There’s pretty much two ways to derive enjoyment out of watching Twin Peaks, and both involve divorcing yourself from the expectations of a linear, three-act narrative. The first is to interpret it as an aesthetic and emotional experience; it can’t be “unlocked,” and that’s okay. The second is to scour the material for the keys to that lock, the scraps of information and mythology that allow you to forge your own narrative from what’s been presented. While the latter option is often frustrating—you’ll never connect all the dots—it can also be a treat to see all the threads people have pulled. To absorb them all can reveal themes you didn’t see before or make sense of a scene that was otherwise confounding. It’s fun so long as you understand there is no definitive answer; there is only your own reaction.
One of the more exhaustive comprehensive theories comes from writer David Auerbach, who recently published a voluminous breakdown of how the final two episodes resonate throughout both The Return and the show’s previous incarnations. It gets pretty dense trying to justify all those surreal moments, but Auerbach’s piece outlines how The Return’s overriding plotline has been a plan concocted by the White Lodge and executed by Dale Cooper to lure the interdimensional monster that is Judy into a “cage” where it can be isolated and destroyed. The setting for the beautiful and challenging final episode is that cage.
One particularly interesting interpretation he posits, however, centers around the bizarre sex scene between Cooper and Diane, which surprises on its first viewing for its dark, joyless nature. As Auerbach explains, this was part of the plan to lure Judy into that cage, and, by exploiting the fact that Diane was sexually assaulted by Mr. C, it finds Cooper sacrificing a portion of his humanity to accomplish it.
This is where a symmetry with episode 1 comes in. I take the Experiment to be either Judy or an avatar of Judy. Sam and Tracey appeared to draw the Experiment to them by having sex (sex is almost always bad in Lynch films), whereupon the Experiment brutally slaughtered them at the height of their fear. Diane and Cooper now reenact this summoning ritual in order to draw Judy into the Cage. They both know this is the plan; while they both care for and love each other, this act of sex is anything but an act of love. Both are joyless. Cooper is dispassionate throughout, but remains focused on Diane with an expression of restrained concern. Diane tries to be affectionate but collapses into terror and tears, covering Cooper’s face and staring up at the ceiling.
None of this is unexpected to them. This was the plan all along. The suffering that Diane (and to a lesser extent Cooper) endures is a product of her having sex with the man who raped her. She knows it is going to be a traumatic experience: she sees her double outside of the motel because she is already dissociating at the prospect of having to sleep with Cooper, even though he’s not that Cooper. Cooper tells her to turn out the light in the hopes of sparing her some of the trauma, but it’s an empty gesture. He is guilt-ridden with the sins of his doppelganger. Their trauma helps lure Judy, but it is also what keeps them alive. Sam and Tracey were killed because they weren’t generating enough garmonbozia, so the Experiment mauled them to death to feast on their terror. But like Laura, good garmonbozia generators are worth keeping alive, so Judy does not kill Diane and Cooper. She enters the Cage, but she leaves them alive.
The disturbing nature of Diane and Cooper’s sex stems, ultimately, from two people violating every instinct of humanity, compassion, and love they possess in pursuit of an abstract greater good. In particular it stems from Cooper using Diane—with her consent, admittedly—as a means to an end in a brutally inhumane fashion. Cooper rarely had to choose between duty and instinct prior to now; they always pointed him in the same direction. Now they are completely incompatible.
His reading casts Cooper in an entirely different light, which is appropriate since the Cooper we spend time with in that final episode doesn’t feel like the one we were longing for all season. You may not be convinced by it, but it’s an exhaustive attempt to pull all the show’s threads together.
What you won’t find here? Any insight into Audrey’s fate. Auerbach is as clueless as the rest of the world on that front.