Despite only having appeared in two out of the entire original series run of thirty episodes, [1] Twin Peaks’s “Red Room” is perhaps its most recognizable visual. Part of this impact is just that it was so damn strange—particularly on network television of the time, which did little to challenge its viewers. As the first season progressed past the initial appearance of this unusual space, it seemed more and more like the quirky dialog and even the decor of the room itself were clues of some sort in the mystery surrounding Laura Palmer’s murder. Fans, in an age before home video releases of television shows were commonplace—and well before on-demand streaming services—scrambled to decipher the significance of Cooper’s dream and its bizarre imagery.

While glimmers of information appeared here and there (such as some connection between the prominent red drapes surrounding the Red Room and those that appeared at Jacques Renault’s cabin) a clear, definitive meaning eluded and frustrated viewers who had long been taught to expect easy answers and tidy conclusions from television mysteries. Ironically, even Lynch himself has admitted to not fully understanding the significance of the dream sequence or of the room itself, describing them as the products of “inspiration” and “intuition” that defy rationality. [2]

The shocking cliffhanger ending of the original series and the follow-up feature film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, further complicated attempts to understand the relationships between the dream and the concept of a harrowing and unearthly spiritual realm referred to as the “Black Lodge.” Meanwhile, the stakes climbed higher than anyone on that first April evening in 1990 could possibly have imagined, threatening the very souls of our beloved Coop and the tragic, sacrificial figure of Laura to whom he was somehow bonded.

So now, twenty-five (and more) years later, there are still many unanswered questions. Cooper’s recent release from the captivity of his hellish dream-scape during the early installments of Twin Peaks: The Return has done much to whet the appetites of rabid fans who have waited over a quarter of a century for the slightest crumb of new information. In true “Lynchian” style, however, the new series produces (on average) about ten new questions for every one that it reluctantly answers. As has always been the case in Twin Peaks fandom, viewers have taken to robust scrutiny of seemingly minor details and spirited debate in hopes of puzzling out hidden clues.

In this grand tradition, it seems an especially useful place to join in this fray is to examine the Red Room itself, given its importance to the mythology of the series. And so I propose a brief review of the various ways it has been presented and even described over the history of Twin Peaks, looking especially at some of the subtle and not-so-subtle details that change across different scenes and using different terminology. Knowing Lynch, these changes might mean nothing… or they could OMG mean everything!!!

It’s my intention here to avoid plot synopsis as much as possible.  I’m taking for granted you know the general events and characters in play.  I’m hoping we can look past the characters and think of ways that the Red Room itself (and adjoining spaces) communicates to the viewer.

Cooper’s Dream

The first, wide-angled shot of the Red Room is given in episode 2 of the original series (or ep. 3 if you’re “new school” and count the Pilot as ep. 1). As many will note, this is the same scene, although shortened ever so slightly, that appears at the end of the extended “international” version of the pilot film. [3]

A couple of notes here on the general makeup of the room:

1. Three chairs are arranged into a sitting space: two sit side-by-side and form a kind of “couch” configuration, while another is positioned facing them at a right angle. The single chair is different from the other two in that it looks a bit more “overstuffed”; the other two also have some woodwork detail that runs along their arms.

For what it’s worth, I think we should pause here to mention that this general setup forms somewhat of a pattern among many David Lynch projects of similar sitting or conversation spaces. It’s almost harder to come up with Lynch titles that don’t include at least one scene of weirdoes awkwardly sitting around together having stilted conversation than examples of those that do.

2. The lamp on the end table next to the single chair is a replica of the Saturn lamps showcased at the 1939 World’s Fair Expo. Saturn as an astrological figure becomes significant later in the series when everyone is trying to find the time and place when the door to the Black Lodge will open. So this might reference that. Or maybe it’s just a cool lamp. Or both.

3. The statue behind the two chairs is a copy of the Venus de Medici in her iconic “bashful” or “Pudica” pose, covering herself as if surprised while emerging from a bath.

4. At one point before the main bulk of the dialog begins, a backlit shadow moves across the curtains behind the scene.  The shooting script for ep. 2 describes this as the “shadow of a bird,” [A] but it is difficult to ascertain this from its shape, which, aside from its forward momentum, is rigid and unmoving.

The following morning (ep. 3), Cooper first uses the phrase “Red Room” to describe this place in his retelling of the dream to Harry and Lucy. In describing to them “where dreams come from,” he explains—

“Acetylcholine neurons fire high voltage impulses into the forebrain. The impulses become pictures, the pictures become your dream. But no one knows why we choose these particular pictures.” [4]

The implication of this would seem to be that the Red Room imagery was an intuitive message of sorts sent to him from someplace beyond his comprehension. He moves from this to conclude, famously, that the dream is a code that they must “break” in order to “solve the crime.”

