Suicide or Murder? The Curious Case of Harold Smith
“Harold’s world was in his words. The suicide note has to be a message.”
These were the words spoken by Donna Hayward to Agent Dale Cooper after the body of Harold Smith was found hanged in his orchid nursery. His home was trashed, pages of Laura Palmer’s secret diary torn and scattered across the floor. For all intents and purposes, it appeared that Harold had—after being devastatingly let down by his new friend and potential love interest, Donna—lost his mind and in a fit of rage and heartbreak tore up all Donna really wanted from him and took his own life.
I, however, am not so sure that Harold did commit suicide. It’s not a popular theory but it is one that has stuck with me for over 25 years. For me, his death just doesn’t quite add up or at least the reasoning behind why he ended it all. Let’s look at what we know about Harold.
We first meet Harold in the third episode of Series 2 (episode 10). Donna is left a mysterious note at the Double R telling her to ‘Look into the Meals on Wheels’. Donna is in super-sleuth mode by now and is keen to investigate any leads into the murder of her best friend. The note leads her to meet the Tremond grandmother and grandson (who I’ll call Pierre here, whether it’s canon or not that is his name in the Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and Jennifer Lynch is good enough for me). It is at this meeting that grandmother Tremond tells Donna that her grandson has been studying magic, and he successfully makes the creamed corn—that she absolutely did not want—disappear from her plate. Mrs Tremond tells Donna about the reclusive Harold who lives next door, and that he was Laura’s friend. Pierre then says, ‘Jai une am solitaire’. Donna leaves and attempts to visit Harold but he doesn’t answer the door. She leaves him a note with her telephone number. After she leaves, Pierre says, ‘She seems like a very nice girl’. This seems somewhat sinister as if he is plotting something. Almost as if he’s thinking she would be the perfect lure for someone like Harold or that she wouldn’t be a very nice girl much longer.
We know that The Tremond’s are not who they say they are. A few episodes later we will learn that the real Mrs Tremond is a much younger woman and that she doesn’t know an older woman or boy who matches the description Donna gives. They have implanted themselves there for a reason—they wanted Donna and Harold to meet. Why?
Harold was agoraphobic. We don’t know the reason behind this and we don’t know when this started, but we do find out that he learned all about how to care for his orchids when he was a botanist. This strongly suggests that Harold had at one point in his adult life, spent much of his time outdoors. You would assume then that something pretty major must have happened to him then to give up the wonder of nature in return for living in a self-imposed prison?
“Even my new friend Harold Smith”
PAGE RIPPED OUT
“awoke one morning to find himself agoraphobic. He believes death is just outside his door, and that late at night it calls him from outside like a strange bird.” – The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer
Harold was a timid and weak man, he behaved as if he was constantly nervous. Harold knew something—and not just the secrets of the people whose stories he transcribed—he was afraid. Yes, of course he knew who Laura’s killer was. He knew of BOB, and he tried to reassure Laura in Fire Walk With Me that BOB wasn’t real. But I believe that he did know that BOB was real, and he was trying to protect Laura from the demon that was stalking her, trying to help her keep the fear from her mind, as he was trying to himself. Maybe he was trying to keep her closer to the light and away from the temptation of darkness. Whatever the case, knowing Laura’s killer was not the reason why he was a shut-in—he met Laura through the Meals on Wheels programme so he had been behind closed doors long before he learned her secrets.
So something else triggered the fear of leaving his home. Had he witnessed the spirits of the Black Lodge himself? We will never know what exactly happened to him of course, but his acute sensitivity may have made him aware of what was lurking out there in the trees, and the only way to prevent it reaching him was to stay inside and never let himself be seen.
So it appears then that the souls of the Black Lodge wanted Harold and Donna to meet knowing full well that this could potentially lead Donna to find out about BOB and Leland. Why? My personal belief is that they wanted Harold gone and used Donna as a pawn, knowing full well that Harold would fall for her sweet and innocent nature. Let’s face it, Harold certainly had a creepy side—he poured the underage Donna a glass of wine at their makeshift indoor picnic, read somewhat racy extracts from Laura’s diary to her, coaxed personal stories about her first intimate moments with men much older than her (like he was). He persuaded her to trust him, made her feel that he understood and didn’t judge her—which ultimately led to the pair sharing a kiss. Love and companionship was something Harold was desperately seeking and he enticed Donna with the fact that he held a second diary of Laura’s, one filled with secrets. This, in essence, is grooming. What Harold didn’t realise is that he was being groomed himself.
In letting Donna know that there was a second diary, he started a chain of events that would end in his life. Donna, now so resolute in obtaining the diary, cracking the case and solving the crime, behaved cruelly to Harold. She was beginning her ‘Laura’ phase, having donned her sunglasses she felt the urge to play with fire and manipulate people in the same way Laura did. In The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, Laura admits that she sexually assaulted Harold.
