CGI Dale Cooper

TWIN PEAKS and the Things That Cannot Be

Monday, May 29, 2017 Rob Samuelson

Former FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper’s (Kyle MacLachlan) first steps of freedom after a quarter century of imprisonment are timid. His limbs don’t work the way they used to and his grasp of language is limited to repeating the last word of sentences people tell him. He’s basically a well-behaved toddler as he ambles through a small-town casino in the third and fourth episodes of Showtime’s Twin Peaks revival series. The flashing lights, clanging sounds, and shouts of joy over having won a waterfall of quarters or having just missed winning a waterfall of quarters are overwhelming for Cooper, who has grown accustomed to quiet since the 1991 finale of the original Twin Peaks, when the good-natured lawman was trapped and replaced by an evil doppelganger. He does not know how to proceed in the casino until he sees something that cannot be, a red-and-yellow triangle engulfed in unnatural flames, which floats above slot machines. It beckons to him, so he shuffles over to the slot machine that sits beneath the flaming triangle. He pulls the lever and, mimicking another gambler who had won moments earlier, Cooper bellows an elongated “Helloooo!” as the machine registers that he, too, has won big. The coins cascade in a flurry of noise. The triangle moves to another slot machine and the cycle begins anew. Other casino patrons and staff quickly bestow the nickname Mr. Jackpots on Cooper because of his supernaturally aided winnings.

Photo credit: Showtime/IMDb
The triangle is like many things on Twin Peaks, both new and old. It’s invisible to people whose eyes are metaphorically closed, but to Cooper it’s a strange source of comfort, a lifeline to another dimension that has been his prison-home for decades. It’s not an entirely pleasant thing, but it’s something he recognizes as he returns to a world that has changed a great deal since he last stepped in it. The triangle tethers him to a world that is not ours, but it says something about our world that we cannot articulate for ourselves -- and we probably won’t like what it has to say about us or our environment. It is not something we can measure with tools. It probably lacks mass in the way we understand it. It’s ethereal, unknowable, perhaps untouchable, but it’s there. We all feel it whether we acknowledge its presence or not. Some may call it God, others the devil, and others still may refer to it as the unconscious intuition that drives us to act the way we do.

It looks really, really cheap on the screen and somehow that is okay. Every shot of CGI in the new Twin Peaks (and there are a lot of them) looks like it uses technology from 20 years ago. The flaming triangle looks two-dimensional and the colors look like a bunch of melted Crayolas. Much of the third episode focuses on Cooper escaping the dimension known as the Black Lodge, and his surroundings look like a screensaver of your grandparents’ PC. Stars and nebulas float around Cooper and his companion, an eyeless woman who seems very concerned for his wellbeing. There is a hazy gray film that hangs over their bodies, which makes them look like exactly what they are: actors on a green screen soundstage. Light sources illuminate their bodies from impossible angles -- there are no suns in their vicinity. They don’t look like they exist in the world they find themselves in, but all 18 hours of this new Twin Peaks are directed by series co-creator David Lynch. Lynch doesn’t give a rat’s behind about how to make his worlds appear “real.” It is their very unreality that he wishes to point out.

That is why Twin Peaks’ visual restrictions in the CGI department enhance the story being told rather than distracting from it. We, as viewers, are meant to confront the falseness of the other dimension, just as the citizens of the town of Twin Peaks must. This Black Lodge dimension infests our minds, weakens us, and emboldens our worst tendencies. That’s why Twin Peaks residents like the original series’ Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) can go from a community leader to a vessel for rape and murder when he is possessed by the spirit named BOB -- this is such a strange show. But BOB is only a metaphor for the horrid things that lie beneath the surface of us all. He is something we create to avoid the dissonance that arrives when we realize we have bad thoughts floating around our heads. Obviously (and thankfully) we’re not all rapists and murderers, but we have our dark moments that we are ashamed of. We build myths like BOB, and floating triangles, and odd space houses, and talking trees to distract us from our darkness. Those myths are not especially convincing to us. That flimsiness makes these people and effects look wrong and impossible, and also much more terrifying. These false totems cannot be because they don’t exist. But the things they represent do. We’re afraid that the fakeness of these myths will quickly dissipate. Then we’ll only be left with ourselves, and the badness that’s buried inside.

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