“They move so slowly when they’re not afraid:” Paying Attention to Women in Twin Peaks

There are two scenes which provide an interesting dichotomy in Season 3.  The scene where Nadine is carrying her shovel and releases Ed.  The scene where in the Red Room, Laura tells Dale to go out now.  Both scenes are interesting because they are very similar and yet could not be more different, and provide a central hub of a theme in Twin Peaks, the theme of paying attention to and heeding the advice and words of women.  In one scene, the woman was paid attention to, and in the other, the woman wasn’t and both results spun the world in different directions.  If we’ve learned anything from Twin Peaks, it’s that women must be paid attention to.  This will be explored through an analysis of each of these scenes and then an exploration of when women were and were not heeded.


Nadine walks down to Ed’s Gas Farm and announces that she’s freeing him.  She knows and has known that Ed and Norma belong together.  She knows that she’s kept him in bondage in the marriage for too long.  She’s been selfish. Through her repeated viewings of Dr. Amp, she knows this now and knows that she must start making Ed and Norma’s lives happy, since she is at peace and happy too.  Ed is unsure of her.  He looks confused.  He questions if Nadine is okay because of her history with mental instability.  She says she is okay, gives him the shovel and leaves.  Ed is still confused, yet he follows Nadine’s words.  He knows Nadine has released him before, but now this release feels more real.  He listens to her and leaves to finally become one with Norma. 


Dale sees Laura for the first time in a long time in the Lodge.  After confirming who she is to Dale, she opens her face and light radiates out of it.  She also says that he can go out now.  She walks over, whispers in his ear, and gets sucked out of the Lodge.  Dale doesn’t leave. He is confused.  He is drawn deeper into the Lodge and told that he can’t leave until his Doppleganger is lured back in.  He is told this by the Evolution of the Arm (not an entirely trustworthy character) and MIKE.  He is told to find Laura by Leland, another villainous character.  Not only that, but for an unknown reason, he is tossed out into non-existence and his long and twisted journey begins. 

Comparing the two

Both involve women instructing the man to do something that will be for the betterment of his life.  Both involve a woman who has had a tortured past. Nadine was in a miserable marriage that at one time prompted a suicide attempt and a mental breakdown/fugue. We don’t have to detail Laura’s torturous life as that’s the whole nib and nub of what Twin Peaks is all about.  But they’ve done the work either post-fugue or post-death to love themselves.  We know Nadine is happier than she’s ever been through the little time we spent with her.  She loves herself now and she realizes that keeping Ed in the marriage is misery inducing for everyone.  Laura has done the work (her whole life was the work of grasping for the light within her as her father is slowly killing it) and she got her angel and her ascent to the White Lodge.  Both women are sure in the message they are giving to the men who need to hear it.

The difference

Ed listens.  Though at first unsure, he does believe his now ex-wife because he knows her and he knows that she is sure.  And regardless, he does listen to her.  He leaves and reunites with Norma.  The skies lighten and the music soars. The world is lighter.  The world is just a little bit, or maybe considering how central the Ed, Nadine, Norma, Hank, (and Mike) plot was to Twin Peaks, a whole lot better, just because Ed paid attention to Nadine and actually did leave (without doing any dithering with going through mock marriage counseling with Dr. Jacoby like he did in the earlier seasons).

Now Dale didn’t leave when Laura told him to.  He looked just as confused as Ed.  But Ed listened, Dale, still too in love with mysteries, maybe, too in love with his own supposed centrality in the world (remember it wasn’t Dale’s face in the golden orb but Laura’s), his own supposed hero status, did not listen to Laura, a victim in his eyes. To him she is someone who needs to be rescued and told how to rescue herself (“Don’t take the ring Laura.”).  She is someone who lost the battle by dying (in his eyes) even though it was her choice.  And instead of going out now, he didn’t pay attention to the woman but paid attention to the most untrustworthy sources, MIKE and the Evolution of the Arm, neither of which we are to trust.  He paid attention to Leland begging him to find Laura.  All three are males or male-like-creatures who can’t be trusted or who are already villains.  Then he follows their advice and goes deeper in, he finds Laura at the end of Part 17 and ruins the world.  (Though not in the way you suspect as explored, here and here.)

