When David Lynch’s spellbinding “Twin Peaks: The Return” first aired on Showtime on May 21, it was the first time that a new feature-length work from the filmmaker had been released in 11 years. After having watched all 18 incredible hours of the Showtime series, one thing that jumped out at me was that the show not only appeared to wrap up the story of the titular Washington town where much of it was set – and I doubt he’ll revisit it again – but also acted as a retrospective of Lynch’s work, utilizing themes and visual cues from “Eraserhead,” “Blue Velvet” and, naturally, the original “Twin Peaks” series and film (“Fire Walk with Me”) and blending them with the darker visuals, themes and Mobius strip-like setups from such later works as “Lost Highway,” “Mulholland Drive” and “Inland Empire.”
Naturally, I’ll be greatly disappointed if Lynch never makes another TV show or movie – and it’s possible he might not – but if “Twin Peaks: The Return” is his final – in the words of Kyle McLachlan’s Agent Dale Cooper near the climax of the 18-hour series – “curtain call,” then it is a fitting one.
But rather than regurgitate the plot of “Twin Peaks: The Return,” which would be a Herculean feat in and of itself, I’ve decided to explore some of the concepts that particularly stuck with me while watching it – which is, arguably, the best way of going about watching the show itself.
“We Are Like The Dreamer”
“Twin Peaks: The Return” is a show filled with memorable moments – Red’s (Balthazar Getty) creepy coin trick, nearly all of the performances at the Roadhouse, Sarah Palmer’s (Grace Zabriskie) response to a sleazy guy at a bar, the entire episode 8 – from the atomic bomb to the bug creeping into the girl’s mouth, David Bowie’s Phillip Jeffries resurrected as a gigantic teakettle, the arm wrestling match, Cooper’s face superimposed over the final scene in the sheriff’s station, the glass box sequence, Cooper’s escape from the Red Room in episode three, Bobby’s encounter with the spastic woman honking her horn and the hit-and-run involving a young boy.
But among the most memorable is the dream of Gordon Cole (an FBI agent played by David Lynch), whose nocturnal adventures lead him to Paris, where he encounters Monica Bellucci, who tells him, “We are like the dreamer who dreams and lives inside the dream.” She then poses a question, “But who is the dreamer?”
Dream logic has long been a significant tenet of Lynch’s work. One of the best ways to summarize the dreamy or nightmarish feelings that his works create is this – in a Lynch film, inanimate objects occasionally become sources of unease. For example, a package of beef jerky disturbs Sarah Palmer during one scene in “The Return.” When awake, most of us can deduce that there is nothing particularly frightening about beef jerky – that is, unless its taste horrifies you. Therefore, you have nothing to fear from such an object. But in our dreams, we lose our power to deduce or reason and, therefore, take things at face value as they are presented. Therefore, an inanimate object might become unsettling in a dream – and while you might not know why, you’re bothered by it nonetheless. Such is the work of David Lynch. His films are filled with nightmarish images and scenarios – often bolstered by eerie sound design – that often have nothing to do with reason. His work can best be described as instinctual and intuitive.
In the world of “Twin Peaks,” characters often use dreams to provide clues to their waking lives. In fact, the characters – Cooper and Hawk, for example – who take messages from dreams (or the Log Lady’s Sphinx-like riddles) seriously are the ones who often succeed in their pursuits. So, this harkens back to the question of who the dreamer is – and even which part of ourselves is the true self. For an accurate depiction of ourselves, are we the waking self that uses logic to make sense of the world and explains away its mysteries with reason or are we the nocturnal self that takes everything in without judgment?
Let me just put this out there: I do not believe that the entirety of this third season of “Twin Peaks” or, for that matter, the entire show has been a dream. There has been speculation that Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), who is stuck inside some sort of nightmarish scenario that goes unexplained, or Cooper – or even Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) – are the dreamer of the entire show. People will find lines of dialogue to justify this assertion, just as some folks were so certain in their logic to assume that Tony Soprano had been whacked at the end of “The Sopranos.”
In fact, if anyone is the dreamer in this scenario – it’s David Lynch, a filmmaker who taps into his subconscious and translates his dreams to film more so than any other director who comes to mind. There is, perhaps, even a clue to signify this meta take on the show. The director uses The Platters’ “My Prayer” during the season’s pivotal episode 8 – during which Lynch uses the testing of the atomic bomb in White Sands, New Mexico in 1945 to act as a catalyst that enabled BOB (Frank Silva), the lead villain of “Twin Peaks,” to come into the world – and again in the finale during a disturbing sex scene between the show’s hero and his mysterious secretary, Diane (Laura Dern).
