Twin Peaks: The Return – Parts 17 and 18
Twin Peaks has ended again. When the original series came to a close over a quarter of a century ago, many fans – myself included – were upset by the show’s dark, uncertain non-conclusion. This revival – rare even in a pop culture landscape dominated by reboots, prequels, sequels and all other manner of recycled ideas – offered David Lynch and the audience the chance to go back and retroactively fix the past. Or so it seemed. On some level, that’s what a lot of us wanted. That’s part of what I know I wanted. Lynch knew I wanted it too, so offered it up as a possibility in the show’s second-to-last hour before smashing it to pieces and blowing the whole thing up with another ending that refuses to bring closure. “Is it future or is it the past?” I have no idea, but Twin Peaks: The Return was as frustrating and fascinating as ever.
Following the shoot-out with Diane’s tulpa, Lynch as Gordon Cole tells Albert that he just couldn’t bring himself to shoot her. Albert teases him that he has grown soft in his old age. Cole replies that he’s still hard where it matters. That isn’t just a joke about a septuagenarian who can still have an erection. Lynch is telling the audience what to expect from the show’s last two hours. He may have grown soft enough to grant us a bit of fan service in the previous installment. But age hasn’t mellowed Lynch to the point where he is going to provide a nice, tidy happy ending.
Cole goes on to explain to his colleagues that there has always been a top-secret plan. Not even Albert was aware of it. The plan involved “Judy” who it turns out was not a person but an evil entity. Gordon and Coop were working with Major Briggs to locate Judy before Briggs and Cooper disappeared. Gordon confesses, “I don’t know at all if this plan is unfolding properly.”
For a little while at least, it seems like the plan is coming together. Most of the show’s significant characters converge at the Twin Peaks Sheriff Department. The Doppelganger is the first o arrive. Deputy Andy and Lucy greet him warmly and introduce him to Sheriff Frank Truman. When offered, Dark Coop turns down a cup of coffee which certainly would have tipped off his old friend that something was up. But Frank doesn’t know any better. Andy, on the other hand, perhaps guided by the Fireman, takes action.
Down in the holding cells, that no good Chad has escaped using a key he had hidden in his shoe. For a moment, it looks like he has the drop on Andy, but the Fireman anticipated this development. Freddie uses his gloved fist to punch open the door rendering Chad unconscious. Score one for the good guys. Andy knows that his next step is to get everyone upstairs for the final showdown.
Meanwhile, Agent Cooper and the Mitchum brothers are headed to the Sheriff’s Department. Cooper calls ahead expecting to talk to his old friend Harry. Instead, he gets a very confused Frank. In an unexpected twist, Lucy ends up saving the day when she shoots the Doppelganger. Cooper warns Truman not to let anyone near the body. Characters begin flooding the office. Coop arrives just in time to see the Woodsmen gather around the dead Doppelganger as they did when Ray shot him a while back.
This time, the Woodsmen extract a charcoal black globe. The spirit of Bob, embodiment of the evil that haunts Twin Peaks, begins floating around the room as a disembodied head in a floating bowling ball. It’s time for Freddie to face his destiny. He repeatedly punches the Bob globe with his pile-driver fist until it shatters. Good triumphs over evil in a pretty ridiculous, less than satisfying way. Our hero Cooper was more of a witness than a participant. Bob was vanquished by some guy we barely knew. If this all feels anti-climatic, well, maybe it should. There’s still an hour and a half of road left to travel.
Cooper puts the owl cave ring on the Doppelganger’s finger which send him back to the Black Lodge where he belongs. Naido, the eyeless woman whose name is almost an anagram for another character on the show, walks over to Agent Cooper and touches his face. The contact reveals her true identity. Yep, she’s Diane. Lynch seems to be serving up happy endings like coffee and cherry pie. But that’s not going to last much longer.
Agent Cooper gets the room key to the Great Northern from Frank and embarks on an ill-advised mission to put things right. Viewers who want a warm and fuzzy ending should turn back now because things are about to get dark and complicated. Cooper has inserted himself into a black-and-white clip of Fire Walk With Me. Initially he, like the audience, is there as an observer. He watches as Laura Palmer says her final farewell to James before running off into the woods where she will be lost forever.
But instead of meeting up with Leo and Jacques, Laura finds the man who would eventually solve her murder. He takes her hand and walks her away from her destiny. Twin Peaks was born out of David Lynch’s fascination with Marilyn Monroe as a doomed beauty no one understood. Eventually the concept was reworked with Laura taking the place of the blonde no one could save. Now Agent Cooper was doing his best to save her. If successful, he would essentially invalidate the entire series.
Initially, it looked like Cooper was successful. Laura’s body, wrapped in plastic, disappeared never to be discovered by Pete Martell. (And by the way, these clips from FWWM and the pilot episode added several characters from the original series into the reunion – but don’t get too nostalgic.) Had Coop done the impossible? Had he saved Laura Palmer? Don’t count on it. We never got to see exactly what was going on with Sarah Palmer in her empty house, but we knew it wasn’t good. She grabs Laura’s iconic prom picture and smashes it with a bottle of booze. In the woods, we hear Laura’s chilling scream. Cooper’s hand is empty. Laura has disappeared.
