Like most people I've forgotten nearly all of the science I learned in high school, but there's one concept I've never been able to shake: The Heisenberg uncertainty principle. I know that sounds like a Breaking Bad in-joke, but hear me out. In layman's terms (what is a lay man?) it basically means you can't observe something without also changing it. For example, to see an object with our eyeballs, a photon must bounce off that object and enter our eyes, but in doing so that photon nudges the object a little bit and changes its state. How can we ever know what something was, or how it was, exactly as it was? We can't! Everything is theoretical, and everything is chaos, and we just have to accept the scraps of verified fact wherever we can get them.
Which brings to Twin Peaks. We've now just experienced an 18-hour exercise in how things change the more we watch them. David Lynch and Mark Frost knew what we the viewers saw in this show's earlier incarnation and almost everything in The Return felt like a subversion or refutation of even the fundamentals of Twin Peaks. In the macro sense, they knew we liked the cozy, episodic mysteries, and that enjoyment caused Lynch to change the show into formless, flatly lit, patience-testing esoterica to out-art all of peak TV. It knew we cared deeply about Laura Palmer's murder mystery, so Lynch UN-MURDERED Laura Palmer. The more we expected to recognize the old Twin Peaks, the more The Return morphed into something else entirely. And in its final two installments we discovered the newest incarnation of what this show really is: Chaos, terror, and unfathomable sadness. In short, Twin Peaks The Return was a masterpiece. Let's talk about it!
We began with the FBI agents, who were still blowing smoke from the barrels of their guns after blowing away Tulpa Diane last week! Then they toasted over merlot and Gordon (David Lynch) told them all of his secrets.
We were about 27 seconds into the episode and I was already having a hard time comprehending things. But! I think what he explained was, there is an evil force out there even greater than what we've known, and that force is known colloquially as "JUDY". Apparently Major Briggs, Agent Cooper, and Agent Jeffries had all known about JUDY and had, long ago, set a plan in motion to find and/or snuff out this force, but obviously all three men disappeared in various ways, so JUDY clearly had the upper hand these days. Also, leave it to Twin Peaks to continue its tradition of assigning the most terrifying and sinister forces the most mundane human names. JUDY sounds like the scariest assistant docent in the universe.
Evil Cooper homed in on the coordinates Tulpa Diane had sent him, and before he knew it, he was sucked into a tree portal and found himself bouncing around the Fireman's condo!
As the disembodied, free-floating head of Major Briggs (the late Don S. Davis) looked on, Evil Cooper was transferred from a cage to the golden horn and then spat out in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Station! Not a bad way to travel overall.
Though Andy (Harry Goaz) and Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) immediately welcomed him as Agent Dale Cooper, Sheriff Truman's brother Sheriff Truman (Robert Forster) knew something was up when this "Dale Cooper" fellow didn't even want any coffee. That's a straight-up doppel-fail right there, Evil Cooper! His cover was further blown when the real Agent Cooper called on the phone...
But before Evil Cooper could pull out his gun and shoot at Sheriff Truman, guess who snuck up behind him and MURDERED him?
Yup, Lucy had figured out how cell phones work and therefore knew that if the real Agent Cooper was on the phone, then the phony Cooper needed to DIE.
But that's when the dirty woodsman paramedics arrived to resuscitate Evil Cooper! Or at least free the floating BOB orb from his torso!
The real Agent Cooper arrived just in time to see this BOB orb fly around the room attacking everybody! It especially went after British twink Freddie (Jake Wardle) and his green glove of power. It messed him up pretty badly too! But sometimes you just can't keep a good glove down.
Freddie PUNCHED the BOB orb first down into hell, and then when it floated back up, Freddie punched it apart! The BOB orb had been killed, and along with it BOB himself. So that was it! The longest-running villain on the show had been murdered by a newly introduced side character with a delightful super power! I'm sure us longtime viewers knew Bob would end this way, but the uninitiated were bound to be surprised.
That's when the Mitchum brothers, their girls, and also the FBI agents arrived to puzzle at what had gone on here. And because this entire sequence was overlaid with Agent Cooper's face, there's a chance it was all one of his dreams. But it also meant (to me) that good had won out on this day.
That's when the eye-less Japanese woman's head split apart and revealed herself to be...
THE REAL DIANE! And she was wearing a red, candy-raver wig! Yep, the real Diane (Laura Dern) was much cooler than her mean doppelganger.
But because Cooper couldn't leave well enough alone, he had one last thing he wanted to do. I loved this shot of Cooper, Diane, and Gordon all walking toward the storage closet of the Great Northern and him bidding them adieu. Icons!
Cooper had decided that it wasn't enough to kill BOB. He also needed to go back in time and prevent Laura Palmer's murder! We then saw some lengthy flashbacks to Fire Walk With Me and learned that when Laura saw something in the woods and screamed, she'd actually seen a 25-years-older Agent Cooper watching from shadows! He later approached her and took her hand to walk her through the forest, away from the murder that was about to befall her. And it worked! We then saw clips from the pilot of Twin Peaks (including Josie and the Martells!) going about their day but NOT finding a plastic shrouded corpse by the lake. In short, Cooper had undone the entire premise of the show.
