Is It The Future Or Is It The Past? A Post-Mortem on Cooper’s Journey

Welcome back! I hope you had a good week. Mine could have been better, as physical issues put the kibosh on cooking out for Labor Day, but such is life.

Quick update on writing: I have finished the final versions of Chapters one and two in Came to Believe, and am now up to Chapter three, which is a whole new chapter and may take a little longer. But things are moving forward.

This week I want to talk about theTwin Peaks ending. Yes, THAT one. I won’t belabor the point, but I’ve talked about the show at length and it’s been a huge influence in not only my writing, but my overall thinking and worldview. Today I’m going to look back at one of my older posts, about Dale Cooper as the Magician, and see how close to the cut I was in some of my predictions and share some thoughts on the ending of season 3.

First, let’s look at my predictions for a season 3 Cooper:

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 (doppelgänger) 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…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.

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 would argue that, while I could not possibly have predicted the way that Season 3 would go (and am ultimately ambivalent about the stuff surrounding Cooper’s journey), I pretty much nailed this one, even down to the High Priestess in the form of Janey-E,  but didn’t count on the contours of the journey or where he would end up, probably due to my own naiveté about the journey to mastery.

First, to the prediction of Cooper turning back his own darkness, I hadn’t really thought through that leaving the lodge would entail an unearned redemption; that Cooper’s reliance on outside factors would initially be his undoing.

To summarize where we are up to the point of Cooper’s reawakening in Episode 16: Cooper enters the Black Lodge with “imperfect courage” and confronts his shadow self/doppelgänger, who is working in league with Bob. Terrified, Cooper flees, loses to this shadow self, and ends up trapped in the waiting room for 25 years while his evil side rampages in the real world.

Eventually the planets literally align and it’s time for Cooper to come out of the waiting room; to, in essence, wake up from the coma. But the problem is that Cooper has not earned this awakening, and his shadow self is not so eager to give up control now that it’s held it for so long. It sets up a trap, sidetracking him to the glass box in New York (and in the process opening the door to something far darker) before sling-shotting him to the location of Mr. C’s tulpa, Dougie Jones.

In the process Cooper’s most powerful weapon, his intellect, is stripped from him, and he ends up in some netherworld between coma and waking life, with his body ambulating and his consciousness aware of what’s going on, but the connection between the two severed. This, I would argue, is where Cooper attempts once again to cross “the abyss”.

Now where I failed in my previous thinking – and possibly where Cooper failed – is in the thinking that he would have to do this alone. Quite the opposite, in fact. I would argue that one of the lessons of the series (and one that Cooper himself repeats in the show’s endgame) is that we cannot do it alone; though he faces trials, he has the support of a supernatural guardian in MIKE, an older mentor in Bushnell Mullins, and the High Priestess herself, Janey-E, who acts as a combination advocate and protector during Cooper’s path to rediscovering himself.

By the time Cooper awakens, when he hears the echo of a name from another lifetime and shocks himself into awareness, he has “had his heart filled” by the people around him. So it’s difficult to call the path through the abyss of Dougie-Coop just Cooper’s own path.

So yes, Cooper awakens and is full of purpose. One would even say…mastery? Full of courage, he sets off at once for Twin Peaks to confront his shadow self. There’s just one problem: he never actually gets to confront that self. That task falls to another “fool”, Lucy, whose husband was chosen by the white lodge to set these events in motion. And the task of defeating Bob falls to another of the White Lodge’s chosen few, a young man named Freddie. Cooper simply ends up being a ringleader here, not the master of his own destiny.

I was myself a fool when I thought that Episode 17 would make the perfect ending for the series. It would not, because again Cooper has not completed the journey. I think that’s reflected in the fact that he seems to observe the last moments of that episode from a distance, acting within the scene but also watching himself in the form of an overlay on the screen. He has, essentially, been cast back into the abyss. I haven’t quite puzzled together why “the Fireman” chose these other agents – that could be an entry for another time I suspect – but Cooper soon takes it upon himself to try to change the past altogether, to erase Laura’s death and reset the timeline.

Well now, I’m not going to talk about Judy, in fact we’re not going to talk about Judy at all. I’m still chewing on the whole Judy storyline and why MIKE and Cooper undertook this mission. That’s a murky bit of storytelling that I’m not going to wander into right now. Regardless, Cooper fails in his mission to save Laura (I’m sensing a pattern here) and ends up crossing worlds once again to try to find Laura’s “soul’ and take her home to her mother. Not going to spoil the ending here, but I think in the end we finally see Cooper reintegrated with the darkness in his soul, for better or (arguably) worse. There is a quite a bit of Mr. C in his mannerisms here. Does he fail in this ultimate mission? Lynch and Frost leave that ambiguous, at best, and by the end there’s still the lingering question of how much of the story really occurred at all and how much was in this version of Cooper’s head.

Ultimately success or failure really doesn’t seem to matter; mastery lies in the journey itself, which is why Cooper seems to be doomed to wander forever, repeating events with slight variations, over and over again. That is where I myself failed to understand the nature of mastery back in 2011. There is no real end-point for true mastery. It’s an evolutionary process. You may reach a peak that looked massive to you from the starting line only to find another, larger peak in the distance. So Cooper moves from the more present, physical dangers of BOB to the more identity-driven danger of Mr. C and on to the metaphysical dangers represented by Judy and this new reality. These could be seen to represent the magician’s journey from the physical to the ethereal (BOB), crossing over into the astral (the lodge and Mr. C) and now on into the spiritual and the very nature of the universe itself.

So we literally leave Cooper on the path (a street). There are plenty of places for the story to go from here, but if this is where it ends, I’m satisfied with Cooper’s journey.

But that doesn’t get into the other stuff, where I feel Frost and Lynch failed, and failed badly. I’ll talk about that another time.

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  1. If it would have just been another episode, I would’ve been thrilled. But as an ending of the series, this left a lot to be desired, as in way too many unfinished loops. Unsatisfying!!

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