I didn’t originally set out to write a set of articles on this subject, but here we are on the third of the series. This should be the last one. In Maybe It Doesn’t Matter What We Call It – Thoughts on Judy as a Metaphor, I explored the idea of Judy as a metaphor for not living in the present moment, generating pain and suffering by being mired in the worries of the past or the fears of the future. In The White of the Eyes – Revisiting Judy as a Metaphor, I explored Judy as a metaphor for the indifference of bystanders, which when paired up with “the evil that men do” creates the greatest possible pain and suffering. Sarah Palmer figures prominently in both articles, and sadly does not fare so well under analysis. With this article, we keep the themes, but jettison the metaphors. Here we’ll be exploring the idea of Judy as a real character (well, sort of) and how she relates to Sarah.
When Mark Frost gave us The Final Dossier, he answered a handful of mysteries left over from both the original and new seasons. One of those from Season 3 was who “1956 Girl” from Part 8 was. It is now confirmed that it was Sarah Palmer. Or rather, as she was known at the time, Sarah Judith Novack. For many, having her full name also confirmed another fan theory, that Sarah was possessed by Judy. Judy was her middle name, after all. Mark was practically beating us over the head with it.
Or was he?
I’m going to propose a different theory. Yes, her middle name is a hint. Not indicating that Sarah was *possessed* by Judy, but rather that Sarah *is* Judy. And Judy is Sarah. Bear with me though, there’s a little set up we have to get out of the way first.
Who Are The Dreamers?
The question was posed in Season 3, “Who is the dreamer?” The blurring of the lines between dreams and reality is a theme that has been present since the beginning of Twin Peaks. There are theories that the original series was all Laura’s dream, as a form of escapism from the horror of her life with Leland. Or that the beginning sequence of Fire Walk With Me in Deer Meadow was all Cooper’s dream. These theories may sound like they want to write off the entire series to an “it was all a dream” explanation, but it’s nothing as droll as that.
In Twin Peaks, dreams have a kind of substance to them. The dream world influences the real world, and the real world influences the dream world. The dream world consists of locations like the Black & White Lodges, the Red Room, the Fireman’s Mansion, and the Dutchman’s. It is inhabited by beings, like the Woodsmen, doppelgangers and tulpas. There are portals that allow us to cross over into their world and allow them to cross into ours.
The question “Who is the dreamer?” is somewhat of a misnomer. There is not just one dreamer, there are many. These dreamers are the “gifted” amongst us, the ones who have psychic abilities, like visions and premonitions. Magicians, in this frame of reference, are just dreamers who can control the dream. The dreams of these dreamers can overlap and interfere with each other. Dreamers can cross between dreams. One dreamer can superimpose their dream on another. It’s slippery in there.
The Gifted and the Damned
In the original series, MIKE says that only “the gifted and the damned” can see BOB. Sarah Palmer is one of the few who did indeed see BOB in the original series. The first moment we see her in the original pilot, she has intuited that something bad has happened to Laura. She has a vision of the white horse before Maddy is killed. In the Season 2 finale, she acts as a conduit for a message to Major Briggs from within the Black Lodge. As “1956 Girl” in Season 3, she “just knows” where the boy lives. So we’ve seen that Sarah’s power burns bright enough to draw the attention of the Lodges, and that it has been with her since childhood.
There’s little doubt that Sarah is gifted, but she is also damned. Leland had been molesting their daughter for years, right under Sarah’s nose, even with her “gift”. Yes, Leland drugged her milk before bed time, but she was not always drugged. As I pointed out in The White of the Eyes, the one time she is witness to the tension between Leland and Laura, she didn’t really come to her daughter’s aid. She just wanted everyone to sit back down at the dinner table and get things back to normal.
25 years later, Sarah still lives in that same house. Laura’s prom queen picture still sits prominently in the living room. Sarah is surrounded by the demons of her past. She is the sole survivor, and survivor’s guilt has taken over her world. There’s no one else left to blame. She was married to a monster, but in her inattentiveness, she sees herself as the greater monster. She has damned herself to this pitiful existence of isolation and alcoholism.
A Compelling Storytelling Reason
In multiple interviews, Mark Frost has said that he believed he had found a “compelling storytelling reason” to return to Twin Peaks , and it was good enough to sell David Lynch on the idea as well. We now know that this was not the “see you again in 25 years” line that had been planted in the Season 2 finale . They both had forgotten that line, but took it as a sign that they were on the right track when they stumbled across it again. So what was the story? I believe it was Sarah’s story.
