Spoilers for the first three episodes of Twin Peaks Season 3.
Things have changed in Twin Peaks in the gap between Seasons 2 and 3, and nowhere is this more true than with Dale Cooper. The return of David Lynch's seminal murder mystery/soap opera/pastiche is a cultural event of the highest order - television or otherwise - and at the center of that is the question over the fate of Kyle MacLachlan's main figure.
In the original Twin Peaks, FBI Special Agent Cooper was a fastidious, quirky investigator with a love of damn fine coffee and an openness to the messages of dreams. Naturally he became right at home in Twin Peaks, a small Washington town with its own unique peculiarities, an excellent diner, a bounty of mysteries to solve and, of course, the corrupting powers of the Black Lodge - a strange other world of zigzag floors and red drapes home to dark designs.
Season 2 ended with Coop entering the Lodge to save love interest Annie from evil force BOB (the being behind the death of Laura Palmer, the mystery which first opened the series). Once inside the iconic red room of his dreams, Cooper found himself on an increasingly weird journey culminating in his dark doppelganger chasing down and replacing him; in the show's final scene, Cooper returned to the Great Northern Hotel in Twin Peaks, smashed his head against the mirror and revealed to the audience that the version in the real world was now under BOB's control.
That was where Cooper's story - and indeed all of Twin Peaks - stopped for twenty-six years. There was an extended ending that had BOB-Cooper faking being knocked out to explain the mirror smash, but that was ultimately non-canon and did nothing to address what was actually going on. The litany of tie-in material offered few clues either, with the only hints being time-traversing moments in prequel movie Fire Walk With Me; Annie pleaded with a then still living Laura to write in her diary that "The good Dale is in the lodge, and he can't leave" and later Laura saw a trapped Dale in the Red Room. What had been intended as a cliffhanger became a dark end-note; BOB won, Cooper fell and we were powerless.
But then comes the delightful, unexpected Season 3. Twin Peaks: The Return sees David Lynch expanding the series - in terms of locations, ambition and general terror-cum-weirdness - but within that he finally answers what happened to Cooper. Or should that be Coopers.
Yes, there's three Dale Coopers in Season 3; the original one we all grew to love is still trapped in the Black Lodge, the evil doppelganger is out causing all kinds mischief in the real world, and there's also a hitherto unknown third lookalike, Dougie.
Good Cooper (our Cooper, if you will) is - and presumably has been for the past twenty-five years - experiencing the usual Twin Peaks weirdness in the Black Lodge, containing the Giant, the One-Armed Man, the Arm, Laura Palmer and Leland Palmer.
It's hinted that he's been in a loop, with the One-Armed Man (the vessel for good spirit and counterpoint to BOB, Mike) asking over and over "Is it past or is it future?" in the classic backwards-reverse talking until the twenty-five years, promised by Laura Palmer in the finale, elapses. At this point an apparition or spirit of Laura appears and tells Cooper he can leave. However, things aren't that simple. A vision of Leland implies that it's his job to save Laura and, as the Arm (once a dancing dwarf, now an electric tree) explains, Coop's doppelganger first needs to return to the Lodge. This is why he's been stuck for so long and what Evil Cooper is trying to avoid.
The Evil Coop, the doppelganger from Black Lodge in the Season 2 finale, rather swiftly moved past asking "how's Annie?" and left Twin Peaks - when the Log Lady tells Chief that something regarding Cooper is missing in the Season 3 premiere, Lucy comments that he has been missing since the birth of her and Andy's son Wally over twenty-four years ago. All we currently know of his departure is that before leaving he visited Garland Briggs, after which the Major died in a fire.
When we're introduced to Mr. C in Part 1 he's presented as a crime figure, seen traversing South Dakota recruiting new underlings, getting involved in strange killings and hunting for some unfathomable information/coordinates. This BOB-induced version couldn't be more unlike the Dale we know, with shabby dress sense, slicked back hair and the inquisitive, purposeful demeanor that so defined Frank Silva's portrayal of the character.
What exactly he's done in the intervening decade-and-a-half in unclear, but his evident goal is to avoid his predetermined fate of returning to the Black Lodge. Curiously, he's shown to have been in contact Agent Phillip Jeffries, David Bowie's metaphysical former FBI agent from Fire Walk With Me, who at some point revealed the identity of a Colombian agent before someone, presumably Cooper, killed him.
At the twenty-five year point, the Lodge tries to pull him back in, during which time the real, good Cooper is sent on a metaphysical journey by the Arm's doppelganger. However, Evil Cooper manages to resist and survive, bringing us to the final version.
Finally there's Dougie, a third Cooper lookalike. A real-estate developer, he's introduced in Part 3 with a prostitute in an abandoned house and, as Evil Cooper resists the Lodge, gets sucked into the Red Room instead (in part due to him wearing the ring from Fire Walk With Me that dooms the wearer). There we learn that Dougie was created by an unknown force for an unknown purpose. Whatever that may be isn't elaborated on, but what's important is that the purpose is fulfilled - Dougie is turned into a gold ball and taken away by the One-Armed Man, leading to Cooper finally being free after twenty-five years (albeit without his memories).
Between Seasons 2 and 3, Dale Cooper has been exactly where we left him - in the Black Lodge - while the dark mirror walked the world. In the end, a third Cooper was brought in to free the original. Nothing could be more Twin Peaks. Duality and mirrors were a strong thematic throughline in the original Peaks and are even more prominent here - not only do we have three Dales, but there's also two Arms.
The whole Black Lodge experience makes it appear that while BOB feeds off souls, there's some sort of limit to his abilities or other tangible rules. This is sure to be key as we go forward, but that's not the biggest development here; most importantly, Cooper's back!
Twin Peaks returns next Sunday @9pm on Showtime. Episodes 3 and 4 are available for subscribers on the Showtime On Demand app immediately following the premiere.