The Column of Disquiet – I Watched All 18 Hours of ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ and All I Got Was This Poorly Written Thinkpiece

Simply based on the structure of each hour-long episode, you could always tell when an episode of “Twin Peaks: The Return” was heading toward its conclusion; or, you could just look at your watch and see how much time there was left before the top of the hour, as you waited for the words “Starring Kyle MacLachlan” to appear on the screen—a moment of both relief and sadness. Sadness, because it meant you were one hour closer to the series’ inevitable end; relief, because it meant you could breathe again, and your heart rate might begin to slow down.

Recently, I’ve met a lot of people who have never watched the original “Twin Peaks,” and when they ask me to explain it to them, I struggle to condense it down into something manageable—the same way I struggle when I try to explain Infinite Jest.

Usually I say that it is about a quirky FBI agent who is sent to a small town in Washington state to investigate the murder of the homecoming queen—adding that it’s also about donuts, coffee, and pie, and that it’s a kind of proto-“X-Files” meets a soap opera, meets a police procedural.

I usually leave out the stuff about the backwards dialogue spoken while characters are in the “Black Lodge,” as well as a bulk of the other supernatural, esoteric elements that begin to overwhelm the show at times.

If pressed for additional details, I’d explain that the show’s creators never intended to solve the murder central to the show, but after receiving pressure from ABC to wrap things up (midway through the show’s second season), the question of “Who killed Laura Palmer” was answered (kind of), and co-creator David Lynch bailed to go film Wild at Heart, only to return to direct and re-write the final episode, after which the show was canceled.

We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream—but who is the dreamer?

Much like its predecessor in 1990 and 1991, “Twin Peaks: The Return” was like nothing else on television—at times, redefining what someone could do with the medium if given complete creative control1, operating fearlessly with the hopes that the audience, in the end, is going to get it, and take the journey with you.

Attempting to bridge and reconcile the original 30 episodes with the much-maligned prequel film Fire Walk With Me, all while continuing the story 25 years later, “Twin Peaks: The Return” was an 18-hour emotional rollercoaster—one that provided laughs and tears; one that unnerved and shocked. One that tested the patience and goodwill of its viewers week after week, hour after hour. One that asked more and more questions and provided fewer and fewer answers.

Rarely is any form of entertainment this visceral—something that had you gasping, mouth agape, saying, “Wait. What?” aloud from your living room.

Rarely is there any form of entertainment that will haunt you for the rest of your days the way this will.

* * *

 

Television shows shouldn’t create palpable anxiety. I mean, it’s just a television show. It doesn’t really matter in the end—nothing actually does. But despite that fact, the day of the two-part finale of “Twin Peaks: The Return,” I was on edge.

At work for a majority of the day, I could barely focus, and the thought of very simple things caused an impending sense of dread—and I felt even worse the next day.

I’ve been marginally afraid of David Lynch’s work for most of my life—the scene in Fire Walk With Me where David Bowie starts rambling on about how “we’re not going to talk about Judy” has never sat well with me; the ‘thing’ hiding behind the dumpster of a Winky’s in Mulholland Drive; the nearly three-hour nightmare that is Lynch’s last film, Inland Empire—these images aren’t easily shaken.

When my wife and I started watching the original “Twin Peaks” from start to finish years ago, I had this rule—half serious, half joking—about not wanting to watch anything David Lynch related after a certain hour of the day, out of the fear that it would give me nightmares or insomnia.

Getting over that anxiety and watching “Twin Peaks: The Return” as it aired on Sunday nights, was not easy, especially as it careened toward its conclusion, leaving you with so much to think about long after the finishing credits.

We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream—but who is the dreamer?

“Twin Peaks: The Return” stops short of being a giant ‘fuck you’ to its fan base, but there are times when it comes so very close. Throughout its run, it tests what you are willing to let happen to beloved characters; it tests your ability to be okay with no concrete closure.

I mean, only a small portion of it is even set in the fictional Washington state town of Twin Peaks—the action takes you from Las Vegas, across the desolate West to South Dakota.

If you went into the show with specific expectations and hopes for the best, it was incredibly naïve.

