Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Autobiography of F.B.I Special Agent Dale Cooper, My Life, My Tapes

Written by Scott Frost (brother of Twin Peaks co-creator, Mark Frost), The Autobiography of F.B.I Special Agent Dale Cooper, My Life, My Tapes was released in April of 1991, just as the second season was losing steam (and network support). The Cooper book was likely designed to plant seeds for a potential third season of Twin Peaks, specifically by introducing Dale Cooper’s brother. The book also described critical events in Cooper’s youth that remained unresolved and which may have haunted the character in later life. Many of these details were alluded to in the original (unproduced) script for the final episode of Twin Peaks.

Where The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer figured prominently in the unfolding Twin Peaks story (it was an actual artifact of the plot—an object sought and guarded by various characters), The Autobiography of Dale Cooper is not anchored to the show’s narrative. No reference to the Autobiography is made in the show (and it seems highly unlikely that Cooper actually wrote an autobiography). But, like the diary, the Autobiography does provide unique and revelatory insight to one of the show’s most significant characters.

Written as a series of transcripts from tapes made since he was thirteen, the “autobiography” traces the life of Dale Cooper from boy to man. Detail are provided about his first love, the death of his mother, his college years, and his eventual career as an agent for the FBI. The book shows that Cooper’s whole life has been leading toward the mysterious events that manifested themselves in Twin Peaks and his ultimate confrontation with evil in the Black Lodge. First, there are dreams both he and his mother share. His mother dreams of a “man” who is apparently pursuing her. Later, the young Dale has a similar dream in which the “man” attempts to get into his room. In yet another dream, and perhaps the most startling part of the book, Cooper’s dead mother gives him a ring. When he awakens he is clutching the ring in his hand. All these events seem to foreshadow what happens to Laura in Fire Walk With Me.  Could the Autobiography have been an inspiration for what Engels and Lynch would later script? Scott Frost explained that he briefly consulted with David Lynch while writing the Autobiography and so it’s possible that certain elements in the book originated with Lynch (though it seems unlikely in this specific case, since many of the details regarding the Teresa Banks investigation were changed for the film).

The book was designed as an extension of the second season. In it, we learn that Windom Earle apparently monitored Cooper through much of his adult life and ultimately recruited Cooper into the FBI. These details mesh nicely with existing information from second season storylines and hint that we would have learned more about Earle had there been a third season.

Frost does a fine job channeling the Cooper character onto the page; he also succeeds at conveying the “Lynchian” environment in which Cooper lives. Throughout the book Cooper encounters dead bodies, people with severed body parts (hands, fingers, ears), and a bizarre connection between sex and fire. (Cooper’s first sexual experience occurs during a brushfire ignited by stray fireworks, another occurs at a college bonfire, yet another with a gasoline-soaked arsonist.) Because all the entries are supposedly transcripts from Cooper himself, Frost has to recreate the style of Cooper’s speech and delivery. He pulls it off surprisingly well.

There are problems with the book, however. Some are minor, like the misspelling of Albert’s last name. Others are less forgivable: The dates of Caroline Powell’s murder don’t match with what is described in the show. In the series, Cooper says Caroline died “four years ago” (i.e., 1985) but the book places her death in 1979—ten years before Cooper arrived in Twin Peaks. The most noticeable mistake, however, are the details Cooper provides about the Teresa Banks investigation. The discrepancies between book and Fire Walk With Me are numerous and stark.  In the book, Teresa’s body is found in a ditch; she worked at the Cross River CafĂ©, and lived in a Lakeside cabin. Cooper does encounter Sheriff Cable, but there’s no mention of Chet Desmond or Sam Stanley. In the book, Cooper conducts a completely different investigation from the one shown in Fire Walk With Me. (Although, given the slippery nature of the Deer Meadow prologue, this is not necessarily surprising.)

Even though The Autobiography of F.B.I Special Agent Dale Cooper, My Life, My Tapes is not as compelling or crucial as The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, it is still a worthy book. It provides a unique perspective on Dale Cooper, and allows for a better understanding of how his story was being developed for the second (and possible third) season of Twin Peaks. Will any of the tantalizing hints from the Autobiography survive into the show’s revival on Showtime? (Or did David Lynch “reset” the character entirely in episode 29 and Fire Walk With Me?) If Mark Frost used it as a reference for his new book (or for any of the backstory to the new series), The Autobiography of F.B.I Special Agent Dale Cooper, My Life, My Tapes—a seemingly insignificant and forgotten piece of tie-in merchandise—could suddenly become quite relevant again.

Scott Frost commented on the book in an interview in Wrapped In Plastic #73 (March, 2005):

Scott Frost:  I wrote the book because I was the only body left standing at that moment. Everybody else was furiously trying to do the show. I believe I had finished my scripts at that point. So it was either me or someone completely from the outside. I had also done the script for the Cooper tape [Diane: The Twin Peaks Tapes of Agent Cooper] so I had Kyle [MacLachlan’s] voice in my head pretty thoroughly. I sat around with David for a morning and his idea of an autobiography was:  “At some point I want him to investigate peeing asparagus!” [laughs]  That was his approach. Then I went off to Philadelphia and spent a few days out there. And I went to FBI headquarters. That was great fun because they were fans of the show. I got to go around the academy at Quantico and shoot guns.

The idea for Cooper’s brother came up after the book was finished. For some reason there was an actor [Roger Rees] who Mark had decided would be a great older brother for Dale. [But] they decided he would be great without ever actually talking to him. The book was already done and they came back and said, “Now put his older brother into it.”  I came up with the notion of having him run off to Canada as way to dispose of him rather quickly—to get him into the book and then out of it.


  1. Mrs. Cooper and Dale, Leland and Laura... either there's an outside spirit at work, or the implication is that some families have an inherited tendency towards severe psychopathology. With some rare natures, good nurturing may have an extra burden to overcome - and Dale feared that he bore the weight of an inherited shadow, whether demon or epigenetic damage. [Reminds me of Anne Sexton http://www.glastonberrygrove.net/reference/annesexton/ ]

    If I read Scott right, Dale was not actually pursued by dark spirits (from within or without) but his self-fulfilling fear became a real burden that diminished him developmentally, especially regarding his psychosexual maturation. Never forget Dale's biggest mistake: he couldn't remember the simplest, most important, most indelible insight among the many from his dream, because lust for Laura was located in the blind spot of Dale's waking mind's eye.

    The specter (of mental illness? of BOB) caused Dale to develop a lesser mental illness - call it a complex. That wouldn't have to be a tremendous problem for a person, except those choosing a high-stress career like the F.B.I.

    (and don't even THINK of going into the Black Lodge, thick with a fear of your potentially inherited psychopathology, that's lunacy).