It's been 27 years since, armed only with the wisdom of a psychic log and a fascination for the unknown, we took our first intrepid steps into the obscure Lynchian landscape of Twin Peaks. Now, having exposed ourselves to the unforeseen ordeals of noiseless drape runners, backwards-talking dwarfs and character's getting trapped in drawer knobs, we must rally ourselves once more as — to quote the show's resident mythical giant — "it's happening again."
Yes, not only will 2017 be remembered as the year of Trump, Brexit and Kim Kardashian's "Virgin Mary Candle," it'll also been remembered as the year that Bob was re-released upon us and our distrust of owls skyrocketed as Twin Peaks Season 3 premieres on 21 May — but is this a win for the feminist cause?
Well, bend those arms back and get ready to voice-memo Diane because this feminist log has got something to say.
Are Audrey, Donna, Shelly & The Fish In The Percolator Feminist Icons?
It's a little known secret that Twin Peaks' ability to cast a (questionably satanic) spell upon us isn't just the result of demonic sorcery. The crux of its hypnotic allure is due in large part to its wickedly wonderful women, also known as "the girls of Twin Peaks" if you were a mildly misogynistic journalist in the '90s.
But just how feminist is Twin Peaks? Can the likes of Audrey, Donna and Shelly be considered as feminist icons? Was the fish in the percolator just a metaphor for the unceasing, stinking brutality of a patriarchal system!?
Managing to celebrate the simple pleasures of good pie and coffee amidst a backdrop of female rape, murder and demonic possession, Twin Peaks' portrayal of women is complicated to say the least. Let's crack open the case and take a look at Twin Peaks' most glaring feminist problems, and some of their solutions.
Feminist Problem No. 1: Who Killed Sexy Dead Girl Laura Palmer?
Because nothing says sexy quite like a deceased young woman wrapped up in plastic and layers of mystery, Laura Palmer's murder is the Lynchian lynchpin which holds Twin Peaks together. From a feminist standpoint, this proves to be problematic due to it adhering to the "dead girl trope," in which the central theme of a movie or TV show is the often raped, mutilated body of a dead girl.
The dead girl trope can be seen in the likes of Stranger on the Lake, True Detective, Pretty Little Liars and Veronica Mars. And the reason this trope is particularly precarious is that it romanticizes and normalizes violence against women because — spoilers — murder and rape aren't usually considered as being tragically dreamy events in a young woman's life.
Luckily however, Coop and the all-male (sans Lucy) Sheriff's Department are there to help solve the riddle of this helpless female's demise. Hmmmm.
Feminist Problem No. 2: 'Twin Peaks' Is Populated By Un-Hinged Women
If you actually had to live in Twin Peaks you could be forgiven for wondering whether the women of the rather insular community actually descended from Lyssa, the goddess of mad rage, frenzy and rabies. Boasting a rather impressive selection of eccentric, unhinged women, it can be argued that Twin Peaks does not exactly do much for promoting well-rounded, grounded female characters and therefore, does not do much for promoting the feminist cause. Case in point:
- Sara "The-Scream" Palmer
- Nadine "Noiseless-Drape-Runners" Hurly
- Lucy "Comic-Relief" Moran
- Josie "Helpless-Without-A-Man" Packard
- The Log "Needs-No-Additional-Disclaimer" Lady
Feminist Problem No.3: Bob As A Metaphor For Child Abuse
However, the most disturbing anti-feminist sentiment latent within Twin Peaks' demonic DNA is the elaborate metaphor that Bob is actually symbolic of child abuse and that his possession of men who abuse children (i.e. Leland) means that they are no longer culpable for their actions. This allows the abuser to be seen as much as a victim as the abused, as is the case with Leland who moments before his death proclaims:
"Oh God! Laura! I killed her. Oh my God, I killed my daughter. I didn’t know. Forgive me. Oh God. I was just a boy. I saw him in my dream. He said he wanted to play. He opened me and I invited him and he came inside me."
If Bob truly is a symbol for inculpable child abuse, Laura's actions to self-medicate her trauma through drugs, sex and wild reckless behavior should not be equated to Leland's struggle to fight the "demon within." Any grey area concerning whether Leland or Laura is the victim in this circumstance would be irreconcilably immoral.
