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Lions Roar : May 2014
Fast-forward about twenty-four years, and you’ll find that Leland Palmer has, in fact, been reborn. It’s not necessarily the kind of karmic (or “dharmic”) rebirth that Special Agent Cooper was shooting for, but Leland and the entire Twin Peaks cast are again finding new life—and new fans—by way of a just-released Blu-ray set. The show was, of course, a true pop-culture phenomenon in the early nineties (despite a short run of clunker second- season episodes). The brainchild of writer-directors Mark Frost and David Lynch, it posed a now-famous question that seemed meant to remain unanswered—Who killed laura Palmer?—and then, bafflingly, went ahead and filled in the blank. A full viewing of the series makes clear a sad truth with which even its creators agree: without that question, the show, despite guidance from directors like Diane keaton, Uli Edel, and Lynch himself, became more or less direction-less. (Luckily, when Coop’s nemesis, Win- dom Earle, finally appeared in the last few episodes, he brought with him a renewed sense of the old Twin Peaks spirit. By then, though, most viewers had lost the thread and weren’t interested in looking for it anymore.) But throughout Twin Peaks’ run, there’s one constant: Dale Coo- per. Played with quirky confidence by previous Lynch co-conspir- ator kyle MacLachlan (Dune, Blue Velvet), Coop was young, hand- some, and—by all network-TV standards of the time—seriously weird. Though a bit of a goody-two-shoes, Cooper was somehow, enviably, cool—a thumbs-up, yet decidedly non-Fonzarelli, kind of cool. His contagious can-do-it demeanor was only enhanced by his stated work style, made from a mix of “Bureau guidelines, deductive technique, Tibetan method, instinct, and luck.” All this, of course, makes Coop eminently watchable. But he’s more than that. He’s more, even, than the “top-notch law- man” that Twin Peaks’ sheriff describes him as. Coop may even be a bodhisattva. Now it should be said that David Lynch is not a Buddhist, and there’s no word on co-creator Mark Frost’s spiritual leanings. But no matter. Neither Lynch nor Frost needed to be Buddhist to create Dale Cooper any more than Bob kane needed nocturnal crime-fighting experience to create Batman. Or, to put it another way, as Lynch wrote in his book catching the Big Fish, “The film- maker doesn’t have to be suffering to show suffering.” But it should also be said that, while Lynch is no Buddhist, he is a meditator. For some thirty-four years, he’s been a practi- tioner of TM, or Transcendental Meditation, which was taught by the famous/infamous Maharishi Mahesh yogi and thrust into the public’s collective consciousness by John Lennon, george Harrison, and Paul McCartney. (Ringo Starr tolerated his band- mates’ dabblings at the time but would have preferred that they’d stayed focused on music.) So it’s not a stretch to see, as one astute friend of mine has suggested, that Coop is Lynch. It’s all a matter of, as Bill Clinton put it, what your definition of “is” is. Like Lynch, Coop delights, wholeheartedly, in the odd. Like Lynch, he believes in the power of dreams and intuition. He marvels at the mysteries of the natural world, and he’s fascinated, lovingly, with human beings and what makes them tick. As such, Twin Peaks can be argued to be a meditation on life, death, good, evil, and identity as seen through Lynch and Cooper’s shared vision. Also like Lynch, Coop meditates, as is confirmed in episode No. 28. (He reports to his never-seen assistant, Diane, that he’s been meditating in lieu of sleep, which has not been coming easily what with all the goings-on in Twin Peaks.) So he shares with Lynch an active interest in how he can better perceive reality by first looking closely at his own mind. More important, though, Agent Cooper seems to be a fine dharma friend to his colleagues at the sheriff ’s department, whether any of them know it, or care, or not. Being unashamed of his intellectual and spiritual sides, it isn’t long before Cooper’s got the entire department not only tolerat- ing his ways but also playing happily along. In an early episode, he gathers them in the woods for an experiment. Employing a blackboard that he dragged into the great outdoors, he gives the TPSD crew a summary of his admiration for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as well as a quick Tibetan history lesson. Then, he asks them to indulge his beliefs about “deductive technique, Tibetan method, instinct, and luck” with a session of unortho- dox, dream-informed mind-storming meant to sort the wheat from the chaff in the mystery of Laura Palmer’s murder. Though initially skeptical, his colleagues warm to Coop’s unusual ways; they suspend all they know—or think they know— and instead trust and affirm their new partner in crime fighting. In a following scene, we even see Lucy Moran, the supposedly ditzy department receptionist, reading a massive hardcover book titled, simply, Tibet. Now, Dale Cooper never declares himself to be “a Buddhist,” but that too is of no matter. What matters is the way he connects with and inspires the people around him; the way he lives every moment as truly and deeply as he knows how. He lives in exactly this way even when his methods have clearly failed him. At one point in the series (I’m doing my best to exclude spoil- ers here!), Coop is, at least temporarily, stripped of his FBI badge and gun in response to what the Bureau sees as a cavalier and dangerous attitude. But the former special agent is nonplussed. While he feels that his dressing-down is the result of Washing- ton’s being shortsighted and closed-minded, he goes with the flow even as bureaucratic justice goes unserved. He’s come to love Twin Peaks—the people, the landmarks, the unanswered ques- tions that seem to reproduce like dandelions—and so he takes his ex-agent status as an opportunity, forgoing the g-man outfit that he wears so nattily for more region-appropriate duds. Cooper, it seems, is just as comfortable in a classic flannel shirt as he is in his old standard-issue black-jacket, white-shirt, black-necktie outfit. He even starts investigating local real estate offerings, thinking that he might just have found his home. Right where he is. And what is it that could fill the gap in his life now that his career, to which he has been so dedicated, might be going the way of Twin Peaks’s endangered pine weasel? Coop, unashamed and calmly excited as ever, states his new priority himself: “Seeing beyond fear, and looking at the world with love.” ♦ SHAMBHALA SUN MAy 2014 78