Agent Dale Cooper as the Magician: One Chants Out Between Two Worlds

Welcome to the second in an ongoing series of entries relating to the trumps of the Tarot deck and how characters and situations in fiction relate to those trumps. My first entry about Agent Dana Scully as the Fool, or Zero Card, was a pretty big hit, and I got lots of requests to continue through the trumps, so I figured why not? It might not be easy, but it could at least be fun. So here we are.

This week we’re looking at the first “real” trump, the Magician. Given the magician’s role and his esoteric function, my thoughts immediately went to Obi‑wan Kenobi, specifically in A New Hope. I think you’ll understand why he felt like a natural fit as you read about the Magician, but I decided he was a little too obvious. I’d also like to try to stay with protagonists rather than supporting characters as much as possible, so today we’re talking about everybody’s favorite coffee-swilling, pie-eating FBI agent, Dale Cooper of Twin Peaks.

That’s right, another FBI agent, but it’s just a coincidence, I promise. I’ve never really associated Cooper with Mulder and Scully or Twin Peaks and the X-Files, though I guess the comparisons are obvious. I just felt like the two had more differences than things in common; X-Files was sci-fi, while Twin Peaks was fantasy. Anyway, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Twin Peaks or Agent Dale Cooper, the series started with the murder of All American girl Laura Palmer, and Agent Cooper was sent to investigate. If you’ve seen the prequel Fire Walk With Me, you’ll know who perpetrated the killing and that it was part of a series of ritualistic murders, but we didn’t know that going into the show. Nobody knew who killed Laura Palmer, and that was one of the big points of the whole thing, the focus of advertising for the show.

In typical David Lynch fashion, the show started messing with your mind pretty much right off the bat. There was the infamous log lady who talked to her log (and that log might have contained the spirit of her husband – it makes sense in the context of the show), the one‑armed man who spoke of strange worlds, and of course the backwards-speaking little man, the Man From Another Place.

I didn’t get to watch it when I originally aired, so I can’t imagine what an experience it was for somebody watching it as it aired, given how it was completely unlike anything on television at the time. I was lucky enough to catch the show in the late 90s with a friend who had a complete cassette collection of the show. We did a marathon in one weekend of at least the parts of the story that counted. We left some episodes out because the show kind of lost its focus after they figured out who killed Laura Palmer. They really only started getting serious toward the end of the second season with the threat of cancellation looming, connecting Palmer’s murder to a lot of other weird metaphysical events that influence my writing to this day.

But hey, all that aside, we’re here to talk about Agent Dale Cooper, hands-down my favorite character of the show. Cooper was the perfect combination of Mulder and Scully, before either of those existed. He combined Scully’s analytic side with Mulder’s willingness to expand his mind and accept “extreme possibilities”, as Mulder used to put it.  One of my favorite scenes is one in which Cooper has the sheriff and deputy set up bottles for him, and he throws rock at the bottles to make determinations on the disposition of the case. These determinations were based on whether he hit the bottles and where the stones ended up. It’s a wonderful bit of quirkiness that introduces you to the character and shows us a little bit of how he combines the two approaches.

It’s great that when he finds himself wrapped up in a world that he doesn’t understand, he just goes with it; you don’t see him freaking out. He just incorporates those strange events into his theories as part of finding the bigger picture rather than saying something is just not possible. I really like that. He doesn’t limit himself with dogma, which makes him the perfect candidate for the Magician. There are other reasons, too, which we’ll explore, but it’s that approach, a willingness to accept anything in pursuit of the truth, that really makes him, in my mind anyway, the definition of the Magician.

So what, exactly, is the esoteric definition of the Magician, anyway? In some ways, the Magician is a helper character. In other respects, he is what the Fool seeks to become, and from yet another angle he is the character who shows the Fool the Path to the adventure itself (and I’ll explain why I see Cooper here in a bit). The Magician represents the connection between Heaven and Earth (or rather, spirit and flesh, a mastery of both the Apollonian and Dionysian), a simultaneous existence in both places; “as above, so below”. You can see this in the card, where he points to the heavens and the Earth at the same time. He also represents mastery over the elements, as you can see the major arcana of the deck laying on the table and in his hand: the wand, the cup, the sword, and the pentacle.

I think you see where I’m going here. He never appears in the guise of the Fool – upfront there is more to him, as we first see him monologuing with his ever-present cassette recorder about  the beauty of nature and Twin Peaks itself, as well as his happiness to be there, rather complaining about being sent to the ass-end of nowhere for a case. As time goes on and he discovers there are more supernatural elements to the case, he passes through the trials through which a magician must pass through in order to become master of two worlds.

Spoiler alert. We never really see Agent Cooper ascend to mastery, an unfortunate victim of cancellation, but he was clearly on the path to becoming the master of two worlds, both ours, and the world of the Black Lodge, something of a gateway between our world and a third, as-yet-unseen world. We may not see it, but all the elements are there, and David Lynch is well aware of esoterica, as he’s shown in several discussions on his work.

How do we know he must ultimately ascend? Because he fails in facing his dark side. The show ended with one hell of a cliffhanger, his body possessed by Laura Palmer’s killer while he was trapped in the Black Lodge, a victim of his own failure to overcome the darkness within him. It’s fairly easy to extrapolate where the show would have gone from there if you look at the Tarot deck and the Hero’s Journey. In order to become a master magician, the apprentice must face his or her own demons in what is known as the Abyss, represented by the High Priestess, whose light helps the apprentice pass through.

Think Luke Skywalker in the cave; like Luke, Cooper faces his dark side and fails. The end of season two of Twin Peaks roughly corresponds to the point The Empire Strikes Back where Luke hangs upside down on that antenna on the bottom of the Cloud City.  From there, Cooper would likely have learned to turn back the darkness inside of him, return, and reclaim his body, at which point he’d be transformed and truly be a master of the two worlds.  I imagine we would have seen what lay beyond the Black Lodge, as well. Even without seeing the completion of the journey, it’s easy to say that Cooper will become accomplished in both worlds.

I’ve run incredibly long here, but I have one more point to make. Cooper can also easily represent the Obi‑Wan Kenobi side of the Magician, as he represents our own personal guide into the journey of this world. You might scoff at this, but this seems well within Lynch’s intentions to involve the viewer in his work.

Whether he’s forever stuck in the purgatory of the Black Lodge, Dale Cooper is one of my favorite characters.  He’s sharp, he’s weird, and he’s unintentionally funny. He made my first viewing a sheer delight, having no idea where his depths lie, despite claiming to be a simple man. Hmm, maybe I’m due for a rewatch.

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  1. I was one of those original viewers and I was thrilled with the show (and had a big crush on Cooper, LOL!) Right from the get-go we see the duality of his nature – a highly logical manner of speaking and addressing facts, and yet a willingness to embrace that which cannot be easily understood and a belief in visions and dreams. He was such a great character.

  2. Wow! never had the chance to get in on Twin Peaks; had no idea it was anything more than a slightly off-beat “procedural.” Thanks for your thoughts on this; the show is now on the “when i get a chance again, HELL yeah!” list.

  3. Number 1 TV series off all time! Great write up.

    If you missed it, DO IT NOW! NOOOWWWWW

  4. I was quite young when I watched it, all I remember is Cooper and that we girls all had a huge crush on him – and that we all had the creeps because of that show. You were not really supposed to watch it alone at around the age of 10 or so but my mum worked late nights so I did. She came home once to face me in the dark with a heavy encyclopaedia in my hand that I intended to use as a weapon against whoever was trying to attack me. I think that was the last time I watched it alone 🙂

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