Having laid out the most glaring feminist issues within Twin Peaks, it's now time to put the surprisingly attractive saddle shoe on the other foot and look at how it could actually be considered a beacon of feminist television.
There's Two Gender-Neutral Sides To Every Coconut
In Twin Peaks, everything and everyone has two sides. From Laura Palmer's very clear physical doppelgänger Maddy, to Doctor Jacoby's dual-tinted glasses, the Double-R-Diner and the White and Black Lodges, Twin Peaks is all about doubles. To quote Donna:
"It's like I'm having the most beautiful dream and the most terrible nightmare all at once."
This sense of duality also plays out amongst the characters as a whole. Whereas the deluge of unhinged female characters in the show has often been argued as being distinctly anti-feminist, this is not entirely true as they are weighed out by an equally unhinged set of male counterparts such as:
- Leland "Bob" Palmer
- Ben "Civil War General" Horne
- Pete "Fish in the Percolator" Martell
- Andy "Completely Useless" Brennan
- Lawrence "Coconut" Jacoby
In light of this, Twin Peaks is not just populated by unbalanced female characters, it's populated by an entire community of unbalanced people, completely regardless of gender.
The Women Of 'Twin Peaks' Aren't Tragic Victims, They're Feisty Fighters
What's more, while the secondary characters who live in the quirky village amongst the pines are equally balanced in terms of gender and lunacy, from the impressive selection of primary characters, it's clear that it is the women that are truly running the show. And not just any women, strong women who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty and — as Audrey so eloquently puts it — "get what they want."
While choosing Laura Palmer's dead body as the starting point for the show doesn't do much to prevent the equation of mutilated female corpses and tragically romantic plot devices, it does open up a discussion about women being the victim of, and trying to survive in, a brutally patriarchal world. Bear with me.
Shelly & Norma Are No Strangers To Violence & Vengeance
Shelly, Audrey, Donna, Norma and Laura/Maddie — all of Twin Peaks' leading women are definable by their incredible displays of strength, intelligence and unwavering desire to navigate themselves through a host of largely male-imposed problems.
When Shelly isn't busy lying and cheating on her horribly abusive partner Leo with Bobby, she's off buying a gun which she ends up using against Leo while balancing a job at Norma's Double-R-Diner. While Norma isn't busy running her own diner, she's busy cutting off contact with her persistent, violent ex-husband-turned-convict, Hank, while conducting a secret affair with her true childhood sweetheart Ed.
Both Shelly and Norma refuse to be victims at the hands of their abominable ex-lovers and they both refuse to let them stand in the way of them getting what their hearts truly desire (even if Bobby is a totally bizarre match for Shelly.)
Audrey & Donna: Two Sides Of The Same Sexually Empowered Coin
Audrey Horne is often described as Twin Peaks' resident femme fatale. While she undeniably casts a hypnotic spell over all those who are attracted to the female kind, she is always in control of exactly how she utilizes her sexuality and for what ends. Infamously at odds with her morally corrupt father, Ben, Audrey has spent her entire life fighting against the idea of being an obedient "daddy's girl," and as such values her independence above all else — often at the cost of those who fall for her.
Donna is the counterbalance to Audrey (quite literally as the familial plot twist in Season 2 reveals). The quintessential daddy's girl, Donna becomes increasingly confident in her sexuality as the series progresses but unlike Audrey, she does not use it as a tool to manipulate the world around her. Having said that though, she does try it out briefly in Episode 9 of Season 1 to cringetastic effect (see above clip.)
How Donna Came To Embody The Feminist Values Of 'Twin Peaks'
Instead, the instrument that Donna relies on to help navigate herself through the patriarchal pitfalls of Twin Peaks is her winning combination of bravery, discretion and intelligence. While Coop and the Sheriff's Department are busy trying to solve Laura's murder through decoding dreams and throwing rocks at glass bottles, Donna is literally trawling through dirt and breaking into houses to work out what happened to her closest friend.
Consequently, Donna is the unsung hero of Twin Peaks. She comes to embody the strength, courage and self-determination that ultimately defines the leading women of the show. As an ensemble, the women of Twin Peaks encourage the viewer to observe the series as a surreal murder mystery and a positively feminist piece of television, all at once.
That's all for now, Diane, I'll be in touch when that gum I like comes back in style.