Book Review - Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier

After a wait of 25 years (well, a bit longer than that, but I don't want to make Laura Palmer look like a liar) Twin Peaks season 3, arguably one of the most long-awaited pieces of television ever, has come and gone. More like a massive single film than a traditional season of a show, David Lynch and Mark Frost's sprawling, surreal epic was an experience wholly unlike anything we expected: experimental in form, and featuring plotlines that almost never went where we thought they might. But it was also more than a bit frustrating in some key ways, and now that some time has passed since it ended, I can't help but feel that there were some things that it really should, and could, have done, but decided not to; I might even go as far as to say wasted opportunities. No, I'm not talking about the unanswered Lynchian mysteries, or the season finale which at the same time is nothing like what we expected, but also a perfectly David Lynch way for things to end; those things are very much par for the course in the oeuvre of our favorite surrealist auteur. The thing that frustrated me most about Twin Peaks: The Return was how disinterested it sometimes felt in the original series characters, how little it ultimately gave many them to do (compared to the disproportionate amount of screen time spent outside of the town itself), and how little it really addressed their personal plot threads that were left hanging at the end of season 2.

Don't misunderstand me, I loved almost everything about Twin Peaks: The Return and wouldn't want to lose any of it; I just wish that, since in the end Showtime pretty much let Lynch and Frost do whatever they wanted, they had made the show even longer so they could have spent more time in the town of Twin Peaks itself, exploring the arcs of those fascinating characters who we hadn't seen in 25 years. It felt very clear that Lynch and Frost worked together to create a very thoroughly fleshed-out world in the town of Twin Peaks, where they seemed to know everything that had happened to all of these characters between the end of season 2 and now. But it also seemed like Lynch was not too interested in exploring those things on-screen, and was far more interested in the new mysteries, like those in Buckhorn and Las Vegas. Ultimately it feels as though, despite sharing a co-writing credit with Frost, David Lynch was unquestionably the primary auteur behind this season, to the point that I think his vision took precedence over that of his writing partner, sometimes to the detriment of the show. This third season was great, and at its best absolutely brilliant, but it was missing a little something, and that something was more of Mark Frost, and the more fully-realized vision of the titular town that Frost had clearly tried to bring to the series.

Fortunately, we now have Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier. Ostensibly this is a companion sequel novel to the season, written as Special Agent Tammy Preston's report on the events of the season finale - and its off-screen aftermath - to Gordon Cole. But it is so much more than that. This book weaves back through the entire season, and through the 25(ish) years between the end of the season 2 finale and the start of The Return, plus the events of both Fire Walk With Me and The Missing Pieces, to enrich and expand upon both the show's tantalizingly dark mythology and its character arcs, and judiciously answer a few (but not too many) crucial questions. It adds throughout season 3 all of that Mark Frost-ness that often felt missing, and gives us all the brilliant moments featuring the original-series characters which were either left on the cutting-room floor or in the writer's room. If the televised season was Lynch's vision of the character arcs that the two collaborators had mapped out together when plotting the show, this book is Frost's vision. When read as a companion piece to the season it completes that collaboration, fitting together the puzzle pieces that turn both into a cohesive whole. It makes the season not only more compelling and more complete, but makes it much more like the Twin Peaks we have always known and loved, while enriching the new mysteries that Lynch brought to the table. This book is absolutely required reading: I'm not saying that fans of the season should read it - I'm saying that you absolutely have to. To me, this book is the last puzzle piece to complete season 3 of Twin Peaks, and it now fully adds up into exactly the revived season that I wanted it to be.

The book is written in a style very similar to that of Frost's pre-The Return book, The Secret History of Twin Peaks. Similar, but not exactly the same: it again is presented as a non-fiction work that exists in the world of the show, but while The Secret History was a collection of newspaper clippings, letters, journal entries, etc, curated by Tammy with her notes to Gordon interjected throughout, this follow-up book is written entirely by Tammy, as a single history text. This serves to make the book a good deal more cohesive and less dense and unwieldy than its predecessor, though only slightly less postmodern. It also serves to give much more depth and character development to Tammy herself, as she takes a much more central role as our narrator and fellow investigator; in many ways, she actually joins us as a spectator, as much of what she is writing about are past events that she is discovering with us, through her research. Tammy greatly benefits from all of this as a character: in the televised season she was a good character who was somewhat underdeveloped and underutilized, not to mention sometimes sexualized by Lynch at the expense of her character development, but here she is a fully developed member of the FBI team, with her strength and intelligence taking center stage. If a fourth season of the show ever does happen, this book completes her transformation from a new supporting character to a co-star who can certainly fill the shoes of the late Miguel Ferrer's Albert Rosenfield.

