I want to preface this by stating that it is not, nor is it intended to be an explanation or theory for anything within this season. It is, mostly, just a collection of my thoughts, a few days removed from the finale. There is almost certainly more to probe in the season following a second (or third, fourth, etc) viewing. However, there will be spoilers.
Perhaps the most dominant image of Twin Peaks is Laura Palmer, blue and wrapped in plastic. However, unlike many shows which fetishize the bodies of brutalised women, Twin Peaks has created three seasons and a film’s worth of content of elevating her from a ‘body’. Further to this, central character, agent Dale Cooper has expended huge amounts of effort in not only solving the mystery of her murder, but increasingly trying to ‘fix’ what happened.
This has never been more apparent than in the hugely divisive Return season finale. Cooper, although changed, has found Laura Palmer, but finds himself in a different time. Laura is an older woman, troubled and keen to run from her current situation, yet is frozen in fear at the front of her old house. At this point, it is difficult to truly discern whether they have moved to the past, or future. What is clear is the message of the futility of a good man (Cooper) trying to fix the actions of an evil entity (BOB). Wherever Cooper turns he is the one negatively impacted and prevented from fully offering a resolution – something reflected in how the season and certainly the ending, is constructed.
For me, there has been a sense of timelessness throughout the season. Alongside this timelessness is the idea, certainly in the Las Vegas setting, that something is not quite right. People’s reactions (or more accurately, lack of) to Dougie Jones’ marked physical change and inability to verbalise anything but the most simplistic utterances are decidedly strange. However, there is a magic to Cooper’s habitation of Jones. He changes the lives of Janey-E and Sonny Jim for the better. This is tinged with sadness: Cooper’s entrapment in the Black Lodge has prevented him from developing his own family, yet he ensures a positive impact on someone else’s. After he wakes up, there appears to be acknowledgement that he has been able to take in and understand information. Finally, Cooper has experience some level of normality.
There’s no denying that the waking up moment is a real joy to watch. Part of that joy is directly linked (I feel) to the fact that we’ve waited such a long time for it to happen. This is enhanced by the speed of the awakening and the action that follows. After the length of time spent waiting for him to wake up, I almost expected further sequences in which Cooper would show signs but not be fully himself. Until episode 16 it felt like we might genuinely finish the Return without ever really seeing Dale in action. This, coupled with an influx of new characters and short-term appearances from previous ones, meant that the season often felt like a patchwork quilt, rather than something linear. I think it is particularly notable that episode 16 provides some fan service through Audrey’s dance and Cooper back to normal, before the far more complex and uneasy final episodes.
From some of the outcry on Twitter and discussion forums it appeared that many fans wanted something more similar to the first two seasons – perhaps a new mystery to solve, aided by coffee and cherry pie. However, it has always been part of Lynch’s formula to confound expectations and while the patchwork quilt quality has often led to confusion and ends that have yet to be tied up, it has not been devoid of genuine emotion. Scenes with Log Lady and particularly a scene in which Bobby breaks down in tears at the sight of Laura’s files, call attention to the hold that Laura’s murder still has over Twin Peaks.
The technical and special effects elements are an interesting aspect of Peaks, in that they have often appeared slightly low quality when compared to other television programmes. Due to the length of the season, it seems unlikely that this is due to budget and therefore is probably a stylistic choice. The slightly uncanny effects won’t work for everyone, but for me, they worked in adding to the odd and uneasy nature of the show. It certainly aids in terms of world creation, making the show look unlike any other on at present. Episode 8 in particular is a showcase of technique and style that almost transcends its status as a television episode and moves into visual art.
As a horror fan, I’m used to creators trying to make things scary. It would be difficult to fully classify Twin Peaks as horror, but it contains some of the most frightening imagery I have seen in some time. Lynch’s mastery of creating an atmosphere that I’ve only felt in my own dreams and nightmares is fully apparent throughout the season. Despite the dark tone of many of the episodes, there are also moments of perfectly pitched comedy. The bizarre introduction of Wally Brando and the agonisingly slow manner in which one of Gordon Cole’s companions leaves the room both serve as memorable moments for me.
Performance wise, Kyle McLachlan is incredible and deserves a great deal of credit for managing a variety of roles. I hope he will be rewarded come award season. However, for me, the real standout is Naomi Watts as Janey E. I think what I like most about it is that she appears to be completely comfortable and self-assured, which makes the delivery of even the most absurd situations feel compelling. Laura Dern’s Diane is also a high point, particularly during her more emotional scenes later in the programme.
All in all, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed The Return. I can’t claim to entirely understand it and some loose threads are certainly frustrating (where is Audrey?!), but the entire season has been a collage of some of the most interesting material I’ve seen on television. I’ve always considered that for Lynch, you have to suspend a certain amount of your desire to watch a linear narrative and understand everything. Instead, you have to surrender yourself to ‘feeling’ the scenes as they unfold. Lynch will never explain what the ‘real’ answer is, but it can be fun to try to work it out, apply different theories and mythological influences. The ending gives me some hope that The Return will not be the last entry into the series. Season four could provide a new mystery – Where is Cooper? – rather than the ‘who is he?’ of this season, in addition to moving back to tie up the loose ends. Of course, where Lynch is concerned, this could easily be the last we see, but I would welcome far more of this innovative, can’t miss TV.