It is impossible to expect anything from David Lynch.
It’s not just that he so readily defies narrative convention. It’s the way he even defies the expectations set up within his own work. But I feel like we should understand this dynamic by now: Whether it be the oblique, real-world ending of Mulholland Drive or the divergent approach of going back to the beginning in Fire Walk With Me, the meeting any kind of set expectations is a false hope. More important, to remove such expectations allows you to go through the portals and doors and boxes that lead to lands unknown. It is with this understanding that we embrace two very different Twin Peaks finales, which feature two very different kinds of homecomings. One gives us a narrative conclusion that deceptively folds in on itself, and the other is the beginning of a new train of thought. When the two are put together, they reveal something that is not only inconclusive and lacking in pure narrative satisfaction, but may just upend the entire narrative of Twin Peaks altogether.
If I can be blunt, it also makes the act of recapping something like this … daunting. On one level, I’m going to have to write a lot more “plot recap” than I usually do, but that’s because there are so many sequences of this finale that have to be interpreted on the basic logic level to explain what is happening. But it’s even more daunting because, even when you do, this is Lynch. There is no real code to crack. This finale isn’t a left-brain puzzle; it’s an abstract painting. And this ultimately clashes with the ability to be conclusive about what we all just witnessed.
To put it in context, I watched the finale with a couple of friends. Usually, we’ll talk excitedly for hours afterward. This time, we sat there silently, basically unable to speak. Another friend wrote and said he had just been staring at a black wall. We do this because we want to reflect. Now, as we all sit in relative unsureness, we have to begin to explore the bounds of these two impossible episodes. As the old adage goes, “The way out is through.”
Part One: Convergence
“The past dictates the future.” So it was told to us and so we believe. “Part 17” begins with Gordon Cole telling us his dick still works and then sharing one last bit of Blue Rose lore. It seems that Major Briggs and Agent Cooper discovered a powerful negative force, an extreme dark entity known as “Jowday” or the aforementioned Judy. Which effectively sets up the idea of a bigger bad (one that Bad Cooper was told he’d face back at the dark motel with Teapot Phillip Jeffries). What is Jowday? Well, we’ll get to that later because Cole finally gets the call and screams, “DOUGIE IS COOPER!? HOW THE HELL IS THIS!?” But they pack it up because they know where he’s going.
Meanwhile, Bad Coop thinks he’s going somewhere too. He travels to the last set of coordinates in the woods and he’s got his rock to try to protect himself this time, as he’s always trying to find his way out of the trap. But no dice, as Bad Coop is sucked up through the vortex and into a caged prison of our godly Fireman world, opposite none other than the ghostly face of Major Briggs! (I will say I love the overtly designed CGI of Lynch’s world that has no interest in wasting time trying to be photorealistic.) With that, Bad Coop’s craggly spike essence is sent to the one place he really needs to be …
And so, the events of Twin Peaks: The Return finally converge upon the sheriff’s office. It leads to a pants-shittingly terrifying sequence, where you end up thinking about all of the things Bad Coop could do to Andy, Lucy, Hawk, and Sheriff Truman. He and Truman sit in those chairs and the phone call comes. Beat. Beat. Beat. It’s the kind of impossible tension Lynch understands because he understands that all drama comes from the natural conflict of the situation and build-up. It require no fancy camera tricks, no propulsive music. All because the moment already is.
It seems what saves us is Lucy finally learning how cell phones work! Hot damn! I genuinely adore it when things that seem like throwaway jokes have payoffs, but I never expected something as great as this. Then everyone rushes together for the fallout: Real Coop, Cole, James, even the Mitchum Brothers. But the hero of the hour is a man named Freddie, who followed a vision to meet his destiny. No, he didn’t just have to punch a door off in some jail; he had to win a horrific fight with the demonic orb of BOB himself. After a feint, he does just that. It’s indescribable and yet the perfect summation of all that we have built up to. The Mitchum brothers put it best: “One for the grandkids.”
