So, David Lynch thought it would be ironically perverse to end Twin Peaks: The Return with just as traumatic a cliffhanger that concluded the original series 25 years ago. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This is, after all, a two-part finale, and “Part 17” had a lot of work to do as various subplots hurtled to their conclusion.
Mind you, that doesn’t mean to say we haven’t got time for a knob gag. When Gordon Cole (David Lynch) mopes about his failure to gun down the Diane tulpa, Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) suggests he’s gone soft in his old age. Cole quips “not where it counts, buddy”, and I swear Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell) blushed. Sadly, this state of affairs doesn’t make up for the fact that, 16 hours in, Cole also apologetically info-dumps all over the series’ mythos.
It seems he’s withheld vital intelligence from Albert for 25 years. Cole reveals that Major Briggs (the late Don Davis) shared with himself and Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) his discovery of an entity called Jowday; “an extreme negative force” that over time has had its name corrupted to Judy. Clearly, this is the Judy that Phillip Jeffries mentioned in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), and about whom we were debating a few weeks ago in “Part 15”. It isn’t clear if this entity is The Experiment seen in “Part 8”, the being that killed the glass box observers in “Part 1”, or whatever possessed Sarah Palmer but, reading between the lines, it feels that this is as good an interpretation as any.
The exposition is a bit clunky and doesn’t really explain why Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) doesn’t know who or what Judy is, because Dale Cooper clearly knew. He, Briggs, and Cole were part of plan to find Judy. Cole believes that those who “were on to this entity” have a habit of disappearing. An extreme case was Phillip Jeffries who “doesn’t really exist anymore, at least not in the normal sense.” Cooper, before he disappeared, ordered Cole to do all he could to find him because “I’m trying to kill two birds with one stone.” While Cole links this to the two Coopers they’ve discovered, I also think this outlines the overall mission that Cooper was on: to rescue Laura Palmer and reset the timeline to prevent Jowday’s infiltration of Twin Peaks.
The explanations continue with Cole revealing that Ray Monroe was an FBI informant and had warned them that Mr. C was tracking certain coordinates. When Cole apologises to Albert for excluding him from this data, it almost feels like Lynch is apologising to the audience for taking a crowbar to “Part 17” to jam in all this exposition within 10-minutes. Bushnell Mullins (Don Murray), on cue, passes Dale Cooper’s message on at the hospital. Rather cryptically, Cooper offers that he is heading to Twin Peaks, it’s 2.53pm in Las Vegas, and that this adds up to 10, the number of completion.
The latter suggests that we’re heading towards a conclusion where Cooper will “kill two birds with one stone.” Tammy and Albert compound the feeling that Lynch and and co-creator Mark Frost are into exposition overload by underlining the ‘Dougie is Dale Cooper’ connections to the assassination attempts, the Mitchum brothers, and his hospitalisation from an electric shock. The audience knows this, and there’s no mystery about it for us now. Cole declares the screamingly obvious, “a Blue Rose case most definitely!” Yes, Messrs. Lynch and Frost. Apology accepted. Let’s move on…
Back in Twin Peaks, Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) is informed that the Jackson Hole Police Department have picked up his errant stoner brother, Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly). Mr. C’s adherence to the coordinates take him off the highway and to the vortex entrance at Jack Rabbit’s Palace, the place in the woods Major Briggs directed Bobby (Dana Ashbrook), Sheriff Truman (Robert Forster) and Deputy Andy (Harry Goaz) to in “Part 14“. This was also where Andy encountered The Fireman (Carel Struycken) and rescued eyeless Naido (Nae Yuuki).
Mr. C is caged and, observed by Major Briggs’ floating head, sent through the apparatus in the theatre we saw The Fireman use to send the Laura globe to Earth in “Part 8”. He’s thus transported directly to the Sheriff’s station in Twin Peaks. Presumably, all of it was planned to bring him face to face with Dale Cooper for the final showdown. It’s worth noting how The Fireman can manipulate the vortex. He’s seen switching images on a screen, from Jack Rabbit’s Palace, via Sarah Palmer’s house (bear that in mind for “Part 18”), to the car park outside the Sheriff’s station. This is where he sends Mr. C because, as originally stated back in “Part 1”, one of the Coopers has to die and return to the Black Lodge.