Later in the series (ep. 16), an entry torn from Laura’s secret diary reveals that she experienced the same dream, from her own perspective, the evening before her death. She too refers to the place as a “Red Room.”   She goes on to write:

“I tried to talk to him [i.e., Cooper] … But my words came out slow and odd. It was so frustrating trying to talk. I got up and walked over to the old man. Like I was going to kiss him. Then I leaned over and whispered the secret in his ear. I told him everything.[5]

**Text in bold type represents dialog fragments from the shooting script that did not make it into the final cut of the episode.

Noteworthy here is Laura’s description of her frustrated attempts to speak in the Red Room.  Our perception of Cooper’s experiences there never include this, as he is the only person who we do not hear utilizing the “backwards” speech style of the other figures.

Although omitted from broadcast, the elided text from the diary entry (indicated above in orange) could provide further suggestion that Laura’s perception of the exchange may not have aligned exactly with Cooper’s.  She describes herself as moving “like” she was going to kiss him, when in fact that’s exactly what we see her do as well as how Cooper describes the events when retelling them in ep. 3. Further, her assertion that she “told him everything” might indicate that she spoke longer from her perspective than it would take to convey the simple message “my father killed me” that Cooper eventually remembers in ep. 16.

Maybe. Granted, much of this is conjecture (particularly when it’s based on stuff that didn’t actually end up in the episode). But it’s all still valuable for us to consider in thinking about ways the Red Room and its properties or powers were imagined to work.  At least I think so.

Movement within the “Black Lodge”

In the finale of season two, Cooper enters what he expects to be the “Black Lodge” through a part in ghostly red curtains that appear in Glastonbury Grove. This scene cuts to a hallway with a familiar interior design. Although there has been some speculation, this is the first moment that the concepts of the Lodge and the Red Room are definitively linked. As Cooper enters this space (without, one should note, the trench coat he had when he entered), he stoically ventures down the hallway toward a second large statue.

This statue is a reproduction of the Venus de Milo. In her article “The Canonization of Laura Palmer,” Christy Desmet suggests that the de Milo in the hall may pose a significant contrast to the de Medici Venus that appears in the Red Room as representing the contrast between the shy or chaste female figure (who is nonetheless vulnerable) and one who has been subjected to violence, mutilated, and even rendered unable to protect herself (106). [6] This is an interesting take on the statue iconography and, if true, would seem to further associate the appearance of the Red Room with Laura somehow.

When Cooper makes it to the end of the hallway and advances through a second “doorway” (represented as parts in the curtains), he appears in the Red Room itself.

The wide angle of this scene looks very much like the one shown in the dream sequence, only lit more brightly and with a much “cleaner” looking floor. We might speculate on these differences, but they could perhaps most easily be chalked up to budget and the fact that the scenes were shot about two years apart.

As Cooper progresses within the Lodge, it becomes clear that it’s laid out as a sort of mobius that loops back upon itself, alternating between the square Red Room and the adjacent, rectangular hallway. Cooper seems to mostly be going back and forth between two different rooms at extreme ends of the main hallway from which he entered, but these sometimes appear to be different, new areas. “Entrances” in the curtains between them seem to occur only in diagonal corners, and these occasionally lead back to alternate, “flipped” furniture configurations.

Throughout the exploration of these spaces, furniture and statues disappear and reappear as Cooper roams from room to room and hallway to hallway. It’s difficult enough to get a sense of the orientation of these spaces even when we can use the objects within them as reference points, but it becomes virtually impossible when they are empty—particularly toward the end of the episode during the chase scene between Coop and his doppleganger. The frequent use of strobe lighting effects intensifies this difficulty.


As a quick throwback to the old-school days of alt.tv.twinpeaks, check out this excerpt of an old ASCII diagram that attempts to track Cooper’s progress through the Red Room. This was real fandom, people. 😀 [7]

Adding further to the confusion, other unfamiliar objects not present in the original dream also appear in during different scenes. At one point, for example, a set of “lovers’ chairs” appears for a single scene, but only long enough for Laura’s doppleganger to writhe around on it and scream.

Following this “attack” by DoppelLaura (who, it is suggested, might actually be Windom Earle) Cooper discovers that he is bleeding profusely and backtracks out of the room over a trail of his own blood that has appeared on the floor.


Coop runs out of the room from screaming DoppelLaura.

The de Milo is visible at the end of the hall.


He realizes he’s wounded as he enters

the next room and goes back to investigate.

Following this “injury,” the Venus de Milo statue in the hallway inexplicably vanishes and is not seen again. Lynch provides a helpful shot-reverse shot of Cooper traversing the bloody hallway confirms its disappearance.


The end of the hallway he literally just left.


The reverse shot confirms it: Aphrodite’s gone AWOL.

