Sarah Palmer: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

judy twin peaks collage

Now that Twin Peaks: The Return is over, let’s look at the life of Sarah Palmer and dissect if she really was the evil Judy.

“This is the water, and this is the well, drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes and dark within.”

Those words, now legendary among Twin Peaks fans, in many ways the all-new ‘Fire Walk With Me’ poem, will be dissected for years to come, no doubt, and I’m not one to shy away from a dissection, so what do they mean to me?

The poem — or perhaps we should call it the curse — was, of course, uttered by the ‘Gotta Light?’ Woodsman in Part 8, who was, it appears, sent to earth to find a perfect host for the ‘frogmoth’. He wandered around for a bit, asking anyone he bumped into for a light for his cigarette…or did he? Was the light he was really looking for the light that had been placed inside a certain young girl named Sarah, who may just be the little girl who lived down the lane?

As we had also seen in Part 8, The Fireman and Senorita Dido heard their alarm bells ringing to alert that the time had come, quickly dashing (ok maybe not quickly) to create a beautifully bright glistening set of fallopian tubes and ovaries, which in turn produced a golden egg containing the soul of Laura Palmer. This egg was then sent down to Earth and implanted in the 13-year-old Sarah Judith Novack, waiting to be fertilised fifteen years later. This, in a metaphorical sense, is the moment Sarah ‘became a woman’. And thus, her pain and suffering began (spoken in a vaguely sarcastic tone).

At that same time, The Woodsman stumbles across KPJK radio station. He has a bright idea which may have gone something like this: “Instead of wandering aimlessly through the New Mexico desert searching for the light, I’ll send my curse across the airwaves – pretty clever, huh?” His plan works; Sarah, who has been on a date with her boy crush and is woozy with those first young lustful emotions, is listening to the radio and is lulled to sleep. So what happened to Sarah at that moment? She’d just hit puberty, and now something was climbing in through her window (a la BOB) and onboard her changing body. Of course, it should be noted that it was around the age of thirteen that BOB took Leland as host, and also at the same age that BOB also started taking Laura into the woods. Were both Leland and Sarah abused as young teens? Is this where the cycle of abuse began?

young sarah palmer sat on her bed

Now I am all for the supernatural and dreamy element of Twin Peaks, that is, of course, what makes it fun, but I must admit that I tend to see everything in a more Albert Rosenfield style metaphorical sense, and for me, the ‘frogmoth’ is no different. In my mind, The Woodsman’s ‘curse’ was also visually/physically represented as the frogmoth becoming part of Sarah.

This is where my theory begins. Way back in the good old days when Twin Peaks was a sunny place full of delicious cherry pie, damn fine coffee, and warm feeling, Sarah Palmer was just your average housewife and mother for whom tragedy was about to strike. Now, in the aftermath of The Return, that whole premise is blown into orbit. So what was really going on in that house?

I think Sarah Palmer knew precisely what was happening to her daughter and turned a blind eye. Yes, Sarah was drugged, but she must have known she was drugged. This happened countless times; it wasn’t like BOB just violated Laura once. No, this happened countless times for years on end. Surely Sarah had realised that when Leland gave her a glass of milk she would wake up in precarious positions, sprawled across her lounge floor and what not? Now I’m not suggesting Sarah was a willing accomplice; she was terrified. She had seen BOB (and when I say BOB, I mean the evil side to her husband) and was too afraid to confront him. We know she saw that side to him — we witnessed it at the dinner table — but she was too frightened and weak to do anything about it.  She did once pitifully try to tell her husband to stop, that Laura didn’t like what he was doing to her. Leland replied, ‘How do you know what she likes?’ a sentence in itself laced with sexual connotations that she willfully ignored. Instead, Sarah Palmer took up chain-smoking and lived with an anxious disposition pretty much constantly, the curse upon her starting to take effect.

Leland Palmer scolds Laura at the dinner table

The Horse Is the White of The Eyes…

After The Woodsman relays his incantation across the airwaves, leaving Sarah vulnerable to the frogmoth, he walks off into the dark New Mexico desert. As he disappears, a horse neigh somewhere out there. Was this the signifier that the curse had been set?

