vulture lists

What’s in the Box? The Great Mystery of Twin Peaks: The Return


The most indelible image in the first episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return is a glass box that sits high above New York City, out of which nightmares are born. It is the job of Sam Colby (Ben Rosenfield) to, well, watch the box. He sits alone in a large room and merely looks at the space in front of him, including a circular window to the skyline outside. He occasionally stops to switch out memory cards in video cameras and get some coffee from a woman named Tracey (Madeline Zima), who desperately wants to know what goes on behind the locked door.

One crucial night, the security guard disappears and Sam makes the mistake of allowing Tracey to see what he does every night. Ignoring his box-watching duties, they begin to have sex at precisely the wrong moment. The box goes black, unleashing a faceless, gray being that grinds Sam and Tracey’s heads out of existence in a remarkably grisly scene. We later learn that this aberration happened shortly after FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper’s (Kyle MacLachlan) return from the Black Lodge, as Cooper emerges from the window and floats in the box while we see Sam looking for the security guard. What does it all mean? While David Lynch’s work purposefully defies all literal analysis, Twin Peaks fans have already begun devising theories about the glass box that are worth discussing. Feel free to offer your own in the comments.

It’s a Symbol for Television
The deaths of Sam and Tracey are one of The Return’s first major WTF moments. Perhaps the glass box could simply be interpreted as David Lynch and Mark Frost telling viewers to strap in and pay close attention. Think about it literally: A man sips coffee, watching a box that has almost no impact on him whatsoever. Other people have seen interesting things in this box, but he hasn’t yet. And then, when he’s not expecting it, the box kills him. It could be read as a Lynchian way of saying, “This show is not going to be something you should watch casually or turn away from. Pay attention. Don’t Glass Box and Chill.”

The Creature Is “Mother”
In the Machine Room scenes in the third episode, in which Cooper’s escape is aided by a blind woman, his savior warns him to not attract the attention of “Mother.” Perhaps “Mother” was going after Cooper and kept him trapped in the Black Lodge, but the intense emotion of Sam and Tracey’s sexual encounter distracted her from her mission. If you believe the theory that Tracey was hired (see below), it could have been as a way to save Dale instead of destroy him.

Evil Cooper Runs the Box
Who hired Sam? How does this entire operation work exactly? These questions have emerged as central aspects of the glass box mystery. What if, knowing he’d return to the Black Lodge if the good Dale Cooper ever found a way out, Evil Cooper set up the entire operation as a way to trap his doppelgänger? The plan fell apart when Sam and Tracey were distracted, but if Cooper had stayed there just a bit longer, he may have been destroyed by the creature. But it looks like Evil Cooper even had a back-up plan, sending Good Cooper into the body of Dougie Jones, then hiring men to shoot Dougie before anyone noticed. We may never know exactly who pays Sam’s salary, but it must be someone who knows a lot about this mysterious process, and it feels like it was designed to trap Dale Cooper. Who would want to do that more than the man pretending to be him?

Duncan Todd Runs the Box
We saw a glimpse of Mr. Todd (Patrick Fischler), a Las Vegas mogul, in episode two, and many are speculating that he owns and runs the box, possibly under the control of Evil Cooper or someone even more powerful. His assistant Roger asks, “Why do you let him make you do these things?” Duncan tells him to hope he never gets involved with someone like him. Who is he talking about? Could it be Bob or a similar manifestation of evil? Duncan gives Roger a pile of cash and says, “Tell her she has the job.” Were they paying Tracey to turn Sam into bait?

Windom Earle Runs the Box
Stop it. Sure, there’s a little Bonsai tree next to Sam, which feels like a bit of a reference to Earle spying on the Twin Peaks police department with a Bonsai tree, but Kenneth Walsh isn’t listed in the cast and Earle notoriously wasn’t a creation of Lynch. (The character was introduced in the original ABC series when it had nowhere to go in season two.) Could that be a fake-out? Could Earle still be a factor in The Return? Nothing would surprise me, except if it turns out …

The Creature Is Laura Palmer or Josie Packard
Let’s be honest: Lynch almost certainly won’t provide a literal explanation for the creature that manifests in the box. Nevertheless, some fans have gone as far as to suggest that it’s a character we know, deformed by their time in the Black Lodge. In The Return, Laura Palmer disappears from the Black Lodge just before the creature emerges to kill Sam and Tracey, and we see her screaming as she’s pulled into the ether, but come on, that’d be quite a stretch. Other viewers have theorized that the creature is Josie Packard (Joan Chen) because she’s faceless … and Josie’s face was in a knob in the Great Northern. Okay, now my head officially hurts.

What’s in the Box? The Big Mystery of Twin Peaks: The Return