Mr. C’s arrival coincides with the disreputable Deputy Chad Broxford (John Pirruccello) attempting a jail break using a key hidden in his shoe, while Naido, the creature rescued from the vortex, gets increasingly agitated as she senses Mr. C’s approach. While Andy and Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) are initially led to believe Mr. C is Dale Cooper, Chad’s jailbreak is thwarted by Freddie (Jake Wardle), the green-gloved cockney whose destiny is about to be fulfilled. Andy also recalls part of the vision he saw when he was with The Fireman, and it turns out to be a “very important” future prediction: the man in Truman’s office is not Cooper, and certainly Frank Truman himself is wary. “Cooper… Cooper,” he muses about the doppelgänger’s presence and Cooper’s dual existence.
When Lucy gets a phone call from Dale Cooper and transfers it to Frank Truman, the joke about Lucy’s inability to cope with mobile phones in “Part 4” pays off. She realises that the Cooper in Truman’s office is a doppelgänger and shoots down Mr. C, just as he realises that his nemesis is on the other end of Truman’s phone. In the jail cell, Freddie’s magic fist puts paid to Chad. The mimicking drunk (Jay Aaseng), whom we all thought was the Billy that Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) was looking for, falls quiet. It’s as if he was there simply to harass Chad.
Like some baroque version of Stanley Kramer’s It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), where an ensemble cast of misfits go on a cross country treasure hunt to find a hidden $350,000, the Sheriff’s office gathers together the jail occupants: James Hurley (James Marshall), Freddie and Naido, Dale Cooper, the Mitchums (Robert Knepper, Jim Belushi) and their casino servers Candie, Mandie and Sandie (Amy Shiels, Andréa Leal and Giselle DaMier), and finally, after BOB’s demise, Bobby Briggs, Gordon, Albert, and Tammy. When we witness the arrival of the Woodsmen attempting to revive the dead Mr. C. it is, of course, where Freddie and his super fist gets to complete his destiny.
The black sphere containing the essence of BOB emerges and attacks Cooper. It’s a completely absurd, slightly ridiculous scene, as a bouncing black ball with BOB’s screaming face (Frank Silva) gets sucker punched into oblivion by young Freddie. Oddly, it reminded me of Pinback’s fight with the beach ball alien in John Carpenter’s Dark Star (1974). Regardless of some slightly dodgy digital effects, the essence of BOB is eventually shattered into pieces by Freddie and vanishes. Cooper places the owl ring on Mr. C and his duplicate is returned to the Black Lodge. “One for the grandkids,” offers Rodney Mitchum, in perhaps the understatement of the year, to the first half-hour of “Part 17”. Now that destiny’s been manifested, it’s time to get back to the other part of Cooper’s mission because, as the Log Lady predicted, “Laura is the one.”
Major Briggs — yes, him again! — informed Cooper that Sheriff Truman would have the Great Northern hotel room key, which was returned to him by Ben Horne. As he turns to Naido and recognises something about her, Lynch overlaps a close up of Cooper’s face onto the scene. It seems to suggest that Cooper is now seeing this within a dream state, observing himself as events play out. When Bobby Briggs and Gordon Cole arrive and Bobby asks in exasperation, “what’s going on around here?”, I think Bradley Mitchum sums it all up with “took the words right outta my fuckin’ mouth!” By bringing them all to that one room, it feels like a curtain call for all the characters as Cooper’s superimposed face watches the end of this particular reality. “Now there are some things that will change. The past dictates the future,” intones Cooper, giving us a great big hint of what’s in store for “Part 18”. A good job there are plenty of sandwiches to keep our strength up.
