“Part 16” of Twin Peaks: The Return is perhaps most remarkable for its numerous arrivals and departures, some of them quite literal, some a bit more metaphorical. In a more rules-oriented series, the second-to-last episode of the season would be spent mostly marking time, given over to scrupulously setting the stage for the finale. There were traces of that here, of course, but rendered wonderfully rich and strange through David Lynch’s meticulous attention to off-kilter audiovisual textures and details.
The most literal exit of the evening belongs to Hutch (Tim Roth) and Chantal (Jennifer Jason Leigh). They’re taken out not by the F.B.I. unit that’s also watching the Jones residence, but by an irate, Uzi-packing Polish accountant (Jonny Coyne) whose driveway they may or may not be blocking with their van. Their criminal-lovers-on-the-lam storyline has always smacked of a Tarantino parody, and they get an appropriately bullet-riddled finale that Lynch caps with an oblique nod to the final crane shot in Chinatown.
The fate of Richard Horne (Eamon Farren) atop a giant altar-shaped boulder manages to meld both senses of the word “departure.” When Horne and Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) arrive near the spot that matches the coordinates they’ve been given, the doppelganger sends Richard up toward the boulder first, but not before mysteriously asking him, “Do you understand the place?” Although he makes his choice confidently enough, Richard clearly doesn’t comprehend much of anything, since the spot proves to be a trap, as a freak electrical outburst fries Richard, reducing him to a shower of sparks.
Mr. C’s noncommittal “Goodbye, my son” finally (and ironically) confirms Richard’s patrimony. But it also leaves open to question how deliberately Bad Dale sends the boy into harm’s way. There’s something about the whole tenor of the scene that suggests a far darker version of the biblical story of the binding of Isaac, one in which Abraham actually carries through with the sacrifice of his son. It’s likewise unclear what role Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelley) will ultimately play as binocularly befuddled witness to these events.
Elements of this sequence are cannily echoed in Cooper’s (MacLachlan) subsequent recovery from the coma in which he landed after last week’s fork-in-the-socket experiment. As Bradley Mitchum (James Belushi) puts it: “It was, like, what? Electricity?” Cooper miraculously pops upright when the one-armed man (Al Strobel) appears in a vision from the Red Room. Phillip Gerard’s words surely convey the sentiments of viewers who’ve watched Cooper stumble and parrot his way through the last 14 episodes of the show: “Finally. You are awake.” “100 percent!” Cooper asserts jubilantly. And it’s obvious from the brisk assurance with which he snaps off requests for food and clothing that he’s hardly underestimating himself.
Having the old Cooper back, though, proves to be bittersweet. On one hand, there’s his instantly iconic declaration to Bushnell Mullins (Don Murray), “I am the F.B.I.,” a marvelous moment that Lynch sets to the reprise of “Falling,” one of the original series’s most indelible themes. On the other, there’s the emotional counterbalance of his poignant farewell to his newfound family at the Silver Mustang casino, telling Janey-E (Naomi Watts) and Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon), “You’ve made my heart so full.” The camera slowly dollies back, leaving them isolated against the flash and clangor of the slot machines.
Life as a family man doesn’t seem to be in the cards for Coop, judging from the way the scene is played. But there’s indication he may have provided a prototypical happy ending for his erstwhile wife and son, when he instructs Gerard to “make another other” and gives him a lock of his hair. Dougie Jones may, indeed, one day walk through that red door, and be home for good, as Cooper predicts, but it almost assuredly won’t be him.
Lynch shrewdly uses that “Falling” reprise to bridge the scene where Cooper and family leave the hospital in their new car with yet another shot of Diane (Laura Dern) biding her time at the hotel bar in Buckhorn, then cuts the song off mid-chord when Diane receives another text from the doppelganger. As the camera tracks Diane moving languorously toward the F.B.I.’s suite, Lynch sets the image to a slow-as-molasses remix of Muddy Magnolias’s “American Woman,” foregrounding the distorted rumble of the lyrics: “Hell will freeze over/And I’ll be damned/Before I take orders/From any old man.” This is sheer irony, as it turns out, since Diane is completely in thrall to Mr. C.
What’s more, Diane isn’t even Diane. She’s a tulpa—a mystical being created by spiritual or mental powers—that’s been fashioned to keep tabs on and ultimately kill Gordon Cole (Lynch), Albert (Miguel Ferrer), and Tammy (Chrysta Bell). Her confession about the night Cooper came to visit her is mostly a ruse, though it does seem to establish that some version of Coop did indeed rape some iteration of Diane. Where the real Diane resides remains for now another tantalizingly open question. Mention of her being simultaneously in a gas station and a sheriff’s station points to the increasing likelihood of an Assault on Precinct 13-type scenario unfolding back in Twin Peaks.
Back at the Roadhouse, Edward Louis Severson (Eddie Vedder) sings “Out of Sand,” in the course of which Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) and Charlie (Clark Middleton) finally arrive on the scene. Viewers might be excused for thinking that their presence in the nightclub firmly establishes their “reality,” but once again you’d be mistaken. The local hipsters clear the floor and the room floods with purple light reminiscent of the other-dimensional purple sea, at which point Audrey hesitantly reprises her famous shimmy, before then growing bolder and more entranced with the rhythm by the moment. Until, that is, the inevitable bar brawl over another misplaced spouse breaks out.
The episode’s final moments provide the most apposite lead-in for next week’s blowout, beginning with a brilliant match cut between Audrey (in extreme close-up) begging Charlie for help and Audrey regarding herself in a mirror. After an ominous cut to black, the house band languidly assays “Audrey’s Dance” in a surreal backward-masked version. We’re through the looking glass now. Whatever inevitable madness the finale’s bound to contain, it’s sure to be more than the White Queen who’s off with her head.
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