Twin Peaks finale recap: 'The Return: Parts 17 and 18'
What year is this?
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“The meaning of life is that it stops.” – Franz Kafka
It has happened again. And it has left us again. Twin Peaks once more passes away, this time on its own terms, a revival that lived to write a new ending. It was technically a post-modern heroic odyssey about the return of Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) from limbo and a catch-up with the suffering denizens of a misty mountain American idyll in a state of perpetual, subverted tumult. But it was equally about Twin Peaks as an art object, and about its co-creator, David Lynch, who personally hand-crafted so much of the show and projected his history into the plot, characters, images, and sounds. He and Mark Frost performed an exorcism on a franchise tainted by the negativity of failure — possessed with a touch of Judy! — with a bold work that honored the beautiful spirit of the original series and its meanings. It was a thrilling shared dream that tried to throw its arms around all of life, and I’m sad to see it go. I think Lynch is, too. That scream, those blown-out lights, and that final fade-out, like a black curtain falling in a huff, spoke to the grief that’s encoded in Twin Peaks; it was a cancellation.
To say Showtime’s Twin Peaks: The Return was unforgettable is true, at least to the few who watched it. It’s also ironic. This was a story about how we make meaning with a slippery mix of memory, imagination, feeling, and the stories we tell each other. Was it real? Yes. Was it a dream? Also yes. My final theory about Twin Peaks was that it was the reflection of Agent Cooper, looking back on the absurd mystery of his existence and choosing to recall things his own way, a confabulation of romantic appreciation and sober mythologizing that expresses the truth of his life.
Part 17 and Part 18 devoured me. The reason why this recap-review is so late is that I couldn’t let go of it. I was also terrified of getting anything wrong. I’m sentimental. And I’m silly. There’s no solving this thing. There might be wrong ways to rationalize The Return, but there is no single correct way. Lynch gave us a living thing that defies perfect recall, a slick fish that wiggles away every time you try to grasp it. There might be an objective read, but I choose a subjective orientation. Today, I see one thing. Tomorrow, I might see another. The gift we were given was an absorbing and somewhat daunting cubist fantasia to be savored, interpreted, and remembered as we wish.
I have a lot to say about The Return. Too much. I doubt I’ll say it all or as well as I should. So be it. Making peace with your finitude and limits is part of the meaning of Twin Peaks; for all our striving, we will all leave this place an unfinished work. Let’s start with a couple of big-picture thoughts in light of the finale and a theory of those last two hours. Here’s how I’m making sense of things today. I’m opening my mouth like the Experiment. Let the spew begin:
The Return was a sequel to Twin Peaks that dared to play a dangerous game at the end by resolving a ton of plot through a time travel retcon, alt-reality abstractions, and surreal surrogate doubles. It was Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Lynch’s risky, ill-fated prequel film that he made after the original show folded, remade as Mulholland Drive, the feedback-loop heartbreak noir that earned Lynch an Oscar nomination and officially ended the career dark period that followed the flame-out of Twin Peaks. Put another way, Part 17 and Part 18, a movie unto itself, was Fire Walk With Me done better. It was one of many ways in which The Return was an ambitious do-over.
Lynch’s 18-hour magnum opus was actually every Lynch film rolled into one. Eraserhead: An alienated man, conflicted about domestic life. The Elephant Man: A misfit, abused outsider yearning for a home free from exploitation, pining for mystic reunion with Mother. Dune: The sleeper must awaken! A man-child transforms into a superman to liberate an oppressed desert slave-people. Blue Velvet: A wannabe detective seduced by mystery, forced to confront his darkness. Wild at Heart: Renegade lovers on the run from sinister forces that don’t want them together, including one very toxic mother. Lost Highway: An impotent, fallen man trying to run away from himself. Mulholland Drive: A betrayed, heartbroken woman trying to escape herself. The final act was The Straight Story transmogrified into Inland Empire: It was a road trip through a series of shared nightmares about flawed folks full of regret searching for reconciliation and restoration.
Part 17 and Part 18 also owed much to Lynch’s influences, which he always wears openly. Lynch has an affinity for Franz Kafka, famous for The Metamorphosis, The Trial, and The Castle, an unfinished work, although its unfinished quality enhances the existential meanings. In the book Lynch on Lynch, the director told journalist Chris Rodley that he felt the writer was “the one artist that could have been my brother.” He said, “If Kafka wrote a crime picture, I’d like to direct that, for sure.” I’d argue Lynch fulfilled that goal with The Return. It was a Kafkaesque police procedural about a myriad of bizarre crimes, some of which were never solved, at least not to completion or in events depicted. Cooper was tasked with a missing person’s case — “Find Laura” — but his odyssey was about finding himself though metamorphosis, trial, and seeking a castle that perhaps he’ll never reach.
The finale showed us Lynch’s affinity for Billy Wilder film noir, Alfred Hitchcock psychological horror, and a certain fantasy about a woman carried away by a whirlwind. It was Double Indemnity meets Vertigo, spliced with The Wizard of Oz and a Psycho. An unhappy woman seduces and ropes an unhappy man into a risky scheme designed to liberate her from her circumstances, then abandons him, leaving him dizzy and pissed. He finds her hiding, living as another woman, and brings her back to the scene of all crimes. An encounter with the wicked witch yields a scream worthy of Janet Leigh that shatters all illusions.
“I like to remember things my own way,” says Fred Madison in Lost Highway. “How I remembered them. Not necessarily the way they happened.” If you feel the same way about The Return, if you’re just averse to my brand of convoluted theorizing, then you might want to consider skipping to page 8 of this recap, where I offer some final big-picture thoughts on the show before turning off the lights and pulling the black curtain, screaming the whole way. This theory is imperfect, even in the context of “there’s no right way to think about Twin Peaks.” It takes in too much, it doesn’t take in enough, the internal logic is inconsistent, and it probably says more about me than it does about Twin Peaks. Consider this my view of the castle from where I stand today, on a journey I’ll never complete, on road that’ll never get me there, anyway.
NEXT: Detective, Search Thyself!
In Lynch on Lynch, the director speaks of feeling fear in the air as a kid in the fifties, a vibe that told him attuned him to nature of appearances, that behind every bright, well-manicured façade, something more shaded and possibly pitch black rotten might reside. “I learned that just beneath the surface there’s another world, and still different worlds as you dig deeper. I knew it as a kid, but I couldn’t find the proof. It was just a feeling. There is goodness in blue sky and flowers, but another force – wild pain and decay – also accompanies everything. Like with scientists: they get down to subatomic particles and now they world becomes very abstract. They’re like abstract painters in a way. It’d be hard to talk to them they’re way down in there.”
The last line makes me laugh, because Lynch’s work inspires us – tempts us? — to be scientists: we love to descend into the subatomic particles to study it, but the more we get down in there, the more we get lost. The sane thing to do would be to remain at distance, admire the surfaces, track themes, let the mystery be.
Well, screw that! For the last time, let’s get lost in the weeds.
Fix Your Heart or Die!
or Why You Can’t Go Home Again
A Christmas Carol theory of The Return
“I usually solve problems by letting them devour me.” – Frank Kafka (Also my recap motto)
1. The beginning was the end.
Part 1 proper began with a scene of The Fireman and Agent Cooper sitting together in an otherworldly parlor room, listening to the sound of scratching emanating from a gramophone. “It is in our house now,” said The Fireman, an entity who safeguards time. The symbol points back to Lynch’s previous film, Inland Empire, which began with a gramophone playing a record called Axxon N., “the longest-running radio play in history.” The scratch is the saga of Twin Peaks; The Fireman is telling him that the story is finished, committed to the record of history. “It is?” says a shocked Cooper, his reaction a meta-joke that speaks to the legend of Twin Peaks as an unfinished tale and the godsend of The Return as an opportunity to complete it.
The Fireman then tells Cooper to remember three things. “430.” “Richard and Linda.” “Two birds one stone.” All of these “clues” speak to elements of Part 18, and specifically, the last three sections: Cooper running away into a pocket universe; Cooper betraying his character; Cooper collaborating with others on a redemptive mission. The Fireman is flagging parts of the story worth Cooper’s reflection. It is a clue to us that all of The Return is Cooper’s recollection — something, ironically, we could only see in retrospect.
