TV: Twin Peaks S03 E17 and 18 - Reviewed

As I write this review, I’m still processing the ending of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks: The Return. The last scene, and particularly the final image we’re shown during the closing credits, will haunt me for a long time. It’s tough to say exactly what I expected, especially from Lynch, but it’s safe to say I’m surprised it was something that dark.

If I’m being cryptic, well, I do write for The Spoiler-Free Movie Sleuth, so I have to be careful about plot description, especially when it comes to the ending of a show like Twin Peaks. But I’m also being intentionally vague because, when it comes to explaining David Lynch and the possible meanings behind what is shown or implied, it can be a lot like explaining quantum physics.

Instead, my approach to the finale and the series (or movie?) is what it has been since I reviewed the premiere: did the results of Lynch and Frost’s undertaking work on me or not? Yes and no. I’ve argued in previous reviews that The Return did not need to be eighteen hours long. Whether or not the length is Showtime’s or Lynch’s fault remains to be seen, but the result is one big frustratingly brilliant mess. It was unlike anything on television, both in terms of its storytelling and its sloppiness. Nothing and nobody is perfect, but The Return found its way to something resembling perfection in its best moments. As Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle) once said in the series’ original run: “It’s like I'm having the most beautiful dream and the most terrible nightmare, all at once.” The Return often flirted with the dream/nightmare dichotomy to great effect, which (for me) added to the show’s patience-testing formula.

Characters and storylines were introduced and left unresolved (Audrey’s current mental state being one; Shelly’s relationship with Red being another) and others conveniently ended abruptly in seemingly random fashion (Chantal and Hutch). I’ve heard arguments and theories as to why those things played out the way they did, but while Lynch and Frost might have tried to break the mold (succeeding in many ways), some things just felt lazy and poorly executed. Why was James (James Marshall) brought back? What purpose did having his character on screen serve? Why did we spend SO MUCH time with secondary characters like The Mitchum Brothers (Jim Belushi and Robert Knepper) only for them to become part of the audience when witnessing the events of Part 17?

And yet, the show still proved itself necessary to exist. It took sixteen long hours to get the original Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) back, but his “awakening” was stellar; Ed and Norma (Everett McGill and Peggy Lipton) finally got the ending they deserved; Margaret Lanterman, aka The Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson), had a tearfully proper sendoff; and as a whole, The Return managed to still be about Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), the central focus of the original series when it was at its best.

One could argue that the show was the converging of opposing ideals displayed on screen: light and dark; good and evil; mood and atmosphere instead of story and plot; existence and non-existence; the list goes on. It seems only natural, then, that my opinion of the show is equally conflicted. The best moments, from my perspective, came when the show felt like Twin Peaks: MacLachlan’s flawless delivery of the line “I am the F.B.I.” or Big Ed’s request for a cyanide capsule after seemingly being rejected by Norma. I also loved everything about Part 8; truly the most nightmarish hour of the series, and some of the character development, specifically Bobby’s (Dana Ashbrook) and Diane’s (Laura Dern) respective storylines.

The Return regained its focus in the final moments of the show, cementing its mark as one of the most thought-provoking, maddening shows I’ve ever watched. I can’t say I loved every minute of it, but if you asked me whether or not I’d want to see even more after this, my answer would be a resounding “yes.”

- Matt Giles

It has been two days since the long-awaited season finale of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks: The Return aired on Showtime and like the shattering closing scenes to Lynch’s 1992 prequel/bookend feature film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me you are left feeling like you are exiting a funeral. Functioning as a career retrospective of sorts referencing nearly every one of the iconoclastic American surrealist’s works from his early student films such as Six Figures Getting Sick and The Alphabet to his experimental digital video final feature Inland Empire, Twin Peaks: The Return provides viewers with a third iteration of the auteur’s beloved television show as well as a kind of farewell musing on much of the themes running through Lynch’s one and only G rated film made for Walt Disney Pictures: what it means to age and die.

Lynch, now 71, has already gone on the record saying he is done making feature films and structurally, Twin Peaks: The Return doesn’t play like a television series so much an epic film broken up in episodic form. Initially mixing Lynch’s trademark abstract and often anecdotal absurdities with his implacable juxtaposition of horror and comedy, the show’s unpredictable nature created a kind of mosaic of small town Americana seen as an inexplicable alien netherworld. While often very funny, as with the original first two seasons and prequel film, the tale ends on a cliffhanger tinged with sorrow and defeat with many newly introduced threads left dangling and remaining unresolved.

