Only the Lonely: The Harold Smith and Norman Bates Connection

The following article presumes you have seen both Twin Peaks and Psycho and contains spoilers.

I have always found Harold Smith’s story in Twin Peaks a fascinating one. Who was this isolated man in an isolated small town in an isolated area of the Pacific Northwest? We didn’t know much about Harold except that he loved orchids, loved Laura, and kept diaries of his visitors’ stories in his log cabin. He now suffered from agoraphobia; never leaving his house and receiving daily meals-on-wheels deliveries from the RR.

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Harold lived next door to the mysterious Mrs Tremond and her magician grandson (or did he?).  His name was ubiquitously normal and told us nothing about his heritage, although he claimed he grew up in Boston. When he spoke of the authors of the journals he described them as “friends” or “lovers”, but he never alluded to any family, and we didn’t see any family members delivering care packages to the house-bound recluse.

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People who are agoraphobic usually suffer from social phobia and uncontrollable panic attacks. After experiencing these attacks on an ongoing basis, it is not unusual for the sufferer to suffer great emotional distress at just the thought of leaving the house for fear of experiencing these attacks in public.  This can often develop into cases where patients spend months and years without leaving their ‘safe zones’, usually their homes.  The triggers for these panic attacks can differ from case to case and may come on gradually or suddenly, depending on the specific circumstance. The specifics of Harold’s agoraphobia were never revealed to us.

Harold had a lot of diaries, so it can be assumed that he had been inside for several years. He spoke of his past profession, and was still quite young; maybe 35-40, so it is quite possible that he has spent the last ten years indoors. He was secluded and his diaries were his connection to people when he was by himself. Donna, in threatening to remove Laura’s diary, was severing the only way he felt connected to a world outside his own; the modern-day equivalent would be disconnecting his internet connection. His anxiety also seemed to be related to cleanliness and protecting himself from various perceived contaminants from the outside world.

I have always thought that Harold had a certain Norman Bates quality to him. I am not suggesting that an anxiety disorder is the same as someone with dissociative identity disorder – Harold wasn’t a delusional killer – but there are some similarities.  

Their appearance and nervous, affected ways of interacting almost made it seem as if Lenny von Dohlen studied Anthony Perkins’ Bates in preparation for his role on Twin Peaks.  While one was into taxidermy, the art of stuffing dead birds, and the other was into cultivating orchids, the art of growing exquisite flowers, they both filled their days with an obsessive pursuit.

Norman’s world was bigger than Harold’s – he lived in a mansion and had the accompanying motel rooms and office at his disposal – but they were both very isolated, with occasional visitors usually their only company. At one point Norman said;

“No one really runs away from anything. It's like a private trap that holds us in like a prison. You know what I think? I think that we're all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and we claw, but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch.”

Words which could have easily come out of Harold’s mouth or even Laura’s diary.

For a video mash-up of Harold and Norman scenes I created to further demonstrate the parallels in their stories, please follow the following link;

Within the mythology of Twin Peaks, wood played a large, mysterious role. The soul of the log lady’s late husband is suggested to have resided in her log, and after Josie died we saw her trapped in the wooden drawer knob. 

It has also been suggested that those surrounded by wood could not be seen by the inhabitants of the Black Lodge spirits, so someone like Harold who never left the safety of his log cabin, would not be known to BOB. This may have been why Laura gave him her diary and seemed sure that BOB did not know of Harold’s existence. Adding to this theory, when the Log Lady invited Agent Cooper and the sheriff inside her cabin, she said, “The owls won’t see us in here”.  Harold was a sensitive soul and so stepping outside may not only have triggered immense psychological fear, but it could have attracted owls and other forces from deep within the forest or even the Lodges, which he could have sensed.

Unlike Norman Bates, who psychologically “killed” himself by allowing his “mother” alter to take over, Harold hung himself among his exotic flowers. Harold had kept Laura’s secrets, and perhaps the knowledge of these secrets drove him to suicide.  Other possibilities include the guilt that he didn’t or couldn’t save Laura, his sanctuary being violated by Donna and Maddy and his sense of betrayal by Donna. We cannot rule out a supernatural trigger, however, as Mrs Tremond’s grandson foreshadowed Harold’s suicide note.  All we know for sure is that Harold Smith died as he lived most of his life; a lonely soul.

For a video I created chronicling Harold’s story-line in Twin Peaks, please click here