[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Twin Peaks: The Return” Episode 17 and 18, “Part 17” and “Part 18.”]
“We live inside a dream. I hope I see all of you again. Every one of you.” Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) says these words in a moment of triumph during the penultimate episode of the season. But fans are probably echoing them after watching the finale in which David Lynch and Mark Frost’s surreal experiment in TV ended on yet another cliffhanger with no guarantee of traditional closure. It’s a brilliant and no doubt controversial ending for a show that had come back after 25 years to leave fans wanting yet again.
The two-part final journey began with promise: continuing the happy trajectory that had been set out by the past few episodes by confirming theories and providing satisfying cappers to arcs. Yes, Naido is Diane! Freddie’s green fist vanquishes BOB! Dougie 2.0 rejoins the Joneses! But even as all of this joy has been unfolding, knowing Lynch’s track record, some fans were wise to keep expectations in check when it came to the possibility of a definitive ending. Because of course, all expectations are subverted. Insert record scratch here. The first inkling that things are not what they seem occurs when Cooper catches sight of Naido (Nae Yuuki) at the sheriff’s office, and suddenly the ghostly overlay of Cooper’s face fills the screen as the action plays out, putting the entire season up to this point inside of his dream. Or is this when the dreamer awakens?
Before the series ever started, Showtime chief David Nevins had told reporters, “The core of it is Agent Cooper’s odyssey back to Twin Peaks.” Therefore, this season’s subtitle “The Return” perhaps was a hint that this is not merely the return of the show, but was specifically about Cooper’s journey back. All of the fun with Dougie, the web of villains that had to be defeated, the new faces introduced to be shunted off to their fates — all of this had to happen in order for the return of Cooper, a positive force that was reflected with the positive story arc. The dream was sweet while it lasted.
And from a narrative point of view, that means the fight has only begun in earnest for Cooper. Accordingly, the action turns even darker and more foreboding after that. It seems that the true big bad is an extreme negative force called “Jao Dei,” a.k.a. Judy. Cooper’s time in the Black Lodge may have taught him to understand how to navigate its logic because he seems like less adrift and more determined no matter what confounding twists he faces.
“Is it future or is it past?” asks MIKE again. It’s the same question he had posed at the beginning of the season and is an indicator of what’s to come. With only an hour and 15 minutes left until the final credits, the series kicks off Cooper’s new journey that begins with him traveling back in time to try and save Laura Palmer, then through the Black Lodge, through to another dimension, to Odessa, on road trip north, to the doorstep of Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie), and finally out on the road, asking “What year is this?”
For the briefest of moments early on, it appears that Cooper may have succeeded in saving Laura in the past when her corpse wrapped in plastic disappears, and the opening scenes of Season 1 begin to unspool. But that is just another dream that is cut short, and once again horror enters the picture. Whatever this dimension is, there are still links to what “The Return” has presented. Lynch and Frost tantalize with more half-answers to mysteries, such as a Dear John letter from a Linda to Richard, the figure of a white horse on a mantle, the names Chalfont and Tremond echoing the past, and the image of the familiar telephone pole with a “6” on it.
The biggest indicator that this is a dark plane linked to Cooper’s journey is the song “My Prayers” that plays as Diane (Laura Dern) – who incidentally is a walking version of the Black Lodge with her red hair and black and white nails – has sex with Cooper in one of the most disturbing and fraught scenes in the series. This is the same song by The Platters that played in “Part 8” at the radio station just before the Woodsman comes in to kill the DJ and then deliver his message: “This is the water, and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes and dark within.”
Fans can take those clues and run with them, spinning even more theories to try and understand what’s happening and how to extricate Cooper from the nightmare. It appears that many of the rules and Lynchian tropes that viewers have learned to interpret in “The Return” may not apply. But since there is no indicator that the story will continue past this point, seeing this finale as a true ending to the Twin Peaks saga is essential.
The anchor through all of this chaos has been Agent Cooper, even in his Dougie form. And in the final part of the series, this is echoed time and time again as Cooper holds Laura Palmer’s (Sheryl Lee) hand then later Carrie Page’s hand to try and lead her to safety. Each time he fails, which ends in her bloodcurdling scream as apparently the timeline in which Laura is killed reverts. It’s a horrifying fate that seems to be as inescapable as the bad luck that is surely indicated by Carrie’s upside-down horseshoe necklace. But that doesn’t matter because Cooper will also continue trying for however long it takes.
It’s the classic battle between good and evil, and that means that the final reckoning may not ever be known. Nevertheless, we and Cooper must try. Life must be lived. Julee Cruise appears as the final Roadhouse guest to sing “The World Spins” as a reminder that there is no true ending, just as the Log Lady indicated that death was just change. There are just more dreams in which we must work out what life hands us.