But then... Just as it appeared everything had dovetailed to the beginning for a happy ending... Laura disappeared from Cooper's hands. Just plum disappeared, with her screams echoing through the woods. What was happening? What had Cooper done?
As though to really ram the point home, Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) grabbed the framed photo of her daughter and began destroying it on the floor. Was Sarah actually JUDY? Or was she just annoyed at her (now-still-alive) daughter for not calling more? Unclear!
At the end of "Part 17" we were treated to the long-awaited return of Julee Cruise, whose angelic pipes provided so much of the atmosphere of the original series. But now she was singing a new song about how the world keeps spinning, ever and ever onward no matter what we do or try. Was it a comforting thought or a troubling one? Also unclear!
Here was a comforting image though... Evil Cooper in the Back Lodge in literal flames. Ha ha, ya burnt! His little golden "seed" was then repurposed into a much friendlier and slightly dopier doppelganger...
That's right, Doug-E was back! And he had returned to his loving family in Las Vegas. Truly a heartwarming moment if that sort of thing is even allowed here.
But here was when the episode (and season? Entire series?) became a much different thing. Cooper paid another visit to the Black Lodge, or had it been the same visit from the season premiere? We definitely re-saw his encounter with Laura Palmer and Leland Palmer, and he re-encountered the Evolution of the Arm, who rhetorically asked him whether this saga was merely about "a girl who lives down the lane"? And when Cooper emerged from the curtain and found himself in the woods again, he was greeted by a waiting Diane. But was Cooper the same as before? He seemed so much more placid and detached this time.
At one point in their very long road trip south, Cooper got out of the car at the exact point Jeffries had told him to, and found himself surrounded by loudly buzzing power lines. This was some kind of forcefield, and when he returned to the car, he warned Diane that things were about to become different. They kissed and pressed onward, at which point it immediately became dark outside. And Cooper was even more chillingly menacing than before. Were they entirely new people now? Had we just taken a ride on the Lost Highway?
Cooper got them a room at a nearby fleabag motel, and we could tell things were weird right away, especially when Diane saw another version of herself lingering by the entrance.
That night the two did sex, but Cooper did not seem to enjoy it, and Diane spent most of the sexcapade attempting to mash his face into someone she liked better. Yeah, this was not the Cooper we expected, and this was made doubly clear the next morning when he awoke to a letter addressed to "Richard" from "Linda." The same names the Fireman had uttered in the very first episode? Were these their names now? Had they crossed into a parallel universe where the faces were similar but everyone's lives were different?
For example, Cooper was able to track down Laura Palmer, but her name was Carrie now and she had no memory of ever living in Twin Peaks. Counterpoint: She still seemed to be surrounded by evil forces, so maybe this was Laura Palmer, but in some kind of spiritual witness protection program?
Like, here was this dead guy in her house. And Maybe I'm mistaken, but was his stomach torn open, like, say, an evil ORB flew out of him? I don't know. All I know is, it probably smelled terrible in there, so "Carrie" was more than willing to pack a duffel bag and hit the road with a complete stranger!
At this point the show became borderline hypnotic and I almost lost track of time. We just got long, extended, trance-like shots of the two of them driving in the dark in silence. At one point a pair headlights behind them appeared and a deep sense of dread set in. But it was nothing! The car simply passed Cooper's car. Still, on this show even the most ordinary things are as sinister as possible, so there was no telling what terrors lurked on those highways.
Believing that returning Laura Palmer (or her doppelganger) to her childhood home would jog her memories about her true identity, Cooper and "Carrie" found themselves standing on the welcome mat of the Palmer residence. Except Sarah Palmer didn't live there, and possibly never had! The new owner was not very helpful in trying to help Cooper figure out what was going on, so they left dejected.
A confused Cooper finally asked "Carrie" "what year is this?" and she didn't answer. But then she heard Sarah Palmer's screams coming from the house, and then the house went dark, and "Carrie" shrieked a banshee wail! Maybe she DID remember what had happened to her? Or at least she was somehow aware of the terrible goings-on in the alternate dimension Cooper had arrived from? Either way, that was Twin Peaks' way of telling us that no matter how many good intentions Cooper has had, the Universe simply won't allow good to prevail. He had prevented her murder but had apparently set into a motion a whole new set of nightmares. What the nightmares are, or where anything goes from here is a mystery. And it's a mystery I find both lovely and frustrating. But I wouldn't want it any other way.
It's truly hard to discuss, or analyze, or even proffer an honest opinion about Twin Peaks The Return, and that is some of the highest praise I can bestow upon any work. Though by no means are we required to figure it all out or parse meaning where maybe none was intended, I don't know if I've been as challenged, energized, or impressed by a TV show to this extent before. Apparently only a couple of dozen people tuned in each week, but that's okay. This show has been our little secret. A coded message from David Lynch to us, saying that there will always be essential goodness in man, cosmic evil will always prey upon us, and just because things don't make sense doesn't mean they aren't happening.
Twin Peaks was an audacious, cryptic, treat and I will be forever grateful to everyone who came together to make it happen. And thank you too for going on this journey with me. Your golden, glowing auras made all the primordial screams in the woods so much easier to bear.
Twin Peaks airs on Showtime
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