When next he enters the Red Room, he sees himself injured on the floor next to Annie, who wears a floral print dress very different than the one in which she entered the Lodge with Earle. Presumably, it was Caroline’s, but this is never stated. The two figures vanish and Coop wanders around looking for her and calling her name. He’s apparently also been healed of his injury. At this point, a strange dissolve effect perhaps suggests the passage of time, and at any rate breaks up what has heretofore been a more or less linear trek from room to room. It’s literally not possible to know for sure where Coop is after this point relative to the entrance of the Lodge.

In the next room, Cooper encounters several figures, including Annie/Caroline and Earle. During this scene, an ornate brass and marble top table appears to Cooper’s right. Blink and you might miss it. It’s no big deal now, but later it becomes significant as the resting place of the Owl Cave ring introduced in the film.  During this scene, however, the tabletop is empty.

At this point, the chase between Coop and DoppleDale ensues and all bets are off as they dodge between different rooms and hallway spaces. When they emerge from the Lodge moments later, Annie is wearing her black “Miss Twin Peaks” dress in which she entered, yet “Cooper” is still sans trench coat.

Fire Walk With Me

One August over night over a year later (or somewhat less if you were able to make it to Cannes or another international film festival), the Twin Peaks prequel film premiered to American audiences who were both hopeful to see a conclusion to the crippling cliffhanger of the second season and doomed to disappointment in that regard. Mixed box office reception aside, the contributions FWWM made to the mythos of the series are virtually innumerable. Inevitably, the iconic Red Room appears in a couple of scenes that ultimately leave the reader with the  impression that it must have any number of different entrances, both in the physical world and beyond (including Buenos Aries, the “room above the convenience store,” etc.).

Its initial appearance is in a dream or trance that Laura experiences after hanging Mrs. Tremond’s/Chalfont’s picture of an empty room on her bedroom wall. It’s a little outside the scope of this (already long) essay to analyze the non-Red Room elements of this sequence, but it suffices to say that the whole thing is quite complex.

When we do make it to the Red Room, what we do see is an exchange between Cooper and the Little Man as they stand on opposite sides of the ornate brass and marble top table shown briefly in the series finale (see above). After identifying himself as “The Arm,” the Little Man picks the green Owl Cave ring off of the table.  The table itself is situated in the same manner later in a deleted scene from The Missing Pieces, but this time the ring is gone.  In both scenes, the table appears to be the only bit of furniture in the room.

The Missing Pieces bit includes more dialog between Cooper and the Little Man, and both scenes more clearly show the spatial relationships of the room configuration when the table is used. This orientation appears to be the same as in the first image from the series finale, except maybe that the table is pulled out further into the room from the back curtain.

Following Laura’s murder, however, the room undergoes a significant change in its presentation. During the “garmonbozia” exchange in which Mike and the Little Man together demand their due from Killer BOB, the orientation of the zigzag floor pattern has been rotated 90° relative to the furniture. The room seems otherwise identical.

The partial shot of the Red Room below is taken from the extended “convenience store” scene from The Missing Pieces. We can see the Saturn lamp and end table next to what we might call “Cooper’s chair.” The orientation of the zigzag lines is also rotated 90° from what has previously been shown. Also interesting here is that the curtained “doorway” that appears in this shot isn’t one we’re usually shown being used—it’s normally the one opposite here, and the one kitty-corner, off screen.

A reverse-shot is also shown, revealing that despite the switch in the Red Room itself, the orientation of the floor pattern in the hallway seems to have remained the same as was shown in the series finale.

The film concludes with the important scene of Laura and Coop in the Red Room with the angel. Curiously, the zigzag pattern has here been returned to its original “dream” orientation, relative to the furniture.

The Return

After what is probably the longest hiatus in broadcast television history, the story of Twin Peaks resumed in May of 2017, having been delayed a year by contract disputes. Naturally, the Red Room features heavily in the early episodes as the story of Cooper’s escape from captivity is documented. There are a number of cosmetic changes to the space, mostly having to do with being partially computer generated. It’s hard to get a sense of which of these differences, if any, we’re meant to really notice as existing within the world of the story, but the whole thing has a much darker feel as the CGI curtains are a deeper red than has been seen previously.


As a quick side note, I’ll interject here that if nothing else, The Return has laid to rest one fan controversy of old. And I, your humble author, am both amused and distraught to have to admit that I was once on what now has proven to be the wrong side of the debate. This of course was the eternal question of the true color of the Red Room floors—black and white, or tan and brown? Spoiler alert: it’s not black and white. Sadface. Especially hard sadface to Etsy sellers and their custom merch. It’s pretty folks, but your merch is wrong.

