I’m a few years older than I was when I first watched Twin Peaks. Though what drew me to the show is still there – an interest in occult and trees and corpses – I find myself more attracted to the relationships between women in this show. The attempts to solve Laura’s murder by Donna and Maddie, the two women who thought they were the closest to Laura, is as much about solving where they couldn’t save Laura. The relationship between these women – the best friends, the almost sisters, the obligations now that she is dead – is much richer now than it was the first time I watched it.
Though the question asked is “who killed Laura Palmer,” the real questions ends up being “who is Laura Palmer.” And as the series progresses it becomes clear that “Laura Palmer” was an image that no one could live up to, and any attempts of taking on that role leads to harm. Laura was killed because she could never be Laura Palmer, and as the series begins we only have fragments of her remaining.
The investigation of Laura Palmer’s death that fuels Twin Peaks is spearheaded by Special Agent Dale Cooper, but a parallel investigation is done by Laura’s best friend, Donna Hayward. Donna, who has spent much of her life in Laura’s shadow, tries to solve the murder of her best friend – partly out of loyalty, but also out of a desire to find out who Laura really was. Laura kept secrets from everyone, and after Laura dies it becomes apparent to Donna how little she knew about her. With James, Laura’s lover and now Donna’s, and Laura’s cousin Maddie, Donna tries to figure out what happened to her friend and finds out that part of her investigation requires her to become Laura, in one way or another.
In the process of finding out who killed Laura, Donna ends up taking on the roles Laura had to play. She becomes James’ lover, and the two delve into her past – seeing Jacobi, talking to her parents, finding out what happens when Laura would run away in the night. These moments can be shared, like when Maddie delivers Laura’s sunglasses to Donna. With the sunglasses on, each takes up the impossibly cool mystique of Laura, to the point where Donna would “do James through the bars” of his prison cell. But much like when Laura tried them, these roles are fatal. Donna’s search for Laura’s secret diary ends up with Harold, the keeper of the diary, committing suicide. Her own life is always at risk, she avoids being killed simply by chance, but she continues, obligated to a woman who becomes more and more of a stranger as each day passes.
These roles, both the role of detective and role of Laura, becomes a burden. There is a scene, which for me is one of the best moments of Twin Peaks, where Donna visits Laura’s grave to have a talk. Like most of Twin Peaks, this could have been campy or insincere, but manages to be a strangely honest moment. Donna is scared and tired, and all of “Laura’s problems” are becoming “her problems.” Your best friend is dead, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be angry at her. Donna cannot, and should not, be Laura. As Donna brushes against the Black Lodge, with meeting the old woman and her grandson and Leland almost killing her, she manages to survive by becoming separate from Laura.
Donna holds on to Laura’s dead hand, trying to solve her friend’s murder when she was unable to save her. But part of mourning involves moving on, and instead of becoming Laura, Donna needed to become herself.