Well, that explained everything, right?
Where does one even begin unraveling that bewitching yet at times frustrating Twin Peaks: The Return finale? I even slept on it, hoping that the answers would come to me in a dream much like they often do for our very own Agent Cooper. But the mind still boggles. For a while there in Part 17, it seemed as though we were heading for resolution — the euphoric high of the BOB-busting showdown and the recontextualization of the past appeared to be leading to something approaching an answer. Then came Part 18, which descended into a mystifying amalgamation of Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, flipping the world upside down and ending on a cliffhanger far bigger than where Season 2 left viewers hanging some 25 years ago.
When director David Chase cut to black at the end of The Sopranos in 2007, a significant number of viewers were incensed. There are still those to this day who despise the way The Sopranos ended. Twin Peaks similarly concluded with a smash-cut to black as Sheryl Lee’s nightmare-invading scream echoed through the darkness. However, there is a big difference between the two shows that could go some way in explaining the various levels of frustration. There are two main ways to interpret The Sopranos ending — either Tony got shot, or he didn’t. You can read it whichever way is more satisfying to you personally, and it’s easy to imagine how things would play out in either scenario because The Sopranos — Lynch-inspired dream excursions aside — was set within the real world. Twin Peaks is a whole different percolator of fish, and the final episode took such a confounding U-turn into the unknown that the abrupt ending feels like a tease rather than a conclusion.
That’s not to say I hated the last scene, where Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) become lost in some sort of altered timeline. I’m still digesting, so it will be a long while before I fully get to grips with my feelings on the whole thing. I never expected or necessarily wanted a neatly tied bow on all the lingering mysteries. To expect those tidy resolutions in a David Lynch production would only be setting yourself up for disappointment. The sense of despair and terror the final scene has left me with is a success for the series in regards to an emotional impact on the viewer. Lynch works on moods and tones rather than answers and explanations, and if he can make the audience feel something (anything!), it is a great achievement. Early in Part 17, Gordon Cole describes the entity known as Judy or “Jowday” as an “extreme negative force.” A user on Reddit interpreted “Jowday” as the Chinese “jiāo dài” meaning “to explain.” While I’m unsure if this interpretation is correct — something about the pronunciation isn’t quite right — the idea of Lynch believing that explanation is an extreme negative force is brilliant and ironically explains the lack of answers in Twin Peaks.
But if Lynch isn’t willing to provide the mathematics behind his perplexing puzzles, then I guess it is up to us to make sense of it, and that is what I’m going to attempt to do here as we break down the season (and possibly series) finale.
WE ARE GOING TO TALK ABOUT JUDY
Gordon confides in the Blue Rose Task Force, telling them about a secret meeting he had with Major Briggs (Don Davis) and Cooper many years ago. It was at this meeting where Briggs told them about the “extreme negative force” called Judy. Gordon uses the term “entity,” which implies Judy is the Experiment/Mother previously seen smashing her way out of the New York Glass Box and puking up mystic eggs in post-atomic blast New Mexico in 1945. Gordon also lets it be known his male member is still perfectly functional when Albert (Miguel Ferrer) says he’s getting soft in his old age — “Not where it counts, buddy!” Not sure I expected the finale to start with a penis joke, but that was far from the weirdest thing in the episode.
It’s also insinuated that Gordon, Cooper, and Briggs came up with a plan all those years ago and Gordon is privy to a lot more than he’s been letting on. The reason he’s finally coming clean is that he expected to hear from Cooper by now, and then, almost on cue, he receives a phone call from Bushnell Mullins (Don Murray), who is with the Vegas FBI. Bushnell passes on the message left by Cooper (or Dougie as he knows him): “I’m heading to Sheriff Truman’s. It’s 2:53 in Vegas, that adds up to 10, the number of completion.” Gordon thanks Cooper’s other boss and then returns his attention to Albert and Tammy (Chrysta Bell). “Dougie was Cooper?!” he yells. Tammy gives a hilarious rundown of Dougie-Coop’s antics over the past however many weeks, culminating in him jamming a fork into an electrical outlet. “That’s strange, even for Cooper,” Albert remarks. Bless you, Miguel Ferrer.