“And then, basically because he could not leave his house, forced him to have sex with me. I told Dr. Jacoby that I cried for hours afterwards because I felt so horrible. It took Harold almost an hour to talk to me because I had made him scared, even in his own home, his only refuge. And then I told Dr. Jacoby that half the time I hated it and the rest of the time it made me feel strong and hot between the legs.”
The influence of Laura combined with the hurt and betrayal she felt by James and Maddy’s clear affection for each other led her to take risks she wouldn’t have otherwise. She callously snatches the diary away from Harold, teasing him and luring him out into the open yard. Did this seal his fate? As he stood outdoors, his right-hand arm began to tremble, he looked up into the sky as if he knew there was something out there—something that could track him now, he was no longer protected within his four walls. What was it he saw in the sky? An owl? A vortex? Or maybe he could just sense the electricity in the air—it was coming for him. He collapses with fear.
At the time we thought this was a symptom of his agoraphobia, but in episode 27 we also see a female customer in the Diner, Pete and Coop’s hands all shake in the same way. It appears then that the Black Lodge is at work. Was that the pull of BOB reaching his arm out from Glastonbury Grove, looking for a new host post the death of Leland? If that is that case we of course now know the last person he sets his sights on he succeeds in possessing—Agent Cooper.
When he collapses outside his door in episode 12, the script adds a bit of additional dialogue. Harold tells Donna, “I just…I just got too close.” Donna asks, “To what?” but instead of answering, Harold kisses her for the first time—this is later changed to him kissing her in his house. If this had been included in the final cut it certainly would suggest he knows much more about the darkness that lurks in Twin Peaks.
As Laura told Harold herself when she delivered the diary to him in the days before her death, “He says if he can’t be me he’ll kill me”, maybe that is exactly what happened to Harold. Donna, Maddy and James hatch a plan to steal the diary from Harold’s home. While Donna seduces him with feigned orchid interest, Maddy creeps in and finds the secret compartment within his bookcase where it is kept. But they are caught, and Harold for the first time allows his dark side to surface. He refrains from attacking the girls but frightens them by scratching a gardening fork across his face dementedly.
Betrayed, Harold verbally lashes out at Donna, tells her she’s just like all the rest and that she contaminated him. James comes to the girls’ rescue and they try to flee, Harold grabs at the girls which makes Maddy drop the diary and it remains in Harold’s possession. They leave the door wide open as they escape his clutches. Harold frantically sprays his orchids and screams out. It appears then that someone in Harold’s past hurt him really badly. Perhaps this was enough to keep him from the outside world, not wanting to interact with anyone he didn’t believe was good. He only allowed Donna in after hearing Laura’s tales about her, he assumed she was the sweet girl Laura thought she was, but just like Donna didn’t know the real Laura, Laura didn’t really know Donna either.
Knowing now that they are in too deep, Donna tips off Agent Cooper advising him about a second diary. Hawk goes to Harold’s house and finds him hanged. The pages of the diary are scattered across the room and any evidence of BOB is gone. He leaves a suicide note. ‘Jai une am solitaire’ — ‘I am a lonely soul’. It is only when Donna hears Andy repeating these heartbreaking words in Double R that she links the Tremond’s to Harold’s death, and tells Agent Cooper. This will ultimately lead to the discovery that the old lady and her grandson were not The Tremond’s at all.
How did Pierre know what he was going to write in his note? We now know well that Lodge beings move through time unlike the rest of us so he could have seen the future, and certainly while donning the mask in FWWM he was able to tip Laura off that BOB was searching for her diary behind her dresser—right at that very moment. BOB was always looking for that diary you see, or Leland was—it was the only definitive evidence against him. That’s the reason why Laura moved it from her house and to the safety of Harold’s custody. BOB/Leland knew nothing of Harold, he was a well-kept secret, but the second he was lured outside BOB may have had him in his sights. The owls watch.
“Through the darkness of future’s past The Magician longs to see, one chance out between two worlds, fire walk with me”
Was this the plan all along? For the Tremond’s to make Donna lure Harold outside and into the grip of BOB? He would have made an interesting host, with that many people’s secrets stored in his books and in his mind, he could have caused a tremendous amount of pain and suffering to the town of Twin Peaks. It is clear that BOB as Leland had wanted to take Donna as his next victim, he was fumbled only by the arrival of Harry Truman at the Palmer House on ‘indoor golf day’. He had just killed Maddy, the net was closing in—had BOB wanted to desert Leland and take on a new persona, maybe even framing Harold for Laura’s and Maddy’s murders and taking down Donna along the way? Harold would have fit the profile of a serial killer that’s for sure, he had a certain air of Norman Bates about him, and holding Laura’s secret diary would have implicated him further.
