“I am the FBI.”
Dale Cooper is awake—“100 percent,” he confirms—and he’s as assured and as reassuring as ever. As Diane says in a more sinister context, there’s no knock, no doorbell, no stirring herald. There’s just a faint, persistent ringing, just like the one that puzzled Ben and Beverly at The Great Northern, and suddenly Special Agent Dale Cooper is back from the fog and back in charge.
From the moment he arises from his hospital bed, Cooper is in command, and he makes that command look as comfortable as a custom-tailored suit, as warm as a cup of coffee, as easy as… well, as easy as eating a piece of damned fine pie. Whether he’s telling Janey-E to bring to car around, telling the doctor to release him though he was mere seconds ago deep in a coma, telling Bushnell to hand over his concealed .32, or telling the Mitchum brothers to gas up their jet, when Dale Cooper tells someone to do something, they do it, and they smile like it’s a privilege to serve. Because when you serve someone as obviously upstanding as Dale Cooper, it is a privilege.
Special Agent Cooper wears that command easily, but it wasn’t easy to come by. It took 15 hilarious, harrowing episodes to get here. And it was a privilege to watch them, because that journey is the return. Twin Peaks: The Return was never about Dale Cooper sweeping in to perform a swashbuckling season of derring do and arcane detective work. It was always about the process of return: about the show’s return, more than 25 years later and unafraid to show its age, to a television landscape it helped shape; about its hero’s slow, sometimes painful return to a world from which he’s been too long absent; about an adoring but flawed popular memory that clamored for the return of something that never was; about the way time and loss make it impossible to return to the past.
Phillip Gerard, checking in from the Red Room, isn’t alone in greeting Cooper’s awakening with “Finally!” But that wait gives weight to Dale Cooper’s return. Seeing him dodder around in Dougie’s life, seeing him barely grappling with the most essential aspects of daily life, seeing him grope for (and fail to grasp) the signs pointing to his true self—these challenges and delays demonstrate just how lost Dale Cooper was. And seeing him snap back into form with unerring mixture of certainty and kindness demonstrates his virtuous core more vividly than anything else could.
Though I’ve been frankly enraptured by the revival of Twin Peaks, I can sympathize with those who find it exhausting or disappointing, and in “The Return, Part 16,” I can even point to an example of why. After all the build-up surrounding Richard Horne—his presence in Twin Peaks, his connection to the underworld that still thrives there, the speculation about his parentage and tonight’s confirmation of that speculation, his brutal hit-and-run of a child, his attempted murder of a beloved local teacher–Audrey’s vicious son is dispatched with barely a shrug.
When Dark Cooper sends Richard to walk his given coordinates (really, to test their effect), Richard accedes without hesitation. Bobby Briggs’ father took him to a massive tree stump they called Jackrabbit’s Palace to spin tall tales; Richard’s takes him to a giant boulder, a meeting place between worlds, where he’s nothing but a canary in a coal mine. When Richard is electrocuted, then winks out of this world, Dark Coop clucks his tongue in mild surprise, then says a barely rueful “Goodbye, son.”
It’s an understatement to say that’s an anticlimactic way to dispose of a character so woven into the fabric of these 16 episodes, and into the fabric of Twin Peaks: fathered by its hero’s doppelgänger, born to its noir-touched high-school sweetheart, and facilitating much of the local background action in the revival. Richard is the audience’s entree into the local drug trade, the mechanism by which we’re introduced to a dirty cop, the person who shows us Ray’s connection to the town of Twin Peaks, our glimpse into the Horne family’s ongoing troubles. His hit-and-run reveals Carl’s powers, and his attack on Miriam—and the need to intercept her letter—gives the Sheriff’s Department the last piece of evidence they need to nab Chad. And now Richard Horne, that nasty little mystery, seems to be… just… gone.
“Part 16” dispatches several of its minor characters just as abruptly, if less supernaturally, even as it turns them into bystanders. Staking out the Jones’ Lancelot Court house, Hutch and Chantal are dumbfounded by “a fuckin’ circus parade” of visitors, from a quartet of FBI agents to the Mitchum brothers’ entourage, before they’re gunned down in an unrelated argument with a neighbor. (I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest the man driving the Zawaski Accounting company car might not be an accountant.) Bradley and Rodney Mitchum, drawn outside by gunfire, sum up the situation and put their guns away. FBI Agent Wilson and his silent, nameless partner, the sole people on Lancelot Court with authority to intervene, are the most removed bystanders of all, never budging until all the gunfire stops.