The Blue Rose crew finally packs up shop and leaves Buckhorn to head to Twin Peaks.
SHOWDOWN AT THE SHERIFF’S STATION
Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) has also arrived in Twin Peaks. He’s tracked his final set of coordinates to the gooey lava pit beside Jack Rabbit’s Palace where Deputy Andy (Harry Goaz) took his expedition to the extradimensional. The spiraling vortex transports Mr. C to the Fireman’s (Carel Struycken) home movie theater, the same place in Part 8 where the gold Laura orb was vacuumed up into the brass tube and dispensed into the world. The floating disembodied head of Major Briggs makes a reappearance, and Mr. C appears to be trapped in a caged box, like something you’d carry a pet dog to the vet in.
The Fireman channel hops, changing the settings on his huge movie screen before eventually settling on a location outside the sheriff’s station. Mr. C is unboxed and plopped back out onto earth. Through all this, Mr. C seems confused, like he never really knew what the coordinates meant or what he wanted beyond not returning to the Black Lodge. When he sees Andy in the parking lot and says he’d like to come inside to see his old friends, you get the sense that he is just winging it or perhaps hoping to cause unprovoked chaos out of nothing but sheer boredom.
All of these scenes at the sheriff’s station bubble with uneasiness and dread. Everything ramps up as Naido (Nae Yuuki) continues to shriek and yelp as if she is sensing Evil Coop’s presence. While initially happy to see his old friend, Andy realizes something is off when Mr. C turns down a cup of coffee. Mr. C sits in Frank Truman’s (Robert Forster) office and the two exchange pleasantries. Meanwhile, Deputy Chad (John Pirruccello) breaks out of his jail cell and retrieves a gun from his locker, but he’s stopped from shooting Andy when Freddie Hulk Hand (Jake Wardle) punches open his cell door, knocking out the corrupt cop. Remember after his trip to the other side Andy said he knew what he had to do? That seemed to be removing Naido, James, and Freddie from their jail cells in time for the big showdown.
When Truman receives a call from an in-transit Cooper, Mr. C reaches for his weapon, only to be shot first by none other than Lucy (Kimmy Robertson). “I finally figured out how cell phones work,” the unlikely hero emphatically tells Andy. The real Agent Cooper arrives just as the creepy Woodsmen begin to perform their disembowelment ritual on Mr. C’s body. Just like last time, a BOB glob emerges from Mr. C’s stomach, but this time Cooper instructs Freddie to fulfill his destiny. What happens next is the most intense game of squash ever, as Freddie Hulk Hand goes to war with the ball of BOB, batting him/it around the room. He Superman punches it down through the floor into the fiery pits of hell! BOB bounces back, attacking and bloodying Freddie, but the gardening-gloved gladiator delivers one final smashing uppercut, shattering the orb into pieces. “One for the grandkids,” an observing Mitchum brother remarks.
DIANE, IS THAT YOU?
I’m not sure what the hell I just watched or why I loved it so much, but the strangeness shows no signs of slowing down. Cooper still has other business to take care of, and it doesn’t involve eating the sandwiches Candie (Amy Shiels) brought. This is where things start to go very Mulholland Drive. The following sequence plays out with a closeup of Cooper’s face in a double exposure on top of the action, much like the promotional posters for Twin Peaks: The Return. It’s as if Cooper is peering in from another dimension, a sign that reality is crumbling or that we live inside a dream, just as Cooper says in this scene and which Phillip Jeffries (David Bowie) said previously. This all happens when Cooper notices Naido, and after sharing a touch, Nadio becomes Diane (Laura Dern), as in, the real red-haired Diane — she was in the sheriff’s station just like her manufactured duplicate said last week. The emotional reunion is sealed with a kiss — a touching moment for not only the characters but Dern and MacLachlan, whose onscreen relationship traces all the way back to Blue Velvet.
But it’s not Blue Velvet that this finale recalls, as mentioned, it’s another famous Lynch movie, Mulholland Drive. It’s no coincidence that the lead character in the film is also named Diane (played by Naomi Watts) and suffers from an identity crisis and false reality. There is a point in Mulholland Drive when Diane turns a key in a blue box, and it switches the entire narrative and the world as we know it into something else entirely. There is a moment that echoes that scene in this episode when Cooper unlocks a door using his old Great Northern room key and travels into a world where the story and characters have changed.
It feels like Cooper is being ripped away from us just as he’s finally returned. After BOB is defeated and the real Diane is back, there is a hope that, hey, maybe Cooper will stay and enjoy Candie’s sandwiches and catch up with his old friends in Twin Peaks. After all, everyone is back together in the town we love the most; why tempt fate going on another Lodge mission? That is the show some people wanted from the start, but it has been denied at almost every turn, and we shouldn’t have expected anything different in the finale. “There are some things that will change,” Cooper tells the group. “The past dictates the future.” It’s said not as a statement of fact but as a declaration of intent — Cooper believes he can alter the past to change the future. And so he leaves, flanked by Gordon and Diane as he follows the humming sound to the locked door in the boiler room of the Great Northern. He tells Diane he will see her again “at the curtain call,” and with that Cooper steps back into the darkness, and, faithful to his words, some things are definitely about to change.
THROUGH THE DARKNESS OF FUTURE PAST
Cooper follows the One Armed Man (Al Strobel) through the shadowy halls of what I believe we’re now calling the Dutchman’s. It’s the place where steaming tea kettle Jeffries resides, huffing and puffing out numbers and symbols. Cooper asks Jeffries if he can send him back to a place in time, Feb. 23, 1989: the night Laura Palmer was murdered. And so Cooper gets his Marty McFly on, traveling back to that fateful February night, where he silently observes scenes from Fire Walk With Me, which replay in black and white. He listens in on Laura and James’s fight in the woods; Laura’s sudden scream now given context on sight of a bush-dwelling Cooper. We also see Laura jumping off the back of James’s bike and running back into the woods, as well as Leo Johnson, Jacques Renault, and Ronette Pulaski waiting for Laura’s arrival.
But Laura never makes it to Leo and Co. because she is confronted by Cooper, the man from her dreams, who holds her hand and promises to take her home. At this point, I started to wonder if Lynch invented a time machine, because it seriously looked like modern day Kyle MacLachlan had jumped into Fire Walk With Me to interact with 1990s Sheryl Lee. Whatever age-altering effects or voodoo magic Lynch cooked up to make that work was well worth the effort.
Then everything changed. We saw the famous shot of Laura’s body wrapped in plastic from the original pilot, but it disappeared like it was being erased from history. We saw Josie Packard (Joan Chen) staring in the mirror and lovable Pete Martell (the late Jack Nance) telling his disinterested wife Catherine (Piper Laurie) that he was “gone fishing.” This time around Pete did not see Laura’s body washed up on the beach. It wasn’t there. Did Cooper make it so she never died?
It’s never that simple in Twin Peaks. Cooper can’t just jump into the past and save Laura and act like nothing ever happened. The first sign of something going seriously wrong is in the Palmer household. We’re back in the present day; the camera fixed on the unoccupied living room where empty vodka bottles and cigarette butts stand in for decoration. A distressed wailing comes from elsewhere in the house, over and over again, it’s very, very eerie. Then Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) launches into the room; she takes one of those empty glass bottles and smashes it over Laura’s prom photo, repeatedly stabbing at it while screaming and crying. I don’t have a clue what to make of this other than perhaps whatever is possessing Sarah is infuriated by Cooper’s actions in the past.
Then in the past, Laura disappears out of Cooper’s grasp. We hear that scratching sound the Fireman told Cooper to listen to back in the very first scene of the premiere. Then, in the distance, Laura screams. The sound of her being brutally murdered in the train car? Or something else? Did Cooper save Laura or not? We saw her plastic-wrapped body disappear, which suggests an altered past, but then, where did Laura end up? When a returning Julee Cruise sings “The World Spins” over the end credits, it would have been perfectly fitting for this to be the end of the series. But leaving the audience with the suggestion that Laura was saved is perhaps too happy an ending for Twin Peaks.
The crumbling timelines, which become even more complicated in Part 18, highlight Cooper’s flaw. He has a constant need to fix things because of his past guilt. In the original series, he always blamed himself for the death of Caroline, Agent Windom Earle’s wife, whom Cooper fell in love with and vice versa. In a way, his dogged determination to solve the Laura Palmer murder was to make up for past sins, to do right. And while he eventually caught the killer, it was too late; another woman died in the meantime, Laura’s cousin Maddie Ferguson (Sheryl Lee). Cooper perhaps felt an even deeper failure because he dreamed of Laura’s death before it happened — he tells Albert about it in FWWM. There has always been a part of him that believes he could and should have protected Laura. The two have always been connected even though they’d never met in the real world. Like the Log Lady (Catherine Coulson) said: Laura is the one. Laura was always the one. If he could just save Laura, then everything would be damn fine.
Cooper’s childlike charm can also become childlike naiveté. It’s demonstrated when he tells the group at the sheriff’s station that he hopes he will see them all again soon — like he’s simply popping out on a coffee run. But now Cooper is messing with Lodge magic to attain his goals. Not just taking advantage of the time-shifting abilities, but we also see another Dougie-Coop manufactured on his order and sent to Janey-E (Naomi Watts) and Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon) in Vegas. Surely there are consequences attached to using such methods for personal means, no matter how well-intentioned.
A WHOLE NEW WORLD
Those consequences are felt throughout Part 18 — a dark, disorientating detour into another dimension. After Laura disappears, Cooper is back in the Red Room and reliving scenes we saw in the two-part premiere. The One Armed Man asks, “Is it future or is it past?” The talking tree-arm quotes Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn): “Is it the story of the little girl who lived down the lane?” Audrey is conspicuously absent from the finale, and so I can see people reading into this line for years to come. Is Audrey the dreamer? Is this all just a manifestation of her mind while trapped in that white cell, wherever that may be? It’s not a theory I’m jumping on board with, but there is definitely reason to believe.
Then he bumps into Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) again, who tells him to “Find Laura.” And rightly or wrongly, that’s what Coop sets about doing. He emerges from the red drapes into Glastonbury Grove, where Diane is waiting for him. Is this what he meant when he said he’ll see her at the curtain call? The two confirm to each other that they are who they say they are, but I’m not so sure … something is definitely off. Cooper acts kind of like a combination of Dale and Mr. C for the remainder of the episode. Less talkative, more menace to his voice. It could just be because he was in FBI mission mode, but it really did feel like something else was possessing Cooper.
Things then go full Mulholland. Cooper and Diane drive to a spot specifically 430 miles (“Remember 430”) down a desert road — maybe the same spot where Mr. C crashed in Part 2? Countless electrical pylons border the road. Cooper tells Diane to kiss him; she seems unsure, about both the kiss and the mission ahead. He warns that things might be different on the other side. They then drive through a portal, between worlds? Day turns to night. They arrive at a roadside motel, and as Cooper goes inside, Diane sees another version of herself standing on the forecourt. Where are we? Cooper and Diane enter a room and have sex. This is when it really seems like Cooper isn’t the good old Coop we know and love. He lays there, dead-eyed and emotionless, while Diane covers up his face with her hands like she can’t bear to look at him. “My Prayer” by the Platters plays over the scene, last heard in Part 8 when the Woodsman was crushing skulls — so make of that what you will.
When Cooper wakes up the next morning, Diane is gone. There is a note on the bedside table addressed to “Richard” from a “Linda” telling him she has left and doesn’t love him anymore. It’s yet another one of the Fireman’s clues from the premiere, “Remember Richard and Linda.” Is Cooper Richard? Is Diane Linda? Cooper appears just as baffled as us, so it’s not like the Dougie case where he believes himself to be this Richard character. It’s not just the names that are changing. When Coop walks outside, the motel is different, and he’s driving a different car. He’s now in Odessa, Texas, where he stops at a local diner, appropriately called Judy’s. A bunch of burly cowboys harass Kristi the waitress (Francesca Eastwood, Clint’s daughter) until Cooper intervenes, disarming the brutes and disposing of their firearms into a vat of burning oil. Cooper asks Kristi to write down the address of the other waitress who works at Judy’s. Again, Coop seems to be channeling parts of Mr. C in this encounter.