That Lynch and Frost would take viewers down such a funny, scary and strange journey only to leave us again stuck in purgatory is at once frustratingly tragic and oddly appropriate. That anyone should expect an answer and a sense of hope that all would be right with the world in the current state it’s in are kidding themselves. While that isn’t to say the journey there hasn’t been wild, exciting and often fun, what Lynch and Frost mean to say about life in general with Twin Peaks: The Return seems to be that man’s capacity for evil outweighs his ability to do good in an increasingly insane world.

It seems to me the closest character to Lynch in this revival series isn’t Lynch’s Gordon Cole though the camera does close in on the wrinkly contours of the auteur’s aged face. Rather, it’s Harry Dean Stanton’s Fat Trout trailer park owner Carl Rodd who amid admitting he’s smoked everyday of his life functions as a sad-eyed survivor who can only press on as he watches unfathomable horrors unfold around him. While many of the anecdotes peppering all of Lynch’s work seem to stem from personal experiences, past traumas and the ever growing wisdom that comes with aging, Carl Rodd though a seemingly inessential character to the narrative in general serves as a stand in for Lynch trying to maintain composure in the face of real world horrors. 

That’s not to say Lynch and Frost’s interdimensional Kafkian head game with the viewing public is completely hopeless. There are many moments throughout where long gestating character arcs from prior seasons are fully realized, boundless comic asides that are funnier than anything even after viewing the downbeat season finale. Interspersed with the inscrutably extraterrestrial evil are asides radiating with human warmth and a tangible sense of good.

Technically speaking, Twin Peaks: The Return has been an audiovisual cornucopia of wonderment, magic and madness with some of the most exciting sequences of film in Lynch’s career and a feverish imagination unfettered by compromised but bound to their own respective logical ends in Lynch’s head. Musically we’re treated to a cacophony of performances ranging across a myriad of genres before gradually coming back to where Lynch’s soundscape all started.

As for myself regarding Twin Peaks: The Return not so much as a third season (though technically it qualifies as such) as a gateway into Lynch’s imagination burst wide open with all the good and all the bad (mostly bad) in full bloom, a penultimate David Lynch film with unbridled resources at his disposal and the freedom to do whatever he pleases. Probably it’s greatest asset is the show’s absolute refusal to be all things to all people, daring to divide even the staunchest die-hards of all things David Lynch or simply all things Twin Peaks.

Like it or not, we and the survivors still left in the wake of Lynch and Frost’s monumental tragedy created some twenty-five years ago are destined to go down this dark and winding yellow brick road no matter how bleak, nightmarish, confounding and even enchanting the journey there may get. While not everyone might be ready for the nuclear bomb (literal and figurative) Lynch and Frost unleashed onto the television-as-cinema world at large, like Laura Dern’s cantankerous Diane wryly remarked after witnessing an otherworldly entity crush a man’s skull in, ‘there’s no backup for this’.

  - Andrew Kotwicki

After (more than) 25 years, Twin Peaks at last has an ending... and after all this time, I'm not entirely sure what I expected, but it I can safely say that it wasn't this. I mean that in both a very good way and maybe a not-so-good way: the two-part season (and presumably series) finale has me feeling rather conflicted indeed. The double-episode conclusion is in a sense a microcosm of this whole season: it is a finale filled with some supremely satisfying moments that paid off on years of mystery in huge ways, but also filled with some deeply confounding moments that, in true David Lynch fashion, pose more questions than they answer. It is a finale that in some ways delivered everything that fans of the series had hoped to see, but that then turned around and delivered the exact opposite of anything we might have expected to see. It is a finale that in some ways offers a perfect ending to not only this season, but storylines stretching back decades, yet that also resolutely does not feel like an ending at all. I feel so conflicted because it is in some senses everything I had wanted it to be, but in other ways something so wildly different that I was left completely unprepared for what I was seeing, and had to take quite a bit of time to process it afterward. It is, even more than most of the rest of this season, a profoundly challenging and unconventional two hours of television, in a way that was at times very crowd-pleasing (to the crowd that loves Twin Peaks, that is) and at other times deeply uncomfortable and disorienting, but always pretty damn brilliant, and utterly unique. Was it the Twin Peaks finale that I wanted? Well, yes and no. After taking a day to mull it over (and it really did take that whole day) do I think it's a great and (perhaps uncomfortably) appropriate ending? Definitely.

In all of Twin Peaks, but especially this third season, there are two layers of things going on: the plot which outwardly propels the show, and the larger metaphysical conflict going on beneath all of it. The original series dealt mostly with the narrative aspects of the show – for a while – although the metaphysical became more and more prominent as it went on, culminating in the surrealist fever-dream that was the season 2 finale. This metaphysical conflict at the heart of Twin Peaks took over from that point onward, forming the core around which the various nonlinear shards of Fire Walk With Me revolved, and the even more significant through-line in the sometimes spectacularly scattered The Return. As such it is only appropriate that the two-episode series finale devote one of its episodes to the plot of the season and the other to this brewing and ever-growing metaphysical storm. Both are, in a sense, finales, for each of the show's two equally-important sides. I was somewhat prepared for this – I certainly know better than to expect anything resembling a conventional ending from David Lynch, and I think I would have been honestly disappointed had he given us one – but I could not (I don't think anyone could) be prepared for what form this took.

Episode 17 was, start to finish, pretty much everything I could have possibly hoped for the first part of the finale of Twin Peaks: The Return to be: a perfect culmination of (most of) the season's many plot threads, which pulled together in a masterful whirlwind as if we were witnessing the mechanisms of Lynchian fate in action. Which in a very real sense we were: Lynch and Frost did an amazing job of raising the stakes by building a genuine feeling that this was bigger than just our characters, and in fact a real-world playing-out of the metaphysical forces of light and dark vying for control over the Lodge and its domains. Those forces of light and dark, and the inquisitive explorers caught in the middle – variously represented by the faces and names of Bob and Judy, Coop and Laura, Philip Jeffries and Major Briggs – converged here along with all of our real-world characters at a focal point twenty-five years in the making. This moment could have very easily wound up being an anticlimax in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, but in the hands of Lynch it felt at once fated (like this conclusion had to play out in this way) and at the same time very unexpected in some of the specifics of how it actually came together. This was where Twin Peaks completed the Return of its subtitle, and I couldn't have felt happier with the result.

But Lynch is never one to give a narrative that lives into what viewers expect, let alone would be happy with. Yes, he gave us this, and yes, he gave us those beautifully-moving, faith-in-humanity-granting moments between Dougie and his family and between Big Ed and Norma last week – so naturally I was expecting things to take a sharp turn at some point. At the beginning of episode 17 Albert says to Gordon what many viewers might have been thinking about Lynch as all of this occurred: “you've gotten soft in your old age.” To which Gordon – or possibly David Lynch himself, breaking character – smiles slyly and says “not where it counts.” And as promised, with episode 18 he reminds us that he is still just as bizarre, uncompromising, and grimly visionary as ever. As the show turns towards its underlying metaphysical struggle – the side of itself that is at least as important to address in the finale as the plot itself – he takes us on one of his darkest and wildest rides yet, and one that is wholly unexpected. Twin Peaks: The Return episode 18 is as dark, disorienting, and nightmarish as Lost Highway, and highly reminiscent of that most under-seen masterpiece in pretty intense ways. Much like in that film, I seldom felt like I had any sort of bearings on my surroundings as the journey was in progress, but I was consumed with a deep and emotionally-devastating sense of unease. Particularly after how (in some weird Lynchian sense) crowd-pleasing episode 17 was, I was completely unprepared for this, and the strange detour that the episode took.

The result left me in a stunned silence, and a conflicted one: while I was hit hard by the sheer emotional power of what I had just witnessed, I can't deny that I was left deeply frustrated by Lynch's final episode, and his choice of how to end the series, presumably forever (or so he has said). I sat and stared at the screen in silence for several minutes after the haunting credits rolled, and must admit that the first words I said in breaking that silence were “dammit, David Lynch.” I certainly hadn't expected anything resembling a narratively cohesive or traditionally satisfying ending (I know Lynch better than that, after all these years), but the aggressively opaque nature of the last episode paired with the very odd trajectory it takes made it a difficult pill to swallow at the end of an 18-hour journey. But then again, the same can be said of Mulholland Dr. and Lost Highway upon the first viewing (let alone Inland Empire), and I love all three of those endings, and think they only get better upon repeat viewings, so I more than suspected that the same would be true of this one; it's just the sort of ending you have to work towards. This kicked off a couple hours of discussing and analyzing the final episode, and another day of mulling it over before I sat down to write this. In that time I've sifted through the mysteries and philosophical significance of the last episode, and have come to really like it, at least in a philosophical sense.

