Twin Peaks’ two-part finale was a dizzying, mystifying loop-de-loop, with individual scenes of almost indescribable cinematic richness: Cooper’s face superimposed over minutes of denouement, or the unfathomable strangeness of his sex scene with Diane. But all of that was preamble to the shattering impact of the series’ final scene. The question heading into the episode was: How could David Lynch possibly tie off all the competing plot threads, unresolved questions, and barely justified detours of this wily 18-hour season? Of course, the answer was that he couldn’t, but he came shockingly close to it on “Part 17.” In terms of happy endings, it’s hard to imagine a better resolution to a murder mystery than punching the forces of darkness back into hell and then preventing the murder from ever happening in the first place.
But then came “Part 18,” which seemed designed to obfuscate and infuriate, sending the protagonists to a parallel dimension and ending with a whole new batch of questions. I’ve seen some variety of musings that it was yet another cliffhanger, à la the infamous “How’s Annie?” that concluded the show’s first run, or the beginning of a new mystery now that the saga of Laura Palmer is closed. This is wishful thinking, imbuing a sense of sequential order and normal TV logic where there shouldn’t be. Like the infinity symbol Phillip Jeffries breathes into air, the conclusion of The Return marks the completion of a loop that feeds back into its very beginning. Lynch has doggedly refused to talk about continuing the show after this season, and now that we’re here, it’s clear why. It’s over. The story may not be complete, but the loop is.
What’s most remarkable about The Return, and “Part 18” in particular, is the way it has cast the entire series in a new light. The initial appeal of the show, outside of the Laura Palmer whodunnit, was its gradual unveiling of a mysterious realm that existed outside of ours, and some of The Return’s most indelible moments were those that expanded our understanding of that realm, whether it was the creation of Bob in “Part 8” or the frequent journeys into the bizarre logic of the Black Lodge. But peppered throughout were allusions to the wormhole we’d go through in the finale. The Giant’s opening scene referenced Richard and Linda, and Gordon Cole’s monologue about Monica Bellucci introduced the notion that this was all someone else’s dream. Audrey Horne’s wrenching return to reality from the heaven of the Roadhouse, too, provided a clue that there were more realities at play here than merely the world of Twin Peaks and the world of the Red Room. “We live in a dream,” Cooper intones with godlike solemnity in “Part 17,” but whose? Horne’s? Lynch’s? Monica Bellucci’s? The final episode gave us a reason to reexamine the entire show under this new rubric—not for evidence of a murder, but for evidence of a dream, of an unmoved mover.
It set us on this new journey with a series of images and sounds that it spent 18 hours rendering as unsettling as possible. The series’ long-running exploration of sound reached its crescendo in “Part 17,” in which Laura emerged from the woods to “Laura Palmer’s Theme” in a vision that eerily echoes the old video of Angelo Badalamenti talking about writing the track with David Lynch. Much of the rest of the episode—as Cooper and Palmer wander through the forest together, and as Sarah Palmer shatters her daughter’s picture—was given over to dense sound collages of the sort The Return leaned on regularly. In the indescribable sex scene between Diane and Cooper, ambient music and real-world pop play simultaneously, themes commingling as they transcend the world we’d known and enter—well, one that looked a lot more like ours. Odessa was filmed with a plainspoken realism, full of shabby cars, Valero gas stations, and, notably, utter silencio—no music, no ostentatious sound design, just unaltered ambient audio. The burble of a deep-fat fryer. The woman he and “Carrie Page” find at Palmer’s old house may have had Laura Palmer’s hair—much like Cooper and Leland got Bob’s hair when possessed by him—but she was played by the property’s real-world owner. They’d entered our world but it still had doors to the Red Room, or maybe the inspirations to its dreams.
It’s only fitting that all this silence was finally shattered with the show’s most famous sound—that is Laura Palmer’s primal, phantasmagoric scream. That, in turn, was what we were building toward, despite all the goofy humor of Dougie’s odyssey and meandering detours into suburban ennui. It was a bloodcurdling reassertion that the show is horror and that it always has been, both the otherworldly horror of the TV series and also the very real horror of incest as depicted harrowingly in Fire Walk With Me. Many TV shows turn dreamlike in their final moments, winking at the viewers for their devotion over the years—Star Trek: The Next Generation’s cosmic game of poker, Lost’s notoriously unfulfilling extra-dimensional gambit, Tony Soprano’s richly layered vision of eternal paranoia. But the final images and sounds of The Return work instead to undermine everything, presenting a question that cannot be solved: Who is the dreamer? The difference between the Lynch who buckled to studio pressure to solve the mystery of Laura’s murder and the Lynch of today is that he knows never to give us that answer. Like that shattering final scream, it’s left to echo.