Every fibre of my being wishes I’d have stopped Twin Peaks: The Return after its 17th part.
Showtime’s planned collaboration with Mark Frost and David Lynch wrapped up yesterday, available as a two-hour event on Stan here in Australia. It was wise for the season’s final episodes to be released as a bundle — Part 17 is widely considered a positive ending to the series, while Part 18 is a divisive, dream-like instalment with more questions than answers.
Part 17 is very much rooted in the familiar town of Twin Peaks, with Special Agent Dale Cooper finally returning to reunite with old friends. Expect he does not. Cooper intends to enter the Twin Peaks Sheriff Department to stop the evil Mr. C and the essence of Killer BOB, still residing inside him. Again, Cooper doesn’t do this; Mr. C is dealt with by a combination of (wise to the times… and the cell phone) Lucy and the green-gloved Freddie Sykes.
Cooper does manage to place the Owl Cave ring on Mr. C’s corpse, ridding the world of his evil as effectively as Sykes punches BOB, seemingly, into oblivion. As Deputy Director Gordon Cole, Special Agents Albert Rosenfeld and Tamara Preston, the Mitchum Brothers, Candie, Sandie and Mandie, (an underused) Deputy Hawk, Deputy Briggs and the always-cool James Hurley look on, Cooper places a hand on Naido, transforming her back into the ever-faithful Diane. The clock in the Sheriff Department strikes 2:53 – 10 in numerology; Cooper has brought the good guys to the completion of their journey.
Except the clock struggles to reach 2:53, moving backward and forward, disjointedly, as the Woodsmen do around the Convenience Store. As our dream ending unfolds, a tightly-framed close-up of Cooper shares the screen; as if watching from another plane – perhaps the Red Room. This image of Coop is solemn, not bright-eyed and beaming like our man in the Sheriff’s Station. Abruptly, things begin to fade to black, with Coop and Gordon calling out to each other like they did upon Jeffries’ departure in Fire Walk With Me.
Apparently Good Coop isn’t satisfied with the conclusion we’ve just witnessed; he sets off, Great Northern key in hand, to the boiler room of Ben Horne’s grand hotel. Leaving Cole and Diane behind – and once again with an FBI pin on his lapel — Coop meets with MIKE and travels to former Agent Phillip Jeffries (a current time-travelling teapot) to really save Laura Palmer.
Going back in time, the elder Cooper stands to the side and spectates what once were Laura’s final moments. He then intercedes, stopping Laura before she can join Ronette Pulaski, Leo Johnson and Jacques Renault. As a result, Laura doesn’t end up in a train car; Laura doesn’t meet a grizzly demise at the hands of a father controlled by BOB.
As a treat, we’re then shown a new take on Twin Peaks pilot, in which Pete Martell sets off for a morning of fishing and doesn’t encounter a dead body, wrapped in plastic. We cut to the present day – as evidenced by the mountains of cigarette butts, empty bottles of vodka and giant-sized flatscreen TV – to see that the Judy- (or JowDay-) controlled Sarah Palmer is beside herself, lamenting that Laura has slipped from her grasp.
This is the ending that many Twin Peaks fans were after. This isn’t the ending we received.
Immediately, Laura is snatched from Cooper’s grasp as the pair head to the White Lodge portal located at Jack Rabbit’s Palace; the ominous scratching noise heard in The Returns’ pilot is prominent as all other sound fades from the forest. As Cooper looks on, we cut to the Roadhouse as Julie Cruise plays us out. A cliff-hanger that bests Part 16’s – in which Audrey Horne seemingly wakes up to a white, sterile prison – I was certain that The Return’s final episode would involve Cooper finally saving Laura for good.
It’s at this point Lynch fans will pipe in: “Learn Cinema. Learn Lynch.”
Part 18 is slow-moving, abstract and dark. The Fireman’s message to Coop – perhaps a warning – echoes throughout. Emerging from the Glastonbury Grove Black Lodge portal after a revised sequence with MIKE and The Evolution of the ARM – and with new dialog that matched Audrey’s… and with a noticeable absence of Laura – Cooper reunites with Diane. Cole is nowhere to be found.
Coop and Diane drive 430 miles and seemingly enter another reality. As they check into a motel, Diane sees another version of herself; as the Diane tulpa did when Bill Hastings was murdered, she says nothing of the visitor. Coop and Diane then participate in the most disturbing piece of consensual sex on record; Diane uses her hands to cover Coop’s face as she rides him. Coop stares on blankly, looking near identical to Mr. C. The deed done – perhaps to engage with the evil force that is Judy/JowDay, as Sam and Tracey did in an early episode of The Return – Cooper goes to sleep and wakes up alone.
Diane leaves Coop a note, calling herself Linda and Coop, Richard. Puzzled, Coop emerges from the motel to find it a different building entirely; Coop’s car is the same, a new(ish) model Lincoln with Texas plates. Coop drives to the nearby Judy’s Diner, once again on the hunt for Laura. After some cold stares and efficient violence in the diner, Coop tracks down Laura. The blonde-haired waitress he finds calls herself Carrie Page, but responds to Coop’s mention of Sarah Palmer.
Carrie also has a dead body in her home, entering rigor mortis beside a figurine of a white horse. No biggie.
Coop is convinced Laura will remember who she is if she heads back to Twin Peaks, so the pair drive – almost in real-time, soaking up many of the episode’s valuable remaining minute – from Texas to Washington. There in the Palmer home, they find Alice Tremond, its owner. She bought the home from Mrs. Chalfont – here, fans will instantly recall Mrs. Tremond/Chalfont of Twin Peaks past. As Coop stumbles from the home, bewildered and confused, Laura-as-Carrie hears Sarah Palmer cry out her name. A look of horror spreads across her face as we hear her – Laura-as-Laura – scream. The lights in the Palmer home fade, then short out, and we’re left in the void.
Twin Peaks fans generally agree – only one day out, mind you – that this bleak ending reminds us you can never go back. That Cooper can’t change the past; that Judy spirited Laura away from the potential new world where she could have lived a normal teenage life. Worst yet, the Owl Cave symbol, turned into a vertical infinity symbol by Teapot Jeffries, suggests Cooper and Laura are stuck in a loop. Cooper will forever quest to save Laura, and Cooper will forever fail in the final minutes. Laura will never find true peace.
How’s that for bleak? Perhaps this reality was Judy’s way of taking out Coop and Laura — two birds — with one stone.
Worse yet, we truly are the dreamers dreaming the dream, as Monica Bellucci says to Gordon Cole in (another one of) his dreams. After a 25-year absence, Peaks fans like myself clung to hopes that The Return would resolve plotlines – that Laura would be at rest, and Cooper free from Killer BOB. Instead, we’re given what many consider to be a tease of a fourth season of Twin Peaks, though nothing has yet been confirmed. We may never know what happens to Cooper and Laura. Or Becky. Or Bobby and Shelly. Or Audrey. Like the end of Part 18, they’ve all been potentially snuffed out. Lost forever.
Ponder this: if Showtime does greenlight a fourth season, will Lynch and Frost simply deliver a new batch of episodes like this? Will we, once again, see Cooper try and fail as he did in season two and in season three? Are we, like Cooper, stuck in a loop?
If you need me, I’ll be at the bar — and, for the record, who am I kidding? I’d gladly throw myself back into a Twin Peaks loop.