* * *

 

At their core, the original “Twin Peaks,” as well as “The Return,” are about good versus evil—this is before you pile on the supernatural and surreal elements to the way this conceit is presented; before you add the coffee, donuts, pie, offbeat humor, and nostalgia.

The most impressive thing about “Twin Peaks: The Return,” aside from the fact that it even happened at all, is how it both continues a story 25 years later, and expounds upon it in a way that honors its mythology, all while destroying it in order to create something much larger.

Explaining the heart of “The Return” is best summed up as manmade evil inadvertently opening a doorway to something worse. It’s about accepting fate and destiny, waking life, and that slow ebb and flow between dream and nightmare.

It’s also a very stark look at mortality—real mortality, involving cast members who passed away in the last 27 years, those on their literal death bed while filming, those who suddenly died before the show aired.

“Twin Peaks: The Return” is far from perfect, though. Nobody said it was. Though, even with all its flaws and questionable moments, it is impressively clever it was to work itself back into what already happened.

We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream—but who is the dreamer?

Maybe about a half hour after the final two parts aired, as my wife sat on the couch frantically searching her phone for answers the internet, I wandered back into the living room from the kitchen and said, “I feel like I’ve been skullfucked by David Lynch.”

I barely slept, and the next day, I wandered around work in a fog—unfocused, replaying moments in my head, wondering what they meant, or if we’d ever really know or understand.

Or if we were even supposed to know or understand.

 

* * *

 

There’s a moment in the 17th part of “The Return” when Bobby Briggs, once the bad boy of Twin Peaks who is now a redeemed sheriff’s deputy, wanders into a surrealist, hallucinatory scene and asks, “What’s going on around here?”

Nearly an hour later, the final spoken line of the series comes from its star, Kyle MacLachlan, as some form of the iconic character FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, who asks, “What year is this?”

Practically in-jokes and winks at the viewer, this is David Lynch tearing down the proverbial fourth wall between audience and show. These are the questions we ask—have been asking—and now the characters within the world of the show are asking them too.

What year is this? To us, it’s 2017—but within the show, it’s 25 years after the events of the chilling finale of the show set in 1989. It’s 2017, and Donald Trump is the president, and I was legitimately concerned he was going to get us all killed in some kind of nuclear gaffe before “The Return” finished airing.

It’s 2017, and I find myself saying things like, “Jim Belushi has been incredible on ‘Twin Peaks: The Return,” or, “I never realized that Matthew Lillard was that good of an actor.”

What year is this? Is this David Lynch’s middle finger fully extended at the idea of nostalgia, saying, “It’s 2017 and you people still haven’t let go of something that ended over 25 years ago? Here’s what I think of that.

What’s going on around here?

We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream—but who is the dreamer?

 

* * *

 

“Twin Peaks: The Return” is an ambitious, nearly herculean task to bring back a television show2 after 26 years off the air while tempting to find those characters two decades later, introducing new characters, and telling a story that combines it all—on top of shoehorning in the additional mythos introduced and confounded by Fire Walk With Me.

Something that detractors of “The Return” said was that the show never matched the same tone as the original—that it was never really “Twin Peaks.” To an extent, I agree; Lynch, as a writer and director, opted not to return to that balance of oddball humor and drama that the show’s first run did so well.

Yes, of course, there are moments where he finds that juxtaposition again—the child-like whimsy of Dougie Jones interacting with his mafia benefactors the Mitchum brothers, or the frustrated tension at the sheriff station conference room table between Lucy, Andy, and Hawk all provide laughs—but “The Return” was an experiment: written and conceived as an 18-hour film. There’s literally no way to strike a proper balance for that long. The tonality is different from hour to hour, and Lynch, as a filmmaker, opted to use “The Return” to blend all of his directorial aesthetics, including the jarring and jagged frame jumping, nearly stop-motion animation editing trick that occur in a number of episodes, leaving the viewer disoriented.

It’s also a blend of Lynchian storytelling—including his interest in dream logic and alternate realities—with topics and themes he explored during “Twin Peaks” and Fire Walk With Me, but they are most prominent in his theatrical releases: Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire.

So what is going on around here?

