I’m not sure how I feel about the two-hour finale of Twin Peaks: The Return. I might have to watch the whole series a couple more times to really get somewhere with it, and that’s a ways off. And I think if I watched the show 5 or 10 years ago, I would’ve been absolutely incensed by what I watched. Just utterly furious.
Twin Peaks: The Return doesn’t answer very many questions, and it provides very little closure.
And that’s exactly what I wanted from a new Twin Peaks series.
That show I like came back into style
I first saw bits and pieces of Twin Peaks before I was really old enough to make any sense of what was going on. I was about 8-years-old when the show first hit the airwaves back in 1990. The little bits and pieces stuck in my head though, and I finally started to try to catch up on the series when I was a teenager. This was back when Blockbuster was a thing.
I had access to parts of the show, and to the prequel film, Fire Walk With Me. I didn’t have access to the series finale or the terribad chunk of the second season where ABC got control of the show and made the Twin Peaks itself into something more like the joke soap operas that had played in the background of the show in earlier episodes. I didn’t get to finish the show until it was on DVD, and it didn’t really set in and begin to make sense until I watched it again a few years later. I tried to watch Fire Walk With Me earlier, too, and like the initial audience at Cannes back in 1992, I thought it was a bad, disjointed movie.
But watching the show as a grown-ass adult, and re-watching the movie with a better understanding of the themes and subjects Twin Peaks – and Fire Walk With Me in particular – tackled, it felt like I was watching a completely different show. Throughout the years, Twin Peaks has stuck with me as one of the very, very few things I’ve consistently loved. My relationship with it, though, has changed as I’ve changed.
What just happened?
Let’s see if we can sum this up. In the woods near the town of Twin Peaks lives a great evil of some kind. That evil had been at work for years, but when we came in in 1990, it’d possessed Leland Palmer and used him to repeatedly assault and finally kill his daughter, Laura Palmer. FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper was called in to investigate the murder, and in the course of that we learned about the spirit that called itself BOB, which possessed Leland and fed itself off of pain.
In an effort to stop that great evil, Cooper followed the evil into the place from which it originates, called the Black Lodge. Cooper was trapped in the lodge for 25 years, replaced in the real world by his doppelganger, Mr. C.
Twin Peaks: The Return picks up when Coop finally escapes the lodge with instructions from the giant, who we now know is called the Fireman, to stop this great evil. He escapes via another doppelganger Mr. C had set up as an apparent backup plan, and that’s Dougie Jones, a gross insurance salesman with a taste for gambling and prostitutes, who looked like a twisted version of Coop the same way Mr. C did.
The Return is about Cooper trying to take back control of his form and his fate so that he can fight the evil that took Laura Palmer and will likely threaten the greater world.
Cooper finally regains control after a long struggle and makes it back to Twin Peaks in time to have a showdown with Mr C., which ends with the spirit BOB being destroyed. But we learn in the finale that there’s an evil greater than BOB afoot, something Director Cole (played by director David Lynch himself) and his team have come to call Judy. With BOB destroyed, Cooper knows there’s still work to be done, and steps into Judy’s world to undo Laura’s murder at the hands of BOB and fight whatever it is Judy is, and that ends up twisting up time and space.
That leaves us with the final episode: A strange Cooper waking to a note addressed to Richard, in a city in Texas. He seeks out and finds Laura Palmer, but she’s never heard of Laura Palmer or Twin Peaks; her name is Carrie Page. The two travel to Laura Palmer’s house, where Carrie can hear a voice whispering for Laura – from the house? From the Black Lodge? Cooper asks, “What year is it?” and Carrie – or is it Laura? – screams the way only actress Sheryl Lee can scream.
In between all of that are tons of little plot threads that offer clues to the greater story and its themes, that help set the tone of the other scenes, or offer relief from the tension those scenes create. The central story, though, is pretty basic: It’s good versus evil, where good is a few honest lawmen and evil is an ancient, otherworldly force. Even when they’re well-prepared, it goes about as well as you’d think.
It’s not about answers
Every incarnation of Twin Peaks teases us with answers, giving us small bits of closure, confirmation on some theories. Every real answer, though, just cracks open a whole new cooler of questions.
Twin Peaks: The Return was never going to be about Cooper returning to the town, eating cherry pie, drinking coffee, and being his old, quirky self. And we were never going to get a final, simple conclusion.
“…there are so many clues and feelings in the world that it makes a mystery and a mystery means there’s a puzzle to be solved. Once you start thinking like that you’re hooked on finding a meaning, and there are many avenues in life where we’re given little indications that the mystery can be solved. We get little proofs – not the big proof – but the little proofs keep us going. That there is a mystery is a huge thrill. That there’s more going on than meets the eye is a thrilling thing.”
In other words, the mystery is the fun, and Lynch himself knows that no answer will be better than the mystery.
Very few shows manage to last much past their air dates. But here we’re talking about Twin Peaks a quarter-century later not just because it came back, but because it never left. People have been discovering it over the years, asking the same questions fans asked right after it aired and, better yet, finding new questions to ask.
The same, but different
The Return feels like a clear forward evolution for the series. The show started within the confines of a network television show and had to obey the rules of a broadcast show. Once the network squeezed and pushed the creators, Mark Frost and David Lynch, they gave us a two-part finale that was part middle-finger to the network and part a hint at what was to come. An explosion punctuated the lives of many of the characters, while our hero Dale Cooper found himself trapped inside the Black Lodge.
If we’d thought the Log lady, the Giant, and the owls were weird we had no idea what we were in for with the Black Lodge. Here, we finally saw David Lynch unleashed. The guy famous for Eraserhead and Blue Velvet was finally showing us what this show was really all about.
That continued in Fire Walk With Me, a movie that discarded much of the whimsy, but kept the weird. The humor was replaced, to a great degree, with horror. Lynch began to use the camera and symbolism to tell his story.
Twin Peaks – every incarnation – has always been a mix of absurd humor, existential dread, and deep mystery, hidden under a veil of Americana. Times changed, and just what Americana is changed, which is where The Return comes in. The world of 2017 is much more interconnected than it was in 1990. The internet as we know it wasn’t even a thing then, and neither were mobile phones. Small towns aren’t the same places they were. Lynch even plays with this idea early in the series when the new Sheriff Truman walks into the Sheriff Station where the ever-present Lucy is still answering phones after all these years. Lucy had been talking to the Sheriff just moments before on his cellphone, believing him to be in the mountains. When she saw him standing before her, she screamed in fright.
Lucy is the notion that small town life doesn’t change, and the new Sheriff Truman is proof that it very much has. While Twin Peaks itself has changed, the evil roiling underneath never changes.
So we come back to a darker version of the world, where evil is hard at work, and good has to re-learn itself, step by step. The evil isn’t just in Twin Peaks, either. It’s spreading, and it’s now in South Dakota, Las Vegas, and New York, too. Or maybe it’s always been there.
In a way, Twin Peaks is a sort of modern-day Lovecraft story. The horrors the characters in those stories faced were beyond comprehension, and understanding was an impossibility. The deeper Agent Cooper dives into these horrors, the harder answers become to find.
After the finale, I visited the Twin Peaks subreddit and found people spitting some serious salt over the ending, angry that the show hadn’t answered the questions it put forward and had left so many plot threads dangling. We got closure to a few things: BOB is dead. Ed and Norma were finally together. Nadine had her silent-running drape business. Lucy and Andy had a (very weird) kid. Audrey lived, in some way, through the explosion at the end of the original series. Janey-E and Sonny Jim got their Dougie Jones back.
But the bigger questions were left unanswered. How does the Black Lodge work? Is Dale Cooper actually Dale Cooper? Does Dale get a happy ending? Did he actually save Laura Palmer? What year is it?
There’s no word on whether a fourth season of Twin Peaks is a possibility. There are certainly enough questions and concepts left over for the show to mine if they chose to do another one. And Lynch thoroughly proved that he can make an 18-hour movie, break it up, and give us something that’s not only watchable but intensely compelling.
There’s nothing I can say about Twin Peaks: The Return that will truly convey how I feel about it. But I’m glad we didn’t get answers to so many of the questions the show put forward. I’m happy. I have so many questions to think about, so many ideas to latch onto and nurse.
Almost 30 years ago, David Lynch dropped a bomb on the television-watching world with the original Twin Peaks. It brought a new level of production values to home viewers and got us thinking about television in ways we never had. The show is credited with putting many of the trends so commonplace in television in motion. And now, after four months and eighteen hours, we have a master class in what television can be.