When Cooper connects physically with Naido, she undergoes a transformation. It seems she’s a tulpa, a version of Diane (Laura Dern) made in the Red Room. Another Diane materialises in the Sheriff’s office, embracing Cooper and acknowledging that he’s “the one and only” Cooper and she remembers everything that happened. They turn to look at the clock on the wall: it remains at 2.53pm, the time Cooper noted in his message to Cole. This was also the time that the American Girl’s watch was stuck at in the purple room back in “Part 3”, the time that Cooper exited that dimension and reappeared as Dougie, and the time that Mr. C crashed his car on the highway.
Time is looping, Twin Peaks is looping.
We’ve been noticing dimensional overlaps throughout the series, where Space and Time have been disjointed. In slowed down speech, the superimposed face of Cooper states “we live inside a dream.” It echoes the observation by Monica Bellucci in Cole’s dream, featured in “Part 14”, that “we are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream. But who is the dreamer?” It suggests this reality of Twin Peaks is over, for now, and Cooper is saying farewell with “I hope to see all of you again, every one of you.” The scene fades to black.
Emerging from the darkness, Cooper enters his old hotel room door in the basement of the Great Northern, leaving Cole and Diane behind and warning them “I’m going through this door. Don’t try to follow me. Either of you.” They bid him farewell and he nods to Diane, saying “see you at the curtain call.” A reference to the Red Room and its exit in Glastonbury Grove, perhaps.
The hotel door is another portal, and one-armed Mike (Al Strobel) greets him with the poem, previously recited in episode 2 of the original series, when Mike described how he and BOB lived above the convenience store: “Through the darkness of future’s past, the magician longs to see. One chants out between two worlds… Fire Walk With Me.” Mike leads him back to the Dutchman’s motel, via the upstairs of the convenience store and the image of the jumping man. He meets with the steam producing machine that’s really Phillip Jeffries, and is asked for a specific date. Cooper offers 23rd February 1989 and Jeffries suggests “this is where you’ll find Judy.” It’s the night of Laura’s death.
We see an owl symbol float in the air, transform into an 8 or the symbol of infinity, a never-ending loop of time. We see the current position in time marked, the sign then reverses and the position shifts to, we assume, 1989 and Cooper is allowed to enter. “Cooper, remember… eee-lec-tricity,” must be a reminder of how to travel between dimensions, how to return to the present day.
In monochrome, the episode flashes back to footage in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The ominous fan on the landing in the Palmer house leads us to the scene where Laura (Sheryl Lee) meets with James, observed by her BOB-possessed father Leland. She abandons James in the woods as her destiny is to meet with Leo Johnson (Eric DaRae), Jacques Renault (Walter Olkewicz), and Ronette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine) and die in the train car. However, Dale Cooper has arrived from the future and Laura seems to know him from a dream. He prevents her from attending that fatal meeting.
She believes she’s seen him in her dreams (another reference to Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me) and takes Cooper’s hand. Her dead body, wrapped in plastic outside Blue Pine Lodge, vanishes from the timeline. The past has been altered and the scene blossoms into colour. Pete Martell (Jack Nance) goes fishing and doesn’t recover Laura Palmer’s body. Back in the woods, Laura asks Cooper where he is taking her and he states “we’re going home.”
However, in the Palmer home something very strange is going on. We don’t know if this is in the past or the future, but after some off-screen wailing we see Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) take the iconic image of Laura as prom queen and attack it repeatedly as crackles of electricity and backwards noises of shattering glass fill the soundtrack. The image of Laura’s photo being attacked loops repeatedly. This again suggests the entity has taken control of Sarah and the negative force is still affecting Twin Peaks.
In the woods, Laura suddenly vanishes from Cooper’s grasp, screaming as the negative force — the entity, the Mother—plucks her from the timeline. The woods dissolve into the red-curtained stage of the Roadhouse. Julee Cruise, singing ‘The World Spins’, sums up this frustrated rescue mission. “Love. Don’t go away. Come back this way. Come back and stay. Forever and ever. Please stay.”
