If nothing else, 2020 has been the Year of the Boxset Binge. After all, sitting around catching up on entire TV series isn’t just one of the safest things we can do during lockdown – a lot of the time, it’s the onlything we can do. For me, this has meant finally watching classic shows I’ve been meaning to get around to for years, and lately, it’s meant trying to wrap my head around ground-breaking mystery-drama Twin Peaks.
To be honest, so far, I’ve failed as often as I’ve succeeded here. While the lyricism, artistry and quirky humour of Twin Peaks – which ran from 1990-1991, with a belated third season released in 2017 – are easy to fall in love with, the surreal, non-sequitur approach to storytelling by co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost ensures that I’m often left scratching my head when it comes to the finer points of Twin Peaks’ plot.
Fortunately, there’s at least one thing I am sure of: not only is series protagonist Dale Cooper my kinda guy, he’s exactly the kind of hero that we desperately need to see more of on TV today.
What makes Cooper such a great hero?
If you’re unfamiliar with Twin Peaks, you’re probably wondering who Dale Cooper is and what makes him so special. The short answer is he’s the brilliant FBI agent assigned to investigate the murder of Laura Palmer, after the homecoming queen’s corpse is discovered on a riverbank near the town that lends the show its name.
But there’s so much more to Cooper – played by Kyle MacLachlan, who nabbed an Emmy for his performance – than merely his keen intellect. Indeed, in many ways, Coop’s formidable crime solving talents are the least remarkable thing about him; it’s his other, less immediately impressive qualities that end up distinguishing him among TV’s ever-expanding stable of prodigiously skilled detectives.
For starters, in contrast to the surly sleuths and gruff gumshoes that dominate the genre, Cooper is a straight-up nice guy. From the moment we’re introduced to him in Twin Peaks’ feature-length pilot, Coop establishes himself as a good-natured, unconventional, slightly eccentric lawman who treats everyone around him with respect and courtesy.
It doesn’t matter that Cooper is clearly smarter and more sophisticated than the small-town folk around him: he never dismisses them, their opinions, or their expertise.
If anything, Cooper embraces the town and its colourful inhabitants, which brings me to Cooper’s next stand-out trait: his unfailing ability to greet the new and the unknown with wonder and enthusiasm. Whether it’s discovering that an old colleague is transgender or coming to grips with otherworldly forces beyond human comprehension, Coop isn’t just unflappable – he’s open-minded and excited to learn more.
Not that you should mistake Cooper for a naïve idealist oblivious to the harsh realities of life, though. On the contrary – his third and final commendable quality is his capacity to suffer terrible physical and emotional trauma without giving in to despair. Incredibly, unlike the spiritually broken detectives of other programs, no matter what Lynch and Frost throw at him, Coop steadfastly refuses to let the horrors of his past or the darkness in his present rob him of his innate decency and compassion for others.
OK – but what does Dale Cooper have to do with heroes in 2020?
By now, we can all agree that Agent Dale Cooper is a heckuva fella – but how does that relate to today’s crop of small screen heroes? It’s simple: we need to see more positive role models on TV right now.
To be clear: I’m not saying there’s no room for gritty anti-heroes or sympathetic villains, as there’ll always be a place for these archetypes in pop culture.
What I am saying is that during these turbulent times, when so many people are lashing out at each other and divisions in society seem more pronounced than ever, we need someone to remind us how to be our best selves.
Someone who’s smart, brave, resourceful, and tenacious, yet also kind and ready to hear people out before rushing to confront them. Someone who doesn’t go on the offensive when encountering something outside their comfort zone but rather welcomes it gladly, and who recognises spiritualism and intuition as supplementary to facts and hard science, not a replacement for them.
And most importantly of all, someone who can endure a trying year like 2020 without losing their optimism for what the future still holds in store for us, individually and together.
In short: we need someone like Dale Cooper.