It might look obvious even in the original series now, but back in the day you couldn’t really trust home video. Especially where the color red was concerned. Many of us always assumed the brownish tinge to the floors was due to reflection/refraction of the light bouncing off the red drapes. It got heated. There were words. “Black and white just makes sense… doppleganger, inverses, white and black lodges, etc.…” but no. The digitalization of the Red Room in The Return removed the possibility of unintentional red light. What’s more, Lynch even added a reflective surface effect to the floor itself that can be occasionally seen from some angles.

So yeah, I can admit I was wrong. 🙂 Anyhow, moving on…

In part 2, the much anticipated “25 years later” reference from the ep. 2 dream sequence is paid off in a memorable exchange between Cooper and Laura. While the scene is carefully crafted to mimic the action of the original, the floor pattern retains the 90° rotation that first appeared in the “garmonbozia” scene from FWWM—i.e., the direction of the zigzags appears to come out the front of the “couch,” rather than along its front as it originally did.

Later in the same installment, we see that the floor pattern is also rotated in the hallway. Here, the zigzags run along the length of the hallway instead of cutting across it as in the series finale.

Also, obviously, there is a new statue at the end of the hall—or is there? After careful scrutiny, I believe it is more accurate to say that it’s a modified de Milo.  In many ways, it seems similar to the one we saw in its place during the series finale, but this one seems to have regrown part of its left arm.  The whole attitude of the statue even seems to have shifted slightly, its gaze trained on its emerging (or shall we say evolving?) appendage.


A comparison of the original, real-world Venus de Milo (left)
and the modified Lynch original (right) from part 2

Given that this new version is actually the doppleganger of the Arm / Little Man in disguise, this makes sense, but it does call into question whether this statue has always been associated with the Arm / Little Man rather than Laura, as Christy Desmet has suggested (see above).

In part 3, after Coop escapes and Douggie is sent to the Lodge in his place, the marble top table is again shown briefly as Mike places Douggie’s ring back on it. Here too the orientation of the floor pattern has been rotated relative to the table as shown previously.

Conclusions(?)

It’s both fascinating and infuriating to consider the shifts in the presentation of the dream space known as the Red Room of Twin Peaks. Who can say really what is significant when the creator of the whole thing may not even know himself? And at the end of the day, Peaks is no stranger to continuity errors, even if we ignore all the problematic tie-in media (yes, including the Secret History) and keep our focus on the main text of the original series, feature film, and Return. While in many ways Lynch is very meticulous as an artist, he also clearly doesn’t allow himself to bog down his creative vision by these sorts of concerns. [8]

All that said, however, the Red Room is significant to the story of Peaks, and given that much of its impact is visual in nature, it’s hard to imagine that the rotating floor pattern is insignificant—i.e., just an “accident,” or a series of continuity errors, random happenstance on shooting day, etc. I’m not sure how exactly, but given that we see it presented both ways at different points in the film makes me think it’s a directorial/artistic choice. In any case, it’s conspicuous. Take from that what you will.

Finally, with the exception of the Angel scene, which takes place in a sort of impossible “no particular time,” I note that the original “dream” orientation of the lines seems to coincide with our perception of the room before Cooper is trapped there, and that the other presentation occurs only after. This and the changing hallway statue might point to the perspectives of the Red Room shifting or evolving between different states related to the focus of the lodge denizens’ attention being directed at Cooper vs. Laura. But again, the Angel scene is possibly an anomaly. And also Idk if notions like “before” and “after” even really hold water in this story at all any more.

For now I think I will have to end this essay with a bit of a question mark, as there will almost certainly be more to add before The Return concludes.  Until then, here’s to increasingly complex imagery!

Notes

1. Except in flashbacks, yes, yes. As Albert would say, “Get a life, punks!” 🙂
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2. “Cherry Pie Wrapped in Barbed Wire.” Cinema, Aug. 1992. English version available  LINK
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3. I am avoiding the use of the misleading but often bandied about term “international pilot” since, as the series was actually picked up by ABC, this version was never actually shown internationally.
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A. Shooting script for episode 2. LINK
(Sorry for the switch to a “letter” note.  I had to add one and was too lazy to fix it.)
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4. Shooting script for episode 3. LINK
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5. Shooting script for episode 16. LINK
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6. Desmet, Christy. “The Cannonization of Laura Palmer.” Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks, Edited by David Lavery. Wayne State UP, 1995. pp. 93-108.
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7. ASCII diagram created by Thomas Michanek. Excerpted from Edwin Nomura’s “Twin Peaks Timeline.” Available online at TwinPeaksArchive.org
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8. While events depicted in FWWM jive very well for the most part with the pilot episode, the further into the rest of the series you look, the more things break apart.  For example, Truman finds proof in ep. 16 that the call to Laura’s phone at 9pm the evening she died came from Ben Horne’s office, rather than from James as is depicted in the film. The easy conclusion to draw here is that Lynch and Engels were careful to a point but just weren’t that worried about extended continuity. This may have been especially the case with stuff not revealed until season 2.
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