Twin Peaks: The Joy and Terror of Family


Read Dossier #1: Twin Peaks: Speculations Written In The Stars
Read Dossier #2: Twin Peaks: Keep Your Eye On The Doughnut
Read Dossier #3: Twin Peaks: It’s Happening Again – Time, and Time Again, Part 1
Read Dossier #3.5: Twin Peaks: It’s Happening Again – Electric Time, Part II

“Dearest Father,

kafka-internaYou asked me recently why I maintain that I am afraid of you. As usual, I was unable to think of any answer to your question, partly for the very reason that I am afraid of you, and partly because an explanation of the grounds for this fear would mean going into far more details than I could even approximately keep in mind while talking. And if I now try to give you an answer in writing, it will still be very incomplete, because, even in writing, this fear and its consequences hamper me in relation to you and because the magnitude of the subject goes far beyond the scope of my memory and power of reasoning. […]”

-Excerpt from Franz Kafka’s Brief an den Vater

“When I got home from World War II, my Uncle Dan clapped me on the back, and he said, ‘You’re a man now.’ So I killed him. Not really, but I certainly felt like doing it.” – Kurt Vonnegut on his Uncle Dan

14633712_1154360447987014_1422768517919987850_o“And now I want to tell you about my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is. So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” – Kurt Vonnegut on his Uncle Alex

No, not that Darkness!

Ah, families. Families are like assholes and opinions: Everyone has one. They say you can’t choose your family, but I would like to disagree. A family doesn’t have to be biological. Your family might be your coworkers or friends from your youth that you never lost touch with or a secret society formed to fight the Darkness surrounding your small town in Washington (especially doesn’t hurt if the coffee is free).

Years ago when I was in graduate school in a small town in Ohio, I met Dieter Sperl, an author from Austria who became a member of my non-biological family during those years. Dieter would always offer up wisdom over alcohol. Things like he never cut his hair because it was where we kept our spirit and through our hair we were able to have a spiritual connection to all things (Author’s Note: Maybe Hawk could expound upon this). It was also his secret to never having a hangover. Unfortunately for me, a non-spiritual person who has been balding since the age of 18, I was doomed to a life of hangovers. Dieter also told me an old Chinese story about why we wear wedding rings on our ring finger (or the Spiritual Finger as Gordon Cole aptly put it).

The way Dieter explained the story goes like this:

  • Thumb, your first finger, represents your parents
  • The pointer finger, the second finger, represents your brothers and sisters
  • The middle finger, the third finger and most fun to show people, is you
  • The ring finger, the Spiritual Finger and fourth finger, is your partner, the person you choose because of love
  • And the pinky, the fifth and last finger on most normal hands (sorry, Count Rugen), represents your children

Dieter then had me take my hands press them together with the second knuckles of your middle fingers touching. Really press them together, like you’re trying to smash them into being one hand. Then I was instructed to lift the palms so that my fingers were still smashed into each other but the palms were no longer touching. What ends up happening is that you can separate all the fingers except for the ring finger, your Spiritual Finger. To the Chinese, this symbolized that your parents can leave you, your brothers and sisters can leave you, and your children can leave you. But, the bond of love and respect you have for someone, the one forged through a deeper connection than just biology, can’t be broken.

And you can see this in Twin Peaks. OK, the marriage part might not be a great or even slightly good example for Twin Peaks. But, there are clear familial bonds between characters of no blood relation that are much stronger than those of the traditional familial units (fathers, mothers, sons, & daughters) in the show.

Fathers play an important role in Twin Peaks. At times, they practically drive the story forward. We have biological fathers such as Major Briggs and Leland Palmer, who both show their fatherly love in very, very different ways to their children and both were touched differently by the Lodges—Hate will open up the Black Lodge and Love will get you into the White Lodge. And I don’t need to tell you how those children turned out… OK, fine: one is dead and their soul is trapped in the Black Lodge and the other works for the Sheriff’s department.

Twin-Peaks-Covers-1_1200_1599_81_sWe also have the Father Figure and this, too, plays an important role for many of the characters. On the Twin Peaks side of things,  most notably we have Big Ed and James Hurley. James father left and his mother was alcoholic and we notice throughout the original run that Big Ed steps in as the Father Figure for James. For the characters outside of Twin Peaks, we have Gordon Cole who plays a father-like figure to his Special Agents complete with hearing aids because fathers never truly hear what you have to say or at least only responds to what he wants to hear from his “children.” We see this throughout the series. In the original run, we see Cole show up to offer support and guidance to Agent Cooper and we really see this in The Return.

