The following piece includes spoilers.
Twin Peaks has always been about questions. The murder of Laura Palmer was the ground zero for a much bigger examination of evil, one that undermined the seemingly perfect picket fences of the United States. This description might remind you of Lynch’s early masterpiece Blue Velvet, a film that tackled taboos and its consequences in U.S. society. And in some ways, Twin Peaks always has been a continuation of that theme on a different level, but David Lynch couldn’t fully execute his vision in the first two seasons, due to viewing figures that lead to the show’s distortion into a more viewer-friendly soap/crime narrative and finally to its cancellation. With The Return, an audacious work of art, that blurs the borders of television and film, he was finally able to.
It seems strange to explain why the third season makes the show one of the most staggeringly existential works to ever grace any screen, especially facing the huge amount of slapstick humor and uncompromised weirdness it contains. But on second thought, it makes total sense.
Disclaimer: This show is heavily interpretable and full of important details that I have to talk about to convey my point of view on the narrative. I will be very descriptive and specific in many of my remarks. I hope it’s not too exhausting.
The third season is an absurdist, gripping and deeply entertaining ride, structured like a rocket, in that it needs time to heat up in the first few episodes. Before it starts to go off, something stunning happens. Part 8, an hour of television like no other, is a throwback to Lynch’s early work, but the marks of Stan Brakhage and Stanley Kubrick can be felt too. A lot happens. The episode is deeply surrealist and unlike anything that has ever been shown on the small screen before. Like the original two seasons back in the early nineties, David Lynch redefines what tv can be. I’ll come back to that last sentence.The content of the episode never gets themathized in any way again and this falls into line with the many other disjointed narrative fragments, that surround the main plot and don’t seem to contribute anything to the overall story. That is until the very ending of the season, where everything comes into focus.
To convey why Twin Peaks: The Return is such a monolithical work of art, I have to speak about the last episodes in detail, so please bear with me. The show gets more and more entertaining, intoxicating and satisfying, the closer it comes to its endpoint. Part 16 is almost orgasmic in its catharsis. It evokes pure ecstasy, almost everything the viewer could have ever wished for, comes true. All the puzzle pieces seem to slowly come together. In Part 17, something insane happens. Something that seems just too good. After overcoming the evil spirit BOB, the origin of Laura’s and many others deaths, Cooper travels through time and space. He enters the companion piece of the show, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me‚ as some sort of presence. It’s the night before Laura Palmer’s death and Cooper has come to save her. He extends his hand, Laura is immensely frightened, but finally takes it.We see the very first scenes of the show again. But there is no body wrapped in plastic this time. Has Laura made it? In the past, Cooper continues walking through the woods, his hand still extended. Suddenly he turns around. Laura is gone. Julee Cruise sings the beautiful, haunting track The World Spins, a track that always encapsulated the feeling of Twin Peaks for me, in the Roadhouse. This could’ve been the ending of the show. It would make sense as a resolution, everything goes back to where it was. It’s not far-fetched to make Coop save Laura this way, while being trapped in the past, alone, unsure if he has succeded or not. There is an insanely thick and ironic subtext to that latter sentence. David Lynch is one of the most brilliant living artists. This would be too easy. He has bigger plans.
In Part 18, Cooper hears Laura screaming in the woods, after she disappeared. Something went wrong. He is back in the red room and after some cryptic smalltalk with the inhabitants, he exits the Lodge once and for all. Diane waits for him at Glastonbury Grove. Their meeting is a beautiful and crucial moment, one of trust and love. They drive their car down a road. Diane asks Cooper a question.
„Are you sure you wanna do this? You don’t know what it’s gonna be like, once we…“
Cooper persists. He is ready. They kiss one last time, before they drive past an aerial line, ‘Back to the Future‘-style. They are suddenly on a dark road and stop at a motel. The following scenes until the ending, are filled with an unease, that feels almost to much to bear at times. Something is majorly wrong.