While “Part 17” offered conclusions, of a kind, to the story we think has been unfolding, “Part 18” takes that sense of closure and refashions it into a new mystery. Cooper may have been caught in a time loop all along, watching Mr. C spread the negative force through this version of reality. He’s the Good Dale, the future magician trapped in the Lodge, dreaming to his counterpart back in time to destroy BOB and prevent Laura’s death. It leaves the way open for another version of Cooper to continue his odyssey through a multi-verse of growing complexity.
As soon as Cooper returns to 1989, to rescue Laura and prevent her death, the reality we know, filled with all the familiar Twin Peaks characters, completely changes. We don’t see the conclusion to some stories, particularly Audrey’s, and that’s very frustrating. Time folds and alters and, while Laura’s murder is prevented, there are other consequences when she’s taken out of this reality.
Back in the Lodge, the body of Mr. C burns and is consumed. We see Mike prepare a new tulpa of Cooper using the tuft of hair given to him in “Part 16”, the golden seed, and that occult force of electricity. The new Cooper is transported to Dougie’s house and a happy ending of sorts, given the growing darkness of the finale, is achieved when he’s reunited with Janey-E (Naomi Watts) and Sonny Jim (Pierre Gagnon). It’s a lovely, uplifting moment before the true bleakness sets in…
The Dale Cooper back in 1989 returns to the Red Room in the Black Lodge and, after Mike enquires if this is the future or the past, the Evolution of the Arm wonders “is it the story of the little girl who lived down the lane?” Audrey used this description in her ‘therapy’ with Charlie and it could equally describe Laura. It seems to suggest it’s the latter, as we see Laura whispering into Cooper’s ear again before she screams and is whisked away. Cooper meets a distraught Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) once more and he begs of the FBI agent “find Laura.”
We’re not sure which version of Cooper emerges to greet Diane in Glastonbury Grove. “Is it you? Is it really you?” she asks, and although he confirms “it’s really me, Diane”, and she does likewise of herself, we gradually become aware that things are about to change significantly. To find Laura, Cooper instinctively knows he has to reach 430 miles (that symbolic number again) on the highway by a range of electricity pylons (that symbolic energy again) and flip into what he believes is another reality. They are both aware of the dangers. “Once we cross it could all be different.”
They emerge on a highway in the dead of night. That archetypal image that Lynch returns to again and again takes us through “Part 18” and back to a home that’s always been the centre of the story. Although it feels as if the whole of the Twin Peaks we knew at this point has gone, a version of it continues. They arrive at a motel where, as Cooper goes to the reception office, Diane briefly sees a doppelgänger of herself. The different dimensions and versions of themselves continue to overlap. These images of motels, convenience stores and gas stations resonate as deeply disturbing variations of the Americana in Edward Hopper’s paintings. They’re suffused with loneliness and emptiness.
Their motel room sex is equally bleak. It’s a mirror of the sex scene in “Part 10” between Janey-E and Dougie — Diane’s sister and a version of Cooper — but here Diane insists on covering up Cooper’s face in the midst of passion (it reminds her of the rape she endured with Mr. C perhaps) and we get The Platters “My Prayer” playing on the soundtrack again. It was last heard in “Part 8”, when the Woodsmen arrived at the radio station and the young girl was possessed by the hybrid creature. The lyrics resonate with the idea of keeping romance and spirituality alive “at the end of the day in a dream that’s divine.”
It may also be a process in which Diane becomes Linda and Cooper becomes Richard, or they leave one dream to enter another, different one. When ‘Richard’ wakes in the morning he’s left with a letter from Linda. He calls out for Diane but she’s not there. When he leaves the motel, it’s a different motel, and it’s even a different car he finds parked outside. Reality has altered since their arrival the previous night and, in fact, looking at the motel decor and the make of car, it suggests that they arrived from a previous decade and he’s leaving the motel in a future decade. It ties in with the Lynchian concerns about loss of identity, gender confusion, pain and pleasure, corruption and nostalgia.