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Gordon Cole embodies the positive aspects of a Father Figure. When talking to Denise, he reminds her of his unwavering support for her and her decisions to become a woman. He notes that she was a “confused and wild thing” back then, much like an unruly child, such as Bobby Briggs, who was at one point a confused and wild thing. And when doubt and judgment was laid against Denise for her choices, Cole had to remind her colleagues, “those clown comics, to fix their hearts or die.” Then there is also Albert, who he sometimes really worries about but who he also smiles upon lovingly as Albert has dinner with girl, appearing to be enjoying himself, adding at the end “It’s sweet.”

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Then there is Dale Cooper and Sonny Jim. Dale isn’t Sonny Jim’s father but even in his fugue state, Dale fulfills the role of loving father. Sure, he might not be the best dad to play catch with, but Dale is doing a pretty good job as a father in his Dougie state of being than a lot of other fathers in the show.

B5Aj0dJCAAAoYqBAs much as family can be a positive force through love, it can also be a destructive force. Take for example, the show The Missing. Like Twin PeaksThe Missing is about families. But not just any type of family. The show focuses on families which, on the surface, seem wholesome and damn near perfect. Then it pulls the covers off.  In the first season of the show, Tony Hughes, the father of the missing boy, has never gave up hope that his son would be found and, by having dedicated himself to this belief to the point of frantic obsession, his marriage and financial standing have been destroyed. Emily Hughes, Tony’s wife/ex-wife, doesn’t share this belief and, in an attempt to move on, fills the hole left by her broken marriage with Tony and missing son with a relationship with a man who has a small boy.

The show bounces non-linear between past and present. The mystery isn’t only about a missing boy but also about how the characters got to where they are. The first scenes of the past are the first impression scenes. These scenes (a loving family on vacation through France, the weather and scenery as idyll as the family) are meant to lead the observer to believe that the family is a tight-knit group. It is in the present, always gloomy and gray, that we see the family not as the strong unit we were originally lead to believe it was but rather a hot mess exacerbated by the disappearance of their child. By trying to unravel the mystery of the missing child, the family’s tight-knit bound is also unraveled.

palmer familyThings are a bit different in Twin Peaks. Unlike the Hughes, pulling back the covers on the Palmer family not only revels they aren’t the ideal family but very, very, very, very messed up people. The dead prom queen was a drug addict and prostitute. The loving father was drugging his wife so he could rape his daughter (granted, this was BOB doing that but it was all Leland who went out whoring and almost had a foursome with his daughter). Definitely not Father Of The Year material.

Twenty-five years later, things aren’t looking so good for the Palmers. Leland is still dead and his soul in a state of torment over what he did/was made to do while he was alive and Sarah is an alcoholic who spends her time watching animals each other on TV… and is a bit psychotic. Though, maybe like Emily Hughes, Sarah Palmer is cooping through alcoholism and routine. When she is shopping, we see her reaching for vodka bottles. She pulls out three and is going for the fourth when she grabs nothing but air. She seems saddened by this and a bit surprised. Her routine and what is normal for her has been disrupted. And this is made worse when she gets to the counter and someone has put up a bunch of Turkey Jerky.

benAlso not up for Father Of The Year is Ben Horne. Ben is a business man. And, if you ever had to deal with one, you know they think everything can be fixed through the Almighty Dollar. The one time we see that he won’t attempt to fix something through money is when he is talking to his wife on the phone after Richard has robbed her. Ben refuses to reimburse her for what was taken by his grandson. This is probably because he knows his marriage can’t be fixed, period. But this is the approach Ben takes when handling Richard. The Good Ol’ Toss Money At It Until It Goes Away approach. When talking to Sheriff Truman (who we are told by the Log Lady is a True Man along with his brother and are also brothers to Hawk), Ben states that Richard didn’t know his father. Instead of stepping up and becoming a father-like figure in Richard’s life, Ben tries to make his ill deeds go away through money and “charitable acts.” But this likely has something to do with how Ben remembers his own father. When talking about his father, he retells the story of how his father got him a bike. Not a nice bike and not a new bike. Ben makes a point to point out it was a secondhand Schwinn, one that his father had to fix up.  He states over and over, he really, really loved that bike. “I love that bike that my father got for me.” Not once did he mention the love he might or might not have towards his own father but rather the love of a material possession that was given to him. It just so happens that it was given to him by his father.

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As an end note, I would like to leave an item for speculation and see what you think:

Is Richard the son from a child that Ben might have had with another woman? In conversation, he and everyone makes it a point to state it is his grandson.

Anyway, I hoped you enjoyed this. If you would like to read more of my articles on Twin Peaks, please see below:

Read Dossier #1: Twin Peaks: Speculations Written In The Stars
Read Dossier #2: Twin Peaks: Keep Your Eye On The Doughnut
Read Dossier #3: Twin Peaks: It’s Happening Again – Time, and Time Again, Part 1
Read Dossier #3.5: Twin Peaks: It’s Happening Again – Electric Time, Part II

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @drkdoonesbury and Facebook.

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