Season Three, Episodes Seventeen and Eighteen — “The Return, Part Seventeen”, “The Return, Part Eighteen”
By Brad Sun. Despite its ever-expanding trans-dimensional lore and its penchant for devilishly upending audience expectations, Twin Peaks: The Return has always told a relatively straightforward story. Bring Cooper back. Defeat the evil doppelgänger. No matter how many detours it took along the way, it was evident from the start that everything was surely headed toward an epic showdown between Dale’s team of good-hearted oddballs and the sinister forces of the Black Lodge. And so it comes as some surprise to find the villainous Mr. C so easily vanquished just a few minutes into the final two hours of the series.
In the fastest paced sequence of the entire season by far, we are served up a flurry of action-packed plot and fan friendly resolution. Evil Coop’s at the sheriff station! The real Cooper calls to warn them! Lucy saves the day! Freddie battles BOB! Naido transforms into Diane! It’s all a little silly, but also a whole lot of fun… and it’s the most generous Mark Frost and David Lynch will likely ever be to their masochistically devoted fanbase. But even as Candie passes out sandwiches to our triumphant heroes, the mood is undercut by a ghostly Cooper who, as if watching the show himself, slowly murmurs, “We live inside a dream.”
It turns out Dale has bigger plans than merely returning his shadow self from whence he came. After following the ringing tone at the Great Northern and firewalking with MIKE, Cooper finds himself in the presence of the tea kettle known as Phillip Jeffries, who promptly sends him back in time. It turns out Cooper’s ultimate goal is to prevent Laura Palmer from ever being killed. But just as Dale and Laura are walking hand in hand towards a nice tidy conclusion, a wrathful Sarah Palmer (who by now we can safely surmise is the Mother Demon, aka Judy) snatches Laura, and our happy ending, away.
It is during this final hour that the aforementioned “straightforward storytelling” is thrown out the window. But first, Cooper finds himself reliving his exile in the Black Lodge. “Is it future or is it past?” MIKE asks with a stinging new resonance. Coop soon emerges, only to begin a path through progressively more nightmarish worlds ending in a final, mercilessly bleak dive into literal darkness. Cooper and Diane steel themselves for a trip to a place where “it could all be different,” and so it is. Day turns to night, and Diane glimpses yet another double of herself as Cooper checks them into a motel.
After a disturbing bout of lovemaking with Diane, reality shifts once more and Cooper wakes alone in a different room in a different state (geographically, but possibly also mentally). Despite retaining his old memories, Cooper too seems to have changed, adopting some of the alien monotone and callous violence wielded by his doppelgänger. Is Dale waking up from the dream of Twin Peaks, or is he tumbling deeper into a nightmare? Is he the dreamer who dreams and then lives inside the dream?
Cooper soon finds an equally remixed Laura Palmer, now named Carrie Page, and he convinces her to travel with him back to Twin Peaks. The lack of musical score throughout The Return has lent an ominous solemnity to the series, but in these final scenes it’s downright oppressive. As Cooper navigates the deserted pitch black streets and roads, we can’t even hear the rustling of trees or chirping of insects.
But it’s only when the two arrive at the Palmer residence and discover that Sarah is nowhere to be found that we glimpse the scariest sight of all — an Agent Dale Cooper that has no idea what to do. He aimlessly questions the current homeowner before pacing nervously in the streets, hopelessly lost in a world he doesn’t understand with a Laura we barely recognize. In the distance, someone calls out Laura’s name. She lets out a final blood-curdling scream and we’re plunged into darkness.
“What year is this?” – Dale Cooper makes it clear just how truly lost he is, with a final line that will surely become as infamous as “How’s Annie?”
BEST MOMENT: “I wasn’t crazy about the ending either, if you want to know the truth,” Stephen King once said about his Dark Tower series. “But it’s the right ending. The only ending, in fact.” I’m reminded of these words as I watch (and rewatch) those closing moments of Twin Peaks: The Return. It’s bleak, uncomfortable, and terrifying. As a season cliffhanger (Twin Peaks has always had its roots in soap opera after all) it’s a frustrating tease for a payoff that will likely never come. But viewed as a deliberately open-ended conclusion to a 25+ year voyage, it has an undeniably haunting power.
I said in an earlier review that Twin Peaks is not just a place where anything can happen… it’s a place where everything happens. I can add, “it’s a place where everything happens forever.” Dale Cooper can never truly solve Laura’s case, because then the story ends, and that’s not how life works — it’s an endless struggle filled with failure and perseverance, and it continues beyond the limits of our perception. By embracing this notion while still acknowledging the inherent horror of that journey, Twin Peaks‘ ending is ultimately life-affirming, in its own perverse way.
But if that’s too abstract, just remember that somewhere in this labyrinthine multiverse that Frost and Lynch have wrought, Wally Brando is following his dharma, a geezer named Freddie punched evil so hard it exploded, and Lucy picked the chair that Andy wanted.
SERIES’ MVP: David Lynch’s passion and love for his craft is apparent in his every directorial decision and onscreen move as the delightful Gordon Cole. Watching him in his final scene, walking side-by-side with his two most beloved collaborators, was an appropriately heart-warming send off. Well done.
SLICES OF PIE:
– Twin Peaks‘ ending wrapped up a lot, but omitted quite a few characters and plots — the most significant being the whereabouts of Audrey. The Arm references her line about the “little girl who lives down the lane.” Is she another dreamer living inside a dream?
– Also absent are Red and the zombie-like plague his drugs were presumably unleashing on the town of Twin Peaks.
– Yet another unsolved mystery: there’s still one missing page from Laura’s diary. Missing page… Carrie Page… hmm…
– Richard and Linda, first mentioned by the Giant in “Part One”, are revealed to be the names of Cooper and Diane in the alternate dimension. Richard Horne and the unseen Linda from the trailer park would appear to be red herrings.
– Philip Jeffries transforms the mysterious Lodge symbol into a figure 8, or infinity sign, perhaps alluding to the unending, cyclical nature of Cooper’s path and the series itself.
– The two homeowners of the Palmer residence, Alice Tremond and Mrs. Chalfont, are both aliases of the Lodge creature that appeared as an elderly woman in the original series and Fire Walk With Me. Is the dimension Cooper finds himself in an alternate reality or a construct of Judy’s created to trap Laura?
– “Part Seventeen” is dedicated to the memory of Jack Nance.
9 out of 10
Season Three Score: 8.5 out of 10
Before: “The Return, Part Sixteen,” here.