The Women of “Twin Peaks,” From the Trickster to the Shapeshifter
Think you know the women of David Lynch’s classic Twin Peaks? Think again — and take good notes before the show resurfaces on Showtime in May.
In honor of Women’s History Month as well as the upcoming Twin Peaks revival, here are some alternate readings of the female denizens of that strangely frightening little mountain town. Many of these archetypes apply to multiple women at different times in the series. I’ve chosen the one for each that is most representative of her overall journey.
1. Laura Palmer: The Joker/Trickster
While most superficial readings of Laura Palmer’s character put her in the virgin/whore dichotomy, this lack of nuance does her a great disservice. A closer reading of Laura and her place in Twin Peaks (aka Society) indicates that, like the Trickster or Joker, people see what they want to see when they interact with or remember her. To one she’s the prom queen, to another she’s civically engaged in her Meals on Wheels route, and to a third she’s the promiscuous cocaine addict. She actively maintains the other person’s illusions, ultimately to her own demise.
2. Maddie Palmer: The Doppelganger
Laura’s lookalike cousin Maddie serves as a daily reminder of Laura, but an incomplete Laura — an interloper, a stand-in. Maddie is shaped by Laura’s absence, and this makes it challenging for her to be her own person. Maddie dabbles in some of Laura’s risky behavior because she thinks with Laura’s face she can get away with it. And while Laura’s shoes may fit her like a glove, they aren’t Maddie’s style. Maddie finds it easier to follow in Laura’s footsteps than make her own path through those woods. She pays with her life, just like her cousin.
3. Donna Hayward: The Mimic
Laura’s best friend Donna, like Maddie the Doppelganger, wants to fill Laura’s shoes. But unlike Maddie, the shoes are not Donna’s size or style. She looks ridiculous walking around in them, and nobody for a second believes her. The Mimic shows a distinct lack of courage, and finds her sadness deepening as she realizes she will never be Laura. And she can’t even be Maddie either. If The Mimic gets lost in the woods, nobody will be looking for her. They are still looking for their idea of Laura.
4. Norma Jennings: The Icon
Norma is the person Laura would have been had her life not been derailed by abuse from such a young age. Norma is beautiful, blond, statuesque and, most important, kind and loving to all. She’s the high school prom queen who never bullied, who was friends with everyone, and who maintained that kindness long after she graduated. Norma is beatific. Our Lady of the Double R Diner. Long may she pie.
5. Shelly Johnson: The Survivor
Being on the receiving end of an abusive relationship and staying alive changes a person. The Survivor takes undue risks, engages in dangerous behavior, and can lose all sense of self. They hand the reins of their life to anyone who will accept them, often using their wounded sexuality as currency. See also: Evelyn Marsh.
6. Margaret Lanterman, A.K.A. The Log Lady: The Translator
A surface reading of The Log Lady pegs her as an oracle, which she is. But she is more. The Log Lady translates the energy of what was and what might be into a series of words that often eventually make sense, but not always. She does not see the future; she sees the possible roads. Make a different decision and the roads change, and the owls might start to be what they seem. The Log Lady is there for anyone to hear; it’s just that nobody is listening but The Translator.
7. Nadine Hurley: The Pirate
The female version of the Pirate is a perfect foil to the male. She is strong, capable, independent and intelligent. She is sensitive to sounds and always on high alert. This is for her physical and psychological safety; she needs to be able to hear what’s coming before it (he) knows she knows. The female Pirate is self-contained, and she will only reveal her heart and vulnerability after carefully choosing a mate. When unfulfilled in her life, the female Pirate will exhibit a dangerous rage that can lead to severe depression and self-harming. She requires action and active places to put her excess adrenaline when stuck on land or she will combust.
8. Audrey Horne: The Entitled
While entitlement due to race, wealth, and social status is usually a boon — especially for the male of the species — Audrey’s place as The Entitled leads to quite the opposite. Audrey engages in the same risky behavior as her father and uncle, but instead of attaining even pleasure from the encounters, she risks sexual violence and drug addiction. Audrey learns the hard way that sometimes the only value of an Entitled’s life is monetary. And sometimes The Entitled has no value at all to the people to whom it should matter the most, even her own family.