The address takes Cooper to a rundown bungalow on the outskirts of town. It’s there he finds Laura, all grown-up and … not called Laura. She says her name is Carrie Page. She’s never heard of Laura Palmer and has no clue what Cooper is talking about, but because of some recent troubles, she’s willing to take a ride with the FBI agent. Inside her house, a man with a bullet in his head is dead in an armchair. The phone rings, but nobody picks up. What is happening?! The two then take the long, mostly silent drive to Twin Peaks. Now and then Laura/Carrie breaks the silence. “I was too young to know any better,” she says.
As they cross the bridge into Twin Peaks, Cooper asks Laura/Carrie if she recognizes anything. She stares out the window. They pass the Double R and the suburban houses. She doesn’t. They pull up outside the Palmer house and Cooper guides Laura/Carrie up the steps. He knocks at the door, expecting Sarah to answer, but instead, it’s a stranger, an unknown woman. She doesn’t know of a Sarah Palmer. Cooper asks her who sold her the house. The woman asks her off-screen husband and replies that they purchased it from a Mrs. Chalfont. When Cooper asks the woman her name, she tells him, “Alice Tremond.” The Chalfont/Tremond names are important because they are the names/aliases of the elderly woman and her grandson — Lodge spirits who appeared in both the original series and FWWM. Laura used to deliver Meals on Wheels to Mrs. Tremond, and Donna Hayward also once visited her when she took over Laura’s route after her death. When Donna and Cooper went back to the house another woman called Mrs. Tremond was living there and had no knowledge of the elderly woman and her grandson.
Cooper walks back out onto the street. Confused. He was expecting to deliver Laura back to her mother for a happy reunion. Instead, he desperately paws at the air and then asks, “What year is this?” Then Laura/Carrie lets out that trademark scream as if she remembers the horrors of her past. Someone (Sarah?) calls out “Laura!” as the lights of the Palmer house flicker out and then blackness. The final image over the credits is Laura whispering into Cooper’s ear in the Red Room. What she said we don’t know and will likely never know.
There are questions here that will spawn theories for years to come. Did saving Laura create an alternate timeline? Does that account for the discrepancies in Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks book? Did Cooper even save Laura at all? Is this world manufactured by Black Lodge denizens? The Chalfont/Tremond link certainly points to some kind of Lodge interference. Has Cooper been tricked? Is he simply another agent lost to time like Philip Jeffries and Chet Desmond before him?
Regardless of what it all means in a story sense, the ending, as frustrating as it is haunting, is a great metaphor for Twin Peaks: The Return as a whole. A lot of people wanted David Lynch and Mark Frost to take them back to the past. They wanted to dip into that warm and comfortable feeling of nostalgia. It’s true to life in many ways: At one time or another we all wish we could go back to the past. Maybe we just want to relive our glory days, spend a moment in easier times when the world didn’t seem to be spiraling out of control with every passing day. Or perhaps there is a point in your past you wish you could change; maybe things would have worked out differently. But that’s not how life works.
As Cooper said, “The past dictates the future” — and he was foolish to think he could change it. For all of its colorful quirkiness and coffee and donuts, the town of Twin Peaks was changed irreversibly the day that Laura died. It unearthed the evil lurking beneath white picket fence American suburbia. Things have only become worse in the intervening years. Twin Peaks is now a place of broken relationships, unfulfilled dreams, drug-peddling cops, hit-and-run hooligans, gun-toting toddlers, and horn-honking citizens with puking zombie children. There are still “a few good men,” as the Log Lady said, but the glow has gone. Twin Peaks: The Return was dark and disturbing and unapologetic. It was a reflection of our times, where there is violence on our streets and the threat of nuclear war is just one wrong tweet away. No matter what we may want, or what Cooper wants, we cannot return home.
See you again in 25 years.
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