Alice and the Holmes Complex

One of the reasons why episode 18 creates such a feeling of the uncanny is linked to its ending, when Cooper and a sleepwalking Laura/Page meet Alice, the new owner of the Palmer house in Twin Peaks. All of a sudden, the barriers between universes  crumble as fiction and reality blend in a complex patchwork: Alice Tremond (Mary Reber) is indeed the person who owns this house in our reality (link).

Palmer's House.png

Where does fiction end and reality begin? Is it a dream? Where are the borders? Is this the past or the future? The world shakes under the feet of Dale and Laura as the ontological nature of their existence is suddenly called into question. Their very identities are even uncertain: is this really the Dale Cooper we used to know? and who is Page: a new avatar of Laura? Everything is torn apart. The fact that Twin Peaks references Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is not new (a subject I discuss in my book Twin Peaks: Unwrapping the Plastic). But here, it’s not so much that Alice goes into Wonderland, rather all of a sudden Wonderland is brought to us. Even Alice is not totally herself, as mentioned above – she is also partly Mary, and also Tremond, who are very much the same thing as the Chalfonts.

The sequence with Monica Belluci in episode 14 was likely a forewarning concerning the uncertain nature of the fictional world of Twin Peaks. When Gordon Cole narrates his dream with the famous Franco-Italian actress, he suddenly mixes three different ontological realms: that of the fiction, of dreams, and of reality. The dream itself points towards the porous nature of the world(s) we inhabit, as Monica questions who the person is behind the dream/reality. One could even argue that Lynch also mixes different fictional realms and temporalities in this scene, as he summons images from Fire Walk With Me and edits then within the pattern woven here.

What is real and what is fiction, then? Has the fictional world crossed the looking glass to our reality or is it perhaps a part of our world that has traveled to the universe of Twin Peaks? Are we dealing here with Monica Belluci the actress or with one of her characters? Is she facing Gordon Cole or David Lynch? It seems that there is no easy answer to these questions except that they might all be true, to some extent. Dale Cooper and Laura Palmer have accessed, during the past 25 years, a certain degree of “reality” as they integrate the collective unconscious. Though fictional, they have become household names, models to be followed or avoided. Inversely, the presence of many real people in Twin Peaks (real in the sense that they keep their own names), contributes to the comings and goings across the fictional border.

In literature, there is a gap between the “segregationists” who want to keep the realms of fiction and reality mutually exclusive and the “integrationists” who, on the contrary, believe in the absence of true ontological difference between these worlds. David Lynch clearly appears to stand on the side of the second group. One reason for the integration of both realms given by the integrationists (see for instance Univers de la fiction, Thomas Pavel, 1988) is the concept in language of “mixed sentences” developed by John Woods, sentences in which fiction and reality are juxtaposed (as in “Sherlock Holmes lives on Baker Street”). This concept can easily be extended to film – when Monica Belluci meets Gordon Cole in a (real) café in Paris, she’s both inside fiction and in reality, and it’s pretty tricky to determine which is which based on the sequence alone.

Beyond the notion of “mixed sentences”, another point should be mentioned: that of the unconscious, which plays such a central role in the works of David Lynch. The unconscious does not discriminate between worlds according to their ontological level. Our psychological life is situated, in its depths, at the crossroads of reality and fiction. Our dreams constantly mix elements from the “real” world with fiction. To the unconscious, they are both real, it does not establish a hierarchy between them, or between the past and the future, or even between identities. Multilayers are possible when one is dreaming, that’s how the unconscious works (according to Freud and Jung, among others). It weaves together segments that belong to different worlds so as to create a new “reality”, one which does not function according to the laws of physics that we usually agree on.

The fact that Page acts as a sleepwalker during the last sequence of episode 18, following Cooper dreamily, unable to focus on anything, points to such a layering of realities in her mind. In a way, she acts as Dougie Jones during most of the season, she needs to wake up.


And then, when she moves back from the house and Cooper starts to wonder what year it is, a wind blows through her hair, she begins to shake and bursts into screams. The stuff of which her dream was made is suddenly torn apart by this shriek – she wakes up to the horror of her condition. What was sewn together gets ripped to pieces and the multiverse collapses (as does electricity, the force that binds it together).

The in-between world in which she finds herself (if one can claim that she still has something of a “self” at this point in the story) is one that welcomes beings from all sorts of realms, the fictional world as well as our reality. This Twin Peaks is a town that we can inhabit if we wish, at least mentally, and where we can meet the fictional characters whose stories we follow. But it is an unstable world, one that exists on the seam between universes. When she screams, Laura/Page rips apart this in-between world, in which a part of us also dwells. This is probably why this particular moment is so uncanny, because it calls her existence into question, but to a certain point, it also puts our own in jeopardy!

It is tempting with Twin Peaks to apply the concept of the “Holmes Complex” developed by the French psychoanalyst Pierre Bayard in his book Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong: Reopening the Case of the Hound of the Baskerville. This complex, he argues, is the one that inspires some authors and readers to give life to fictional characters and create  relationships with them based on love or hate. Bayard claims that this is what happened to Arthur Conan Doyle when he wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles due to his complex relationship with the character of Sherlock Holmes whom he had tried to kill several years earlier and without success following the collective outcry that ensued at the end of his adventures in The Strand. In his book, Bayard explains that Holmes, as a result of Doyle’s resentment towards him (he was not allowed to “kill” his fictional creation), accused the wrong culprit in the Baskerville case.

Mark Frost’s interest in the character of Sherlock Holmes is well documented. Two of his novels are centered around Doyle and the man he uses as a model for his famous detective (The List of 7 and The Six Messiahs). In the first episode of the second season of Twin Peaks, Truman and Cooper hold the following exchange: Truman: You know, I think I’d better start studying medicine. Dale Cooper: And why is that? Truman: Because I’m beginning to feel a bit like Dr. Watson“.

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In addition to Mark Frost’s fascination for Doyle and Holmes, it’s also interesting to note the extent to which the existence of Twin Peaks‘ fictional universe relies on elements coming from our reality. In the early 90s when the series was facing difficulty from ABC, pressure from the fan community played an important role in its continuation. When it was finally cancelled at the end of season 2, the fans kept the fictional universe alive, with the magazine Wrapped in Plastic for instance. And when David Lynch announced that he might not direct the third season, the same fan community also played a role in Showtime’s decision to continue negotiations with the director. For the various fans of Twin Peaks, the story has gained a certain degree of reality, at least in their unconscious – the continued existence of these characters appeared important enough to fans to cause them to act so that the series might come back to their screens. As a result, they have  partly contaminated the in-between reality that stretches between our world and the one of Twin Peaks, to the extent that some people from our reality have appeared in The Return.

Interestingly enough, the 25 year gap experienced between the end of season 2 and the beginning of season 3 also left a lot of latitude for the characters themselves to live their lives without the overbearing presence of a creator or of a reader/watcher. As with Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles, this unexpected freedom has led some of them in very surprising directions. They had to go on without us – they found jobs, had children, grew older or sometimes wiser… What they did, most of all, is gain a considerable amount of depth which brought them closer to the inhabitants of our reality. They too moved closer to the in-between world that separates, but also links us.

Until Laura/Page’s final shriek.

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