Sarah sees the vision of a white horse twice to the best of our knowledge. This happens the first time when we see Leland/BOB molesting Laura in Fire Walk With Me, then again in ‘Lonely Souls’ when Leland is first revealed as the killer BOB, subsequently brutally murdering Sarah’s niece Maddy.

People who are born blind in some cases have white/opaque eyes — could this mean that when Sarah sees the white horse, she is turning a blind eye to what is happening under the fan? Alternatively, when rolling your eyes into the back of your head (e.g. when you sleep), you can no longer see — literally turning a blind eye.

Where else have we seen white/opaque eyes? That’s right — originally, the doppelgängers of the Black Lodge all had ‘blind eyes’, perhaps a metaphor for the fact that by not taking a stand or intervening when something terrible is happening to someone, you are complicit in the crimes, and you will be damned all to hell?

maddy ferguson doppelganger

Where else have we seen a white horse? In Part 18, Coop travels to Odessa to find ‘Laura’. Instead, he finds Carrie Page after a quick stop at ‘Eat at Judy’s’ diner, which has a cute little white horse kiddie ride outside. In Carrie’s house, we see a blue ornamental plate with a white horse figurine in front of it. If you wanted it to, that in itself could look like a blue eye with a white, horse-shaped pupil. What else do we see in Carrie’s house? A rotting corpse of a man presumably shot and killed by Carrie. Now the assumption here is that his murder is well-deserved. The bloated hole in his stomach suggests that, as we saw in the episode prior, a BOB-shaped blob had been forcibly extracted from him and possibly collected by The Woodsmen or destroyed.

This leads to my agreement again with Albert Rosenfield that BOB is just, in fact, ‘the evil that men do’ in a metaphorical sense. BOB is the generic face of evil, all of them the same. The BOB in Twin Peaks was nothing special — and that’s okay with me. It makes it easier to accept his rather underwhelming defeat by the green-gloved Freddie Sykes. (I actually loved the way he was taken out, but it was not the epic battle of good vs evil between Coop and BOB that we had all expected). There’s a good reason for that — because that was just one of thousands, if not millions, of BOB’s throughout the world; defeating just one of them is the equivalent of squashing one frog(moth) in a swimming pool full of them.

frogmoth

Back to Carrie’s house. What does Coop do when he sees the rotting corpse? Nothing! He turns a blind eye. Now in this situation, is it okay? In his mind at least, Coop had more pressing matters to attend to, and Carrie had taken a stand against the evil in her life in a way that she was unable to in her life as Laura. Coop also knows that she only squashed another bug — it will make no difference in the grand scheme of things; there is a much greater battle to be fought.

This leads us nicely onto Judy. Is Judy the ‘big thing’ that Coop is looking to defeat? Maybe, but is Judy any different to BOB? Is she/it one big thing? I don’t think so, and here’s why…

The Three Wise Monkeys

The Three Wise Monkeys are a pictorial maxim. Together they embody the proverbial principle “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” Whilst not its original intention, in the Western world, the phrase is used to refer to those who deal with impropriety by, yes, that’s right, turning a blind eye.

See No Evil

I have covered this broadly above. Sarah literally turned a blind eye by allowing herself to be drugged/not standing up to her husband, and so falling asleep while her husband committed the most heinous crimes against their only child and her sisters only child too. Maddy was welcomed into that house with open arms despite Sarah knowing of her husband’s dark side, putting her niece in a precarious position from the get-go.