While the title, which casts the book as a sequel to The Return, may imply that it picks up where Tammy, Gordon, and Albert's role in the finale left off, Tammy's chronicle of the events in Twin Peaks actually begins much longer ago: in the days following the season 2 finale, and Agent Cooper's (first) mysterious disappearance from Twin Peaks. In a series of reports focusing on the various key players in the town's (and the show's) major events, the book moves forward in time, filling the 25 years between seasons, and running parallel to other events in both Fire Walk With Me (plus Missing Pieces) and The Return. Indeed, Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces would be just as appropriate a title for this book as it was for the deleted-scenes-turned-second-feature from the 1992 film. By taking this sprawling narrative/history-text approach, Frost fills in a whole lot of gaps in the Twin Peaks canon, focusing heavily on personal arcs and character development, and the shadowy details of the show's strange occult mythology. If there were any details of the characters' lives that you wanted to know about, or mysteries from Fire Walk With Me that have always nagged you, and you were frustrated that The Return didn't address them, the chances are excellent that Frost delves into those areas here, and it is deeply satisfying when he does.

But crucially, he doesn't overexplain, or give away anything that should have been left in shadow: his goal here is most emphatically not to undermine Lynch's mysterious, head-scratching puzzles, but merely to give us the narrative pieces that the two co-creators had figured out together, but that Lynch didn't end up using in his final on-screen vision. Fractured surrealism and dreamlike puzzles are certainly central to Lynch's style, and Frost's concerns are much more based around plot and character, but it all adds up to a single shared vision that they agreed upon when they started this return. Getting more of Frost's side of the equation only enhances the power of Lynch's half, making the mysteries deeper and more intriguing, and making the character arcs and strange isolated moments from the show work even better in a more full context. Indeed, there are things from the televised season which frankly didn't work for me (looking at you, Audrey and Charlie) which now work much better in the larger context that Frost has provided, and things that were already great (Dr. Amp and his golden shovel) which are even greater with more backstory. Some of this stuff really should have been in the show as it aired, and I think Lynch made a mistake in cutting it, but some of it is the sort of years-long backstory that would be very hard to articulate on television, and that lends itself much more readily to the format of a novel. But in both cases, Frost's literary contribution fleshes out the new season in a way that is absolutely essential for getting the most out of all of it.

This is certainly true in how he handles the subject of the season 3 finale, which is where he walks the finest line. There are two camps of fans when it comes to the topic of the finale: ones who want more explanation of what actually occurred, and ones who think that Lynch's mind-scrambling, highly subjective mystery should stand fully open to interpretation. Working with the same co-writer's canon from a different narrative viewpoint, Frost does a careful balancing act to make his book something which should leave both camps more than satisfied: adding new information to the equation in a way that gives fans more to chew on, puzzle over, and piece together, but doing so in a way that deepens the mystery rather than spoiling it. Reading The Final Dossier makes that last episode's psychological and philosophical sucker-punch even more powerful, and adds even more thematic depth and existential crisis to the already profoundly haunting work. My only complaint about the finale was that it was so dense with ideas and strange occurrences that I had wished it had been spread out over one extra episode; the additional material added here by Frost provides this and then some, and adds the little bit extra that is needed to make it, for my money, a perfect (and perfectly open to philosophical debate) finale.

If I'm totally honest, I can't quite make up my mind whether I think it's a bit annoying, or a bit of a wasted opportunity, that Twin Peaks season 3 requires additional reading to make it as fantastic as it really should have been on its own, or if it's a rather brilliant multimedia storytelling experiment. In reality, I suppose it's a bit of both: I love the new season (with some reservations) and I love the book, and while there are aspects of the book that I think Lynch really should have included in the series that aired, the two pieces of media add up to such an excellent whole - using the strengths of each medium to full advantage - that I feel very happy with the final journey. The book adds to the series in ways that genuinely make it better, and that make it a more philosophically rigorous, not to mention narratively satisfying, experience. But this does mean that, if someone wants to fully appreciate Twin Peaks: The Return, they really do have to do this extra reading to complete the experience, to the degree that this book really should be included as a PDF, booklet, or audio extra on the season's blu-ray/DVD box set. How many viewers will be dedicated enough to do this has yet to be seen, but Twin Peaks fans have always been the types who will go the extra mile to delve into the puzzles of their beloved series, so if ever there was a show that could get away with demanding that its viewers do some additional homework, it's this one. The audiobook of The Final Dossier is excellent, read by a voice actress (Annie Wersching) who steps into the role of Chrysta Bell's Tammy Preston character perfectly, and the whole thing is just an easily-digestible 3 hours long. The hardcover book, on the other hand, is a beautifully intricate package which replicates the aesthetic of an FBI dossier with admirable detail, providing an immersive experience in its own right. Whichever way you get the book (and hardcore fans may want both), The Final Dossier is a great experience, and one that Twin Peaks fans owe to themselves. Just as The Return was one of 2017's must-see works of television or film, this is one of 2017's must-read books. Pour yourself a damn fine cup of coffee and devour it like the literary garmonbozia that it is.


- Christopher S. Jordan

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