This article contains spoilers for all of Twin Peaks, including the novels.
To some, any discussion of Twin Peaks “continuity” is a futile effort from the start. Twin Peaks is a series filled with mysticism, things both wonderful and strange. It doesn’t exactly sit in “reality” as we know it. There are worlds beyond our world. The White and Black Lodges. The place above the convenience store.
You can’t have a discussion about the continuity of Twin Peaks the same way you can about something like say, Star Trek. It’s not quite as fluid as that. Already I’ve probably lost any casual readers of this article but that’s okay because even attempting to discuss continuity in relation to Twin Peaks is not for those with imperfect courage.
To even attempt to discuss this, we need to go back at the beginning… if that’s what it even is anymore. Yeah, I know, my head is already spinning.
Twin Peaks: Season One
At this point there’s no need to even think about “continuity errors” in relation to the series. It’s just started and the first season is mostly just dealing with the central mystery of who killed Laura Palmer. Yeah sure, there was that weird dream with the Red Room but maybe that was just Cooper’s mind reacting to all the coffee and donuts.
Twin Peaks: The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer
Over the years many fans have noticed the dates in this book are slightly off compared to the series. The book assumes the series takes place in 1990 when it really takes place in 1989. It was most likely just a slight error in the writing of the book but if you’re looking at everything that comes out of Twin Peaks as if it’s real (as we are for the purposes of this article) then it becomes very important later on.
Twin Peaks: Season Two
Things start to get murky here, but only a bit. The existence of the Red Room is confirmed as a physical place that can be traveled to. The Black and White Lodges are established. According to Hawk there are “other worlds” out there. Okay, so maybe there are pocket dimensions around Twin Peaks. Not exactly what you’d expect after viewing season one but still totally workable. There’s still only one timeline.
The Autobiography of Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes
Again, small things of note. Some continuity errors with the series and later film, the biggest of which is that Agent Cooper investigates the Teresa Banks murder and not Chester Desmond. Yeah yeah, the book was written before the film and we all know the behind the scenes reasons why Cooper wasn’t there but go with me here. The differences between the book and film point to something being amiss in the continuity of Twin Peaks.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
While the film is mostly a prequel there are two key scenes that start to unravel the Twin Peaks timeline and makes the “definitive” timeline of Twin Peaks murky.
In the opening half hour Phillip Jeffries seemingly time travels to the FBI office and might even have knowledge of Cooper’s fate from the end of season two. It’s just vague enough though that we can assume this never directly impacted Cooper’s life in relation to what occurred in Twin Peaks.
However the scene where Annie communicates with Laura in a dream raises some questions. Annie instructs Laura to write in her diary that, “the good Dale is in the Lodge and can’t leave.” It’s pretty clear the Annie that’s communicating with Laura is at least relaying her information from just after the “Bad Dale” left the Lodge.
So did Laura write that in her diary? Was there a version of the timeline where she didn’t get that message? If she didn’t write it in her diary then okay, the timeline isn’t changed. We’re good.
The Secret History of Twin Peaks
This is where things start to unravel. Previously established facts from the series, like Nadine and Big Ed’s courtship, Pete’s love of chess, and Audrey’s characterization are all changed. Some of that can be chalked up to intentional errors on Mark Frost’s part. This novel was supposed to be a mystery to crack and there are implications parts of the book may have been tampered with.
Okay, okay, maybe we’re still good but if the errors are intended to be the new version of events? We’re looking at a new timeline. A timeline where Pete is good at checkers instead of chess. A timeline where Nadine has a different maiden name. A timeline where Ben surrendered during the Civil War reenactment.
These all seem minor but combined with the timeline inaccuracies in the Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (and even the Dale Cooper book) they start to add up to something more. Perhaps the timeline has changed. Perhaps there are parallel universes.
Again, I know some of these are just legit errors on the writers part but dang it, I’m going to try and make this work!
Twin Peaks: Season 3
So okay there was a lot of weirdness in this season but let’s focus on the final two episodes where Cooper travels back in time and stops Laura from being murdered. Once that occurs everything is changed. Cooper finds someone who looks like Laura… but isn’t her. They return to Twin Peaks and Laura’s mother is gone. Nothing is the same anymore.
