So Twin Peaks came to an end this past weekend, and… Hoo boy. It was a difficult end to a difficult season, one that simultaneously enraged and delighted series fans. I, personally, was left speechless by it. The first hour was rollicking fun, filled with danger and action and terror, and good triumphing over evil. But there was a creeping dread underneath it all, a sense that something… wasn’t quite right. That sense carried over into the second hour, and only increased as things crept along at a slow, steady pace right up to the very last seconds.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Twin Peaks: the Return has been a marvelous season of television. It has delighted and perplexed me, consistently not quite giving me what I thought I wanted from it, but giving me something just as good instead. It’s been smart and funny and terrifying, bold in its execution and brave in its willingness to trust its audience to follow along. And patient. Oh, so patient. The slowest of slow burns, with a pace that can only be described as “meditative,” a pace that, as I slowly got into its groove, has permeated my consciousness. I have often been called a patient man, and I suppose I am. But I didn’t always feel that patience inside until Twin Peaks taught it to me.
Enlightenment! From a freaking TV show! Unbelievable, but true.
Granted, Twin Peaks speaks to my own personal world-view more than most entertainments. It deals in Mystery, with a capital M, and lord knows I’ve always loved a mystery. It’s also Weird, with a capital W, a genre of fiction that’s obsessed with the strange and the unexplainable. If I have a religion, it’s probably devoted to the ineffable, and so this show speaks to me on a pretty deep level.
So why, I have to ask myself, did I have so much trouble with the final episode? Why did I watch it with mounting dread? And why did it leave me feeling so very unsettled?
It’s not like the show’s never conjured up dread before. Whether it’s strange visions of the supernatural, or simply watching an abusive husband getting wound up for an act of violence, conjuring dread is kind of Twin Peaks‘ stock in trade. It is, in fact, one of the things I like about it most. But that dread is usually leavened by joy. Funny moments and endearing eccentricities. Genuine expressions of goodness, and people delighted by the simplest of things. It presents us with life in balance, in other words, with the good and the bad both given time to shine.
And that, I think, is what makes the finale so upsetting. The balance is off, and that doesn’t sit quite right. Now, I’m sure that’s entirely intentional. The balance has been weird the whole season. The Las Vegas sequences lean so heavily into joy that they’re genuinely silly. Which is fitting. Dale Cooper has spent the last 25 years becoming some kind of white magician in the world of the Lodges, and as he sleepwalks his way through the life of Dougie Jones, he comes to represent a powerful “uncarved block” version of Cooper.
His joy radiates out from him, affecting the behavior of those around him for the better. So loan sharks cower before the rage of a frustrated housewife, gangsters develop hearts of gold, and nobody entirely notices just how out of it Dougie Coop really is, because that’s his best protection from the forces that want him dead.
On the other side of the equation is Evil Coop, Our Hero’s doppelganger. He’s a ruthlessly efficient engine of evil, utterly lacking in joy. He is a black hole of a man, bringing pain and despair to pretty much everyone he comes into contact with.
While the Evil Coop scenes have a certain dark ridiculousness about them, they also tend to be pitch-black and serious, generating ample amounts of that dread I was talking about earlier. Everything else tends to vacillate back and forth between these two extremes, with very little of it striking the balance we’re familiar with from the original series. I suppose the overall tone averages out, but the individual pieces have felt a bit schizophrenic.
And that schizophrenia comes to a head in the final episode. The first hour, as I said, is a rollicking good time. Though Evil Coop is on-hand to dole out some dread, it’s mostly an explosion of pure joy. The dream logic and time lapses that have been cropping up all season begin to multiply, characters and plotlines converging with shocking, nonsensical, speed. Our Hero Agent Cooper is back in full control of his faculties, and we discover that he’s acting on a plan 25 years in the making. The agents of the White Lodge have been put into position, and unlikely heroes step forward. By the time Freddie is battling BOB with his Magic Green Glove of Destiny…
…the whole thing, thrilling as it is to watch, has tipped over the edge into utter silliness. It’s pure, undiluted joy, like TeeVee candy, super-sweet and…
Don’t get me wrong. It’s mind-blowingly, next-level cheesy, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. But it didn’t feel right. It wasn’t Twin Peaks, and it damn sure wasn’t David Lynch. Good’s victory over evil was so complete that I almost immediately started waiting for the other shoe to drop.
