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Twin Peaks: Arbitrary Law

“That gum you like is going to come back in style.”

David Lynch and Mark Frost give us more than one answer in this episode, which finally clues Cooper into what the audience has known for a while, brings a villain to justice, and ruminates on the nature of truth, knowledge, and responsibility over coffee. Of course.

After the drawn-out format of the last few hours, it’s a relief to get an episode that is almost exclusively focused on the question of who killed Laura Palmer and what that means. Sure, the first 30 minutes touch on a few smallish plots: James and Donna get engaged and then seem to break up. Norma’s mom is difficult. Catherine, Ben, the Mill. Lucy struggles with her maybe-baby daddies, but that plot exists mostly to provide a really wet death-scene for Leland:

What really matters is Laura. It’s appropriate that Laura’s diary description of the dream she shared with Cooper brings this sixteen-episode arc to a close. Her version of Cooper’s dream is the key to everything. It's not just that they share the dream. It’s also that Laura wonders if the “old man” is Mike (that is, the being who can fight Bob). That old man is really Cooper: can he fight Bob? Is that the implication? Does he do that successfully here?

Doing so—fighting Bob, and trying to win—requires some patented David Lynch surreality. Lynch relies on his trademark flashing lights to indicate a reality shift in the Roadhouse scene. Cooper’s process of realization was shot in a fascinating way: whereas the previous episode showed Cooper and the Giant interacting while surrounded by people frozen in time, this episode showed each man in the Roadhouse in freeze-frame, lit by lightening.

Those shots of the same moment of realization are provoked by, “for a lack of a better word, ‘magic,’” as Cooper explains. It’s magic that brings Major Briggs (hooray!) and the world’s oldest bellboy to the Roadhouse. It’s magic that returns Cooper’s ring. It’s magic that makes Leland reveal Bob’s true nature with a simple aside about gum that helps Cooper remember what Laura whispered to him so many days before. (About 20, by my reckoning.)

Or is it?

Lynch and Frost leave the door a little bit open on that topic. In his deathbed confession, Leland describes meeting Bob: “I was just a boy. I saw him in my dream…He opened me, and I invited him, and he came inside me. When he was inside, I didn’t know. And when he was gone, I couldn’t remember.” This could easily be a description of child abuse, which would make Bob, Mike, and the Red Room nothing more than metaphors for otherwise inexplicable and unportrayable horror.

Harry Truman and Cooper discuss that possibility. Harry says, “This is way off the map. I’m having a hard time…believing.” Cooper responds, “Harry, is it easier to believe a man would rape and murder his own daughter? Any more comforting?” And no, it’s not. It’s almost easier to believe in a metaphorical and ultimately fictional evil being that possesses random people and has something to do with owls. (To recall my occasional discussions of the metaness of this show, the same way it’s easier to watch a show about horrible things than it is to consider their existence, or undergo them, in the real world.)

Albert wonders if “Maybe that’s all Bob is—the evil that men do.” Major Briggs seems to agree: “Does it matter what the cause?” Cooper says yes: because we have to stop evil. His job is to “see[k] simple answers to difficult questions” and, in doing so, win one for the good guys. Otherworldly-owl evil or garden-variety sexual abuse—it’s all one and the same to Special Agent Dale Cooper, who will use every method available to him (including Bureau guidelines, deductive technique, Tibetan method, instinct, and luck) in order to fight it. You can do it, Coop. You've got the power-walk to prove it:

Clues, Questions, and Answers

• Harry asked the million-dollar follow-up question: “If he was here, and he got away, where’s Bob now?” Where, indeed? That’s a question we’ll ponder for a while.

• Albert tells Cooper to “stand alone and do your dance.” He’s referring to Coop’s idiosyncratic investigative methods, but given the emphasis on dancing at the end of the episode, could this be some sort of weird foreshadowing?