Then there was that somewhat bizarre comment she made at Laura’s funeral; as the grieving Leland leapt on their daughter’s coffin, she wails, “Don’t ruin this too!”. She knew. She knew that her husband had played at least some part in her daughter’s demise. Bobby Briggs also knew the score, he said it at her funeral, they all knew Laura was in trouble and no-one did anything. Laura is just one story. Similar tales are being told behind closed doors the whole world over, but the world still spins.

leland palmer gives milk to sarah palmer

Hear No Evil

In Fire Walk With Me, we see the Grandson Tremond playing with a white mask with a protruding nose, no eye or mouth holes, therefore unable to speak or see. He lifts the mask from his face to reveal that of a monkey. Now, it is only if you turn the volume right up that you can hear the monkey whisper ‘Judy’. This was only the second time we had been alerted to the name; I will talk about the first time shortly. ‘Judy’ is only revealed when the mask is lifted. Then again, in The Return at the Elks Point #9 Bar,  Sarah takes off the brave face she puts on every day and lets loose on the Trucker — ‘Judy’ is revealed.

judy monkey

It is no coincidence that the screeching primate-like Jumping Man wears a similar mask to the Grandson and in The Return, Sarah Palmer’s face is imposed over the Jumping Man’s. I believe that the frogmoth and The Jumping Man are one and the same. Carlton Lee Russell was famously told by David Lynch that his character was a ‘talisman come to life’. Talismans are usually protection against negative forces, but as the Jumping Man resides in the convenience store/The Dutchman’s — a place between two worlds that does not appear to have any ties to the White Lodge — he could perhaps be more of a ‘living curse’.

the jumping man screams

Speak No Evil

Judy was first brought to our attention by Phillip Jeffries – his very first words were, “Now we’re not going to talk about Judy, no we’re not going to talk about Judy at all. We’re going to leave her out of it.” Not going to talk about it, huh? What, like we’re going to pretend this isn’t happening? Sounds about right. Jeffries only spent a few short moments with his Blue Rose Task Force teammates but knowing what we know about his fate and his penchant for talking in riddles, we know that every word he says is important and is a clue.  In explicitly stating that they were not to talk about Judy, ‘she’ was implanted in their minds, or at least would have been if they hadn’t forgotten about Jeffries visit to the Philadelphia office that day. But it’s ok; Gordon will remember the ‘unofficial version’.

This, written in ‘The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer’, could be considered pretty damning evidence against Sarah. It is pretty heartbreaking. The young Laura was trying to work out what was happening to her, but rather than help her, Sarah buried it, perhaps in the same way that she buried what happened to herself.

extract from laura palmers diary

…And Dark Within

So here’s my stance, if BOB is the ‘evil that men (and women) do’, then Judy is ‘the secrets that women (and men) keep’.  Judy is the person that looks away, pretends they can’t hear it, refuses to discuss it. That’s a pretty huge thing and I don’t think a single person on this planet is not guilty of that crime in some shape or form — we have all met Judy before. It is, therefore, impossible to defeat. The task of destroying her will always be fruitless as long as there is evil in the world.

In Sarah Palmer’s case, the guilt she will feel for turning a blind eye to her daughter’s torment will burden her for the rest of her life. This is her curse. She will carry it like a monkey on her back she can never shake off. It will remind her all day,  every day, that she failed at the one job she had — to protect her daughter. She will drink full and descend into chaos, becoming an alcoholic recluse. No matter what she does, even taking a stand against a misogynistic trucker and ripping his throat out, nothing she can do will bring her daughter back.

sarah palmer stabs picture of laura palmer

I admit my theory does leave me a little uneasy — the fact that Sarah is perhaps portrayed as something worse than Leland despite her not being the one to carry out the crime. But it is the effect of the crime that creates the monster. Leland, in many ways, gets off scot-free. He takes his own life, either after Laura’s death or her disappearance (according to The Final Dossier), and leaves Sarah to live with the horror of what happened for the rest of her life, inside the house where all those terrible acts were carried out. The monster grows and grows; her torment never ends; she spirals deeper and deeper into depression and alcoholism.  Now known as the town’s crazy lady, gossiped about, living a pitiful and lonely existence — a goddamn bad story for sure. Her life was so full of pain and suffering that she is a feast for evil; the two go hand in hand, a perfect partnership, forever feeding off each other—the cycle of abuse.