You can see that David was intrigued with this idea because he started exploring it well before Season 3 even filmed. The Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery Blu-ray released in 2014 included a featurette, Between Two Worlds , in which Lynch, as himself, interviews the Palmer family, Laura, Leland and Sarah, all in character, dead and alive. He starts with Sarah, who explains that she still lives in the same house. She describes it as having many things falling apart, with the clear implication that she is talking about herself as well. This was a preview of her story in the coming Season 3.
Mark Frost has described Part 8 as a “Twin Peaks original story” . While many might want to believe he is referring to the birth of BOB, or the birth/rebirth of Laura, the one immutable fact is that it all ends on a young Sarah when it returns to the “real world.” Whatever else Part 8 was, it definitely showed us her origins. As Sarah tells the poor, befuddled grocery store clerk, something happened to her that night.
Beyond Part 8, Sarah has some of the most amazing and creepy moments in Season 3. Watching the nature documentary at home. Freaking out at the grocery store. Confronting the “Truck You” guy at the bar. Yet for all the power of these scenes, she only seems to exist on the periphery of the main story. She has no real story arc. After all, her life has ground to a halt.
On the other hand, Judy is apparently the secret driving force behind many of the season’s primary storylines. Bad Cooper is looking for her. Good Cooper, Gordon and Briggs are looking for her. Jeffries knows who she is and directs both Coopers in her direction. For all of that though, Judy is not even mentioned until Part 15, when Bad Cooper meets in person with Phillip Jeffries.
You’re Still With Me
In The Secret History, Dr. Jacoby’s final notes on the Laura Palmer case include the following assessment of Sarah Palmer:
“The mother almost immediately began a slow, steady slide into alcoholism and prescription drug abuse. There may be some trauma in her background that created a vulnerability—just a theory—but aren’t the facts of what happened in her family alone enough to unspool her? Could you survive that torment? I wasn’t able to pump the brakes on the poor woman’s descent, or answer her burning question: Why?”
Sarah has been broken by what happened to her, figuratively and literally. Her personality has fragmented, splitting her into two. She is both the victim of what happened to her, and one of the monsters to blame for it. Her monster is indifference, turning a blind eye. Her monster is guilt and regret. And she has given this monster a name. Her name. Judy.
Just as Leland had his BOB, now Sarah has her Judy. But it’s different for Sarah. Well, maybe.
This is another instance of Frost and Lynch masterfully playing with our expectations. In the original series, we were trained to think of Lodge entities as spirits that possess humans and make them do things against their will. However, in Fire Walk With Me, once again lines were blurred and we were left wondering just how much of Leland’s actions were truly enacted under the puppeteer hand of BOB. Was Albert maybe right when he said that BOB was just the evil that men do? A monster that Leland invented, that he could blame for his own evil thoughts and actions?
Bad Cooper has BOB “with” him, and yet he seems to be completely in control of his own actions, to the point that he has to look deep inside himself to even be sure BOB is still there. This could be because he’s a doppelganger, or perhaps he has elevated himself to magician status and, with that upgrade, gained control over BOB. Or maybe this is how BOB has always worked. Not like the possessing demon, but rather as the little devil, sitting on your shoulder, whispering a little louder than the angel on your other shoulder. Allowing you to make the free will decisions to commit evil. Just like the real devil (or as he’s also known, Beelzebub).
On A Short Leash
So Sarah invented Judy, but Sarah is no ordinary person. Sarah is one of the gifted and damned. Sarah is a dreamer, maybe a powerful one. Sarah is also no doubt a shining beacon of pain and suffering, aka garmonbozia. The Black Lodge has worked through her in the past. Perhaps she is being given a boost by one of the Black Lodge denizens. For example, the Jumping Man, who was subtly associated with Sarah on at least two occasions during Season 3. She still lives in that house, with one or more portals to the Black Lodge.
Whatever the mechanics, and however much power it takes to pull it off, Sarah has made her dream manifest. Judy exists inside Sarah, but Sarah is still mostly in control. When Sarah cracks up at the grocery store, Judy doesn’t jump to the forefront and take control. Judy speaks through Sarah, coaching her out the door and yelling at her a bit even, but Judy doesn’t take over. Likewise when Hawk comes to visit afterwards, Judy seems to let Sarah handle the interaction, because they both know that nothing is going to come of it.
This changes up a bit in the bar scene though. There we see Judy take control to defend Sarah. She takes Sarah’s face off to look directly at the “Truck You” guy and then lashes out through that opening to tear his throat out. When Sarah is given back control, she legitimately freaks out at the dead guy who just suddenly appeared on the ground next to her. She wasn’t part of that interaction. Judy speaks though her one last time, commenting to the bartender in a manner that makes him step away from her in instinctual fear.