The lyrics to “My Prayer” include this nugget: “My prayer is to linger with you/at the end of the day in a dream that’s divine.” Play along with me for a moment and consider that a prayer is, to an extent, a dream of sorts. Movies can be dreams as well – in fact, Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” has led to many arguments among cinephiles regarding which half of the movie is a dream and which is reality. The use of the Platters’ song seems to indicate that “Twin Peaks” – and all of his other hallucinatory work – is Lynch’s dream. Also, this fun fact: one of the Platters’ names is – you guessed it – David Lynch.
“The Glow Is Dying”
Thematically, “Twin Peaks: The Return” covers ground that Lynch has long trod – how the forces of good must venture into the darkness to do battle with the world’s forces of evil. Although one of the new characters in “The Return” is a young British man with a green glove that gives him supernatural power, the battle of good and evil in Lynch’s work is not of the type you’ll find in any number of blockbuster movies that Hollywood churns out every year. Occasionally, it’s otherworldly, but Lynch’s work often focuses on the evil that men do.
A scene that always stayed with me from “Blue Velvet” is when Jeffrey Beaumont (McLachlan) – who is investigating a strange kidnapping scenario involving Isabella Rossellini’s chanteuse and Dennis Hopper’s psychopathic Frank Booth – descends from his well-lit room into a dark stairwell, arrives in the living room and is told by his aunts – who are sitting on the couch and watching an old movie in which a character is ascending a dark stairwell toward what appears to be a lighted room – to avoid the shady part of town where the film’s central mystery is taking place. Eventually, Jeffrey is able to overcome the evil in his town because he faces it, whereas the others sweep it under the rug – or grass, where monstrous beetles are seen swarming in disturbing close-up.
The shock ending of “Twin Peaks: The Return” divulges numerous concepts, one of which is Cooper’s discovery that the evil he has just vanquished was only part of a larger conspiracy of evil and that the battle between good and dark forces on our planet is one that will play out until the end of time.
Lynch is the type of filmmaker who rarely spells out his intentions, but he does so adeptly throughout this season of “Twin Peaks” via phone conversations between the Log Lady (portrayed by Margaret Coulson, who shot her scenes for the show shortly before dying of cancer and whose frail state added momentous weight to her monologues) and Hawk. The monologue that has – appropriately, due to its reflection of Coulson’s actual physical state – stuck with most viewers is her final conversation, during which she states that she is dying and her log is “turning gold.”
However, in an earlier scene, the Log Lady aptly summarizes not only one of the most significant themes of “The Return,” but also the state of our own world. “Hawk, electricity is humming,” she says. “You hear it in the mountains and rivers. You see it dance around the seas and stars and glowing around the moon. But in these days, the glow is dying. What will be in the darkness that remains?”
One of the most powerful concepts in this third season of “Twin Peaks” is the idea that the battle against humanity’s darker urges never ends. Nothing ever culminates, it is a task that is forever ongoing. It’s also interesting to see how the show’s characters – even the ones who could be described as good – are slaves to their own impulses and how the more things change, the more they stay the same.
For instance, Big Ed Hurley (Everett McGill) and Norma (Peggy Lipton) are still pining for one another after all these years. They, at least, get a surprisingly happy ending. Shelly (Madchen Amik) is a loving mother, but she still has a tendency to be attracted to bad men – and so does her daughter, Becky (Amanda Seyfried). Although Bobby has undergone the most radical transformation, from town bad boy to mild mannered law enforcement official, he’s almost transported back to his youth upon seeing Laura’s framed picture. James still finds himself mixed up with married women and perfecting the same song he sang 25 years ago. Sarah Palmer is stuck in a loop of horror and depression that, to be fair, may or may not be caused by otherworldly interference. And Cooper, of course, is still trying to find justice for Laura Palmer.
And yet, in all the darkness that is on display in “Twin Peaks,” Lynch appears to be saying that the little kindnesses and love that occasionally shine through almost make all the suffering worthwhile. For example, Nadine’s sacrifice (Wendy Robie) – although one wonders if her interest in Jacoby/Dr. Amp (Russ Tamblyn) has anything to do with it – that allows for Big Ed’s freedom to be with Norma; the lovely sit-down between Bobby, Shelly and Becky; Carl Rodd’s (Harry Dean Stanton) comforting of the grieving mother; Gordon Cole (Lynch) and Tammy (Chrysta Bell) spying on Albert’s (Miguel Ferrer) romantic dinner with Constance Talbot (Jane Adams); Dougie’s (McLachlan again) affection for Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon) and Janey-E (Naomi Watts); the Mitchum Brothers’ (Jim Belushi and Robert Knepper) generosity toward Dougie’s family; and Andy (Harry Goaz) and Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) bickering over furniture, which leads to them both making a sacrifice for each other.