People always struggle to ‘get’ David Lynch, because his work operates in bizarre, surreal territory; and the further you go into Lynch’s canon, the more difficult it is to grasp, and “The Return” is more difficult than anything he’s produced up to this point.

We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream—but who is the dreamer?

The ending of the original “Twin Peaks” was certainly a shock to those who watched it at the time, in 1991 and is still shocking today, both in what happens and how it is presented3. The show’s protagonist and hero, Dale Cooper, enters the Black Lodge and never comes out—instead, his doppelganger, possessed by the evil spirit of Killer BOB, is the one who reemerges. Unsettling to watch, this is how the series concluded: a ‘cliffhanger’ never to be resolved.

Lynch began to bend the fabric of the show’s narrative in Fire Walk With Me, by having a minor character visit Laura Palmer in a dream, telling her “the good Dale is trapped in the Lodge. Write it in your diary.” She does, but those pages of her diary are torn out and go missing4. This line about “the good Dale” serves as an epilogue for the character—he’s not dead, but he’s not alive. He’s just stuck in a bizarre purgatory for 25 years.

* * *

 

It would be nearly impossible to try to condense all of the plots within “Twin Peaks: The Return” and make them remotely understandable with the word count limit I’ve been given for this column. And when “The Return” was announced, a Showtime exec described it as “Agent Cooper’s journey back to Twin Peaks.”

If only it were that easy.

Some of the show’s 18 hours is dedicated to catching up with Cooper’s doppelganger, now known to his network of dirt bag associates as Mr. C (though most viewers just called him ‘Bad Coop’). In the 25 years Mr. C. has run free—still partially possessed by Killer BOB—he has reimagined himself as a low-rent criminal mastermind and gone on a cross-country raping spree (unfortunate but an important detail). He has been trying desperately to avoid returning to the Black Lodge and gone so far as planting a copy of himself in Las Vegas—another city with a set of characters incredibly important to the story.

Another portion of the show is set in Buckthorn, SD, where we meet mild mannered high school principal William Hastings (played surprisingly well by Matthew Lillard), a character with a secret interest in the unknown and paranormal which gets him and his paramour in over their heads and attracts the attention of the FBI.

Then we catch up with familiar (and not so familiar) faces around Twin Peaks at the sheriff’s station, the Double R Diner, and The Roadhouse Bar.

Eventually, and it really does take time, all the plot threads converge leading up to the 17th hour of the show.

Also, at one point, we spend roughly a half hour inside an atomic bomb explosion where we finally meet Diane, the woman on the receiving end of all of Cooper’s Dictaphone cassettes throughout the original series.

On top of all of that, we’re treated to classic Lynchian McGuffins, misdirection, and non-sequiturs in myriad forms. The question through all of that becomes how much of that are we supposed to pay attention to? How much of it will be important later?

So what’s going on around here?

We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream—but who is the dreamer?

* * *

 

I’ve used roughly 2,500 words (half of my recommended amount), and I’ve gone out of my way to describe all of this to you in vague enough terms as not to completely spoil it for anyone who hasn’t watched all of the original series, Fire Walk With Me, or “The Return.” But I think that time is up now.

Who is the dreamer?

That question becomes integral to understanding the final few hours of “Twin Peaks: The Return.” At the end of the seventh hour, the song “Sleep Walk” plays on the jukebox at the Double R but is cut with an unsettling undercurrent of an ominous drone. In hour 15, Naomi Watts whispers, “It’s as if all our dreams are coming true,” shortly before the dramatic (and rushed) return of our hero, the ‘good’ Dale Cooper.

Dreams were always important in the original series, as well as in Fire Walk With Me.

As the various plots from “The Return” begin to converge, Lynch himself, appearing as the hard-of-hearing (and now slightly lecherous) Gordon Cole, relays a dream to his colleagues in which he has coffee with Monica Bellucci5. She lets a single tear roll down her face before telling Cole: “We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream—but who is the dreamer?

Then Cole suddenly remembers the tense and unsettling exchange he has with David Bowie’s character, Phillip Jeffries, in a scene from Fire Walk With Me. Due to the passing of Bowie before filming began, a very elaborate workaround was drafted; however, in the archival footage, Bowie’s voice has been erased and replaced with a different actor’s, altering the line, “Who do you think that is, there?” as he shakes a finger toward a nervous, young looking Dale Cooper.

Who is the dreamer?

Who do you think that is, there?

What’s going on around here?

This is where it gets difficult to explain, because in its final moments, David Lynch bends the will and history of all you think you know about “Twin Peaks” until it all breaks, and you’re left uncertain what it is you watched and how the events that unfold in the final two hours impact the original confines and conceit of the show.

* * *

 

Those questions I keep asking—those all become very important as the series careened toward its conclusion. And let’s be honest, since this is a David Lynch production, there really is no conclusion, in a traditional sense of the word. The series ends, and there is little, if any, resolution or closure for, like 95% of the characters involved. Naomi Watt’s charming turn as Janey-E Jones receives as happy of an ending as she could anticipate, and holdovers from the original series, Norma (Peggy Lipton) and Big Ed (Everett McGill) finally, FINALLY get together.

Deep into writing this, I came across a very lengthy, detailed fan theory on what exactly occurs throughout “The Return,” focusing specifically on the cyclical nature and symmetrical structure of events during its 18-hour running time. It makes sense—as much as something like this can make sense—and if you buy into it, a lot of the loose ends clear up by simply saying, “Those things didn’t happen.”

But what if you don’t want to buy into it, or at least, buy into it all the way? What if you’re okay with the allure of some unsettling confusion and ambiguity?

In Lost Highway, Lynch uses what can be called dream logic—Bill Pullman’s character may or may not have brutally murdered his wife; for this, he’s arrested and jailed. He finds himself in this situation, and to get out of it, he just turns into someone else: Pete, a mechanic played by a young Balthazar Getty (who, coincidentally, has an amazing role in “The Return.”) who takes us through a large portion of the film, but after his purpose has been served, he turns back into Bill Pullman, and we’ve somehow gone back in time—with Pullman trying to warn himself of future events with a cryptic message.

Who is the dreamer?

Defeating Mr. C, and the spirit of Killer BOB housed within him for 25 years, almost happens too easily, and way too quickly. There’s still, like, a half hour left of episode 17 and they seem to be wrapping things up. Characters from Las Vegas converge with those from Twin Peaks and the FBI, all at the sheriff’s station, and Cooper is seemingly reunited with the real Diane Evans.

What’s going on around here?

There is a tonal shift; it’s sudden and unsettling. Roughly a half-hour in, the face of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper becomes frozen on the screen—translucent enough so that we can still see the events unfolding. It remains there for a very, very long time and is strange.

Now, there are some things that will change,” Cooper says, as Hawk gives a knowing nod of the head. “The past dictates the future.” Then, later, the translucent Coop’s voice, slowed down, says, “We live inside a dream.”

Then Cooper, with the help of Phillip Jefferies, travels back to 1989—imposing himself on the events taking place in Fire Walk With Me, trying to stop Laura Palmer from heading to her fate. The moment is devastating and heartbreaking, as Cooper encounters actress Sheryl Lee, aged-down through camera trickery, takes her hand, and tries to lead her ‘home.’ Only they don’t make it—he fails. He turns around and she disappears. He hears her scream—the same blood curdling, horrifying scream Lee let loose in the first episode of “The Return.”

Cooper then finds himself returning to The Black Lodge, and it seems eerily the same as it was at the start of “The Return,” though some of the dialogue is different, and he’s able to leave—or did he? Is it really him? That is what Laura Dern’s Diane asks as she meets him deep in the woods of Twin Peaks. He assures her it is, but something’s changed.

The final hour of “Twin Peaks: The Return” is a somber, stark meditation. Cooper and Diane drive, in near silence, to the middle of nowhere, and find some kind of electrically charged gateway. They both seem apprehensive— “You don’t know what it’s going to be like,” Diane warns. “Once we cross, it could all be different,” Coop says just before they cross over—suddenly driving through darkness, rather than the harsh light of day.

