David Lynch’s Haunted Finale of “Twin Peaks: The Return”

As “Twin Peaks: The Return” ends, David Lynch burns the entire enterprise down to its elemental drama—the murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), and the return of Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan).

Photograph by Suzanne Tenner / Showtime

It ’s worth resisting the impulse to binge-watch “Twin Peaks: The
Return,” the final two parts of which were broadcast Sunday night, on
Showtime. I yielded to the impulse, and the results of the experiment
were both fascinating and disheartening. While following the show week
by week, I found that its virtues and extraordinary aspects came to the
fore; cramming the seventeen-plus hours of the series into a few days of
viewing shifted the emphasis and pushed forward those aspects that are
most ordinary—the many complex and tangled plot lines that David Lynch
(who directed all eighteen episodes and wrote them with Mark Frost)
sustains throughout. At the same time, the singular and unified tone that
Lynch maintains, the eerie cinematic music of his direction (an
altogether different thing from the actual music by Angelo Badalamenti),
turned the binge into a kind of trance. It’s less the dramatic elements
than the strangely hypnotic lull of Lynch’s exquisitely gradual sense of
time, his tensely contemplative observation of his characters, and, for
that matter, his actors in their own state of fixed or stunned
absorption that puts the binge viewer into a “Twin Peaks” bubble, a
state of distraction that, for the span of a few days, made life itself
seem less real, less present than the universe of the show.

That tone is the main achievement of “Twin Peaks: The Return”—sort of.
Along with that tone, Lynch delivers, in his proliferating dramatic
universe, a set of observations about contemporary American life and,
for that matter, about the very nature of American mythology that emerge
with an urgency that’s at times wry, at times bitter, at times
terrifying. It’s not in any way a representative or comprehensive view;
it’s a narrow vision of a narrow sliver of the population, and its power
is metaphorical, symbolic, mythic. The dramatic scenes of “Twin Peaks:
The Return” seem to build to a grand resolution, a majestic and magical
synthesis of its disparate but subtly interlocking elements.

Instead, Lynch, in the final pair of episodes, delivers a series of
coups de théâtre that, with an extraordinarily audacious sense of
purpose, leave most of the show suspended and unresolved, burning the
entire enterprise down to its elemental drama—the murder of Laura
Palmer, and the return of Special Agent Dale Cooper, who had, near the
start of the series, undergone a supernatural transformation into the
insurance agent Dougie Jones, while the real Agent Cooper was replaced
by an evil twin. Over the course of the series’s final sprint, Lynch
turns this story into an elemental drama of dramas, a distorted and
refracted version of the lone American male hero on a relentless quest
to rescue an abused woman—he turns “Twin Peaks: The Return,” in other
words, into a modern-day version of John Ford’s “The Searchers,” and the
tragic depth of his view of the solitary and haunted Western hero is
worthy to stand alongside Ford’s own.

The bulk of “Twin Peaks: The Return” is sustained by the anticipation of
the return of Agent Cooper, which is more or less planted as the
awakening of Dougie from what had been a kind of walking trance. With a
striking symmetry, that awakening ultimately occurs—in the sixteenth, or
third-to-last episode, mirroring the transformation of Cooper into
Dougie that occurred in the third episode. (A hint of the trance-bound
Dougie’s stifled identity emerges in his comical obsession with a statue
of a gun-wielding cowboy in front of his office building.) The awakening
of Dougie—his return as Cooper, the unflappable F.B.I. agent—has the
rousing power of a heroic deliverance. He bounces out of a hospital bed
and springs into action with a flourish of purpose and a decisive
command, relying on his full range of powers and connections to put his
house literally into order (in effect, taking over actively the vanished
Dougie’s passive marital and paternal role and absorbing and reflecting
spousal and parental love) and to get himself quickly to the center of
the action, the sheriff’s department in Twin Peaks, Washington.

