“To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come.”
-William Shakespeare’s Hamlet
*This review contains spoilers.
Since seeing last Sunday’s season (or is it series?) two-part finale of Showtime’s Twin Peaks: The Return, I have watched episodes 17 and 18 several more times and have come away with some understanding of director David Lynch’s denouement. I cautiously use the word “understanding” simply because, as is almost always the case with Lynch’s works, there is enough ambiguity for there to be multiple interpretations, so that mine is just one possibility.
I have had enough time to hear the reactions to the finale by fans and friends, and they range from surprise to shock to delight. I wonder how anyone could be surprised with the cliffhanger ending, when season one of Twin Peaks ended with Agent Dale Cooper (the outstanding Kyle MacLachlan) getting shot and season two ended with Cooper’s dopplegänger taking his place in the world possessed by the evil spirit Bob (the late Frank Silva). Obviously based on this history, Lynch is not concerned with giving us what we want but rather what he needs to tell the story and conclude it his way.
Back in episode 14 the luminous Monica Bellucci appears in a dream sequence experienced by Deputy FBI Director Gordon Cole (played hilariously by Lynch himself), and in it she tells him, “We are like the dreamer who dreams and lives inside the dream.” Of course, the most important thing she says is the question, “But who is the dreamer?” This left us to contemplate the depth of not only the inquiry itself in relation to Cole’s dream but to the entire series. Are all 48 episodes (30 of the original series and 18 in this reboot) going to be like an entire season of Dallas that was really just a dream?
The dream aspect is intriguing because alternate realities are in play here – think of Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) being in the Roadhouse one moment and in a stark white room the next. Audrey’s “dream” of being trapped in some dark office with Charlie (Clark Middelton) who may have been her husband, shrink, or warden seems unending. At one point as Audrey is complaining about everything Charlie says that he can end her story, but eventually she makes it to the bar in her search for her lover Billy, does her Audrey dance, and then seems to be in a straight-jacket in some institution. This dream is the thing our nightmares are made of.
During the first part of the finale when the plot threads start coming together, Evil Cooper goes to the Twin Peaks sheriff’s department first. Even here Lynch taunts us – the reunion of Cooper and the gang we were hoping to see and expecting never happens. Evil Cooper gets in and refuses coffee (red flags should have been popping in everyone’s head) and then sits with Sherriff Frank Turman (the terrific Robert Forster) and chats until the real Coop calls on the phone asking if the coffee is on. As Truman prepares to go for his gun so does Evil Cooper, but he is taken out by ditzy Lucy (Kimmy Robertson nailing the scene) who now understands the reasons for cell phones since she got a call on one from the real Coop.
The prospect of a battle between Coop and Evil Cooper are shattered, but there is serendipity in Lucy being the one to kill Evil Cooper. At this point the burned woodsmen ghosts come into the room and start their routine with Evil Cooper’s dead body, and a dark orb emerges from inside with Bob’s face in it. Good Cooper has arrived with the gang from Las Vegas in tow, and they all watch in amazement as Freddie Sykes (Jake Wardle) and his super green glove pound Bob into little pieces.
At this point viewers have been lulled into thinking all is right, yet episode 17 isn’t over yet and we have another full hour to go. Cooper’s face suddenly is superimposed on the screen as he recognizes Naido (Nae), the woman with sewn up eyes, from his time in the White Lodge. The dream-like reunion becomes even more unreal as Naido transforms into Diane (Laura Dern) in a red wig. This is the real Diane and not her tulpa who had been manufactured to do Evil Cooper’s bidding.
The “ghost” of Cooper’s face shadowing these events seems to be more telling when Diane and Cooper notice the clock in Truman’s office is stuck at 2:53. The notion of time stopping in connection with Evil Cooper’s death and Diane’s emergence reminds viewers of the Bellucci dream, and we wonder if Cooper’s evanescent countenance means that he the is dreamer inside the dream.
Cooper, Diane, and Gordon suddenly appear in the basement of the Great Northern Hotel where James Hurley (James Marshall) had heard the powerful vibrations. Using the Room 315 key – Cooper’s old room in the hotel – Cooper unlocks the door to what seems to be some other dimension. He bids Diane and Gordon farewell and then enters.
Cooper appears in the woods on the night Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) was murdered – so this dream, as it were, includes time travel. The “what if” factor of how Laura’s death could have been avoided comes into play. This beautiful, tortured soul is with James Hurley in the woods. This is the lovely young Laura (in a scene from the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me), who will argue with James and then go off for her rendezvous with death at the hands of her father Leland (Ray Wise) who is possessed by the evil Bob.
However, Cooper stands in the way of Laura and her cruel destiny. He reaches out his hand as the only man who had never exploited her in some way. Cooper’s desire is pure and he wants to right a terrible wrong, and by preventing Laura from meeting her death he is not only saving her but knowingly erasing his future in the town of Twin Peaks. It feels sort of like in It’s a Wonderful Life when George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) gets a chance to see what life would be like if he had never been born; but, of course, changing history has many implications as we see in that film and the same thing will happen to Cooper.
As he leads Laura to safety, she is pried from his hand somehow and disappears with a bloodcurdling scream that we last heard when she encounters Cooper in the Red Room of the Black Lodge in episode one. Cooper has saved her but lost her to time and space and the void that is the netherworld between asleep and awake.
We get another scene, this time from the original TV series, when Pete Martell (the late, great Jack Nance) goes out fishing and should be discovering Laura’s body. Her iconic corpse, wrapped in plastic on the pebbly beach, is seen briefly and disappears. Cooper has succeeded in erasing her murder, and Martell goes on fishing with no body to find.