Coop and Diane eventually pull over to a roadside motel. While he goes into the lobby to secure a room, Diane is left in the car, and in the distance, near the entryway to the motel, she sees herself—a double, or doppelganger—lurking. Cooper doesn’t see it when he comes back out, and the two go into a room and have passionless, uncomfortable sex—Cooper’s face stone cold, while Diane covers it with her hands (more than likely to block out reminders of her assault suffered at the hands of Mr. C) and looks to the sky, her face full of anguish.

The next morning, she’s gone. She’s left Cooper a note, addressed to ‘Richard’ and signed by ‘Linda.’ Cooper dresses and leaves—he comes out of a different motel, and gets in a different car. Now, he’s in Odessa, Texas, and stops at a nearly empty diner named Judy’s (it turns out, even though David Bowie didn’t want to talk about Judy in Fire Walk With Me, we do an awful lot of talking about her in “The Return”). The Cooper we see throughout hour 18 is an unnerving amalgamation of both good and bad.

He violently defends himself against thugs in the diner, and muscles his way into getting the address of the other waitress who works at Judy’s—a woman named Carrie Page, who looks an awful lot like Laura Palmer. The two of them leave Texas, somehow making excellent time, and arrive in Twin Peaks late in the evening. Cooper takes her to her childhood home—the iconic Palmer house, only her mother, Sarah Palmer, doesn’t answer the door; somebody else does6. She gives her name, and the name of the woman she bought the house from—both of which should stir some concern in you if you remember every last detail from the original series.

Cooper and ‘Carrie,’ walk back into the street and stand in the darkness. Cooper stumbles around, confused, with a pained look in his face, and asks, “What year is this?” It’s then we hear, from the ether, Sarah Palmer’s disembodied voice scream “Laura!” It’s then that ‘Carrie’ lets out a horrific scream, the lights go out in the house, and the scream echoes into the darkness for what seems like an eternity, before the words “Starring Kyle MacLachlan” appear on screen.

Who is the dreamer?

What’s going on around here?

 

* * *

 

What does it mean? Elaborate fan theories try to explain, but for some of us, we’re just grasping into the air, hoping for a shred of anything that makes sense. Did Cooper travel too far back in time? Is he in a different timeline? Did he reset the timeline of the original show? Did he fail in his mission twice, or did he succeed?

And what about the characters that receive no resolution: why is Shelly Briggs (nee Johnson) attracted to bad boys? Just who was that charming and menacing drug dealer she was dating? What happened to her daughter Becky and to Becky’s husband? What went wrong with Donna Hayward’s7 little sister? Was Sarah Palmer the root of evil the whole time? And Audrey Horne—holy shit you guys—is she okay? How much of the random dialogue at The Roadhouse Bar was real, and how much did she imagine? Who is Charlie, why is he so tired, and what kind of deadlines does he have? Why did the emcee at The Roadhouse have a pinecone attached to his microphone? What was up with Ashley Judd’s character’s husband? What kind of dank weed did Jerry Horne smoke to wind up in Wyoming thinking his binoculars killed somebody? Why were Hutch and Chantal always eating Cheetos8?

Has James always been cool?

And what about our hero Dale Cooper? Is he the dreamer, or is it Laura? We’re told by Margaret Lanterman, The Log Lady9, that “Laura is the one.”

Is Dale Cooper even supposed to be the hero? Always portrayed as the chivalrous Boy Scout, is he really the elusive male feminist, swooping in to save a woman in danger but fucking it up every time?

“Twin Peaks: The Return” is not without its problems; actress Chrysta Bell’s stagnant performance as FBI Agent Tammy Preston left much to be desired. Granted, she’s Lynch’s friend, but she brought very little to the screen, aside from becoming the token female sidekick to Lynch’s Gordon Cole and to Miguel Ferrer’s Albert Rosenfield, who has a ‘dat ass’ moment courtesy of Bell walking away from the camera early in the series.

Always an issue, dating back as far as the treatment of Isabella Rosselini in Blue Velvet, Lynch’s treatment (and mistreatment) of women threatened to overshadow the whole series. We watch Mr. C brutalize a female associate (she’s in lingerie too, the whole time); sexual assaults are implied (and proven); Audrey’s upstanding son Richard Horne threatens a stranger, attacks his grandmother and nearly kills a teacher10; and the only strong female character we’re given is the no-bullshit Janey-E Jones, who, once becomes suddenly more demure once a strong man is in her life.

