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Twin Peaks: So What Even Happened in the Finale?

Experts weigh in with their literal, symbolic and emotional interpretations

Liam Mathews

Sunday night's Twin Peaks finale was confounding. The revival was conceived of as a way to give the beloved show the proper conclusion it was denied back in 1991. But what happened instead was David Lynch and Mark Frost ended it even more enigmatically and elliptically than before, and on their own terms this time. It was a bold artistic choice, but not an emotionally satisfying one for most fans.

Part 17, the first hour of the two-episode finale, actually made moves that could be recognized as "an ending:" Dale Cooper's (Kyle MacLachlan) evil doppëlganger was sent back to the Black Lodge; BOB was destroyed by Freddie (Jake Wardle), fulfilling the young Englishman's destiny; Diane (Laura Dern) was rescued from whatever alternate state she was in. Earlier in the episode, we even learned that Judy is Jowday, an ancient "extreme negative force," whatever that means. But after the final scene in the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Station, things went insane. For a thorough accounting of what actually happened, check out TV Guide's recap, but the TL;DR version is Agent Cooper went back in time to make Laura Palmer's (Sheryl Lee) murder never happen, and it maybe worked, but something went wrong and things were different. Cooper wasn't Cooper, Laura wasn't Laura, nothing was resolved, and the whole thing felt like a bad dream.

Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee, Twin Peaks

Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee, Twin Peaks

Suzanne Tenner, Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME

Part 18 ignored lingering questions -- most pressingly what was going on with Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn), who seemed to be trapped in a white room somewhere -- in favor of introducing a raft of new ones. It was foolish to expect anything resembling a tidy conclusion, but the one we got was even more mystifying than we could have anticipated. In Parts 15 through 17 the plot had been moving toward conclusion, and then it zagged through a wormhole in Part 18. Twin Peaks fans were ready for a finale that didn't answer all their questions, but were not expecting something so emotionally unsatisfying. While I was watching Part 18's three-minute sex scene and numerous lengthy moments of silent driving, I had one nervous eye on the clock, watching it become increasingly clear that no answers were coming. The show ended more confusing than ever.

Twin Peaks superfans on Reddit immediately began speculating on what happened and what it meant. User drwzrd put forth a pretty compelling explanation: "Cooper went back in time to save Laura. Judy sensed this and sucked Laura into an alternate/fake universe. Coop entered the other world with Diane's help. Coop met up with Laura and was able to wake her from the dream world. Notice the owners of the house were named Tremond and Chalfont, both names of the spirit woman Laura served meals on wheels to. Also, the diner where Laura works is named 'Judy'. When Laura realizes who she is she screams, the dream world shuts off, and all the lights go out."

Some folks were ahead of the curve on appreciating the finale for what it is rather than being disappointed by what it's not. "I don't care what everyone says, I thought that ending was pure David Lynch in the way it captured the feeling of both a dream and a nightmare," 4Darco wrote. "While I would love another season/movie, I'd be fine if this is how it ended."

21 Questions the Twin Peaks Final Didn't Really Answer

"It was a beautiful ending. Coop is lost in time, just like Briggs and the rest of the Blue Rose agents before him," wrote weavves. "I wouldn't say no to a season four, but I definitely didn't expect everything to be wrapped up with a neat little bow."

Flightofstairs95 had a straightforward take that most Twin Peaks fans -- a group who are pretty comfortable with ambiguity, all things considered -- would probably agree with: "You can have an unconventional ending and give some closure. Lynch ended up asking more questions without any answers. I think most of us at least expected some answers. I'm disappointed for now but i think it'll grow on me."

lifeincolor had a thought-provoking philosophical interpretation. "I think I get what happened. The realization made me weepy," they wrote. "The future is an alternate dimension. So this season has been a meta commentary on the nature of story telling, time passing, a reboot, etc. 25 years ago, we knew of a beloved town where laura palmer was abused and murdered. We are desperate for answers on evil. But time moved forward. The world moved on. Everything is now different. And there is no going backward in time - only forward. But for us, the dreamers, we are still fixated on the characters and events of 25 years ago. For laura, she is still haunted by her trauma in an indifferent, fragmented, isolationist world. For Laura, and for us, there is no closure. The only place these terrible antagonists still exist - and still matter - is inside herself/ourselves."

Clark Middleton, Twin Peaks

Clark Middleton, Twin Peaks

Screen Grab, Courtesy of SHOWTIME

This interpretation is close to at least one person involved in the production's feelings about the finale. Clark Middleton, who played Charlie, Audrey Horne's husband, told TV Guide that as a fan of the show, he thought it was incredible. "I'm still kind of connecting the dots, but I loved the experience of watching it. I'm a fan of this internal logic that's less conscious and I sort of just trust wherever David is going. I kind of like to take that ride."

Middleton's story was one of the ones the finale left unresolved, but he loves that it's up to the viewer's own interpretation. "You can't just wrap it up in a neat little package," he said. "Life is incomplete, and we don't have the answers to everything. But by that being the case, it leaves it open for a new life or new possibilities. Or it's only explained through the way you understand things and then you have to come to peace with that. And that's a wonderful thing in life.

"I've dealt with a couple of deaths recently," Middleton continued. They were unexpected and tragic, he said, "And everybody is saying 'what happened, what happened?' We'll never have the answer to that, but you make peace with it at a certain point. You fill it out for yourself and you say 'I have to move on and this is what I think this is about.'" To him, Twin Peaks is an emotionally true reflection of life and death's uncertainty.

"I don't mean to equate death with Twin Peaks," he said, "but what I'm saying is that as a viewer, to see a piece of television that is that stimulating and that intelligent, I think it's a great gift to leave it hanging like that."

It seems like the series finale of Twin Peaks -- if this is indeed the end, which it seems like it is, since there are no plans for a fourth season at this time -- will be thought of as frustrating in the short term, but will be highly regarded when enough time has passed that the hurt feelings of our initial reactions fade.

(Full disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS, Showtime's parent company.)