Episodes one and two of Twin Peaks established female characters as secondary, crucial only to developing male characters and expediting the plot. Sadly, episodes three and four further those limitations, pigeonholing the female characters into retrograde stereotypes, including mysticizing minority women.
Only two women of color appear in the episodes — Jade, a black prostitute, and Naido, an Asian woman who inhibits a box in space and pitches herself into nonexistence. Both women interact with Agent Cooper/Dougie Jones, and both women exist solely as gateways for him. Dougie Jones’s access to these women’s bodies allows him gradual access to the next “world” of his journey.
Naido, the unnamed Japanese woman in the box in space, is the first person Agent Cooper encounters upon his exit from the Black Lodge. Naido’s eyes are sewn shut with excess skin and obvious stitching, and she is unable to speak. She wears a purple velvet gown and touches Cooper’s face, muttering garbled comments and apparently trying to help him by guiding him around the room and discouraging him from approaching the numbered outlet on the wall. When a mysterious noise becomes too threatening, she shows him the ladder to the roof, ostensibly to keep him from danger. It’s unclear whether Naido is exchanging herself or sacrificing herself for Cooper, when she flings herself off the roof of the box into oblivion, departing the way Cooper arrived. She shows him options, and in this way, gives him access — fling himself off the roof, stay in the box, go through the electrical outlet. When Cooper decides to return to the room, Naido’s replacement is waiting for him, warning him in backwards-speak to leave. Naido is easily replaced in this mysterious box, reinforcing that it’s not the character of the woman that’s significant, but the role they play in the life of the male characters.
Women of color play a mystical role in these two episodes, relying on the stereotype that ethnic women are somehow more intuitive than other women. Naido’s every utterance is a mystery, and her purple flowing gown and the dark, shadowy room she inhabits create an ethereal mood. Eyeless, she appears as almost a seer, or a prophet — a Cassandra, doomed to be ignored and sacrificed because of her vision. While Jade is not immediately recognizable as a visionary, she is absolutely a part of Cooper’s mystical experience, as when he leaves Jade, she is superimposed over Laura Palmer’s face, speaking the same line: “You can go out now.” Jade and Naido both appear to know more than Cooper, and want to ensure his safety through their own bodies, intelligence, and time.
Jade bodily takes Dougie from the empty house where they conduct their liaisons, to the Silver Mustang Casino — and I do mean bodily. Her own body is in play from her introduction (she is nude where Dougie is totally clothed). But Jade literally ties Dougie’s shoes on his feet, buckles him into her car, and drives him to his destination. And instead of pushing him out of her car, Jade further shapes the next stage of Dougie’s journey by giving him money to make a phone call, and instructing him to call Triple AAA to help him unlock his car. She’s clearly gone above and beyond her job description, and her smooth transition into minding Dougie marks her as not only an access point, but a natural female caretaker.
The white women in these episodes, while not mysticized, are divided firmly into two stereotypes: harridans and hysterical women. Janey E. Jones, Dougie’s wife, is a brittle, angry housewife, endlessly nagging Dougie and shrilly ordering him around. Even though she is endlessly exasperated with him, she apparently has no problem reminding him to “go potty,” dressing him in a suit, and pouring his coffee for him. Besides feeding Dougie, clothing Dougie, and providing some exposition about Dougie, she’s a blank slate. Her character has no desires and no background or history. She’s a stereotypical stock character who belongs on a sitcom.
And Lucy — dear God, Lucy. She’s a southern belle who needs her smelling salts, a Victorian spinster with a delicate constitution — she’s a caricature of a person, overreacting, misunderstanding, almost willfully ignorant of basic technology like cell phones and thermostats. Her comments are thematically relevant to this episode set, given its concerns with creation and multiple iterations of the self, but when she exclaims, “How is it possible? You’re in the mountains! Fishing!” to Sheriff Truman, it feels less like thematic Cliffs-notes and more like a reason why women can’t be trusted with any sort of power: they just can’t handle it. Lucy can’t even handle being in charge of the chocolate bunnies in the evidence room.
Lucy’s ineptitude suggests Lynch’s concern with women in power, and the characters of Agent Tammy Preston and FBI Chief of Staff Denise Bryson articulate further that women are hysterical, emotional, and catty. Credited in S1 and S2 as Agent Dennis/Denise, and now apparently fully transitioned into a woman, Duchovny’s character is still known as a man to viewers of the show, and Agent Cole reminds Denise (and the viewer) of that transition during their scene together. Denise, then, the woman with the most power in the episode (with more control than any law enforcement agent), was initially a man, which reinforces the concept that all power stems from and is enacted by men. Denise’s introduction this season is her passive-aggressive comment that Cole only wants Agent Preston around because she’s young and beautiful. Cole counters that Tammy “has the stuff,” which the viewer has not actually seen, as Tammy’s role has been to provide general information, carry a briefcase, and click through a three-slide presentation. And to waggle her hips as she walks.
Agent Denise’s former masculine state becomes important, as something about Cole’s presence seems to calm her and she reveals that she can’t “normally….think like this.” If Denise is commenting that something about Cole grounds her into thinking more logically, most likely their history together and his prior knowledge of her masculinity, then it’s implied that Denise, as a woman, thinks more emotionally or illogically. This is reflected with the idea that Denise was jealous of Agent Preston initially, based on her youth, beauty, and Denise’s own expectation that Cole is attracted to Tammy. Denise then goes on to say that she has to “forgo all this and grow balls of steel. It’s a bitch.” “All this” again seems to refer to logical discourse, and establishes that logical discourse can only be had with a man. Interestingly, her admission that “balls of steel” are limiting suggests that hyper-masculinity is as limiting as female-ness, as having “balls of steel” means exploring the world illogically. Lynch then appears to group hyper-masculine men as having the same impediments as essentially all women — they are emotional, reactive, illogical. Only the thoughtful, careful, enlightened, reasonable men can develop their character, and explore other worlds effectively.
My hopes for episode five are high, and I’m banking on the re-introduction of some familiar female faces (Shelly, Norma, maybe an Audrey, back from the dead?) to provide some much-needed variety and movement away from these tired female stereotypes.