The effect of an evil act lasts a lot longer than the act itself, causing psychological problems, alcohol and drug dependency, unemployment, debt, I could go on and on. The ‘survivors’ are not the only ones cursed; it has a butterfly effect — just look at how the town of Twin Peaks was affected in the aftermath of Laura’s death.

The Faces of Judy

The dark within Sarah has been growing, and more than 25 years later, it isn’t getting any weaker. Sarah’s ‘Judy’ has a face – Laura’s.  It is pretty clear to see that when Sarah took her metaphorical mask off at the Elks Point #9 Bar that the accumulation of decades of pain and suffering wore the smile of Laura. Not just any smile, the smile of her prom photo – the picture that covered up a thousand secrets.  By the end of The Return, Sarah is so tortured she takes her frustration out on her daughter’s memory, stabbing that picture over and over, trying to make it stop. It will never stop, not until her life is over. Maybe not even then.

Sarah is not the only one to be tortured by Judy. Let’s look at Diane. We may have only heard her tulpa’s version of events, but let’s take those memories that she was created with and consider them the truth. She was raped by her colleague, quite probably a man she loved and trusted, Special Agent Dale Cooper.  A BOB was on board, but BOB is just the evil that men do; Coop does not deserve a special pass, neither did Leland. We don’t like to think of our hero doing something like this, of course, but he did. Coop gave in to his dark side and carried out an act of evil (several actually) and then spent the next 25 years trying to redeem himself. That was his journey through the Black Lodge, the battle against the darkness within him, which eventually he won with a little help from his friends.

What did Diane do about it? Nothing. She kept it secret. She, like Sarah, turned to alcohol, chain-smoking and became bitter and razor-tongued — all totally understandable. The darkness within her was Naido (in reverse odian, meaning hate in Spanish — Argentinian link maybe?). Diane’s ‘Judy’ was herself, a woman bound, unable to see or speak the truth. Even before her guise as Naido, she was confined to a Dictaphone, an object unable to express herself at all. It was only upon the defeat of Cooper’s dark side that she was set free. But was she really?

Diane stood by Coop out of her love for him, in a similar fashion to domestic violence victims who do not leave, hoping that he would change. When her good Dale came back she was waiting for him and for a moment she was happy, she forgave him. But try as she might, she couldn’t forget.  She couldn’t look at him during sex, tried to cover his face, hide the memory. Diane could not bear it and fled, leaving a note saying she doesn’t recognise the man she once knew. Judy remains undefeated.

naido in a cell

If there is any element of this theory that makes you think I am victim-blaming here, I assure you I am not. Maybe Sarah couldn’t do anything out of fear, maybe Diane couldn’t do anything out of love. Those two emotions open the door to the Black Lodge; it’s not quite as simple as grabbing a golden shovel and ‘digging yourself out of the shit’. But do take note, please, Mr ‘literally sweeping it under the carpet for two and a half minutes’ bartender, you should not be turning a blind eye to Jean-Michel Renault’s underage girl trafficking. That may be the only way to defeat BOB and Judy, one bug at a time, before that fire becomes too hard to put out.

The generic face of Judy is androgynous. With no eyes to see, no ears to hear and a mouth used only to spew more evil into the world, regurgitating the trauma time and time again, passing it down from generation to generation.

When Laura chose to die she broke the cycle. She did not allow BOB to taste through her mouth and do unto others as had been done to herself, and she refused to deny that her father was the true face of evil any longer. When Cooper ‘saved’ her, he took her back to the place where it all began, where her mother enabled her abuse, and at that moment Laura heard Sarah’s call, it all came flooding back; her mother let it happen. With her scream of recollection, a new face of Judy was born — the face of Sarah Palmer.

jumping man morphs into sarah palmer

Was Cooper expecting a showdown between Judy’s darkness and Laura’s pure light? Is that the real reason why he was so determined to get Laura there — to face off with her mother?  What went wrong? In my view, it doesn’t matter what year it is — he will always fail. Judy can never be defeated; she will just change her face. The Fireman told Cooper that it ‘could not be said aloud now’ and ‘it is in our house now’ and you know we are never going to talk about Judy. Back to starting positions, we go, back to turning a blind eye for infinity. Mother is always coming.