The ending (which begins in the seventeenth episode) is, in effect, a
double counterfactual to the entire run of “Twin Peaks.” To fulfill his
sense of his own destiny, Cooper, shortly after he returns as himself,
has to split, in both senses—he has to leave almost as soon as he
arrives (he’s a little like Groucho Marx
singing, in “Animal
Crackers,” “I cannot stay, I came to say I must be going”), and he has
to redivide himself. Instead of remaining on hand to work with the
fully functioning law-enforcement teams, he heads out with a flourish
(“See you at the curtain call”) and, via a door that turns out to be a
sort of time warp, he enters an alternate world, where he seeks to
fulfill his self-appointed mission: instead of solving the murder of
Laura Palmer, he’s going to prevent it and save her. (Also, because the
series ultimately converges to the drama of Cooper’s return, it leaves
its amazingly rich skein of plot lines utterly unresolved.)

Cooper is split into Dougie (the holy fool) and evil Cooper (the unholy
monster)—and both are part of Cooper, as of everyone. But, in his case,
maybe a little more so, because, as an F.B.I. agent, he’s a master of
violence who makes his living among and against the worst of humanity
or, rather, inhumanity. Dougie is Cooper without will; evil Cooper is
Cooper without principle or virtue; and in Lynch’s view, a
law-enforcement officer without principle or virtue (such as Chad,
played by John Pirruccello in the Twin Peaks department) is one of the
unredeemable monsters of society. Cooper, unified as himself, is
something altogether more complex: he’s the internally divided,
principled, and virtuous yet recklessly willful lawman, the free agent
in the open spaces who is both redeemer and destroyer, protector and
menace.

Of course, if Laura Palmer is saved, and survives, what became of her?
Where is she now? Finding out is Cooper’s next step, and it’s why he has
to split himself again. In the present day, the newly restored Cooper
has two roles, as two saviors: he has to make his return home, or,
rather, to Dougie Jones’s home, to his adoptive family, but he also has
to undertake a journey to find Laura Palmer now, wherever she may be.
The Western-themed quest takes him, naturally, to Texas, to find a woman
who calls herself Carrie Page but looks exactly like Palmer (and is also
played by Sheryl Lee). There, Cooper makes his cowboy presence instantly
felt in a showdown with three cowboy-hatted gunmen. When he reaches
Page, who denies that she’s Laura Palmer, Cooper—or, rather, his new
double, known as Richard—takes her on the road in defiance of all
law-enforcement norms. (Specifically, in a macabre comedic touch, he
pulls her from the scene of a bloody crime, from which she’s all too
eager to get away.) Ultimately, at the Palmer house, Carrie, at first
still unaware of her former identity, hears the name “Laura” and lets
out a scream, an absolute scream of the sort that rends the very fabric
of existence. This sound, a return of the terrors of the victimized
Laura’s past, would seemingly be a fittingly horrific, utterly
unredeemed end of the series, a reliving of repressed traumas conducted
outside any therapeutic framework. Lynch, however, offers a consolation
that comes close to a happy ending—a concluding image of Laura
whispering in the ear of Cooper (or his double), who listens, stunned
and wide-eyed. The wild lawman, operating on his own and outside the
structures of law, engages in some wild psychoanalysis, and Lynch is
oddly confident about its merits.

“Twin Peaks: The Return” is filled with episodes of horrific, grotesque
sexual abuse of women, and also with the drama of women struggling
with and against traditional gender roles. For instance,
Janey-E—fulfilling with a stereotypical precision the role of the
suburban housewife, concerned with the child, the meals, the budget, and
the car, and who talks in domestic clichés to match—turns out to be
tough-minded, bold, and courageous, able to stand up to bloodthirsty
gangsters and face them down. Lynch depicts a wide variety of women in a
wide variety of circumstances, almost all of which involve an element of
submission and degradation, frustration and resentment. But, far from
depicting their plights with a passive or bewildered detachment, he also
suggests exactly what causes them to bear their burden in the face of
pain and anguish: the wonder and the curse of love.

In “Twin Peaks: The Return,” Lynch displays a paradoxical and troubled
romanticism. A scene involving the realization of the long-stifled
romance between two pillars of Twin Peaks, Norma Jennings (Peggy
Lipton), the proprietor of the RR Diner, and Big Ed Hurley (Everett
McGill), of the Gas Farm, is filmed with a rhapsodic tenderness and set
to the soaring tones of Otis Redding. But the practicalities of
connected lives and of domestic life turn out, in Lynch’s view, to be
altogether less rhapsodic, and he sees a primal order asserting itself
in modern society, in which men maintain their dominion over women with
violence or the threat of violence and women, if they’re to have any
intimate relationships with men at all, have to cope with that fear. He
also shows the violence that’s latent and repressed in women’s responses
to the relentless drone of harassment, as shown in the sublime,
terrifying, yet comedic fury of Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie), Laura’s
mother, a tormented and embittered survivor.

