The following essay contains spoilers for the finale of Twin Peaks: The Return
The titular “return” of Twin Peaks: The Return, I always thought, was Dale Cooper’s return, not only to reality, but to the town of Twin Peaks, in order to battle the evil force of BOB, the occupying entity who inhabited his original body and wreaked havoc on the world for 25 years.
It turns out, the return was Laura Palmer.
Episode 17 was the ending everyone wanted. Dale Cooper returns home, triumphantly, and assists in defeating evil. Diane, the non-tulpa version of herself, is restored. Dale even has a chance to ask about coffee before he journeys through the boiler room hinted at in the original series, into the mysterious hotel that exists in another plane of existence, and into the past, where he stops Laura Palmer’s murder from ever happening.
What a fucking ending, right?
Episode 18 goes full Mulholland Drive with unexplained madness. Cooper seems… a bit off. He and Diane cross over to what appears to be another dimension, possibly another universe—or possibly another time. None of this is explicitly explained. Laura Palmer, or someone who looks an awful lot like her, lives in this time, working at a diner called “Judy’s” reminding us of the force of evil behind the Black Lodge, the faceless creature also known as Judy.
Dale takes Laura back to Twin Peaks, where she recognizes not a thing. Her house is inhabited not by her mother Sarah, but by someone else entirely. Dale asks what year it is. Laura remembers something awful from another time and screams. THE END.
Twin Peaks ends, yet again, on another cliffhanger. We’re left asking ourselves such questions as, “What the fuck just happened?” and “Are you serious?”
Resolution has never been much of a priority for Twin Peaks. The original pilot, which served as a standalone film prior to the show’s eventual pickup, ended with a cliffhanger. The first season finale ended with Dale getting shot in the stomach. Season two ended with Dale possessed by BOB. The Return ends with an ambiguous journey through alternate realities. This is par for the course when it comes to this show.
For a show not particularly interested in happy endings, we got as happy an ending as possible. Janey-E and Sonny Jim have a dad again… a tulpa created from a force of good, instead of a shitty lifeform created by BOB-Coop, who had a penchant for gambling and hookers. BOB is defeated for good. Norma and Ed are finally together. The only loose end gnawing at me is Audrey… I want to know what’s happening with her. I’m sure she’s in an asylum, but I’d enjoy just one more concrete answer on that. But what can you do?
Dale’s journey into a time and a place with no Laura Palmer seems to be a dark twist on It’s a Wonderful Life, imagining not what life would be like if someone had never been born at all, but what would happen if someone had never been murdered. I think about it in terms of my (potentially incorrect) understanding of Donnie Darko: In that movie, Donnie needed to use time travel to give a logical explanation for a jet engine appearing out of nowhere to keep an anomaly from dismantling reality, and sacrificed himself in the process, as a Christlike figure. Laura functions the same way. She was created as a sacrifice to dark and evil forces, and without her sacrifice, the world she lives in is no longer the same place. Maybe there really is no way to change the past. As the show explained, it defines the future. Meddling in those forces was too much for Cooper and he ended up seemingly ousted from the reality that he helped create and was spat out into a new one entirely.
We know for sure that there are two Dianes in this existence. The one Cooper slept with goes by the name of Linda and thinks that his name is Richard. Whatever happened on the road toward the hotel and in the hotel itself caused some sort of temporal rift, splitting realities, like in Lost Highway with the jail. David Lynch has a recurring theme with dual realities, with someone stuck in the middle.
Cooper always seems to have a way of figuring things out and he realized, earlier, that he was “crossing” over, so I think journeying back to his own reality is something he’s more than capable of. I’m not too concerned about Cooper finding his way back, but I think that the secret to everything is that Laura needed to die. Her “return” to Twin Peaks, or returning to life, was the catalyst that seemed to have disrupted the space-time continuum.
Twin Peaks was always a show that balanced darkness and light. Humor with horror. Joy with misery. David Lynch and Mark Frost seem to be telling us that without the darkness of the past, there can be no light in the future. That what happened before is as equally important as what happens next. For Twin Peaks to be a joyous place, its sordid history must be remembered.