While I still can’t decide whether the season finale of Twin Peaks: The Return was audacious or disappointing, I do think it’s foggy and elusive conclusion burns brightly with a universal truth. Even with the best intentions, grief cannot be extinguished entirely.
Despite Dale Cooper preventing the murder of Laura Palmer at the hands of her father in the guise of Bob: (A supernatural parasite and the Twin Peaks’ manifestation of Freud’s ID) Sarah Palmer’s persistent sorrow is evident and festers like a recurring wound that will never truly heal. A static master shot with sounds of the wailing, mournful mother figure and a subsequent close-up of Sarah stabbing a photo of her daughter, which miraculously never tears powerfully evokes this idea.
If the original two seasons of Twin Peaks were an extension of David Lynch’s theme of the darkness residing within the quaint confines of suburbia; (most vividly illustrated in the director’s 1986 film- Blue Velvet), then The Return draws upon the director’s later work. In particular, the pervading themes and ascetic qualities of the fractured psyche trilogy (Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire) underpin the series.
Certain key moments in the penultimate episode (The Past Dictates the Future) adopt the smudgy standard definition digital ascetic of Inland Empire. In the tail end of the final episode (What is your name?) Sheryl Lee’s character looks like she could be a dead ringer for Diane Sawyer in Mulholland Drive. However, Lost Highway most prevalently feels like it has been ingrained in the series’ soul.
Many of the driving scenes employ the same dizzying and seemingly infinite point of view shots that pervaded the 1997 film. Crucially, Lost Highway was a cyclical picture in which the protagonist always eluded the affections of an individual woman. Alice rejects the younger incarnation of the main character insofar as the promise of permanent commitment despite an abundance of physical pleasure. In stark contrast, the older variant of the character suffers from impotence, resulting in a disengaged and distant relationship with his wife, Renee.
In the Return, Cooper’s choice of wanting to save Laura mirrors his decision in Series Two to embark on a mission to rescue Annie. In both instances, Cooper’s soul is divided. In the original series, it is much more clear cut insofar as his shadow self (possessed by Bob) emerges from the Black Lodge while the upstanding Cooper is trapped in the Lodge. However, in the recurrent series, Cooper’s shadow self subtly manifests itself in his everyday actions. The result is a combination of the persistent drive for goodness of the FBI special agent combined with the harshly tortuous methods of his doppelganger.
Kyle MacLachlan has always considered his Blue Velvet character- Jeffery Beaumont to be the younger version of Cooper. With this in mind, the almost whiplash inducing character change in the final episode makes sense. Beaumont’s supposed intentions in regards to Dorothy Vallens were always called into question- encapsulated by the film’s quintessential line- “I can’t tell if you’re a detective or pervert.”
Cooper’s unspecified motives for saving Laura exist on a similar line of ambiguity. Is it the hubris of presuming to change nature that Cooper thinks he can save Laura? Or a projected sense of being Laura’s angelic rescuer while investigating the case in the original series? A rejected sex scene between Cooper and Laura in Fire Walk With Me along with Lynch’s cited inspiration of Vertigo lend the ending with a perpetual subtextual fascination.
But what of the rest of the series? What light does the finale cast the past episodes in? Undeniably, there are enough loose threads to tie down a hot air balloon, but there is an overarching point to the structure. One could interpret the tenuous storylines as Lynch illustrating the fragmented nature of a community. It has fundamentally become isolative and withdrawn.
To take this idea even further, one could read the rest of the series as a shadow version of Twin Peaks in which time has changed its united nature. It now exists as a fragile construct that can be severed at any point. The sequence of Audrey dancing in the Roadhouse to only wake up in a white room when a fight breaks out most powerfully demonstrates that many of the characters in the series are in their own private, delicate constructs.
There are many allusions throughout the series of the metaphysical concept being fractured. A text sent in the early hours of the morning does not reach a particular recipient until afternoon. Vital plot points exist in a seemingly hazy timeline of past, present and future. And current events we see in one part are referred to as the present in subsequent episodes.
The frequent question that pervades the people within the Black Lodge of “Is it future or is it past?” takes on terrifying new life. The opening credits now merge the scenic mountains and gushing waterfalls of Twin Peaks with the overflowing red curtain in the Black Lodge, suggesting that neither place is on a single plane of existence anymore. The town that Cooper once fell in love with, has now become a purgatory of his making, and Laura Palmer’s tragic demise still echoes through time with terrifying and vivid clarity.
Fundamentally, Mark Frost and David Lynch have crafted a television series of such daring vision and exacting patience. In an age where media is consumed at the speed of lightning, the original creators have forced the audience to observe every single scene with a critical and methodical eye. At times, the series may confound and disorient, but nobody said the dissident has to be cordial.