Part of us hopes Cooper never stops being Dougie on 'Twin Peaks'
What started as a very funny joke has gone on for four episodes now, with no sign of abating. But that's kind of funny, too.
It’s safe to assume that, this far in, anyone expecting new “Twin Peaks” to be anything like old “Twin Peaks” has given up. The stragglers have been rooted out, having either jumped ship or resigned themselves to a summer watching a show with no interest in nostalgia or in making life easier for poor TV recappers. But there’s been one glimmer of hope: At some point, perhaps soon, Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) will stop being zombie-like comedy machine Dougie, return to his senses and start gushing about pie and damn fine coffee like it was 1991 again.
And yet here we are: A third of the way through David Lynch and Mark Frost’s belated sequel, and Coop-Dougie is still with us. It started in episode three: Having spent the last 25 years trapped in the otherworldly Black Lodge, Cooper escaped through an electrical outlet, as you do. He then took over the body of Dougie Jones, a sleazy-sadsack insurance salesman up to his ears in hookers and gambling debt. But he didn't go back to being the old Coop. A quarter-century in the Black Lodge has left his mind warped, unable to speak except in words he heard others say, and not even sure what to do when your elevator lets you off on your floor.
To make matters crazier, Coop-Dougie is slimmer than doughy Real-Dougie (who was whisked away to the Black Lodge and turned into a golden dot), yet no one — neither his eternally harried wife (a very game Naomi Watts) nor his co-workers (including Tom Sizemore!) — has yet noticed the difference. Coop-Dougie seems to have forgotten how to be a human; he’s like Chauncey Gardener if he couldn't figure out how to climb stairs and didn’t know what to do when he has to urinate. Still, every now and then over these last four episodes, Coop-Dougie has seemed to be on the verge of an epiphany: He recognizes words like “coffee,” which he repeats wistfully, as though about to have a breakthrough and snap back into classic Coop.
And yet so far nada. At this point, even those fully committed to this very different “Twin Peaks” must be frustrated. At first it was objectively funny. Coop-Dougie’s first order of business was to wind up at a casino and magically turn every slot machine into a coin-spouter. They called him “Mr. Jackpot,” and he created an instant classic catchphrase: “Helllooo-ooo-ooooo!” The silliness continued when he found himself at home, blissfully unaware how to deal with the basics of human interaction and life. MacLachlan’s performance was objectively funny, too. And yet four episodes later, he’s still at it. It’s made all the more torturous by the fact that there’s a week between episodes. We return every Sunday, and Coop-Dougie remains.
Thing is, we, at least, don’t see it as torture — or, rather, we don’t see this specific example of torture as a bad thing. We see the Coop-Dougie affair as, among other things, a classic example of the repeating joke. It goes like this: You keep making a joke. That’s it. But while the joke stays the same, the audience reaction to it keeps shifting: First, it’s funny, then unfunny, then funny because it’s unfunny, then unfunny because you want it to end, then funny because you’re losing your mind, etc.
A fine case of this is “Kristen Schaal is a Horse,” a(n) (in)famous comedy bit (highlighted, among elsewhere, on Radiolab) in which Kristen Schaal dances around like a horse while her partner, Kurt Braunohler, keeps singing a repetitive song with the lyrics “Kristen Schaal is a horse!” At first the audience laughs. Then they stop laughing. Then they laugh again. Repeat until either the audience go insane or Braunohler and Schaal do.
Of course, this is David Lynch. He’s not just joke-trolling us. His work is dense and elusive, at times impossible to interpret. You should, as they say, embrace the mystery. Still, Lynch isn’t a mere outsider artist, beaming his tinfoil hat insanities onto Showtime every week. He’s directed an Oscar magnet, “The Elephant Man,” as well as “Dune,” which in 1984 was one of the most expensive films ever made (and one of the costliest flops). He created one of the most beloved and pioneering TV shows, which has been afforded a much-hyped, 26-years-later follow-up. He’s one of the world’s most unique and iconoclastic artistes, but he’s also a showman, who seems to enjoy messing with the audience, even if he’s dong far, far more than that.
Maybe Coop-Dougie will persist for another couple episodes. Maybe this silliness will last for several more than that. Maybe Cooper will never return to normal. After 18 episodes and 26 years of waiting for “Twin Peaks” to return, that would be cruel. But it would also be kind of funny.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge