The finale of Twin Peaks: The Return landed this week, and as we all should have expected, there was no predicting what happened. I’m very into what that episode was doing, and I’m glad of it, because the frustration those who didn’t vibe with it seem to have sounds painful to say the least. Even as a fan of it, I feel like I’m reeling from a shocking blow; exhausted, but at the same time invigorated by it.
There are plethora of interpretations and analysis to be had. You can find my complete recap of Part 17 and 18 here, but I still had some more thoughts to sort out. There is so much to unpack that I don’t think it is about finding the right way out of a maze (it rarely is with David Lynch). But there is one theory that is going around that I want to talk about: the idea that it was all a dream. More accurately, I want to talk about exactly why this dream/reality dynamic works so well in Part 18, and why that sensation is deliberate, whether or not it is the “true” explanation for it all (a notion that I don’t buy).
If there’s one thing most of us can relate to, it’s the feeling of waking from a dream. Much like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, a favourite of the director’s, we awake to the world we had left, and see that the entire experience was not what we believed it was even seconds before. There is a texture to the world that dreams don’t quite replicate, a level of detail that we don’t realise was missing until we wake from the dream.
As I touched on in my recap, Lynch captures the feeling of being not just awake – but conscious of the feeling itself. That’s the feeling I had watching Part 18, once Cooper wakes up alone, in a different place, with what may be a different identity. Everything feels different from the world we have been in for the entirety of The Return. The music, sparse already, is gone. The breeze is quiet, but audible, with none of the specific soundscapes that Lynch, Dean Hurley and Angelo Badalamenti created.
This world is quiet, empty, almost dead compared to the bustling intensity we are used to. It looks much like an uneventful day of the week; what a diner looks like in the middle of a working day. It is emptier, larger, constrained. Twin Peaks showed us a world where anything could happen, and rules of the universe were broken or indecipherable. Here, the possibilities are limited, the answers clearer.
There are some things that carry on. For instance, the face of Laura Palmer is still present, albeit with the identity of Carrie Page. In her home, a white horse ornament sits atop her mantelpiece, a reminder of Sarah Palmer’s visions of sorrow. Judy, referred to as an “extreme negative force”, is in the name of a run-of-the-mill diner. The ‘6’ telephone pole, which we see numerous times in Fire Walk With Me and The Return, is here again, though it likely has no further purpose than the obvious.
Richard still has remnants of Cooper, but isn’t quite there. He is kind of rude to the waitress, but not in an aggressive or cruel way. His violence isn’t cathartic, but feels unnecessary. Carrie has the same face, the same look of curiosity, and ultimately the same scream, but is otherwise totally different from Laura Palmer.
But if this is the dream of Richard, then what of the scenes that preceded it? What does the dark and sad tale of Diane, Dale and his doppelganger have to say about Richard’s mind? We can think of Mr. C as his worst self, and Cooper his best; the darkness and light within him. And so what is he if not an amalgam of both?
He wants to be Cooper, he wants to be a good, capable, and well-liked person, a brave soul who risks all in the fight against evil. But he cannot destroy his evil self completely, and without perfect courage, it may win the battle, if not the war. Richard cannot live up to Cooper, as many of us don’t live up to our potential every moment of our lives. Richard’s behaviour seems cold compared to Dale, but in any other context, it’s simply real. You’re more likely to run into a man like Richard than any other on the show.
Before he wakes alone in his bed, and finds the note from a “Linda” addressed to a “Richard”, we see Cooper sleep with Diane. She has been questioning who he is and what they are doing together, and at this physical apex she looks away from his face, which takes on the harsh expression of Mr. C. She covers his face because she cannot see the man she loves without seeing the darkness that wore his face that fateful night.
In Richard’s world, he did not rape Diane, but something happened, something that came from this dark side of him. Richard still lost Linda. He lost her because this spiritual sickness, the selfishness inside of him won over in some way – whether it meant abusive behaviour, infidelity, or something else entirely.
The statement “I don’t know who you are anymore” has significance to us, as this is a show of demonic possession and doppelgangers, but in the context of a couple – it’s a familiar sentence of a break-up. His journey home has been a battle to remain good in the face of hardship, suffering, sorrow… evil.
Twin Peaks‘ evil tended to be the snarling, disgusting, excessive and extreme kind, but here it is the horrible behaviour of men once again, but this time the brutal statement of a dead body, or the sexual harassment that women in the service industry unfortunately face regularly. The evil in this world, much like ours, doesn’t physically manifest but permeates in silence, evading our grasp.
Outside number 708, the house Cooper (and the audience) were certain would be home to Sarah Palmer, he is proven wrong. Our protagonist is vulnerable, lost in uncertainty. Both he and the audience are coming to terms with the face that this is not a reversible situation, that there is no more to the world than what we see. And then comes that distant call of “Laura”, a look of terrified recognition, and a scream.
I’ve had a dream where I have woken up, noted the dream is over, only to wake a second time to real life proper. It usually leaves me feeling a little shaken, unsure whether to trust my surroundings at first. This is where we are left in Twin Peaks, in the thrilling space between knowledge and absolute darkness.
Maybe this is the end of the dream, or the start or the new one. Maybe this is all an extension of the nightmarish black lodge Cooper was trapped in at the end of season 2’s “Beyond Life and Death”. In all likelihood, it’s none of the above, but the feeling is still present. If this is the last we see of it, then the mystery will never end, like Frost and Lynch always intended.