Meanwhile, men also face violence from other men. Lynch’s world is one
of subterranean networks of killers operating in the grubby margins of
rural life and small towns, complex and top-down networks of killers
operating under the guise of corporate respectability in big cities, of
barroom brawlers raising their show of strength to sadistic domination,
of parking disputes escalating to shootouts, of phantom marauders
crushing skulls and spattering brains. His paranoid vision of
relentless, ambient violence is paralleled in violence at a national
scale—in the celebrated fantasy of Episode 8, a Second World War-era
nuclear test in New Mexico is ground zero for the spawn of evil, and a
more benign form of technology, electricity, opens the American
landscape and its interior spaces to mysterious and malign magic. (It’s
also an episode that makes its range of cinematic references
conspicuous).

It’s worth tracing the surprising number of times the word
“electricity” is uttered in the series, the role played by ordinary
socket power in the show’s crucial dramas, the ominous ubiquity of
images of overhead power lines, the eerie buzz of electrical devices,
the uncanny flickering of lights. Lynch also captures the strain of
populist resentment that the sense of invisible and malevolent powers
sparks, in the character of a local Webcaster, Dr. Jacoby, a.k.a. Doctor
Amp (Russ Tamblyn)—I wonder when his phrase “treasonous puppets” was
scripted and recorded.

The history and memory that the story runs on is woven into the very
fabric of “The Return,” which also marks the return of performers from
the first two seasons. It’s almost unbearably moving to see Lynch and
MacLachlan (speaking as the characters of the F.B.I. deputy director,
Gordon Cole, and the evil Agent Cooper, respectively) exchange
greetings: “It’s very, very good to see you again, old friend”; “I’ve
missed spending time with you.” It’s overwhelming when Margaret
Lanterman (Catherine E. Coulson), the Log Lady, now thin and nearly
bald, with a breathing tube in her nose, calls Deputy Sheriff Hawk
(Michael Horse) to tell him that she’s dying. (Coulson in fact died soon
thereafter, in 2015); to see the F.B.I. agent Albert Rosenfield, played
by Miguel Ferrer, in action, knowing that Ferrer also died, earlier this
year; to see snippets of the character Phillip Jeffries as played by
David Bowie in the original series; to see clips of David Lynch in his
earlier years. And, perhaps above all, the appearance of Laura Dern, as
Diane, an unseen presence in the original series who becomes a crucial
one in “The Return.”

Dern, of course, is a central actor in the Lynch cinematic universe, and
her presence in “The Return” is among its greatest performances,
alongside that of MacLachlan (as the transfixed Dougie) and of Lynch
himself as Gordon Cole. The series seems divided between the actors whom
Lynch, as director, wants to watch—these three, plus, especially, Cole’s
cohorts in the F.B.I. (played by Ferrer and Chrysta Bell), Jane Adams
(as the coroner of Buckhorn, South Dakota), Coulson, Lipton, and
McGill—and the rest of the cast members, who are directed by Lynch to
performances that are altogether more familiar and conventional.

With the performers whom Lynch directs more traditionally, whose
characters are essentially reduced to their dramatic functions, the
series’s deliberate, lovingly observational pace, though admirably bold,
also turns portentous and vain. If there’s anything that distinguishes
the vast political and emotional power of “Twin Peaks: The Return” from
the best of, say, John Ford, it’s in this intermittent but inescapable
separation of style from substance, the creation of scenes that exist
solely for symbol, declaration, information, effect. The series is one
of the great recent cinematic achievements; its ideas are profound; its
effect is enduring; it will rightly provide much more to mull over and
to piece together than a brief essay or two can do—and it’s precisely in
that fateful realm of detail-fitting and of interpretive madness that
it’s distinguished, to its disadvantage, from the realm of the great movies
that inspire it.

Sourse: newyorker.com