The unproduced 1987 film One Saliva Bubble might be the clue to unlocking one of Twin Peaks’ most polarising new characters
WARNING: spoilers ahead
Twin Peaks fans are divided. While most viewers would agree that season three has met and miraculously surpassed expectations, there’s still contention around the character of Dougie. Some people hate him. Really hate him. After all, we’re 12 episodes into the new season and Agent Dale Cooper is still nowhere to be found. Cooper was supposed to be the hero, the audience’s cipher into David Lynch’s impenetrable subconscious. But instead we get Kyle MacLachlan oscillating between Cooper’s evil doppelganger and the blank, adult-baby that is Dougie. We’ve somehow seen more of Michael Cera, Moby and the previously off-screen Diane than a living, breathing Agent Cooper in the real world.
For those not caught up on Dougie, he’s effectively a decoy created by Cooper’s doppelganger between seasons two and three. If you recall, season two ended with the ‘Good Dale’ imprisoned inside the Black Lodge, while a menacing lookalike took his place in Twin Peaks. This exchange was supposed to last 25 years – when time’s up, order would be restored. But to cheat the system, the evil doppelganger manufactured a doppelganger of his own called Dougie Jones. (A bit like the guy who created the ScarJo robot, perhaps.) The plan worked: after 25 years, Agent Cooper returned to our dimension and found himself transported into Dougie’s body instead. The problem is that, inside Dougie, Cooper appears to be braindead.
The clue to unlocking all this can perhaps be found in One Saliva Bubble, an unproduced screenplay by Lynch and Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost. The pair wrote the film in 1987, and it was nearly Lynch’s follow-up to Blue Velvet. Steve Martin and Martin Short read a draft and agreed to play the leads. “I was casting it,” Lynch said. “We went location scouting, and I was going to shoot it. And then (producer) Dino (De Laurentiis)’s company went bankrupt.”
So instead, Lynch and Frost wrote the pilot for Twin Peaks. But what became of One Saliva Bubble? Well, sifting through a copy of the script (the version circulating online dates back to May 1987) reveals a prototype for the Dougie storyline we’re now all enjoying and/or suffering through. Lynch called it “a nutty film, a sort of family comedy where nothing scary took place”. Elsewhere, he deemed it an “out-and-out wacky, dumb comedy… Mark and I were laughing like crazy when we wrote it.” Trust me, it’s bizarre.
As the elevator pitch goes, One Saliva Bubble is a body-swapping caper about a neighbourhood in Kansas populated by Dougies. It begins in a military bunker with scientists fussing over a computer panel. One immature guard cackles at a joke (“So she said to him, ‘poo-poo on your pee-pee’…”) and he in turn produces a single bubble of saliva that floats through the room and shorts a circuit. A satellite then emits a lightning bolt towards the town of Newtonville.
Here comes the Twin Peaks-y bit. Just as Dougie emerged from a plug socket (think back – in episode three, Cooper is brought back to Earth via electricity), the laser beam causes the residents of Newtonville to literally find themselves in each other’s shoes. Horton the hitman swaps bodies with Wally the boring family guy. Professor Hugo switches places with the not-so-smart Newt Newton. A white woman and a black man exchange outfits. A group of Chinese acrobats and 35 employees of Heinz ketchup take each other’s positions. And so on.
“One Saliva Bubble also contains a few fun nuggets for Twin Peaks obsessives. There are characters called Gordon Cole, Mike, Ike and, most notably, Bob”
The ensuing chaos basically foreshadows Twin Peaks: The Return. Specifically, it’s the running gag that no one bats an eyelid at Dougie’s zombie-like behaviour. For instance, we’ve seen Cooper, trapped inside Dougie, inadvertently navigate three separate worlds: he fixes his marriage and sex life with Naomi Watts; he escapes death by gifting a pie to crooked criminals; and he produces gibberish drawings that transfix the boss at his corporate office job.
Interestingly, these three scenarios are all predicted by One Saliva Bubble: Horton-as-Wally, now manlier, seduces his wife and “marches her upstairs to you-know-where”, Wally-as-Horton teaches trigger-happy gangsters to swap their guns for delicious pies, and Newt-as-the-professor has his infantile activities scrutinised by scientists searching for hidden meanings. Furthermore, the body-swap repercussions are emphasised by characters wearing ghastly green suits around the workplace.
One Saliva Bubble also contains a few fun nuggets for Twin Peaks obsessives. There are characters called Gordon Cole, Mike, Ike and, most notably, Bob. This Bob, a cab driver called Bob McNabb, seems suspiciously like Killer Bob. Instead of swapping bodies, he’s turned evil by the lightning bolt. A piece of scene description goes: “His ‘good’ side controls the foot on the brake, the ‘demonic’ side pumps the accelerator like Buddy Rich assaulting his bass drum pedal.”
Bear in mind that episode eight of Twin Peaks: The Return (AKA the WTF one set in 1945) hints that Killer Bob originated from a nuclear blast. If we read between the lines, Lynch is telling us that Bob is a manmade creation and the embodiment of human nature’s self-destructive technology. It’s corroborated by One Saliva Bubble when the-professor-as-Newt writes up an equation on how to generate a plutonium bomb: “II x PIG^2 x C = (BOB)”. Did this iconic villain of pop culture get his name just because it’s one letter away from “bomb”?
“My takeaway from One Saliva Bubble... is that (Lynch) perceives body-swapping as an act of wish-fulfilment, and not just a straightforward imprisonment of Cooper’s soul”
Of course, the big question everyone wants to know is when Agent Cooper will return. One Saliva Bubble concludes with the Pentagon fixing the town by firing more laser beams, while the professor invents a new type of ketchup that transforms Heinz 57 into Heinz 58. That’s probably not going to happen in Twin Peaks. But there’s something in how One Saliva Bubble breaks the rules of comedy: it’s 140 pages and therefore 140 minutes, with the body-swapping not undoing itself until the final few moments. Is Dougie a satire of white male privilege? No, it’s just that Lynch and Frost will happily stretch out a gag beyond what conventional standards dictate.
This is setting myself up for humiliation if I’m proven wrong this Sunday, but I wouldn’t expect to see Agent Cooper until the season’s final episode. I’m not exactly placing money on this, but my takeaway from One Saliva Bubble – other than it’s a hilarious screenplay that every Lynch fan should read – is that he perceives body-swapping as an act of wish-fulfilment, and not just a straightforward imprisonment of Cooper’s soul. Lives are improved and experiences are widened. Dougie’s bright jacket lightens up every room he enters and he brings genuine happiness to everyone he encounters. Besides, it’s the same conclusion of Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway: the grass is always greener when you’re inhabiting somebody else’s body.