The two-part finale of Twin Peaks: The Return puts us at long last in a position where we can assess the various layers of sense, nonsense, and pure irony contained in the show’s very title. We’ve always assumed that, at the narrative level, Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) would finally return to the town of Twin Peaks. And the finale certainly delivered on that promise, albeit in an extremely offhand and attenuated fashion, exemplified perfectly by the fleeting glimpse of the iconic “Welcome to Twin Peaks” sign we catch during Cooper’s limo ride into town. Series creators Mark Frost and David Lynch pointedly frontload “Part 17,” paying off several major storylines in the first half hour, only to spend the next 90 minutes spiraling into a terrifying Moebius strip of time loops and alternate realities that effectively undercuts everything we thought we knew about Twin Peaks.
“Part 17” opens with a whopper of a disclosure from Gordon Cole (David Lynch): The much-discussed Judy is, in fact, not a person, but an entity, “an extreme negative force” with which Major Briggs and Phillip Jeffries came into contact—likely the same figure glimpsed in the glass box in “Part 2” and seen spewing forth the BOB sac (as well as eggs containing that grotesque hybrid critter) in “Part 8.” Though it isn’t confirmed, it’s nonetheless strongly suggested that the girl into whose mouth that critter crawled was a young Sarah Palmer, tidily explaining her disturbing facility at face-removal.
Frost and Lynch sidestep the anticipated jailhouse siege, instead gathering a sizable portion of the show’s entire main cast in Sheriff Truman’s (Robert Forster) office just in time for the showdown with Bad Dale (MacLachlan). Many of them arrive in conventional vehicular fashion, while Mr. C takes a surprise vortex-fueled detour through the Fireman’s (Carel Struycken) magic theater, where the golden syphon machinery teleports him to a spot not far from the sheriff’s station. The doppelganger’s eventual dispatch requires both the expected superhuman sledgehammer power of green-gloved Freddie Sykes (Jake Wardle), as well as Lucy’s (Kimmy Robertson) rather more unanticipated prowess with firearms. Cooper slips the Owl Cave ring onto his double’s finger, sending him back to the Red Room.
When Cooper finally notices Naido (Nae Yuuki) in the room, a gigantic still picture of his face appears superimposed over the image, indicating that Cooper indeed may be the dreamer mentioned in “Part 14.” This notion is supported by his distorted repetition of Jeffries’s line from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me: “We live inside a dream.” When Cooper and Naido touch palms, she suddenly morphs into Diane (Laura Dern), and their kiss temporarily vanquishes the superimposed visage. Their union represents one possible outcome for the dream. But the clock on the wall is stuck between 2:52 and 2:53, a moment in time that crops up throughout The Return and represents, as Cooper’s message to Cole mentioned, a number that adds up to 10, the numerological “number of completion.” The dream isn’t over quite yet.
Now the series truly begins to swallow its own tail. Darkness descends, leaving Cooper, Gordon, and Diane to grope their way through the shadows. Cooper solicitously takes Diane by the hand and soon they find themselves in front of the mysterious door in the Great Northern furnace room. The key to room 315 that Cooper took from Sheriff Truman fits the lock. The door doesn’t lead to his comfy old wood-paneled room, however, but to the Dutchman’s, the place that’s not a place somewhere “above the convenience store.” Cooper’s assertion that “the past dictates the future” is belied by the fact that from here, until the end of “Part 17,” everything old seems new again, rendered strange and unfamiliar.
Frost and Lynch accomplish this by incorporating a long section from Fire Walk with Me that recounts events on the night of Laura Palmer’s (Sheryl Lee) death. Into this monochrome footage, new material is inserted: of Cooper materializing in the woods as an onlooker. At the point in the film where Laura went off to seal her fate with Leo (Eric Da Re) and Jacques (Walter Olkewicz), she’s intercepted by Cooper, who offers her his hand to guide her home. Frost and Lynch then interpolate footage culled from the opening scenes of the original pilot: those iconic shots of Laura’s body, wrapped in plastic, washing ashore. Except this time her body vanishes into thin air. Cooper tries to rewrite the Twin Peaks story bible, undoing the entirety of the show’s history in the process. Repurposing old footage for radical new purposes is another way that the series toys with the notion of return.