Paying attention to Women throughout Twin Peaks

The fate of the Twin Peaks world revolves around paying attention to women.  The first woman that is a crucial example of someone who needs to be heard, through her muteness, is Lil. It is interesting that Lynch uses a woman as a means of paying attention. Through Lil’s mute movements and dress we are to hear symbols spoken.  It is an interesting and pointed choice that Lynch had Cole not write his symbolic code through a written communique but written on the body of a woman who Desmond and Stanley have to pay attention to.  Desmond does pay attention to every sign and symbol and interprets them well.  Stanley has to be told a few things he missed and also calls her the dancing girl (a diminutization of her).  He is more fascinated with her than what she must communicate.  Again, it is interesting that Cole has a woman communicate his most crucial message to Desmond at the beginning of the film and not another agent, or a written code.  A woman must be ‘heard’ before Desmond can set off on his mission.  

Another interesting example of a woman being listened to is Shelly and Gordon.  Shelly’s self-esteem is at an all time low.  Not only had she been abused and almost killed by her husband but her lover is seemingly moving on to a more interesting and wealthy direction.  She doesn’t believe in herself anymore.  But then Gordon can suddenly hear her.  This stranger in town is wooing her and listening to her. He believes in the power of her beauty and her abilities as a rare and precious person. This is interesting though, because, and thanks to the Diane Podcast (Twin Peaks Episode 25- On the Wings of Love, January 12, 2017), he doesn’t feel out of place in the world now because he can hear.  Gordon Cole can hear not just anyone, but a woman, a woman who has been tossed away and not heard for quite a while.  When Shelly told Norma that Leo beats her, Norma offered a day of beauty and not real help.  When Shelly tried to dictate the terms of care for Leo, like the want for a maid or some help from Bobby’s end when they both knew the money wasn’t coming, Bobby ignored her in favor of monetary advancement and being Ben Horne’s Boy Friday.  Therefore, the most unpaid-attention-to woman in the series, besides Laura, Shelly, was graced with the gift of having one man pay rapt attention to her because of a miracle.  And thus her life became better.  She got Bobby to pay attention to her again (and start on the path of his father’s vision coming true).  She had happiness come to her (if only for a short time).  

Other women in Twin Peaks Season 3 are also heeded and the world becomes better.

The first is Lucy.  It is obvious that the station pays attention to Lucy, except Chad.  They appreciate her opinion, even if it’s on matters of thermostats.  They listen to her when she has something to say, even if it is orders to not pay attention to her while she lunches at her desk.  But Chad doesn’t pay attention to her, and it’s to his detriment.  He underestimates Lucy’s worth. He doesn’t predict that she will and does count the mail when she–with her powers of super observation which we’ve known she’s had since pilot–suspects that Chad’s tampered with the mail.  

Two other women listened to were Gordon’s Philadelphia sweetie and his French woman.  He again can hear them; they speak at a normal level of voice.  Neither has to yell.  It is also interesting that the French woman is one of the one’s he can hear, as she is a stranger in a strange land and things don’t translate for her either. So again, like Shelly, someone who is in danger of not being heard, is the one person who through a miracle can have Gordon hear her.

Diane is heard.  We hear her harrowing experiences with Mr. C. and it is a catharsis for us as she tells what we were all sadly expecting.  

Janey-E is also a woman used to being ignored by her husband, but that spitfire is not going to be ignored when people threaten her family. So she orders the hooligans who Dougie owes money to, to accept only what she will give them, no more.  They pay attention to her.  They very well could have shot her, or harassed her, but impressed with her words, they paid attention to her and left with money, and perhaps their freedom.  

The Mitchum’s prove their honor and their good hearts by paying attention to Candie.  They send her out on missions and they rely on her reports.  Therefore, they are proven to be true men when they pay attention to Candie.  She, like Shelly and Ronette, is a woman who could easily be ignored, but she is listened to. 

Frank Truman pays attention to Miriam’s message.  Hawk reveres Margaret’s high priestess-like oracular revelations to him, knowing each one may be the last communications he has with his dear friend.  Lt. Knox and Constance are both respected in their workplaces and Constance is proud of Mackley for listening to her and putting on the rubber gloves before he touches a thing in the crime scene.  When these women are respected and listened, like Nadine good things happen in the world.  Not only that, but clues are revealed and the story progresses forward in directions that will answer questions, reveal the truth. 

Women not paid attention to:

Though Laura is the chief person not listened to throughout the whole of Twin Peaks as we fans hear her screams and we want her to be heard by other characters.  There are also other women forced into a state of muteness. 

