Written by Mark Frost & David Lynch
Directed by David Lynch
This won’t be the standard dissection, but more a reflection on the emotions and ideas I have had in the week following the finale of Twin Peaks: The Return. My immediate reaction was a strong feeling in the gut, a sense of being overwhelmed, but overall positive. I was definitely ready to ruminate and one day reexamine the piece in its entirety. As with all work by Lynch, there is no Meaning, there are many meanings and understandings. He would be the first to not put authorial voice over your own interpretation and has never shown an interest in decomposing his work. As he says, “the work is the work.”
Twin Peaks is a fantastic piece of dissonant art, and Lynch welcomes conflicting feelings with the positive. Even if you feel you hated it, it is wonderful to reflect on the fact that a piece of cinema still has the power to elicit powerful emotions from viewers. So often media just finds the center of the road and works hard to not step on any toes. But Twin Peaks is art, and so it challenges and doesn’t try to make itself comfortable for you. The viewer should be the one to put in work to understand the complexities of what they are seeing.
I have begun to develop some fundamental ideas about what is happening in that final hour of the program. Nothing is concrete yet, but I did take the advice of an interesting Medium article that recommended watching Parts 17 & 18 simultaneously. There are a lot of moments of connection when viewed that way, and it reinforces the cyclical nature of time even further.
My first theory is one that puts a bleak tone across the ending. Agent Cooper has just defeated his doppelganger and Bob. Diane has returned, and he is reunited with the people of Twin Peaks. But he refuses to happy with this and has to push further. Cooper bends the very laws of nature and time to travel back and prevent Laura’s death. The level of hubris he is exuding in the final moments of Part 17 is pretty gross. But Judy will not let him change this. In Part 18, now mastering travel between worlds he and Diane cross into a universe created by Judy to hide Laura from him. In Part 17, the One-Armed Man greets him, reciting the poem, which mentions two worlds. I would ask you to revisit that moment and think about the tone he recites with. What does that tell us about this moment?
In the Judy-verse, Cooper keeps making mistakes and ignoring the warning The Fireman told him about in Part 1. Diane knows something is wrong but has her identity erased as she becomes Linda and Cooper is turned into Richard. Cooper doesn’t heed the warning coded into that letter and continues. He isn’t the Cooper we know any more at this point, he resembles Doop strangely enough. He is unemotional and very violent in the diner scene. Laura, now Carrie Page, is dealing with some major issues in her new life out of Odessa, Texas. Instead of Cooper doing anything to truly help her, he continues to blindly pursue his mission to ‘bring her home”. To what? That remained very unclear. Her father still would have been possessed by Bob back in 1989, so wouldn’t he have just killed her some other way.
Cooper has become like Phillip Jeffries, a man consumed by his mission as an FBI agent and a need to understand what this other realm of existence is. Jeffries’ physical form has decomposed over his time in the Black Lodge. His mind is fractured when we see him in Fire Walk With Me. Jeffries is a warning about what happens with hubris and obsession overtake a person. Cooper pays this no mind. In the final scene, as he is at his wit’s end, notice the strange posture Cooper takes, very similar to the stumbling walk of Jeffries when he came into the Philadelphia offices, even pointing into the air. Gordon Cole stated that Jeffries doesn’t exist anymore, “at least not in the conventional sense.” Cooper asks “What year is it?” This is because he has become untethered from the fabric of space and time. He is in a hell of his own making, forged by Judy because Cooper couldn’t just let go. Her victory is the never-ending torment of Laura Palmer and as a result, the pain of Cooper who cannot close this case.
My second theory and the one I hold close to my heart because it is more optimistic begins with the same point: Cooper won’t give up. Cooper is ascending through the levels of reality. When the One-Armed Man greets him under the Great Northern, the recitation of the poem is an initiation. Cooper like others before him is a magician, crying out between two worlds. When we see Cooper exit the Red Room in Part 18, he controls the curtains and thus the way out. He even knows how to cross into other universes.
Judy tries her damnedest to force Cooper to turn back. She alters reality by changing the identities of he and Diane. Judy saps Cooper of his personality. She turns the motel and car, in an attempt to distort geography and disorient him. Judy makes sure Carrie isn’t at the diner, and she even sends three dudes to kill Cooper. She has Carrie embroiled in a juicy and intriguing mystery that could sidetrack the story for a whole season. The phone is even ringing as Cooper and Carrie leave the house, another way to hold him back. They drive through a seemingly never ending night, Judy trying to keep Twin Peaks out of their grasp.
When Cooper and Carrie arrive at the house, Judy has changed the fabric of time so that the Palmers appear to have never owned the house. In fact, the actress playing the home’s owner is the woman who owns that house in real life. Judy does everything she can to foil Cooper’s investigation. The Fireman has countered her though, creating ways to remind Cooper what he is experiencing is a lie. The names Richard and Judy were told to him beforehand. The diner is called Judy’s as a reminder. Outside Carrie’s house in a utility pole with 6 on it, a sign of evil. Inside on the mantle is a white horse, another sign of the Black Lodge. The previous homeowners of the Palmer house are the Chalfonts, and the current owners are the Tremonds, both names associated with the Black Lodge spirits of the grandmother and her grandson. They owned the trailer in Teresa Banks’ trailer park, and now they have the Palmer home.
Anyone who has been faced with such obstacles would naturally give up. Cooper has failed. But, with no other leads, he begins at the most basic element to get a foothold. “What year is it?” Like the consummate detective he is, if he can figure out the year, then he can ask the next question and so on and so on. Following this pattern of deduction, he can regain his bearings and solve this mystery. This is the moment where Judy loses. She will never stop Dale Cooper, he is unstoppable. Laura remembers who she is, bathed in the horror of that moment, but given truth. The electricity, a symbol of the Black Lodge, goes off in the Palmer House. Cooper will never return to the world of the material. Like The Fireman and The One-Armed Man, he is a spirit of the Lodges now. The case is closed. For me, for us the viewers, the case is still one we’ll spend the next 25 years investigating.