Driving on the highway, the name of a diner, Judy’s, piques Cooper’s interest and compels him to ask about an absent waitress. He is a different Dale Cooper; harder and colder, and he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. When a group of cowboys harass the waitress (Francesca Eastwood), he intercedes violently and deep fries their sidearms. The waitress gives him the address of the missing waitress and this leads him to an older version of Laura Palmer, now known as Carrie Page (Sheryl Lee).
Carrie briefly recognises the name of Sarah Palmer as Cooper questions her about her background. “What’s going on?” she gasps at the mention of Laura’s mother. “It’s difficult to explain,” offers Cooper. You betcha! She’s also clearly in as much trouble as her younger counterpart, if the dead body in her bungalow is anything to go by. Like Laura, she places her trust in this Dale Cooper and travels with him to her mother’s home in Twin Peaks, Washington state. However, as we all know, home is not where the heart is.
At the end of “Part 18” we’re in a very different town of Twin Peaks, and it’s one at the end of a lonely, empty overnight drive, at the end of a lost highway and a single gas station. These are long, silent scenes filled with utter dread, utter emptiness. They drive across the bridge into a deserted Twin Peaks and arrive at the Palmer residence. This ending is surely a warning about trying to get back to your home, to try and re-create or re-discover the home where you once belonged, where you felt safe for a little while. The home in Twin Peaks is a threatening domain and the Palmer house is perhaps the most unheimlich of them all.
It’s only when the perplexed Cooper and the increasingly anxious Carrie leave the front door and stand in the street, after their conversation with the current owner Mrs.Tremond (Mary Reber, the real owner of the house used in the series, for a weird bit of fiction-reality overlay on Lynch’s part) that we really begin to comprehend what’s going on. Mrs. Tremond, also known as Mrs. Chalfont, takes us back to Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. She was an old woman who lived with her grandson at the Fat Trout trailer park, met with the Lodge spirits above the convenience store, and was on Laura Palmer’s meals-on-wheels delivery schedule in Twin Peaks season 2. Like everyone connected to the Lodge in the series, her identity keeps changing.
Her presence indicates that evil has not been vanquished in Twin Peaks. It suggests that Twin Peaks exists at a quantum level, in an ‘implicate order’ of universes. This is a theory postulated by quantum physicist David Bohm, where everything connects with everything else, where any individual element could reveal “detailed information about every other element in the universe.” The underlying theme of Bohm’s theory is the “unbroken wholeness of the totality of existence as an undivided flowing movement without borders.”
For Cooper and Carrie the memories of their counterparts from the other dimension are intact. When we hear Sarah’s cry of “Laura” come from the inside of the house, it confirms that the Palmer home is prey to the forces of the Black Lodge and Carrie can remember all that happened to Laura. By rescuing Laura Palmer in 1989, Cooper has damned her older self Carrie to recalling the horror of her past. Cooper, confused, asks simply “what year is this?” The lights in the house explode and extinguish, rather akin to the convenience store we saw in the aftermath of the nuclear test, and a blood curdling scream from Laura/Carrie simply confirms: it’s happening again.
The cycle of evil returns, the world is reborn. It’s like a mash up of Buddhism and quantum theory; a wheel of quantum karma that poor Laura Palmer has to endure again and again and again. While it’s a desperately bleak ending that proposes the entity is still in control, on the positive side, Laura is alive, manifested in Carrie Page in this reality and, if she’s the golden globe consciousness launched to Earth by The Fireman in “Part 8”, Cooper at least has a counter to the negative forces overwhelming Twin Peaks.
There is no real closure. Lynch leaves the series on something of a cliffhanger, but also on a philosophical question about the constant balancing of good and evil in mankind. Will we ever find a way to escape the cycle? There were never going to be genuine resolutions to these questions and, 18 episodes later, the series keeps asking more from us as an audience.
This has been a beguiling, frustrating, disturbing, funny, and exhilarating piece of television art.