We Were Robbed of a Gay Mulder & Scully
I know I could simply watch a modern series with ‘confirmed gays’ in it. I know I could. But sometimes I’d much rather watch beloved shows from days gone by than delve into something new – and sometimes the ache of watching latently gay characters being pushed into heterosexual lives is too nagging to be ignored. I really believe we have been deprived, even, of an iconic romance – like Mulder and Scully – even in instances where it would’ve made more sense for characters to be read as LGBTQ+.
I don’t think I’ve really, really gotten into a series in the way I have this year with Twin Peaks since I was a teenager. When I was a teen, I think I had these thoughts too, but had written them off somewhat as a ‘shipper’: someone who pined for the relationship to be developed between two (or more) fictional characters. Upon getting invested in a series and its wider fandom as an adult, I could identify this longing wasn’t just based in loving the interactions and chemistry between characters; it was based in a void felt knowing I wasn’t going to see love like mine on-screen unless I was to actively seek it out.
While I don’t want to seem like I’m down-playing the importance of a wholesome male friendship, particularly within the wider canon of Twin Peaks – a show with core themes surrounding masculinity, of both the toxic and non-toxic varieties – the romantic chemistry between lead Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and co-star Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) is difficult to ignore*. In a sense, the close friendship between Cooper and Truman made the romance all the more desirable. The understanding, respect, and affection shared for their differing perspectives was the sweetest connection we saw in a tangled web of unhealthy relationships and infidelity, like a lighthouse’s beam on a horizon in a winter storm. Throughout the duration of the show, the two men share the most intimate looks and close body language of any characters throughout the series, including those you are supposed to root for as romantic pairs.
As we were watching (read: obsessively and frantically binging) the two original series of the franchise, my partner and I would regularly squeal like excitable children when the should-be couple were shown being cute together. Who could really blame us, when foil Truman would indulge Cooper’s obsessive nature rants, or Cooper would bestow Truman with self-care advice to live by? But our excitement was undercut by the knowledge that we would never really, truly see the gay romance flourish between them that we all deserved to witness. Inevitably, you see Cooper and Truman pursue (or be pursued by) women in ways that were supposed to be desirable instead – and often completely devoid of chemistry. It makes for a bittersweet experience knowing full well that you won’t get to see a love like your own, even when it’s basically waving its sparkly little hands in your face.
Cooper and Truman – the jewel and the foil – create a dreamy mirror (hmm) of Mulder and Scully. Spiritual and eccentric Cooper’s ethereal perspectives are consistently balanced by the earthly and grounded Truman’s judgments. Despite this, there is more tenderness shared between them than between Mulder and Scully, who (although perfect for each other) can be quite harsh on one another. Consistently, and right from the start of their relationship, there is a sense of understanding and open-mindedness shared between these characters about their differing life views. If this can’t build the basis of a healthy and mutually supportive relationship, then I’m really not sure what could.
I can comfortably read Truman as bisexual; his chemistry with Josie Packard (Joan Chen) is undebatable. Cooper, on the other hand, is presented as one fruity little bastard from the start. Gays can spot gays from a mile off, and I spot one right there, from the top of his Brylcreem’d head to the bottom of his shiny brogues. It just felt incomprehensible to believe his pursuit of women was anything other than desperation to follow the behaviour of what ‘should’ be done. I would go as far as to say that Cooper could have easily been made exclusively gay, and it would have felt more realistic than the heterosexual ‘reality’ we were lulled into throughout the series. I can suspend my disbelief enough to believe in malevolent spirits and demons, alternate realities, and extra-sensory perception (ESP) – but I really can’t suspend my belief enough to read Cooper as heterosexual.
It even feels like there are little wink-wink-nudge-nudge moments throughout the series planted as fan service for those of us dying to see some fruit besides the insides of Norma’s huckleberry pies. When they execute the mission wherein they go to One-Eyed Jack’s in disguise, multiple people remark on Cooper’s debonair outfit to remind them of a movie-star – ‘Like Cary Grant,’ one person remarks. Cary Grant was, quite famously, gay or bisexual. This bait seems to expand way beyond throwaway lines, and seeps deeply into his entirely romantically hollow interactions with women and out of his intimate relationship with the sheriff. Sheriff Truman almost acts as a guardian angel throughout the series for Cooper – he comes to protect him regardless of whether or not he is asked to, and a shotgun sits symbolically above Cooper’s bed in the Great Western; seemingly the same model that Truman carries. The intimacy is as palpable, if not more so, than the tension between the two of them.
I think it feels particularly damning that our gay-Mulder-and-Scully moment wasn’t grabbed during Twin Peaks, because if a boundary-pushing show like this didn’t represent us, then who was going to take the ‘risk’? If a story narrating outcasts in a tight-knit community, and – as we discussed earlier – exploring notions of masculinity wasn’t going to represent homosexuals, what hope do we have of being represented elsewhere? It really feels like a disheartening missed opportunity in favour of the status quo and safety.
Obviously, this issue doesn’t start or end with the Twin-Peaksiverse. It’s nigh-on impossible to think of any gay leads in series of the ilk, and trust me, I’ve seen them all. There are exceptions to this rule for co-stars, such as Willow and Tara of Buffy-fame, but not so much for the leads: we never get our real, mutually-pining, slow-burning, adorable, gay couple. I would make the argument that Truman and Cooper would have been the perfect opportunity for this, and I am resisting the urge respectfully to call Lynch/Frost productions a bunch of cowards in print for not doing so.
Think truly and honestly for a moment about the LGBTQ+ representation we’ve seen over the past few years. While it’s thankfully boomed in quantity, the amount of representation in series wherein being gay isn’t the focal point of the story, or where it is actually shown between the leads instead of sidekicks, is still sparse - fuck, LGBTQ+ representation in general is still sparse. In the meantime, I guess we’ll have to keep watching intimate moments shared between same or similarly gendered individuals that go undeveloped like ships in the night.
It really feels like if we were going to have our homo moment (a homent, perhaps) between the leads of a sci-fi and horror series, it would have been here. I love to think that if Twin Peaks was made for the first time today – not The Return, not a remake, but made from the start – or even if it hadn’t been cancelled so prematurely, that we would have been able to see the romance between the Bookhouse Boys blossom in a slow-burn over several series. However, it’s difficult to say that with confidence. I want to believe; but I’m not sure I do.
*(I don’t think it totally helps that Agent Cooper looks like a total twink and Sheriff Truman has big cowboy vibes.)
Toni Oisin H.C. is the Head of Audio at QSO Media. Read more of his writing here.