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!