To be honest, I’ve always felt a little nervous writing about Twin Peaks. For as clever and groundbreaking and important a show as it was, it was always more about feelings than thoughts. About mood more than plot.
Twin Peaks, the Return, which ended its eighteen-episode run on Showtime Sunday night, is no different. With the exception of the show-stopping eighth episode, I’ve refrained from writing about or recapping this show at all. I think I’ve been less receptive to a lot of it than most of my Peaks-loving friends, but not for the usual reasons. Even if I haven’t especially liked it a lot, I’ve come to love what it represents. The Return has been weird, slow, sometimes frustrating and usually disappointing, but that’s sort of the point. This show isn’t a Season 3 of the original show. It’s not even really a continuation of Fire Walk With Me, though that film is certainly just as important to understanding what’s going on as the original series is. It’s a show about remaking Twin Peaks, a show about getting older and trying to go back to how things used to be. A show about trying to recapture something. For all the tedium and incoherence, this show is about something very few shows ever even think about. It’s a show that, at least for the first dozen episodes, dedicated itself to the memory of one of the many now deceased cast-members who reprised their roles just before passing. This show is also about how the old show, the quirky one you think you remember with damn fine coffee and cherry pie and mock soap operas, never really existed. There was always a dark, sinister undercurrent to the original run, this version just brings up from subtext to text and makes it explicit.
Stylistically, this has also been a show about the return of David Lynch himself. This is his first project in a dozen years, and in that vein, it’s a lot more like Inland Empire was, full of foreboding and dread but not really in a state to make any sense. If Empire and Fire Walk With Me had a baby, this is what it would look like.
Anyway, the first half of the finale, “Part 17,” felt a lot like the wrap up of everything Twin Peaks: the Return came to symbolize. Pretty much every major cast member met up in the Twin Peaks sheriff station, and they soundly and finally defeated the Evil Cooper not even half an hour in. Then, Coop met up with Gordon, Albert, Bobby Briggs, James (who is still cool, we swear), the Mitchum Brothers, Andy, and Lucy. The mystery of Naito was revealed, Freddie the superpowered British man faced his destiny and punched Killer BOB to death somehow. It all wrapped up rather nicely.
After using his old room key to unlock that mysterious door in the bowels of the Great Northern, Cooper meets MIKE, who recites that famous poem one more time. and then travels with Coop to meet Philip Jeffries, who then lets them into a door. In almost the exact plot point one of Twin Peaks greatest imitators, LOST, also used, Cooper was inserted into previously filmed material, finding himself watching James and Laura’s last scene together from Fire Walk With Me, where she jumps off his bike and runs screaming into the forest. This time, however, instead of running to Ronette Pulaksi and the cabin and BOB, she runs into Cooper. It’s a credit to how well Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee have aged that this scene, set 25 years ago, could be a dead ringer for one set now. Especially in black and white, they both still look great.
Anyways, Cooper takes Laura by the hand and tries to lead her away, saving her life. We flash to the opening moments of the original pilot, to good old Pete Martell about to head out on his fateful fishing trip. Only this time, there’s no body for him to find. Laura Palmer isn’t there. It seems, somehow, that Cooper has done the impossible and reset the entire timeline. Then everything goes to Hell.
Inside the Palmer Home, we hear Sarah (or whatever monstrous entity inhabits her now, maybe Judy?), moaning in agony. Then she takes Laura’s famous picture off the table and starts smashing it. Everything goes crazy and distorted, and we come back to Coop and Laura in the forest. Suddenly, Laura’s not there anymore. That infamous, inhuman Sheryl Lee scream erupts from the darkness. Coop looks around helplessly as the screen fades to Julee Cruise (!!!) singing in front of a red curtain as the credits roll.
That’s how Episode 17 ends, and while it acts as a finale for Twin Peaks: The Return as plot and as a story, it’s not the end of Twin Peaks: The Return as a show. “Part 18” is honestly more of a finale for Twin Peaks as a mood, as a liminal, tonal thing. If I were more cynical, I might say it acts as an end for David Lynch as a filmmaker, if he wanted it. A lot of more broadly Lynchian tropes come back here, in what basically amounts to a mini-movie with three of Lynch’s favorite actors riding along dark highways together.
In probably the only uplifting scene of the finale, the One-Armed Man successfully makes another Dougie Jones tupla out of Cooper’s hair, then sends him off to live in happiness with Sonny Jim and Janey-E. “Home,” he says blankly as he embraces his family. Cue applause card. Everyone laughs and cries.