Cooper listens and replies, “I understand.” The Fireman says, “You are far away,” and Cooper vanishes with a special effect associated with time travel and ret-con, or memory and confabulation. Which is how Cooper — anyone — remembers anything.
2. The problem was Sarah.
From start to finish, The Return captured the tension of holding history in a useful way, without being owned by it, so you can thrive and progress. It expressed the need to grieve yesterday’s hurts by presenting the point in negative terms, with suffering characters made uncanny from nostalgia — the Greek notion, pain from an old wound — and exacerbating it with poor remedies for coping and healing. The Return was redemptive, I believe, even if it didn’t feel that way. Feel it, anyway. There’s meaning there.
My theory is informed by a meta-theory, which I call the Everything Explains Everything Else Theory of Twin Peaks. Take the wounded drunk in the sheriff’s department holding cell, who can do nothing but parrot people, who scrapes off his bandages just so he can push on his wounds. He’s a man ruled by spirits, robbed of authenticity, and hooked on his pain. He was incarcerated inside cell No. 5, which is half of 10, which, as we learned in Part 17, is “the number of completion.” And so the drunk was living a half-life. (Opposite him, in cell 10, was Chad, a despicable man, but for a scene, Lynch abstracted him into a symbol of liberation and empowerment, as he used keys hidden in his shoes to free himself and arm himself. For a moment, Chad was a complete 10. And then Freddie knocked his lights out.)
And so the drunk is Sarah Palmer, a chain-smoking alcoholic living a half-life, caged in loops of time, and addicted to her furious suffering, too, because it keeps Laura alive. It might have kept Laura’s spirit bound to the earth, too, causing her “I’m dead, and yet, I live” predicament. The shot of her wailing and beating on Laura’s homecoming queen photo with a vodka bottle, shattering the glass but unable to destroy the picture, expressed her smoldering, poisoned, stuck-in-a-moment condition.
But I’m also struck by the metaphor of Audrey Horne, another victim of rapacious evil and broken mind vaped by nostalgia, terrorized and held captive by a manipulative, gaslighting husband who makes her question her very existence. Sarah is Audrey; Alice Tremond, the negative-entity incubus squatting in Sarah’s house/person, is Audrey’s hideous husband. I suspect Sarah’s unrelenting and intensifying crisis — magnified by supernatural forces that have preyed on her for decades — was causing psychic disturbances throughout her web of spiritual connections, perhaps throughout all of Twin Peaks.
Sarah needed to fix her heart or die. She needed one of Dr. Amp’s golden shovels to dig out of the s—. But sometimes — or maybe all the time — you can’t do that on your own. That was the real, sweet meaning of that goofy Dr. Amp business. Not the rants, not the self-help hucksterism, but how it ultimately brought Dr. Jacoby and Nadine together and sparked a love connection to assuage their loneliness. Sarah kept shutting out help, as she did when she coolly turned Hawk away from her door, a moment that presaged the show’s final scene, but lordy, did she need it. Fortunately, an intervention was coming in the form of two saviors chasing a very strange redemption scheme. I propose that Cooper, working with Laura, created a modal reality to draw the demons out and away from Sarah and her house for the purpose of banishing them once and for all. This would not solve all of Sarah’s problems. She had addictions and pain to treat. But it would be a start.
3. Part 18 was a myth retold many times.
Part 18 was informed by a few timeless texts. One was the myth of Orpheus, a man motivated by heartbreak to descend into the underworld to bring back the woman he loved. She was Eurydice, a woman terrorized by a monster: a satyr. She died while running away from him, bitten by poisonous vipers. Eurydice is Laura. Killer BOB was her satyr, and the assortment of bad men who used her and abused her and warped her — Leo Johnson, Jacques Renault, BOB-possessed Leland — were her vipers. Many men who loved her wanted to be her Orpheus, including James, the musician who idolized her into something she wasn’t. But in Part 18, the wannabe savior who tried to play Orpheus was Agent Cooper, who had fallen in love with her mystery and made her his immortality project, his denial of death.
But in the myth, Orpheus learns the hard way that there’s no turning back time, there’s no cheating death, there’s no dodging the pain and sorrow of the mortal, material world. The underworld devils are charmed by his lyre; I imagine him performing a set that includes “Just You and I,” “My Prayer,” and the complete Julee Cruise. They let Orpheus take Eurydice back to the upper world and live happily ever after, on a couple of conditions: that he lead her the entire way up the wilderness slope; and that he doesn’t look back, no matter what. At the moment of victory, Orpheus succumbs to excitement and/or anxiety — in one version of the tale, he loses his grasp on her just as he reaches the upper world; in another, she calls out to him in a panic — and he turns. Eurydice isn’t there. Forever. Put some nine-inch nails in that dream, buddy. One more time, for the final time, she’s gone away.
Remember Orpheus as we move forward.
Part 18 was also A Christmas Carol writ as horror story. An old, miserable soul encounters three spirits on Christmas Eve, ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. They are sobering confrontations with character that inspire him to change, and in the end, he is born again.
And so remember Scrooge, too.
NEXT: How I make sense of Twin Peaks mythology.
4. Mythology 101 as Existentialism 101.
An interpretation of Twin Peaks requires an opinion about its supernatural beings. My perspective is always in flux. Today, I return to the implication of the dream scene that introduced The Red Room, The Man From Another Place, and the notion that the memory of Laura persists as a ghost. The mythology of Twin Peaks is how Agent Cooper makes sense of time, spirit, mind, nature, good, evil, heroism, America, and the absurd mysteries of existence.
Part 8, or “Gotta light?”
The Return’s bravura hour was Cooper’s worldview, expressed through his unique symbol system. It was framed by a sequence in which Cooper’s doppelganger, Mr. C, was murdered and revived. The story that followed was a depiction of the myth that functions as the operating system that informs Cooper in all of his iterations. Like many baby boomers, Cooper’s POV is framed by The Bomb. Hence, Lynch’s depiction of Trinity or The Gadget, the detonation of the first atomic bomb, an achievement of The Manhattan Project, a heroic enterprise to stop World War II. It was scored to “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima,” a mournful shriek to grieve the cost of worldly striving, whether in pursuit of oppression, redemption, or material happiness.
A Promethean entity, The Fireman spoke to timeless ideas, including time itself. He represented Cooper’s higher self and utopian modernism. The Fireman resided atop an atoll in an oceanic expanse with a companion, Señorita Dido, in a futuristic citadel-cum-gravity dam that housed sensitive machines shaped like diving bells. They were time capsules — bottled lives, bottled worlds, bottled histories. The Fireman responds to crisis by dreaming up ideas and sending them into the world via a movie screen to inspire people. Those ideas take root and blossom into stories. When those stories are over, they return to him for eternal keeping. This place was the White Lodge, the highest point in Twin Peaks mythology.
A terrifying demiurge, the Experiment spoke to material ideas, including culture. It resided in a void — maybe above us, maybe below us — and took the form of a nude, feminine humanoid figure with horned or floppy-eared antennae, no eyes, and a gaping mouth for ravaging people — this restless thing did NOT like being boxed and observed like a TV set — and spewing eggs containing things like mutant creatures (the Froach, half frog, half roach) and BOB, a free-spirited, rapacious serial killer. The Experiment made the world mysterious and dangerous with the stuff it recklessly spews and births.
The Experiment was how Cooper made sense of the problem of evil in America. The paradox of that conception is this: The Experiment gave Cooper heroic purpose; it gave him identity. Who is Cooper without the s— the Experiment makes? Does Cooper even want to know the answer to such existential conundrums? And so the Experiment speaks to the dark side of Cooper, the one who loves the absurd mysteries of human existence too much, the one who doesn’t want the spew to end.
Which is why the Experiment was linked exclusively to Cooper’s doppelganger, Mr. C.
