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“What year is this?”: Saying goodbye to Twin Peaks, all over again

Kyle MacLachlan (left) Sheryl Lee (Photo: Suzanne Tenner/Showtime)

Do you ever finish a book, only to flip back to the last page to scan the final lines for additional understanding and/or closure? Against my better judgement, and against everything I know about Twin Peaks and the David Lynch oeuvre, I did something similar with “Part 18,” the finale of what some call season three, some call The Return, and what everyone involved should consider the conclusion of a dream Lynch and Mark Frost first told us about in 1989. After the veil-piercing scream, after the cut to black, after the credits rolled to completion—thereby eliminating any possibility that Samuel L. Jackson was going to show up to ask FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (or is it Richard?) about The Avengers Initiative—I rewound to Coop’s exchange with the woman at Sarah Palmer’s door. In the moment, there was no additional meaning to gather—though I did manage to hear Sarah Palmer’s ghostly “Laura?” the second time through. What it intensified instead were my feelings of distress and dread, feelings I’d had years before, when I learned that the first time Twin Peaks ended, it did so with a bloodied Kyle MacLachlan staring into a mirror, and Frank Silva grimacing back at him.

While chewing over “Part 18” throughout Labor Day (let’s all thank Showtime for granting us a holiday during which we could digest these final pieces of the pie), I realized that this type of conclusion has always unnerved me. It’s the feeling of being trapped by circumstance, a character’s sudden realization that they’re locked into an inescapable, Möbius-strip existence by forces beyond their comprehension. It’s as effectively chilling in a goofy, arcade-themed episode of Are You Afraid Of The Dark? as it is in a Lynch film like Lost Highway. They’re different words, but “Dick Laurent is dead” and “What year is this?” have the same purpose.


Clayton has already made a compelling case for ending Twin Peaks where Twin Peaks ends, so I don’t want to rehash too much of that here. But after 36 hours of turning over “Part 18” in my head, I’m left sensing a distinct difference between two endings that could reasonably be described as cliffhangers. The original series’ 29th episode (retroactively titled “Beyond Life And Death”) begs for resolution. “Part 18” says, to me, that resolution is impossible. That darkened street is the precipice for a new story, but we don’t need to see how it pans out, because we already know how it pans out: Coop wants to save Laura, but Laura can’t be saved. It’ll go on like that, for eternity. Even in his slightly altered state, Coop’s still going to be the white hat, standing up to assist people like the waitress at Judy’s—with varying degrees of force. Laura will remain, in the classic Lynchian mode, “a woman in trouble.” It’s a nostalgic comfort mixed with tragic realism to produce something uniquely unsettling. The past—as Cooper says, a look of personal epiphany superimposed on the frame—dictates the future.

These episodes close a sometimes frustrating, always fascinating loop, an 18-episode run that turned my head around on more than one occasion. Its many detours—that snapshot of Beverly’s tumultuous home life, nearly everything at The Roadhouse that didn’t involve a musical performance—feel like they should’ve been saved for a new edition of The Missing Pieces. But they’re outweighed and outnumbered by the monuments, the moments that lived up to Twin Peaks’ example and gave the television of 2017 and beyond new heights to aspire to. To the very last, it was unpredictable (Who would’ve guessed that the battle with Bob would’ve come down to a few super-powered punches?) and indelible (Lynch walking through the basement of the Great Northern, accompanied by his two lasting muses, MacLachlan and Laura Dern).

The night before the finale, I went to see a midnight screening of Fire Walk With Me at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre. “Part Eight” of the miniseries played as an encore after the movie; I can think of a handful of TV episodes for which I’d forgo sleep in order to watch them in a movie theater at 2:20 a.m., and two of them come from Twin Peaks. (The other being the similarly game-changing “Zen, Or The Skill To Catch A Killer.”) As the episode played, I kept telling myself I’d check out at certain points, but “I’ll stay until the nuclear test is over” became “I’ll stay until the Woodsman gets on the radio” became “I’ll stay until the girl swallows the insect-frog thing.” And, wouldn’t you know it, that last scene occurs pretty much at the end of the episode.

There are many sections of Twin Peaks: The Return in which viewers would be justified in bailing, but the miniseries just kept drawing me in. It invites us to rewind and revisit, whether we’re seeking clarity or we want to be enveloped in the sense of awe inspired by its most audacious scenes. It’s out there now, forever running along an elliptical path, ready to entrance and alarm us once again. No need to cut into a new loop—there’s still plenty to be uncovered along the path of this one. [Erik Adams]


Laura Dern and Kyle MachLachlan (Screenshot: Showtime)

When looking back at the themes and heady conceptual motifs that defined Twin Peaks: The Return, the obvious temptation is to turn toward the related works from David Lynch’s career. It’s easy to find parallel narratives in Lost Highway, as you do, Erik, or in Mulholland Drive, as others have. Even The Straight Story has some structural affinities with this finale, in the lengthy traveling shots that go on for so long they begin to seem as important as the destination, emphasizing the way that meanings and ideas change through the mere act of moving from one place to another, even if all else seems to remain the same.

