Dear Special Agent Dale Cooper,
I suppose you’ll never read this, stuck as you are in an alternate dimension or an alternate time or both. But I wanted you to know: You were my first and greatest TV-character love. From the minute I saw you rolling into Twin Peaks, Washington, Dictaphone in hand, recording those per diem laundry lists and punctuating them with rhapsodically digressive treatises on pie and value-for-money and trees, you were irreplaceable and you were my dream date and you were perfect.
You were smart, but it wasn’t just that. You were ridiculously cute, but it wasn’t just that. You ruined things for any guy I ever dated who didn’t have your combination of innocence and savvy, passion and placidity, or your completely epic chin—and, let’s face it, no one could touch you on the mandibular front. But it wasn’t just that. You were clever and funny and heartstring-pulling-ly sincere, and you were the thing I probably cared about most: deeply honest. Part of it was that. But not just that.
Agent Cooper, you may have been a fictional character, but you were the real deal. You exuded a kind of happiness that can only be felt by people who intimately understand grief. You were a pragmatist to the nth, and your pragmatism included embracing the mystical. You were loyal to the core, but (and maybe because) you knew what it felt like to betray someone, and you knew what it felt like when the betrayed party went off the rails and, for example, murdered the woman you loved. You were a romantic, and a dreamer, and a big thinker, but you didn’t have your head in the clouds and you always showed up on time. And when you showed up, all of you showed up.
You were a chivalric hero, as I suppose we were supposed to glean from the spatter of Arthurian name references in the show; the entrance to the Black Lodge in the round-table of sycamores at Glastonbury Grove, Dougie Jones’ red-doored house on Lancelot Court, the “Excalibur” sign that catches Dougie’s eye as he drives through Vegas with the Mitchum brothers, the endless repetition of white horse imagery and half the lines uttered by Major Garland Briggs before his untimely and lamented disappearance. You were Lancelot, and your ex-partner’s wife was your Guinevere. You were on a Grail quest and the Grail was Laura Palmer. The Grail was your own identity. The Grail was love, it was peace, it was goodness, it was “keeping the fear from the mind.” It was balance, and acceptance, and most people on that quest give up but you never did. You never stopped being curious, or courteous. You could find eternity in a donut or a Douglas fir. You had a devastating sort of purity, Cooper, and we loved you, we loved every minute you were onscreen.
I wanted to marry someone like you. I was eighteen when Laura Palmer’s body washed up by the sawmill, so I still thought everything was possible, even meeting someone like you. There are no people I like you, I’ve concluded. Not in this dimension. You believed your own dreams were divinatory and because you believed it, they were. You had tremendous empathy, and not just with the Tibetans and the exiled Dalai Lama but everyone. You were a federal government employee with the soul of a poet and I’m not the only person who found it compelling. All the dualities Twin Peaks toyed with and explored were concentrated in you; good and evil, sure; but also innocence and waywardness, quirkiness and banality, loyalty and deception, love and violence. You were their embodiment, and if I might, that embodiment looked pretty good in a suit.
A couple of months ago, I asked the actor who played you whether filming The Return was… sad. I told a few friends I was going to interview a longtime favorite actor and everyone wanted to know what I was going to ask him. I wasn’t sure if it’d be a, well, not to put too fine a point on it, but sort of a fish in the percolator if I asked what I really wanted to know. I was thinking about mortality, and the hard work of keeping so many people alive, which David Lynch did with such aplomb, but the diminishment, Cooper, I mean Margaret with her oxygen tank and tearful, plaintive voice; Albert Rosenfield clearly too tired to shout insults at anyone. Lynch kept Phillip Jeffries alive, even if he had to turn David Bowie to steam and flashbacks; he kept Major Briggs alive even as a cadaver; he kept Harry S. Truman alive in absentia. Even Killer BOB, who of course is deathless even if Frank Silva was not—but you get the picture. It killed me to watch it. When Laura whispered in your ear in that dream, “I’ll see you again in 25 years,” it never occurred to me that it would be literal, and maybe it didn’t occur to you, either. But being you again, after all that time, would have felt—I don’t know, if not sad, kind of disconcertingly valedictory, even though he’s not much older than I am. I mean, 25 years is a quarter of a lifetime if you’re really lucky. So I wondered. If it’d been both.