It materialized in a magic box that Mr. C built for capturing spirits and it was part of the myth that rebooted him. Mr. C spent the entire season searching for “The Place,” represented by the Ace of Spades card he kept in his vest, close to his chest, next to his heart. (If he had a heart.) The image resembled the Experiment. Mr. C was seeking the negative entity responsible for its creation; he wanted his mommy. But this, too, was a paradox. There was nothing authentic about Mr. C. His true creator — his true demiurge — was Cooper himself. His quest was an echo of Cooper’s own quest to find “Judy,” an entity of negative energy. Mr. C would never have been made if Cooper had entered the Red Room back in season 2 with greater self-awareness and greater mastery of his character.
The behaviors and contexts of the Experiment link it to Shiva, the shatterer and transformer, as conceptualized by J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of The Manhattan Project: “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people, a few people cried. Most were silent…I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture…Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him, takes on his multi-arm form and says, ‘Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”
Oppenheimer’s Shiva correlates to several things pertinent to The Return: a view of progress that says radical change, even when positive, yields negative consequences; the notion of multiple identities and pragmatic heroism, that we play different roles in different moments in our walk of life to do what must be done. But more than anything, what Oppenheimer’s quote models is mournful reflection — to sit Shiva with our regrets and offer threnody for our folly.
Wild, free radical agents of decay, The Woodsmen, creations of the Experiment, spoke to the polluting fallout of Nukeface America. They descended from the sky like acid rain. They made a home out of a convenience store peddling fossil fuels and corn oil. They served Killer BOB and his chosen vessel, trolling and troubling mystery seekers that threatened Mr. C’s own search for the Zone and attending him as needed, like dark angels ministering to an anti-Christ.
One Woodsman in particular blew our minds. He looked like a Bizarro Abraham Lincoln. He smoked. He really didn’t like classic R&B like “My Prayer” by The Platters (a group whose members included a man named David Lynch), a ballad pining for lingering love. Slouching into a desert radio station on Aug. 2, 1956, the day “My Prayer” hit No. 1, a Woodsman cracked heads, threw off the record, and spoke an unsettling existential riddle that seemed to allude to death. Everyone who heard it fell asleep, leaving one young romantic vulnerable to possession: A mutant Froach crawled into her mouth as she slumbered, taking residence in her dreaming mind.
The Red Room (or The Black Lodge)
The Woodsmen were parasites and pirates, and so they were “as above, so below” cousins to the psycho-spiritual underworld demons of the Red Room. They fed on “Garmonbozia,” or “pain and sorrow.” The implication of the original series and Fire Walk With Me was that Killer BOB’s function was to harvest Garmonbozia and bring it back to the Red Room to nourish his fellow demons, like a vulture bringing carrion back to the nest. But BOB was greedy, he didn’t like to share. He found a vessel for that revolution in the form of Cooper’s doppelganger. When Mr. C vomited after the Red Room’s failed attempt to repo him, he upchucked creamed corn spiked with scorched engine oil — the physical representation of Garmonbozia and the products of the Woodsmen’s dark matter convenience store.
The presiding Red Room entity in The Return was The Arm, or rather, The Evolution of the Arm, a tree topped with a talking brain. It represented the measure of Red Room vitality. Another prominent figure was Mike the One-Armed Man. He once sowed and reaped Garmonbozia with BOB until he repented and cut off a limb as a sacrifice. (It may have seeded The Arm.) We thought that Mike was an ally to Cooper, and it’s possible he thought so, too. But he was a liar at worst, self-deceived at best. Mike was a cog in the Red Room death machine and perhaps invested in its workings. Was he lonely? The mystery man who called Mr. C in Part 2 and told him “I will be with BOB again”? That was Mike. It is not good for a one-armed man to be alone.
“Jowday” or “Judy” was a concept introduced in Part 17, described by Blue Rose honcho Gordon Cole — Lynch himself — as “an entity of negative energy.” Judy is simply a generic term for the mythology of Twin Peaks, a term to label and sum up something that defies labels, like God or the devil. She’s also a metaphor for the constructs — and scapegoats — we create to explain the absurd mysteries and Garmonbozia of human existence. In short: Judy is Cooper’s theory of Twin Peaks. And himself.
NEXT: The Great Escape.
5. A Theory For Today, Part One: The Great Escape
+To escape eternity in the Red Room, the spirit of Laura Palmer initiated a Back to the Future scheme to alter history and prevent her murder. She enlisted Red Room prisoner and “Synchronicity” dream-rapport buddy Cooper to help her; that’s the secret she whispered into his ear. But did Laura come up with this idea herself? Or was she tricked into it?
+Being the parasites that they are, the Red Room demons latched onto this plan and facilitated it. Why? Because a ret-con would get them what they wanted all season: BOB, their AWOL harvester of Garmonbozia. When Mr. C avoided capture in Part 3, the back-up plan was Laura’s ret-con. A reboot would nullify BOB’s destruction and restore him to life.
+From the “Everything Explains Everything Else” files: The deplorable master-slave economy of Judy/Red Room demons/Laura Palmer was mirrored by the Mitchum/Andie sisters/Janey-E drama in the poppy field wasteland of Las Vegas, where Agent Cooper — stuck in the limbo man of “Dougie” — played insurance agent to underworld crime bosses. At first, they wanted him dead. But when he proved useful by delivering a $30 million policy, they lavished him, Janey-E (a woman-in-trouble analog to Laura), and Toto-cute kid Sonny Jim Jones with rewards, keeping them happy, docile, and idled in their pocket universe cul-de-sac house with the red (room) door.
One more note about “Dougie.” Every version of Cooper in The Return was an expression of Cooper. The selfless hero. The selfish anti-hero. The self-confused “Dougie.” They were the three competing faces of this one man, each chasing life insurance schemes on every possible level. Ernest Becker, author of The Denial of Death, The Birth and Death of Meaning, and Escape from Evil, might call their endeavors “immortality projects,” which can be anything to distract us from certain existential panics, like pain, sorrow and WE ARE GOING TO DIE!, from Great Man, Great Work glories like splitting atoms and making art to smaller pursuits, like producing TV shows that never get canceled or writing recaps of TV shows that just go on and on and on in search of perfect completeness that’s just f—ing impossible.
+Cooper accepted Laura’s mission, but a gasp and a flinch indicated that on some level, he understood it would have catastrophic consequences — the atomic bomb metaphor of heroism. Cooper may have engaged in some Oppenheimeresque rationalization: Perhaps he thought it was the only way to neutralize the evils plaguing Twin Peaks. Thinking all good things of Cooper, perhaps he understood that it would never work; his friend The Fireman would extinguish and repair the ret-con fires. Recognizing that the Red Room conspiracy gave him an opportunity to rein in Mr. C and allow him to chase a different, better plan, Cooper accepted the commission.
+It took a while for Cooper to commence the operation. His dark side, the part of him that wants no end to mystery, sabotaged him. He was waylaid by an extended idle in Vegas, which I think Cooper might have been able to terminate sooner than he did: “Dougie” excited and satisfied long-held yearnings for love, children, for a place to call home. While he remained a good, decent soul who was able to effect positive local change as “Dougie,” Cooper was still sleeping on the job when it came to his global responsibilities. Ironies within ironies: When Cooper finally woke up, he shattered Janey-E and Sonny Jim all over again by running away, conforming to the drifty nature of the original Dougie. Mr. C was Cooper’s dark doppelganger, but Agent Cooper was “Dougie’s” dark doppelganger, that part of him who resented domestication and yearned for adventure and glory.
+Cooper arrived in Twin Peaks too late to witness Lucy — Lucy of all people! — put down Mr. C. But he did get there in the nick of time to mentor Freddie through his boxing match with BOB like an ace corner man. We expected Cooper would have delivered those blows, and I wonder if he would have if his doppelganger hadn’t sabotaged him. Hence, The Fireman had to deputize other agents.
+Something weird happened with Cooper after BOB’s obliteration. It occurred when Cooper reclaimed his key to his old room at the Great Northern Hotel and when he recognized Diane imprisoned within Naido. Suddenly, Cooper’s puzzled face was superimposed over several minutes of action. At one point, this ghostly visage said: “We live inside a dream.” Lynch might have been cleverly expressing the theory of Quantum superposition, the idea that something can exist in multiple states at once. Here was Cooper as Schrödinger’s Cat, residing within a box containing many possible worlds.
+But note that Cooper was all go-go-go and would remain in overdrive for many more scenes to come and well into Part 18. He was blazing forward without thought, executing his plan with the narrow hyper-rational charge of a guy in a race against time, of a guy trying to make up for lost time, and a guy who has not yet given one thought to all the time he has lost. Twenty-five years of incarceration. Twenty-five years of limbo. Twenty-five years he’ll never get back. This is huge! Cooper had not acknowledged this loss yet, had not even begun to grieve this yet, but that pain had to be there, poking at him, hurting him, and I contend that everything that he did from this point forward — his reckless ret-con heroism; his leap into a pocket universe — were dangerous denials and wrongheaded attempts to assuage it.
+With that in mind, consider the juxtaposition of Cooper’s reflective, slo-mo face superimposed upon hyper-caffeinated crusader Cooper. Consider also that this is when we began to see the fulfillment of The Fireman’s “clues” imparted in Part 1. I propose that superimposition marks the start of the “the moral of the story” — the stuff that Future Cooper is reflecting upon. The key and Diane foreshadowed choices that Cooper will soon regret; they represented temptations he should have refused, but he didn’t, because hurried, harried Cooper wasn’t thinking straight. They were the sirens of bad nostalgia, wooing him to the rocks. (The “Everything Explains Everything Else” corollary: the ethereal humming at the Great Northern that mystified Ben and Beverly, putting them in tight corners that tempted them to adultery.)
+There was also one more symbol at play here, a symbol that Cooper took with him as he and Diane ventured into the Great Northern basement: Gordon Cole. Which is to say, David Lynch.
Watching Cooper, Diane, and Cole cross the threshold into a truly Lynchian final act was a bittersweet pop moment that reminded us how MacLachlan, Dern, and Lynch are knitted together. MacLachlan got his start in Dune — Lynch’s biggest bomb. MacLachlan and Dern starred in Blue Velvet — Lynch’s post-Dune comeback, a masterpiece and major development in his evolution as an auteur, as it taught him the importance of having final cut. Blue Velvet begat Twin Peaks, a doppelganger extrapolation that made MacLachlan a household name and gave him a legacy role. Dern starred in Wild at Heart, a hyper-pulp romance that shattered and transformed Dern’s image for the better; it was a polarizing film that commenced a period of antihero nihilism and a dark age in Lynch’s career. Dern also starred in Inland Empire, a tour de force performance in a thrilling experiment that fully transformed Lynch into an artist for the digital age. Now, here they were, joined together for the final act of Lynch’s very meta magnum opus about his past, present, and future, his successes, his failures, and his bliss as an artist.
+“See you at the curtain call,” said Cooper as he unlocked a door and entered into the unknown, winking us toward the end. With that, Cooper moved into quantum dreamtime to make like Kafka: solving a problem by letting it devour him. It was time for him to be a scientist and get down in the super-string of his innermost being. MacLachlan got his final reward as an actor in Lynch’s employ, a chance at an Inland Empire tour de force by anchoring a truly trippy endgame.
NEXT: The Subterraneans
6. The Theory, Part Two: “I am the FBI!”
We now see in retrospect that Cooper’s triumphant pronouncement in Part 16 when he reactivated was sly foreshadowing and a cunning pun. Inside that subterranean closet was a collection of personal and shared worlds for him to explore — a federal bureau of investigation. He nearly ghosted himself in the Kakfkaesque madness. What the author said: “You are free, and that is why you are lost.” Fortunately, Cooper got found.
+His first stop was The Dutchman’s. Mike, his alleged ally, guided him. But a brief cameo from The Jumping Man, a masked mad hatter, bouncing down a stairwell, reminded us that Red Room demons are expressions of cosmic horror fiction. They are chaos agents with their own agendas and humans are but snacks, playthings, and tools. Look no further than the “man” Mike took Cooper to see: Phillip Jeffries, a Blue Rose operative who went chasing the elusive, probably non-existent Judy and wound up trapped inside one of The Fireman’s time capsules. I think Jeffries stole one of those things with Red Room help so he could cheat death and live forever. For Jeffries — originally played by the late David Bowie in Fire Walk With Me — I dedicate “The Man Who Sold the World,” a song about a man who encounters his dark side doppelganger on a stairway, then gets lost in the world.
+With Jeffries’ assistance, Cooper traveled back in time to the night that Laura was murdered. Inserted into scenes of Fire Walk With Me, Cooper spied on Laura in the woods — MacLachlan, reprising his Blue Velvet voyeurism — and fulfilled the role of a shadowy figure that Laura spotted lurking and looking at her. In the movie, that shadow was a death omen. In the end, Cooper fulfilled that role, too.
+Cooper played Orpheus to Laura’s Eurydice, but a prequel version of it, trying to stop her from ever tumbling into the underworld in the first place. He led her away from the satyr, the vipers, and her wilderness doom. But then he lost contact with her. He looked back. She was gone. He heard a sound like a record scratching, a sound we heard way back in Part 1, when The Fireman asked Cooper to listen to the gramophone and said, “It is in our house now.” Cooper also heard Laura scream one of her screams, a scream that speaks of her subversion. My conclusion: The Fireman intervened and hosed the ret-con. He put out the fire in time, blew out the bid to change a story already written. The scream Cooper heard here was Laura dying in a train car at the hands of her BOB-possessed father. From Cooper’s point of view, Laura was his Ghost of Christmas Past, teaching him there are limits to heroic endeavors and the great time travel lesson of Lost: Whatever happened, happened. So deal with it!
+Further proof that the retcon failed was found during a brief visit to the Red Room. The Arm — the measure of Red Room vitality — was repeating a line that insane Audrey spoke when she was questioning her existence. (“Is it the story of the little girl who lived down the lane…?”) The Tree-Brain was losing its mind — maybe because it hadn’t been fertilized in ages with Garmonbozia.
+Cooper once again crossed paths with the spirit of Leland Palmer. “Find Laura,” said Worst Dad Ever. With these two words, Leland deserves some very, very small medal of valor: He was trying to set him on a mission to save his wife, Sarah, from the clutches of all things Judy, and give his daughter peace. Team Red Room couldn’t let that happen. Now that the current incarnation of the Red Room was dying, the Arm needed to evolve anew, so to speak. It needed to grow a new Black Lodge. They were growing a promising one in the Palmer house, using Sarah as a demon seed. But perhaps they could be lured away with a better offer — with a whole world. More on this in a minute.
+Cooper was now a threat to their insurance policy. He had to be neutralized. Upon exiting, Cooper was met by Diane, a doppelganger manufactured by the Red Room. This stirred Cooper’s competing doppelganger sides: his greedy selfish escapism; his longing for “home” at all costs. Suddenly, he and Diane were in a car, seeking coordinates, seeking a place, seeking a supernatural hotspot that would let them escape reality and transcend into happily ever after.
+They found it somewhere 430 miles away. “4-3-0.” One of The Fireman’s memory markers. It was soft spot in the fabric of space-time, near an electrical tower crackling with mystery juice. The top of the tower resembled Mr. C’s Ace of Spaces card. Risking identity flux and mind-wipe, the runaway would-be lovers passed into a modal reality and checked into a desert motel. Cooper was the married man sneaking off to have an affair. With his secretary, no less! He was cheating on two people: Janey-E, to whom he was spiritually married (a new doppelganger — a new Dougie, manufactured from a piece of his hair, — had taken his place in Vegas); and his better self (I wonder if the new Dougie is truly the best possible Cooper). Here, the omens of hotel key and Diane were being fulfilled. So, too, the season’s fixations with infidelity and divorce in general. They were metaphors for Cooper’s flaws and foibles here: his unfaithfulness to the good; his divorce from reality.
+It hits me now that Cooper as “Dougie” was involved in such cheating even in Vegas. He wasn’t Janey-E’s Dougie, he was just playing the part of the unreal thing Mr. C had made. He had turned Janey-E into an unwitting adulterer with this deception.
+While Cooper was checking into the motel, another Diane was checking out Doppelganger Diane. The two locked eyes. The new Diane disappeared. I propose that the new Diane was the real Diane and that she had been tasked by Gordon Cole to enter Cooper’s inland empire and check up on him. When they locked eyes, the real Diane — dominant — took over Doppelganger Diane.
+In this way, Cole was fulfilling Cooper’s request from long ago to search for him should he go missing as Phillip Jeffries and Chet Desmond did. We have reason to suspect Cole would make Diane do this, per Everything Explains Everything Else: Remember that Cole put Diane in a room with Mr. C to look into his eyes and assess his authenticity.
+Unfortunately, this new mission wound up triggering Diane just as the previous one did. Inside the motel room, Cooper asked Diane to turn off the lights and called her over to have sex. (I was reminded of Frank Booth in Blue Velvet: “Now it’s dark.”) Why did Diane agree? Because she loved the “real” Cooper. And it’s possible that she thought that it was the right thing to do in the context whatever Cooper was chasing inside the inland empire of Twin Peaks.
+This did not go well for her. Cooper didn’t remember or selfishly opted to disregard the fact that Mr. C had sexually assaulted her. Watching Diane writhe on empathy-challenged Cooper while covering those blank black eyes holding her captive with his gaze was one of The Return’s most devastating images. She wanted intimacy with Cooper; she got Mr. C instead. For Cooper, the sex with Diane mirrored the sex with Janey-E. It was as if he was trying to replicate with Diane what he had in Vegas with Dougie’s wife here in this cul-de-sac dreamland. But instead of the orgasmic rush of nostalgia, Cooper experienced…nothing. It was joyless, empty exercise, something maybe only Mr. C could find pleasure in. In this way, Diane was Cooper’s Ghost of Christmas Present.
NEXT: Highway to Hell.
+Fortunately, Cooper began to get woke, roused by nagging memory, conscience, Hegelian unhappy consciousness, and/or the divine intervention of forces. The morning after, Cooper found himself alone, in a different hotel, in a different reality. She had left a “Dear John” note for him, calling him “Richard” and herself “Linda.” (The names fulfilled The Fireman’s second memory marker.) This rejection stung. The mystery of identity represented by the letter unsettled him; it told him that he wasn’t the man he used to be, that he had betrayed his character. So began Cooper’s final identity crisis — a healthy one that would lead to a breakthrough.
+I’m reading theories that Diane and Cooper knew what they were doing during their dark night of soul-rutting — that they were performing a sex magic ritual, Diane playing the angel, Cooper player the devil, Diane playing the willing sacrifice, Cooper playing the willing reaper. The goal: to propel Cooper into a dimension where he could destroy Judy. You could see Cooper and Diane joining bodies to become multi-armed Shiva, shatterer and transformer of worlds, generating an explosive charge of negative energy to penetrate a different plane of existence and insert Cooper within it. This is an interesting read. But I don’t think Cooper was knowingly doing anything heroic in this moment. Diane, maybe. But not Cooper.
+So where was Cooper? He wasn’t in a timeline where Laura never died, because the ret-con didn’t stick. Cooper was in another modal reality of his subconscious creation, a world of mystery and Garmonbozia to give himself purpose. He was the Experiment and he was Red Room parasite all in one. But I also think he had created a snare, a world of negative energy to lure demons now looking for a new home. Everything Explains Everything Else Theory: What Cooper was doing was what The Fireman did to Mr. C, baiting him to find coordinates to a place for the purpose of sending him to the sheriff’s station for final judgment and destruction. In this way, Cooper was the ironic Christ of Sartre’s The Flies, saving a city from its bad, buggy negative energy mythology by playing the scapegoat. The Judy he was searching for? It was in him all along.
+Cooper was tracking Laura, though he might not have consciously known it. Just following his gut for mystery, for better, for worse. Again, Cooper was demonstrating a need for self-awareness. But — paradox alert! — he might have also been demonstrating a useful, healthy kind of self-deception. Useful, because it kept his intentions hidden from Judy. One read on Cooper here: He’s become a sleeper agent. Healthy, because of what it represented. We can’t navigate life without a little bit of self-deception. Some truths are crushing to keep top of mind all the time, like, say, the fact that WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE SOMEDAY.
+Cruising downtown Odessa, Cooper passed by a diner named Judy’s. He stopped. I liked how at this point, we couldn’t really trust what was motivating Cooper anymore. Was he being a good detective and following clues? Or was he indulging his addictions? Coffee. Breakfast. Great man do-gooding. He partook in all these things at Judy’s, but they gave him no joy. And indulging the hero stuff — an echo of the atom bomb metaphor — nearly blew up in his face and everyone else’s, too. Cooper intervened to stop a trio of evil cowboys from sexually harassing a waitress. We understand why he had to shoot one of them in the foot. But why the heck dump their guns in a deep fryer, creating a de facto bomb that could have killed the chef? This was proof that Cooper was broken, his unthinking hero addiction putting people in danger.
+What followed next was another ironic riff on Orpheus and Eurydice. Another rescue mission into the underworld, another chance to escape. There would be variations on key motifs, like the whole “looking back” thing, that would yield similar outcomes, but with more redemptive effects.
+Following mystic instinct and heeding more signs, including a number 6 on telephone pole denoting the electrical presence of mystery, he found Laura living on the fringe of Odessa in a beat-up house with an unfinished yard. She was living as Carrie Page, a woman messed up with bad men, including one sitting in her living room with his head half blown off, blood splattered on the wall. In every possible Cooperverse, Laura was doomed to be a woman in trouble, forever trying to turn the page on her life. In every possible universe, she’s a woman made to reside in a “black” lodge and red room.
+Cooper was dispirited by the sight of the dead man, but he didn’t say anything or do anything about it. He just looked bummed. You wonder if, by now, Cooper had a theory about his adventure: that either it was all happening in his head or that he was in a modal reality that he had generated. If he knew this, or maybe just instinctively recognized it, then he understood that he was responsible for everything in it, from suffering Carrie to this murdered man.
+Cooper spied a pale toy horse on the mantle, a death symbol linked to Laura. It foreshadowed her function in this story, but also spoke to how she had become a plaything to demons. Had Cooper made this Laura? No, because Laura was one of the supernatural beings he was trying to attract in this modal reality. He might have been getting an assist from The Fireman here. This Laura might have been the Laura that The Fireman dreamed up and sent to earth in Part 8; she was a Eve-like helpmate, sent to Adam-Jesus Cooper to help help in mission. But it also gave Laura a chance to charge of her story and write a new ending for it. Laura was also The Fireman’s tough love reward for all his lost years and all his well-meaning but wonky service. She was his Ghost of Christmas Future, an opportunity to see what might become if he didn’t learn to master his identity crisis and dig himself out of the s—. She was magic golden shovel and an Ace of Spades trump card, all in one.
+After a long, long, long car ride, Cooper and Laura arrived at the heart of darkness, the Palmer house in Twin Peaks. Christmas lights in other houses suggested Advent season. The slowing of the pace enhanced our dread — and our grief that The Return was rapidly coming to an end! — but it also mirrored the slowing of our go-go-go characters and their racing, running-away-from-themselves orientations. Soon, they would be stopped dead in their tracks, and there would be an apocalypse.
+I was expecting revolutionary catharsis through risky triggering as they approached the Palmer house door. “Carrie” and Sarah would recognize each other, remember, hug it out, and produce a flare of sunshiney grace to chase away the shadows and shades. Sarah would be liberated. Laura would ascend. Cooper would return to the present, in Twin Peaks, at the moment of super-imposition in Sheriff’s Truman’s office, a true man, restored.
NEXT: The final curtain falls.
+But Sarah didn’t answer the door. Instead, Alice Tremond greeted them. Alice claimed that she and her husband had purchased the house from a woman named Chalfont. They didn’t know who owned the house before Mrs. Chalfont. Cooper and Laura were gutted. Their Garmonbozia must have tasted delicious to “Alice Tremond,” a Red Room demon in disguise. “Tremond” and “Chalfont” were aliases used by a pair of Black Lodge minions from the original series, a grandma-grandson team. (We might wonder if Alice’s never-seen “husband” was a new incarnation of the grandson — an implicit incestuous relationship to mirror Laura’s ritualistic rape by her BOB-possessed father. But I also wonder if Alice was faking the voice, a la Norman Bates in Psycho.)
+An awkward insertion, but just a reminder why I’ve brought you all this way: to present a theory that Laura’s old house had become the new Black Lodge, one to replace the malnourished, dying concern of the Red Room, a parasitic place feasting on the pain and sorrow of Sarah Palmer. Cooper would solve this problem afflicting Twin Peaks — and solve the mystery of himself — by luring his demons into a trap (this modal world) and destroying them.
+The actress playing Alice Tremond was the real-life owner of the house Lynch cast to play the Palmer house. Here we have a symbol of Twin Peaks supernatural mythology layered on top of a symbol of the “real world,” a clue to the spiritual nature of this reality. But I think we also have some Lynchian meta-mythology that anticipates the end of self-deception and grieves the end of dreaming, which is to say, the end of Twin Peaks: The Return. Once, long ago, Lynch went searching for the mansion that Billy Wilder used in Sunset Blvd. He discovered that the mansion wasn’t located on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, but on Wilshire Boulevard. The revelation bummed him out; it shattered the illusion of the movie.
+Then came the apocalypses. Cooper was staggered to a halt by an epiphany that prompted him to question reality. “Wait…what year is it?” he asked. His thunderbolt jostled Carrie. Hearing her trapped mother crying out to her from within the house (“Laura!”) caused the scales to fall from her eyes. She did one more thing: She looked back. With that, Laura Palmer pushed through the fog of Carrie Page, asserted her true identity. Laura fulfilled her purpose: to crash this new Black Lodge; to liberate her mother from the parasites that that had latched onto her; and to free herself from the gravity well of her mother’s black hole despair and finally go wherever people really go when they’re dead. Cooper was the delivery mechanism; Laura was the bomb. Their existential questioning was the button-push. They were the “two birds one stone” (The Fireman’s final memory marker) coming together the shatter and transform all the conjoined, interlocking, multi-armed, many-faced problems besieging Twin Peaks; they were Shiva. Laura faced her house of childhood horror and let loose a wail that blew out the electricity, blowing the hell — the Judy — out of the house.
+I loved the choice to emphasize character emotions over everything else, including any indication as to whether or not this was a “happy” ending. It didn’t feel like one, but that doesn’t mean positive change wasn’t achieved. Cooper’s disorientation, speaking to everything he had been denying ever since his reactivation in Part 16, all the pain he had been running from with all wild heroism: He had been robbed of 25 years of life. Laura’s scream was pure horror, pure rage, pure grief. She got to take back her scream that always signaled her subversion and weaponized it, turning it against the symbol of profound betrayals. Nope: You can’t go home again. If you’re Laura, why would you?
Darkness fell to close the show. What happened next? We have threads of clues to dream upon. One possibility: Cooper and Laura are stuck in a loop of eternal recurrence. When Cooper said, “See you at the curtain call,” he could have been pointing toward was the Part 18 credit sequence, which lingered on the shot of Laura whispering into Cooper’s ear, and Cooper looking aghast at what he was hearing.
This is not my interpretation. My belief is that Cooper left his inland empire. He walked out the basement door of the Great Northern, apologized to Diane and begged her forgiveness, and smacked Gordon Cole across the face for sending Diane after him. Everyone fell into each other’s arms for a group cry, then they raced over to Sarah’s house, made sure she was okay, and got her into rehab. (Sorry, Sarah. It’s time.) (Maybe she wound up at Ghostwood, in a room next to Audrey.) I’d like to think that all of The Return was Cooper’s remembrance of things past, a chronicle of his return rounded out with stories about the people knitted into the fabric of his being, an attempt to finish the business of fixing his heart by reconciling with his divided self and making peace with his regrets, paradoxes, and many lives, the good, the bad, and the Dougie.
NEXT: Don’t Water It Down.
“Don’t bend. Don’t water it down. Don’t try to make it logical. Don’t edit your own soul to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.” – Frank Kafka
Created in 1990 for ABC by auteur-in-bloom Lynch (Eraserhead, Blue Velvet) and pedigreed TV producer Frost (Hill Street Blues), Twin Peaks was a chemical binding of talents and a combustible collision of mediums. It blew minds, then bombed. It was a miniseries first, a disruptive lightning strike with invigorating zap. Then it had to organize itself into an ongoing TV franchise and do what ongoing TV franchises do: live forever. It couldn’t. Nothing can. Few things should. The phenom went from blinding flare, unstable reaction, billowing cloud, and deafening quiet in a year. Like Laura Palmer, the brutally murdered homecoming queen with secrets, the series died haunted by unfulfilled potential and ragged with unresolved story. Cancelation embellished the show’s meanings. Twin Peaks was a weird and woozy tragedy about unanswerable questions and the agony of irreparable loss, a cautionary tale about audacious labors and pop mortality.
For Lynch, a fallout of “negativity” and a “dark period” followed the passing of Twin Peaks. You could feel it Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, a stuck-in-the-past prequel that began with an axe being driven though a TV set, and Lost Highway, an infidelity horror-noir about a cuckolded, impotent artist who goes to psychotic lengths to escape himself. Yet Twin Peaks itself had a vital legacy, setting a precedent for adventurous TV and inspiring an array of storytellers responsible for new-century gems, from The Sopranos to Atlanta. This legacy re-minted and gilded the Twin Peaks meta-narrative. The show wasn’t a fleeting flash, but the big bang of a revolutionary spunk.
A generational marker, Twin Peaks welted the collective psyche enough for people to have nostalgia for it and to justify one of today’s most popular things, a franchise revival. How fitting. The show that rebooted television, rewarded with a reboot. Lynch treated the opportunity as a chance to address “unfinished business,” he told me earlier this year. What we saw and felt in Twin Peaks: The Return, especially at the end, was exorcism. It was Lynch and his collaborators taking a magical green cleaning glove and rubbing out the greasy spirit staining the property, applying a magical retcon and converting tragedy into triumph, chasing away the shadows once and for all with a vengeful scream. The Return was a reboot about rebooting as reparation, do-over remake, triggering recollection, degrading repetition, as evolutionary reinvention.
What we expected from The Return, if we dared to expect anything, was a story that released Cooper from purgatory to survey and repair the damage caused by a black-eyed, BOB-possessed doppelganger entity that had hijacked his life. You pictured a new mystery that allowed for catch-ups with everyone, beginning with Cooper’s pals at the sheriff’s department: Sheriff Truman (Michael Ontkean), deputies Hawk (Michael Horse) and Andy (Harry Goaz), and receptionist Lucy (Kimmy Robertson). Additionally: Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton), owner of the long-lived Double R Diner, home of the best cherry pies anywhere; her pining beau, Big Ed Hurley (Everett McGill), stuck in a marriage to cracked Nadine (Wendy Robie); troubled lovers Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick) and Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook); broody, romantic biker James Hurley (James Marshall); Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), a precocious neo-Nancy Drew, daughter to a perverse patriarch, Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer), proprietor of the Great Northern Hotel; Margaret Lanterman (Catherine Coulson), a.k.a. the Log lady, quirky owlish sentinel sensitive to the invisible spiritual movements blowing through Ghostwood Forest; and any number of otherworldly, backwards-speaking amoral ambiguities that resided within a red curtained, chevron-floored dimension of the Black Lodge.
What Twin Peaks fan wouldn’t want to watch a reunion turn that played all the hits? And depending upon your sensibilities, you might think and feel that Lynch and Frost delivered on that expectation. But The Return was bigger and broader and wilder and weirder than we could have ever imagined. Fitting for a show where the worst thing one could be is a crass doppelganger, a parasitic demon, or a weak clone (or “Tulpa”) driven to survive at any cost, Lynch and Frost opted against repeating themselves and eschewed the strategies of most revivals. It wasn’t next-gen repackaging like Fuller House or on-brand restatement like The X-Files. Unlike the upcoming Will & Grace reboot, the story was beholden to its history — everything was contingent on the cliffhanger finale of the original series and the mythology of the show’s prequel film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me — but it wasn’t simple saga continuance like Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.
Lynch and Frost leveraged their franchise — and trusted in our interest and faith — to blow up the familiar to make something new at the risk of frustrating reboot pleasures. Not many people watched The Return, and that’s a shame. Folks, this thing was a moving, head-spinning, and frequently hilarious gas, and I pray it’ll be discovered in the streaming afterlife, where everything is available always. And yet, the narrowness and smallness of the endeavor contributed to its extraordinary achievement. A quarter century after failing as mainstream TV, Twin Peaks returned to own its identity as a cult classic, and the result was an electrifying and uncompromising work of art.
Instead of resettling in Twin Peaks and exploring established characters, Lynch and Frost spun a web of intrigues involving scores of new characters in scattered cities — mostly in the American West — presented with little context and that only revealed their connections over time. Much of it pertained to Mr. C’s desire to cheat the term limit of his terrestrial existence and transcend himself by stealing some unspecified fire from the gods. Or maybe he just wanted to meet his maker and go: What up with the black eyes? Why am I so miserable? And must I rape so much? You know, the tough questions. The Return derailed his dubious spiritual journey, as it did all antihero quests this season. After 17 hours of storytelling that encouraged us to believe that Mr. C would at least succeed in reaching “The Place,” a climactic twist revealed that he had been suckered into a trap set by The Fireman and various allies. Instead of fleecing a holy mountain temple like some raider of the lost ark, Mr. C was immediately re-routed back to the Twin Peaks sheriff’s station for judgment. “What is this?!” fumed Mr. C, seething from the betrayal. In the end, Mr. C hitched his meaning to finding God — or becoming one — and got cast down.
Before his defeat (which echoed Cooper’s own dispiriting final-scene gut punch in Part 18, the final synchronicity of their parallel doppelganger journeys), Mr. C made a mess of America with his manifest destiny campaign. He and Killer BOB turned all of their stomping grounds into Black Lodges of despair. A gruesome murder mystery in Buckhorn, South Dakota, involved unhappy marriages, adulterous affairs, and Matthew Lillard as a sci-fi nerd seeking a divorce from dull realities by trying to access higher planes of reality. He turned Rancho Rosa, a bankrupt, derelict housing development in the desert, into a Red Room death trap. Lynch and Frost turned the city into a dark comedy about new-century America as a land of transactional morality and high-functioning nihilism. In the end, Cooper’s chief allies were…the super-decent head of an insurance agency and a pair of mobsters attended by a trio of candy perfume girl Stepford Wives? Yes, that happened. The Vegas cast was exceptional, with Naomi Watts as Janey-E, dummy Dougie’s long-suffering wife, terrific in a part that shouldn’t have worked at all.
NEXT: The Passing of Time.
Meanwhile, Twin Peaks mirrored the movements in the world around it. It was presented as a society mired in negative energy, a community of stagnant, lost or flailing people and frayed, collapsing, unfulfilled, and misguided relationships. The Packard Sawmill was the engine of Twin Peaks industry in the original series. Here, it was the Roadhouse. The Chromatics, Nine Inch Nails and Eddie Vedder all played there, singing songs of lost love, nostalgia, and mortality. The crowds were young, but also distracted and troubled. Many installments featured cutaways to a pair of twentysomethings discussing their dead-end lives, sordid affairs, and damage. They were Waiting for Godot figures. The location of some MIA guy named Billy was one itchy matter. Our last look-in left a woman who had been stood up by friends crawling in the milling crowd, then screaming. The songs of the Roadhouse were trying to minister to their savage souls, but no one was listening.
Like a lot of cultural hot spots, Twin Peaks attracted culture’s parasites, mirrors to Red Room predators . A drug dealer named Red (Balthazar Getty) peddled a hot new powder called Sparkle that was making the young kids itchy and nuts. He was dating Shelly — still a waitress, still hooked on bad boys — much to the chagrin of her still-pining ex-husband Bobby, now a sheriff’s deputy. Among Red’s customers: Becky (Amanda Seyfried), daughter of Shelly and Bobby, and her husband, Steven (Caleb Landry Jones), a cheating, abusive, suicidal failure of a man. No punk was more revolting than Richard Horne (Eamon Farren), a Sparkle-peddling, misogynistic live wire starved for significance, whose too-fast too-furious anarchy turned him into a murderer.
This unloved, unwanted, and utterly unholy Dick was the product of Mr. C’s rape of a comatose Audrey Horne, who was presented as a troubled woman in a bad marriage beset by doubts of her very existence. She was conspicuously isolated from the rest of the cast. But after a series of fights with Charlie, who may or may not have been gaslighting her, Audrey finally left her mansion and voyaged to the Roadhouse, where she danced her famous dance from the original series, “Audrey’s Dance,” a swooning pine for Agent Cooper. But then: breakdown. She suddenly found herself somewhere, sitting at a vanity mirror, suggesting she was still comatose or institutionalized, dissociated or fantasizing. The beat echoed a similar twist in Mulholland Drive and foreshadowed more extreme shifts to come. It also brought more Lynchian misc. oozing into the mix: according to legend, Mulholland Drive originated as a spin-off for Fenn’s character. Perhaps Lynch made that wish come for her with this surrogate experience.
If this were a movie or a shorter miniseries, Twin Peaks: The Return might have made quick work of these extant settings and new character subplots. But with 18 hours to fill, Lynch and Frost lingered in each locale, and did so marvelously, making even the smallest, throwaway characters richly drawn figures by framing them with an idea or mini-arc, from Constance Talbot (Jane Adams), a CSI ace in Buckhorn who was an aspiring stand-up comedian, to “Drugged-Out Mother” (Hailey Gates), squatting in a foreclosed home in a busted development project on the desert outskirts of Sin City, sounding scrambled distress calls (“1-1-9! 1-1-9!”) like a lookout attuned to psychic emergencies greater than just her own.
Lynch’s aesthetic spliced gritty deadpan realism with an assortment of surrealist touches — dream logic, fugue states, mirrored plots, synchronicity and coincidence, soft time, doubling, codes, jokes, puns, and overt incursions of cosmic horror or excursion into metaphysical space. The week-to-week experience was impressionistic, each “part” a collection of distinct tones or thematic riffs. The sum of all of the parts was a symbolist mosaic, a broad allegory made up of glittering gems that were unique things unto themselves yet spoke to the whole.
Part 1 included an arc set in a warehouse loft in Manhattan, where Sam (Benjamin Rosenfield), a college kid, had taken a peculiar job babysitting a glass box built around a portal window looking out on the world. For the longest time, we watched him watching the box or attending to the digital cameras that were recording the box. A young woman, Tracey (Madeline Zima), who was romantically interested in him or suspiciously interested in his activity or both, eventually joined him under the pretense of keeping him company and helping him for a spell. It was only after they took their eyes off the box and began to have sex that something materialized in the box: the Experiment, precipitating amid black nimbus. And apparently, the Experiment is furiously opposed to distractedness and loveless boredom sex. It vibrated, broke free, and killed the lovers by shredding their faces. Eventually, we got intel that correlated this segment to the larger plot. But in that hour, their story — a protracted exercise in suspense; a fall myth; a collection of moods — played like orientation for a puzzle that demanded don’t-look-away, lean-forward watching and an overture for the experience to come. This tale of was also one of Lynch’s first implied homages, as well as a coy flick at the mirror-maze, backward-looking nature of The Return. Rear Window is one of his favorite films, and in Sam, we saw one of Lynch’s favorite archetypes, the man-child armchair detective voyeur, seduced by the criminal mystery he’s supposed to be solving and rectifying.
Lynch and Frost played to the passing of time. In their storytelling, old modes of being weren’t easily regained, and death and change left irreplaceable voids. Some choices pushed on bruises. A trio of characters — Silva’s BOB, Don S. Davis’ Major Garland Briggs, and David Bowie’s Phillip Jeffries — were intrinsic to the plot, even though their actors were deceased. They appeared in flashbacks, as disembodied floating heads, or, in the case of Jeffries, that aforementioned steaming, clanking tin machine. Somewhere far away, Ziggy Stardust is digging the irony. The Return was The Man Who Fell to Earth with a Blackstar soundtrack.