9. Jocelyn “Josie” Packard: The Deceiver
A surface reading of Twin Peaks would lead us to peg Josie Packard as The Other. She is one of few people of color in the mountain town, and her Otherness is continuously highlighted and heightened. Looking deeper, Josie is in fact a skilled Deceiver, right down to the marriage that brought her to Twin Peaks to begin with. Her idiosyncratic use of English charms the unwitting listener, allowing them to believe that she is as innocent as she is beautiful. But her machinations behind the scenes, hidden from all, suggest the workings of a well-developed sociopath with her own agenda. An agenda she will see through at any cost.
10. Catherine Martell: The Rogue
The Rogue is related to The Entitled and The Deceiver, but without youth and beauty, so she must to work all the more hard to get the things she believes she is owed. She lies, steals, cheats, fakes her own death, and even dresses in Asian drag to get what she feels is due. She is ruthless, lacking compassion, and single-minded in her pursuits.
11. Sarah Palmer: The Primal Scream
Sarah Palmer is the voice of female rage and sadness. She is the wail of a woman who has lost everything. She is the wraith who screams for justice. She is the shrieking of fundamental pain that emerges after tragedy. She is the howl for reprieve. Her power is in her voice and in her regrets. She is the scream of one who should have seen the truth, but refused to. The Primal Scream is a call for help, a warning, a lament.
12. Lucy Moran: The Damsel
The Damsel inspires protectionism in others. She has her head in the clouds. She appears frail and timid, which provokes a special kind of fear in those around her. They want to spare her hurt feelings, so they don’t even ask her why she double-stacks the donuts like that, even though it makes no sense.
13. Blackie O’Reilly: Malevolent Avenger
Some women who have been wronged by the patriarchy turn on their fellow women, rather than fighting the men who raped, abused and exploited them. Blackie was forced into a life of prostitution and drug addiction by a glorified pimp, and she now does the same. Malevolent Avengers are the women who have been through female genital mutilation and continue the practice even though they know firsthand how devastating it is. The Malevolent Avenger takes revenge on the victims, not the perpetrators.
14. Ronette Pulaski: The Victim
While there are many women in Twin Peaks who could be considered victims of circumstance and choice, Ronette is the only one who exists solely as The Victim. We know nothing of her past, her family or her connection to the town. All we know is she knew Laura. Ronette, like Teresa Banks before her, is a pure and perfect Victim. Being presented in this way is borderline fetishistic, which is how Victims tend to be presented — especially when sexual violence is involved.
15. Agent Denise Bryson: The Shapeshifter
Agent Dennis Bryson went undercover to catch a drug dealer whose only clientele were trans folks. While working undercover as a woman, Dennis caught a criminal, and discovered herself: Denise Bryson was born. But still, when the situation requires it, Denise will take a seat to Dennis without protest. The Shapeshifter allows for the peaceful coexistence of selves and sexualities within the framework of one beautiful body.
16. Lana Budding Milford: The Vagina Dentata
She has sexual contact with a man. He is badly maimed or dies. Simple as that cup of black coffee.
17. The Lounge Singer: The Sidhe, or the Fae Folk
Listening to her music casts a sometimes dangerous spell. An enchantment that can hide or reveal the truth, often simultaneously. She is a conundrum wrapped in musical notes.
18. Diane: God
Diane is never seen, but we are always aware of her presence through Special Agent Cooper’s ongoing and one-sided dialogue with her. Like God, he asks Diane for things, and She sends them post-haste. God is not heard, but ever-present through those who believe in Her and require her help. She is the repository of wishes, hopes, dreams and petty annoyances, so that others need not be troubled. She embodies omnipresence and omnipotence through a little black tape recorder.
Check out the trailer for the Twin Peaks revival, which premieres May 21 on Showtime, here: