‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ Dropped an A-Bomb on Traditional Television

Twin Peaks: The Return

This piece contains many spoilers for Twin Peaks: The Return. 

In an era where shows are resurrected and wallow in nothing but fan service and nostalgia for the entirety of their season, Twin Peaks: The Return was so brazen in its confounding construction that it defied any notion of expectations. There was plenty of excitement among fans of Twin Peaks to return to that bizarre woodsy town in Washington, stopping off for pie and coffee at the Double R Diner, and yet creators David Lynch and Mark Frost were content in leaving the series conclude with a number of loose ends, dangling story threads that have obviously frustrated those seeking the elusive nature of closure. In its two-part finale, Twin Peaks: The Return raised more questions than it answered and proved once and for all that this revival redefined long form storytelling on television, rarely delivering what fans wanted but never disappointing nonetheless.

From the very start of Twin Peaks: The Return, Lynch and Frost were loud and clear that your expectations as to where the series will go with these characters 25 years later isn’t important. Your expectations are poison and will be avoided at all costs. Just look at how little of the series actually took place within Twin Peaks, and how rarely the characters from the original show had some sort of resolution to their limited story arcs. And yet the show was a rollercoaster ride of bewilderment and dread, building on so many levels before taking wild, unexpected turns into dark places that nobody could quite expect. Why would anyone expect that the series’ conclusion would be any different?

“Part 16” and “Part 17” teetered close to providing elements of closure. After languishing as Dougie Jones for a majority of the season, Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) finally returned to form in the 16th episode. In the next episode, the confrontation between Special Agent Dale Cooper and his evil doppelganger concluded in the Twin Peak Sheriff’s Office, with many familiar faces from this season looking on as Freddie (Jake Wardel) with his indestructible hand thanks to the lone dishwashing glove battles the disembodied orb of Bob (the late Frank Silva). It was an inevitable showdown that played out unlike anything ever on television before.

Once Bob is defeated, the orb shattering into pieces and fading away, Twin Peaks: The Return stops answering questions and begins adding more and more layers to the mystery, confusing half of the viewers while enchanting the other half. The face of Dale Cooper becomes superimposed over the frame, and this is where Twin Peaks: The Return becomes open for all sorts of interpretations to attempt and explain the final events. “The past dictates the future,” Cooper says before the mysterious Naido (Nae Yuuki) is revealed to be Diane (Laura Dern), who was also trapped in the Black Lodge. This idyllic scenario with so many familiar faces gathered around a triumphant Cooper takes on a dream-like quality, and that’s amplified when the superimposed face of Cooper says at a slower speed than everything else, “We live inside a dream.” The clock on the wall fails to tick in a normal fashion, going back and forth in a moment in time. Is all of this a dream? Is all of this an alternate universe? We may never know and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Every shot, every line of dialogue will parsed over for months and years to come in search of answers that might not even be there. So often people make the mistake that work of David Lynch is meant to be decoded and not simply experienced in the moment. Bewilderment and disorientation are what the legendary filmmaker strives for, and that means shunning any traditional narrative conclusion. The only concrete answers provided by the final two episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return are that Janey-E Jones (Naomi Watts) and Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon) have a happy ending, with a brand new Dougie Jones created by the spirit Mike (Al Strobel), the one-armed man in the Red Room.

Other than that, the fate of so many characters and the exact events of what occurs once Evil Coop and Bob have been dispelled are open to wide interpretation. Most notably, the absence of any answers as to what exactly was going on with Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) after the shocking reveal at the end of “Part 16,” which seemed to indicate that she was trapped in a dream-like state, perhaps still in a coma. Who was Billy? The oft-discussed never seen character is another loose end that will linger in the minds of viewers. We’re also left to ponder exactly what was up with Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie). What exactly was the dark spirit tormenting her, and what was up with her ability to remove her face and bite off a man’s throat in a bar? When it comes right down to it, these questions seem rather quaint and unimportant when compared to the big questions left lingering after the final episode.

“Part 17” concludes with Agent Cooper confronting the kettle-like version of Agent Jefferies (originally David Bowie in Fire Walk with Me and now voiced by Nathan Frizzell) which leads Cooper to travel back in time, moments before Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is killed by Leland Palmer (Ray Wise), who is possessed by the evil spirit Bob. This black and white flashback looks to redefine everything that we’ve ever known about Twin Peaks, with Agent Cooper extending a hand to the young Laura Palmer and promising to take her “home.” Then it flashes back to the pilot episode only this time the plastic-wrapped body of Laura Palmer isn’t by the water. It would seem as if Agent Cooper had prevented the cold-blooded murder of a teenage girl over 25 years after the fact.

If only it was that easy for Agent Dale Cooper and the rapt audience of Twin Peaks: The Return. It’s not going to be that simple and “Part 18” of the revived series ends of a shocking, confusing, and unsettling note that will reverberate for years to come. The newly freed Diane and Agent Cooper drive 430 miles along some power lines where they’ll go through to another place, something that’s never made exactly clear, maybe another dimension or another place in time. The two stop at a roadside hotel where Diane sees another doppelganger of herself while Cooper checks into the hotel. Diane and Cooper have sex as The Platters’ “My Prayer” plays. This matters because the song was exact song playing in “Part 8” when the Woodsman emerges and begins his slaughter at the radio station before reciting his cryptic message over the airwaves. Cooper then wakes up to find a note from Diane only she calls him Richard and signs the letter Linda, something that echoes back to the first episode and the initial encounter with the Fireman (Carel Struycken).

Exiting the hotel, everything has changed. The car is different. The hotel is different. Even Coop seems different, not quite the enthusiastic optimist that had finally been revived. Coop almost has the stoic, detached demeanor of his Bob-possessed self that haunted much of Twin Peaks: The Return and yet there’s still that twinkle of good in his eye that makes you think that he’s trapped between these two sides. It leads to a violent exchange in a diner, conveniently named Judy’s, where Cooper seems to unleash a level of brutality that we’ve never seen from him before, a level of menace that only existed in his tanned, evil other half. Despite that, there’s still a sense of duty within this version of Coop, one that, once again, proves that Kyle MacLachlan has delivered an all-time great performance that weaves in and out of so many variations of a single character.

This journey that is overflowing with various questions leads Agent Cooper to the doorstep of Carrie Page (Sherlyn Lee), whom he asks if she’s Laura Palmer. The FBI agent convinces the waitress to leave her Texas home and travel to Twin Peaks in a search for some kind of closure. Meanwhile, a dead man with a bullet hole in his head lies on her couch for some unknown reason. The two drive to Twin Peaks sitting mostly in silence and the darkness surrounds them both. Arriving at the old home of Laura Palmer, Agent Cooper knocks on the door expecting Sarah Palmer but getting a complete stranger instead. The names Tremond and Chalfort are mentioned as previous owners, and there’s a little nod to the events of Fire Walk with Me, another little revelation that leaves more questions than answered.

Walking away from the Palmer home dejected, Cooper doesn’t get far before asking the question that will haunt Twin Peaks fans forever (unless by some miracle there is another season): “What year is it?” Suddenly, more questions swirl around the head of the viewer. Was it time travel? Is it an alternate dimension? Wait, what? Staring up at the home, mysterious sounds start to swirl around Carrie Page before she unleashes a blood-curdling scream, just as Laura Palmer did in the Red Room nearly 25 years ago. The scream wails through the neighborhood and then the lights go out. The end. Or is it? As the credits role, the screen is filled with an image of Laura Palmer whispering into the ear of Agent Cooper in the Red Room. Once again, the questions mount as answers are in short supply.

The theories as to these climactic events are in ample supply, with some speculating that Cooper has saved Laura Palmer only to inadvertently torment her by bringing her alternate self to the source of her ghastly trauma. We don’t need to have concrete answers in the world of Twin Peaks, and David Lynch isn’t the kind of storyteller interested in wrapping everything up with a pretty little bow. The ambiguity of the ending of Twin Peaks: The Return does leave plenty of room for a whole new season of mystery if Frost, Lynch, and Showtime are interested. At the same time, it wouldn’t be a wholly inappropriate conclusion for the entire saga. We’re not owed answers. We’re not owed happy endings. We’re not owed satisfaction. We can just scream into the void because there are no answers to the biggest questions surrounding existence. Taking a journey through space and time in hopes for some resolution only to discover an unending loop of misery and evil may feel anti-climactic to some, but it’s the inherent horror of the ending to Twin Peaks: The Return.

From the start, Twin Peaks: The Return proved to be a television event unlike anything to ever occur, the work of artists playing by their own rules with a keen understanding of what expectations were and devotion to avoid meeting those expectations at every turn. I, for one, would gladly welcome a continuation to all that just happened, a new season to shed a few more layers of the mystery while adding many more questions. Now that it’s over, I’m just grateful I got to experience something so singular, something that refused to give into the simple appeal of nostalgia, something that took brazen chances, something that changed the way we look at long form storytelling. There was a bit of fan service in Twin Peaks: The Return, but that was always overshadowed by what was left unsaid about the characters and where they were going. David Lynch and Mark Frost reminded us that we can’t really go home. It’s a long journey that may lead us into avenues we should never venture down. They dropped an atomic bomb on television and blew the minds of everyone willing to ride the bomb into the chaos. Twin Peaks: The Return was ghastly, comic, romantic, mysterious, and unlike anything ever to come before it. It was some damn fine coffee.

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