“You must see, hear, understand and act. Act now!” Dr Amp


This essay is dedicated to Rhian, Rob and Claire. May your lights shine bright, and we never turn a blind eye again.

12 thoughts on “Sarah Palmer: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

  1. When Twin Peaks 1st aired , the general consensus was that Sarah Palmer was almost as much of a victim as Laura at Leland Palmer’s hands. Years later I realised that it was Cooper who came to that conclusion and everyone accepted it. The Laura Palmer murder chapter was over and everyone could move on. LAURA’S killer was also dead but even he was just as much of a victim as Laura. Sarah remained the grieving widow and mother of a murdered girl.

    Cooper is right that Leland’s own suffering led to his actions and then Laura’s own suffering and murder , and Sarah Palmer was also a victim. BUT it is Laura herself who correctly guesses that both her parents are fully aware of her plight. She even says so in her diary. Why doesn’t she just run away from Twin Peaks? Of course we see what happens in the alternate reality when she does. In that case why doesn’t Sarah take Laura away from Twin Peaks if she knows what is going on. Is she so afraid of Leland that she stays.

    It would be nice to see Carrie Page piece her life as Laura Palmer together and what she does next.

  2. Excellent article. Very, very interesting. One of the very best I read here or anywhere else about TP. But I’ll precise : mainly about Sarah.

    I am much less keen about the second part of the article, that is about Diane.

    I must say that I am still seeing the introduction of the “real” Diane in The Return as a (maybe major) mistake, until I am proved the contrary (which I hope, in some way !).

    In TP the original series, and in FWWM (and Agent Cooper’s tapes) there was not a single hint of any love relation between Coop and Diane.
    Coop was in love with Caroline, then with Annie. He disappeared without having seen Diane again.
    Then, 25 years later they act as if they had been long time separate passionnate lovers ? Er…. I can’t take it, sorry…

    That doesn’t sound right to my mind… Unless someone is actually dreaming all this romance, inventing it ? But then again : who is the dreamer ? ;o)

    1. Yes, but in my mind they are all the same person. Mr C was just his dark side. It was still Cooper though. I know that’s not a popular theory – nobody wants the hero to be the bad guy, but it is how I see it.

      1. It seems to me that you didn’t understand a single thing from this story.

      2. To be fair half the fun of Twin Peaks is accepting early on you don’t understand it and coming up with your own crazy theories and reading other people’s even if you don’t agree with all of them. I think the only person who understands Twin Peaks is David Lynch himself and even that’s questionable lol

      3. Great essay. I may have a few comments that I’d like to add on the subject of evil in and around the the Palmer family, but i want to reread your article and digest it a bit further before i do. 🙂

        But concerning Mr. C, he was (at a minimum i think) an aspect of Agent Dale Cooper. As a doppelganger, is he a bad or negative “half”? Or, is he a mirror opposite? Is the “Good Dale” who was stuck in the black lodge a “whole” being, i.e., the “real” Cooper? One could argue (and some have) that we never saw the whole, real Dale Cooper during the entirety of the Twin Peaks saga until he emerges to meet Diane at Glastonbury Grove in Part 18, or until he awakens alone in the motel after his night with Diane (and God only knows who the “real” Diane might be!).

        Even if the Dale Cooper we saw at the Philadelphia office of the FBI and the one we meet in the series pilot is the whole Dale, he was certainly not perfect, considering his actions in Pittsburgh with the wife of his fellow agent, a tragedy that haunts Agent Cooper and has significant repercussions when he enters the red room in the Season 2 finale and encounters Caroline/Annie. His “imperfect courage” ostensibly results in the creation of the doppelganger Cooper and in his entrapment there for 25 years.

  3. Wow, this is one of the most helpful articles I have read pertaining to The Return and really gives me a lot to chew on for the next rewatch. A lot of what you said here rings true and sheds light on some things I had written off as inscrutable.

    Thank you for this!

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