“I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
And by and by my Soul return’d to me,
And answer’d: ‘I Myself am Heav’n and Hell”
— Omar Khayyám
This quote kept coming to mind as I watched the 15th episode of Twin Peaks: The Return unfurl upon the screen. It was at times joyous, soulful, and lovely, and at times terrifying, chaotic, and angst-ridden. But there was so much specific imagery and mention of death, passing, and the changing phases of life that it was impossible to ignore as the motif that ran throughout. Specifically, how our sacredness and our evilness are our own.
It begins with the heavenly. Nadine proudly marches her golden shovel over to Big Ed’s to inform them that she’s breaking up with him and letting him be with Norma. This also informed the audience they were still together, it seems? Perhaps highlighting their distance was part of the point, but Ed’s priceless reaction of “Whaaaaaat?” seemed to speak for everyone beholding the scene. Like most Nadine scenes, it plays broad, strange, and overwhelming, but the catharsis of the thing is ultimately sold by Big Ed’s confused, tearful face. He can scarcely believe that the end has come. I’ll admit I’m eager to see the way this plays out for Nadine: She’s largely blaming herself for everything, but in “shoveling herself out of the shit,” there really might be something to her getting out of a toxic, loveless relationship and into something true and honest.
With that, Big Ed marches down to the R&R to see Norma and proclaims, “She’s given me my freedom!” (The words every woman wants to hear.) The ensuing scene plays earnestly, even a little schmaltzy as Norma first has to bid her new beau adieu. After a few feints and cyanide-tablet requests (for what bigger death is there than heartbreak?), their relationship is sealed with a kiss. I’ll admit, their reunion was so immediate that I felt more joy than catharsis, but the use of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” gets us a lot of mileage.
From there, we go to hell. Evil Cooper drives down a dark road and our gray, electric fire buzzes with menace. He arrives at the Nightmare Convenience Store back from episode eight, the one with the atomic bomb and the “Gotta light?” woodsmen. Evil Coop phases out and crackles as he enters the hellscape of dreamy interiors. He’s looking for Phillip Jeffries (and we see a flicker of the murderous form that killed the couple in New York), and then Bad Coop gets directed to a motel room where a creepy woman in bathrobe says in backward speak, “I’ll unlock the door for you.” We’re really with devils here. Suddenly, Coop speaks to Phillip — only instead of David Bowie, it’s an ornate teapot steaming into an orb. The flashback to 1989 seems to revolve around someone named Judy, but apparently “you’ve already met Judy,” cuing our new mystery du jour. The sequence is deeply unnerving, but that’s really it for new information. From there, Bad Coop emerges to find Richard Horne waiting for him. Barely wasting a breath, Bad Coop punches him, then tells him to get in the car. (Note: The text of “Las Vegas?” could very well be Bad Coop’s message to Diane.) With that, the Bad Father and Prodigal Son are off to do what is sure to be horrendous.
Next, we go to limbo, or perhaps just another precipice between life and death. In these gray, foggy woods, we find the young Steven Burnett, suicidal and tweaking off drugs. Gersten Hayward tries to calm him down, trying so hard to dutifully save him. The weight of it all rests around her neck: She’s doing all she can to hold this broken man up, to prevent him from combusting, feeling as if it is her one duty in this world. But the best parting words Steven can offer to her are “I like fucking you.” One scare from a dog walker causes Gersten to lose sight of him for just a minute … and the gunshot goes off. She looks to the sky with the deepest sense of loss, probably even blaming herself — just because of one accidental moment where she could not carry him completely.
There are too many scenes and details to mention here, but they all point to an Earth full of pain, anger, and fighting. We find out Renee is married to a jerk named Freddie when James’s friendly hello turns into a bar brawl. It turns out that fist of Freddie’s sure can do some damage and the two end up in jail with what can only be called the most Peaks-ian array of characters who could make up a cell block. Meanwhile, we have Special Agent Randall Hedley furious with an FBI that can’t find people (“KIDS-ZA!”). We also have Chantal and Hutch knocking off a few names on Bad Coop’s list, then nonchalantly discussing the inversion of love with “thou shalt kill,” thus empowering themselves to be the angels of death. Then we return to Audrey Horne’s obstinate plotline, but this time she gets so angry she throws Charlie in a chokehold. (I’ll fully admit, I have no idea what Audrey’s plot thread is saying at this point.) It all culminates with what I’ll call the tensest scene in the show yet: Yes, that would be Dougie slowly trying to put his fork in an outlet and potentially kill himself. Was the mention of the name Cole a trigger in getting him to come back home, proverbially speaking? Guess we’ll have to wait to find out.
It’s safe to say the specter of death, fury, and those who bring hell to Earth all lays abound in this episode. Take our last scene at the Roadhouse, where we meet the innocent Ruby (Charlyne Yi!), who sits in a booth by herself. Two tough biker dudes come over and stare at her, their menace looming large. “I’m waiting for someone,” she tells them. After a moment, they just pick her up and put her on the ground, and there she says. She starts lurching forward meekly, crawling, watching as countless legs stand around her, ignoring her, paying her plight no mind. She lets out a haunting existential scream, one drowned out by the male singer’s music. (The band’s name? The Veils.) It is the lonesome scream of the small, the pushed around, those who are never listened to. It is the truest angst of being alive, but unseen.
On the far side of that spectrum, we get what will be our last call from the Log Lady. She tells us, “Hawk, I’m dying … it’s just a change … Not end … It’s time … There’s some fear of letting go … watch for that one, under the moon on blue pine mountain … my log is turning gold. The wind is moaning. I’m dying. Good night, Hawk.” With those ghostly last words of warning and affirmation, the light of her cabin goes out. The last bastions of decency sit around the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department and have a moment of silence and reverence for Margaret. As kooky as some may have found her, none of the Twin Peaks residents ever seemed to doubt her mystical connection and her sense of truth. And so, it is as powerful a good-bye as any. One which I hate to admit is our second sad end credits card in a row: “In Memory of Margaret Lanterman.” The actresses’s name was Catherine E. Coulson, but perhaps it was fitting for the role she so defined.
This is a show where we seem to have a pretty literal war of heaven and hell, of good and evil, the hellish fires of our atomic age and the heavens of light and kindness and fine cherry pie. Within bodies and minds, we engage those same primordial forces, as if battling the angst of these impulses and deeper currents. This was the story of Laura Palmer to a T. But now, so many of our residents seem caught in between the two — and as Milton said, it showcases our ability to make a hell of heaven (tweaking Steven and the litany of angry young men on this show) and a heaven of hell (Hutch, Chantal, and Evil Coop’s gospel of death and power). We do our best to bring a small bit of heaven to Earth, but in this kind of world, hope sometimes feels hopeless. Even then, we cling to this Earth because, as the episode’s title tells us, “There’s some fear in letting go.” For some brave souls, death can perhaps just be seen as a good rest after a long, tiring day. A sadness, but merely another change. To all this, I will say the same words as Hawk:
“Good night, Margaret. Good-bye, Margaret.”