While we foolishly may have thought that all was right with the world now, with Lynch at the helm we should have known better. Episode 18 takes all the good feelings from episode 17 and dumps a bucket of ice water reality on them. Cooper and Diane are driving in a very old car and they stop at a point where electric line wires vibrate and it seems to be a portal into yet another reality.
They drive on through the portal, and in this dimension they check into a motel and make ugly, disturbing love. Diane seems in agony as she rides Cooper’s body, looking up to the heavens for deliverance. Their joining may remind her of when Evil Cooper raped her so many years ago, and she uses her hands to cover up Cooper’s face as to block its view and almost smother him.
The next morning Cooper wakes in a different room and finds a note addressed to Richard from Linda – we then recall The Giant/Fireman (Carel Struycken) tells Cooper about “Richard and Linda” in episode one – and now Cooper remembers this too but is confused. Cooper also seems to be on a mission of some kind. He exits the motel room but the exterior shot indicates he is leaving a completely different motel and gets into a different car than the one he drove the night before. As Cooper begins his journey a signpost lets us know he is in Odessa, Texas.
Eventually Cooper arrives at the home of a woman who looks like an older Laura Palmer. She claims not to be Laura and calls herself Carrie Page. When she learns Cooper is from the FBI, Carrie is willing to go with him and leave her troubles (and a dead man who seems to be her ex-husband with a bullet in his head) behind.
A silent road trip occurs, repeating the frequent Lynchian road into the darkness that is foreboding and monotonous. The tension between Laura/Carrie and Cooper is palpable, cut only by ominous headlights coming up from behind in the night that makes for a tense but in the end harmless moment. Lynch excels at lingering in scenes like this, unafraid to let silence reign supreme when the audience is craving a moment between these two characters, wanting them to have the conversation that they have been waiting to happen for 25 years.
Finally, Cooper drives the car into Twin Peaks and passes the dark Double R Diner. Cooper couldn’t bring the young Laura home to her mother Sarah (Grace Zabriske) but he is determined to do so now, as if that act will erase the anguish that her death caused so long ago. This would be the ultimate happy ending, but Lynch does not do them, at least not the way we would define happy.
A strange woman named Alice Tremond (Mary Reber) opens the door to Laura Palmer’s childhood home. She has never heard of Sarah Palmer, her husband Leland, or their daughter. In Twin Peaks at one time everyone knew the name “Laura Palmer” – at least the Twin Peaks that existed before Cooper stopped Laura Palmer’s murder. Now it is as if Laura had never even been born, and the woman is adamant in her denials and Cooper realizes it is another dead end.
Laura/Carrie’s expression starts to change in a subtle way, as if some recognition begins to materialize for her. Cooper and she stand in the street in front of the house and he suddenly understands that time has shifted and asks, “What year is this?” Laura/Carrie lets out a heart wrenching scream like she did in the woods when Cooper tried to save her long ago, and we fade to black. The credit scene shows Cooper and Laura back in the Red Room, with Laura leaning over and whispering in his ear.
The One-Armed Man (Al Strobel) had said to Cooper in the Red Room, “Is it future or is it past?” Laura told him “I am dead, yet I live.” Now Cooper is returned to the Red Room where he is with Laura once again. Or is he? Is Cooper even really Cooper, or is he a guy named Richard who had this incredible dream about a girl who had been murdered whom an FBI agent wanted to save?
There is no way to look at this like a regular narrative that we find elsewhere on television. Lynch (and partner in crime co-writer Mark Frost) crafted this work like an extended symphony, the beauty of which cannot possibly be assessed by standards used for other composers. Beside the rich texture, the at times painfully slow pace, and the deliberate bewildering complexity of the story, Frost and Lynch are convinced that beginnings and middles and ends are malleable; in fact, they could be saying who needs any structure to the narrative at all?
Lynch’s work has always taken the American landscape and turned it upside down in order to shake loose the assorted nuts and bolts. In Twin Peaks the beautiful, seemingly perfect homecoming queen is murdered, and then the whole town discovers her secrets and realizes everything they thought about her was a lie. Laura is an exquisite beauty yet a tortured soul, but we recall that the Log Lady (the late Catherine Coulson) claimed that Laura was the one, and we know the Giant sent her to earth for a purpose, but was this to suffer evil or to almost absorb it, pushing her into a situation where she set herself up to die because she will take that evil with her?
The Cooper we used to know – the chipper, coffee loving, pie eating FBI guy with a unbreakable code of honor – is gone forever. In the end he tries to complete the mission but is not truly aware of what that mission is about. Cooper does not realize that saving Laura or bringing her home doesn’t matter anymore. Death can never be cheated and, even if it can be, his desire to do good is subsumed by the fact that nothing he believed in still exists, and perhaps even he is not who he thought himself to be.
The end of Twin Peaks cannot get any bleaker on the surface than what we get in the finale – Laura Palmer’s piercing scream is like a needle that punctures the night like a black balloon that blots out the world – and with a resounding “pop” we know that she is never going home again and in essence neither are we.
Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return is an 18-hour majestic and powerful work of art, and taken as a whole it is filmmaking (and yes, let’s face it that it is a very long film broken up into TV episodes) at its finest. The series makes me think of how Picasso said that art is the lie that tells the truth, and Lynch has shaken us up with this world he’s crafted, and therein Cooper, Audrey, Laura and the rest live in a dream that is a recurring nightmare where they discover everything they know and believe is a lie, and that is the most uncomfortable truth of all.