To me, the power of this conclusion comes in the brief reconciliation that follows. There are no victory laps, nor any time for pie at the R&R. The moment Coop sees the blind woman, his face becomes etched over the entire sequence that follows. It’s a brilliant device, letting us understand the finite nature of what is about to happen and that we’re stuck in something bigger. Coop even tells his friends, “There are some things that will change. The past dictates the future,” and “We live inside a dream.” But most of all, “I hope I see you all again. Every one of you.” He does not know if he will, and so these are the heart-soaring, genuine words of a man who has to explain the unexplainable, and who has to make your heart feel okay with that uncertainty.
With that, we learn that the blind woman is actually the real Diane (giving their meeting back in the weird time pod of episode three much more meaning). They kiss. It seems so necessary, but it’s also a bit confusing. Before there is a moment to embrace it, we instantly find ourselves in the furnace basements of the Great Northern. Coop uses the room 315 key and tells us, “See you at the curtain call,” and from there, he goes into the realm of the dark motel. He is greeted by the familiar words of Mike:
“Through the darkness of futures past,
The magician longs to see.
One chants between two worlds
Fire … walk with me.”
We’ve heard this so many times now, and it always seems to create new meaning. So often, it is the grand notion of light and dark worlds, good and evil, but in the following sequences, these words will be utterly crucial for Cooper’s journey. Even more so is Cooper’s imminent conversation with Teapot Phillip Jeffries, who tells him, “The past dictates the future,” and then transforms the Owl Cave Ring symbol into an infinity sign with a ball looping around its track. This is huge. Twin Peaks was largely about defeating BOB, the demon who was always represented by that symbol. But now we change the focus to the infinity sign and the looping ball, a notion that radically alters the entire focus (and understanding) of the show.
Because from here, we go back to the events of Fire Walk With Me. We see James and Laura’s fateful meeting all drenched in black and white. But now, in the famous moment when Laura sees something in the woods, we realize it is a re-materialized Cooper. The past isn’t just here to be seen, but changed. And so, with an outstretched hand and a face seen in a dream, Agent Cooper pulls Laura away from the night that ends her life. I’ll admit, I don’t understand why Mrs. Palmer is smashing the photo of Laura at the end of “Part 17,” but I do know that Jack Nance goes on his morning walk and there is no body to be found. Holy shit, we think. Is this retcon really happening?
Maybe. As Cooper guides Laura away, we hear sudden crackling and she disappears from his hand, followed by her most terrifying screams. She’s gone. Somewhere. Somehow. Alone. As we drift into the credits, the one and only Julee Cruise finally shows up to perform again for the show. She does not seem to be in the Roadhouse, but like Laura, somewhere out of time itself. The questions race in our mind: Has Cooper fixed the past? Where did Laura go? Is the entire world going to be different now? Has the past really dictated the future? As we’ve learned from Twin Peaks, nothing is as we’ve expected.
And nothing is quite as it seems.
Part Two: Through the Gloaming
The word alinea roughly translates to “the beginning of a new train of thought.” It’s a critical concept to embrace in what I’m sure is already regarded as one of the most fascinating and frustrating Lynchian hours of TV imaginable. We only get two quick moments of conclusion — that would be Bad Coop on fire, and Dougie being re-seeded and sent home to Janey-E and Sonny Jim — and then we quickly come back to the scene where Laura gets lost in the woods. From there, it is time for the beginning of the new train of thought.
The story hits the reset button as we revisit Cooper’s Black Lodge experience from the first two episodes of this season. Armed with the narrative we now have, it becomes our new “key,” so to speak, specifically in what it allows us to re-contextualize and understand going forward. Here are the important concepts.
• First, Mike says, “Is it future or past?” which now has a new literal meaning to us, given that Cooper has gone back in time. Admittedly, this might be when it really happens, or it’s happening again, or like most things in the Black Lodge, it’s happening at every time.
• We see the scene with the Arm again and he tells us, “I sound like this,” which now suggests he was the one who perhaps took Laura (because we hear the same noise when she disappears). The Arm then asks Coop if this is the story of “the little girl who lived down the lane,” which is exactly what Charlie said to Audrey that made her so scared. Nice to know it’s connected.
