Lots of people are feeling it, but nobody’s saying it better than Mike:
FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper is back to his old self, just in time for Twin Peaks’ two-part capper. My reaction to this news is itself a two-parter, Mike’s relief mingling with an acceptance of the series’ forthcoming conclusion. “Part 16” is a thrilling hour of Twin Peaks, with Coop’s long-awaited return to consciousness and a shocking conclusion to a dose of Roadhouse fan service. Season three still has some surprises, but a lot of “Part 16” is about tying up loose ends. Some involve hunches that have circulated since the early parts of the season: that Richard Horne is the spawn of Doppel-Cooper; that Doppel-Cooper raped Diane when he visited her in Philadelphia all those years ago. Although both spring from the same heinous, Bob-induced trauma, the revelations are treated with differing levels of gravity, the former taken care of in a throwaway line, while the latter is at the center of a dynamic Laura Dern monologue. Richard’s true parentage comes to light on the same night as Jon Snow’s, yet Twin Peaks didn’t feel the need to build a time-hopping, portentous montage around it. Richard was manufactured, he served his purpose, and now he is no more.
But that’s all burying the lede, because the most important thing that “Part 16” ties up is also the most electrifying. It’s remarkable what an impact a 100-percent-awake Coop has on the show, his presence like a stiff belt of espresso from the moment Kyle MacLachlan rips the respirator from his mouth. My patience with Douglas Jones wavered throughout season three: I was in the “you have to wake up” camp back in episode six, but I came to admire Dougie as a symbol of the show’s resurrection. He was something familiar that felt a bit off, all the while providing David Lynch and Mark Frost new avenues for mystery and mayhem, suspense and slapstick. I’m thankful for Special Agent Dale Cooper’s return, but I’m also thankful for Dougie’s gorgeous near-awakening in “Part 9,” that vignette of Twin Peaks symbolism that ends on the vessel of his deliverance: the electrical socket.
“Part 16” is a delicate balance of payoff and anticlimax. Our own Emily L. Stephens breaks it down in her recap: Richard Horne connects so many of season three’s ongoing threads, and yet there he is, zapped into nothingness at the top of the episode. Hutch and Chantal, who’ve been two of the most consistently delightful additions to the cast, are gunned down not by their boss or any of his doppelgänger’s allies from the bureau, the Silver Mustang Casino, or Lucky 7 Insurance, but by an extravagantly strapped “accountant” who just wants to park in his own driveway. There’s been a lot of that going around in the last few episodes, as characters who appeared to be part of a greater Twin Peaks universe beyond the original cast—Bill Hastings, Duncan Todd, Becky’s coke-addled squeeze Steven—were dispatched in similarly unceremonious fashion.
But that’s just Twin Peaks: It’s Lynch insisting that life is random, unpredictable, and not guaranteed to possess a comforting sense of closure, and Frost countering that with a little, “Yeah, but there are still a few narrative rules a TV show has to abide by.” It’s the nostalgic rush of seeing Sherilyn Fenn swaying to an Angelo Badalamenti tune one second, and a sudden surge of violence cutting through the ecstasy the next. It’s the terrible realization that the Diane we finally met two months ago isn’t the real Diane at all. It’s hearing Kyle MacLachlan speak once more in the commanding, clipped tones of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, without really committing any of the acts of heroism we know Coop by, with the exception of his farewell address to Janey-E and Sonny Jim. To echo that speech: Despite all the frustrations, the tangents, the coordinates, and the cul-de-sacs, I want to tell Twin Peaks how much I’ve enjoyed spending time with it. It’s made my heart so full. [Erik Adams]
To respond to Erik’s observation that this episode of Twin Peaks had little use for sentiment when dispatching new characters—as opposed to the loving send-off given to Catherine Coulson’s Log Lady in “Part 15”—allow me to quote finger-sandwich- and pink-satin-loving casino co-owner Rodney Mitchum: “People are under a lot of stress, Bradley.” That’s the world we live in now; it’s more violent, more chaotic, and less innocent than the world of 25 years ago. Not even Twin Peaks, the Eden where everyone will converge in the finale, is safe from its creeping influence. The stakes are higher, the evil is deeper, and our hero has returned, just in time.
Part of what made this episode so satisfying for me was not only that it finally indicated that we probably will get that long-awaited reunion of fan-favorite characters in the finale, but that it finally began to explain—“explain” being a relative term in Lynch’s work, of course—why things have been so off throughout the season. Diane’s been under a lot of stress. In “Part 16,” she finally opens up in Laura Dern’s heartbreaking, beautifully acted monologue, but we also find out about her trip to the “gas station,” adding a terrifying cosmic dimension to the very real feeling of disassociation that can come after sexual assault. (Her cries of “I’m not me! I’m not me!” hit me really hard.) Audrey’s been under a lot of stress. In “Part 16,” she briefly returns to the Audrey we used to know dancing under a spotlight, only to be ripped out of her reverie and back into the white room where she’s apparently been trapped this whole confusing, frustrating time. This time, though, she took us with her, if only for a moment.
