On Twin Peaks The Return… “A place both wonderful and strange”
“Man… woman… birth… death… Infinity.”
Opening to Ben Casey
So, we finally have an ending. And it’s one that is both perfect and maddening simultaneously.
When you look of pop culture today, you see a world of sequels, reboots and retreads (and the incredibly disappointing nature of most of them) many looked upon the idea of Twin Peaks coming back with equal parts anticipation and dread. I know, because I was one of them. Would lightning strike twice, or would we get the equivalent of Star Trek: Into Darkness?
Twin Peaks: The Return is 18 individual episodes, as well as one “movie” at the same time. You can review it week-by-week, as many pundits and fans have, or you can I look at this as a singular piece, the way (I believe) Mark Frost and David Lynch intended. Both views work – “twin peeks” – though I prefer the later.
Which is why I waited to write until now.
I love Twin Peaks. Absolutely adore the series. I figured out who BOB was two weeks before it was revealed, I collected Wrapped in Plastic magazine, I’ve become fast friends with my fellow Peaks fans,… and I have had the great pleasure of buying Mark Frost dinner many many moons ago – just as he and David started to scratch the itch which resulted in The Return. So you may say that I am biased, and you would be exactly right. But, please note that sense of dread I noted earlier. I was apprehensive, I was cynical, and I just didn’t know how it would work.
Well, it worked, and in a way that completely surprised me. It worked because it almost completely rejected our expectations and almost dared casual viewers to engage with the story being told.
We expected Special Agent Dale Cooper to escape from the Black Lodge, and to track down his doppelgänger. Nope. He spends the majority of the series adle-brained and embroiled in an insurance scam. We expected BOB to continue his serial killing spree, pretending to be Cooper. Nope, he went off the grid on a hunt for Phillip Jeffries (who is trying to have him killed) and “Judy”. We get Gordon Cole as the defacto “lead” character. We go a new Sheriff Truman, a headless body, multiple unexplained murders, a green-fisted Englishman, Las Vegas mobsters, and eventually an undoing of the very core premise of the original series.
And then the last hour happened. Some people think that it was a setup for another season, but again – Frost and Lynch confound expectations. That was the end, and it was an end that the show needed.
Cooper won in the penultimate episode, but that wasn’t enough. We expected a victory lap, and a happy ending. Again, not what Frost and Lynch had in mind. He had to go and save Laura Palmer.
Which changed everything.
Mark Frost is a big fan of the show The Prisoner, and I saw some echoes in that show’s ending here. An ending that was completely appropriate. The audience wanted to find out who Number One was, but Patrick McGoohan had a more figurative view of who that was than the audience expected. Viewers were outraged then, and many are outraged by this ending now.
(And if you don’t think The Prisoner is an influence here, you clearly missed the number that was on the power pole highlighted outside of “Laura’s” house in the finale – the number 6.)
There’s also the recursive nature of The Prisoner , which is referenced in the last two hours. Cooper will be trying to save Laura forever, he is the classic white knight trying to save the damsel. It is his “trap” – his prison.
Lynch and Frost had complete creative freedom to do what they wanted, and they created a dream of a series – literally, it was all a dream, and they told the viewers that throughout the running time. But who is the dreamer? Are we? Is it Cooper? Or an unseen figure? Or is it the last dream of a dying man… because death in this new series is almost a main character, due to the members of the cast we have lost in the intervening years.
In the end, it doesn’t matter, because it is all subjective. Is it art? Yes, absolutely. So you can like it love it or hate it – the art doesn’t care. It exists to provoke, and Twin Peaks The Return was one hell of a provocative piece of art. It was horrifying. It was daring. It was hysterical. It was confrontational. It was moving. It was beautiful.
And it was a masterpiece.
I will be revisiting this again, and I’m sure I will pick up on things I missed before. It will be worth a revisit, but I need to have some distance, and I need to figure out a way I can watch the whole thing in one sitting.
Like the original series did twenty six years ago, The Return was something completely original and surprising, and if this is all we ever see of that world and it’s inhabitants again – heck, if it is the last creative work Lynch and Frost ever do – I will be happy.
Now, to get another cup of coffee.