It would also maybe explain why Cooper can’t fix everything by changing the past. We see a repeat of a few key scenes from the “Twin Peaks” pilot, altered so that Laura’s body is no longer “wrapped in plastic” by the lake. But despite these alterations, Laura’s old house still seems possessed by evil spirits, and her parallel universe life as Carrie Page isn’t much better than one she left behind. (In fact, when Cooper/Richard drops by Laura/Carrie’s apartment, there’s a freshly killed man on a chair in her living room.) “What year is it?” Cooper asks at the end, as if that’s going to make a difference — as if some miseries aren’t just threaded into the fabric of whatever universe he lands in.
There’s a lot more to deconstruct here, including multiple moments where characters seem to be waking up to the possibility that they’re actually fictional constructs. Cooper says goodbye to his FBI colleagues with a resolute, “See you at the curtain call,” like they’re all actors, preparing for their final scene. And at one point, he gets jarred out of his gung-ho persona for a second and a still shot of his stunned face remains faintly superimposed over the screen — as though Coop were standing back and watching himself play out a made-up TV story.
All of this though raises a big question: Was this a satisfying way to end three months of television, with a sprinkling of metafiction and a hefty dollop of existential despair?
Personally, I loved it. There are plenty of moments in these last two episodes aimed at fans of the show: like Cooper calling the Twin Peaks police station to ask if the coffee’s on, or Lucy shooting Mr. C (then saying, adorably, “I understand cellular phones now!”), or the return of Julee Cruise to the roadhouse stage or the reprise/reimagining of scenes from the pilot and from “Fire Walk with Me.”
The best moments throughout “Twin Peaks: The Return” though could be enjoyed as pure televisual poetry, regardless of their larger meaning. Watching these two hours felt at times like falling into a trance. Lynch employs a lot of his best techniques and motifs: such as making his actors’ movements look unnatural by running the film backward, and “cracking” the image on the screen to reveal something beneath the surface. The branching reality recalls Lynch’s films “Lost Highway” and “Mulholland Dr.,” where characters’ personalities, circumstances, and even names change from scene to scene.
Mostly though, this finale felt like a recalibration. In the recent documentary “David Lynch: The Art Life,” the director tells the story of how he started smoking, drinking and sneaking out at night after his family moved to Virginia when he was a teenager, and admits, “It was almost like I couldn’t control it.”
I thought about that during these last two episodes of “Twin Peaks: The Return,” and especially when the Arm repeated a question that Audrey asked a few weeks back: “Is it the story of the little girl who lived down the lane?” For Lynch, that’s never really been the story. He’s spent much of his life and career preoccupied by the mysteries of compulsion, and fascinated by how there’s only a few degrees of difference between a good person and a bad one.
Like so many longtime “Twin Peaks” fans, Agent Cooper approaches the end of his adventure with the dogged belief that his mission has always been about avenging Laura Palmer, and preventing young women like her from being hurt in the future. But if “The Return” has made anything plain about Lynch and Frost’s vision for “Twin Peaks,” it’s that they see corruption and tragedy as inevitable, regardless of the time, place or generation. They do see the glow within people too, and the bonds we forge. But in a way that just makes the ends we all come to more heartbreaking.
So “satisfying” would be the wrong word to describe any “Twin Peaks” ending. But it’s not all bleak, either. Anyone looking for comfort should just know that at least there’ll always be another Cooper, in another one of his guises, working to see if this time he can make everything turn out all right. He just can’t help himself.
• The finale clarifies that the One-Armed Man recreated a version of Dougie to reunite with Sonny Jim and Janey-E. We’re also reassured that Ben Horne has been informed about the whereabouts of his brother Jerry. But what was the deal with Audrey’s freakout at the roadhouse last week? Did Steven Burnett actually shoot himself in the woods? Will Becky be O.K.? We may never know the answers to any of these questions. For those annoyed by the elliptical nature of the finale, I’ll say that while I didn’t share your disgruntlement, I do think you’re probably justified in wondering whether every scene of the past eighteen hours has been “necessary,” per se.
• “David Lynch: The Art Life” will be available on a Criterion Collection Blu-ray on September 26th, and I highly recommended it. There’s a lot there that’ll resonate with “Twin Peaks” fans — including scenes of Lynch swilling wine just like Gordon Cole, and some home movie footage of his mother carrying a log. I’d also suggest that Lynch devotees track down the recent “Blue Velvet Revisted,” which compiles behind-the-scenes footage and interviews from the set of his 1986 movie masterpiece. Both docs are notable for how they reveal Lynch not as some alien weirdo but as a hard-working craftsman, always at his happiest when he’s making something.
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