Cooper returns to the Red Room and relives some of the scenes he went through in the early episodes (“is it future or is it past?”). MIKE summons him, and they go visit everyone’s favorite sentient tree/wad of chewed gum the Arm (kind of cruel what Lynch did to maybe the most memorable of all the Red Room residents after Michael J. Anderson apparently lost his mind and refused to come back to the show). “Is it the story of the little girl who lived down the lane? Is it?” the Arm asks, echoing one of Audrey’s lines in an earlier episode (the implications of this are terrifying, and we don’t see Audrey after she apparently woke up from her dream in Part 16). Laura whispers into Cooper’s ear again, and like before is immediately dragged away screaming by an unseen force. We come to understand, as we always should have, what The Return was really about all along. “Find Laura,” the specter of Leland Palmer begs, and Cooper sets his mind to do it.
Cooper then seems to just will his way out of the Red Room and meets Diane, and this is where the rest of the episode starts up. They both ask one another if it’s really them, and then they start driving. Some 430 miles (“exactly 430 miles”) away, they drive into another portal, a place where dimensions intersect. Then they find a shitty motel to stay in. They have sex, and Diane can’t bear to look at him (remember that her doppelganger, which we can assume shares her memories, told Gordon and friends last episode that Evil Coop raped her). In the morning, she’s gone, leaving a note addressing him as Richard and herself as Linda. Coop is confused. Then he leaves and drives to Odessa, Texas, but instead of meeting up with Coach Taylor and becoming one half of the most inspirational duo in the history of television, he gets into a fight with some random cowboys in a diner (Judy’s Diner!), steals their guns, intimidates Clint Eastwood’s daughter into giving him the address of the diner’s other waitress, then leaves.
What’s most interesting about this scene is how Cooper basically acts exactly like his Evil self here. I don’t know what to make of it other than that just being his default “serious” personality, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Cooper heads to the address he was given, and meets someone who looks and sounds exactly like Laura Palmer. She calls herself Carrie Page, and swears not to know anything about Twin Peaks or the Palmers or anything that happened. We obviously assume that she is another doppelganger, but when Coop mentions the name “Sarah Palmer,” she gets weirded out and decides to come with him to Twin Peaks.
After some interminable scenes of the two of them driving down another dark and empty highway (weird how interstates do not exist in the Lynch universe), they arrive in Twin Peaks. Laura/Carrie doesn’t recognize anything, not even the Palmer House.
In the end, this is what this show was always leading towards, what I imagine a lot of fans, myself included, wanted most. Dale Cooper, Laura Palmer and the House. Those three most symbolic things about the original show as it actually existed. Cooper confidently approaches the door, assuming that things are finally about to end. He knocks, and after a while, an unknown woman answers. Her name is Alice Tremond, and she says that she and her husband bought the house from a Mrs Chalfont. These are both names used by the mysterious, apparently Black Lodge-adjacent woman played by Frances Bay (another dearly departed original cast member), whose grandson or nephew or whoever stole creamed corn from Donna Haywood and lived next to Harry Dean Stanton in a trailer park. Seemingly inconsequential references, if not for what happens next.
Cooper and Laura/Carrie return to his car, confused. Cooper stands in the middle of the street, and stares at the house. “What year is this?” he asks desperately. Laura looks back at the house, and starts to scream. The lights all go out, and Sarah Palmer’s distorted voice cries out for her daughter. Everything cuts to black. The credits play over that shot of Laura whispering something into Cooper’s ear in the Red Room. As far as I know, we never did find out what it was that she said, but whatever it was, it horrified Cooper. And that’s where we leave this show, probably for the last time.
It’s maybe not as immediately shocking a cliffhanger as “How’s Annie” was, but it’s maybe more unsettling in a way. And it’s wholly in tune with the show, in both of its versions. Upsetting on a level that’s hard to explain, operating under the logic of a dream more than the real world. Cooper tried to change the past. He defeated BOB and got his life back, but he just had to undo the one thing he could never change, save the one person in Twin Peaks he could never save. And in doing so, he seems more lost and stranded than he did at any point during his imprisonment in the Black Lodge. Dale Cooper is one of TV’s absolute greatest and most morally upstanding characters, and to go out like this, seemingly stranded in space and time, trapped with the unholiest of all evils, is unfair to him, but it astoundingly fair for David Lynch. This is what becomes of trying to capture the past, of trying to make things as they used to be. We don’t get closure for a lot of the original show’s characters but in a way, they’re just as lost as Cooper is now. They exist in celluloid, and if things go right for them, maybe someone will dedicate an episode of television to them. Until then, they’re lost under the Sycamore Trees with the rest of us.