While it may not be the kind of ending I had wanted, it is absolutely the right ending, and it leaves things on a totally appropriate note for the series and what it is all about. While some have called it a cliffhanger, I somewhat disagree: this certainly isn't a cliffhanger in the way the end of season 2 is (though that was literally a set-up for a season 3 that never happened until now), but the sort of ambiguous not-quite-ending that Lynch loves. And like usual, there is a very good reason why it ends in that way. As I said about episode 17, even in its more conventional narrative aspects Twin Peaks is about much more than just the characters: it is about concepts of good and evil on a cosmic level, and about the struggle to at least balance those scales in a world where chaos is undeniably winning. Balancing those scales is messy, getting back to a point of painful neutrality may be the best we can ever hope for, and no matter what sort of goodness Cooper represents, some pain and darkness is too great to neatly overcome. A final episode that reflects the larger existential struggle of which this season's plot is merely a part is actually a pretty perfect premise for a series finale. Sure, it's messy, difficult, and frequently frustrating, but the same could be said about this whole season, and the chaotic world that it reflects. It is also, like this whole season, pretty brilliant, in its dark, strange, frustrating way. This season may have been a bit uneven throughout, and some of its strange detours may not have worked for me, but most of it did, and it all added up to a tantalizingly bizarre, one-of-a-kind metaphysical puzzle which I certainly look forward to coming back to, and analyzing its many fascinating layers. If this truly is the end of Twin Peaks, I can be happy with that – I'm just glad that David Lynch didn't hold any of this madness back.

– Christopher S. Jordan

The conclusion of Mark Frost and David Lynch's masterwork, Twin Peaks: The Return is, as to be expected, a haunting finale in which everything is left up to interpretation by the viewer. Lynch's storied filmography is filled with surreal nightmares in which complex themes of love, parenthood, betrayal, and obsession are ruthlessly explored, mirroring the harsh reality that the auteur seeks to dissect. The final two episodes of The Return are a singular entity, a cinematic ghost that subverts expectations and plagues the viewer's subconscious long after its chilling, final scene.

The first hour delves into Cooper's return, tying everything up in a Rockwellian bow. This is the first clue that things are terribly wrong, setting up one of the show's most profound revelations as the tranquility of a conclusion is summarily obliterated. While there is the distinct possibility that the entire series was a dream manifested as a means to escape the horror of Laura Palmer's abuse or more importantly to represent the viewer's infatuation with entertainment, the focus on the final hour falls onto Cooper and the danger of not only his hubris, but of underestimating the power that trauma has on children. While the Blue Rose mythos and ever evolving semiotics of the Twin Peaks universe remain firmly in play, it is the detective's fall that is of interest in the final act, pulling forth the central theme of things left undone and the utter devastation that violence leaves in its wake. 

What begins as the showdown fans have been waiting for quickly, irrevocably tumbles into some of the most awe inspiring cinematic moments in history. Fire Walk with Me's importance instantly becomes clear as it lays the most important piece of the foundation: Everything is a lie. There are telling nods throughout that hint at where the story is heading and yet, the audience continues onward, hoping for some kind of resolution. This is by satirical design, with various characters repeatedly informing the viewer that what they're witnessing is a dream and that every inhabitant of Twin Peaks is a figment of their creators' minds, locked in an endless cycle of repetitive contrivances. It is this knowledge that lessens the blow of Cooper's ultimate fate. 

Several critics have talked about similarities with The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, and these comparisons are extremely relevant, both for the manner in which certain characters mimic their literary counterparts and the undeniable meaning of Cooper's sojourn across dimensions. Perhaps the entirety of Twin Peaks is allegorical, with the Lodges representing the minds of artists, bleak prisons which require great personal sacrifice and all manner of esoteric ritual to allow certain ideas to escape whilst other spirits of inspiration remain forever trapped. There are portals leading into the mundane; places of power and significance, and sometimes, even people. It is in these places; where reality bleeds into surreality, that art is made and this is symbolized throughout the narrative and harmonized through Lynch and Frost's presentation of an obdurate reality that is forever altered by the dreamer's vision. Whether the dreamer is the artist or audience is of little consequence because their symbiotic relationship defines their respective existences. 

Ultimately, Twin Peaks: The Return is one of the greatest cinematic achievements of all time because aside from its unforgettable story, it is also a statement on the nature of creation and the power of telling stories. Brilliant satire, evocative horror, and existential mediation are the brushes while the cosmos of the viewer's imagination is the canvas. Mr. Frost and Mr. Lynch have delivered something that will be puzzled over and debated for decades to come while simultaneously producing one of the most profound summations on the craft of visual media. The darkest realization, upon conclusion is the not terror of Cooper and Laura's predicament. It is the notion that world of Twin Peaks now resides only within the mind's eye. 

 - Kyle Jonathan