If BOB didn’t want to take Harold as a host, he certainly would have wanted him dead. Just like Mr C. in Series 3 who killed anyone that crossed his path who knew too much about his crimes and intentions. Take for example the case of Bill Hastings, framed for the murder of his lover, Ruth Davenport, and when Bill started talking BOB sent Woodsmen to crush his skull and take Bill’s evidence out of the picture. Yes, BOB was using the intelligence of his FBI Agent doppelgänger host in that instance, but Leland was a Lawyer, he knew how to cover his tracks. Series 2 was much more…subtle than Series 3, that’s for sure.
Of course, The Tremond’s don’t really want BOB to be caught. They are up to mischief. They act like bait, luring BOB’s victims into danger, they know they will follow human nature perfectly as curiosity and emotion will get the better of them. They did the same to Laura by gifting her the picture of the door to the Convenience Store. In Laura’s dream Mrs Tremond beckons her through the door, Pierre snaps his fingers and flames appear, it ‘happens just like that’. She’s seen them before, she thinks she can trust them as they led her to finally learn the truth about her father. They lead her further inside and she follows them and ignores Cooper’s warning not to take the ring—which in my opinion is the moment that Laura lost her soul to the Black Lodge.
Phillip Jeffries memory of the Convenience Store will show the pair sitting on a couch, along with a Woodsman and the Electrician. It appears that the grandmother does not partake in the feast of garmonbozia, but an empty bowl sits at the feet of Pierre. Is that all they really want—to feed off the pain and suffering of others? Boy, didn’t Harold accumulate a lot of that?
Before his death, Harold left two pages of the diary for Donna at the real Mrs Tremond’s apartment. How and why did he do that? Did he visit the real Mrs Tremond? Call her over? Send them to her? If he left his house then he risked everything to get that message to Cooper. Even despite his rage and trauma, it appears he knew how important it was. These pages held vital clues and identified the killer—not as her father, but as BOB. Not only that, that BOB had a fear of his own–MIKE. It is almost as if Harold knew what was to become of him, that Donna would betray him but this was all a part of the Black Lodges’ game of chess. This page detailed the dream Laura had, the dream she shared with Agent Cooper.
February 22nd. Last night I had the strangest dream. I was in a red room with a small man dressed in red and an old man sitting in a chair. I tried to talk to him. I wanted to tell him who BOB is because I thought he could help me. But my words came out slow and odd. It was frustrating trying to talk. I got up and walked to the old man. Then I leaned over and whispered the secret in his ear. Somebody has to stop BOB. BOB’s only afraid of one man, he told me once. A man named Mike. I wonder if this was Mike in my dream. Even if it was only a dream, I hope he heard me. No one in the real world would believe me.
February 23. Tonight is the night that I die. I know I have to because it’s the only way to keep Bob away from me. The only way to tear him out from inside. I know he wants me. I can feel his fire. But if I die he can’t hurt me anymore.
How did Harold get the pages of Laura’s diary from the day of her death when she gave it to him a few days before her murder? That will always be a most compelling mystery. Yes, she may have visited his home on February 23rd to write her last entries. This has not been documented anywhere but it is possible. She had the dream where Annie told her about the ‘Good Dale being in the Lodge and cannot leave and to write it in her diary’, so maybe she did feel it was important enough to visit Harold and say her last goodbyes. But then how did that particular diary page and two others end up in the bathroom stall of the Sheriff’s Station? Hawk believed it was Leland who placed them there. So how could this be? Donna does tell Leland that there was a second diary, but this is not until AFTER Harold’s death. Leland seems worried about this revelation though. Does he manage to break into Harold’s home and collect the evidence before it is taken in by the police? That seems unlikely. Did he somehow manage to steal it from evidence at the Sheriff’s Station? It is possible, but I’m not sure how or when this could have happened.
Whatever the case, in leaving those two final diary pages for Donna, Harold reveals that he knew there was something darker going on. When Laura gave him her diary she was frantic, one step closer to being totally consumed by evil. He saw her lips turn black, face white, teeth yellow. Laura knew she was going to die and Harold knew that if she died she hadn’t let BOB in. Did he follow her lead and take his own life, not because of Donna’s actions, but as one final act of defiance against his own shadow self?
In the original script for episode 14, it is Cooper, Hawk and Harry who discover Harold’s body. Cooper then brings Gerard to the crime scene, and he declares that “Bob has not visited here”. That can be looked at in two ways; either BOB had not been at Harold’s home and therefore did not have anything to do with his death or that BOB had not taken possession of Harold.
We will of course never know for sure, but I have a romantic notion that Harold, just like Laura, refused to let BOB in and his life ended like her’s, maybe not murder, maybe not suicide, but in a fight to refuse to let the darkness win.
Harold’s fear of what was outside and love for Laura did open the doors to his home and to the Black Lodge of his mind where he was fated to remain a lonely soul.
“Are you looking for secrets? Is that it? Maybe I can give you one. Do you want to know what the ultimate secret is? Laura did. The secret of knowing who killed you.” – Harold Smith