• We then see Laura whisper a secret that we do not hear, nor will we ever hear it. Before she’s pulled away, she screams that same intense scream we heard in the woods. It leads us to wonder: Is this somehow happening in the same moment of the woods?
• We see Leland Palmer again. We get the command again: Find Laura. If she has indeed been rescued from the time stream where she dies, the nature of the command is clear. We understand the mission at hand.
With a wave of his hand, Coop exits the Black Lodge and finds none other than Diane waiting for him in the woods. This is our curtain call. But Coop seems different. Sadder. Haunted. They wonder aloud to each other, “Is it really you?” and then kiss. Cut to them driving down a desert road, one littered with power lines along the way. There will be no happy return to Twin Peaks waiting for them — they’re on the mission, we assume, to find Laura. They go “exactly 430 miles” and then pause, afraid of what they will find on the other side. So they kiss again, then cross through the charged electricity and end up on the road at night, on yet another lost highway.
From day to night, we’ve gone through the gloaming.
In this strange new setting, they drive and drive. They arrive at a seedy motel. Cooper goes to check in. Diane sees a double of herself waiting outside. Where the hell are we? What is this dark place of doubles and phantoms? Cooper, or at least a man we think is Cooper, emerges from office and they stay the night. Again, Cooper seems different. He’s not his jovial happy self. Instead, he’s quiet, commanding, and tells Diane to come closer. It’s almost as if he’s exactly halfway between Good Coop and Bad Coop. They make love as “My Prayer” by the Platters comes into ear, though it plays ironically in their strange and dark session. Diane seems to sense something is wrong, as Cooper’s face is still, unblinking, and inhuman. She tries to cover his face as they make love and she keeps looking toward the ceiling. Something is wrong.
In the morning, Diane is gone and Cooper has received a “Dear Richard” letter from someone named Linda. The questions race in our mind: Is this the Linda from the Roadhouse conversation? Is it related to Richard Horne? Or is it like everything in this world, some kind of horrible mirror imaging? Coop moves on like a shark, driving into the town of Odessa where he comes across “Judy’s Diner.” There it is, Judy in plain English. Is this whole land Judy? Coop goes in, roughs up some locals in an uncharacteristic way that is fitting for his new in-between state. He gets an address and goes straight to it. We see the six on the telephone pole we first saw during Andy’s visit to the Fireman’s theater kingdom. Here we are, finally at the end of our quest.
Inside that house, Cooper finds one Carrie Page, played by none other than Sheryl Lee. He tells it straight to her and the audience: “It’s difficult to explain … I think you are a girl named Laura Palmer.” She doesn’t believe him, but something about his words stir in her stomach. She senses something is wrong too. And since there’s a dead guy in her house, she’s got to get out of Dodge. She indulges this strange FBI agent and goes with him to Twin Peaks.
As they travel together, we only get brief snippets of who Carrie Page really is. Maybe she’s someone quite like whoever Laura would have turned into. Maybe she is Laura. Maybe she’s not. She speaks of regret, telling us she really did try to “keep a clean house, keep everything organized,” but also how she was “too young to know any better.” The themes seem similar enough. After driving day and night, they finally arrive at Laura Palmer’s house and knock on the door. But the woman who answers we do not recognize, nor does she know a Sarah Palmer. When Coop asks who sold them the house, she says, “Mrs. Chalfont,” When he asks about her name, she says, “Alice Tremond.” We know these names were used by the creepy creamed-corn neighbor of the original series, who reappeared as one of the many spirits of the Lodge in Fire Walk With Me. Something is wrong here, but still, the names do not prick up Coop’s ears.