As Diane and Cooper enter the room and have sex, I got caught off-guard by the tears in my eyes. You can feel something falling apart. The sex scene is deeply disturbing in a way that is hard to put into words, since it’s consensual and directed in a way that should make it a satisfying moment for the characters on paper, but it feels just off. In context to the scene, the choice of music seems to be completely out of place. Lynch frames the characters incredibly intimate and sober, it’s a major contrast to the rest of the show, where sex was either cut off (soap style), comedic, or violent. There is a distance between the characters. Diane tries to make out how Coop’s face feels and finally covers it, looking up into the air, away from him. Lynch subverts the clichee of sex scenes that end with the woman climaxing. Diane has her eyes full of tears instead. No trace of pleasure. Then a fade to black.This is the endpoint of Twin Peaks. Richard (Kyle McLachlan) wakes up in his bed. He reads a letter Linda (Laura Dern) left on his bedside table, in which she announces that she’s leaving him. Her reason is that she doesn’t recognize him anymore. From now on there is a unaccustomed soberness to the narrative tone. We are back in reality. There are traces of the mysterious world we knew, but they are rare and slight. Richard stumbles upon someone that looks like Laura, but isn’t her. Together they go back to the Palmer house. But it’s not the Palmer house anymore, the owner can’t give them any answers either. It’s Twin Peaks, but there is no nostalgic entry sign, it’s a modern middle-american smalltown like every other. There is no answer to all of this and Richard is about to realize it. He poses one last question.
„What year is this?“
Carrie Page (Sheryl Lee) doesn’t answer. She hears Sarah Palmer calling out for Laura one last time, which leads her to release a truly earth-shattering scream. The depressing reality weighs down on them (and us) completely and all the lights go out.
There is a simple realization that has been made: Laura Palmer is dead and there is nothing Richard can do about it. He couldn’t save her and he never will. He escaped into Twin Peaks, a tv show-esque dream world, that processed all his fears, desires and self-blame, where everything seems to have an absurdist reason, if you just dig deep enough (and in the end the redemption was in fact unbearably close), but this is reality and there is no time travel, no escape from the present. His relationship to Diane is the thing that made his subconcious ready for facing the truth, he believed in their love, but when he wakes up, he is confronted with the void of her absence. It’s devastating.
David Lynch links television as a medium to The Return. And that is, what makes it so special among his body of work, whose influence can heavily and perhaps unsurprisingly be observed. Tropes like the awakening from the dream, (Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway) or the horror that women experience, (Inland Empire, Blue Velvet, again Mulholland Drive) come full circle in face of how he assembles them here. These tropes, the subconcious hints to the truth by entities like the Giant and the Log Lady (which become astonishingly recontextualized when revisiting the old seasons after ‘The Return’), all the seemingly pointless fragments he drops in and especially his trademark handling of tone, complete the astonishing tapestry of this sprawling Americana inside of Richard’s mind.Twin Peaks always felt like one of Lynch’s lesser works to me, because it missed the completive punch in its themes and subtext, that is usually substantial to his other work. But now that he could finish his vision, it towers above most of u.s.-american cinema as a staggering triumph. The element of nostalgia, that is unavoidably attached to a return into the same world after 25 years, only adds to that, by the way suprisingly modern and timely, subtext. The search for answers gets cut off and we will never know them. It’s certainly dissatisfactory in its parts, but all the more satisfying in their sum. There is so much more to say, but it’s clear that this is David Lynch’s grand magnum opus. Because while undeniably being a television show, it’s a work that gradually undermines in it’s entirety what television is traditionally supposed to be: Entertainment and escapism. It’s a flawless, overarching social critique that hits hard in these times. Eventually we need to face the devastating facts.
When it was all over, there was nothing left, except an indescribable feeling, deep inside of my gut. I don’t have a word for it, it’s something inbetween an underlying sense of nostalgia and an overwhelming, oppressing devastation that lingered with me for days. I think Angelo Badalamenti put it quite well, when he named the final track on his hauntingly beautiful score with a neologismic phrase.
A Dark Space Low.