance. While Cooper is agonizing over what that title means, Benjamin Horne, lips around cigars, invites his visiting brother to examine it. They sail across the border and find themselves in Canada. They stand with elbows propped against counters, bodies transmorphing into something slouched and cruel. When they turn around, they see beautiful women—no, beautiful girls—laid out to be eaten. These girls have corsets tying them up from their little hips to their breasts, outlandish costumes making them appear almost inhuman. They walk slowly and all like each other. They are young, and they are beautiful, and you should not look at them like that, no, you should not, but you cannot resist.

Dale Cooper enters a room, blows into his flute twice, and pauses for an unparalleled second, the world frozen in calm. Then, the phone rings; then, there is a knock at the door. It is perfect. Phone ring, door knock, pistol shot. You can count the seconds, heavy on the heart. Everything happens precisely when you think it will, which is to say, with dread, at the exactly wrong time.

Laura Palmer has been dead since the beginning, but no one else has to die, right? We can live in ideal sweetness after it all the same, can’t we? Haven’t we earned it, after a while?

In the fall of 1973, Dale Cooper enrolled at Haverford College. I had joked to my fellow high school alumni that he took the easy path, the journey from one off-balanced Quaker school to another—we could name half a dozen people from our year alone who went straight to Haverford after graduation, another handful who transferred over after a stretch. Isn’t it odd, how predictable I find him, despite his fictionality? Oh, of course he did, I may reply to David Lynch’s specter; easy choice.

Doesn’t it terrify to think of your mother as a child, Diane?

Diane, it’s… uh, 10:07pm, um, on November 7th. God, my foot hurts like a—excuse me—hurts like a bitch.

In the final episode of the first season, Dale Cooper lies in a pool of his own blood. That Last Evening, we call it in whispers. Did you know that it is six—yes, six characters that are in the hospital—this tally now done a dozen times in some frantic scribbles across a forgotten page: there is the pretty Shelly Johnson, with smoke tangled in her lungs and in her hair; there is Pete Martell, who tried to save her; there is Nadine Hurley, with pills half-choked upon and a pretty pink dress that falls to her knees; there is Dr. Jacoby, who has been pummelled half to death after seeing the ghost of Laura Palmer; there is Jacques Renault, who has made Laura Palmer a ghost in some sense of it, though he is not her killer, no, not yet; and there is Leo Johnson, who has held his wife at gunpoint, who had held the now dead Laura at gunpoint, and who deserves far worse than he gets. 

Agent Cooper receives a phone call. It is 4:37am, Diane. He receives a phone call and wonders if it can wait until morning; he hears a knock. Excuse me, he says, I’ve got room service. The voice on the line tunnels to the sound of Deputy Andy, telling Cooper, now three, four, seven feet away from the telephone and unable to hear the tinny voice, that Leo Johnson has been shot. Instead, Agent Cooper tends to the knock. Instead, Agent Cooper opens the door. Instead, Agent Cooper is faced with a muzzle pointed directly at his stomach, into which three precise bullets fire and his body drops, dully, to the ground. 

Blackness, Diane. Ever-pressing.

You may wonder, in post nostalgic fever, how it may have felt to watch Agent Cooper die on screen. No, not die, Diane, but what is a man to think when faced with that? Agent Cooper has been shot in the tenderest part of the body—in the stomach—and has not made a noise in response. Do you think how odd it is that he does not scream? I would not have screamed, either. He takes it as it is.

I have watched half a dozen friends and half a thousand fans on the Internet witness Dale Cooper’s collapse, his fall. Each time they have cried out, fearing for him. I have always felt a sense of superiority, pretension, pity at them, as if they do not understand him as I do. Perhaps they don’t.

Diane, my recorder is on the table. I’m unable to reach it at this time. I can only hope that I inadvertently pressed the voice activation button.

I’m lying on the floor of my room. I’ve been shot.

There’s a great deal of pain and a fair amount of blood. Fortunately, I was wearing my bulletproof vest last night per Bureau regulations when working undercover. I remember folding the vest up trying to chase down a wood tick. If you can imagine the impact on your chest of three bowling balls dropped from the height of about nine feet, you might begin to approximate the sensation. All things considered, being shot is not as bad as I always thought it might be. As long as you can keep the fear from your mind. But I guess you can say that about almost anything in life. It’s not so bad as long as you can keep the fear from your mind.

Oh my … The ring is gone.

At a time like this, curiously, you begin to think of the things you regret or the things you might miss. I would like, in general, to treat people with much more care and respect. I would like to climb a tall hill—not too tall—sit in the cool grass—not too cool—and feel the sun on my face. I wished I could have cracked the Lindburg kidnapping case. I would very much like to make love to a beautiful woman who I had genuine affection for. And of course, it goes without saying that I would like to visit Tibet. I wish they could get their country back and the Dalai Lama could return. Oh, I would like that very much. All in all, a very interesting experience.

Ah, they’re here.

Doesn’t it feel nice to be saved, however briefly?

Laura Palmer sits in a room of red and black. She is young again, young still. “Hello, Agent Cooper,” she says, backward. “I’ll see you again in 25 years.”

This is about Laura Palmer, but it is also not about her at all. It is about Dale Cooper. Where is Dale Cooper?

Diane, isn’t it nice, for once, not to know exactly how it ends?