The two leave, dejected, but then stop in the middle of the street. None of this makes sense to Coop (or whoever the hell this version of Cooper is). Questions have piled on top of questions. Feeling like his sense of true north has betrayed him, he asks the world, bewildered, “What year is this?” as if this is just a matter of time. Sheryl Lee then looks at the house … something begins to erupt in her … does she recognize it? Is this when Laura returns? She screams with the fire of a thousands suns and the lights of the building blow out. We cut quickly to black, and then get a slow image of Laura whispering the secret into Coop’s ear when they were back in the Lodge. And so ends Twin Peaks: The Return.
It’s been a few hours and my hair is still standing on end.
Over the course of this finale, we essentially resolve one core part of the conflict — the fate of BOB — and then open up the deeper level of what’s happening. We often talked about the two worlds of light and dark, but what are the two worlds, really? Are there more than two worlds? Who is this version of Coop? Were Good Coop and Bad Coop just components of this one man’s personality? Is this a land of dreams? Or it this like Mulholland Drive and we’re finally seeing the real world? The questions fire fast and furious, but as my friend Damon put it, “David Lynch always closes 12 doors and opens 14.”
Which is true. I know some folks kept thinking of this as the conclusion to Twin Peaks for some reason, but like everything with Lynch, it can only lead to false expectation. The first season ended on about eight cliffhangers. The end of season two left BOB in Agent Cooper, which we didn’t get a conclusion on until last week (and quite frankly, I’m surprised we got as many bits of closure in the finale as we did). Yes, we still don’t know where Audrey is. Just as we may have to live with Sheryl Lee’s final haunting scream resounding in our brains for the rest of time, along with the words of a whisper we’ll never hear. Not knowing is the very nature of Twin Peaks. It is practically what defines it.
But what also defines Lynch is that when the time comes, he makes his move and brings the narrative through the gloaming. To fold everything back into itself, undoing time and narrative. To go into another world with even more shades of dreams and dreamers. Looking back, The Return ended up being more reminiscent of Lost Highway than anything else, given Lynch’s favorite motif of losing a sense of identity in the midst of a pursuit. There are a million tangents and thoughts of what it all can mean, which is why I wrote every detail out so we could reflect on them together. But in the end, there is only one real question I want to consider.
Why is Laura Palmer so important?
Because at the end of this show, when a million choices could have been made, Lynch had to go back to her. Just like he had to go back to her years ago with Fire Walk With Me. In a way, Twin Peaks has never been about anything BUT Laura Palmer. To many, she started as a narrative’s “murdered body.” A version of a trope we’ve seen in a thousand shows and a thousand movies. But to Lynch, she was never just a simple motive. She wasn’t a dead girl’s picture on a wall. She wasn’t a fridge to be stuffed, just so that some dude could feel all aggrieved and seek revenge. What set Twin Peaks apart was how much this small town cared about the girl’s death, and more, how they cared about her life and the way she affected everyone around her. The narrative of the show itself was not a whodunit, but a Rebecca-like investigation of who she really was in the first place. The whodunit was more about what lies at the dark heart of the American town and the American family, unveiling the echoes of abuse across the spectrum, along with the many contorted faces we force young women to wear just to keep up the facade. Twin Peaks is a story about what shouldn’t have been done, but what was done a thousand times. A girl who experienced so many tragedies before the inevitable one that took her life. It’s a set of tragedies that continues in many forms, even 25 years later.
As the new season tells us, “Laura is the one.” But righting this wrong isn’t as simple as catching a killer, nor somehow finding a way to return a single girl from the dead. I go back to the episode eight “origin” scene where we learn that Laura’s light was put into the world as a response to evil. But what we’ve seen is not exactly fighting evil, is it? In fact, she ends up being a victim to evil. Was this show saying that women were put on Earth to be victims of men? Is she more akin to the female Jesus, dying for our sins? What does it mean? What is her light? Well, I think episode eight is telling us to see these forces as part of a larger system. If the story of Twin Peaks is about the story of abuse itself, then stopping abuse would require understanding all of the cycles that go on without end. It would mean disappearing into the history of time and violence and echoes of generations. It would mean facing the entirety of the truth.