The Influence of Sarah’s Dream
However handy it might be to have your own personal monster on hand to deal with overbearing assholes, some part of Sarah wants to be found and exposed. So she is superimposing her dream onto others, starting with the FBI. Thus Jefferies has been retconned from working with a “Miss Judy” in Argentina to hunting for this “extreme negative force” named “Judy”. Gordon, Briggs and Cooper had a meeting that simply could not have happened, to cook up a plan with the weirdly vague goal of just finding Judy. Are they trying to destroy her? Confine her? Hand her over to the Lodge authorities? The reason their plan seems so nebulous is because it’s actually coming from Sarah. She doesn’t really understand what they do. She has altered reality so that the FBI is looking for her, and has always been looking for her.
She may even be influencing Bad Cooper, as he seems to be questing for Judy, with no idea who Judy is or what she wants from him. Jeffries mocks him when they meet, saying “You’ve already met Judy.” This is true if Jeffries knows that the answer to his initial question of “Who is Judy?” is Sarah Palmer. Like the FBI, Bad Cooper doesn’t seem to have any real plan what to do after he finds Judy. It’s just the one thing that he “wants”.
Judy’s influence may also be seeping into the town of Twin Peaks. Present day Twin Peaks is just not the same. It’s darker somehow. If I can be allowed to be metaphorical again, this is Judy as the indifference of strangers at work. When everyone concentrates on themselves and ignores the world around them, the sense of community falls apart. Margaret encourages everyone to nurture the light within themselves, but also to find the light in others and reach out to them. Bobby sees this indifference in his encounters with both the gun shooting kid and the crazy honking lady.
Meanwhile, Judy keeps Sarah isolated and inebriated. She sits around the house and watches violence on TV all day. She raises an eyebrow at the lions taking down the water buffalo. She uses her ability to warp the boxing match and loop it on the knockout punch. This is apparently what monsters do while they wait for the FBI to show up on their doorstep. “Men are coming.”
Listen To the Sounds
At the beginning of Season 3, The Fireman and Agent Cooper have the following conversation:
[FIREMAN] Agent Cooper. Listen to the sounds.
[FIREMAN] It is in our house now.
[COOPER] It is.
[FIREMAN] It all cannot be said aloud now. Remember 430. Richard and Linda. Two birds with one stone.
[COOPER] I understand.
While no one can know for sure, consensus is settling down on the idea that this scene happened after Cooper saved Laura in the past, but before he sets off on his mission to find Laura in the present. The Fireman is instructing Cooper for his mission, but first he warns Cooper that they can’t speak openly about the plan. There are “sounds” present and “it” is in their house. (On the Season 3 Blu-ray, David Lynch refers to this setting as “the Fireman’s mansion”, i.e. his “house”.) The Fireman reminds Cooper of a few cryptic highlights from the plan and sends him on his way.
So there’s something in the Fireman’s mansion, something associated with a “soft clicking, scratching noise” (as it is put in the closed captioning), and it’s something that the Fireman is plotting against with Agent Cooper. Of course, Cooper just heard that strange sound, right before Laura Palmer was snatched away from him in Part 17, as they walked through the woods.
The Art of Apparating
The other sound associated with that scene in the woods is Laura’s scream. She lets out a long, distorted scream, painful sounding, as if she is being torn out of the very fabric of reality. This is another sound we’ve heard before. This is the same scream Carrie made when she was snatched away in the Red Room. In that scene, it did indeed look painful, whatever was happening to her. This is also not unlike when Jeffries reappears in the Buenos Aires hotel, screaming in agony and leaving a scorch mark on the wall. This is what happens when amateurs apparate (as Tammy put it in The Final Dossier). When the Fireman sends Cooper away, there’s a smooth digital winking out effect. No screaming, no pain. He’s a pro. Whoever snatched Laura/Carrie away? They are not.
It was Judy, acting through Sarah’s ability, in both instances. Everyone seems to think that Judy is a Lodge entity, on par with BOB or possibly even the Fireman. She’s the Experiment, or the Experiment Model, or American Girl’s “mother”, or Jack Parson’s Babalon. It’s all a bit presumptuous and overreaching. This season has been, honestly, pretty straight forward with the clues, and there just aren’t any real clues that point to any of those links.
Judy is not a Lodge entity. She’s just Sarah Palmer, a dreamer with raw ability and power. She’s a wild card. So extreme measures need to be taken against her. It’s “very important”.