You probably know this: That guy who plays you is pretty relentlessly positive. No, he said, it wasn’t sad. It was a thrill to be able to go back. He felt fortunate. And reminded that every day was a gift. And he freaking meant it and God I wish I were more like that guy. No doubt it was a thrill—and a gift, just as it was a gift to all those people who loved you guys in the first place. It’s not that I didn’t believe him, but I had a hard time imagining there wasn’t also a kind of pain, do you know what I mean? I think you do, or would. Just… just, you know, time is such a fucking bully, pardon my French, Coop, your lexicon was always as impeccable as your ultra-pomaded hair, but The Return reminded me that I’m angry. At it. At time. It just takes so much more than it gives. I’ll confess: The minute they played that teaser—you know the one, where the tarp’s pulled off the “Welcome to Twin Peaks” sign as the Badalamenti theme plays at half-speed—well, I crumpled. I mean I sat there and bawled. It was not a reaction I was expecting, but it was instantaneous. Maybe in the Black Lodge there isn’t really time, as we know it here, in which case you might have a profoundly expanded sense of it or detachment from it or at least you’re too busy trying to survive being stuck in a way-station made of red velvet and pure malice to have the luxury of thoughts like, “Holy crap, my life is speeding past me while I sit here and it’ll be over way before I’m ready and I haven’t done half the things I meant to and I’m wasting so much time but I don’t know how to be different.” Or maybe that thought is one of the basic building blocks of the Lodge. I don’t know. I know I was afraid of seeing you again, you and all those other characters. I was afraid of seeing what thirty years had done to everyone and knowing that meant it had happened to me too.
If you’re wondering if it was as hard as I thought it was going to be—yeah, it kind of was. But worth it. (Not that this is about the superficial stuff, but everyone looked fantastic. What is Norma Jennings eating? Because I want some.) I expect we experienced something akin to what you did; a sudden return to a landscape both familiar and alien, where time was both paused and telescoping like it sometimes does in dreams. Dreams are more real than reality: I think that’s something I learned from you, Agent Cooper, because they are archetype-driven so they are universal, and also because the klutzy, grasping, ego-bound auteur director in the neocortex is forced to Take Five and let the limbic brain handle the mise-en-scène so all the self-consciousness that clouds our waking perceptions is consigned to a way-station of its own. Isn’t that what this was about, in a way? I know it wasn’t about saving Laura Palmer or even finding her murderer, because if it were, your story would have ended when the cops (and the Black Lodge Freaky-Deakies) came for her father. The fact that we all stayed and stared and laughed and cried and occasionally jumped out of our skins long after that, even through the largely insane second season and even jumped back into our armchairs for a third one that came almost three decades after you first rolled into Cherry Pie Valhalla? That is diagnostically conclusive. It was never, if also always, about Laura Palmer. She was symbolic. Her death was symbolic. Her absence was symbolic and your attempt to bring her back was symbolic. And symbols are powerful for the same reason Killer BOB was, is, powerful: They are eternal. And isn’t that what this was always really about?
So there you were, after 16 grueling episodes in which you were not you and we all got increasingly nervous that you weren’t coming back at all. I saw your face, I saw how after almost 30 years in a limbo of supernatural evil nothing can ever be simple anymore and unadulterated happiness isn’t really ever going to be yours again. If it ever was, but something about hindsight tends to make us believe it was. God, the way that canary-eating grin flashed for just that one minute in the Sheriff’s office before you saw something that faded it to a kind of—oh, bleak is too strong a word. A slightly hollowed-out resignation. I think what you saw wasn’t just that you had to go back. I think it was the realization that you hadn’t come back at all, not really, to the place you left. You were not exactly you, it was not exactly it. Doppelgängers. You know. It was such a heartbreaking look that Lynch left a ghost-image of it superimposed over the rest of the sequence. As if we’d missed it. As if it could be missed.
But in the end you were still you, and that was the point. All the Agent Coopers were, in the end, the same person.
I’m going to miss you forever, Agent Cooper, that’s all I was trying to say.
Read Paste’s episodic reviews of Twin Peaks: The Return here.
Amy Glynn is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who really likes that you can multi-task by reviewing television and glasses of Cabernet simultaneously. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.