On the surface this was all probably just meant to symbolize Cooper’s arrogance in attempting to change the timeline. He can’t save everyone. He couldn’t save Caroline, he couldn’t save Annie, and he shouldn’t have tried to save Laura.
Yeah but why stop there when we can get really nerdy about it.
There are other instances throughout the season of the world of Twin Peaks being “off”. One of the bigger ones was Audrey’s final scene. One second she’s dancing in the Roadhouse and then BOOM, she’s in a white room. What’s going on there? No answer is given so fans are left to guess. Is she on an alien spaceship? Were all of her scenes a dream and she’s locked up in a psych ward?
Perhaps she got jolted back to another timeline.
So without a doubt there are now two different “versions” of the Twin Peaks world. One where Laura died and one where she disappeared. The latter is the one we’re left with at the end of season three so that’s it, right? The original timeline was just erased? Not quite.
Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier
Perhaps the last bit of Twin Peaks lore we’ll ever get, Mark Frost’s book includes some critical information that opens up a multiverse of possibilities for the series.
During the novel Tammy checks the Twin Peaks Post and it mentions Cooper had originally come into town to aid in the “investigation into the disappearance, still unsolved, of local teenage beauty queen, Laura Palmer.”
So okay, the timeline where Laura vanished is confirmed to be the current one. What’s fascinating is that Tammy is aware of these changes but everyone else in Twin Peaks isn’t or at least is starting to forget. Take note of this entry.
“When I spoke to our good friends at the sheriff’s office about this, they all got a slightly dazed and confused expression on their faces when I brought it up, as it they were lost in a fog, having trouble recalling, unable to fully wrap their minds around something that happened so very long ago.
Until finally they said, each and every one of them, “Yeah, that sounds right. That’s how I remember it.”
So is this a Back to the Future type situation where slowly the timeline starts to ripple out and change the future? Will the people of Twin Peaks soon forget everything about the original timeline? It appears to be that way.
However there’s another wrinkle in all this. Tammy, who is only visiting Twin Peaks, is not caught in the same “fog” as the others. However after she’s spent a few days there things start to change,
“Chief, I’m I’ve written all this down rapidly, because my own thoughts about every one of these events are growing fuzzier and more indistinct the longer I stay here, creeping into my mind like a mist. I can feel a kind of mental lassitude physically advancing on me. Something’s wrong; whether it’s with me or this place, I don’t know and I don’t really care anymore.”
Why is Tammy only affected by this now when others in the town seem to have almost forgotten what originally happened? In a unique twist on time travel alterations, the “mental lassitude” that plagued Tammy in Twin Peaks begins to fade as she flies back to Philadelphia.
“The uncanny penumbra I reported here hasn’t life me – I barely slept – but it’s fading as I travel farther east. I don’t know what to make of it.”
So… are the timeline changes only happening in Twin Peaks? Is the rest of the world continuing on as normal but the town of Twin Peaks is in a different universe or timeline? Or is it that the changes are rippling out from Twin Peaks to the rest of the world and soon no one will remember the original timeline?
We’ll never get a definitive answer to this, especially after season three demonstrated the series wasn’t interested in tying up these kinds of loose ends. That’s okay, Twin Peaks is a series filled with mystery and trying to figure it out like what I’ve attempted to do here is part of the fun.
In the end I believe Cooper’s interference in the past did create a ripple effect. It was small at first. Dates in Laura’s diary, Cooper v. Chet Desmond investigating the murder of Teresa Banks, and small details in The Secret History of Twin Peaks.
Soon though bigger details were changed, as we saw in the final scenes of season three. Perhaps, if the story continued, more events and characters would be different. It’s hard to say.
All I can say for sure is that where the series ends up at the end of season three is a different timeline from where we started in season one. Whether that timeline totally subverts the original one or they exist side by side (perhaps that’s what Audrey’s scene is all about) is something for fans to speculate on for years to come.
There’s fire where Shamus Kelley is going. Follow him on Twitter!