The Man with the Plan(s)
So how do you deal with Judy? She’s a product of Sarah’s broken state, so if you heal Sarah, you eliminate Judy. Plan A is to send Cooper back in time to rescue Laura from the night of her death. Cooper says he’s taking her “home”, and is headed towards the White Lodge entrance, near Jack Rabbit’s Palace. Perhaps he was going to bring her forward in time, back to present day Twin Peaks, to reunite her with Sarah. We’ll never know, of course, because Judy intervened. As we saw events unfold:
- Cooper takes Laura’s hand and the scene turns to color
- Laura’s dead body apparates off the beach and Pete goes fishing
- Judy (in the present) goes berserk and attacks Laura’s homecoming picture
- Cooper and Laura walk through the woods, he looks back at her several times
- The woods go silent, we hear the noise, and Cooper realizes Laura is no longer holding his hand
- Laura screams
Judy needs Laura to be dead in order for Sarah to hold on to her guilt and grief. She can’t stop Cooper, he’s already saved Laura. But she can interfere with the plan. She rips Laura out of there and places her in a new reality. Or rather, a new dream. More on that in a bit. So now Laura went missing, she didn’t die. But she still went through all of the trauma that led up to that night. Leland kills himself after a year, leaving Sarah once again the sole survivor. Tammy says that much of the investigation went along the same lines, but you’d have to guess that Laura’s secret diary never turned up, or else Leland would have been killing himself in jail. Nonetheless, even without all the same rocks being overturned, Sarah could always “just know”. Perhaps she even made Leland kill himself after finding out what happened. Who knows?
Here is the point where Cooper would have returned to the Fireman’s mansion and had the conversation we see at the beginning of Part 1. Judy is now on to them and she’s on the offensive. Plan B first involves getting 430 miles away from Twin Peaks. I suspect this gets them out of the range of Sarah’s influence. Incidentally, Tammy experiences something similar at the end of The Final Dossier, and I’d hazard a guess that it was around 430 miles out when the fog settling over her memories of the “unofficial version” was lifted.
At this point, Cooper and Diane “cross” into the new reality and eventually Cooper tracks down Carrie Page, not Laura. This is a surprise to him. This was not part of the plan. The names Laura and Leland mean nothing to her, but the name Sarah visibly shakes her. That’s important. It’s her connection to Sarah that is the door to bringing her back to herself. That door swings both ways.
(BTW, I’m calling these Plan A and Plan B, but they may just be Part 1 and Part 2 of the overall continuous plan. After all, the Fireman showed Andy a vision of the #6 pole at Carrie’s house, before Cooper went back in time to save Laura. So his knowledge extends across the entirety.)
The End Game
Cooper is not just surprised that Laura has this new identity. He’s also surprised by her circumstances. After all, this world was created for Laura by her mother essentially. Yet she’s obviously not been living a very good or fulfilling life. She lives in “this fucking town of Odessa”. She has no family. She works as a waitress at a diner where the cowboy customers probably regularly harass her. And of course, there’s the dead body in the living room. From the perspective of Judy though, this is exactly what she wants. She still needs Sarah to feel her guilt. In this reality, Laura ran away and took on a new identity. She’s completely blocked off the trauma of her childhood, either voluntarily or involuntarily. “In those days I was too young to know any better,” she tells Agent Cooper on the drive. This is the movie that plays out in Sarah’s mind when she thinks of what happened to her now missing daughter. It’s not going to be happy.
Judy keeps watch over Laura in this world. It’s not just that she works at Judy’s diner. There are white horses both in front of the diner and on Carrie’s fireplace mantel. The same white horses Sarah sees in her visions – avatars of Judy. Agent Cooper also saw a white horse in the Red Room, right after Carrie was snatched away. “It is in our house now”. We see that the Fireman has also been keeping tabs on Carrie, through the #6 utility pole, but remember that he was not able to brief Agent Cooper fully before sending him in.
So Cooper went in expecting resistance from Judy, but he just doesn’t know exactly what form it will take. This is why he goes all out on the three cowboys, and keeps a wary eye on the rest of the customers and staff at Judy’s diner. When Carrie asks if they are being followed, he considers it a possibility, but then it doesn’t pan out. She’s watching them, no doubt, but that’s not Judy’s move here.
Cooper takes Carrie to the Palmer residence in Twin Peaks, only to find there are no Palmers living there. His mission to reunite Laura and Sarah is apparently foiled. Presumably, even in the “official version”, Sarah continued to live at the Palmer house. When Tammy is reporting on all of the changes that rippled through the town, one of the things she reports on is the incident with the “Truck You” guy. This event happened in both versions. Cooper expected that to be the same in the Carrie Page universe. Perhaps he even thinks he’s in the “official version”, and not in a third, different reality all together. In this reality though, Judy relocated Sarah long ago, making his mission impossible.
