Bless You, Mr. Jackpots: In defense of Twin Peaks' Dougie Jones
Note: As I write this two days have passed since the Twin Peaks finale, and for a while all things that I do and write shall fall within the shadow of those finale episodes. This piece will be spoiler heavy. Turn back now if you haven’t seen the new series of Twin Peaks yet and want to go in fresh.
It's hard to read the ending of Twin Peaks as a happy one, no matter your interpretation. Not impossible, of course – I’ve read many different takes – but it ends with Sheryl Lee’s iconic scream, and that’s never been a sign that something good is happening. Cooper is back, but only for an instant, before he’s whisked away by the mystery of Laura’s death yet again. He’s come to believe that he can go back, that he can undo the horrible wrongs done to him, done to Laura, done to Twin Peaks. There’s no consensus, really, on whether he succeeds or fails; on what the return of Mrs Chalfont means; on where Cooper is, when he is; on what was gained from remembering Richard and Linda, 3-2-0, two birds, one stone.
(‘Remember the sounds,’ by the way, was absolutely the noise of a one-armed bandit slot machine slowed down. Make of that what you will.)
But let’s put all that aside for a moment, because the Twin Peaks finale has one unambiguous happy ending in it. A golden seed fuses with a lock of hair in the Red Room, and Dougie Jones – the same Dougie who was pulled in during episode 3, the one who was “manufactured for a purpose” by Cooper’s Bob-fuelled tulpa – re-emerges. “Where am I?” he asks with recognisable enthusiasm. The camera pans across the zig-zagged floor of the Red Room, and it cuts to the familiar red door of Dougie’s home. We know what’s coming here – Dougie has returned, his own man again, but this time his seed has been fused with the good Cooper’s DNA. The affairs, the gambling, the shady insurance deals – they’re all behind him now. This is a Dougie manufactured for an entirely different purpose – to love Janey-E and Sonny Jim, and to brighten the world around him. Dougie hugs his wife and child on the threshold. “Home,” he says, unprompted. That’s a series wrap on Naomi Watts and young Pierce Gagnon, and before we have time to get comfortable, Lynch’s steady hand steers us back into the darkness of the woods.
For some fans the anger and disappointment never went away; for others, Dougie became one of the show's highlights.
Dougie Jones – or, more accurately, Cooper’s time spent living as Dougie Jones - has been a hugely divisive element of the new Twin Peaks. I think back fondly on how people reacted to episode four, how discussion focused on whether Cooper had ‘woken up’ when he sipped the coffee Janey-E handed him. How quickly would Cooper return, people asked? There was that shot in one of the trailers, after all, of a perfectly lucid Cooper driving at night. When would our favorite FBI agent break out his favorite catchphrases, flash his winning grin, flirt with a now more age-appropriate Audrey?
But then as the weeks went by, and Dougie’s brief moments that resembled clarity never led to a firm ‘a-ha!’ moment. As his coworkers led him around the office with coffee like a cartoon character being plucked from the ground and carried by the scent of a pie cooling on a window sill, and his recognition of various ‘lawman’ figures failed to unlock anything in him, there was a shift in the emotional discourse around the show. At first, the divide was between those who were happy to see where this Dougie thing was going, and those who were furious that Coop had effectively disappeared after episode 3 – we’re a third of the way through, dammit, where is he? And then it shifted further, and some of us grew to truly love Dougie, to love what MacLachlan was doing with his performance. For some fans the anger and disappointment never went away; for others, Dougie became one of the show’s highlights.
By the time Dougie had redeemed the Mitchum brothers, golden-hearted gangsters who had lost their way, I started to suspect that Lynch was playing a horrible trick on me. Cooper coming back, I thought, meant that Dougie would be going away. But I didn’t want Dougie, the shining light of Las Vegas, to disappear.
One of Twin Peaks' most consistent messages is that there's huge value in being a good person, even if that means sometimes you'll get screwed over, or get transported to interdimensional limbo for 25 years.
Twin Peaks is about so many different things that it avoids the ‘this show is really about’ form of criticism that plagues many other shows. But I think one of its most consistent messages is that there’s huge value in being a good person, even if that means sometimes you’ll get screwed over, or get transported to interdimensional limbo for 25 years. Dougie-Cooper’s story often felt like it could have been lifted from a low-budget European art film about a man who walks through life granting positivity to anyone lucky enough to walk into his sphere of influence. People have complained that Cooper’s eventual return was arbitrary, but Dougie had a mission to fulfil first – he needed to untangle the mess around him, to help everyone find their potential to do good, to be better.
Guided by the White Lodge (one assumes), Dougie-Cooper set about fixing the life Bob-Cooper had created. He needed to give Janey-E and Sonny Jim a life they could be happy in. He needed to help Bushnell Mullins uncover the corruption within Lucky 7 Insurance, which Dougie had been a part of in his old life. By the end Tony had seen the error of his ways, and all the irredeemable characters were dead. When Dougie returns, his life has been fixed. Things are going to be good from now on.
People have argued that the actions that sparked Coop’s return felt arbitrary, but the timing was anything but – the Cooper we knew and loved 25 years ago is a good man, and there’s no way he was going to wreck so many lives by emerging early. When Dougie first emerged, he repeated the phrase ‘call for help’ over and over – but he wasn’t calling for help himself, he was there to answer calls for help.
Kyle MacLachlan’s performance as Dougie -- his doped-up, slow, careful performance -- is wonderful as well. He knows when to let hints of Coop emerge, but also understands that he’s in, essentially, a cartoon – it’s all right to exaggerate everything, because the joke that no one around Dougie really notices just how wrong things are will never stop being funny for the portion of the audience that is into this.
When Dougie first emerged, he repeated the phrase 'call for help' over and over -- but he wasn't calling for help himself, he was there to answer calls for help.
Without Dougie, Lynch couldn’t have provided the catharsis of Coop’s eventual return either (or undercut it brilliantly with that finale, which, again, I’m going to need some time with). I think Lynch grew to love Dougie just as much as I did – Coop’s very first act upon his return is to ensure that Dougie will come back and be with his family. Coop was inside the whole time, influencing Dougie without being able to fully take over, just as Bob has been driving the other Cooper for the whole season without necessarily having total rein (“you’re still with me; that’s good”).
The good-natured heroes of Twin Peaks don’t always get what they deserve, but they make the world better just for being in it. If Lynch, a man obsessed with doubling, is himself driven by two opposite forces – and I believe that he is, carrying an optimism for humanity and love and beauty that keeps scraping up against the dark impulses that power his films – then Dougie is a pure expression of what he sees in people.