“Listen To The Sounds”
During the show’s opening episode, Cooper sits opposite a character once known as The Giant, but now referred to as The Fireman (Carel Struycken), who reveals several cryptic clues. Although viewers have mostly obsessed over the clue involving the number “430” and the names “Richard and Linda,” which pop up in the finale, the clue that is seemingly most important to watching “The Return” is the command to “listen to the sounds.”
Lynch has long created the sound effects and eerie drones that haunt the background of his films. For “The Return,” he worked with Dean Hurley, creating unsettling soundscapes that accompanied the moody melodies of long-time composer Angelo Badalamenti and Johnny Jewel (of The Chromatics). Sound plays a large role in this new season of “Twin Peaks,” providing clues via song lyrics, random noises, spoken words and other aural stimuli.
Lynch has long been fascinated by electricity – a long-time project that never materialized known as “Ronnie Rocket” concerned a midget who could control electricity – and it plays a central role in “The Return,” although it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how. The director appears to like the mysteriousness of electricity and, therefore, it is appropriate that we never quite learn what role it plays in the story of “Twin Peaks.” One of the famous lines from the original series is that “the owls are not what they seem.” As the show is set in a wooded portion of Washington state, owls are seemingly abundant. But OWL also stands for “open wire lines” and “The Return” is filled with shots of power lines – similar to how the original series continuously provided eerie shots of traffic lights – that appear to signify some sort of transmission between various dimensions.
But since we’re talking about sound at this point, it should be noted that the numerous instances of the sounds of electricity circulating during the course of the show are meant to be clues of some sort. Cooper – who has been trapped in the figure of Dougie Jones, a Las Vegas insurance salesman, for much of the show – listens to the sounds throughout season three that help him snap out of his Dougie stupor. During one sequence, in which he is treated to cherry pie (Coop’s favorite) by the Mitchum Brothers, he overhears a haunting song that plays on a piano and it reminds him of something. At another point, someone refers to “damn fine coffee” and this causes Dougie to pay attention. Most notably, when the words “Gordon Cole” – which also happens to be the name of Coop’s old boss – are spoken in “Sunset Boulevard” on Dougie’s TV set, he knows he is being sent a signal. Then, the sound from an electrical circuit on his wall draws his attention and he ends up sticking a fork in the socket, thereby putting him in a coma from which he eventually awakens as Cooper.
Even more fascinating is Lynch’s use of musical performances at the Roadhouse – also known as the Bang Bang Bar – that frequently pop up at the end of episodes. There are a handful of directors (Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, for example) who make great use of music in their films to comment on the action taking place on the screen. Several TV shows – especially “Mad Men” and “The Americans” – are known for doing this as well.
But Lynch takes it to a whole new level in “Twin Peaks: The Return.” Several of the performances at the Roadhouse comment directly on the specific episode in which they appear, whereas others provide insight into the overall themes of the show.
Nine Inch Nails’ unsettling performance of “She’s Gone Away” contains lyrics that can be applied to Laura Palmer’s tragic demise. But it also applies to the episode in which it is performed, which featured the stunning atom bomb drop, appearance of the Woodsmen and the girl whose mouth is invaded by the frog-moth. Trent Reznor sings:
A little mouth opened up inside
Yeah, I was watching on the day she died
We keep licking while the skin turns black
Cut along the length, but you can’t get the feeling back
She’s gone, she’s gone, she’s gone away
The culmination of the season’s second episode featured an ethereal performance by The Chromatics of “Shadow,” which is my favorite song among the many in the season. While this song certainly applies to the mysterious Laura Palmer – whom we learn in “Fire Walk with Me” was full of secrets and misunderstood by most – it also comments on the show as a whole.
At night I’m driving in your car
Pretending that we’ll leave this town
We’re watching all the street lights fade
And now you’re just a stranger’s dream
I took your picture from the frame
And now you’re nothing like you seem
Your shadow fell like last night’s rain
There are numerous other songs performed at the Roadhouse during the course of the season that warrant a mention, but the last significant one I’ll focus on is Eddie Vedder’s “Out of Sand,” which is sung during the 16th episode, when a newly revived Cooper leaves the hospital and heads back to Twin Peaks. But while the song’s lyrics certainly comment on Cooper’s current state of being – the man has been stuck in the transdimensional Black Lodge for 25 years – it also addresses the passage of time, which has afflicted all of the denizens of “Twin Peaks” as well as the show’s viewers – who have hung in there for a culmination for 25 years. Lynch’s haunting third season of “Twin Peaks” has frequently been obsessed with the affects of time on human faces and the specter of death and Vedder’s song hauntingly takes note.
