Friday, March 2, 2007

twin peaks part deux

“Special Agent Dale Cooper, Federal Bureau of Investigation”

Like many aspects of the show, Cooper’s character is both conventional and oppositional as a federal agent. He is an omnipotent figure who exudes confidence, intelligence, and yes, masculinity. But Cooper, arguably the show’s hero and savior is a very special agent indeed. His obsessive attention to detail, involving anything from the food he eats to the way he questions suspects to his dictation tapes to Diane, together with his robotic hand gestures and childlike enthusiasm portray him as more of a handsomely giddy nerd whose destiny in life has become solving Laura Palmer’s murder. This professional and competent geekiness defines Cooper as not only an outlander among Twin Peaks’ residents but also as a different sort of man.
His interactions with Sheriff Truman are bizarre for this reason; where Truman is all business and eager to begin the investigation, Cooper rambles on about cherry pie and Douglas Fir trees, casually adding an afterthought about the coroner’s report. Later on a stakeout, Truman suggests that perhaps they’ve been spotted; Cooper hesitates and then replies, “Hand me a doughnut.” These interactions do not serve to lessen Cooper’s merit or status as a federal agent but seem to simply redefine our expectations of what a detective will say or do. While not exactly feminized, Cooper becomes an enigmatic force who is able to successfully perform his job in a non-agressive, mystical fashion.
More striking than the interactions among locals however, are the ways in which Cooper’s gender and identity are portrayed. During the first season, Cooper is not often shown in any scenes involving physical violence nor is he sexualized in any way. Through his professional competence and attractive physical appearance it is suggested that he would easily succeed in both areas if given the chance, but nothing is ever really developed until the attempt on his life at the end of the season. As an American male character, Cooper is thus handicapped in the way that he is lacking in both physical and sexual abilities that would allow him to achieve that ultimate goal of macho male-dom. Using deductive techniques and dream analysis to provide insight into the murder case also seem to show Cooper as an atypical detective, an oppositional character. Together with Truman and the rest of the town, we see in Cooper the new and the unexpected. The point is not that Cooper is less of a male or an American because of what he lacks, but rather he is an alternative kind of hero whose individuality and difference seek to redefine tired norms of gender and identity.

“But it is Laura Palmer”

The initial focus of the show and someone we never see alive, Laura Palmer becomes an untouchable goddess whose life and death drive every aspect of Twin Peaks’ first season. In many ways, she too is a stereotype: homecoming queen, successful student, adored by the community. Her sudden death is a shock and an event, both inside the show and out in the way that it brings people together. What makes Laura an oppositional victim is the fact that she remains powerful after her death and creates a strong connection with the man who investigates her murder. The connection between Cooper and Laura is complex, but one that is dependent on the characters’ genders and identities as much as anything else. As Laura is a beautiful woman who is sexualized in ways that Cooper is not, their connection to one another suggests a subtle hint of sexual tension. This partnership is also more interesting with the notion that despite being dead, Laura knows things that Cooper does not, therefore giving her a slight upper hand and more power throughout the investigation into her murder. This in some ways violates traditional shows’ positions of detectives and their victims as Laura actually helps Cooper solve the case. The scenes that best exemplify the effect Laura has are shown during the initial autopsy scene, Cooper’s dream of the Black Lodge, and the follow up where Cooper returns to the morgue.
Before Cooper is familiar with Twin Peaks or Laura’s murder, his actions are purely professional and analytical. Until he actually sees Laura’s body during his investigation at the morgue he refers to her only as “the dead girl.” She’s not just a dead girl though, and the flashing of the florescent light above her body seems to announce it: Laura heralds this connection before anyone else is aware of it.
A few episodes later, the flashing light motif returns as Cooper dreams of Laura together in a red room with a little dancing man. The situation is filled with an uncomfortable tension and is bizarre; Cooper is a wrinkled old man and the other two speak in a strangely scrambled language. The fact that Cooper dreams about Laura may not be especially significant but the fact that they both recognize each other in this odd place is. After the dancing man leaves Cooper and Laura alone, Laura seductively approaches. As Laura kisses him, the giddy excitement on his face afterwards is unmistakable. Laura whispers at length in his ear after which Cooper wakes up and promptly calls Truman, telling him he knows who killed Laura. Snapping his fingers to the lingering jazz, he decidedly insists that the information can wait until morning, hinting at a strong desire to go back to bed.....(!)
Cooper’s sexual desire for Laura is one that is definitely up for interpretation but his consequent emotional connection to her after the dream is not. Like most everyone in the community, Cooper has come to realize just how important Laura was to Twin Peaks, and sees her now in a much more personal way. To contrast the original autopsy scene, the return to the morgue powerfully solidifies Cooper’s emotional change toward Laura. When his bureau colleague Albert Rosenfeld coldly refuses to release Laura’s body to her family for burial, Cooper first allows Truman to punch his lights out and then insists Albert cooperate with the family’s wishes. In the ruckus Albert lands on Laura’s body, flinging her arm down limply by her side. After Cooper is alone with Laura, he stares at the dead arm, picks it up, and gently replaces it on her chest. He remains there for a moment before the scene cuts to a television screen broadcasting a soap opera. A deep male voice announces “Invitation to Love.”
Where Laura’s gender becomes significant is not only through her enticing sexual abilities but as her power as a mystic figure as well. There are not many characters in the series who are shown as equals to Cooper. What is ironic with the Cooper/Laura interaction is that such a connection is made between the living and the dead but also between a man and a woman. She may be dead, but she’s not subordinate and she’s not marginalized. Her identity as an American figure is somewhat troubling and in some ways exactly what the first season aims to examine. When it is eventually discovered that Laura was killed by Bob because she refused to let him control her, it is suggested that Laura died because of her strength, choosing death over subordination. This concept seems wonderfully applicable to both genders but that a teenage character was chosen to fulfill this sentiment is impressive. While the show uncovers a host of disturbing activities surrounding Laura’s murder, none are quite so distasteful as Bob’s obsession to posses Laura or the role abuse plays within her life and death.