Part 18 opens with Mike fulfilling Cooper’s promise to return Dougie to the Joneses. He creates another tulpa from Cooper’s hair. We see Janey-E and Sonny Jim greet the new Dougie at the red door. “Home,” he says. It’s hard to judge New Dougie based on the limited interactions we see here, but I’m guessing he’s somewhere between the ultra-capable Agent Cooper and the buffoonish Original Dougie Jones. I’m sure they will all be very happy together.
Speaking of characters not quite themselves, Agent Cooper is going to seem a bit off for the rest of the hour. He and Diane drive out 430 miles to an intersection where the electricity is strong. Cooper warns that if the proceed, things may be different and he isn’t kidding. Day changes instantly into night. Coop takes Diane to a motel and while he is getting a room, she sees a vision of herself. Another tulpa? A doppelganger? Or maybe that is the real Diane and the woman in the car is someone else.
Once they are alone in the room, Diane asks Cooper what happens next. He tells her to come to her and she does. They kiss which leads to an incredibly awkward sexual encounter. Throughout, Diane uses her hands to cover Cooper’s face. It’s the face of the man who betrayed her even if the face technically belonged to a different man. The next morning, Cooper wakes up to an empty bed and a “Dear John” letter only it’s made out to Richard and signed Linda. Who are Richard and Linda? The couple was mentioned by the Fireman way back in the first episode of The Return.
All alone now, Cooper (or Richard) drives past a coffee shop named Judy’s. He stops in and orders a cup of coffee. When the waitress isn’t familiar, he asks her if there is another waitress who works there. Of course there is. Cooper intervenes when the waitress is hassled by some customers. It’s like him to try to do the right thing. But the way in which he does it feels more like Dark Coop than our stalwart hero. He disarms the first one, shoots the second in the foot and demands that the third man puts his gun on the floor.
The Doppelganger would have killed all three men, I’m sure, but this doesn’t feel like our familiar Agent Cooper either. Maybe Richard is some kind of amalgamation of the two. Before he leaves, Cooper demands that the waitress write down her coworker’s home address.
When he arrives, a woman who looks like Laura Palmer answers the door. She is played by Sheryl Lee, but she says her name is Carrie. She doesn’t recognize Cooper and she’s confused by all his questions. Eventually, she agrees to accompany him to Twin Peaks, but only because she needs to get out of town. When Coop enters the home, he sees a bloody corpse and is strangely unconcerned about it. Is it that he is so focused on his mission that he’s willing to let murder slide or has Cooper been changed by his experiences?
After a long and uncomfortable car ride, Cooper and Carrie arrive at the house we know as the Palmer residence. We’re expecting Sarah Palmer to answer the door, but instead it is a stranger. Undeterred, Cooper asks the woman if she lives there. When she responds that she owns the home, he asks for the identity of the previous owner. The woman identifies as April Tremond and she says she bought her house from a Mrs. Chalfont. Fans will recognize these names as belonging to one of the Black Lodge entities from Fire Walk With Me. But what does it all mean?
Lynch isn’t providing any answers. Cooper is just as confused as we are. “What year is this?” he asks. The Mrs. Tremond/Chalfont we knew appeared to be an older woman than the one who answered the door. Maybe we’re in the past? Or is it future? Good luck wrapping your heads around that one.
We hear a voice speak Laura’s name and recognition creeps in. Carrie screams. Is she remembering her life and death as Laura? That will likely be up to us to figure out. In the final hour of Twin Peaks, Lynch raised a lot more questions than he answered. Much to the chagrin of many fans, he didn’t even bother to address the fate of Audrey Horne. If you were looking for closure, Lynch seems to be telling you to look somewhere else.
Was this all set up for another season? Lynch has said that The Return was his final word on Twin Peaks. So I think we have to be satisfied with his open-ended ending. I will admit, a part of me was screaming at the television when the screen faded to black. But dammit, another part of me was impressed with the audaciousness of it all. Say what you will about David Lynch, but he hasn’t gone soft.
The last eighteen hours have been a long and sometimes frustrating journey. I am still processing the whole experience and I look forward to revisiting the series in the future. After many years of hoping for another season of Twin Peaks, it finally happened. And it wasn’t at all what I wanted it to be. In a lot of ways, it was better than anything I could have imagined. The part of me that hoped for closure is a bit disappointed, I must admit.
But maybe that’s how it has to be. Agent Cooper falters when he can’t leave well enough alone. He tries to correct the past to no avail. Then he tries to bring Laura Palmer home and loses something of himself. Lynch seems to be warning against Twin Peaks nostalgia. No matter how much we may want to revisit the past of our memories, we can’t. Try too hard and you may find yourself stuck in the past surrounded by a world that you don’t recognize.