The characters of Twin Peaks have seldom swallowed the oddities of their world without question, but there’s still a moment of laughter to be found in one of them outright asking ‘What the fuck just happened?’ All things considered, a lot did happen and most of the bows were neatly tied by the time our two part finale came to a hypnotic ending. Of course, if you were looking for clean resolutions in a show where a man with a garden glove punches a spherical representation of evil and David Bowie was recast as a talking teapot, you’ve come to the wrong place. This was resolution in the abstract: Sometimes baffling but no less satisfying if you’re willing to put the work in.
A quick reminder: This show is and has always been the story of Laura Palmer. It’s her voice, through past and present, living and dead, this world and beyond. David Lynch has received a lot of criticism over the years regarding his obsession for dead girls and the violence inflicted upon them by a cruel world. No less than Roger Ebert never got over what he saw to be unforgivable misogyny in Blue Velvet, and even this hardcore Lynch fan has questioned the ultimate necessity of some of the violence this season (mostly everything done by general waste of space Richard Horne). Yet credit must be given to Lynch and Frost for giving arguably the most iconic dead girl of her pop culture generation back her voice, time and time again. There was the secret diary, Fire Walk With Me and now this season, where Laura is the sun everything else orbits around. In this finale, we see her story pieced together from flashbacks of Fire Walk With Me to the current narrative, and you can’t help but sense that this is Lynch’s penance. He finally gets to give Laura the story he never got to with the original seasons. Yet he also never lets the audience forget just how she came to be the whodunnit case of the TV decade. We can hear from her repeatedly, see the scars and watch the inevitable and it will always be that: Laura Palmer will always be dead. Dale Cooper can try, but he can’t save her. Sarah shatters the glass encasing that iconic photograph of her daughter, the one that lingers in the opening credits of every episode (and thus ensuring Sheryl Lee’s name is in every closing credit), but it doesn’t free her. There’s a reason her scream is almost as iconic as her face.
Fittingly for a two part finale, this was a story of two halves. The first episode wrapped up things in Twin Peaks, dispatching of Evil Cooper quicker than many had anticipated, and getting the gang together in the sheriff’s department for a moment of unquestionable victory. There were moments of sweet joy amidst the pain. A new Dougie was fashioned to ensure completion of the Jones family; Andy and Lucy got to be heroes of the moment; The real Diane returned to the world, now with a striking red bob haircut and without the potty mouth. And it all happened in the first half hour of the first part. ‘Anti-climax’ isn’t the right term, but it is a stark reminder from Lynch and Frost that there will never truly be an end to this all.
Time is a circle, the future is the past, and no matter how hard he tries, Dale Cooper, as good as good can be, can’t fix everything. We desperately want him to. Even the most hardened Lynch fan can’t help but yearn for truth, justice and the American way. Of course, the America of Lynch is one where malice is barely contained by the postcard friendly sheen of the surface. The most recognizable images of Americana are thrown back at us in mystifying, unnerving ways: The freedom of the open road turned empty and sinister in barely lit nights; The great American countryside steeped in death; The old school motel the gateway to a new beyond. Dale Cooper is the lawman we hope for when darkness prevails, and watching him stride into the sheriff’s department of Twin Peaks, exuding authority from every pore, is satisfying to the point of schmaltzy, and this story can never be truly happy. Strip away the backwards speaking, the diner dancing, the nuclear explosions and the doppelgangers, and we’re left with a very simple story: A dead girl and the man who tries but will never rescue her.
Credit must be given to Kyle MacLachlan, an actor so frequently underestimated by critics and audiences alike. This season, he’s put in some of the greatest work of his career, embodying several iterations of the character that made him famous: Evil Cooper, the ideal good Cooper, Dougie Jones, an unknown man named Richard, and more than I could even count. You see the shifts in the subtlest of moments: The shrug of a shoulder, the tightening of the mouth, a change in his stride. I have absolutely no idea what episode he could submit for Emmys consideration, but this is a performance deserving of all the awards.
Sheryl Lee is also a performer of superb magnetism. Her still face, forever young and innocent, has plagued this world (and David Lynch himself) for decades, so when we see her again, older and scared and not Laura Palmer, it’s a shock to the system. Once again, she can tell her story but she has no idea it’s even hers. After Diane leaves Dale, he finds ‘Laura’ living as Carrie Page, and begs to take her back home. Fortunately for him, Carrie’s in need of a quick escape, with the dead man on her couch still and slowly rotting, because violence will always follow her. Their drive back to Twin Peaks is long, drawn out, mostly quiet and close to agonizing. The build-up cannot pay off, we know that, but the cruelty of seeing Laura return home, only to find strangers in the house who have no idea who Sarah Palmer is, pierces a hardened mind.
It’s the look of grief on Dale’s face that tips it over the edge, if this even is Dale (he’s more stilted and flinty than the effervescent Dale we saw heading back to Twin Peaks in the first place). He’s spent 25 years working, waiting, fighting for this happy ending and it was never going to be (‘What year is this?’ he asks before Laura/Carrie screams and the lights go out). It’s intensely cruel but could it ever have been any other way? Perhaps there’s a timeline where Laura isn’t murdered but would her life have been any safer or happier? Would she have been free from her father or the drugs or the sex or the inevitability of Twin Peaks itself crushing her soul? The fates aligned to create Laura as a way to stop BOB, and whatever the result of that blazing end battle, life still goes on and cannot go back. The cycle may repeat itself but it’s always going to hurt.
I’m sure that ending will be infuriating to some. I can already hear the cries of disappointment from many fans, those who futilely hoped Lynch wouldn’t Lynch out with this abrasive experiment. I understand their confusion — we never did get a conclusion to Audrey’s story, for one — but what we got has given me more pleasure and thought than anything on TV in years.
I was humbled to go back to Twin Peaks. It wasn’t the same but it never could be. I’m not sure I even wanted it to be the same, to be honest. That would have been dishonest.