I stare at my reflection to the bone
Blurred eyes look back at me
Full of blame and sympathy
So, so close
Right roads not taken, the future’s forsaken
Dropped like a fossil or stone
Now it’s gone, gone
And I am who I am
Who I was I will never be again
Running out of sand
“What Year Is This?”
A number of viewers – and I’m guessing among these are long-time “Twin Peaks” fans who may not have been as devoted to Lynch’s complete oeuvre – were perplexed by the show’s finale on Sept. 3. Admittedly, I fell – at first – into a trap involving expectations as to how I thought the show might end. The second-to-last episode provided a haunting coda to the town of “Twin Peaks” as the central storyline involving Bad Cooper/BOB was wrapped up and, shockingly, Cooper appeared to save Laura Palmer from her fate by traveling back in time to 1989. But as the episode ended with Sarah Palmer – who is seemingly possessed by the entity known as Judy or, at least, some sort of menacing force – smashing her daughter’s framed picture on the floor, I got the feeling that something had gone wrong, despite Julee Cruise’s reappearance to sing the melancholically beautiful “The World Spins.”
The show’s final hour – which follows Cooper’s Orphic attempt in the previous episode to save Laura with a trip to Odessa, Texas, which I interpreted as a reference to “The Odyssey,” in that a hero’s journey brings him home to find that the place he thought he remembered wasn’t quite the same – turns the entire show on its head. I’m not too concerned with whether the story’s timeline has been interrupted as much as I am what Lynch appears to be conveying in terms of how a story like “Twin Peaks” could be ended. Granted, the final shot of Laura screaming at her childhood home, the fade to black and image of Laura whispering to Cooper in the Red Room as the credits role felt like a gut punch – but, at the same time, it was a fitting way to end this story.
In “Lost Highway” – another of Lynch’s Mobius strip-thrillers that, much like “Twin Peaks,” was obsessed with doppelgangers and doubles – the film’s lead character literally becomes someone else as Bill Pullman’s character materializes as Balthazar Getty in a jail cell after being arrested for a horrific crime. But eventually, the enormity of Pullman’s character’s actions catch up with him. It’s as if Lynch is saying that no matter whom we try to become, our decisions can never be completely escaped. Once you’ve traveled down a particular road, it doesn’t matter who you pretend to be. We are, essentially, who we are and no amount of revamping will change that.
So, in essence, Laura Palmer is and always will be the victim of a horrible tragedy. She was raped and murdered by her father, regardless of whether he was possessed by a sinister spirit. And nothing can ever make things right – not for her or the town she called home. Cooper’s attempt to reunite daughter with mother not only fails – as it appears they’ve ended up in a dimension in which Sarah Palmer no longer lives in the Palmer’s home – but it seems as if he has reawakened a trauma that Carrie Page (the persona into which Laura Palmer has seemingly disappeared in Odessa) recognizes after coming into contact with the house.
The finale of “Twin Peaks” can be seen as both horrifyingly true to nature and hopeful. On the one hand, no matter how many times Cooper attempts to save Laura, he’ll continually fail. She was fated for tragedy. However, Cooper – representing the good forces of the world, along with the rest of the characters who congregate in the Twin Peaks sheriff’s office in the second-to-last episode – will continue trying to save her. The best of humanity, in other words, can never give up fighting the evils of the world, which, in turn, will never quit either.
Some viewers may be frustrated that “Twin Peaks” does not culminate in a traditional ending. My question to those who are disappointed is: have you ever seen another David Lynch movie? If so, when has anything ever been truly resolved? “Blue Velvet” is the closest thing to it, but that movie is 31 years old and the films from the second half of Lynch’s career – from “Fire Walk with Me” to the present – have involved stories that frequently end with no resolution. Some questions are resolved, while others lead to new questions. I don’t mean this as a critique. Lynch has long said that mysteries appeal to him and that solving the mystery is often not the point. In other words, the mystery itself is the thing. And much like some people – Carrie Page/Laura Palmer, for instance – who run away and don’t want to be found, part of the appeal of “Twin Peaks” is that it is a mystery that doesn’t want to be solved.