• Andy repeated Harold’s repetition of Creepy Grandson’s “je suis un homme solitaire,” thus making things happen and revealing the Creepy Grandson isn’t real. In this reality, at least.

Four out of four stylish gums.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


  1. Great review Josie, as usual! I have to say that Ray Wise turned in a fantastic performance as Leland--looking at these episodes with "more experienced" eyes than I possessed in 1990-91, I am really impressed with Wise's acting. It's pretty sad that he wasn't even nominated for an Emmy. The man sang, danced, and acted his heart out--I guess being a serial killer was too much for the Emmy's back then. On the other hand, in 1991 Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for portraying Hannibal Lecter in "Silence of the Lambs." Go figure...

    As Josie mentions, the diary starts the avalanche in this episode--primarily because is confirms the reality of Cooper's dream. As "new age" as Cooper often seems, it appears he wasn't 100% convinced that the dream was true in an objective sense. It might just have been a way for his subconscious mind to present his conscious mind with information. All along, he has been acting as if that information is valid--but now his subjective dream becomes objective because Laura documented the same dream...

    Unfortunately, Cooper doesn't remember what Laura whispered in his ear until he gets some prodding from the Giant (and his 'host' (?) the old waiter). Josie is correct that 'magic' is key here. However, why not get Albert over to Leland's house to search for clues before resorting to magic? I'm not sure how Leland/BOB could have cleaned up the murder scene completely, unless BOB has some magic for that. And, let's not forget that Leland is going on trial for murder already--surely a search of the house of the only known murderer in town can be arranged? Also, why not ask Sarah Palmer when she last saw Maddie?

    Josie: was it 20 days, or 25 years? Cooper is much older in the dream scene, and Laura refers to him as "old" in her diary. Again, time seems "out of kilter" in the spirit world...

    Another indication of the objective reality of the supernatural was the Major telling Cooper in an earlier episode that his 'project' picked up 'extraterrestrial' information: COOPER/COOPER/COOPER. So, I think we've been on the objective side of things for a while--meaning that the spirits and their reality is real. At this point the only way out of that would seem to be one of those "the whole thing was a dream" reveals, which are incredibly unsatisfying and I don't think F&L would sink that low...

    I understand Truman's shock--I am more surprised by Albert's sudden willingness to support Cooper's non-traditional methods. It seems way out of character for him, although perhaps he is so frustrated by the latest killing he is willing to support any approach. Still, he could be at Leland's house searching for clues...

    To be continued...

  2. One of the important aspects of Twin Peaks is that it asks (or forces) us to explore the nature of evil. Some people find the BOB 'excuse' for Leland's behavior lame, since he is somehow absolved of guilt via possession (other than "letting BOB in" when he was a child, which doesn't have the moral weight of an adult raping and murdering his daughter). What about the rapists and serial killers in the real world--are we to assume they are also possessed?

    Is BOB evil, or is he just following his 'nature'?--was he created to be evil, or as a manifestation of "the evil that men do", and not a being who could ever choose to be good? Is a man-eating tiger evil? I have to conclude that for an entity to be 'evil' it must be rational enough to understand the abstract nature of good and evil--and then choose to engage in evil acts. However, for those who believe in a rational/irrational bicameral mind (which could correspond to new/old brain structures), it may be possible for the rational mind to choose good, but be unable to control the impulses of the irrational mind. How do we assign good/evil in this situation? Perhaps Cooper is correct that debating the nature of BOB (or abstract concepts such as 'good' and 'evil') is irrelevant--what matters is that dangerous entities be stopped, be they spirit, man, or tiger...

    It certainly appears that BOB can exist without a host (in other spirit/demon literature/films, the spirit/demon would have to instantly jump to another host or die). It seems clear that BOB can go to the Red Room/Black Lodge while still possessing someone (to share garmonbozia for example), although it may not be possible for BOB to be ascendant in his host and in the Red Room/Bkack Lodge at the same time (unknown)...


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