Ferrer was fantastic as Albert, and Coulson was great as Log Lady, and their performances were made more moving by knowing they had died after production. Lynch and Frost basically wrote Coulson’s condition into the show. Her appearances as the Log Lady made us confront her fragility (Coulson, one of Lynch’s oldest friends, shot her scenes while in declining health), and the character’s death was a shattering event. Another moment — a check-in with retired, gone-fishing Doc Hayward, played by Mark Frost’s father, Warren Frost — was also more poignant for knowing that the actor had passed away a few months before the premiere.
Because Michael Ontkean is retired and chose not to return for The Return, Sheriff Harry S. Truman, was replaced by a new character, Truman’s brother, Frank, also a sheriff, played by Robert Forster, who happened to be Lynch’s original first choice for Harry. Similarly, Lynch made a decision to recast the role of The Man From Another Place, a.k.a. “The Arm,” a short man in a red velvet tux who served as Black Lodge emcee, replacing Michael J. Anderson with a tree. A tree topped with a brain. A tree with a brain and raspy voice that called itself “the evolution of the arm.” The show was an act of metamorphosis itself, more next-life reincarnation than revenant resuscitation. It was true in spirit, but not in form.
Watching The Return as a fan of the original meant letting go of it and letting Lynch take you down a new lost highway. It wasn’t easy. It took a handful of installments to warm to the riskiest gambit: making you wait almost the entirety of the run for born-again Agent Cooper to truly “return” by muffling his personality and rendering him a near-helpless child. This proved to be almost endlessly entertaining due to MacLachlan’s intensely committed performance and Lynch’s long-take, slow-time broad comedy. The dial-up of absurdity and humanity in Part 3 — breaking from the gonzo metaphysics and seedy menace of the first two hours — was a turning point. Suddenly, The Return was clicking as a fully rounded entertainment with an endless ability to surprise.
My favorite moment during the middle acts — when the series was still in a state of expansion and revealing itself — was the moment of darkness between the fade-out of the credit sequence and the fade-up of the first image, because I had absolutely no idea what or who we were going to seem, where or when we were going to be. The season was jammed with so many random scenes that it played like an interjection of performance art. An early buzz moment: Michael Cera as Wally Brando, the adult son of Lucy and Andy, who talked like Marlon Brando and dressed as Marlon Brando (from The Wild One) and who may have sincerely believed himself to be Marlon Brando…or might have just been putting everyone on. His is-this-guy-for-real? monologue about returning home to grant his parents permission to remodel his childhood bedroom into a den, his reverie about keeping Twin Peaks in his heart even while he wandered away from it – but again, in the context of a guy either living out a genuine impressionistic homage or jerking chains – felt like the show and Lynch making an identity statement, and perhaps guessing how The Return was being received.
NEXT: The Art Life.
In an overstuffed picture book of sterling moments, one chapter distinguished itself as a singular masterpiece. Part 8 (or “Gotta light?”) was a Lynchian fantasia about the big bang of super-power America. Depicting the detonation of the first atomic bomb (a.k.a. “Trinity”) and set to “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima,” the sequence took us into the mushroom cloud and pounded us with images of fiery fission. It was Lynch doing a death-metal cover of 2001: A Space Odyssey. After a middle section of evocative abstractions and surrealism, the hour concluded with an homage to midcentury monster movies, set in a seemingly idyllic small town in ’50s New Mexico. Here, the alien-zombie Woodsmen completed the circuit of B-movie homages by being symbols of Red Scare panic, consumerism, and America’s cold war with its own conscience.
Theories and interpretations exploded across the internet like an electron swarm. The consensus was that Lynch and Frost had made a theme piece for the series and a myth about humanity’s dubious evolution and a country transformed and transmogrified into dark matter by one of its greatest achievements. You could also see “Gotta light?” as a metaphor for what happens when an artist bombs. Dream death. Negative energy. Dark period. And so Part 8 was about Twin Peaks. But it also summed up The Return, a delightfully disorienting shocker that dazzled us with the spectacle of Lynch’s go-for-broke artistry, all in service of expressing a feeling about the condition of the world. It defied easy analysis, except for this: We wanted more.
As a fan of Twin Peaks and of Lynch, I enjoyed The Return best as a Lynch thing, not a Twin Peaks thing. He really did steal the show, both in front of the camera — he gave his Mary Sue character, Gordon Cole, a huge role and earned it with a performance that was a hilarious hoot — and behind it. Lynch didn’t just co-write and direct The Return; he produced the sound design, created special effects, and wrote music for it. It felt handmade, like one of his handmade, mixed media paintings. As one of 175 people who loved his biggest box office bomb, Dune, without reservation, I saw in The Return the redemption of that failure: Twin Peaks was his do-over at a big saga fantasy, produced at a length and rich with the poetic abstraction that he couldn’t get from a Hollywood feature film. I’ve always wondered about the sequels Lynch was planning to make if Dune had been a hit, as Frank Herbert’s subsequent novels become a deconstruction of Messiah/Great Man/Hero’s Journey myth-making. I propose that Lynch made those sequels with The Return and its challenging treatment of Agent Cooper. Lynch may identify as a creature of cinema, but he and Frost could only make something like The Return by working in TV; their achievement here flatters the power of the medium.
But more than a born-again Dune, The Return scanned as an intensely self-referencing work to those who read it through a Lynch-on-Lynch lens. You got the sense the director was reflecting on his mortality through the story, too. It expressed a distinct worldview and contained an abundance of knowing allusions to his career, tics, passions, influences, joys, pains, unrealized dreams, and his infamous insistence on not explaining his work. In an early installment, FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield, played by the late Miguel Ferrer, commenced an investigation with a winky line that was also the subtitle of Ronnie Rocket, one of Lynch’s many unmade projects: “Ah, the absurd mystery of the strange forces of existence.”
Lynch doesn’t like to explain himself. In fact, the current speculation is that “Jowday” is a derivation of a Chinese sound-alike word “jiaodai,” for “to explain.” Hence, the ultimate cosmic horror of The Return, an entity of negative energy, is a symbol that speaks to Lynch’s fears, haunts, and, as we’ll soon explain, his tortured attitude about endings. But we shouldn’t take this to mean that Lynch doesn’t want us to engage, interpret, theorize, and draw conclusions, nor does it mean that Lynch is opposed to self-disclosure. On the contrary, Lynch’s work is intensely personal; he makes art to be known. More, he’s revealed a lot about himself over the years, in books like Rodley’s Lynch on Lynch, and The Return is a richer experience for investigating them. You wonder if he wanted us to.
The recent documentary David Lynch: The Art Life depicts the filmmaker at his home in the Hollywood Hills, smoking cigarettes and speaking into a radio DJ microphone, telling stories about his upbringing in the American West, his evolution as a painter, and his leap into filmmaking with Eraserhead. Threaded throughout are scenes of Lynch working a mixed media painting entitled “Things I Learned,” a process of stops and starts, trial and error, test and experimentation. It contains a massive Twin Peaks spoiler. The camera lingers on a notepad on his desk filled with notes for The Return. The handwriting is beautiful. The scene in question is the scene when Cole recalls a dream of Monica Bellucci expressing a theory of reality (“We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream, but who is the dreamer?”), a vision that prods him to recall a suppressed memory that helps him understand the mystery of his present. That was The Return, too. It was feedback-loop life noir, coded with everything Lynch has learned over the course of a remarkable art life, a vehicle for recollection, confabulation, confrontation, and reckoning. Brother Kafka would be proud. He didn’t bend. Didn’t water it down. Didn’t try to make it logical. Didn’t edit his own soul to the fashion. He just followed his most intense obsessions mercilessly, and somehow, it connected with us, powerfully. Who is the dreamer? In Twin Peaks: The Return, it could have been anyone or everyone. It could have even been you, the pining fan who wanted this revival. It could have been me, the ridiculous Lynchian obsessive who has pined for his pop comeback. But first and foremost, the dreamer was Lynch himself. And the handwriting was beautiful.