Janey-E Jones and Sonny Jim, are left behind by Dale Cooper—the man they thought was Dougie, well-known if not well-loved husband and father—to wait for his replacement. Having given Gerard a strand of his hair from which to make another incarnation of himself, Dale promises that Dougie will return to them, and just as they cheerfully comply when Dale Cooper gives instructions, when he makes a promise, they believe him. Janey sees this isn’t her Dougie, and maybe never was, but when he tells her that their time together “made [his] heart so full,” she knows it’s true. Even the Mitchums believe Cooper when he assures them their “hearts of gold” are enough to keep them out of trouble with his “law-enforcement types.”
The innate goodness of Dale Cooper, which inspires trust even in those who are meeting him fully awake for the first time, is what Dark Coop abused in his meeting with Diane more than two decades ago. “No knock, no doorbell,” she says, “he just walked in.” First he grilled her about FBI business, and she let him, because she trusted him. Then he kissed her, and she felt how wrong he was, how far he was from the upright, forthright man of honor she’d worked with. “And he saw the fear in me. And he smiled… and he smiled.”
This sequence, which returns to the storytelling style of “Part 14,” letting the dread of Diane’s memory (and I don’t doubt this is Diane’s memory, though a likeness is telling it) rest entirely in Diane’s words and Laura Dern’s vulnerability, such a contrast to Diane’s usual hard-boiled glibness. “He raped me,” she tells them, repeating, “he raped me.” It sounds so bald, so brutal, so banal. And it is. It seems too small a word. And it is. Any word would seem too small.
Dark Coop’s violation of Diane didn’t stop that night, twenty years ago. It continues past the end of this scene. Because after he raped her—after he used the face and body of a man she trusted and admired to hurt and abuse her—Dark Coop took Diane “somewhere… like an old gas station?” she asks, but I think the phrase she’s looking for is “convenience store.” Or you could call it a transfer station, a site where the otherworldly can cross over into this world—and where evil that crosses over can dispose of troublesome residue that would hamper its progress.
Like Dougie, Diane (the only Diane we’ve seen) was manufactured for a purpose; unlike Dougie, she knows it. And unlike Dougie, some residue of Diane remains, fighting its way through to warn her colleagues. “I’m not me! I’m not me!” she cries before pulling her gun in an attempt to shoot them all (or, as Dark Coop’s text instructs, “:-) ALL.” She even drops a hint to lead them on their way: “I’m in the sheriff’s station,” she tells them. Is the real Diane embodied in Naido, the eyeless woman resting in a jail cell?
Audrey, too, is struggling to come back, to wake up, to cross over. It’s jarring enough to see her in the roadhouse, apparently having managed to cross that seemingly uncrossable threshold. But the now-familiar episode-ending roadhouse scene turns downright uncanny when an acoustic number by Eddie Vedder (introduced under his birth name, Edward Louis Severson) ends and the MC introduces “Audrey’s Dance.” The crowd clears the floor and stands waiting while Audrey looks around in shock, then gives way to the old familiar pleasures of her slow sway.
Her dance goes on for a long quiet time as the crowd sways in time with her. Sometimes it’s awkward, sometimes graceful, sometimes forced, sometimes fluid. And sometimes that old unself-conscious smile comes over her face, until a fight breaks out in the crowd and she snaps her eyes open, runs to Charlie, and begs him to “Get me out of here!”
Snap, she’s out of there. But where? The rough white collar of her garment suggests a hospital; the stark brightness of her surroundings suggests something stranger. And the final shot of the roadhouse band playing Audrey’s theme in reverse suggests worst of all: that Audrey, like Cooper and Laura and Diane’s doppelgänger, is in some Other Place, some place out of time, some place out of our world.
Agent Cooper is awake. The Diane we thought we knew has vanished. The real Diane is apparently disguised in another incarnation, sightless and without language, locked in a jail cell. Dark Coop is on the loose. Audrey remains in some unseen place, just waking up to her circumstances. Even more than the original, Twin Peaks: The Return is patient. It’s torturously patient. It’s agonizingly patient. It’s electrifyingly patient. It’s easy to wish it could move faster, but it’s also as futile as Jerry Horne looking into the wrong end of the binoculars and cursing the lenses instead of his own blunder in perspective.
- Please don’t miss Clayton Purdom’s thoughtful analysis of the sonic landscape of Twin Peaks: The Return.
- “You know, Dougie’s talking with a lot of assurance.”
- “Someone manufactured you.” “I know. Fuck you.”
- “What about the FBI?” “I am the FBI.” Reader, I cheered out loud.