There’s an image from the finale that’s burned into my brain. It’s when Teapot Phillip Jeffries takes the Owl Cave Ring sign and turns it into the infinity symbol as the small ball curls through it. I already mentioned how it reflects the changing scope of the narrative, but it also reflects the cycle of getting trapped in abuse. We travel along the infinity symbol, treated to the unending layers and layers of obfuscation, never realizing we are carving the same path again and again. To me, this is “Judy,” our negative force. It traps us in the belief that all this will go on and on, ad infinitum, forever and ever. It is to look at all of the despair and abuse in the world and see hell unending. There is no entity more dark. And so I will ask again one final time: Why is Laura the one?
Because Laura is the hope that things can change.
But we have not gotten to see that hope manifest. Just like the effect of Laura’s final, haunting scream, we don’t know what it will mean. Unless we get a new season, we won’t get to know. And so we are left to sit on that emotional whopper, and I have two distinct feelings churning inside of me. Since we effectively had two finales, I will give you two conclusions in turn.
1. Come Back This Way
When Julee Cruise appears at the end of episode 17, she sings an original song written by David Lynch called “The World Spins.” The lyrics go as such:
“Haley’s Comet come and gone,
The things I touch are made of stone,
Falling through this night alone,
Don’t go away
Come back this way,
Come back and stay forever,
It is a song for Laura, but really it is a song for us. It is a song for the way we love this show. And it is most definitely a song built for an odd, rambling cliffhanger finale. We know that another 25 years would not only be too difficult, but obviously impossible to achieve, so we want this moment to stay with us. We want to get answers and new returns and new questions. We want everything good and true and perfect and whole and yet none of those things. This is simply what we want, and thus we must face another feeling at the same time, for they are two sides of the same coin. Which leads to …
2. Ad Infinitum
The infinity symbol also reflects our emotional experience with the narrative. We always thought the driving force of that experience was a question. We asked ourselves, “Who killed Laura Palmer?” Then it became, “Will we ever find out if BOB was still in Agent Cooper?” With The Return, it was, “How will Good Coop get out of Dougie Jones?” There’s always a question driving us, but it is also what traps us. We always want to fast-forward through the anguish to the alleviation. Here and now, it is more pronounced than ever precisely because I do not know if we will get another season of Twin Peaks. No one does. Even David Lynch doesn’t know. And so, we sit like a ball on the curved track of infinity, forced to wait in our point in time. It does not feel so great.
This is the forever state of Twin Peaks. Whether it’s waiting a week or 25 years, the cycles of plots and cliffhangers and expectations meet at the nexus of ad infinitum, the same way forever, over and over again. It’s frustrating because we may never get “out” of it through resolution or definitive ending. But like life itself, there is only that which may come to be, and that which is cut down before its time. We are the trapped magicians, longing to see between two worlds, to see through time and what the future of a show may bring. We are the ones who risk being burned by the fire itself.
But what is the fire metaphor anyway? It is the chant used to walk between worlds. It is what we say when we let the demons try to get inside us and “cross through” with the difficulty of that which may burn us. It is that which may devour us whole. That’s why we need to hone the demons of time. We need the fire to effectively “walk with us.” Which essentially means we need to open our hearts and make it through such barriers undamaged. This is so completely necessary because you cannot break cycles without facing them. Without knowing how they permeate yourself. Without really finding a capacity for change in yourself, which is the hardest thing in in the universe. As Gordon Cole once called it in different terms, it is “fixing your heart.” And so, we must be like Laura and embody the hope of eradicating the impossible. Of somehow burgeoning through the annals of time itself, having taken in so much fire and surviving it. Because when we’re trapped in the recesses of such despair, the way out is always through.
We must be at peace with the moment we are in.
Although I hope that the ad infinitum can be stopped, I must simply recognize that the story of “the little girl who lived down the lane” has not concluded. It may never conclude. And yet, it could still. The danger of that unknowing challenges us to brave the constant unknown, which could in turn burn our spirit whole. But luckily, there’s one simple mantra that will see it through.
Fire … walk with us.