But what struck me most was the way in which David Lynch likes ending the story of Twin Peaks, because this is actually the second time he’s done it. The writer-director closes the book on one story, only to present a vast and intriguing panoply of fractured narratives that communicate a far more unsettling thought: Namely, that we don’t actually have the closure we previously understood as secure. The ending of the original series may have been sinister, but it also made logical sense, a clearly defined beat in a story of good versus evil in a small town in the pacific northwest. But the actual ending came the following year in Fire Walk With Me, which took everything we thought we knew about the death of Laura Palmer and put it in a blender, upending the very ideas of time, life, and death in the process. It retroactively disrupted the more conventional ending of the series (“conventional” in the world’s loosest air quotes, here) by breaking open that world to show us a stranger and more non-linear one, an existence where life can cycle back on itself, and events from years or even decades removed can shift or reflect back the events of now.


“Part 17” and “Part 18,” the two halves of the finale, manage a similar feat. The first hour performs the task of defeating Doppel-Cooper and shattering the floating orb containing the spirit of Bob, while also revealing Naido to be the real Diane, now freed from her prison. It provides narrative resolution to the story of The Return, an end to the tale that we’ve been watching for the previous 16 hours. Hell, even Janey-E and Sonny Jim get Dougie back, a satirically blissful suburban reunion of sun-dappled smiles, not unlike the enigmatically cheery ending of Blue Velvet. And when it ends with Cooper losing Laura in the woods, looking around to the horrific sound of her scream, it’s an “oh, shit” moment to rival the conclusion of season two, the other shoe dropping on a supposedly heroic moment of salvation.

And then “Part 18” really blows things up. Just as Fire Walk With Me took the blueprint of the series and pried it apart, so does the second half of the finale take a number of engagingly elliptical scenes and characters from throughout The Return and puts them in service of an entirely new thread, one that turns all of Cooper’s hopes sideways and throws us into uncharted waters. “Part Eight” may have been the game-changer, but “Part 18” provides the kind of world-shaking shifts the film delivered to the series. Not only can we not get the reset implied by the previous hour’s depiction of Laura’s body vanishing from the shoreline setting of the original pilot, but that even a completely different person wearing Laura’s face—Carrie Page—will inevitably be caught in the infinite push and pull of this fractured universe. I know I’ll be turning this incredible show over in my head for a long time to come (the Mulholland Drive tattoo on my arm staring at me as I type this is a pretty good indicator of my interest in continuing to think about the return to Twin Peaks), but right now, that recurring conclusion tactic is as good a source of wonder as any musical performance at the Roadhouse. [Alex McLevy]

Photo: Suzanne Tenner/Showtime

The extreme polarity of responses to the Twin Peaks finale on social media sent the show’s final line echoing in my head: “What year is this?” That line points to the Möbius-strip purgatory in which our would-be hero Dale Cooper finds himself trapped, forever in thrall to the incomprehensible forces that maintain the cosmic balance between dark and light. But it also points to another thread that critics have pointed out throughout the series, which is Lynch’s sly subversion of the nostalgic expectations of our fan-driven pop culture landscape.


Audrey Horne’s storyline in The Return is perhaps the most blatant example: After a sometimes maddening storyline that raised questions of whether she was still in a coma, or a doppel-Audrey, or some other outré Lynchian explanation, in “Part 16” Lynch seemed to bend to nostalgic pressure and have Audrey, finally, do the famous, languid steps to “Audrey’s Dance.” A heightened, tongue-in-cheek bit of fan service, but fan service nonetheless. Right? Then, a brief flash, and we see that Audrey is trapped in a blank white room, staring down her horrified reflection in a mirror. And, given that we don’t see her again, that’s where she is going to stay. It’s a bleak ending for a fan-favorite character, for sure. But the thing about a blank white room is that you can project anything you want onto it, as fans have been projecting themselves onto the character for decades now. In his own uncompromisingly dark way, Lynch made her immortal.

That’s why I can’t see the ending of Twin Peaks as anything but a gift. Laura Palmer slipped out of Dale Cooper’s grasp, because the past, no matter how enamored we are of it, remains forever just out of reach. But things do come back around again, and if Cooper continues in his dogged pursuit of salvation, for Laura and for himself, then the story never has to end. Not on a new season of the show, which I agree is neither necessary nor desirable, but in the pleasure of marinating on what the show meant to each of us, and discussing those ideas and interpretations with others. Instead of wringing our hands about what we don’t know, let’s remember the happy ending for Ed and Norma, the touching send-off for Log Lady Catherine Coulson, Dougie’s emotional homecoming, Diane’s redemption and ultimate liberation. It’s rather beautiful that a show that engaged with mortality so directly ended with some loose ends, because life is like that, too. May Twin Peaks rest in peace, and live on in our dreams. [Katie Rife]


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