Well, now that it’s over, we can finally assess Twin Peaks: The Return as a whole. This review will contain spoilers for the entire series and ending, if you haven’t watched it yet.
During the hype that preceded it, viewers were hoping for a satisfying conclusion to the numerous stories of the original, and return to the quirky and mysterious overheated soap opera that it was. Then it soon became apparent that we were not going to get that—something that probably didn’t surprise followers of Lynch’s entire career. This left us wondering what we were going to get, and having to come to grips that it looked like what we were going to get—and ultimately did get—is a story about a man returning from another dimension and his evil doppelganger, in the familiar world of Twin Peaks (and other localities) but now with an added and equally important spiritual dimension. And while we were enjoying what it was, hope continued that eventually we would get our old Cooper back (hopefully with enough time to enjoy his company) and all the disparate strands would weave together into some sort of satisfying conclusion, which it did, and then….
What was good about it—aside from having something on television that was truly surprising, interesting and different—is the way it tied the entire first series, movie and new series into one grand work, although I don’t think anyone expected that the second season and prequel movie would have such a great influence. And while I might have rathered stay within the world of the original series, I have to admire that Lynch didn’t back down from conceits of the second season and film, and just went with them. It gave us something truly unusual, and offered us something as beautiful as episode 8, which everyone should still watch, whether you watch the rest of the series at all… just let it wash over you and know that you won’t understand it.
All of what we realize now were just extraneous strands, which includes most of the action happening to the characters of the original show and several of the newcomers, emerge as little moments happening in this world, and some of them are merely touching or funny or beautiful or horrifying. Also, Lynch pulled off the hat trick of making us watch the exploits of Dougie Jones while our eyes were somewhere else—namely on when Cooper would wake up—and perhaps missing what it was, which was a Being There-type extended comedy about a naïf who ends up putting a great many things right in a screwed-up world. Now that we aren’t all waiting for the conclusion we expected, perhaps we can look back and see some of the golden comedy that it was. Although I’m not sure I have much interest in starting again at the beginning and seeing how it plays now that we know what it is.
One thing that was very pronounced—and I’m a little shocked to see it receive almost no mention—is Lynch’s 50’s-era misogyny. Most women were either angels or whores, or old, burnt-out, sexless hags, and there were several scenes of sexualized violence against women. There’s also the presence of the three Las Vegas show bunnies, brutalized and under the control and objectification of gangsters, one of whom weeps over what a good man the man who has been demeaning her the entire time. It is what it is—and hey, I still love Brian De Palma despite his treatment of women—and Lynch is an artist and his work quite valuable, but I don’t think that means he gets a free pass and the topic should not be part of the discussion.
So at the end, it looked like everything was leading into the conclusion we all wanted—Cooper finally woke up, all the strands converged in Twin Peaks, the evil Cooper was finally defeated and sent back to other dimension, and, as an added bonus, Cooper was able to go back in time and undo the murder of Laura Palmer. This was that satisfying ending, and would have been a lovely ending for the whole series, but even as it’s tying up, Cooper’s befuddled image superimposed over the action let us know that something was wrong, and there was that nagging knowledge that we had an entire last episode left to go…
That last episode was a bit of a monumental existential bummer, but held the dreary reality that, like it or not, there are very few happy endings. First there’s the protracted and deeply uncomfortable coupling of Cooper and Diane, going through the motions with nothing but creepy discomfort, and discovering upon awakening that they aren’t who they thought they were. Then Cooper is in this other reality, as this other person, and finds a Laura Palmer, who also isn’t the person we knew. He takes her back to her home, only to find it is no longer and never was her home—and note that the people mentioned who owned it before are people are the old lady and son as seen in Fire: Walk With Me.
Earlier, as Cooper was leading the young Laura away from her murder, he lost her, she apparently vanished, and he heard her scream. It would seem to be saying that we can never truly undo bad things, the lost person will always be lost, and we must recall that through all incarnations, Laura always disappeared just as some heroic man was about to save her. I have read, and I think it’s an okay theory, that she vanished because her mother finally gave up hope and smashed the picture of Laura in her home, although it really is the darndest coincidence it should happen just at that moment. Note also that Phillip Jefferies, the previous FBI agent who got lost in the other dimensions, shows Cooper an infinity sign… perhaps meaning that evil will always persist, and good will always be fighting it.
There was, however, a poetic rightness to see Cooper and Laura together on that porch, and, while the show left several indelible images, the moment of Cooper asking what year it is remains powerfully bleak and haunting. My interpretation is: there’s no easy way out of existential questions, there’s no quick switcheroos in the world of the spirit… you worm your way out of one crap dimension and you’re just trapped in another crap dimension. It’s about as bleak as it gets, but yeah, there it is.