For the past two years, I have been driving a Renault Zoé, a small French electric car which I love. I really care about the environment and I’ve never felt the need to own a big car. Besides, I never tried to make a fashion statement with the cars I drive, or underline my masculinity with them. I just need my cars to take me from point A to point B while listening to good music on the radio. Electric cars are awesome for this, because they’re so quiet.
This said, it is clear that cars are part of the mythology of the country in which one lives. In France, we have a set of iconic cars that have left a mark in our shared psyche (the 2CV, the Citroën DS, etc.), for better or for worse. The same applies of course to the USA – probably to a greater extent even, because of the central role cars play in this nation (if only because of the size of the country, gigantic by European standards). The reason why there are so many road movies in the United-States is directly linked to this reality. Americans did not wait for Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (published in 1957, the year after the young Sarah Palmer got infected by the Frogmoth) to travel around their country on four wheels.
Interesting piece of trivia: Kerouac being a French-Canadian, did you know that the first version of On the Road was actually written in French?
Anyway: from the Ford Model T of the 1920s to the latest Ford or General Motors products, the history of cars is also, to a certain extent, a history of the USA. They are an intrinsic part of the American Dream (but who is the dreamer?). To paraphrase a line from Fire Walk with Me, the chrome reflects the image of the USA.
Twin Peaks being so closely connected to everything mythological, it would be surprising if it did not tap into this rich mythology. A hint that season 3 payed close attention to this question was the presence of a copy of Paul Ingrassia’s Engines of Change (2012) on Ruth Davenport’s bookshelves. Several cars discussed in that book can be seen during the various parts of The Return which, if you think about it, is really the story of two road trips: a road trip West for Mr. C, from South Dakota to Twin Peaks; and a road trip East followed by a second northwest long chunk for Cooper/Richard, from Las Vegas to Odessa, and then from Odessa to Twin Peaks.
Before going further, let’s note the importance of gas stations throughout Twin Peaks. There is no denying that their presence reflects something central to the series.
I’m not going to discuss all the cars used during the 18 parts of the season (if you want to see them all, you can follow this link), but I would like to focus on a few interesting choices. I will especially zoom in on the various cars driven by Cooper’s multiple avatars.
First, note that the second car driven by Mr. C, the one he picks up in part 2 after we first see him in his 2015 Mercedes-Benz S-Klasse Coupé in part 1, happens to be the same model as the one Cooper/Richard is seen driving in part 18, after his “sex magick” experiment with Diane in a motel: a 2003 Lincoln Town Car.
This similarity might be intended to stress how Cooper Richard, the version of Cooper seen in part 18 after Cooper and Diane have “crossed over”, integrates elements from Mr. C’s personality. It is clear that Cooper Richard is colder than the version of Cooper we used to know, more mature perhaps. By this point in Twin Peaks, Cooper has integrated the diverse portions of his personality in order to form a coherent whole. This might be why he is then seen driving the same car as Mr. C who, after all, could not handle it properly: it does not take him long to crash at the wheel of this car in part 2.
But the plot thickens when one remembers that it’s a Lincoln Town Car in part 4 that picks up Gordon, Tammy, and Albert in South Dakota, on their way to Yankton Prison where Mr. C is held after his crash. Moreover, Tammy also gets car sick in the car, which directly echoes Mr. C’s recent accident.
The reason why Mr. C and Cooper Richard drive the same car might therefore be that it’s the car most often used by FBI agents. This would not be surprising given that the Lincoln Motor Company has provided official state limousines for Presidents of the United States. This fact is of importance in Twin Peaks because of the 1963 assassination of President J.F. Kennedy during a motorcade in Dallas, at the back of a 1961 Lincoln Continental. Was it the link to Abraham Lincoln that somehow predestined Kennedy to be shot like this? One might wonder. Dougie Cooper, on the contrary, was lucky enough to avoid being shot in part 3, perhaps because he was not sitting in a Lincoln but in a Jeep Wrangler driven by Jade.
The recurring presence of Lincoln during The Return is of course no accident. It’s his portrait that appears on the lucky penny found by the young Sarah Palmer in part 8, just before his doppelgänger appears to “get a light”.
Forever connected with the Civil War, the name Lincoln might have been used by Lynch and Frost as a way to underline the split personalities of Cooper, whose “house is divided against itself” to quote Lincoln’s 1858 famous speech: Cooper, Dougie, Mr. C, Richard…One may even find a visual link between Cooper and Lincoln in comparing the way the first sits in the Red Room and the second in his Washington Memorial.
As for the 2000 Ford Taurus driven by Dougie Jones in Rancho Rosa, it’s worth reading what Paul Ingrassia has to say about it in the above-mentioned book: “The 1986 Ford Taurus revolutionised American automotive styling with its sleek, curvy lines. But it’s hard to point to an impact the car had beyond that”. This fits rather well with the fact that Dougie was a Tulpa, a thought-form with not much substance, no lasting impact.
Now, why would Cooper and Diane drive in a 1963 Ford 300 in part 18? These cars, it appears, were often used by the police. This might connect the choice with the use of the Lincoln Town Car, Cooper wanting a police car for his transdimensional trip. I believe this was also meant to blend in once on the other side, a jump not only in space but also in time, in order to conceive a new version of Laura (Carrie) in the new universe with “sex magick”. As a reminder, Laura was born in July 1971; she was therefore conceived at the end of 1970, a time when a 1963 car would not have looked out of place. I have noted elsewhere the possible links between Twin Peaks and the Back to the Future franchise. In this sense, it is interesting to read what Paul Ingrassia wrote about the Pontiac GTO, which applies rather well to Twin Peaks: “the DMC-12 (seen in Back to the Future) was for the movies… the Pontiac GTO allowed real people to feel as though they were traveling back in time”.
Much more could be written about the multiple iconic cars seen throughout The Return. Each choice was clearly tailored to a situation and/or a character, nothing is random. It’s once again a tribute to the attention to detail exhibited by Lynch and his team to see how precisely all these elements fit within the whole of the season.