As “Part 17” segues into “Part 18,” it grows progressively unclear whether or not Cooper succeeds in saving Laura. Throughout, something in the very fabric of existence seems to resist his efforts. Time stutters, events repeat. Twice Laura eludes Cooper’s grasp, like Eurydice turning away from Orpheus at the very mouth of the underworld. She’s whisked away screaming, just like she was in “Part 2.” Indeed, “Part 18” reprises this and other moments in the Red Room from The Return’s first two episodes, though each time they’re given a new spin, a fresh variation on the old theme. It almost feels like the series has hit the reset button for its final episode.
With a gestural flourish worthy of the magician in the one-armed man’s incantatory poem, Cooper emerges from the Black Lodge into Glastonbury Grove, this time to find Diane waiting for him. Their plan, disclosed in fragments of dialogue, seems to involve crossing over into an alternate reality, where “it could all be different”: where day turns to night, identities begin to warp, and love is irremediably lost between lovers who fail to recognize each other, even in the throes of lovemaking. This dispassionate sex scene is preceded by dialogue echoing the doppelganger’s seduction of Chantal at the end of “Part 2,” while the Platters’s “My Prayer” on the soundtrack calls to mind the head-crunching violence of the woodsman in “Part 8,” even as Diane, refusing to even look Cooper in the eye, covers his face with her hands.
The world Cooper wakes up to the next morning is different, as everything from the motel to his car to the landscape has changed. Diane’s farewell note, signed Linda, is addressed to Richard, names (along with the emphatically invoked number 430) that were first uttered by the Fireman in the very first scene of the new series. Cooper/Richard seems different too: In walk and talk, he resembles an unholy hybrid of himself and the doppelganger. He’s violent yet restrained, intuitive but at the same time seemingly oblivious. The intuition leads him to stop at Judy’s diner, and puts him on the trail of a woman who uncannily resembles Laura Palmer. The other side of his persona has him turn a blind eye to the dead man in her living room.
The final 20 minutes on the road to Twin Peaks are as dark, literally and figuratively, as anything Lynch has ever done. Lynch conjures dread through simple spatial relations: Depthless frontal views indicate pursuit and paranoia; the gulf between a profile and a back window anticipates the sudden incursion of violence. The entry into town is as nonchalant as in “Part 17” but entirely different: The Double R, glimpsed briefly, resembles neither the classic 1989 version nor the RR2GO franchise seen in earlier episodes of The Return. What follows hints at another possibility: Cooper and Laura have tumbled out of Twin Peaks altogether, and into something more or less resembling our reality.
The series ends with a terrifying cliffhanger that bests even the finale of “Beyond Life and Death.” Cooper and Laura/Carrie Page arrive at the Palmer house. Though her mother’s name seemed to strike a discordant note with her, Laura fails to recognize her old home. Taking Laura by the hand, Cooper leads her to the front door, which is answered by a blond woman, who calls herself Alice Tremond. Her full name combines a reference to the looking-glass world of Lewis Carroll and a name familiar from the original series, where it belonged to an elderly grandmother type, as did the name of the house’s previous owner, Chalfont, in the prequel film. Further blurring boundaries between characters, actors, and “real people,” the woman playing the role, Mary Reber, has owned the actual Palmer house in Washington state since 2014. The collision of fiction and so-called reality (an impact prefigured in “Part 15”) prompts Cooper’s bewildered: “What year is this?”
And so the final return of The Return invites us to inquire into our own motives for wanting to revisit these characters and these places. What did we expect? Surely, if we’re at all attuned to Lynch’s wavelength, it wasn’t the dubious comfort of straightforward resolutions and satisfactory answers. As with any radically open work, it all comes down to asking the right questions. Because the world spins on, and, sooner or later, we’re all out of sand.
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