Twin Peaks Episode Five: Tell Me, What Kind of Man Should I Be?

Twin Peaks episode five depicts men in limbo.  Minor scenes with Sheriff Truman, the casino bosses, and the employees at Lucky Seven insurance all present men in various stereotypical roles (being henpecked; beat up by brutish thugs; and boys-clubbing it up at work, respectively).  But it’s the experiences of Dougie Jones and Steven Burnett that symbolize the no-man’s-land of masculinity in modern culture.  Dougie, as an amnesiac representation of white male privilege, struggles to form an identity for himself.  And Steven, Becky’s sickly, drug-addled husband, is a clear callback to and a reversal of the handsome, working-class, criminal men of Twin Peaks seasons one and two, suggesting that that model of masculinity outmoded — no longer attractive, or even possible.

Dougie’s journey is fascinating from a Lynch-ian, thematic perspective — how does a man just get taken over by another man? And if he has always been, then how did he get picked to be taken over by Mr. Cooper? Or is he a man who just appeared out of thin air?  And if so, did his wife and child just appear out of thin air?

It’s compelling to watch Dougie literally coast through his life, essentially mute and helpless.  Everybody does everything for him: feed him; dress him; correct him; take him from place to place; bring him to the bathroom; give him second, third and fourth chances at work; give him other people’s belongings; and give him the benefit of the doubt at every possible turn.  Nobody who questions him gets an answer, and nobody seems bothered by this.  Dougie’s very existence is symbolic of the ease and opportunity given to white men on a daily basis.

But now that Dougie’s body has been taken over by Agent Cooper, Dougie is beginning to redefine himself according to Agent Cooper’s predilections — he registers certain favorite foods (coffee), makes an independent and stereotypically intuitive judgement (“he’s lying”), and spends a long time inspecting and possibly ruminating on a statue of a law enforcement officer.  The officer stands tall and assured, pointing a gun, all obvious past trademarks of Agent Cooper.  But within the context of the episode, Dougie/Cooper’s slow identity development reads as a man who is, quite literally, figuring out what kind of man to be.

Dougie/Agent Cooper appears to be moving away from the model of white male privilege modelled by his fellow workers at the insurance company.  One colleague makes an inappropriate advance on a female co-worker, and she shoots him down.  Another colleague jokes that Dougie was “on a bender” and that he covered for Dougie.  These men both appear to be comfortable with Dougie, as men and as colleagues. Yet, this iteration of Dougie distances himself from them — he accuses that colleague of lying, and when a woman at work teases and flirts with him, he outright ignores her, rejecting the privileges that are available and offered to him.

Back in Twin Peaks, Mike (of Mike and Bobby) is the mouthpiece of male privilege, the character who tells Steven Burnett, in no uncertain terms, just how far a white male can coast.

The episode opens on Mike calling Steven into an office, presumably after a job interview.  Mike reads him the riot act, telling the obviously strung-out Steven that his resume is garbage, and that Steve needs to shape up and be presentable, because otherwise it’s insulting to everyone. (And if Mike, a man who once barked like a dog and fell in love with a 40 year old woman who thought she was a teenager, is the one saying that a person needs to get their act together….that person should listen).  Mike’s right, though.  How does one act like a grown man? Proofreading your resume and and being sober at job interviews seems like a good place to start.  

As Becky’s husband, Steven’s behavior is under surveillance by Norma and Shelly. They observe him with gentle, thorough disapproval through the diner windows, and it’s obvious that Becky has fallen into the same trap as these women.  Shelly and Norma have both been spunky doormats, and have endured years of bullshit from their romantic partners (Hank, Leo Johnson, Bobby Briggs). Becky’s husband, who has no money, snorts all their cocaine, and can’t hold a job, is clearly similar.  A powerful difference, though, is the objective quality of these “bad boy” romantic partners — Leo, Bobby, and Hank were all employed in various capacities.  Granted, some were criminal employments (drug dealing, drug running, general and undefined villainous activities), but Hank was a waiter and a short order cook, and Leo was a truck driver.  And not for nothing, but Hank, Leo, and Bobby were all fairly attractive men, either with poster-boy model good looks (Bobby), or vaguely rogue-ish charm (Leo and Hank).  Steve is slight, unkempt, ratty-looking, jobless, and inept. He borrows money from his wife, he shows up high and unprepared for meetings, and he drives a stupid car. Say what you will about Bobby Briggs’s dimwitted attempt to blackmail Benjamin Horne, but at least Bobby Briggs looked good in a suit, had a reasonable piece of blackmail, and knew how to roll with the punches.

Dougie/Agent Cooper and Steven Burnett represent the possibility of deviation from and the limits of white male privilege.  Lynch has yet to present a viable path toward masculinity as compelling as the initial iteration of Agent Cooper — and hopefully that Cooper, who was so ahead of his time, is coming back to the present soon.

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