The time frame of “The Return” is confusing (probably intentionally) as the events of the series occur over roughly seven days but split into 18 parts, it’s difficult as hell to figure out what is happening when, and where there is an occasional overlap. And while the camera work and ‘artsy’ post-production effects in some areas is fascinating, if not jarring and unsettling, a bulk of the special effect sequences are hokey at best, detracting slightly by their low budget quality.

A criticism of the series was that there were just too many characters—more characters than “The Wire” it seemed at times, and there was very little time for any of them to develop. Along with that, the occasional cameo from a character from the original seemed forced, like David Duchnovy’s brief return as the transgendered FBI agent Denise Bryson.

At the end of October, co-writer and co-creator Mark Frost is publishing Twin Peaks: The Final Report, the follow up to the series, and a probable sequel of sorts to The Secret History of Twin Peaks, a meta book within a book that was released in 2016—none of which is really mentioned in “The Return,” because I get the impression Frost and Lynch don’t talk very much even though they wrote, like, a whole 500 page script together—though the give and take was apparent throughout on what was a ‘Lynch’ episode, and what was a ‘Frost.’

Will we get any answers from The Final Report or just more questions?

 

* * *

 

We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream—but who is the dreamer? Is it Laura? Is it Cooper? Are we the dreamer?

Are we supposed to know the answer? How deep are we supposed to get into this? There’s an article on Medium that, referencing the David Foster Wallace essay on Lynch and duality, suggests we are to watch the final two hours of “The Return” simultaneously. How many elaborate fan theories are we to buy into? Are you part of the ‘season four truthers’ contingency on the internet?

Part of the allure of the world of “Twin Peaks,” a place both wonderful and strange, is that the mystique that surrounds it all. It’s unsettling, yet it’s seductive and inviting. Do we want answers? Of course we do. But are we going to get them? No buddy, not really11.

What I know for certain is that “Twin Peaks: The Return” is going to haunt me for a long time, and that in the end, with all the ambiguity and uncertainty, I am still right there on the street with Dale Cooper and Laura Palmer, waiting for that scream to emanate, and echo out into the darkness for a fucking eternity.

 

  1. Thank you based gods at Showtime.
  2. Granted, over the last two decades, it has spawned one of the most rabid cult followings I can think of.
  3. It was nothing short of miracle that David Lynch and Mark Frost got away with what they did on network television—because no network would touch a show like this today.
  4. These missing pages play a huge role in “The Return.”
  5. The real actress, playing herself.
  6. Possibly the ultimate in-joke and deconstruction of the fourth wall—the woman who answers the door is the actual owner of the Palmer house.
  7. Laura Palmer’s best friend, Donna, is not mentioned at all in “The Return.” The actress who played her in the original series, Lara Flynn Boyle, declined to reprise her role in Fire Walk With Me for unknown reasons, so the part was recast. Boyle’s personal life in the last couple of years has become tabloid fodder, so perhaps Lynch just didn’t want to go down that road.
  8. I realize these last two are more jokes than anything else.
  9. Hands down the most devastating part of “The Return” is watching the demise of actress Catherine Coulson, who was dying of cancer while filming. At one point, I actually thought she was going to die (for real) on screen. Her character only interacts, through the telephone, with Deputy Sheriff Hawk, and the sadness and pain in her voice in the way she says his name will haunt me for the rest of my life.
  10. He also runs over a child trying to cross the street, and drives away from the scene.
  11. In an interview with actor Eamon Farren, who portrays Richard Horne, he explained that, once hired, he asked David Lynch, “Can I ask who I am playing?” and Lynch’s response was, allegedly, “No buddy, not really.”

 

This article was edited by Rachel Wohrlin

 

Kevin Krein has been operating the award winning music blog, Anhedonic Headphones, since 2013, and he contributed the back page column to the Southern Minn Scene magazine for roughly three years. His writing has appeared on Bearded Gentlemen Music, Spectrum Culture, and in River Valley Woman. His Twitter presence (@KevEFly), much like “Twin Peaks,” can be called ‘disturbing and mean.’

 

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