However, the Fireman had his own move to play as well. He positioned Tremonds, and Chalfonts before them, at the Palmer residence. These are agents of the Lodges. They maintain the portal there. Through that connection, at that house, Sarah is able to reach out to Laura. She somehow finds a hole in the walls Judy has built up around them, and calls out to Laura. Carrie remembers, screams, and the lights go out.
Sarah is the dreamer who wakes up at the end of Part 18.
What Is Your Name?
One last loose end to wrap up. You may have noticed I said Carrie was the one snatched away in the Red Room this season, not Laura. That’s because of the other big clue that has recently been dropped on the fan community in the extras on the Season 3 Blu-ray. While filming, David Lynch likes to call the actors by their character’s name, and as they are preparing for a Red Room scene, it can be heard that “Carrie” is being called on set. Carrie, as in Carrie Page. That’s Carrie Page in the Red Room with Dale during Part 1, not Laura Palmer. In hind sight, it makes a great deal of sense. She’s older. She has Carrie’s haircut. Of course it was Carrie.
So what does that mean? I’ll be honest here and say I’m not sure, but here’s what I think.
Sarah’s influence is extending into the Red Room. This is a Carrie Page that Sarah has dreamed up. She’s not real, the clues are all there in her dialogue with Cooper. “I am dead, yet I live.” This may even be the Laura we’ve always seen in the Red Room. “I feel like I know her.” When she takes her face off, it’s all bright light inside. The exact opposite of Sarah/Judy, of course. This is the beautiful, perfect image of a grown Laura that Sarah has in her mind. This is the good “what if” version of a grown Laura – Sarah’s Laura. Cooper has influence here also, as a dreamer, so he may even be helping realize this version.
The Carrie that Cooper found in Odessa is the real Laura. This is the Laura that Judy created. After snatching her away from Cooper’s grasp just after he saved her, Judy placed her in this other dream, and Laura lost herself in a new identity, presumably the same way Diane has now been lost to “Linda”. This Laura has grown up as “Carrie” over the last 25 years, in this Judy-controlled existence. She’s tried to keep a clean house, but nonetheless, there’s a yard full of nooses and a dead body on the couch. This is the bad “what if” version of a grown Laura – Judy’s Laura.
The rest of Part 8 might also be nothing but Sarah’s dream. BOB is now realized as a cancerous tumor, and Laura is a beatific golden orb. That orb is superimposed with Laura’s homecoming picture. The same one that sits prominently in Sarah’s living room. The same one Judy attacked in frustration. This Sarah’s idealized image of Laura. Young Sarah is corrupted after her first kiss – a corruption that enters symbolically through her mouth. Sarah’s parents were Defense Department employees directly involved in the Manhattan Project. They were there for the Trinity test, having moved to Los Alamos in 1943, shortly after Sarah’s birth. So in August 1956, Sarah would have been 12 or 13, depending on what month she was born. The same age as Laura when she was corrupted by BOB.
Whose Story Is That, Charlie?
As the Evolution of the Arm implies, this season was “the story of the little girl who lived down the lane.” 1956 Girl. Sarah Judith Novack Palmer. And it’s a goddamned bad story, isn’t it? It’s a story about a woman so broken by the events of her past that she has splintered into two parts, Sarah the victim and Judy the monster. Sarah uses her influence to put everyone on the case of finding and exposing Judy, and Judy uses that same power to defend her very existence. We thought the good versus evil battle royale was going to be between Agent Cooper and his doppelganger this season, but we were played once again.
As always, Twin Peaks is a story about trauma at its core, and this season was an exploration into the trauma of the survivor. Was it happy ending? Did Agent Cooper save Laura (bird #1) and heal Sarah (bird #2)? I’m not sure. He brought them together, and that’s all the more we know of the Fireman’s plan. What happens after that is another story.
Notes / References:
- “How ‘Twin Peaks’ Got Lost, and Found Its Way Back” (NY Times, May 17, 2017): https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/17/arts/television/twin-peaks-showtime-david-lynch-interview.html
- “Mark Frost Q&A” (Dugpa.com, Oct 29, 2017): http://www.dugpa.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=3935
- “Twin Peaks Season 3 Preview” (YouTube, Silvester Mule, May 8, 2016): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abHyTbOA0Oo
- “The last word on “Twin Peaks” by David Lynch’s co-creator Mark Frost” (Salon, Nov 7, 2017): https://www.salon.com/2017/11/07/the-last-word-on-twin-peaks-by-david-lynchs-co-creator-mark-frost/