The first woman who was not paid attention to is Margaret Lanterman (thanks to a conversation had with Christian Hartelben who reminded me of this).  In episode 1, Margaret approached Dale saying that her Log would have a message for him and that he should ask the Log directly.  He didn’t pay attention to her, granted he was just getting used to the town and then there is this Lady with the Log and he may not be completely at ease with that, but Harry trusts her.  So he should have at least taken that as a key and not hesitated to listen to Margaret.  Maybe he would have gotten the clue about Jacques’ cabin earlier, instead of moving so slowly when he wasn’t afraid and having the crucial conversation with Margaret and the Log days later.  

The next episode displays another woman used to muteness.  Sylvia Horne is only reduced to a mute “Benjamin” when Jerry disturbs the family dinner with his antics.  She knows she has lost her power and her voice.  Even before the funeral, she experiences her mute anger at Ben and Dr. Jacoby and trying to coax Johnny to not wear his headdress.  Perhaps if Ben paid attention to Sylvia more, the Horne family would have been happier. 

An interesting example of a woman ignored could be Donna.  It had been well known that she and James had been playing dangerous games, endangering Jacoby’s life, so there is reason for no one to trust her at this point in the story.  But she presented Harry with an avenue of investigation, Harold Smith and the diary.  Harry didn’t pay attention to her and didn’t believe her.  It took around twenty four hours for Harry to dispatch Hawk to the Smith residence.  Could Harold have been saved from suicide if Harry would have paid attention to Donna and acted upon her evidence sooner? In Fire Walk with Me, Donna’s muteness is expanded upon. Donna is ignored by Laura herself.  Laura belittles her words about James at the beginning of the Twin Peaks portion of the film.  She doesn’t take Donna seriously, calling her a downer in a Missing Pieces scene.  Donna knows that she isn’t wanted. Perhaps this stops Donna from trying to figure out what’s wrong with Laura until after Laura dies. It also shows in her anger at Laura when yelling at Laura in the graveyard.  It was all about Laura’s problems. 

Norma’s own mother and husband ignored her.  And the world was a little sadder when we discovered that it was her Mother was MT Wentz and didn’t pay attention to Norma’s words of kindness to her patrons and the fact that everyone local loved her food.  The world was a little uglier when Hank didn’t listen to Norma and grant her a divorce.

As fans, perhaps, we also neglect to pay attention to Ronette when she mentions seeing BOB physically in the train car.  Many fans like to proclaim that BOB is merely a projection but if Ronette physically saw him in the train car, by pointing him out to Dale and Harry in the form of the drawing, then we should believe her and listen to her words that BOB is real. (Though this doesn’t negate Leland’s evil, as I explore here.)

The ultimate example of being ignored is Sarah who no one listens to throughout the series.  Leland maliciously undermines her vision of BOB by proclaiming that Sarah’s had two visions. Maddy doesn’t pay attention to Sarah when she asks about Maddy missing her mom and Maddy starts on her path to her fate.  Leland never listens to her cries crawling down the stairs.  The world is darker because Sarah is ignored and continues to be ignored through Fire Walk with Me and Season 3. 

The real Diane isn’t heard.  It is obvious that she is afraid of crossing the 430 line with Cooper.  It is almost as if she doesn’t want him to do it.  But he goes through with the mission, denying her fears.  If her fears were listened to, could Dale and her have rode off together and a new adventure begun?   

Walter doesn’t pay attention to Norma’s business acumen.  He does what he wants in the other Double RRs and creates substandard products that people simply don’t enjoy.  The husband and wife van couple whose son gets in a little trouble with the gun is another example of a wife not being listened to.  It is obvious that the wife has begged her husband several times not to pack that gun in a place where the son can get to it.  Yet he didn’t listen and heed her.  Now he’s caused a kerfuffle where the police became involved.  William doesn’t pay attention to Ruth’s pleas to forget about the mysteries and just go scuba diving.  They both end up dead.  Frank doesn’t listen to Doris (though neither pay attention to the other to the detriment of their marriage) and his father-in-law pays the price. 

Women must be paid attention to.  Our words mean something.  When women are paid attention to in Twin Peaks an answer or a revelation occurs.  The story progresses.  The world is just a bit better.  When women are not paid attention to.  When our words don’t matter whether it’s maliciously downgraded or shrugged off, then the world becomes darker.  A person’s life turns out worse.  Women’s words are important. 

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