And drop it did. Because defeating BOB and getting rid of his doppelganger is only part of Coop’s plan. He’s after bigger game: Jow-Day (aka Judy), a being of “incredible negative energy” who (we presume) is the Mother of Abominations we’ve caught glimpses of here and there throughout the season. But Coop’s also after something else: the rescue of Laura Palmer.
And that’s what the final hour concerns itself with. With the aid of Philip Jeffries (who now seems to exist outside of time), Cooper goes back to the beginning, the day Laura died, and saves her from her murder. But Judy’s not done with her. She rips Laura (the Ur-Laura of the Lodges, filled with light, and dead-yet-alive) out of reality and injects her into another world. Her world. A world that, though it looks a lot like ours, and a lot like the world of Twin Peaks, is a world devoid of joy.
And that, right there, is what made that final hour so upsetting. The world of Twin Peaks can be many things. Funny, sad, scary, frustrating, perplexing… But it is, first and foremost, a world of joy and wonder. A White Lodge world, where evil certainly has a foothold, but still can’t help inspiring awe. But the one thing you never want Twin Peaks to be is joyless and mundane. And that’s exactly what Judy’s world is.
We spend a good bit of time there, in that final hour, and the longer we’re there, the deeper I sink into despair. Which is a feeling that Lynch does his level best to inspire. Cooper and Diane power their transition into Judy’s world with what I think is a joyless sex magic ritual, Cooper stone-faced, Diane weeping as she comes (“SOBGASM!” my viewing partner exclaimed). It’s a hard scene to watch, especially considering that we know Diane was raped by Evil Coop, and that’s a moment she’s got to be reliving here. It’s a sacrifice she makes willingly, but watching it feels ten kinds of wrong.
And then there’s the driving. Cooper and Laura (who’s not Laura, but never mind that right now) drive from Texas to Twin Peaks, and Lynch shows the entire journey in excruciating detail, complete with unremarkable stops at interchangeable convenience stores and tons (TONS!) of silent night driving. But he hasn’t over-saturated the blacks like he normally does for such scenes, so the roads aren’t transformed into mesmerizing rolling art. They’re just… Roads.
It’s a long scene, one that plays on that patience Lynch has trained us for, and he uses it here to crush us utterly. By the time we arrive at the Palmer house, my despair is complete. I know time is running out, and the only ending I can see is a hopeless one. And, sure enough, they knock on the door, and Sarah Palmer isn’t there. The house is owned by the Tremond family now, who bought it from a Mrs. Chalfont. They’ve never even heard of the Palmers. And Laura doesn’t remember anything.
The names Tremond and Chalfont send up red flags, of course. Lodge entities have used them in the past, for similar cosmic sleight of hand. But by this time, I’m becoming convinced that Cooper has woken up in the real world, and that Twin Peaks is just a dream he was having, and trying hard to believe in. It’s looking like Lynch is giving us the Mulholland Drive ending all over again, in other words, and that is just too much to bear. The seconds are counting down. The show is ending. Judy has won. Cooper is undone, Laura is bereft, and I have given in to despair.
Then Sarah Palmer’s voice echoes, ghostly, out of the dark, and Laura screams. The lights in the Palmer house switch off with a buzzing electronic click. The screen goes black. And it’s over.
My god. That ending, I realized after the fact, is brilliant. It ends the show on a cliffhanger just as maddening as the first one, which is fitting. Because Twin Peaks can’t really have an ending. That goes against its DNA. It’s all about the Mystery, and the questions that can’t be answered.
It’s also an ending that’s as open to interpretation as anything Lynch has ever done, and I don’t claim to have any sort of definitive answer to it. I’ll be thinking about it for years to come. But to my way of thinking right now, still raw from the experience, it shows that the dream is real, and Judy’s world… real as it may seem… is just another kind of dream. What that says about reality, about life… I’m not sure yet. That’ll take more thought, and more discussion. For right now, though, I’m happy with it.
But in the moment, when I had just finished watching, I was too overwhelmed to think about any of that. Too filled with dread. Too disappointed that the finale didn’t pursue some of the plotlines I thought it would. Too shocked that, after a quarter-century of waiting, and four months of watching… It was over. Again.
Twin Peaks has been a big part of my life. It’s fiction that has, from the first moment I laid eyes on it, felt like it was being written especially for me. It’s shaped my tastes, my writing, and the way I look at the world. It served as a foundation for the greatest friendship of my life, one that’s endured for nearly two decades (and counting). The show’s never been perfect, and it still isn’t. But I love it the way I love air. And coffee. And damn fine cherry pie.
Goodnight, Mr. Lynch.
And thank you.