Although I’ve enjoyed each episode of the revived Twin Peaks on its own merits, as episodic television I admit to getting frustrated somewhere between the overstuffed chair in the Briggs’ living room in “Part 9” and Cole’s French paramour in “Part 12.” “Is this going anywhere or is Lynch just messing with us?” I wondered. I’d still respect him if it was the latter, and even take some secret amusement in such a bold lack of regard for the narrative “rules” of TV. But I’m only human. I wanted the former. I wanted Coop to come back and bring some plainspoken goodness to this very stressful, very chaotic, very sinister world.
But yea, o ye Twin Peaks faithful, the answer has arrived, and our patience has been rewarded. The answer is both. We get both the arthouse mindfuck of “Part 8” and the fist-pumping excitement of Cooper sitting up in the hospital bed and talking like himself again in “Part 16.” Next week’s two-part finale may once again test that faith, but I won’t doubt Lynch and Frost again. [Katie Rife]
As glorious as Mike’s “finally” was, let’s talk for a second about what Cooper said to elicit that: the ironclad assertion that he was back “100 percent.” This season has, for better or worse, meandered, rooted out dead ends, tossed red herrings, and so on; we’d gotten used to enjoying incremental shifts in Cooper’s awakening, a percentage point or two at a time. I had half-suspected that the entire series would be leading up to his return in its exact final moments, a very literal take on the show’s subtitle. But for him to jerk to attention—not partially there or still piecing together memories, but “100 percent” ready for action—was the sort of narrative satisfaction I thought this show wasn’t interested in delivering. I yelped.
As affecting as Dern’s monologue was, I also want to light a candle for Naomi Watts, who has been one of the richest additions to the Twin Peaks roster. As shown in Mulholland Drive, she is the consummate Lynchian actress, capable of crossing great gaps of showy playacting (as a hectoring, brassy wife) and then creating moments of unforced tenderness. Her aching goodbye with Cooper this week was surprising but weirdly merited, allowing Watts one final transformation into a sort of stunned witness at the show’s transdimensional mysteries. Lynchian weirdness generally happens as a sort of awful secret among its characters; rarely does someone gaze on in thankful gratitude at it, with a sense of almost Spielbergian wonder. But then, that’s the appeal of Cooper, a light of goodness in a world bereft of it. It’s worth arguing whether the 16 hours leading up to that moment were worth it, but in a way, that moment wouldn’t have happened without the 16 hours of preamble. Compared to, say, Game Of Thrones, which has shrunk in runtime in order to pack ever-more spectacle into each episode, this season of Twin Peaks stands as a reminder of the virtues of slow TV when being helmed masterfully.
As for what’s next, I have a structural thought. It had seemed strange to me that the season’s most remarkable episode—“Part 8”—didn’t happen at the halfway mark, which would have been “Part 9.” But perhaps we should look at this as a 16-episode preamble to the two-hour finale. My guess is that the show’s defining slowness, effective as it has been, is over.
And, for what it’s worth, Audrey’s dance was a hell of an addition to the show’s musical callbacks. [Clayton Purdom]
“I will not soon forget your kindness and decency.” That’s how the risen Coop thanks Don Murray’s startled Bushnell Mullins as Badalamenti’s classic theme swells on the soundtrack and the third season of Twin Peaks finally makes good on its subtitle. Fun facts for Lynch-verse spotters: The doctor in this scene is played by Bellina Logan, who also appeared in Inland Empire and in the second season (in a different role), as well as some cut scenes in Wild At Heart, and Bushnell himself is named after the painter Bushnell Keeler, Lynch’s mentor in his days as a young art student, who first pushed him toward film. (Note the physical resemblance between Murray and Keeler as seen in Sailing With Bushnell Keeler, a home movie Lynch shot on 16mm in 1967.)
So there is a deeply personal dimension to this moment. I brought this up when the season started, but Dale Cooper is in some respects Lynch’s idealized alter ego, and Twin Peaks: The Return has to some degree been about what it means to be an artist in a scary world. But of course it’s about a lot of things, dissociated by Lynch and Frost through a soap opera of the American unconscious. Suburban developments, the atomic bomb, dark highways, corporate drudgery, Las Vegas, small-town cops, the FBI, mobsters—they’re all there as subplots, inching us toward what seems like a cosmic battle of good and evil. And good has arrived fashionably late: the real Coop, the monomythic sleeping hero, the absent artist stand-in who has come back to fight his doppelgänger. But let’s get back to those words, “kindness and decency.” That’s all that really matters, right?
We associate Twin Peaks with traumas and ominous otherworldly forces lurking or hiding behind the surreal veneer of everyday life. But though the pathologically decent Coop springs into action right away, making plans for a presumed showdown in Twin Peaks, he takes time out to make Bushnell, Janey-E and Sonny Jim, and the Mitchum brothers feel appreciated and to remind them that they’re good people. (“I am witness to the fact that you both have hearts of gold,” he tells the Mitchums in an especially Lynchian turn of phrase.) In a dark universe, people need to be reminded of the better angels of their nature. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]